Snow-covered roofs and bustling streets greeted us as we stepped down from the train, across the platform and into the village of Hogsmead.
But combine this with the blazing sun and humid temperatures of nearly 40 degrees celsisus, and you will realise things were not quite as they might have seemed.
We had just travelled on the Hogwarts Express from a bustling King’s Cross station in Universal Studios Florida to the resort’s Islands of Adventure theme park.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter spans the two parks and is a must for any fan of the JK Rowling classics who makes it across the Atlantic.
One of the highlights of any visit is Rowling’s magical Diagon Alley – hidden in the middle of recreated streets of London and complete with its fire-breathing dragon.
Here you can enjoy the Escape from Gringotts thrill ride, buy an interactive wand from Ollivanders and enjoy refreshment in the Leaky Cauldron, before entering King’s Cross and passing through the wall to platform nine-and-three-quarters ready for your journey.
It’s then onto the Hogwarts Express, where you watch the London streets and English countryside fly by before arriving at your designation in Hogsmead.
Hogwarts school hosts the thrilling Forbidden Journey ride and close by is the family-friendly Flight of the Hippogriff rollercoaster.
But The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is just part of what Universal has to offer.
We started our day at the television and movie-themed Universal Studios, where our six-year-old son loved meeting Despicable Me’s Minions and his favourite Transformers, as well as experiencing the Simpsons-themed Twirl ’n’ Hurl ride and Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster.
The park also hosts 4D experiences based on Despicable Me, Shrek and the Simpsons – loved by our nine-year-old daughter, plus the high-speed Rip Ride Rocket and Revenge of the Mummy roller-coasters.
Once in the adjacent Islands of Adventure park, we enjoyed the various themed areas, each with its own set of rides and attractions.
This included The Cat in the Hat-themed Seuss Landing, Jurassic Park and our favourite, Marvel Super Hero Island. Here was one of my top rides, based on The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman – a 4D experience in which we swung through the streets following Spidey on his adventures.
Combine this with the thrill of The Incredible Hulk Coaster, the terror of Doctor Doom’s Fearfall and getting soaked to the skin on the rapids and flume rides, and you’ll have an experience to remember.
Our Express tickets allowed us to jump many of the queues and these are definitely worth buying if you are able. And a brilliant addition for families at Universal is the Child Swap option, where parents with children who can’t or don’t want to ride can wait while the other takes their turn and then swap over without having to queue again.
Outside the parks is Universal’s CityWalk – the ideal spot for dining, shopping and nightlife. We visited the Toothsome Chocolate Emporium – a 19th century chocolate-themed restaurant and store.
We were staying at Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort, which is ideally situated next to the company’s Volcano Bay water park. The retro 1950s and 60s-themed hotel features two pools with a water slide and lazy river, plus ten-pin bowling and a variety of bars and restaurants including the main Bay Side Diner food court.
It also provides complimentary travel to the theme parks and the resort’s other hotels if you want to some of the other dining options on offer.
Universal is the perfect destination for fun-loving thrill-seeking families in a location famous for its theme parks and family attractions.
And outside the resort there is chance to explore everything else the Sunshine State has to offer, whether it be Disney, the Kennedy Space Center and the state’s natural beauty.
Florida and Universal in particular certainly gave us a magical holiday to remember.
- Seven nights with Virgin Holidays, including Virgin Atlantic flights from London Gatwick direct to Orlando, room only accommodation at the Universal Cabana Bay Beach Resort, Universal
- Explorer 3 Park Tickets and car hire costs from £895pp. Price is per person based on two adults travelling and sharing a standard room. Price is based on a departure on 25 January 2018. Book at https://www.virginholidays.co.uk.