Before I start anything, I want to say that I am a Disney kid. I grew up almost solely on Disney movies and TV shows, and my childhood memories are of a lot of Disney World and Disneyland. But, that does not mean Universal’s theme parks mean nothing to me. I remember all those years ago when my Dad said we should check out Islands of Adventure. Back then, Universal Studios was not that great of a park. Then, Universal opened up a second park in 1999. And wow, that’s when the game changed. Universal could truly compete with Disney. And now, with the Harry Potter area opening just a few years ago, some might say it even has the potential to surpass Disney in some ways.
This is why I was thrilled to be going back to the Universal Parks on our family’s epic Disney vacation. My brothers were over the moon too and you’ll soon see why!
Islands of Adventure
This park is incredibly impressive. There is just a lot to do, with it being stocked full of roller coasters and other attractions. The one person in my family that is not a big fan of the park, however, is my mother. She’s more of a Magic Kingdom sort of park goer, but luckily Islands of Adventure has so many different types of areas so that everyone in the family can enjoy it. We got to the park first thing in the morning before it opened. My mom decided to go towards the right (like everyone else) to head towards Harry Potter. We opted to go to the left and it was the best decision ever.
Marvel Super Hero Island
While the crowds ran towards Harry Potter, we opted to head to Skull Island first. I was intimidated by the possible wait times later in the day. But, as we walked through Marvel Super Hero Island, we realised there was not a soul sight. We decided to take advantage of this opportunity and go on a couple rides.
One of our favourites rides is The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman, a moving 3D experience. I’m still amazed at how awesome this ride is — it was built in 1999 and yet is just as good as any other 4D type ride out there.
Skull Island: Reign of King Kong
We then made out way to Skull Island. While researching for this trip I looked up the most popular rides in Islands of Adventure and to my surprise I had never heard of one of them: Skull Island: Reign of Kong. It opened in July of 2016 and has since become extremely popular. It is another one of those 3D moving rides with really impressive special effects. However, for me, the most exciting part was the queue! I don’t want to spoil it for newcomers, but let’s just say it can be absolutely terrifying. The ride itself is fun and exciting, but I still prefer Spiderman over King Kong.
After blasting our way through several rides, we made our way towards Harry Potter to meet up with my mother who had been enjoying the area. The crowds were intense so we decided to go turn around and go back to some areas we had skipped earlier. One such area is Jurassic Park.
The ride here, Jurassic Park River Adventure, is a pretty good one. It starts off with a relaxing boat tour through the jungle with peaceful dinosaurs roaming about.
Going back around the circle we headed to Toon Lagoon. The weather had been a bit iffy all day, so we decided not to go on Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges. However, I have very fond memories of the ride though I do remember you get extremely wet!
As a child I had a fear of drop rides. I also had a fear of roller coasters that had a very steep incline, resembling a drop. This is why for years I could not ride Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls. Because we were not going on Popeyes we thought, oh, why don’t we go on this ride instead? I asked my brother Brendan if you get really wet and he said, ‘Nah, maybe a little bit, but not much’. I felt a sudden pang of panic as I had this weird feeling that last time he got drenched. Apparently he did not remember so we trusted him and went on the ride. Within the first 2 minutes we managed to get completely soaked. We’re dying of laughter as Brendan is screaming in the back, ‘I have made a terrible mistake!’ I mean, it was just buckets after buckets of water.
You know those body dryers that you see at theme parks near water rides? That day was the first and only day we have paid for the body dryer.
Recovering from our traumatic water experience, we walked back around to Seuss Landing. This area of the park is one of my favourites because of all the attention to detail. Every nook and cranny is designed to make Dr Seuss’ world come to life.
One of my favourite rides is a little kids ride called The Cat in the Hat. You get to step inside Dr Seuss’ storybook and live through the mess that the Cat in the Hat created. With some short spins and lots of colourful animatronics, this ride is a lot of fun.
If you didn’t notice already, Seuss Landing is a very kid-friendly place so it’s the ideal place to take young children. However, even as a young adult I enjoy roaming around the area! Take a break from a hectic day by taking a spin on the Caro-Seuss-el or the High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride!
The Lost Continent
The land just north of Seuss Landing is the Lost Continent. I really like this area, but the theme is a bit random. The Lost Continent is themed around ancient legends and myths. It originally focused on three old legends – Atlantis, Merlin and Sinbad. Merlinwood was taken over by Harry Potter, but the other two legends remain. The two areas consist of an ancient Arabian marketplace called Sinbad’s Bazzaar, and a Grecian-Atlantis-esque Lost City. I personally love the vibe here.
The only show we saw at Universal was Poseidon’s Fury. It is the cheesiest show, but I really enjoy the walk-through aspect, as well as the giant tunnel of water. It’s also a great way to take a break and do something a bit different.
At this point it was also time for lunch. Aren’t you impressed with how much we accomplished in the morning? Swing left, folks. Swing left. And arrive super early! You won’t regret it. We opted for a casual lunch at Doc Sugrue’s Desert Kebab House.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Of course I saved the best for last. I’m actually not a huge Harry Potter fan, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the culture around it. I was at Islands of Adventure the summer Harry Potter world opened, in 2010. And wow, a lot has changed since then!
The Islands of Adventure portion of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is Hogsmeade, the only all-wizarding town in Great Britain. The area also includes a replica of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Inside is the main attraction at Hogsmeade, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. You get to enter through the castle gates and wander the grounds of Hogwarts. Once you are inside, you’re immediately greeted with the familiar corridors of the school. You visit lots of rooms and spaces from the books, including Dumbledore’s office and the Gryffindor Common Room. The ride itself is thrilling and not for those who are prone to motion sickness! You fly through the air encountering several magical creatures.
The other ride here is Flight of the Hippogriff, the replacement of the old Flying Unicorn ride (one of my favourites). Beyond the rides, there is of course a whole town to explore! It is incredibly impressive and the amount of details in every building and object is astounding. It is popular to line up for some Butterbeer. Personally, I think it’s the most disgustingly sweet thing on this planet, but hey! It is strong enough that it will even give adults a sugar high.
The Hogwarts Express
So yes, we bought the park hopper ticket just so we could ride the Hogwarts Express and explore Diagon Alley in Universal Studios. I didn’t really know what to expect. Well, guess what, you head to platform 9 3/4 and wait for the train! If you’ve ever looked at map of Universal, you’ll notice that the distance between Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventure and London in Universal Studios is not long. Nonetheless, you get a great experience riding through the British countryside with the help of some technology.
Once you hope off the train you are thrown into Universal Studios. To access Diagon Alley you need to go through the alley ways around the street buildings. Once you go through, you will immediately recognise more Harry Potter locations. You’ll see Gringotts, The Leaky Cauldron, and even Ollivander’s wand shop.
This may the only point during the whole Orlando vacation that I realised what time of year it was. The crowds here were incredible. Incredible meaning, vast. We could barely enjoy a lot of the shops because of all the people, but it is Christmastime — the most crowded time of year. Nonetheless, we did manage to enter some buildings and enjoy the merriment. We also loved watching visitors use their wands to cast spells all around the area. Maybe next time I’ll get my own!
In hindsight, I would’ve allocated more time to Universal Studios. We were never able to ride Gringotts because the lines just kept on getting more and more insane. However, the park has a lot more to offer than it did 10 years ago! Next time I’ll have to give it more consideration.
After an exhausting day, we definitely slept well that night! Now it’s time to return to a Disney Park — Magic Kingdom.