A year ago in September we finally managed to take Orlando and (some of) its theme parks off our list. Somewhere in between the end of my internship and the beginning of my last year of MBA, my favorite travel partners found the perfect opportunity for a long American vacation. Since they’ve already seen everything that could be seen in NYC, we decided to fly off to warmer Floridian lands. So we squeezed in 6 days of vacation in magical Orlando, visiting Universal Resort, Disney’s Magic Kingdom, and SeaWorld.
Turned out September was the perfect time to visit the parks, since summer vacay is over for most kids and adults of various nationalities, and the weather is still amazing.
So we booked our flight and off we went!
STAY & EAT
After a good number of hours scouring TripAdvisor, Kayak, Booking.com, and the whole shebang, we decided to book 5 nights at Radisson Resort Orlando-Celebration, in Kissimmee. A spacious hotel, complete with swimming pool and outside bar (where we did spend some time), fitness and spa center, as well as basketball and tennis courts.
It was the location that got us, however: 15 minutes away from Universal Resort and SeaWorld, and 10 minutes away from Disney. It has its own restaurant where they serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and there are also a ton of restaurants and supermarkets around.
Although most of the times we ate at different dining places the theme parks provided, we did enjoy some of the restaurants around the hotel such as Charley’s Steakhouse (amazing steaks), Little Italy and Logan’s Roadhouse (typical American vibe), most often for dinner.
We arrived at the hotel sometime in the afternoon and, as usual, the first thing we did was to hit the pool.
FUN Universal Resort
We were there 6 days, of which 4 were spent on parks, and 2, the first and the last, at the hotel’s swimming pool. The theme parks we chose to visit are:
Universal Studios (Universal Resort)
Universal’s Islands of Adventure (Universal Resort)
We didn’t want to book all 6 days with park visits as we didn’t want to feel rushed. Also, constant walking, even if it happens in such fun places, is still exhausting.
In this article, we’ll be talking specifically about Universal Resort and its two parks, Islands of Adventure and Studios. We’ll cover all the rides, attractions, places to eat, and tips and tricks we used to make our visit most enjoyable.
Disney and SeaWorld will follow shortly.
Both Universal Studios and Universal’s Islands of Adventure are part of Universal Resort, along with City Walk and Wet’n’Wild. We decided to visit both, as most people do since they’re both awesome and right next to each other. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is divided between the two parks of the Universal Resort, with Hogsmeade in one, and Diagon Alley in the other, linked by a train ride on (what else?) the Hogwarts Express. So you see the need of visiting both in order to have a full experience.
Technically, Universal Studios is where you enter the movie world, taking part in the action, and in Islands of Adventure, you live every adventure first-hand. This makes you think that one might be full of rides, and the other you get to walk on movie sets. But we found that both parks are incredibly similar, in that they all have attractions with their own ride and shows, souvenir shops, and more.
City Walk is the entertainment hotspot of the Universal Resort, full of various restaurants, bars, and shops. It’s also the entrance to both parks. Needless to say, we didn’t spend a lot of time there as we were more interested in the action of the parks.
We spent one day in each, visiting almost everything that could be visited, and thanks to my brother, riding almost every ride except the Hulk one as it was being renovated. And, to be honest, thank God for that, it was a killer.
UNIVERSAL’S ISLANDS OF ADVENTURE | Universal Resort
Universal’s Islands of Adventure has all its attractions follow a circle so that it’s easy to walk through it and partake in all without missing any of the fun and getting lost. However, we didn’t have a particular order and went first to all the attractions we REALLY liked first, such as Spider-Man and Harry Potter. For the purpose of this here article, we will write about all the attractions in order in an effort to not confuse the hell out of you.
So after a short walk through City Walk, we dived right in.
THE INCREDIBLE HULK COASTER (RIDE)
We didn’t get to ride this one as it was being renovated and it only reopened last month. It’s supposed to be the most adrenaline-inducing ride Universal Resort has to offer, towering both parks. It accelerates to 40 mph (64 km/h) in approximately two seconds and reaches a top speed of 67 mph (108 km/h). Its 3,700-foot-long (1,100 m) and you get inverted (upside down) 7 times. I’m getting stomach-sick just remembering it.
STORM FORCE ACCELATRON (RIDE)
Neither of us remembers seeing this one last year. It might not have existed then, as most parks build and take out rides and attractions fairly often, even in a one year span. Even if we did see it there’s a big chance we might have skipped it as it looks like it was intended for kids.
DOCTOR DOOM’S FEARFALL (RIDE)
We skipped this one as we’re not fans of free fall rides. We did think to ride it because, in the end, when will we have this opportunity again? But no, thanks.
THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF SPIDER-MAN (RIDE)
A high-definition 3-D ride through the streets of New York, helping Spider-Man catch the bad guy. There’s also a 400 ft free-fall. Simulated, of course.
POPEYE’S & BLUTO’S BILGE-RAT BARGES (RIDE)
One of the rides that became our favorite after trying it. You sail on a spinning barge through water rapids, helping Popeye save Olive from the mean Bluto. You get splashed with water from all sides and the fun of it comes when you and other fellow passengers try to duck water coming from various hidden places. Oh, and park guests will also fire water cannons at you from the sides. You’ll get soaking wet, but don’t worry, the Floridian sun will dry you right off. And there are also air dryers that help.
DUDLEY DO-RIGHT’S RIPSAW FALLS (RIDE)
A 5-minute ride on a log through various tunnels and free-falls, and just when you thought it ends with a free-fall straight into the water, there’s another free-fall with a splash. We liked it so much that we tried it twice, and even Bianca liked it.
CAMP JURASSIC (ATTRACTION)
An attraction resembling a park, where you can explore various tunnels of a mine, climb on suspended bridges and wander through huts, encounter and take photos with a 9-foot-tall wild velociraptor, and ride on a Pteranodon. We walked through the camp but skipped the ride as it was meant for people much younger than us.
JURASSIC PARK RIVER ADVENTURE (RIDE)
A raft adventure through the original Jurassic Park jungle, where you’ll be immersed in a pleasant and educative history of dinosaurs… until everything breaks loose and you’ll be forced to flee from T.Rexes and other dangerous foes, and plunge 85-ft in total darkness. Definitely a twice in a row kinda ride.
THE WIZARDING WORLD OF HARRY POTTER – HOGSMEADE (RIDES & ATTRACTION)
Next in order is the much beloved Harry Potter – Hogsmeade world where you will take part in many adventures. Hogsmeade itself is the exact movie replica, at a smaller scale.
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is a Hogwarts tour through the most popular rooms and halls of the castle such as Dumbledore’s office, the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom, the Gryffindor common room, the Room of Requirement and more. At the end of the tour, a simulator ride awaits. The ride doesn’t just go up and down, but it swings in all directions while you help Harry, Ron and Hermione through a very real looking adventure in all the cool places of the HP world.
Flight of the Hippogriff is a friendly coaster on the back of a hippogriff set around Hagrid’s hut, from which you get a fantastic view of Hogsmeade and Hogwarts from above. It’s the perfect debut to have of the area, and it was also the first ride we went on before heading towards the castle.
Dragon Challenge is not for the faint of heart. Just ask Bianca, she is positive she fainted half way through. The ride is actually two roller-coasters which represent two dragons, and I think you can choose on which to ride. Not sure which one we chose, but I doubt it matters, both are killers. If you are familiar with roller coaster lingo, it includes several inversions, a zero-g roll, a Cobra roll, two corkscrews, and two vertical loops. It was the last ride Bianca went on that day.
To brush the dragons off, we went on to Hogsmeade where we walked around and calmed down with a butterbeer. And, of course, we got our own wands, capes, and ties. Obliviate! Oh, no! Now you have to read everything all over again…
Next, you can either hop onto Hogwarts Express and head over to Diagon Alley and Universal Studios, or move along to Sindbad’s world.
EIGHTH VOYAGE OF SINDBAD (ATTRACTION & SHOW)
Here there’s a live stunt show with the same name that we skipped and another show where you are actually involved in called Poseidon’s Fury. You’re lead by an archeologist through the ancient temple of Poseidon and end up trapped beneath the sea. You’re lead from room to room in the means to escape, and eventually, witness a live battle between Poseidon and the evil Lord Darkenon, with spectacular special effects.
There’s a whole area built in ancient Middle Eastern style, where we also got a henna tattoo.
CARO-SEUSS-EL & THE CAT IN THE HAT (RIDES)
Two kid-perfect carousels that we skipped.
SKULL ISLAND REIGN OF KONG
Would have loved to try this one, it looked super awesome, but unfortunately it was still under construction at the time.
UNIVERSAL STUDIOS | Universal Resort
Universal Studios is slightly smaller than it’s counterpart Islands of Adventure, and it also has fewer rides and attractions. It follows a circle, so it’s easy to find your way around. There’re two ways to access it. Either through the front entrance through City Walk, or by taking the Hogwarts Express from Islands of Adventure. You know by now that we wouldn’t miss a ride on the famous train, so let’s start from there.
THE WIZARDING WORLD OF HARRY POTTER – DIAGON ALLEY (RIDES & ATTRACTION)
After a short ride on the Hogwarts Express, you’ll find yourself on platform 9¾ and Diagon Alley. Same with Hogsmeade, it’s a replica of the movie version at a slightly smaller scale.
We went first into Ollivander’s Wand Shop, where we saw a 3D wand show in which a wand chooses its wizard. Then walked into all the shops, including Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, Fred & George’s shop. Other shops you can visit are Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions, Magical Menagerie, Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment, and Quality Quidditch Supplies, Shutterbutton’s Photography Studio, Wands by Gregorovitch, and Scribbulus.
If you’re feeling hungry, there’s plenty of authentic British food and drink, specific to the Harry Potter world, that you can enjoy. Get a bite at the Leaky Cauldron, or have ice cream at Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour, or stop by different street vendors if you just want a snack.
There’s also the infamous Knockturn Alley, where you can walk through and shop in Borgin and Burkes.
Once you’ve finished all the shopping and your belly’s full (or maybe before), head over to Gringotts and admire the huge dragon spitting fireballs. You’ll need to escape from it later in the Escape from Gringotts ride. After walking through the lobby – try not to disturb the goblins hard at work, the 3D ride will follow Harry, Ron, and Hermione through the underground tunnels, where they’re trying to evade not only the dragon but also Voldemort and his favorite minion, Bellatrix.
If you walk into Diagon Alley from Universal Studios, instead of King’s Cross, you’ll notice the Knight Bus towering and you’ll know you made it to London. 🙂
REVENGE OF THE MUMMY (RIDE)
Revenge of the Mummy is one of the most unique indoor roller coasters out here, as you ride at 45 mph/72 kph in total darkness. Bianca was still traumatized from the dragon ride in Hogsmeade so she skipped this one.
TRANSFORMERS: THE RIDE 3D (RIDE)
After a thorough walk through the N*E*S*T base, you’ll hop in a cool 3D ride that will immerse you in the world of Transformers. You’ll take part in an Autobots vs. Decepticons war, where you’ll fight alongside Optimus Prime and Bumblebee.
You can also take a pic with one real-life transformer before entering.
HOLLYWOOD RIP RIDE ROCKIT (RIDE)
One of the MOST TERRIBLE rides out there. Terrible, in that I almost died. I kept asking my brother throughout the beginning straight up part: “WHY did you make me do this?!?” I also said all the prayers I could remember in English and Romanian while listening to Gloria Gaynor’s I will survive in the background. It reaches top speeds of 65 mph/105 kph, towers 17 stories over the park, and features six near-miss moments and first-ever thrills including a record-breaking loop.
Every cart has a camera faced towards you that records your reactions throughout the ride. We watched the masterpiece but didn’t purchase it as we wanted to spare ourselves the humiliation.
Needless to say, Bianca didn’t even want to hear about trying it. She was happy to watch us scream.
DESPICABLE ME MINION MAYHEM (RIDE)
A 3D ride that we skipped because we were still recovering from Rockit, and we didn’t end up returning to it later. It’s one of the rides I really wish we had tried.
SHREK 4D (SHOW)
A funny 3D movie with 4D features where you ride along Shrek and Donkey trying to save Princess Fiona from Lord Farquaad, ghost version. You can also take a pic with a real-life Shrek.
TERMINATOR 2: 3-D (SHOW)
A 3D show with plenty of familiar characters from the Terminator movie. The show happens at certain times, and when we passed it was ongoing. Because we didn’t want to wait, we said we’ll be back later. We totally forgot about it.
E.T. ADVENTURE (RIDE)
Soft ride through the woods and to the stars in flying bicycle-like carts to E.T.’s homeworld. His home is dying, and you’re supposed to take him there for him to save it.
Springfield is a boulevard dedicated to fast-food restaurants of various specialties, all featured on The Simpsons. We didn’t enjoy any of the dishes there, instead choosing to eat at Hardrock both days we were visiting the parks.
THE SIMPSONS (RIDE)
A fun 3D ride featuring the Simpson family. Another ride I wish we would have tried, but then again, we don’t care that much for the show.
WOODY WOODPECKER’S KID ZONE (RIDES, SHOWS & ATTRACTIONS)
The fact that’s called a kid zone is pretty much self-explanatory. The area boasts:
Animal Actors On Location!, a super fun live action show with real animals that have starred in popular movies. It’s all live action performances with audience interaction. That’s where we met Marley 🙂
A Day In The Park With Barney, where you can meet Barney and his friends Baby Bop and BJ in a live musical show.
Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster is a soft, kid-perfect roller coaster.
Curious George Goes To Town is a half inside, half outside storybook playground where you can play with water cannons and other water ‘weapons’ and get drenched on the outside, and play with thousands of soft foam balls on the inside.
We are not ashamed to admit that we partook in most if these kid-friendly activities. Afterall, we are all someone’s kids. 😀
MEN IN BLACK ALIEN ATTACK (ATTRACTION & RIDE)
An interactive ride where you can compete with your friends at shooting aliens. Before you get to the ride part, you get to walk through Men In Black’s top secret underground headquarters, including the break room, the control center, the agents’ locker area and weapons armory.
FEAR FACTOR LIVE (SHOW)
Interactive show that mimics the TV show, where you can either participate or watch. Not being fans of the show, and being exhausted from all the rides and the walking, we totally skipped this one.
EXTRA | Universal Resort
What you need to know when traveling to both parks in the Universal Resort:
- Make sure you wear comfortable clothes and shoes and that you dress appropriately for the weather. It can get extremely hot in Florida, and the weather is unpredictable. You never know when it starts to shower. Also, don’t wear flip flops as you might lose them in the rides.
- You can take backpacks with you if you like, there’s plenty of locker rooms where you can store them while you wonder through the attractions.
- Keep in mind that you will get wet here and there. You’ll dry off quickly, but it would probably be a good idea to have some spares with you.
- Keep your eyes open for parades! We caught the superhero (Marvel) and the minions parades.
- Another thing that we would urge you to do, is to spend a few more $$$ and get VIP passes. You won’t regret it. We skipped so many lines and saved a ton of time. Totally worth it!
And this concludes our two days at Universal Resort. It was two awesome days of complete and utter fun-ness 🙂 And to be honest, we would not mind coming back. Stay tuned for Disney & SeaWorld!