Pros: Express Plus Pass, great shows and rides, 3-D, 4-D, animatronics, live shows
Cons: Harry Potter advertisement dangerous
We are currently at Universal Studios Resort in Orlando, Florida. The chief reason we came here is because of the much advertised Harry Potter Exhibit, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter which opened June 18 2010 (three days ago) and is located at the Universal Studios Theme Park called Islands of Adventure. This was the attraction that made my daughter really excited about visiting Orlando, specifically "Harry Potter and the forbidden Journey", but also the "Flight of the Hippogriff", and the "Dragon Challenge". Unfortunately we did not realize that such a recent attraction may not yet be viable to outside visitor and families due to the massive amount of visitors. Luckily my wife and I realized that we should visit both Disney World and Universal Studios and keep the Wizarding World of Harry Potter as just one option and not get too excited about it.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is currently a real disaster. In fact it is Hell. The lines are nine hours long, people being turned away after an eight hours long wait, people are arguing and fighting, people are getting ejected for going to the bathroom or getting a water bottle and then trying to get back in line, and worst of all; long distance visitors with children cannot buy themselves out of the mess via an express plus pass (not valid here). Fortunately our daughter was very mature about the whole thing and she just felt sorry for the people subjecting themselves to this. So were able to skip this exhibit without any tears, protests or other issues. There are a lot of other fun things to do at the Universal Studios Resort and that is what we focused on.
Everyone who is reading this; please spread the word and inform everyone you know of the truth behind the massive advertisement campaign.
If you are planning to come to Orlando chiefly to see the Wizarding World of Harry Potter you should cancel your vacation right now and wait for the craze to wind down. Save it for the end of summer or next year. That is what the hotel manager told us at the hotel where we are staying.
About Universal Studios Resort in Orlando Florida
Despite what I consider a misleading advertisement campaign of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter by Universal Studios I think that Universal Studios Resort is a fun place to visit. It features two theme parks, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, a city walk and a few on-property hotels. I've been here with my family three times (six times at Disney World in Orlando) and we've had a good time every time. The focus of this review is the Universal Studios theme park.
About the Universal Studios Theme Park
The Universal Studios Theme Park features a number of thematic shows and exhibits based on movies but it also features some well done thematic rides. It also features a few roller coasters but you should not come here for the roller coasters, for that we have, for example, the Six Flags amusement parks. The shows and the rides at the Universal Studios theme park are highly imaginative, they feature highly advanced special effects using modern technology, and they are overall very entertaining. On this visit we did most of the major rides and shows, partially thanks to a VIP Express Plus pass. However, combining our three visits to this theme park I think we pretty much covered everything.
The VIP and Express Pass the greatest concept since sliced bread
The best thing since sliced bread is the Express Pass (or VIP pass). By paying a little bit more (well significantly more) or staying at a Universal Studios hotel you can by pass having to stand in long lines. Unlike fast passes there are no times to pass. The Express Plus passes are valid anywhere the whole day. This is great for visitors from other states and especially for overseas visitors. If you travel from far away, pay a lot of money to hotels and airlines, and you don't have a lot of time then the Express Plus Pass can really make your visit a lot more pleasant.
For those who don't have an Express Pass this may increase their waiting time a little bit but in my experience it is not by a lot. On the other hand those who don't have a great need for bypassing lines, for example locals living here year around, should not have a problem allowing those who have very little time and who bring business to Orlando, a privilege that they pay for. Allowing people who have a greater need for bypassing lines to do so, by paying a little bit more is in my opinion a wonderful idea. This is no different from how it works with any service or product that you can buy. It is my hope that this concept will spread to all theme parks and amusement parks around the country.
My ranking of the main attractions at Universal Studios
Below I am listing my personal ranking of the attractions at Universal Studios. In the list I am including the rides/shows that impressed and entertained me the most during the day today or in the last few days. The way I see it; great roller coasters, game arcades, shopping, and dining can be found in every major city, but the thematic shows at Universal Studios is what makes the park a unique and interesting destination. Basically, the ranking is from the perspective of an out of state family.
1. The Simpson Ride
You are seated in a roller coaster car and you are going on the craziest roller coaster imaginable without actually going on a real roller coaster ride. It is all simulation. Amazingly this simulation ride does not require 3-D glasses for its special effects. By surrounding you with an all around movie screen and by turning and twisting the car they create the near 3-D effects. What I liked about this ride was that it was not only highly imaginative and thrilling but also full of humor. I had a lot of laugh out loud moments during this ride.
2. Revenge of the Mummy
This is a roller coaster ride which to some degree reminded me of the Space Mountain roller coaster ride (Disney World). You are traveling at high speed through a dark pyramid full of dangerous creatures and mummies. However, what make it special are the animatronics and the various special effects. Mummies are appearing out of the walls and mummy soldiers are rising up from the sides as you pass by. It also features a lot of unexpected turns like you suddenly going backwards or shooting forward at a high speed.
3. Shrek 4-D
Shrek 4-D is a 3-D show with special effects including chair shaking and motion and the spraying of water. The special effects in this show are incredibly well done. The story is action packed and humor filled and overall it is a good and exciting story. Naturally it features the Shrek characters.
4. Terminator 2 3-D
This show is based on the Terminator 2 movie. A mix of live actors, a very well done 3-D movie, and special effects (water sprays / chair shaking) and intense action and futuristic scenery makes this an awe inspiring show. The 3-D effects are among the best I've ever seen in any 3-D movie and it features the actual actors from Terminator 2 (including Arnold Schwarzenegger). It could be a little scary to young children.
5. MIB Alien Attack
The Men in Black alien Ride was one of the favorites of my boys. You sit in a car and you shoot and aliens that pop up as you go along. The more aliens you hit the more points you get. I did it only one time this time but I did it dozens of times last time I was here.
6. Animal Actors
This is a show featuring live animals including dogs, pigs, birds, raccoons, an orangutan, and other animals. The animals are very well trained and can do amazing tricks. The show is highly comical and also impressive and cute.
7. ET Adventure
Help ET go home. This show is for the younger audience but I still really enjoyed it (for the third time). You sit on vehicles that look like bicycles and you fly through a forest (you are being chased) and over a city and out in space and to ET's home planet where you will see the ET world, ET flora and fauna, and ET villages. This ride features very beautiful scenery.
The old Jaws show has gotten better through the years and it is still quite entertaining despite the many modern shows Universal features now a day. You are in a boat that is being attacked by multiple giant white great sharks. There are explosions, fire, and some well done animatronics.
Other fun rides and shows
There are also many other fun shows and rides in the park which I did not do this time but I did last time including, Disaster (movie-ride), Twister (movie), Jimmy Neutron's Nicktoon Blast, and Beetlejuice Graveyard Review (live stage show). It is possible they have changed lately and my memory of them is fuzzy so I am not including them on my list. However, as I remember, they would probably not make it on my top-eight list. There is also a big roller coaster ride Rip Ride Rock It.
I found the International Food and Film Festival restaurant to be a positive surprise. They served a wide variety of food (pizza, Asian, pasta, salads, chicken, sandwiches, etc) including some quite healthy choices to quite reasonable prices. I did find a low-budget eatery of this quality in any of the four Disney World parks. I can also recommend Lombard's Seafood Grille. However, the City Walk outside of both theme parks features the best fine dining options including many large restaurants. One great restaurant we ate at was the Latin Quarter which featured fine Mexican and Latin American food and live music and the prices were quite reasonable.
Orlando, Florida features a lot of amazing family attractions including Disney World, Universal Studios Resorts, and Sea World, and much more. If you visit Orlando for a week you should visit not just Disney World but also Universal Studios for a couple of days. The two theme parks at Universal Studios Resorts, including this one, are amazing attractions. However, you should visit Disney World first if you have not been to any of the resorts.
Just don't get fooled by the Harry Potter hype. Now is not a good time to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
To see my Top Ten Theme Parks and Amusement Parks list click here.