Universal Studios, Orlando
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There are two Universal parks in Orlando, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure- this review is about the former. Universal Studios is a ton of fun, especially because it is a lot less crowded than Islands of Adventure and the lines are shorter, often non-existent! Universal Studios isn't as beautiful as some of the Disney parks, but the Harry Potter area, Diagon Alley, is gorgeous and the rides in the park are great! Arrive as early as you can- 8:15am to the parking lot. They will let you in a little early and you can enjoy the park with near-empty streets! Everyone rushes to Diagon Alley to take the Escape from the Gringotts ride, a high-speed 3D rollercoaster (must be 42" to ride). It's a good idea to catch it early since the line is long later in the day. The queue area is beautiful and magical, with animatronic gringotts to see. The ride is quite jerky, though the story is exciting and the 3D aspect makes it seem quite real.
Diagon Alley, the Harry Potter land, is a masterpiece and it's a joy to just walk around and take in the sights. The architecture is amazing and there are cute shops, sculptures, and details everywhere. You will want to spend plenty of time here just absorbing the palpable atmosphere. It really feels like you're in the book, especially with all the visitors around who are dressed in ties and cloaks.
Despicable Me Minion Mayhem (kids must be 40" to ride) is one of those horrible, jerky rides. If you don't like jerky rides or don't want a sore neck and headache for days after your visit, take one of the stationary seats and enjoy the visuals, which are impressive. I wish I had done this!
Our entire family (5 year old girl, 15 year old boy) liked the E.T. Adventure (must be 34" to ride) ride the best. It's not high-tech like the newer rides but it's full of imagination and beauty! The forest you walk through is gorgeous, and then to fly above the city is a joy. It is far better than the Pinochio ride that people wait hours for at Disney. And you can ride it over and over because there is a short line!
The other best ride at Universal is Men in Black Alien Attack (must be 42" to ride)! What fun! You ride past aliens and you get to shoot them and see how many points you can score. The ride spins around but it is not jerky at all, just smooth. My daughter wanted to ride this over and over- we went five times! If you don't have a young child to supervise, you can use the Single Rider option, and skip the line. There are plenty of empty single seats in this ride (because it groups people in threes) so you really won't have to wait at all! Though you won't get the fun of shooting side by side with your companion.
The Simpsons Ride (must be 40") has a fun, colorful theme, but is extremely jerky. There will soon be a new ride in this area, plus a Krusty Burger diner!
The Transformers 3D ride is another very jerky ride but kids love it. There are two roller coasters at the park. Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit (must be 51-79") is a classic rollercoaster with vertical ascent, twists and loops. Revenge of the Mummy (must be 48") is a themed high-speed rollercoaster, which is more fun because you can get your imagination involved. There is real fire, mist, and many animatronics. Revenge of the Mummy has a single rider option.
There are several shows. Animal Actors On Location is impressive and enjoyable for all ages, with birds zipping past your head, dogs from real movies performing tricks, and animals of all varieties cavorting about. A Day in the Park with Barney is a musical show for toddlers. Horror Make-Up Show reveals techniques used by horror movie make-up artists. Terminator 2 is a 3D show with live action and special effects. Fear Factor Live is an audience participation show. Beetlejuice's Graveyard Revue has rock music like AC/DC songs and dancing, with plenty of colored lights and fun costumes. Shrek 4D is a 3D show with jokes (a bit tiresome to me) and plenty of squirts of water and other surprises. Shrek 4D has stationary seats for pregnant women.
The Blues Brothers Show is a street performance of blues and rock n roll. You encounter performers all over the park, including percussionists dressed as construction workers in the San Francisco area, and a singer with 1920s dancers in the Diagon Alley area. The 5pm parade is a bit of a disappointment because it only involves a few floats and lasts for ten minutes. Don't wait around for it, but do watch if you happen to be nearby. The floats are pretty and the atmosphere is lively. There are outdoor live music concerts some nights and a fireworks and water projection show most nights, around 9pm or later.
For little kids, there is a fun play area called Woody Woodpecker's Kidzone. The kiddie rollercoaster is a bit too short though it does have a drop and some tight turns. The playground is amazingly fun. There are rope nets to climb way up, huge slides to take down, a deep trampoline ball pit, long punching bags to run around amongst, and there's a water play area. There is shade but it's pretty hot in this area. The nice thing about this Florida park is that most of the lines are inside, so that you aren't roasting up while you're waiting for your ride. The outdoor shows are in big shaded amphitheaters with large fans that keep you cool. It is doable even in early summer, though you will need a lot of sunscreen for walking around because there are hardly any trees.
At lunchtime, you can walk to CityWalk and choose from high-quality restaurant chains such as Bubba Gump or Hard Rock Cafe. If you eat inside the park, a wonderful choice is Leaky Cauldron, in Diagon Alley, where you can eat British treats like Cottage Pie, in a sumptuous setting. Come early because it gets crowded. Another choice is Louie's Italian Restaurant, a pleasant cafeteria with large arched windows, cold AC, and good pizza and gelato.
Wear sneakers because you will be walking a lot. And bring a stroller if you have a young child.
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Universal Studios is located at 6000 Universal Blvd, Orlando FL 32819, call (407) 363-8000. The park opens at 9am and closes at varying times, from 6pm-10pm. Buy your tickets online to save time at the entrance. Cost is around $50-100 a day, depending on how many days you buy and if you're a Florida resident. I don't recommend the Park-to-Park ticket because there is plenty to do in one park per day. Single Park Admission for two or three days is the best value. You can return to the park that many times within a 60 day period.
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Overall Visitor Rating: Unrated.