Orlando Experience II: Universal Fun

22 Mar

Well hello there! I’m glad you stopped by for the second installment of my Orlando Experience series. Hope you slept, despite all of your anticipation. This time I’ll share the Worst, Best and (super helpful) tips for Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. If you are lucky enough to be planning an upcoming Orlando Experience of your own, I highly recommend including the Studios and Islands in your itinerary. I said I found Disney more magical this time around, but I think that is because Disney is more expansive and has more attractions, and not because Universal is fundamentally lacking in anything. Plus after 4 days of hitting Disney hard, my mid-twenties energy wasn’t what my teenage energy had been the last time around. Sad, right? Anyway, I’d say it is worth at least 2 days of your vacation if not a bit more, depending on your speed walking abilities, where you stay, and whether it is Spring Break week in Texas or not. But I’ll get into that later. We had 4 days in the parks, and we got to experience all of our favorite attractions multiple times with some reading time to spare. Ready for my review? I thought so!


I have to give the WORST Ride crown to the newest roller coaster in the park, the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit (Rock-it, get it?!) on the Universal Studios side. The concept is cool, every rider gets to pick from semi-wide and random selection of artists (I went with Daft Punk) to rock them through their coaster experience. The first hill also looks like a lot of fun, a sheer 17-story climb. But I must say (and yes, this is from my new mid-20s semi-intolerance to bumpy rides), that as soon as the coaster went over the first hill I could not wait for the ride to be over. I kept yelling, “My brain hurts!” as my head jostled around every curve. I came off with a pounding headache that took 2 Advil and about an hour to cure. So if you are sensitive to roller coasters, skip it unless you enjoy brain poundings.


Again, we had 4 days in the parks, so we had time to hit nearly every attraction, which is why we even went to The Eighth Voyage of Sinbad. Again, the concept doesn’t seem too bad. It is an extreme stunt show with explosions, water flying everywhere and sword duels. But take my word for it, the acting is painful, all the sound effects much too loud and the jokes relevant to audiences 10 years ago (anyone still want to hear an Ace Ventura or Mr. T joke?). Anyway, don’t go to it! In fact, if they had a comment box, I’d tell them to keep the elaborate theater and somehow repurpose it to fit into the nearby Harry Potter World (which is great, but much too small).

BEST Rides

Best Simulation: Simulation rides (in my definition, when riders look at a screen and move at the same time) seem to be all the rage. Several of Disney (Soarin’, Mission: Space) and Universal’s (The Simpson’s Harry Potter’s Forbidden Journey) newest rides seem to incorporate some of these elements. They are a lot of fun, but heighten the risk of motion sickness. As was evident when the last time we rode Harry Potter, the ride was stopped because a guy 2 cars down from us had barfed all over himself. True disgusting story.

That is why my heart still goes out the 3-D simulation ride starring Spider-Man. It is fun and doesn’t make me feel gross at all. I won’t spoil it for you, but I will say ride it and ride it often. It never gets old.

Best Coaster: My favorite roller coaster is the Dragon Challenge in Harry Potter world. For those of you who have been to the parks before, it is the same Dueling Dragons ride, repurposed to fit Harry’s world. Two coasters run simultaneously seeming as if they are going to collide at any moment. It is smooth and always has a short line. But I would suggest putting in the extra 10 minutes to sit on the front row. From there, you really get to see the near collision action.

Best Wet Ride: And finally, we found ourselves riding and re-riding the Jurassic Park River Adventure. It is basically a very fancy version of Six Flags’ Tidal Wave, but it has the movie magic touch that is both relaxing and thrilling in parts. I’d say it is the best wet ride in the park.

Best Show

Although this show was also a bit corny, I still enjoyed the Animal Actor show the best. I was easily wowed by the talented menagerie that went flying, scampering and trotting across the stage.

My Tips: Beating the Crowd

Look how happy we are – staying at the Royal Pacific hotel on site.

Stay in a hotel on site: If you stay in one of the 3 on site hotels, you get an unlimited fast pass to every ride but Harry Potter’s Forbidden Journey and the Rip Ride Rockit. In my opinion, that is the only way to do Universal. You can buy an Express Pass (for a pretty penny), but it only works once for each ride. Not worth it.

Single Rider: The single rider lines cut wait times from 2 hours to 10 minutes. But of course, it is more fun to ride with friends and family. However, if you aren’t staying onsite, this is the best way to beat the crowds.

Harry Potter World Tips

Harry Potter World was wonderful, but extremely crowded. I wanted to just karate chop people out of my way, but I knew that would be wrong, so I refrained. The snow topped shops (like Honey Dukes and Ollivander’s), the crooked chimneys, the Hogwarts Express and even Hogwarts itself are all there just as I imagined them. It is worth a visit!

All week, people had to get a pass just to get into the Harry Potter section of the park later in the day. It was always at capacity. If you stay on site, you get an extra hour in the morning to check it out. Also, if you wait until about 7:30 or 8:00 pm, you can go directly in and breathe fairly easily. If you only buy one thing in there, get the Butter Beer! It is a delectable mixture of shortbread and butterscotch. Enough said. We also came out with Chocolate Frogs. I haven’t tried mine yet. But it looks GREAT.

Again, if you’ve always been a Disney person, you should check Universal out. It is for a more mature crowd, so there are fewer strollers to run you over. It is fun, especially if you know the secrets.

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