Located at 6000 Universal Boulevard, Orlando, FL 32819. www.universalorlando.com. Phone: (407) 363-8000.
Three words. Harry. Potter. World. It’s unbelievable that up until a few months ago I hadn’t even seen one of the movies. Needless to say I loved them all and I capped off a week of perfect birthday celebration in early June by going to experience ‘The Wizarding World of Harry Potter’ at Universal. It was breathtaking. By far the highlight of this extensive amusement park. The entire resort encompasses two theme parks (Universal Studios & Islands of Adventure), Universal CityWalk and several hotels. Personally, I don’t mind staying off site on this type of vacation, but I do see the benefits of staying at the resort. Of course, when Ross and I go to a theme park we’re not interested in spending our time in the hotel. We’re focusing on seeing as many of the attractions as possible and experiencing a multitude of the rides. We spent half of the first day walking around Universal Studios. Unfortunately, we hadn’t had sufficient warm up time for the daunting ‘Hollywood Rip Ride Rock-it’, a 65 mph adrenaline pumping roller coaster that greets you as you enter the park. We decided to start off on some easy entertainment, such as ‘Twister’, ‘Disaster’ and finally something with a little heart-stopping, stomach-dropping fun, ‘The Simpson’s Ride’. Ross informed me that this used to be the infamous ‘Back to the Future Ride’, but the park is always revamping and reinventing itself. This was apparent while we were there, as more than a third of it was under construction. One of the more disappointing aspects was that the ‘Despicable Me 3D Ride’ wasn’t scheduled for completion until a couple months after our June visit.
It was a wonderful cap to our first time together during Maria’s birthday. I hadn’t been to Universal in years and Maria had only been once, so living only a little over two hours away, it made sense. Truth be told, I ‘m a Disney World lover, Maria and I even met there (another review, another story, for another day), but back to Universal. Being used to Disney where Park Hopper tickets are a must, we purchased the Universal version, it turned out to be a small mistake in my opinion. As Maria told you we started at Universal Studios and while we didn’t make it on their only true roller coaster, along with not quite enough warm up time or beer for some courage, there was plenty of lightning in the area that day and it was closed several times. Even if we had ridden it, it wouldn’t have saved that part of our day for me. Don’t get me wrong, I would have a fantastic time cleaning sewers if Maria was with me, but Universal Studios needs a makeover. The Simpsons ride is decent, not as good as it’s predecessor Back to the Future, but the rest of the park feels tired. Seriously, the park looks depressed. Like you’re looking at it through a veil. There was a ton of construction going on, the Despicable Me ride looks promising (we LOVE that movie btw), so maybe they can revitalize and reinvigorate the place because they need to. Islands Of Adventure however is a completely different story. It is the opposite of drab and tired, and we spent our entire second day there.
Islands of Adventure is where we discovered Harry Potter World. That’s where we spent a majority of our time, as it is the newest addition to the park. Just as we finished eating a Potteresque lunch at the tavern, ‘Three Broomsticks’, it started to pour. Both of us huddled under an archway with several others. Then we made a run for it and luckily found our way to ‘Harry Potter and the Forbidden Challenge’, an indoor ride. This was my favorite ride! Hands down. Just waiting on the line was entertaining. You weave in and out of corridors, stopping by Dumbledor’s office and the dark arts classroom. They have done such a magnificent job creating a place that so closely resembled Hogwart’s castle that I felt like Professor Snape was going to bust us. This ride was like nothing I had ever been on. It mixed real life computerized objects with an incredible simulator that takes you soaring on a broomstick high above the castle and into a thrilling game of Quidditch. After several rides, we started to feel a bit woosy, so make sure to give yourself ample time to step back into reality. By now, we had finally built up enough courage to give the ‘Dragon Challenge’ a try. It’s actually two separate, yet intertwining high speed roller coasters and they are completely different. They were very short and sweet, but the best part was running back onto the nonexistent line. We were like two little kids. We easily rode these coasters several times in twenty minutes. It helped that some of the crowd had vanished due to the earlier downpour. After viewing a few more Potter attractions we headed to ‘Jurassic Park’, rode a fairly entertaining water ride called ‘River Adventure’. Ross LOVES a flume, but ‘River Adventure’ was put to shame by the steep plummet on ‘Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls’.
Man oh manischewitz, do I ever love a flume! Splash Mountain’s final drop! (I know it always comes back to Disney wuth me.) That being said, Ripsaw Falls is no wallflower. A rollicking good time, with a corker of a finish, I could have ridden it all day. The reason I didn’t was absolutely the existence of Harry Potter World as Maria calls it. I just recently made her watch all the Potter movies over the course of a couple of weeks. She loved them and I loved watching them all over again with her. Universal has done an amazing job recreating the Hogsmeade Village, and nearly every passerby stops for a photo opp, us included. The twin coasters are wicked thrillers, but Maria hit it on the head about ‘Harry Potter and the Forbidden Challenge’. A tremendously unique combination of real action riding and incredible virtual effects that leaves your mind blown and your head spinning. The only damper on our day was the aforementioned downpour. We were indeed huddled under an archway on one occasion and in an airless cave with a bunch of folks another time. That place smelled of wet people and wetter farts and the rain never seemed like it would stop. We needed to get out of there, so I lept into action. Two cheap rain ponchos left unattended, I borrowed them for us, and we skedaddled. Okay, not one of my shining moments as a human being, but we HAD to get out of there. Alright, I’m a thief! You don’t have to be so mean!
Haha. Definitely not one of OUR shining moments. I can’t lie – I took that poncho happily and threw it over my head to avoid the pouring rain. I wasn’t an innocent bystander. I do want to mention that Ross and I can be pansies when it comes to certain things. Occasionally, we spend so much time debating if we’re up to riding something that by the time we’re amped up, the wait time has climbed to 2 hours. Two rides we missed out on because of exorbitant wait times: ‘The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man’ and ‘The Incredible Hulk Coaster’. We definitely should have given Hulk a go, but we just couldn’t man up. Next time we visit Universal, I’m going to make sure we have enough time left to check out the awesome looking mini golf course at the CityWalk. And just maybe by then I’ll have the chops to ride Hulk.
Ross’ Rating: 3.5 Roller Coasters out of 5. Broken down, 4.5 Coasters for Islands of Adventure and a Coaster off for the current lame version of Universal Studios.
Maria’s Rating: 4 Coasters.