Universal Studios in Florida has many amazing things to do (what modern theme park doesn’t?), but as with most tourist attractions there are always things to avoid. With that being said, here is an outline of both the best and the worst of the parks at Universal in Florida.
- Diagon Alley (and all things Harry Potter) – one of the more recent additions to both Universal Studios and its counter-park Islands of Adventure, is a mashup of Harry Potter experiences. Starting in Universal Studios, Diagon Alley is a sight to be seen and is truly hidden away behind a brick wall facade. Us at Nomadic Bones would highly recommend grabbing a butterbeer after riding the popular ‘Escape from Gringotts’ ride.
After this, get in line to catch the train from platform 9 3/4 towards Islands of Adventure and the quaint little village of Hogsmeade – the train ride is an experience in itself, and could be included as a ride of sorts.
Hogsmeade is filled with many rides that we had a blast on, including the dual rollercoasters of Dragon Challenge, and our personal favourite – Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.
At the end of the day, can you really go wrong with a bit of Harry Potter in your day?
- Halloween Horror Nights – You will need to visit the park between the middle of September and the end of October to experience this, but if you can it is definitely worth it. Getting scared in differently themed horror houses and scare zones within the park in the middle of the night – how could anything go wrong?
Our favourites of the night include the 1950s style vampire high school scare zone, the American Horror Story house, Exorcist house, and the Tomb of the Ancients house. Pick your route through the park wisely, as some horror houses have line-ups of over 2 hours at some point during the night (American Horror Story had the longest line all night).
Outside of the scares, the one thing we would say is a must-see during Halloween Horror Nights is the Bill and Teds Excellent Halloween Adventure show. This show is hilarious, we were constantly laughing at their antics and the many up to the minute jokes they had at the ready – hit the early show to guarantee a seat.
- Thrill Rides – and there are many! To keep this short and sweet, the best ones you will find include ‘The Incredible Hulk’ rollercoaster, the ‘Hollywood Rip Ride Rocket’ rollercoaster (where you can personalise your song choice for the ride), and the ‘Popeye and Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges’ water ride (which you will get soaked on – but it is an amazing rapids ride).
- Some of the Restaurants – Of course not all of the restaurants are going to be great, for example within the Harry Potter areas the Three Broomsticks is most definitely a miss, whilst the Leaky Cauldron is fantastic.Outside of this, our top tip firstly for a sit-down meal would be Mythos restaurant, which is slightly pricier but having won the best themepark restaurant 6 times there is something special about it. In terms of quick-service, you can’t go wrong with the themed Moe’s Tavern (and other eateries within the complex), which put on a good Krusty burger alongside healthy options and perhaps the closest popular themed drink to butterbeer – the Flaming Moe.
And of course there is the worst, and whilst there aren’t many there were a few that continued to irk throughout our visit.
- Paying for services within the park – this is an example of something that got to us in the park, as we weren’t used to it (after having done other theme parks and having never seen it before). Basically, if Universal could charge for it, they would try to… want to wet someone on the rapids ride, or get dry after riding – get your money out. Want to put your personal belongings into a locker (mandatory for some rides), you may have to pay depending on how long you are (and for the Gringotts ride, unless there is no line you will be paying). Needless to say this was slightly annoying, but not something that would ruin your experience
- The Sinbad Stunt Show – this show may have been great in its prime, but it in dire need of a revamp. Most of the time the story is hard to follow (stunt after stunt without much else going on), and by the end we weren’t even sure what had happened.Perhaps Universal should dip into its stock of movies and find something new for this area?
- The Citywalk – this is meant to be the gateway to Universal Studios, with shops and restaurants that can be accessed by all. Unfortunately, it falls a little flat, as the balance between restaurants and shops tipped firmly in the food category, leaving not much else to do unless you want to catch a movie.You could easily get through all of the shops in 15-20 minutes, which is a shame given the great set-up Universal have here. It feels like an opportunity missed, though in saying that the restaurant selection is tip-top.
Overall, Universal Studios is a must visit if you are in the Orlando area despite the money all theme parks ask for these days. You can’t really go too wrong on a day out here, and if you enjoy thrill rides we would definitely pick here over Disney in a heartbeat. Come on a weekday – you won’t wait long for the rides.
Enjoy, and give us a comment if you have any advice of your own that we can follow if we ever get back here!