We just returned yesterday from our first family trip to Universal. We have three boys (14, 11, and 9) and wanted to wait until the youngest could ride just about everything. The only thing he couldn't ride was Hulk. Everyone had a really fun time. We stayed at the Hard Rock Hotel and found the Express Pass to be awesome. My kids who have been to Disney World several times kept commenting on how amazing it was to not have to wait for any of the rides. On our first morning we went to the early admission at Islands of Adventure (at 8am). We didn't rush to get there and got to the gate at around 8:20am. The lines to get into the park were fairly long. It took about 10 minutes to get through. We had walked over from the Hard Rock Hotel and the bag check area before you get to CityWalk and the parks was very quick - no waiting. We took the advice of others on this board and used the early hour to enjoy the full queue at Forbidden Journey since the express pass lines didn't open until 9am. The pace of the line was perfect where we weren't rushed but the line was moving steadily. A 30 minute wait time was posted but it probably only took 20 minutes. The locker situation here was absolute chaos! The area was very dark and hard to move around with everyone trying to store and retrieve bags -it was every man (or woman) for themselves. The locker system itself is straight forward and easy to use. I feel like if there was a bit more space it wouldn't be so bad. The ride itself was fantastic. We spent most of the morning in Hogsmeade and then took the train over to Diagon Alley. All of our boys have read all the Harry Potter books so they loved every minute of it especially looking through all the cool (and very crowded) shops and enjoying the Butterbeer and other fun drinks. Escape from Gringotts was fantastic as well. The lockers there are not quite as bad but still very hectic. Men in Black was a lot of fun. We rode it many times over our three days in the park. A couple of times we had a malfunctioning gun where it would rack up points just shooting it anywhere. My youngest was very pleased when he maxed out the points at 999,999 a minute into the ride! The Simpson ride was fun but felt somewhat dated. I grew up on the Simpsons so I probably enjoyed it the most. We only rode that one other time. We headed back over to Islands of Adventure for lunch at Mythos. Our oldest son has Celiac and we had heard/read that they were careful about cross contamination with food allergies. We all really liked the food and enjoyed getting off our feet for a lunch break. We ended up eating there for lunch another day as well. Each day we stayed close to closing but left slightly before 7pm to get dinner. The other two days we started at Universal Studios slightly after opening (9am) and the lines were not very long to enter the park. Park Conclusions: I think the common conclusion was that there are a lot of simulator rides that feel somewhat similar (good guys fight bad guys, occasional water spray, feel heat from fire, etc.) which were fun to ride once, maybe twice. The Race through NY was fun, but it feels like it takes forever to get through all of the introductions and get on the actual ride. We liked the thrill rides like Hulk, Dr. Doom, Rip Ride Rockit, Mummy, Gringott's, Forbidden Journey, and Men in Black the best, and did those many times each. I remember ET from my younger days and that was nostalgic for me. We thought Kong was interesting. We did that twice and noticed the story was different which was fun (this ride also broke down while we were in line.) Jurassic Park is fun but also feels very dated. We skipped Dudley Do-Right and Popeye's Barges as we didn't want to get soaking wet. These aren't rides where you get a little wet, you come off soaking wet, head to toe. With the Express Passes I think three days was plenty of time to experience everything once without any rush, and allowed us time to do the rides we liked most multiple times. The longest wait was Gringott's which was usually about 15 minutes with the Express Pass, although one time it broke down in line and added an extra 20 minutes. Without the Express Pass most peak waits were 30 minutes or less. Gringott's was 50 minutes, Forbidden Journey was 40 minutes and Kong was probably 40 minutes. Other Observations: We used the Superstar Shuttle to and from the airport. We were not very impressed with this service considering the cost. We were directed where to find the shuttle and were told if it was not there it could be up to a 30 minute wait. Fortunately there was one there so we didn't have to wait at all. It made several stops (both dropping off and picking up) at each Universal hotel before we got to the Hard Rock, including picking up additional passengers at the other airport terminal before leaving. We were on the shuttle for one hour and 15 minutes before we arrived. The ride back was not nearly as bad. There was one other stop and we were at the airport in about 40 minutes. We had called and asked to be picked up an hour earlier than scheduled (from 3 hours before flight time to 4 hours) because of how long it took to get dropped off but ended up not needing the extra time. Interestingly, we were talking to another family while waiting in line for Gringotts (when it was off-line) who had an even worse experience with the shuttle from the airport to Hard Rock, taking them 2 hours. Next time we will just arrange a car service. The Hard Rock Hotel was very nice. It seemed to be an interesting mix of families with small children and younger couples without children. We ended up eating at The Kitchen restaurant each morning for breakfast and for dinner when we returned to the hotel. Again, mainly because they have a great reputation for handling food allergies carefully. The food was very good and the servers were very friendly. The atmosphere of the restaurant itself is pretty bland with some rock and roll memorabilia on the walls. It was never very crowded and the service seemed a bit slow for the number of people there. We stayed in a "Future Rock Star" suite which worked out perfectly for us. The two youngest slept in their own separate room while the oldest slept on the sofa-bed in the main room. The only complaint we has was the ventilation system made a very loud "bang" every time it shut off which happened multiple times throughout the night, waking us up each time. We ended up sleeping without the air conditioner to eliminate the noise. The ability to walk to the parks from the hotel can't be understated. It is such a convenience. Not having to use resort transportation to get around plus the benefits of the Express Passes are two huge advantages over a Walt Disney World vacation. However, the food choices at Universal are a bit limited in comparison, especially for someone with a severe food allergy. We found CityWalk to be underwhelming, especially compared to Disney Springs. Surprisingly there weren't very many places to browse or shop for souvenirs, clothes, etc. Most of the establishments were places to eat or get a drink. I'm sure we will return at some point so that our youngest can experience the Hulk and (fingers-crossed) a new Nintendo themed park! It was a nice change of scenery from our usual Disney vacations.