So here we are, back at Universal Orlando Resort. Part One covered the resort hotels and CityWalk but the chances are if you are in Florida and visiting Universal, you are there for the rides? Is that right? Yep, thought so.
In that case, lets have a look at those parks in a little bit of detail.
Universal Studios opened its gates to the public in 1990 – a theme park which focused heavily on attractions and live shows based around the movies and television. With classic rides such as Jaws, Back to the Future, Twister, ET and Terminator it was the go-to park to ‘ride the movies’, as one of their early slogans advertised.
Many of the above original rides have now been removed to make way for the newer and modern franchises, but the park still maintains its charm with some great theming which really does give you the feeling of being on a movie set.
We’ll take a clockwise tour around the park and focus on my personal favourite attractions on offer within the different themed areas.
Transformers: The Ride – Take a ride on a motion based vehicle through some very large set pieces with 3D screens and special effects, for an epic battle that really immerses you into the action.
Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit – A unique rollercoaster with a vertical lift hill, non-inverting loop and lots of twists and turns. Not only this, but you get to choose the music that plays in your headrest speakers. Look online for some codes to secret songs that are not in the general selection! This coaster also looks great at night with some lighting features on the trains.
Revenge of the Mummy: The Ride – An indoor rollercoaster with excellent special effects and some ride sections that you may not be expecting.
I particularly like the theming in the New York area, it does really feel like a movie set. It’s worth keeping an eye out for The Blues Brothers, they are bound to be around at some point to put on a show.
With the removal of the Disaster ride in recent years, the San Francisco area is currently lacking in attractions although the new Fast and Furious – Supercharged ride is expected in Spring 2018. It’s a nice area to wander through and is also home to one of the park’s nicest full service restaurants – Lombard’s Seafood Grille.
At the very back of the park sits a huge building which houses Men in Black Alien Attack – an interactive dark ride where guest are tasked to join the MIB training facility and kill aliens using the laser guns provided in the ride cars.
The ever expanding Springfield area comes next with the main attraction being The Simpsons Ride, a 3D ride through Krustyland.
If you are a fan of The Simpsons you are likely to spend a fair bit of time in this area. Why not pop into the Kwik-E-Mart for some supplies or call into Moe’s Tavern for a Flaming Moe or a Duff Beer.
An area for the kids featuring some popular characters such as Woody Woodpecker himself, Barney and Curious George, it will definitely keep the smaller children amused for a little while. It’s worth taking a ride on the E.T. Adventure while you are here. The ride may be a little bit dated, but for us older folk it will provide a little bit of magic and nostalgia from the 1980’s.
As we head back towards the front of the park, the last area we arrive in is Hollywood. Again, a nicely themed area with a variety of shops and restaurants – Mel’s Drive In is worth calling into if only to check out some of the classic cars outside.
Both of my visits to Orlando have been during October and the reason for this is to check out the Halloween events of the Florida parks.
Universal Studios hosts arguably the most famous event – Halloween Horror Nights. Running since 1991, this is now a staple for any theme park fans season. A separate ticketed event, the park re-opens in the evenings during September and October with a variety of Haunted Houses, some based around the movies or TV and some original concepts which change every year. On my visits we have been through haunted houses based around the Halloween movies, The Exorcist, The Walking Dead, American Horror Story, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Thing as well as a host of others. The set pieces are fantastic, the actors intense. There are also many scare zones throughout the park, with many roaming characters. The atmosphere is excellent, but the event can get very very busy.
Universal’s Islands of Adventure opened to the public in 1999 along with Citywalk, creating the ‘Universal Orlando Resort’ we now see it.
For me, this is the perfect theme park – amazingly themed lands that flow beautifully into each other, with world class rides and entertainment. Where Universal Studios focuses mostly on the indoor ‘screen’ based attractions, Islands of Adventure has the added visual impact of large scale rollercoasters and fantastic water rides in a lovely setting. The park immerses you and takes you on a journey, which is the whole points of theme park, right?
Heading clockwise around the park we will focus on some of the attractions on offer.
Theming. I know I use this word over and over again, but as soon as you enter Port of Entry, you can already feel how immersive this park is going to be. A boulevard of shops and services which leads up to the lake and centrepiece of the park, giving you great views of what’s in store.
This comic book land is home to two of the best attractions in the park, spoiling you as soon as you enter the gates.
The Incredible Hulk Coaster – A multi looping rollercoaster with a launched lift hill, reaching speeds of 67 mph and taking you through seven inversions. It dominates the skyline of the park and packs a real punch.
The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman – Often praised as one of the worlds best dark ride attractions, Spiderman is high definition 3D ride experience mixing the use of 3D screens, real special effects and motion sensitive vehicles which create an amazing ride experience.
Based around comic strip characters such as Popeye and Bluto, if water rides are your thing then this is the area of the park for you. My one recommendation here would be to pack a change of clothes. It’s not that there is just the potential of getting wet, you couldn’t actually get any wetter if you sat in a bath fully clothed!
Normally I am not a fan of water rides, I don’t really enjoy wandering around theme parks in soggy clothes, but the water rides in Toon Lagoon are highly entertaining and not to be missed.
Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls is the parks Log Flume style attraction. With numerous drops leading into the final 75ft plummet into a dynamite shack, it’s great fun and you will certainly get a little damp. If you somehow manage to escape the water, never fear as the spectators nearby can pay to soak you using water cannons.
Popeye and Bluto’s Bilge Barges is a river rapids raft style ride. When all your belongings have to be placed in a waterproof section to the centre of the raft at the start of the ride, you know there is going to be a lot of water. The first time I rode this, I genuinely did not expect it to be so wet. Neither did the lovely couple on our raft with their expensive clothes, fancy hair and expensive camera (which my friend luckily suggested they put away). It was a hilarious experience for us at least, I’m not sure how happy they were! We re-rode four times that day as we were having so much fun and there was no queue!
New to the park for 2016, Skull Island: Reign of Kong takes riders on an expedition truck to a mysterious island where they come face to face with the giant ape. This is another mainly screen based attraction, but the scale of the ride creates some fantastic effects.
Moving on, we come to another area of the park featuring giant creatures – dinosaurs. The Jurassic Park area is beautiful. Once through the giant wooden gates you are transported onto the lush tropical island where Jurassic Park is based.
Jurassic Park River Adventure is the area’s main attraction. A scenic riverboat ride through the park gives you some great close up views of the more friendly dinosaurs before something goes very wrong and you come face to face with some of the scarier dinosaurs on the loose, ending with an 85ft drop to the lagoon below.
It’s also worth spending a little time acquainting yourself with the parks Raptors at the Raptor Encounter experience. You can get up close and personal with them, but be warned they won’t always do as their handlers say!
The Lost Continent is another beautiful area of the park, based around myths and legends featuring an Arabian marketplace and the Lost City. The main attraction of this area is Poseidon’s Fury – an indoor special effects attraction set in the ancient temple of Poseidon.
This area is worth visiting if you are feeling a little peckish. Mythos Restaurant has won the ‘Best Theme Park Restaurant’ award numerous times so we decided to call in on our most recent trip. The restaurant is beautifully themed with rock formations, waterfalls and ancient carved figures. Oh and the food is great too!
Last but not least we arrive at Seuss Landing – the area of the park mainly aimed at children, although not exclusively – my partner is a great fan of the Caro-Seuss-El! A land based around the stories and characters of Dr. Seuss, with attractions such as The Cat in the Hat and One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, it’s an often amusing journey around this area. You will lose count of the amount of Thing One and Thing Two T-Shirts you will see around the park – a marketing dream!
And that leads us back to the Port of Entry ready for another loop of the park or maybe a stroll out to Citywalk for a well earned drink.
Unless you have been hiding under a rock for the last seven years you may be wondering why on earth I have skipped a large part of both of these parks – The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Well, as much as I am loathed that this is marketed as a separate theme park when it isn’t , I do feel that it deserves it’s own section in this blog post as there is a lot to cover.
Let’s go on a magical journey. A journey that takes us from the streets of London to the magical Hogwarts Castle, with some great things to see along the way.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is separated into two parts. Diagon Alley, based at Universal Studios and Hogsmeade which is located within Islands of Adventure. These two areas combined create one of the most immersive experiences I have ever seen at a theme park. It really is something special.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley
We’ll start the journey in London where we see the large facade of Leicester Square Station, Charing Cross Road and the classic townhouses of Grimmauld Place (keep an eye out on the windows here as you never know who you will see). Pop and see the Knight Bus before you explore too much further.
Passing through a secret passageway next to Leicester Square Station you enter the magical streets of Diagon Alley . The attention to detail in this area is amazing. The rickety buildings housing many recognisable shops from the movies lead you up to Gringotts Bank where your eyes will immediately be led to the domed roof of the building and the dragon perched menacingly above.
Menacing is an accurate word as every now and again the dragon will start a low growl before spewing out a huge fireball into the sky above Diagon Alley. It’s really impressive, especially so at night.
The main attraction in Diagon Alley is Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts ride. Travelling deep into the vaults of Gringotts Bank, this high speed rollercoaster laden with special effects takes you on a great journey with lots of familiar characters and a few surprises.
Aside from this attraction, there is so much more to see around Diagon Alley. Head down into the darkness of Knockturn Alley. Grab a drink at The Leaky Cauldron. Call into Ollivanders Wand Shop to see a wand choose it’s wizard. Stop off in the Gringotts Money Exchange for some interaction with the goblin and trade your money for some Gringotts bank notes that you can spend in the park. The list goes on.
When you have tired yourself out at Diagon Alley, what could be better than a relaxing train journey through the countryside? Exiting back into the streets of London and turning right you will find yourself outside Kings Cross Station, where you can take the Hogwarts Express all the way to Hogsmeade.
Boarding the full size train where you will have your own cabin just like the Harry and his friends, this interactive journey takes you from the streets of London out into the countryside and along to Hogsmeade, where along the way you will meet plenty of characters from the movies. As you would expect, it’s not all plain sailing, there are interesting moments along the way.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade
On arrival at Hogsmeade station it is clear that you have entered a whole new magical area. This area, by far, is the most impressive of both the parks, in my humble opinion.
Leaving the station, you pass through a stone archway and onto the cobbled streets of Hogsmeade with it’s snow capped roofs and wonky chimneys.
Passing by many familiar places along the way there is plenty to keep you occupied here. Buy some chocolate frogs at Honeydukes. Call into The Three Broomsticks for a bite to eat and Hogshead for a Butterbeer (if you have a very sweet tooth)! Send a letter from the Owl Post.
Reaching the end of the streets of Hogsmeade and turning the corner you arrive at the gates of Hogwarts School with the building and pointed turrets towering over the park on the clifftop.
The Hogwarts building houses the area’s main attraction – Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey – quite possibly the greatest dark ride experience currently in existence. I know that’s a big accolade, but I feel I can confidently say that.
The walk through the queue line is magical in itself, this is possibly one of the only rides where I hope that there is a queue so I can spend time wandering the corridors of Hogwarts taking in all the details on offer.
The ride itself whisks you on a journey where you follow Harry, Ron and Hermione on their broomsticks out of the castle and come face to face with some of the more threatening characters from the stories. A mix of screen based technology and live action effects, it is so disorientating and immersive that it’s quite difficult to figure out how the ride technology works. Being a bit geeky, I have obviously looked into it but it’s best to leave some things unknown to fully enjoy the experience. So that’s all I am saying on that subject folks! Take my word though, this is one amazing ride experience.
The other attraction on offer in the Hogsmeade area is Flight of the Hippogriff, a family friendly rollercoaster situated next to Hagrid’s home at the base of the castle.
Sadly, this year, the other main attraction in the area has been removed to make way for a new attraction. Dragon Challenge, formerly known as Dueling Dragons was a pair of large inverted steel rollercoasters, an impressive spectacle but sadly clearly not as popular in recent years as they once had been. They looked great and the queue line offered great views across to Hogwarts. RIP Dragon Challenge.
It’s worth noting that the Hogwarts Express can also be taken from Hogsmeade back to Kings Cross, offering a completely different story on the return leg of the journey. To ride the Hogwarts Express, you need to have a valid ticket for both parks.
Volcano Bay is Universal new and third park in Orlando. Opened in 2017, this large scale water park set on a volcanic island in the Pacific features a collection of flumes, raft rides, water coasters and a wave pool in a beautiful setting. Sadly this park hadn’t opened before our last visit, so I will have to save my opinions on this until my next trip to Florida.
So, well done if you made it to the end of this post. I hope you have enjoyed the photos and my opinions on the parks.
Universal Orlando is a great immersive theme park experience with a great resort element. If you have the opportunity to visit, and the funds to stay at one of the onsite hotels then it is definitely worthwhile.