Pros: Super rides and amazing themeing - something for everybody! A great day out!
Cons: Honestly, not much...
I recently returned from 2 magical weeks in Orlando, Florida.
During our stay we visited many theme parks, including Universal Studios Islands Of Adventure. There are 2 Universal Studios parks in Orlando - the original Universal Studios (which first opened in 1990) and the newer Universal Studios Islands Of Adventure (which first opened in 1999). This review will focus on the newest Universal Studios park.
We caught a taxi from our hotel and back again. There is a taxi rank right outside the parks and we didn't have to wait for a taxi. Car parking is also available for $15.00 per vehicle, per day. Universal Studios is nearby all the other main theme parks in Orlando and is only roughly a 20 minute drive from Walt Disney World. When you arrive you have to pass through Universal Citywalk which is full of bars, clubs, shops, restaurants and general entertainment (mini golf, cinema etc). We didn't stop at Universal Citywalk (only for photos) but it did seem quite lively in the evening. You don't need a ticket to enter Universal Citywalk. This is where you decide what park to choose - right for Universal Studios and left for Universal Studios Islands Of Adventure.
We bought our tickets at the gate, you can also buy them online. One day park tickets cost $88.00 for adults (these can be used in either Universal Parks but not both) and children cost $82.00. One day park tickets to BOTH parks cost $123.00 ($117.00 for children), although you will certainly need more than one day to cover both parks. We wanted to visit both Universal Parks, so we purchased the most sensible and cost effective tickets - 2 day park-to-park. These tickets cost a whopping $139.99 for adults ($129.99 for children) and allow you in to both parks, for 2 separate days. Tickets are very expensive but if you want to visit both Universal parks I would definitely advise paying an extra $16.99 for a 2 day park-to-park ticket. Park hours vary between 8am - 10pm. Park hours during our visit were 9pm - 8pm and we spent the whole day there.
As the name suggests Universal Studios Islands Of Adventure is owned and run by the American movie production company Universal. Universal are behind some of the best and highest grossing films ever made. Every ride/show/attraction in the original Universal Studios park is based on Universal movies, however Islands Of Adventure have branched out and included characters licensed from rival studios. This is great because there are no other theme parks in the world that include the likes of Harry Potter, Marvel and Dr Seuss!
We had children in our group ranging from 4-8 years. The 4 year old got on most rides but children any younger many struggle to meet some height requirements. Before our holiday I was advised to skip Islands Of Adventure because there were apparently too many adult rides and not enough for children. I'm glad I didn't take that advice because this was one of our favourite parks in Orlando! Be sure to bring an autograph book because there are lots of characters to meet. We visited on a weekday and although the park was quite busy, we didn't have to queue very much for rides which was excellent and allowed us to cover most of the park. Avoid weekends and American holidays if possible! Islands Of Adventure is situated around a big lake. This is a good set up as it means you can make your way around the park easily and wont miss anything. We made our way around the park clockwise. There are a number of shops at the entrance/exit, we didn't end up visiting these shops but I did notice an all year round Christmas shop!
We started off at Marvel Super Hero Island. The biggest rollercoaster in the park can be found here - it's green, HUGE and super fast... not surprisingly, it's called The Incredible Hulk! This was probably my most favourite roller coaster in Orlando. We queued for a front seat which took about half hour longer than the regular queue, but it was well worth it. It takes off at high speed, has loads of loops and reaches speeds of 65 mph! Another favourite in Marvel Super Hero Island was 'The Amazing Adventures Of Spiderman'. You wear 3D glasses and sit in carts (which hold about 8 people). It's an attraction which is like a 3D simulator but is also a ride which actually moves, spins and drops. I still can't get my head around it, it's very clever! You take a turbulent trip around the streets of New York as you encounter all of the Spiderman villains, as well as Spiderman himself! This is a great ride for kids and adults. 'Doctor Doom's Fearfall' (Fantastic Four themed) is a thrill ride which takes you high up and drops you back down at high speed. Unfortunately I didn't get to do this ride but I'm told it was very good! A tamer ride in Marvel Super Hero Island is 'Storm Force Accelatron' which is like a spinning teacup ride. It's not the most exciting ride but it's a good little family ride and had a very short queue. Marvel Super Hero Island is visually spectacular and is sure to please comic book geeks young and old! There were plenty of places to eat and shop here, although we didn't do either of those. One thing that we all really enjoyed was meeting some Marvel Heroes! During our visit we met Wolverine, Storm, Rouge and Captain America. You can also meet Spiderman, Dr Doom and Cyclops (I'm sure there are plenty of others that we didn't see), plus there is a daily Marvel Super Hero parade which we didn't find out about until we got home!
The next part we visited was Toon Lagoon. This 'island' is themed on classic cartoons. This is a fun area for children (although our kids didn't know most of the characters!) and enjoyable for adults (I love Popeye!). It's home to 2 wet rides and there is also a little Popeye-themed wet play area - if you don't want to get wet, skip Toon Lagoon! 'Popeye and Bluto's Bilge-Rat Barges' is a river rapids ride where you sit in round rafts that hold about 10 people. My advice for this ride is to wear as little clothes as possible as you WILL get absolutely SOAKED! It lasted a lot longer than I expected and we got a lot wetter than I expected, especially as people watching the ride can shoot water guns at you and detonate water cannons! It was great fun and something I definitely recommend doing. There are dryers at the exit, although the Florida sun should dry you off in no time. We were going to ride 'Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls' afterwards, which is a log flume ride. It looked excellent and almost looked as if it turned in to a rollercoaster at the bottom of the drop. However some of our group didn't want to get wet again so we decided to skip this one. There are lots of nice shops in Toon Lagoon, I particularly liked the Betty Boop shop. There are 3 different counter service restaurants here too. We met Popeye and Olive Oyl in Toon Lagoon and all agreed that the theme was really fun.
Me and my daughter love the movie Jurassic Park so we were rather excited to visit the next part of the park. You enter under a big Jurassic Park archway (much like the one from the movie) and one of the first sights you see is one of the cars from Jurassic Park and a huge T-Rex emerging from the bushes! It's set out like the real Jurassic Park - lots of lush vegetation, wooden buildings, little exhibits scattered about and even a dinosaur or two! The main ride here is 'Jurassic Park River Adventure' and despite being a popular ride, we queued for about 5 minutes! You sit in boats (in rows of about 4) and take a leisurely cruise along a river where you encounter a number of friendly animatronic dinosaurs. I thought the dinosaurs looked pretty convincing. Some of them were standing in the river, some of them were in the bushes and some of them gave you a fright as they sprung up from the water! Everything begins to go wrong as your boat accidental takes a wrong turn and in to the path of some rather scary dinosaurs. Lots of the dinosaurs pop out when you're not expecting them and some of them even spit 'acid' at you! We came face to face with a MASSIVE T-Rex, just when we thought we were about to be eaten, we plunged down a huge slide and in to a big splash. It's great fun. I thought the kids might be a bit scared but they loved it. We got a little bit wet but not uncomfortably wet. There was a fun looking ride called 'Pteranodon Flyers' which were small seats suspended from a cable high up in the air. I was a bit worried about the kids riding on this one (they were single seats) so sadly we decided to skip it. There are 4 different places to eat in Jurassic Park, we decided to eat at a counter service restaurant called The Burger Digs. Two vegetarian burgers (which were very nice) with chips and drinks cost around $20.00. You could create your own burger by putting all the salad and sauce in yourself, which I really liked, plus their were a pair of big dinosaur skeletons in the middle of the restaurant which was pretty cool! Below the restaurant is the 'Jurassic Park Discovery Center' similar to the discovery center in the movie. There's life-size dinosaur models, interactive games and you can even watch a dinosaur egg hatch! There's a few other things to see in Jurassic Park including 'Camp Jurassic' (a kids play area) and 'Triceratops Discovery Trail' (a walkthrough attraction which features a full-size interactive replica of a Triceratops). Everybody was really keen on getting to The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter so we missed those two attractions, I wasn't too bothered about the play area but would have liked to have seen the Triceratops. There were plenty of places to pick up Jurassic Park merchandise too.
The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter is a spectacular sight! Hogwarts has been recreated and looks just like it does in the movies. You can go inside Hogwarts where there is a ride called 'Harry Potter And The Forbidden Journey', this is the most popular Harry Potter ride and is an absolute must do. We queued for about half an hour but the queue had plenty to see (like most queue lines in Universal). There is a room where you board the ride, you can do child swaps here which was really handy for us as our younger two didn't reach the height restriction. This was another ride that blew my mind and was a mixture of real sets, animatronics and projection screens. You sit in 'enchanted benches' of 4 and are held in by over shoulder restraints. The ride includes all of the main Harry Potter characters and your enchanted bench takes plenty of twists and turns (almost upside down at points!). Next to Hogwarts is a small rollercoaster called 'Flight Of The Hippogriff' which had no queue at all and wasn't the most exciting rollercoaster, but the kids enjoyed it and thought it was fast. Hogsmeade Village is really impressive too. It's covered in snow and looks so authentic, the window displays are brilliant too. My most vivid memory is watching a screaming Mandrake (plant) moving about in one of the shop windows (I actually heard it before I saw it!). There's are 2 joint rollercoasters called 'Dragon Challenge', they were formally called 'Duelling Dragons' and the idea was that the rollercoasters raced against each other, at the same time. However due to a couple of incidents they don't run the two rollercoasters at the same time any more. You can choose either fire (red coaster) or ice (blue coaster). We chose ice and thankfully there wasn't much of a queue. It was a thrilling rollercoaster and one which we all enjoyed, although I still preferred 'The Incredible Hulk'. There are loads of great shops which sell every bit of Harry Potter merchandise that you could think of. There's even a wand shop! There are a lot of good places to eat too, they include unusual food and drink from the Harry Potter stories. We didn't eat here but I slightly regret not getting myself a Butterbeer! I'm not a Harry Potter geek (although I have seen about 4 or 5 of the movies with my daughter and have enjoyed them all) and absolutely loved this area of the park, so I imagine this would be an absolute wonderland to diehard Harry Potter fans!
The next area of the park is called The Lost Continent. It is themed to ancient myths and legends. None of us were too interested in this part of the park (and we were running low on time) so we really didn't spend much time in this area. I noticed there were plenty of places to eat and there were also a couple of shows. One thing which we all enjoyed was an interactive fountain called 'The Mystic Fountain'. At first glance it just looked like a normal fountain but then it started talking to us! Needless to say the kids ended up getting completely soaked.
The last 'island' is Suess Landing. This is a lovely themed area of the park which is cute, unusual and whimsical! It's perfect for children and fans of Dr Seuss. There are no big thrill rides here, but instead a number of fun and tame rides. Our favourite was 'The Cat In The Hat' which is a dark ride set inside a big stripy hat. You sit in carts of about 6 and ride through the story of The Cat In The Hat, where you get to see all your favourite Cat In The Hat characters. It was longer than I expected, fun and spinney! There's a Dr Seuss themed carousel called 'Caro-Suess-el' which is nice for little ones. There's also another spinning ride called 'One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish' where you ride in fishes and can make them go up and down (similar to the Dumbo and Aladdin ride at Disney's Magic Kingdom). There's also fishes around the edges which squirt water at you, so my daughter had lots of fun lining me up with the fish and watching me get soaked! The kids really enjoyed 'If I Ran A Zoo'. They kept calling it a maze but it was more of a play area which was full of tunnels, slides and even had a water play area (all Suess themed). This kept them entertained for about half an hour whilst we had a rest and positioned ourselves at the entrance and exit to avoid any escapes! There's a slow moving tram ride called 'The High In The Sky Suess Trolley Train Ride' which gives you a good view of Seuss Landing from above. It's not the most exciting ride but like most things in Suess Landing, there's just something about it that makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside! There are places to eat (although we didn't) and some amazing Dr Seuss shops to visit (which we did!). I saw a LOT of kids (and adults!) wearing 'Thing 1' and 'Thing 2' t-shirts!
We had sore feet, very little money left in our bank accounts and many of us were still soaked. But to say we had a good time would be an understatement, we had the BEST time. I would say this was one of my favourite parks in Orlando. There are so many things at Islands Of Adventures that can't be found elsewhere and all of the different 'islands' were so varied. It has themes and rides that appeal to everybody. Everything was done really well and clearly no expense was spared! I had previously heard that this park was horrendously crowded and we would spend hours queueing, but we must have timed it well because the longest we queued for a ride for was about 35 minutes. If you're visiting Orlando, I definitely recommend giving Universal Studios Islands Of Adventure a visit!