Thoughts on Universal Orlando

I recently went on a vacation with friend down to Universal Orlando with some friends. We went in part to see the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter section which opened this summer. This was my first time going to a major theme park, so below are some tips and comments from my vacation.

Tips

  1. Consider staying in one of the park hotels to save on transportation costs. If you’re not willing to pay the price for staying on park, there’s a DoubleTree hotel just a mile outside the park entrance, a taxi from there to the park is only $5.
  2. Get to the park as early as your tickets let you inside the gates. Lines form quickly, especially for popular rides, and during peak times really popular rides can have wait times over an hour long. This is doubly troubling as the lines have a tendency to go in and back out again of air-conditioning with only minimal fans & misting devices to keep the heat down.
  3. Carry a water bottle and refill it from the water fountains. Water fights off heat stroke better than soda, and refilling a water bottle is much cheaper than buying drink after drink (though the lemon slushes –sold in a few places around the park– were really, really good).
  4. If the lines for a ride are very long, consider trying the single rider line. The parks use the single rider line to help fill-in empty seats on the rides, if you use this line you aren’t guaranteed (and cannot ask to be) seated with a friend. However when we used it; we frequently got seated on the same car. Plus some of the time we got through a 30 minute line in only 5 minutes.
  5. Take the time to go to one of the sit-down restaurants for lunch every day. That hour or so in the air-conditioning is vital to one’s sanity & health. Plus some of those restaurants are really good.
    • Mythos was our lunchtime favorite.
    • Lombard’s is known for its seafood but we found both the food and service to only be mediocre.
  6. The best restaurant for supper is called the Latin Quarter and is located in Universal CityWalk (the free/shopping area between Universal Studios & Universal Islands of Adventure). We ate there twice and ordered their guacamole (made at your table side) 4 times. It’s that good. Oh and when you’re there, ask for Micheal aka “the bald guy” (they’ve only got one bald guy) to be your server. He was ours the first time we were there and he was great!
  7. The new Wizarding World of Harry Potter section is like a magnet to the park visitors. The closer you get to that section, the bigger the crowds (especially the closer you get to peak times). If you want to see any of this, go as early as you possible can to avoid as much of the lines as possible.
    • When we were there our first day was Thursday, we had tickets for early admission and it still took around 2 hours to get through the line into Ollivander’s.
    • Lines for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey were similarly long.
    • If you’re going for multiple days and want to see all of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter section, start each day with one thing you want to get into and wait in the line for that first. Then get out of the Harry Potter section and enjoy some of the rest of the park while the crowds are still filing into Harry Potter.

About the Rides and Shows

As Universal Orlando is divided into 2 separate parks, I’ve separated my comments about each ride and show into their individual parks.

Universal Studios Flordia

  • The Simpsons Ride: This ride is entirely simulation. The car jerks you around while huge, projection screens display whats happening around you. It’s a lot of fun, though I found sitting in the front row of the ride to be hard on my neck.
  • Revenge of the Mummy: This ride is all indoors and is part roller-coaster and part simulation ride (though it is more roller-coaster than simulation). I rode it three separate times while I was there and loved it every time. 🙂 It was my favorite ride and I highly recommend checking it out while you’re there.
  • Men in Black: Alien Attack: During this interactive ride, you’re supposed to shoot the alien invaders. Unfortunately, the “guns” don’t have good sites or anyway of indicating what you’re shooting at. True all the guns display a red dot, but the ride has 2 tracks going side-by-side with 6 persons to a car so you’ve got 12 red dots all over the place. This makes it all but impossible to tell who’s shooting at what.
  • Terminator 2: 3-D: This show is supposed to have some of the most advanced effects of any of the parks, but the majority of the show was mediocre at best. Though the actress playing the director of public communications was pretty funny.
  • Shrek 4-D: Meh. The story for this show appears to take place between the first and second movies. The effects are nothing special and if you get stuck sitting in the back row of the theater, then you can hear the actuators which move the seats up/down for some of the effects.

Islands of Adventure

  • The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man: This is another all simulation ride. It’s based on the old Spider-Man cartoons and not the movies, but basing it on the cartoon really helps with the 3-D effects they use. At one point during the ride, Spider-Man jumps on the front of the car and talks to you. Regardless of where you sit, it looks like he’s talking directly to you. While the lines tend to be long for this; the first time you go through them, it’s good that they are because it gives you time to watch all the backstory to the ride. You’ll definitely want to pay attention to the backstory, it’s sufficiently hokey to be highly entertaining (at least it’s entertaining that first time).
  • Eighth Voyage of Sindbad: Speaking of hokey, this show takes the hokey prize with a fair bit of camp. It’s a fun why to kill a bit time, especially if the sky cuts lose with a torrent of rain.
  • Poseidon’s Fury: This is a show where you walk through several rooms to get to different parts of the show. It’s a lot of fun and the finale uses curtains of water as screens to display some of the effects. While the costumes of the show’s major characters look a bit dated, I still rank this as my favorite of the shows we attended.
Wizarding World of Harry Potter

As this section is so new and its opening was a major influence on our deciding to go this summer, it gets a bit more coverage than the rest.

  • Dragon Challenge: Woosh, this ride goes by fast even though the line doesn’t. My taste in roller-coaters tends towards the classic coasters rather than these modern steel monsters, but it was still a heck of a ride.
  • Flight of the Hippogriff: They claim this a child’s ride but it still whips around mighty fast. It’s a lot of fun and the atmosphere of the waiting line and ride itself are nice.
  • Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey: Like Revenge of the Mummy, this ride is a combination of simulation and roller-coaster. However they greatly increased the number of screens for the simulation experience; which I found unfortunate as the roller-coaster whips you around so fast that it is hard to focus on what’s happening as you go through the ride. NOTE: Absolutely no bags are permitted on this ride, lockers are available at the entrance to the ride; however the lockers are too short for some of the wands available at Ollivander’s or the wand cart to fit in them. If you have bags that don’t fit; the ride attendants will let one of you wait in the child swap area with the bags while the rest of your party enjoys the ride and then they can take the bags while you go on the ride. The ride’s final exit goes through Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods (a fancy gift shop stuffed with all the same Harry Potter merchandise as Dervish and Banges).
  • Three Broomsticks: Cafeteria style food at theme park prices with little atmosphere. I’d suggest skipping it and eating at Mythos instead.
  • Ollivander’s: Whew, the line was insane to get into this and I’m not entirely sure it was worth it. Once you’re in the shop, you get a 5 minute show of the shopkeeper doing a recreation of Harry Potter first getting his wand (using some lucky child from the audience) and then you’re herded into a shop that combines Ollivander’s, Dervish and Banges and the Owl Post.
    • All the Harry Potter merchandise except for the wands at Ollivander’s and possibly some of the candy from Honeydukes appears to be available at the larger gifts store near the entrance to the parks. If you want to buy some Harry Potter gear but don’t like to wait for hours to be crammed into tiny shops with hordes of other people, avoid the shops in the Wizarding World. Shop with the muggles for less suffering and more comfort.
  • Honeydukes and Zonko’s: Like Ollivander’s, these 2 shops from the stories have been combined into a single shop. Sort of. There are separate exterior doors but inside it’s one room and the park attendants will force you to go through a single line to get into them through the Honeydukes entrance.

Update 2010-08-16: Doh! I can’t believe I forgot to mention Butterbeer & Pumpkin Juice. These are 2 speciality drinks only available within the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Butterbear is a rather sugary cream soda with a non-dairy, butterscotch flavored whipped topping “head”. If you don’t buy it in the plastic, collector’s mug; it cost something like $3.50 a glass. I’d say it’s worth having at least once, but it’s so very sugary that I wouldn’t go for a second cup. Pumpkin juice is similar to a homemade apple cider, but with pumpkin pie like flavorings. It was good; but…. At $6.50 a bottle, it’s not something I could see drinking much of.

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