Review of Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure
We went to Universal Orlando the week before Easter. It was ridiculously crowded. My first piece of advice is, if you can avoid school holidays (because you don’t have kids, homeschool your kids or are willing to pull them out during school days) do so. Ride waits for everything ranged from 45 minutes to 120 minutes.
We did have a great time and have some great memories. Universal is trying really hard to please their guests. In my opinion, they are struggling with some design flaws that cause them major headaches, and lack the certain extra magic that Disney provides. Still, I rate their parks much higher than any 6 Flags establishment I’ve been to. For example, they provide free lockers for rides that do not allow bags. 6 Flags charges for their lockers.
I think the crowd that was at the parks those two days might have dispersed in a Disney park. The design flaw I mentioned earlier is that the park was not really designed for crowd dispersal, especially at Islands of Adventure. Instead, crowds are funneled into a circle. They MUST walk in the circle to get anywhere. Audiences leaving shows empty out into the circle. There is no transportation in the park to cross the park (one thing our local 6 flags does better). I am really glad to hear they are getting transportation between the two parks, because that was very frustrating.
On an average crowd day, I could have seen all I wanted to see in one day if I was by myself. For families, I recommend taking two days and having the 2 park pass. Unless you have children 6 or younger, in which I recommend just going to Islands of Adventure for a day. Seuss Landing is wonderful and has real rides. Studios has great playgrounds and splash areas, but that was not why we were there. There are a lot of rides that were too much for my five year old to handle, including the Spiderman ride. He became terrified of the Transformers after seeing a “live” meet and greet. He loved the MIB ride until it started spinning too much. He liked the Hippogriff ride until the middle of the ride, when he started yelling “I didn’t want to go on this ride!”
Bring a guidebook with you to get better descriptions of the rides. The map descriptions are almost intentionally vague. I thought the Despicable Me attraction was a ride, not a movie, for example.
Of course the big draw of the park is the Harry Potter experience. The tiny area is swamped with crowds most of the day. We were not able to get in early in the morning because of planning issues. If you want to do that, stay at a Universal hotel for extra early hours or come to the gates 30 minutes before opening. Remember that you have to park and then get through security and then walk through City Walk, which can add up to 30 minutes right there. We found that dinner time (after 6 PM) was a good time to go. We were able to shop, have dinner at the Three Broomsticks and ride the rides. The wait for Forbidden Journey was still long. If you have little kids, definitely take advantage of parent swap, where they have one parent wait with the child while the other parent rides. That way my daughter got to ride twice! The waiting room was nice, with wooden benches and a TV playing Sorceror’s Stone.
Continuing a silly tradition of rating bathrooms after visiting them too often (last year the Rapunzel bathroom won), the best bathroom in the parks was the one at Hogsmead, which was hosted by the voice of Moaning Myrtle. It would have been cooler if she was actually projected into one of the mirrors, but I can see why that would have been a bad idea.
At the end of the two days, our feet ached and we were ready to go back to the grandparents for a quiet day in their pool. Our IPhone said we walked about 22 miles. I carried my son about half of that, so consider using a stroller if it is an option. I would have loved a Segway, myself. My husband has declared that he doesn’t need to go back any time soon, perhaps in five years.
Favorite rides: Forbidden Journey, Spiderman, MIB, Revenge of the Mummy, and Flight of the Hippogriff. Favorite 3D motion movies- Shrek and Despicable Me.
- wear sunscreen
- sit down with your family and agree ahead of time what you don’t want to miss
- have a plan for where you are going, but be willing to adjust for variables
- pack snacks and a water bottle
- Buy Butterbeer in the pub, not in the street
- If you hate getting wet, bring a poncho for water rides, if you don’t mind, plan quick dry clothes
- make sure your children are acquainted with the movies and books represented.
- bring a smartphone packed with games and ebooks
- take the castle tour at Hogwarts, you might miss parts if you are in the line for the ride
- Plan an afternoon break, but be aware that leaving the park is very time-consuming.
- pay attention to the needs of everyone in your group
- know your child- think about what they can handle, how long they will wait
- if you split up, plan to meet in a restaurant or shop, not outside a ride
- wait until the end of the day to buy souvenirs, even the Harry Potter ones can be found in the big store at the front of the park.