I recently had the opportunity to spend a day at Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure with a group I was leading. Now I am a Disney guy. I hadn’t been to Universal since late 2002 and it really didn’t bother me that I hadn’t been. Nonetheless, I was excited to go and check out the park especially with all the Harry Potter additions. I have had several clients go to Universal so I was glad to be getting some first hand experience to better serve my clients. So I’d thought I’d share a few thoughts from my day at the park.
First off, I think the best ride in all of Orlando may be found in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter! The Forbidden Journey inside the Hogwarts Castle is nothing short of amazing. I rode twice. The first time I utilized the single rider line for a shorter wait which meant I skipped the regular line which frankly I don’t recommend, but more on that later. The ride itself is unlike anything I have every experienced. It uses KUKA robotic arm technology to lift and move the riders throughout the ride. The concept of the ride is that you are playing Quidditch and the technology combined with screens and 3D glasses gives you the sensation that you are actually flying. It is unbelievable. The second time I rode was later at night and the standby wait was low. I went thorough the regular line which is an attraction in itself. Guests walk through Hogwarts Castle seeing the gardens, hallways with pictures that come to life and Dumbledore’s office. If you are a Harry Potter fan, this is a must do!
Another highlight of my time in Universal was experiencing the attention to detail they put into the Harry Potter areas. You feel like you are walking through Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. The shops and stores, give you the opportunity to totally immerse yourself in the world of Harry Potter. Of course, there is also ample opportunity to try Butterbeer. Upon the recommendation of friends, I went with the frozen version, and it did not disappoint!
While there are other rides including the intense Dragon Challenge rollercoasters and the Flight of the Hippograff, the other highlight is Escape from Gringotts. This ride takes you into Gringotts Bank where an adventure awaits. Again, the line to wait is as much an attraction as the ride itself! Universal did an amazing job with the characters your encounter along the way!
What Universal did with the Wizarding World is nothing short of amazing and really served as a game changer in the theme park industry. As a Disney fan, what I am excited about is the fact that Disney now has to answer the challenge of Universal with the upcoming Star Wars Land and Toy Story Land in Hollywood Studios. Disney is going to have to improve upon what Universal has done and after being there to see it, they have their work cut out for them.
As for the rest of the park, outside of Harry Potter, for me its a mixed bag. There is no doubt that there are many thrilling rides in the park. The Mummy is both fun and very intense. Transformers and Spider Man are essentially the same ride with different characters. This leads to my biggest complaint about the park. There are so many screens and 3d glasses. You feel like every ride is similar because of the dependance on the 3d screen technology. It’s impressive, but feels very repetitive.
This is not to say that there are not some other highlights. Rip Ride Rockit is an amazing coaster with a near vertical drop. The Hulk Coaster is a great launch coaster, but unfortunately it was down while we were there. The Seuss Landing area is a great place for kids that has amazing attention to detail. Some of the park hasn’t aged well (I’m looking at you E.T.), and some of the updates have givennew life to old attractions like the transformation of the Back to the Future Ride to the Simpsons.
Last thing, you do want to get a park to park ticket! One of the highlights of the day was riding the Hogwarts Express from Hogsmeade to Diagon Alley. This train ride is full of surprise encounters but the only way you can ride is by having a park to park ticket. Universal put Harry Potter Elements in both parks so to ride the train you have to have the park to park! All in all it was a great day and I look forward to going back with my daughter Sophie!