This post covers my day trip to the Universal Studios Florida. The “studios” portion of the park is one of the 2 universal parks in the Universal studios Resort. It is located just north west from downtown international drive and a short 10 minute drive just off from there. The Universal Studios itself too is well served by cabs in town, and the Lynx public buses for $2 a pop. Just off the bus bay and car park area is the overhead bridge leading you to the Universal Citywalk. I didn’t touch much on the Universal Citywalk on my trip to the Islands of adventure, so I will talk a little bit of this area here.
Universal Studios CityWalk is a broadwalk or sorts, a walkway leading to both theme parks in the resort. The walk itself is a short mega shopping area featuring many shops, restaurants, pubs, food stands and souvenir shops, all decked out with rather retro looking signboards which looks awesome all lit up at night, after all the Universal CityWalk sells itself as a night-time entertainment destination. Which kinda like the Disney village in various Disneyland parks around the world, only that this shopping area is not a separate entity by itself and is actually one which park guests have to pass through each time to get in and out of the Universal resort.
No doubt, Universal Orlando Resort is the largest property owned and operated by Universal Studios Theme Parks, the resort here is also home to the world biggest Hard rock cafe as well as three Loews Hotels which forms the holistic package and one stop destination for accommodation, food, shopping and fun at the theme parks itself. The ton of eateries and shops here are also nicely themed to the islands you are headed too- whether it’s a modern space-age cafe, a tropical beach shack complete with a moored seaplane or a Nascar Cafe to name a few, it’s simply an eye candy paradise, under the sun and a perfect complement for any beach bum, fake waves and surfboards included!
Coming up to the crossroads, between the two park, this time we are going right to the Universal Studios Orlando.
The front of Universal Orlando looks very much like most of any other Universal them parks around, the grand yellow arches and the giant universal globely ball rotating just off the entrance to the park. Upon entry, the main entrance boulevard is themed after a Hollywood sunset boulevard decked with iconic palm tress to adding to the resort feel of the park. If you are lucky, you can catch various entertainers and moving attractions at this portion of the park, such as the moving trolley up for a ride, a live band as well as the Simpsons family on plow in promotion for the park’s newest Simpsons ride.
Just right at the entrance of the park is the Nick Toons (Nickelodeon) section of the park and is home to 2 of the park’s theater rides and motion simulator. The Jimmy Neutron blast is a 3D motion simulator ride complete with hydraulically moving platforms in a theater like setting with 6 degrees of freedom. The story starts with a pre-show and plunges viewers into their world trying to recover Jimmy’s stolen newest rocket creation while going about saving earth from baddies and invaders from the Yolkian planet. If you are lucky, you might catch Spoongebob on the exit of the ride as well with other Nicktoons hanging around for photos with the kids. The ride in my opinion is not a great ride, too predictable and doesn’t leave you with a wow factor thereafter despite the ride spotting some really nice spacey rocket theme to it. No wonder the attraction will be closed from August 2011 onwards and will be replaced by the Despicable Me 3D Simulator ride in 2012.
The Blue Man Group occupies Soundstage 18 here in Universal studios just located opposite from the Nick Toons studio. Soundstages 18 and 19 are located just right in the Universal Studios itself and were formerly used in the production of Nickelodeon shows, but was annexed and accessible only via the CityWalk with the closure of Nickelodeon Studios, the place was developed with the opening of Blue Man Group at the now renamed Sharp Aquos Theater.
The Shrek 4D attraction movie is one of the few simple yet nice interactive 3D movies I’ve been on. The theming on the queue lines are as in typical Shrek fashion- rather hilarious, with many movie posters of various cast members in the show in rather compromising situations. The studio we are heading to is a dungeon where we are welcomed into the prisoner holding area as prisoners for life, waiting to be put through endless mishandling, desecration, bludgeoning and torture for eternity. After the pre-show and joining the imprisoned Pinocchio and 3 little pigs, we are later brought into the theater for more screaming torture in the dungeons where we awaiting for the impending torture, umm show to begin.
So here we meet Princess Fiona in a setting just after the 3rd movie (with some funny references to them too) presented in “OgreVision” which is essentially the 4th dimensional element to the 4-D as claimed by Universal allowing you to not only see and hear but feel the action right from your seat. It’s a much simpler, yet better attraction than the more funky Jimmy neutron one. The show is firstly longer with a better storyline and have more emphasis on the 3D effects which are really good through their 3D glasses, the show is somewhat comically semi-realistic at sort, with moving seats on a horse chase, with facial and legs air blasts and water sprays on wet encounters in the show.
Moving along Amblin avenue will bring us to the Mummy ride, located along the Production Central/New York part of the park.
The Mummy returns ride is a heavily themed Vekoma launched indoor roller dark coaster. The wait for the ride was a surprising short 10min one, despite not being on the single rider queue. The ride queue area was also very nicely themed like a museum with lots of artifacts lying around like that of an archaeological dig.
The cinematics for this roller coaster varies from different Universal studio parks. This version is different as it spots a launch off the first movie scene into the “cave” where the coaster does it high speed turns before coming into the dead end at “Scarab” scene. This is where the train reverses off another transverse track off a Y fork backwards around the dark cave portion before stopping into a walled off area with more cinematic shows, smoke and fire effects and eventually moving off to the unloading area. Despite the stunning special effects, the ride was rather short and has not much of a story in my opinion. However, the Orlando version is personally the best incarnation of the others, the flaming roof top was awesomely cool and it’s these additional elements are what makes this coaster different and better from the one in LA.
The Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit coaster is one of the favorite attractions here, with the long snaking queues here giving a cue or two of it’s huge popularity. A wait on the ride will set you back at least 90 minutes, but thankfully they do have single rider lines so make the best out of it by splitting your group up to ride with the minimal waiting time. Even on the single rider queue, you have to wait around 15 minutes to get on board.
Riders board the ride from a moving sidewalk on the loading platform, before strapping yourself on the space-age looking “X-Car” Coasters decked out with fancy lighting, even in the day. You even get a cool touch LCD screen on the lapbar allowing you to pick your music selection which will be played throughout the ride sequence. The train dispatches right into a 51m vertical climb, which I think is the nearest you can get to an inversion on this ride. This is followed by the ride’s first fall element. The coaster is actually not as scary as it looks as the ride actually does not feature any inversions at all. The loop you see after the first drop is a cleverly disguised traversing the “loop” element, made to look like a large 31m diameter vertical loop element. Other notable parts of the ride includes many over-banked turns, which Maurer Sohne’s seem to take a cue from Intamin coasters as well as a 540-degree helix nicknamed the “plot twist” nearing the end of the ride.
After our stint at production avenue, we are back on Amblin avenue, a street named after classic film excellence. It leads up to the New York portion of the park complete with a recreated mock neighborhood of the iconic New York city, with various landmarks to boot. Twister, the special effects showcase here is a short man-made spectacle of the town scene in the movie where various town inhabitants seek refuge in a warehouse when the twister ravages the town. It’s all done with reproducible carnage complete with forced wind, smoke and various fire elements.
And guess who was in town when we were in town? The Blues brothers in their street show! This duo got pretty much the whole downtown street of New York dancing and clapping to the beats of their performance, coupled with their solo sax player and big momma to top up the 4 in line performance. Uber large horn on car included!
Moving east from New York brings you to the San Francisco/Amity part of the part, with recreations of the Fisherman’s Wharf and home to the Disaster movie attraction. In the nutshell, the disaster movie is a very short version of the Universal Hollywood backlot tram tour, with some special effects and an reenactment of disaster scene of an underground station experiencing an earthquake.
The “Disaster” ride is after all a “Major Motion Picture Ride”, starring you, the visitor, prior to the effects rides, you will be grouped into halls at a go where volunteers are selected for various specific roles to be played in a movie, with a small special “casting” crew required. This includes an old lady, 2 evil villains, a strong guy and middle aged man. Here the actors will be put through a series of acts and recordings on painted background or blue screen, everyone with completely no clue what the scenes are actually used for, so just be a spot and go with the comedy flow! The group then transitions to different studios sets in the building at a time to film all the required scenes before eventually heading into the ride.
Finally we exit the studio into a tram, which seem to bare a canny resemblance to the backlot tram tours in universal Hollywood, only that these are reversible trains running on rails. Here, we are put through an enactment of the underground earthquake I mentioned earlier, right inside a London underground station, with lots of reproducible and controlled Hollywood style explosion and flames. As the train backs out back into the boarding area, our earlier production film is played on the tram’s overhead screens, with hilarious effects.
We were just in time for the Bettlejuice graveyard Revue. The life performance is scheduled about 3 times daily, so do check your updated park schedule for timings. The performance is held at a sheltered open air theater stage which is not air conditioned like the one in California, despite taking a different rock and roll them. The stage is much smaller too.
Even the crowd warmer was a show itself, with an elderly staff member racing all along the aisles of the seating areas in his motorised scooter keeping the crowd entertained while waiting for the show to begin. The show started off with Beetlejuice himself not very satified with his current set of monsters. Well in typical Beetlejuice fashion, it’s not like some magic and chanting his name 3 times (get it?) will help. The rest is history with lots of hard rock and roll and pyrotechnics. Overall the Beetlejuice graveyard revue is a quick nice show for a filler between rides in the park, but personally I still prefer the Beetlejuice graveyard show at the Hollywood branch.
Everything here in the San Francisco/Amity is all about bay side fisheries and sand shacks. The area here is themed to a nice tropical like getaway complete with beach shacks and surf shops. No wonder, it’s home to the Jaws boat ride too. Jaws the ride starts off with boarding a leisure cruise boat as part of a tourist sightseeing exploration of Amity bay, well not until signs of early departing boats all razed and blood stripped empty by some unknown sea creature. It’s not long where the culprit finally revealed itself complete with loads of fiery explosions, boat throttle action and shotgun shells as your boat captain have a go at steering the boat and filling the shark with loads of buckshot.
Fear factor live is another live show located in the World Expo sector of the park, just after the suspended Jaws shark which had became pretty much an Icon in all Universal parks. It’s essentially a physical fear factor challenge taken by various park guests all done right in front of a full-house sheltered stadium. There are many other side challenges where members of the audience have a go at conquering their fears, such as having scorpions dropped onto your head or drinking a contraption of very gross blended mix of animal parts and goo. The highlight of the show is of course the main fear factor challenge where 4 selected park guests gets to battle through various challenge elements put forward to them, such as conquering height, water and obstacles. To enter, you just have to turn up few hours before each scheduled show time for selection and pre-show preparations, only 4 people are selected for each show.
The Men in Black ride is a blaster shooting ride located at the eastern end of the park overlooking the Universal 360 lagoon. Just like all the rides in the park, lockers are provided for you free at the entrance of the ride to deposit any loose items which cannot be brought on the ride. The attraction starts off with a storyline of you being a newly enlisted agent who is put through the facility training facility to shoot aliens, as with all drama, things goes wrong and the training sudden turns ugly into a real shooting scene, fighting for your life so “This is not a drill” after all. The ride is a blaster game, where you ride through various parts of the city blasting escaped aliens and scoring points throughout the ride, just like the buzz lightyear blaster ride in Disneyland, only that you have no control over the rotation of the capsule buggy, which rotates by itself through the various scenes in the ride.
Just outside the spacey sleekness of the MIB building and hidden space saucer towers is the Universal 360 spectacular. The lagoon attraction generally takes place at the hour of the park’s closing and is a Cinesphere Spectacular featuring famous scenes from Universal’s films projected onto four large inflated domes in a lagoon located in the center of the park. Overlooking the lagoon here too is the Simpsons ride. Simpsons the ride is the latest addition to the park it’s essentially a motion simulator roller coaster ride, which ironically spends most of it’s time off the tracks in Krusty land as slide show bob tries to kill you off with spectacular effects.
The ride features several pre-show elements and Simpson clips before heading into your own simulator room where you can amuse yourself with various circus elements and distorted mirrors to pass the time before boarding into the simulator. Just when you though it’s going to be another Back to the future ride with a puny motion screen in front, you get lifted off into an Oimi dome with the simulator taking a whole immersive twist and a ride of a different kind. Overall, Simpsons the ride is a rather cool simulator ride, with a rather interesting fun storyline, but doesn’t rank quite up there in terms of the wow factor you get after the ride.
As with all things Studios in the “Studios” portion of Universal Studios, the Animal Actors on Location is another life show featuring animals you may recognize from various Universal movies, such as the Orangutan and Labrador from Marley and Me’ and the pug from the movie ‘Men in Black 2’.
The Monster Horror show at the start of the Hollywood walk was one of my favorite and most entertaining shows in the park, partly it’s one which tickles your funny bone. It is a small show, held in one of the old looking theaters on the Hollywood boulevard. The show host started off introducing us to his co-host who entered the stage all stabbed and bleeding from the chest. The stand up stage presentation to the horror movie world is not like what the name suggests, but rather an educational stand up comdey of what makes the famous monsters we see on ther silver screens, everything from face mask to proestitics and animatronics. After a knife to the head, lots of fake blood and some running around the stage chasing memebrs of the audience, we are sadly done with the short 30 minute display.
E.T. Adventure the ride is a typical classic in all Universal studios and is an exact duplicate of the ride back in LA, so you won’t be missing much on either side if you had already been on the ride. It starts with Steven Spielberg appearing on TV screens, telling you that E.T.’s teacher Botanicus needs E.T. to come to his home world- “The Green Planet” because the planet is dying. Only E.T.’s magical healing touch can save the planet, so it is up to the guests to bring him home. Guests then transition into a rather interesting yet redundant need to obtain your ET passports after checking through the ET passport counters using your given name. Thereafter you will have to present the passports to the ride operators before boarding your fly-cycles. The ride’s namely a ride through the forest on the movie’s storyline of ET escape into his world for the magical touch, all done through an overhead motorised rail system suspending a carriage of 12 poeple at a go
The Woody Woodpecker’s Kidzone will greet you are the kiddy portion of the park. Here resides the Wood woodpekcer family coaster as well as various children play areas, such as the American Tale upsized Fievel playground, allowing you to explore the world from the perspective of being mouse-small. The kids section of the park brings back alot of old memories of old cartoon characters I grew up with, such as Barney the Dinosaur with his theater live shows with and curiously, the Curious George water playground, all decked in curious pink too.
Back on the Hollywood boulevard, there is nothing much left on the street here in terms of attractions except retail stores and some retro themed gas stations and diners, as well as Terminator 2 the 3D movie. There was a display of the cars used in the 5 fast movie too. It’s not long along the walk where you will find yourself back at the Production avenue (Nick Toons) where we’ve started. The park is planned out well in loop, with one full circle all round the park will set you back one whole day in time for closing.
Just outside the themepark is the entrance of the world’s biggest hardrock cafe- Hardrock Orlando, strategically located on the “island” part of the resort across the river where the Universal Studios CityWalk is. You can catch nice views of the lagoon area from either side of the banks, with the Universal Citywalk across the river which all seem to come alive in a sea of lights at night. The hardrock “island” itself resides and connects both the Islands or adventure as well as the Universal Studios park across the bank.
The 3 floored hardrock cafe here is both a mega store, restaurant, Hard Rock Live theater as well as the headquartered offices of the Hardrock cafe. With rather friendly staff to boot too. Of course, no Hardrock cafe is complete with our their signature resident Cadillac, particularly this one decked in hot pink revolving at the centerstage of the restaurant, bar and cafe area of the building.
Thereafter, the only way back home out the park is through the Universal Citywalk again, not of course passing through the studio entrance with the Universal globe now all lit up for the night. It’s here where you cross the bridges right into the heart of the Universal Citywalk, where most of the leaving crowd will hang out for the rest of the day or till late for food, beverages and shopping with both parks starting to close for the evening.
Ok, that’s all for Universal for now, personally I find both Universal parks somewhat better than the Disneyland World parks, partly because most of their rides here are very much unique and original compared to mostly clones in their Disney counterpart. Universal also scores by appealing more to thrill seekers and coupling them well with movie elements. The park entrance fees are also much cheaper than what Disneyland charges (up to 30% more for 2 parks) making it one of my favorite and recommended must-go attractions for the day whenever you are in Orlando.
- New York City & Brooklyn (Photos: New York City & Brooklyn)
- New York Hudson River Cruise, Wall street and Rockefeller Center
- American Museum of Natural History (New York) (Photos: AMNH)
- Washington D.C. (Photos: Washington D.C.)
- Newseum, Washington DC (Photos: The Newseum)
- National Gallery of Art, Washington (Photos: National Gallery of Art)
- Arlington National Cemetery, Washington DC (Photos: Arlington National Cemetery)
- Smithsonian Natural History Museum (Photos: NMNH)
- Smithsonian Air and Space Museum (Photos: Air & Space Museum)
- Orlando, Florida & Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World Resort (Photos: Disney Magic Kingdom)
- Orlando Disneyland Hollywood (MGM) Studios (Photos: Disneyland Hollywood Studios)
- NASA- Kennedy Space Center, Merritt Island, Cape Canaveral (Photos: Kennedy Space Center)
- Islands of Adventure, Orlando Florida (Photos: Islands of Adventure)
- Universal Studios Orlando, Florida (Photos: Universal Studios Orlando)
- Miami Florida, South Beach and Aventura mall (Photos: Miami Florida)
- Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (Photos: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)
- Cedar Point coaster kingdom, Sandusky Ohio (Photos: Cedar Point)