One of the highlights of our recent trip to Orlando, Florida was the day we spent at Universal Orlando. Universal Orlando is actually two separate theme parks – Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios.
What to Expect
Islands of Adventure is split into a number of areas including Seuss Landing, with lots of gorgeous rides for young Dr Seuss fans, and Marvel Superhero Island, featuring rides based on Marvel characters like Hulk and Spiderman. Islands of Adventure is also where you’ll find the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Universal says it’s where visitors step into the world of the movies, with attractions based on Shrek, The Mummy, Men in Black and lots of other well-known Universal movies.
Expect to spend at least one full day exploring the park – many visitors spend 2 or 3 days here trying to see everything. We were guests of Visit Orlando and Universal, but a quick check online reveals that you can buy tickets in advance which give unlimited access to both areas in the park for 14 days for around £100-£110.
How to skip the lines at Universal Orlando
Universal offers an Express Pass which costs around £30-40 per person, and allows you to go to the front of the line once on each ride, although you get this sort of ticket for free if you’re staying at a Universal hotel. This pass is a little different to Disney’s Fast Pass, in that it lets you skip the line entirely and go immediately to the front of the queue for your chosen attraction (compared to Disney, where Fastpass gives you access to a shorter line).
Another option is the VIP tour experience, which costs $250 per person and gives you unlimited front-line access in both parks, access to the best seats at shows, behind-the-scenes access in the parks, valet parking and a 10% discount on most items you purchase in the park.
Of course, splashing out on VIP access would add significantly to the cost of your holiday, but if it’s a once-in-a-lifetime trip, it might be worth considering Express Pass or the VIP tour to ensure you spend more time having fun, and less time standing in line! We were given a VIP tour experience as guests of the park, and it meant we were able to fit so much more into one day at the park, and not have to stand in lines in the hot sun.
Both Flea and I felt that Universal Orlando was our favourite attraction in Florida. How come?
There are loads of amazing rollercoasters. The Hulk rollercoaster in Islands of Adventure is a real white-knuckle ride, but for my money, the Rip and Rock It Rollercoaster with its 17-storey vertical incline and 65mph drop on the other side was truly memorable. On this ride, your restraint features a music controller where you can even choose your own personal soundtrack-to-terror. Although quite why I chose a loud rap song that shouted, “It’s almost over now” in my ears while I screamed in terror is anyone’s guess.
Great rides for kids: While some of the bigger rollercoasters like The Hulk (above) and Rip and Rock It are suitable for ages 10+, for younger kids who like rollercoasters, it’s not all ‘little kid’ rides – The Mummy Returns and the Jurassic Park River Adventure are lots of fun for mini thrill-seekers. Flea likes her rides fast and – ideally – upside down, so Universal was absolutely perfect for her.
Two words: Harry Potter. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter was Flea’s number one want-to-see destination in Florida and it didn’t disappoint. One moment you’re wandering through an Aztec world of adventure then you round a corner to see a HUGE Hogwarts castle and the Hogwarts Express, complete with friendly conductor. You can go into the sweet shop, and have lunch at the Three Broomsticks, where the friendly staff bring overflowing mugs of butterbeer, and the feast platter is definitely recommended.
The rides here are good fun but the stand-out for Flea was the Forbidden Journey. Walk through the hallways of Hogwarts Castle, surrounded by talking portraits and 3D projections of key characters from the films, before settling on an enchanted bench and flying off for a breath-taking flight around Hogwarts, dodging dragons and swooping over the Quidditch pitch. A-ma-zing. Meanwhile, the Dragon Challenge might be the scariest rollercoaster I’d ever been on, until I went on Rip It Rocket, with a zero-g roll, two corkscrews and two vertical loops.
Really clever simulator rides. I’m not usually wowed by simulation-type rides but the ones we tried at Universal were just incredibly clever. I loved the Spiderman ride where you get blasted with smoke and splashed with water, and the Men in Black ride where you get to shoot aliens. A real favourite was the Despicable Me ride which manages to be funny, exciting and moving – all in one ride!
Five Top Tips for Universal Orlando:
- Go to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter first. This part of the park was MOBBED on a day when the rest of the park was really quite quiet, and the queues for the owl post (where you can send a letter with a Hogsmeade postmark) were incredibly long. On some days, the area is closed and you’ll be given a ticket to return later. Basically? Expect for it to be busy. Go early, or go late.
- Frozen butterbeer is nicer than regular butterbeer. Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans? Really are every flavour. Ugh.
- If you’re staying for a few days, consider buying one of the (expensive) souvenir drink holders with your first drink – you’ll get a discount when you refill the cup in future.
- It gets HOT in the park but each ‘zone’ has a misting station where you can cool down, like the one opposite the Hulk rollercoaster. Alternatively, go on the Jurassic Park ride and sit about midway back in the car – you’ll get soaked.
- Rather than getting loaded down with souvenirs through the day, wait until you leave – there’s a big store right by the exit where you can buy almost anything you’ve seen during the day.
We visited Disneyland as part of a trip to Florida as guests of Visit Orlando. All admission tickets, travel and accommodation costs were met by Visit Orlando. If you’re planning a trip to Orlando, why not try the Orlando Holiday Planning tool to help make the most of your time? You can also check out more photos of our trip on Facebook, and read our other reviews: