This is a continuation of my series on other theme parks, for those times when you just can’t get to Disney but want to spend a day at a theme park, or you just want to try something different. Located not to far from Disney is Universal Studios, which is absolutely worth a visit these days. This post will focus just on the Universal Studios park – I’ll be doing another one later on for Islands of Adventure.
It used to be that Universal was basically for people that liked big thrills – they had a lot of the large roller coasters that were way more intense than anything Disney had. But the past couple of years, Universal has really upped its game, particularly where Harry Potter is concerned.
This needs its own little sub-category because it really is that incredible, and pretty much worth visiting Universal just for this if you’re a big Harry Potter fan. I love the books and went to multiple Harry Potter conventions, so I’m a pretty big fan. This half of the park has Diagon Alley, and when I walked in I was truly blown away. It’s the best themeing I’ve ever seen anywhere, and that includes Disney. You feel like you just stepped into the books or the movies. They’ve gone above and beyond. Butterbeer is the most delicious beverage. And the new rides are pretty incredible too. Gringotts is my favorite ride in the park, and the Hogwarts Express is a neat way to get to Islands of Adventure.
Aside from Diagon Alley, the rest of the park has other sections of themeing. When you first walk in the park has the old Hollywood style theme, which is fitting for the park. The new Simpsons area is really bright and colorful and accurate to the show if you enjoy that. There’s also “Production Central,” New York, San Francisco, and World Expo (where you’ll find the Men in Black ride). Side from the two mentioned above, which are also the newest sections, the themeing is nice but nothing super outstanding. A big step up from most theme parks but not quite Disney either.
I have mixed feelings on the rides at Universal. They have some really innovative, unique rides. A good amount of them are motion simulator type rides with 3D screens – this includes Gringotts, the Simpsons, Transformers, and Shrek. The technology is pretty cool, especially on Gringotts. But something to note is that a lot of these rides caused me to get motion sick, which is something I am normally not too bad with at theme parks. I think it’s because there are just so many of these types of rides and if you do a lot of them it takes a toll on a sensitive stomach. I’ve never felt so sick on a ride as I did on the Simpsons. Nevertheless, Gringotts was one of the most original and exciting rides I’ve ever been on. We didn’t get to everything in the park the day we went, but I’ll mention some of the others we did. Rip Ride Rocket was a fun roller coaster but the music aspect of it (a soundtrack is supposed to play while you’re riding) didn’t work for us so that took away some of the fun. E.T. is a very cute ride. And Men in Black is a shooting style game similar to Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin that is a ton of fun. I’ve also heard that Revenge of the Mummy is amazing but sadly, we never got to it.
The food in Universal Studios is just okay. We had lunch at the Leaky Cauldron and it was decent but nothing amazing – and really pricey for a quick service meal. There are only a couple of sit-down places inside the park. That being said, there are some really unique and delicious restaurants outside the park at Citywalk. We had a fantastic dinner at a place called Cowfish, which is a combo burger/sushi restaurant.
I will admit that we never really got around to any of the entertainment portions of Universal. I know that they have a Fear Factor show, Hollywood monsters make-up show, Beetlejuice revue, and the Blues Brothers. I actually saw the Blues Brothers when I went about ten years ago with my dad because he really enjoyed them a lot, but I don’t remember too much.
The Diagon Alley section in particular has some great shopping for Harry Potter fans – you can visit Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes, Borgin and Burkes, and other places to get scarves, practical jokes, robes, and more. The other shops have your typical Universal items, some of which are pretty cool. There’s some cute E.T. things and lots of Marvel goodies, as the superheroes appear in the other section of the park.
Overall I’d say Universal is definitely worth at least considering a trip off of Disney property if you’re in Orlando, and it’s something you absolutely should do if you’re a Harry Potter fan.
Have you visited Universal Studios Florida recently? What did you think?