I Attempted to Conquer Universal Orlando in 12 Hours

My impulsive, last-minute trip to Universal Orlando Resort was fueled by a burning desire to ride Dragon Challenge (Dueling Dragons) before it closes forever next month. But of course one does not go to Islands of Adventure without visiting Universal Studios Florida as well. But I only had one day — that’s a tall order.

I arrived at the park around 8:30 in the morning. The park’s hours were from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., so I had 12-ish hours to ride as much as possible.


I splurged on the standard Universal Express pass, which gave me one skip-the-line privelege at each of the park’s major attractions. The Universal Express “unlimited” level was considerably more expensive. And I knew that given my limited time at the park, I would likely only have time for one ride per attraction.

The transition from my cold hotel room to the muggy Florida air resulted in a foggy camera lense and some very moody morning photos.

I of course started the day with one ride on each side of Dragon Challenge: Chinese Fireball and Hungarian Horntail (read more about my final rides on Dragon Challenge here).


As I predicted, pictures did not do Hogwarts Castle much justice. This towering structure definitely gives Cinderella Castle a run for its money.

It’s rare that I get motion sickness, but Forbidden Journey made me a tad queasy. It was fun no doubt, but the rocking motion mixed with the many video screens left me more disoriented than I was expecting.

Thankfully, the woozy feeling passed not long after the ride ended, but I doubt I will ride it again next time I visit the park. I advise anyone who’s prone to motion sickness to proceed with caution. Save it for the end of the day if you’re unsure.

I used my Universal Express pass to ride Flight of the Hippogriff, which had amassed a lengthy wait only an hour after the park’s opening. It was fun, but otherwise, I wouldn’t have waited more than a few minutes to ride.

Jurassic Park River Adventure was one of the highlights of the day. The ride was closed when I last visited Islands of Adventure in 2006, so my inaugural trip down the river and plunge under the incredible T-Rex head was long overdue.

I read mixed reviews about the new-for-2016 Skull Island: Reign of Kong dark ride, so my expectations weren’t exactly high. But I was pleasantly surprised. Of course, the video screens were plentiful, but I thought Universal did a decent job blending them in with the physical sets. I wouldn’t jump back in line to ride again, but I really did enjoy it more than I thought I would.

Even with my Express Pass, Kong ended up being one of the longest waits of the day as the ride ceased operation to add an additional ride vehicle to the track.


I also wasn’t able to ride Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls during my last visit, so I was very excited to take a spin (or a soaking) on this whimsical, cartoonish log flume extravaganza.

I got more soaked than I thought I would (which was totally fine considering the oppressive heat and humidity). The final drop and airtime hill was just as laugh-out-loud fun as I was hoping it would be.

I didn’t know that a kid was required to accompany adults on the Pteranodon Flyers suspended coaster. That was a bummer, but I don’t think I missed much.

Even though I’m a devout DC Comics fanatic, I still love comic books and superheroes in general. So I was very giddy as I entered Marvel Super Hero Island.

Standing tall over this superhero-infused land is the re-tracked Incredible Hulk. It once claimed the top spot of my favorite coasters list way back in 2006…

…and although it no longer sits at the top of my list, the Hulk is still a fantastic coaster. The new track and trains made for a very smooth ride.

The launch is still as forceful as I remember it.

I also didn’t ride The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man during my last visit (picking up on a pattern yet?). Given the dark ride’s reputation, my expectations were very high. And I’m happy to say that it did not disappoint — it was pure fun from start to finish. The animation was stunning, the pacing was exciting and the physical sets were…amazing. I would have ridden it many more times had time permitted.


I really, really enjoyed Islands of Adventure — much more so than I did in 2006. I could have spent the entire day there, but Universal Studios Florida was calling my name…

…but I knew I would return later in the day. So yes, the adventure lives on indeed.

Much has changed since I last visited Universal Studios Florida (also in 2006). Harry Potter killed Jaws. Jimmy Fallon stopped a Twister. And the Simpson sent Back to the Future to the past.

Also, this beast of a coaster now stands tall over the park.

Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit has always fascinated me. Its placement in a movie studios-themed park — which usually houses its coasters and other attractions indoors — certainly bucks the trend.

But location aside, this Maurer Söhne coaster is one of a kind. The funky layout and the onboard audio make for a very memorable ride experience.

I thoroughly enjoyed zipping above the park to the sounds of the Black Eyed Peas.

I also enjoyed my time at Universal Studios because it wasn’t as crowded as Islands of Adventure — not consistently, at least. It was nice to find a relatively quiet space to collect my thoughts and continue developing my strategy. The day was passing by quickly.

After a short break, I headed to the next attraction on my list.

Given the reviews of the recent Transformers films, I wasn’t very optimistic about Optimus Prime’s relatively new dark ride.

It was fun, but it was plagued by Universal’s increasing reliance on screens. I wouldn’t have waited in the 60+ minute standby line, but I did enjoy the ride.

I’m hoping that Fast & Furious: Supercharged is just as fun as the Fast & Furious movies.

This area reminded me a bit of the (sadly) former Jaws attraction, which I didn’t realize I would miss as much as I did.

Unfortunately, I didn’t make it across the lagoon to Krustyland. But I’m not a Simpsons fanatic, so I wasn’t too upset. Now if Universal was to acquire rights to Bob’s Burgers…

After visiting Hogsmeade, I expected Diagon Alley would be the star attraction of this park.

It was.

As someone who is aloof to much of the Harry Potter universe, I know I didn’t get 99% of what was going on in both Potter worlds, but I still enjoyed the overall vibes of both lands. Fan or not, the beautiful attention to detail is undeniable. Come on, how can you not appreciate a triple-decker bus?

If I was blindfolded and dropped in Diagon Alley, I’d have no idea that I was inside Universal Studios — and I had seen photos of the land. Again, pictures don’t do these works of theme park art any justice.

The area is completely disconnected from the rest of the park — much more so than Hogsmeade at Islands of Adventure.

Even though the area was crowded, I was still able to enjoy myself (especially after buying another Butterbeer).

Pro tip: don’t look the dragon in its eyes.

The queue for Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts was almost a ride in itself. The immaculate rooms, faux elevator and animatronics were all amazing.

Again, even though I’m not familiar with the characters, this animatronic was still one of the best I’ve ever seen at a theme park.

Both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade really made me want to read the Harry Potter books — or at least watch the movies from start to finish.

Revenge of the Mummy was the surprise hit of my 2006 visit. It wasn’t as great as I remembered, but it was still a lot of fun — the fake ending gets me every time. The locker setup out front, however, made me a tad bit claustrophobic. It was fittingly tomb-like.

Not surprisingly, as the sun slowly began to set, the storms slowly rolled in. Unfazed by the ominous clouds, I headed back to Islands of Adventure for my last rides on Dragon Challenge.

Don’t miss reading about those final rides.

While the rain put a damper on the end of the day, I was still able to ride most of the rides on my Universal Orlando bucket list. Sure, I missed a few of the parks’ “mid-tier” attractions. There are plenty of things I would do differently if I could repeat the day. Besides, I don’t think it’s humanly possible to do everything Universal Orlando has to offer in one day (props to anyone who has). But that’s all the more reason to come back soon.

How would you conquer Universal Orlando in 12 hours? Share your tips and strategy in the comments section below.

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1 Response

  1. Zachary says:

    Well,I didn’t conquer it in 12 hours,but I got done in one and a half day!So here is what I did.
    Day One
    Early Entry
    Hungarian Horntail
    Chinese Fireball
    Flight of the Hippogriff
    Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
    Park Opening
    River Journey
    Spider Man
    Dr.Dooms Fearfall(I passed out on it,so I don’t know how good it was)
    The Incredible Hulk
    Dr.Suess Trolley
    Harry Potter and the Forbiden Journey
    hogwarts Express
    Men In Black
    Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit
    Day Two
    Early Entry
    Hungarian Horntail(Twice)
    Chinese Fireball
    Park Opening
    Skull Island
    Hogwarts Express
    Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
    Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit(twice)
    Revenge of the Mummy
    Terminator 2
    Kang & Kodos Twirl N’ Hurl
    E.T Adventure
    Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster
    Men in Black
    Revenge of the Mummy
    I have videos of my visit on my YouTube channel.