Universal Studios Florida
Orlando, Florida, USA
“To be avoided if you’re allergic to 3D glasses”
Universal theme parks can be found all across the globe. This entertainment company currently owns resorts in Japan, Singapore, Hollywood and Florida, while a 5th resort is being constructed in Beijing. Universal Orlando Resort is by far the largest Universal destination. It can be found in Central Florida, just 10 miles north of the beloved Walt Disney World Resort. To compete with Mickey Mouse, Universal Orlando boasts two full-size theme parks, a brand-new water park and a large shopping and dining area. Universal Studios Florida was the first park to open at the resort on 7 June 1990. It is currently the 11th most visited theme park on the planet, so I’m sure that it has lots of interesting things to offer.
A total of four roller coasters are currently operating at Universal Studios Florida. There’s something for everyone: children are treated to a Woody Woodpecker-themed kiddie coaster and thrill seekers usually head towards Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit. Rip Ride Rockit is an X-Car coaster from German manufacturer Maurer and it was built next to the park’s main street. In all honesty… I don’t like it at all. Firstly, the ride is hideous. I know that the Japanese Universal park has also built a coaster in its Hollywood area, but at least they opted for an elegant B&M machine. Rip Ride Rockit is everything but elegant and it dominates the skyline in an ugly way. Secondly, the actual experience is shaky and pointless. I like the fact that you get to choose your personal on board audio, but the coaster’s roughness just makes it hard to appreciate the music.
A ride on Revenge of the Mummy causes considerably less headbanging and more fun. This indoor coaster was integrated at the park’s iconic Museum of Antiquities and the theming works very well. The ride itself has strengths and weaknesses. I’m positive about the dark ride part, the smoothly running trains and the powerful curves. However, I’m a bit disappointed by some other decorative choices. Theming during the coaster segment is very limited and it looks as if it were designed by a toddler. Besides, the ‘humorous’ final scene doesn’t really fit within the ride’s dark theme.
The resort’s most popular inhabitant is a British wizard. Harry Potter made his debut at the parks in 2010 with the opening of Hogsmeade at the neighbouring Islands of Adventure. And since everything Mr Potter touches turns into gold, Universal didn’t hesitate to expand the Wizarding World. In 2014, Universal Studios Florida presented Diagon Alley, a brand-new themed land. And despite the fact that I’m not into Harry Potter, I have to admit that Diagon Alley is absolutely stunning. The detail level is incredible and it really feels like stepping into a different world. The area’s main attraction is Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, which is located underneath a huge fire-breathing dragon. The theming of this ride is astounding, while the combination of screens and real decoration is performed very well. Escape from Gringotts functions as the park’s main draw and executes this role in an excellent way.
So uhm… you don’t like 3D rides? Bad news for me then, because Universal Orlando Resort is the capital of 3D attractions. At Universal Studios, 3D glasses are used in Escape from Gringotts, Despicable Me – Minion Mayhem, Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon and Transformers The Ride 3D. The latter is a ride that I don’t hate, but I don’t adore it either. Transformers’ largest issue is the fact that its ride system is identical to the one used in The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, but the overall experience is inferior. The story line is a little too dark and the special effects aren’t as impressive as Spider-Man’s. Don’t get me wrong… Transformers would be an outstanding attraction at every European park, but it just feels a little underwhelming in the world’s theme park capital.
Almost every major theme park on Earth has an interactive dark ride nowadays. Universal Studios Florida couldn’t stay behind and in the year 2000 they presented Men in Black – Alien Attack. Unfortunately, I should once again admit that I’m not a huge fan. I like the building’s EPCOT-like exterior, but the ride feels a tad outdated. Besides, it’s rather unclear what the laser-shooting game is about. Men in Black is a loud and chaotic ride… but not necessarily a good one.
Universal Studios doesn’t mind removing older rides to make way for modern-day attractions. The Jaws boat tour was exchanged for Diagon Alley, Back to the Future was replaced by a hilarious Simpsons simulator and the former Disaster attraction now offers a Fast & Furious theme. One of the park’s few remaining opening day rides is E.T. Adventure. I’m very happy to notice that this is a classic dark ride: it doesn’t involve screens, laser guns or free fall elements. This is just a relaxing, enjoyable flight to the Green Planet. Despite its dated theming, E.T. Adventure remains an iconic dark ride. In fact, Universal could use more quiet, family-friendly attractions like this one.
If you’re a horror addict, then you probably know Universal Studios Florida. The park has become world-famous with its special event called Halloween Horror Nights. This event takes place every year and it usually runs from September until early November. This is a hard-ticket event, which means that separate admission tickets are required. The park remains open for normal operations until the late afternoon and then closes for day guests. So even if you don’t like creepy characters and scare zones, there’s no need to avoid the park during Halloween time.
Entertainment plays a big role at Universal Studios. You may encounter some characters throughout the park and there are quite a few live performances to be explored. The most interesting show takes place on the park’s central lagoon in the evening. Universal Orlando’s Cinematic Celebration is the park’s answer to Disney’s fabled nighttime spectaculars. Of course, nobody’s able to beat Disney when it comes to entertainment, but I certainly enjoyed this show on the lake. The performance features fountains, water screens, projections, fireworks and many immortal film soundtracks. Nice way to conclude our day at the park.
WORTH A VISIT?
Universal Studios is a decent theme park which features some legendary rides and characters. However, you should keep in mind that most attractions are screen-based. I’m personally not that fond of rides which involve 3D glasses and that’s why Universal Studios Florida is just a mediocre park to me. This place really lacks a modern, normal dark ride in which you aren’t obligated to put on 3D glasses. Besides, most of the attractions at Universal Studios Florida feature pre-shows, which automatically minimizes the repeat value of those rides. So honestly, this Universal park fails to amaze me. Luckily, there’s another theme park right next door, so I’ll give the resort a second chance. Better luck at Universal’s Islands of Adventure?
WIZARDING WORLD – DIAGON ALLEY
WOODY WOODPECKER’S KIDZONE
LOEWS ROYAL PACIFIC RESORT
What’s your favourite Universal theme park? Am I the only one who was slightly disappointed after riding Escape from Gringotts? And do you also think that Universal Studios Florida features too many 3D experiences? Share your opinion in the comments section at the bottom of this page.