Trip Report: 7 Hours at Universal Orlando: 1/14/16
While planning a trip to Orlando for the Disney 3v3 Soccer Championship, my roommate and I wanted to make sure to include a day at Universal Orlando as part of our travel itinerary. I hadn’t visited the Resort since Spring 2013 (pre-Transformers), and despite being a former Disney College Program Intern and spending a year in Orlando, my roommate hadn’t been to Universal Orlando since he was about seven. We were both overdue for a visit.
Armed with one-day two-park tickets, we arrived at Universal’s Islands of Adventure a little before 12 noon. It was a less than ideal start from a timing perspective, especially since both parks were only open until 7:00pm, but that’s what our travel schedule allowed.
We began our journey at Universal’s Islands of Adventure, and headed left into Marvel Super Hero Island. The first thing I noticed was how different the MSHI Skyline looked without the Hulk’s familiar green track. I can’t wait to see how it looks when it is rebuilt.
Our first ride of the day was Dr. Doom’s Fear Fall. In an effort to shave a few minutes off of the 20 minute wait time, we both entered through the Single Rider line, located in the arcade adjacent to Dr. Doom (also where the ride exits). Despite being one of my favorite attractions at Islands of Adventure, I’ve never ridden Dr. Doom while waiting in the actual queue line. From my seat, I had a great view of the Hulk’s construction progress, and a good amount of work had been completed on the back half of the ride.
We decided to come back to Spider-Man later, as it was showing a 50 minute wait when we passed it the first time. Our clockwise journey around Islands of Adventure passed through Toon Lagoon and the soon-to-be-debuted Skull Island and into Jurassic Park. I’m not usually a fan of Water Rides, but Jurassic Park was only operating at a 5 minute wait, and figured it was worth riding, even if the weather was a little chilly. The bright side, we didn’t get that wet.
From Jurassic Park, we headed into Hogsmeade, where we were met with a typhoon of people. Even on a Thursday afternoon, the narrow paths of Hogsmeade were wall-to-wall filled with muggles. An audible was called, and we decided to retrace our steps through Jurassic Park, stop by Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls in Toon Lagoon and Spider-Man in Marvel Super Hero Island before walking through Seuss Landing and entering Hogsmeade again from the opposite side.
I figured that our ride experience on Dudley Do-Right would be similar to our Jurassic Park experience — we wouldn’t get soaked, and would be relatively dry for the rest of the day. I was wrong. All of the water effects were working, and even in the back row, I emerged from the red log ride vehicle looking something like a drowned rat. While the $5 I spent on the “Family Dryer” didn’t fully dry us off, it at least warmed us up before re-emerging into the brisk Florida winter. (It was 60 degrees, and people were wearing Winter Coats.)
On my last trip to Universal Orlando, the Digital Projection and HD upgrades had recently been added to Spider-Man, and I can’t say enough about how much this improves the ride, which was already amazing. It’s so clear and crisp, and I love the Stan Lee Cameos throughout the ride film. All of the effects were working perfectly, and the ride was in perfect sync throughout.
We finally got to Hogsmeade around 2:15pm. It was still packed with people. My one minor gripe with Hogsmeade — I know the paths are designed in a way to feel authentic to the Harry Potter movies by seeming narrow, but with the additions of the wand-activated animated windows (and people with wands standing 5-6 feet away from those windows) and the people who feel like it’s a good idea to stop in the middle of the path and take pictures of everything, it makes the entire area very congested and hard to navigate.
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey only had a 30 minute wait, which was well worth it. My roommate had never experienced any of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and being a Harry Potter fan, he was blown away with the details in Hogsmeade as well as inside of Hogwarts. While Universal Creative has done a fantastic job with the queue line, it is also the victim of people stopping and watching, rather than moving along and heading towards the ride. I’m not trying to sound negative when I say this — it was a holiday weekend, people wanted to see Harry Potter, I get it. It’s just something I noticed in Hogsmeade specifically. Stretched for time, we rode The Flying Hippogriff, but skipped Dueling Dragons…okay fine, Dragon Challenge.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get to ride on the Hogwarts Express, as the Hogsmeade Station was posting a 40 minute wait, and the clock was ticking as our time at Universal Orlando was running out. We grabbed a Frozen Butterbeer (The best kind of Butterbeer, in my opinion) and headed toward Universal Studio’s Florida’s main entrance on foot.
Arriving about 3:45pm, we only had a little more than 3 hours to experience Universal Studios Florida. Our first ride on the Studios side was Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit. With everything in my pockets stowed into a locker, I opted to go with one of Rockit’s “Default” songs, “Intergalactic” by the Beastie Boys, rather than trying to remember exactly what 3 Digit Code would give me “Movin’ Right Along” from the Muppets. (I now know that its #901.). I like HRRR a lot, but I wish that the songs would be updated from time to time.
From Rockit, we moved on to Transformers, which was not open yet when I visited Universal Orlando last time. I tried to remain largely spoiler free for the last 3 years, and I can pleasantly say that I was surprised and really enjoyed myself on this attraction. To me, it was like Spider-Man on steroids, Universal taking a great concept for an attraction and improving upon it. Even as someone who has never seen any of the Transformers films, I was able to get enough of a grasp on the story to follow along, and all of the visuals were very impressive. It’s definitely up there with Spider-Man as one of my favorite dark rides of all time.
After Transformers, we took a quick spin on the Mummy. I tried to tell my roommate about it without giving too much away, but even after all of that, I still don’t think I adequately prepared him for the hybrid dark-ride coaster. It was starting to get dark, so we headed to Diagon Alley (also under construction during my last trip) for my first experience there.
Hogsmeade was the best themed area in any park I had ever visited. I say “was” because Diagon Alley improves upon the already amazing level of detail there and is even more immersive. From the London Waterfront area to the giant fire breathing dragon on top of Gringotts Bank, no stone was left un-turned in transforming this area from Amity Island into the second piece of the Harry Potter Universe in Orlando.
I had time for one final ride before the park closed, and jumped in the Single Rider line at Escape from Gringotts. Another ride I’ve tried to avoid any information about, because I wanted to experience it for the first time, rather than read about it. Though the single rider line didn’t wind through the impressive Audio-Animatronic Goblins behind the Gringotts Desks, they were still very cool to see up close. Escape from Gringotts is another great example of Universal improving upon an earlier attraction, and making it much better than its predecessors. It was like combining the hybrid ride that Revenge of the Mummy gives with the high definition 3D experience of Spider-Man and Transformers into one great attraction. I can very easily say that I was blown away by this ride.
By this time, the park was getting ready to close, so we made our way towards the exit, and ended the day with a quick dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe.
Several Quick Thoughts:
- It’s crazy to me how much Universal Orlando has changed in the last three years and is still changing, compared to other parks in Orlando.
- If I had to do this trip again over, I would have changed my travel schedule to allow for a rope drop arrival, rather than noon. I think I could have accomplished everything I wanted to do (at least my personal highlights) at that point. We were in Orlando by 9:45, but with transportation to the hotel and back to Universal, it added significant time.
- Despite being the start of a long weekend, the crowd levels weren’t bad, and despite closing multiple attractions (Twister, Beetlejuice, and Disaster), the parks never felt very crowded.
- Of everything coming to Universal in the next two years that’s currently in progress, I’m most excited for the New Hulk Coaster, followed by Kong, Fallon, and Fast & Furious. Sapphire Falls Resort and Volcano Bay Water Park are going to be incredible as well
Be sure to check out part one of my trip to Universal in yesterday’s construction update!