Trip Report: Universal Orlando Resort in One Day

Last year, I took a one-day trip to Universal Orlando Resort, and tried to cram two parks into seven hours. While I had a good time, I missed several of my favorite attractions, and learned my lesson. Even for a seasoned Universal Orlando veteran such as myself, it’s tough to hit all of the highlights with less than a full day at the parks.

This year, armed with that knowledge, I again found myself in Orlando over the holiday weekend, and was able to fit in a full day at Universal Orlando last Thursday, beginning at rope drop this time instead of noon. The extra three hours made a world of difference.

Because it had an earlier (6:00pm) close time, I started at Islands of Adventure. IOA has two attractions that had opened in the past year that I hadn’t experienced yet, Skull Island: Reign of Kong, and the new-and-improved Incredible Hulk Coaster. Avoiding the early entry crowds making a right turn towards Hogsmeade and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, I turned left and headed for Marvel Super Hero Island, and Hulk 2.0.

The original Incredible Hulk Coaster closed in September 2015 and reopened in August of 2016 after a complete track and train replacement. While the track layout is essentially the same, the new trains feature on-board audio, and the queue experience is completely different, themed more towards the recent Incredible Hulk films rather than the classic Marvel cartoon. After more than 15 years of constant year-round operation, the “new” ride experience on Hulk 2.0 was a significant improvement over it’s predecessor. I rode it twice, once in the third row, and once in the 7th row — both were great!

Next up was The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman, where all of the effects were working, and the Digital 3D continues to look great. Spiderman is probably my favorite dark ride of all time, and is a must ride every time I visit Islands of Adventure.

Popeye and Bluto’s Bilge Rat Barges was closed for its annual refurbishment, and I also skipped over Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls because I didn’t want to walk around the rest of the day looking and feeling like a drowned rat, so my next attraction hopefully was going to be the new Skull Island: Reign of Kong.

Bad news. The ride was temporarily down, and in “true to amusement park worker” form, there was no indication as to when it would come back up. Luckily, Universal Orlando’s mobile app has a feature that can provide you a notification when a temporarily closed ride re-opens, which is a feature that all park mobile apps should have.

I continued on my journey around Islands of Adventure, stopping at Jurassic Park for a ride on the Jurassic Park River Adventure. The ride was great, and I got a little wet, but not drenched. My one complaint is that the lockers for the River Adventure are $4 per use, when many other lockers at Universal Orlando are free while you ride. I understand that it’s not a requirement to put your things in a locker on this attraction like you would at Men In Black, Forbidden Journey, and all of Universal Orlando’s Roller Coasters, but $4 seemed steep in comparison.

It wasn’t even 10:30 am when I got to Hogsmeade, and I was shocked at how good of time I was making. The only wait I had on Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey was the logjam of people trying to figure out lockers and people stopping to take photos in the queue. The ride experience was great — I always find something new each time through, either in the queue or during the ride itself. After Forbidden Journey, I grabbed a frozen Butterbeer (the best kind of Butterbeer, by the way) and walked around Diagon Alley a little bit.

My one complaint about the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is the congestion of people in Hogsmeade (and Diagon Alley later in the day). Trust me, I get it. Universal Orlando is the closest many people will get to experiencing the Harry Potter universe. They want to experience it their way, and they paid their money just like everyone else. But with the already narrow pathways being clogged by muggles who want to line up and use their interactive wands in the window displays, or forming a giant queue for an outdoor Butterbeer cart, or just stopping in the middle of the walkway to take it all in, I constantly found myself darting through gaps in the crowd to move through the area. Just a minor annoyance, and there’s probably no way around it while keeping true to the films.

I doubled back into Jurassic Park for an early lunch at The Burger Digs, and some “across the lagoon” views of the Hulk. While letting my lunch settle, I headed into Seuss Landing for a ride on Cat in the Hat, and was greeted by a notification on my phone that Skull Island: Reign of Kong was now operational. Doubling back again, (lots of steps on the Fitbit that day) I made my way back through Hogsmeade and Jurassic Park and headed for Skull Island. Upon arrival, the wait time had already reached 60 minutes, but because I had never experienced the attraction before, and I hadn’t waited for anything else all day, I wasn’t going to turn down this opportunity.

The queue for Reign of Kong is very impressive — lots of detail obviously went into every scene in the line. However, after spending nearly 45 minutes in the main queue room with the animatronic woman yelling the same message on repeat and the constant chant of “KONG, KONG, KONG,” it got old pretty quickly. The wait time was right on the nose with it’s accuracy, as it was 60 minutes exactly from entering the queue to boarding the ride vehicle.

I’d tried to steer clear of spoilers since Reign of Kong opened, knowing a few details, but keeping the ride experience a secret for the most part. I do know that the trackless ride vehicles have the capabilities of going outside, or, in the event of bad weather or other circumstances, bypassing that portion of the ride entirely and heading into the cave. I’m not sure why we skipped the outside portion (it wasn’t weather — maybe something wrong with that portion of the track that caused the earlier delay? Just speculation on my end.), but we headed straight into the cave out of the station.

To be honest, for someone who hasn’t seen any of the newer King Kong films, the ride experience was a little overwhelming. I was tucked into the far side of the ride vehicle, but the screen fully envelopes your group, so your head is constantly on a swivel, trying to figure out what’s happening on both sides of the vehicle. The ride film and the effects were great, and the giant animatronic Kong at the end of the ride was amazing to see up close. My only wish is that the ride was a little longer. It felt short for the amount of time that I waited.

I headed back to Hogsmeade for a trip on each of the Dueling Dragons (which I still refuse to call Dragon Challenge, despite the fact the dragons no longer ‘duel.’). Both coasters are some of my favorite B&M inverts, with rides towards the front of the train providing a very smooth experience. The coaster was essentially a walk on, with the only queue backup occurring as riders walked through the metal detectors to ensure that no loose articles were aboard.

Accomplishing everything I wanted to accomplish at Islands of Adventure, and it was time for my first ride on the Hogwarts Express, another ride that I’ve tried to remain spoiler-free on since it opened. The windows that aren’t actually windows are a great touch, because even though I’d like to see the backstage area of Universal Orlando, Harry Potter fans who are taking the Hogwarts Express may not feel the same way. There were several clever illusions throughout the short trip from Islands of Adventure, and it was a welcome feeling to sit down for a few minutes on the park-to-park trip. Curious about How the Hogwarts Express Works? Click here!

Arriving at the Diagon Alley station about 3:00pm, I had a few hours to check off rides from my Universal Studios Florida to-do list. Fortunately, much like at Islands of Adventure, wait times were minimal on the Studios side as well. The trip began at Gringotts, where I walked through the main queue for the first time. From the goblins manning the desks in the main bank, to the vaults in the queue, the level of immersion and detail in Gringotts bank is incredible, and something you miss in the single rider queue. The regular queue also provides a bit of a back story, which is nice.

After Gringotts, and navigating my way through the crowds of Diagon Alley, I headed to my favorite attraction at all of Universal Orlando; Men in Black: Alien Attack, another attraction that I missed during last year’s trip. It was my first time going through the normal queue line, because usually when I’m at Universal, I’m staying on-site and utilizing the express pass queue.

After a warm-up score of 386,050 (a little rusty, but it’s been a few years), I took the advice of a friend of mine, and asked the Universal team member at the end of the ride if they were giving any “immigration room” tours today. For those unaware, the Immigration room is the area below the queue line designed to look like the main floor from the Men in Black headquarters in the film. Luckily for me, they were giving “tours” and told me to wait in the Child Swap area and someone would come get me.

A few minutes later, MIB TM came up and got me, led me down a back staircase, and into the immigration room set. It was cool to get up close and personal with some of the set pieces, and there was even a sign-in log on each of the desks for people to take the tour. In a world where theme parks are in a constant state of upcharging, it was very cool to have a unique experience that didn’t cost any extra, and provided some great photography. We even got to ride again afterwards with no waiting, where I carded a score of 510,700 (and that was without the red button bonus!).


Both the Simpsons Ride and E.T. were closed for refurbishment that day, so my next stop (after an enormous donut from Lard Lad Donuts) was Transformers. I still haven’t seen a Transformers film, but love the level of detail on the Transformers ride. My favorite way to describe it is “Spider-Man on Steroids.”

From Transformers, I headed over to Revenge of the Mummy, which still is one of the best hybrid coaster dark rides out there. Several of the effects weren’t working as they have in the past, but the ride experience was still enjoyable as ever. I wonder if Brendan Fraser has ever gotten his cup of coffee.

My last ride of the day was Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, another ride where everything you own must go in a locker. I know Rockit gets a lot of mixed reactions in the coaster community, but I personally really enjoy it. My one wish is that the songs would be updated every so often, so I don’t have to alternate between Beastie Boys and N.E.R.D. each time, or try to commit a 3 digit code to memory to listen to Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem.

By this time, it was about 6:00pm. I grabbed a few photos of Fast & Furious and Race Through New York Construction, and skipped over both Shrek and Despicable Me on my way out of the park, exhausted after a long day.

It’s crazy to me to think that in another year-plus, Universal Orlando will open two more new attractions at Universal Studios Florida, an entire new water park in Volcano Bay, and a new resort hotel with the Aventura Hotel. And of course…there’s always Nintendo to look forward to as well.

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