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Taking the Kids: to Universal Orlando

By Eileen Ogintz, Tribune Media Services on

Move over, Harry Potter. Spider-Man has arrived. "I'm just not that into Harry Potter," explains 16-year-old Jordan Madow who preferred the newly reanimated Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man with hundreds of new details all the more noticeable through the special 3-D glasses and incredibly high-definition resolution.

"Spider-Man is more fun, especially the drop!" declares Danielle Hardwick, 13, who was here from England with her family.

"Go to Spider-Man first and then Harry Potter," suggests 12-year-old Alex Marquez, visiting from Denver.

Of course, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is still packed at Universal's Islands of Adventure, as it has been since it opened nearly two years ago, and many visitors say it is the impetus for their entire trip here, a contributing reason, some say, why Orlando ( now welcomes some 53 million visitors a year, more than any other American city.

Come in May and June before it gets too hot and crowded but with new attractions debuting at all of the parks, including Universal Orlando. You may score a better hotel deal, too. Check out "Beyond Disney: The Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando, SeaWorld and the Best of Central Florida" by Bob Sehlinger to help you navigate.

Just be prepared for crowds whenever you come to Universal Orlando. "You need to have a lot of patience," sighed Michelle Panney, here with her family from Newfoundland.

The morning I visited recently, there was a 45-minute wait to buy Butterbeer, which tastes like shortbread and butterscotch, and a 35-minute wait just to get into a shop -- Ollivander's Wand Shop where wands are sold, following a presentation in which one person is chosen to demonstrate just how the wand chooses the wizard. (Does the wand water the flowers when you point it? Move the ladder?)

"If you are chosen it's worth it," said Jack Burrill-Bown, who clutched his wand later in the day. He was picked, he thought, because it was his 13th birthday. "Otherwise it is a real downer."

His family was on line to get in an hour before the park even opened; by mid-morning, the wait for the chance to join Harry Potter on his journey soaring over Hogwarts was 90 minutes.

But the wait for the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man was over an hour, too. It is, after all, a technological marvel of an attraction, which makes you feel you are right inside the movie -- so close that you see the character's muscles, flames coming out of pumpkins and rats scurrying through the streets. I like this attraction because those who are roller-coaster averse, like me, and young kids can enjoy the thrill.


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