Sunday, June 25, 2017

My Trip to Universal Orlando | Universal Studios Florida & Islands of Adventures

Disclaimer: Media passes were provided for entrance in exchange for an honest review of my experience.
Although the Wizarding World of Harry Potter was the main draw for my visit to Universal Orlando, the resort had a whole lot more to offer. So today I will be sharing a post on what I did at Universal Orlando aside from visiting the Harry Potter-themed areas. As of June with the addition of the new Volcano Bay water park, Universal Orlando has a total of three theme parks. During our two-day visit, we checked out the Universal Studios Florida park and the Islands of Adventure park. To read on, click......
Universal Orlando | Universal Studios Florida
Universal Orlando | Universal Studios Florida
Universal Studios Florida:
Themed around a motion-picture studio, Universal Studios Florida was divided into various sections with architectures, rides, and stores that depicted specific locations such as New York, San Francisco, Hollywood, and Springfield (home of the Simpsons). All the buildings and gift shops were very stylized and realistic, so just walking through the streets of the park made for a very unique experience.
Universal Studios Florida | Park Plaza Holiday Shop
Universal Studios Florida | Park Plaza Holiday Shop
Because the park was all about movies and movie-making, the attractions here were mostly 3-D or 4-D motion simulation rides. You sit in a seat and view a screen and throughout the show, there are various effects that mimic the experience of a real physical ride. I went on the Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, Shrek 4-D, Transformer's: The Ride 3-D, and The Simpsons Ride. All of them were entertaining but they were pretty similar in concept so if you are tight on time, choose a couple to ride and just skip the rest.
One of the more memorable rides was undoubtedly the Revenge of the Mummy, which was a dark indoor roller coaster that was a whole lot more intense than I expected. At one point, the roller coaster launched backwards, taking me by complete surprise. Although in hindsight, we did have to stow our bags away in free lockers, which should have clued me off on the intensity of the ride.
Universal Orlando | Universal Studios Florida
Universal Orlando | Universal Studios Florida | Bottom Photos Taken by Tracy S
For those looking for some extreme thrills, Universal Studios Florida is the home of the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, the steel roller coaster that Jimmy Fallon and Kevin Hart rode on in that very viral The Tonight Show clip. No one in my party had the guts to give it a go so we only admired its height and spirals from afar.
While browsing the streets of the Hollywood neighborhood, the marquee of the Universal's Horror Makeup Show caught our attention. This was a very funny and entertaining live show centered around the special effects makeup behind some of the most famous Universal horror movies. Unexpectedly, I was recruited as an audience member (see bottom right picture above). So for most of the show, instead of relaxing in my seat, I stood nervously on stage and participated in a few gory (but comedic) gags.
Universal Studios Florida | Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon
Universal Studios Florida | Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon 
One of my favorite rides at Universal Studios was Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon. When I first heard Jimmy Fallon introducing the ride on The Tonight Show, I thought the concept sounded a bit dull but the execution was surprisingly fun and thrilling. Housed in a building that wonderfully replicated the vibe of the Rockefeller Center in NYC, the ride was a simulation in which you raced Jimmy through the streets of Times Square and the famed New York subway. All the effects were well done, there was nothing too scary and nothing too dizzying so the ride was just plain good fun!

Universal's Islands of Adventure:
Divided into Marvel Super Hero Island, Toon Lagoon, Jurassic Park, The Lost Continent, and Seuss Landing, Islands of Adventure ditched the urban city vibe of Universal Studios and took on a more whimsical and exotic feel. This side of Universal Orlando is the home to several bigger, non-simulation rides such as The Incredible Hulk Coaster, Doctor Doom's Fearfall, and Dudley's Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls.
However, because we came here on our second day, we were pretty "rided out" so we only checked out a few rides. In the Marvel Super Hero Island, The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man was rather disappointing. This was a simulation ride that had both physical props and 3-D graphics. Unfortunately, the graphics were pretty bad and the screechy voice-work for the villains still haunt me as I write this review. This may have been an outstanding ride when it first came out in 1999, but now in 2017, it just felt very outdated.
Universal Orlando | Islands of Adventure
Universal Orlando | Islands of Adventure | Upper Left Photo Taken by Tracy S
In The Lost Continent, we visited the Mythos Restaraunt for lunch. This was a very spacious full-service restaurant with a stunning cavernous grotto interior that provided for a unique dining experience. The menu was reasonably-priced (for a theme park) and I tried the Lamb Burger for $16 (see bottom left picture above). The patty was a little underseasoned but it was overall an okay-tasting burger.
Also at The Lost Continent, we checked out the Poseidon's Fury attraction and The Eighth Voyage of Sinbad live show. Poseidon's Fury was a unique live adventure show where a tour guide led the crowd through the ancient temple of Poseidon. It was pretty entertaining at first but the experience was soon spoiled by the terrible, 80s-quality video recording of the battle between Poseidon and "Lord Darkenon".
Universal Orlando | Islands of Adventure | Mythos Restaurant
 The Eighth Voyage of Sinbad, on the other hand, was a live acrobatic show. The set was very colorful and detailed and the show featured some entertaining pyrotechnics but aside from that, the acrobatics were barely there and the plot was almost laughable, coupled with what sounded like pre-recorded voice-over dialogues that the actors were actually lip-syncing to. Unless you are bringing little kids to the parks, this is probably best avoided.
Although the attractions at The Lost Continent were disappointing, Seuss Landing definitely brought some charm with its whimsical structures and kid-friendly rides. Inspired by the stories of Dr. Seuss, this area had an above ground train ride, a stunning Caro-Seuss-el, and a couple of other very cutesy rides. This place may not offer a whole lot of screams or thrills but it was such a fun and immersive part of the Universal experience.
Universal Orlando | Islands of Adventure | Seuss Landing
Lastly, Skull Island: Reign of Kong was a new ride that launched in 2016. Employing both physical effects and 3-D effects, the ride was centered around a jungle expedition on Skull Island. The outside of the ride looked crazy imposing so I totally chickened out but my friends who did go on the ride really enjoyed the experience.
Islands of Adventure | Skull Island: Reign of Kong
Islands of Adventure | Skull Island: Reign of Kong
Universal CityWalk:
Right at the entrance and bridging the two theme parks is a large strip of dining and shopping area called the Universal CityWalk. It is here where you will find a variety of well-known chain restaurants such as Bubba Gump, Hard Rock Cafe, and Panda Express. Last year, a new full-service restaurant called The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium opened and had gotten some pretty positive reviews. The outside looked like a chocolate factory and I really wanted to visit, but alas, everyone in my party just wanted a quick bite after a long day so we opted for some takeout and sushi.

Visiting Tips:
As compared to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the rest of the Universal Resort definitely left something to be desired. Nevertheless, below are a few of my tips and final thoughts.

1. The Express Pass is a worthy investment if you plan on hitting up most of the rides. Although it is pricey (~$70 per person), it will really help you save time because it allows you to skip the lines at the majority of the rides at Universal. During the peak hours (~11 AM to 4 PM), some of the rides can have a wait time of more than an hour, so unless you are really patient, an Express Pass can be very handy. However, as I've mentioned in my Wizarding World of Harry Potter post, if your main destinations are the Harry Potter areas, you won't need to invest in an Express Pass as more than half of the Harry Potter rides won't accept the Express Pass.
2. If you don't plan on getting the Express Pass, make sure to arrive early (preferably before the park even opens). As I've noticed on both days, the crowds tend to flock to the Harry Potter areas right after opening, so all the other rides in the park are pretty empty, with almost no wait time. Later on in the day was when it started to get busy everywhere.
Universal Orlando | Univeral CityWalk
Universal Orlando | Univeral CityWalk
3. Do your research on the attractions beforehand as Universal Orlando seems pretty heavy on motion simulation rides. Once you've ridden a couple, you've pretty much experienced them all. So I would recommend looking them up beforehand and choosing just a couple to invest your time in. 
4. Attractions that I Recommend: Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon, Skull Island: Reign of Kong, The Simpsons Ride, Revenge of the Mummy, and Universal Horror Makeup Show.
5. Attractions that I DO NOT Recommend: The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, Poseidon's Fury, and The Eighth Voyage of Sinbad.
6. Bring rain gear. The Florida weather was very temperamental during our visit and we experienced a thunderstorm every afternoon so make sure to bring a poncho and some waterproof shoes (ex. flip flops).
7. Bring a change of clothes if you plan on going on the wet rides such as the Dudley's Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls and the Popeye & Bluto's Bilge-Rat Barges because you will get soaked!
8. Two days are more than enough for the two parks whether or not you have an Express Pass. We spent an equal amount of time at both theme parks, jumping between the two parks during each day (with the Park to Park pass), and there were plenty of hours to spare. If anything, your energy is going to run out much faster than time.

If you are interested in reading my Wizarding World of Harry Potter experience at Univeral Orlando, click on the photo below!
Universal Orlando The Wizarding World of Harry Potter | Diagon Alley Dragon
Universal Orlando | The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
About Universal Orlando:
To find out about ticketing prices and plan your visit, click here.
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