Universal Florida: Beyond Harry Potter
I admit the primary reason I traveled with my twins last month to Orlando was to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure. But I found much more of interest outside Harry Potter than I expected.
Some of these non-Harry Potter things I’d recommend as a must-see when you’re at the parks, some are just fun additions if you have the time, but all entertained us.
We had a 2-park-to-park pass, so we were able to travel back and forth between Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure over two days.
Universal Studios Rides
The Simpsons Ride: Must See
The twins know The Simpsons, of course, but ignored that whole section of the park on the first day to be immersed in Harry Potter. The second day, we decided to try it out and we thrilled that we did.
It’s one of those “the car moves but maybe stays in place rather than being on a track” rides, so it’s a thrill ride but not too scary. But the reason it’s awesome is that it’s basically a trip through all the best Simpsons episodes ever.
The premise is that Sideshow Bob has taken over the opening of the new amusement park ride to get his revenge on Springfield and, naturally, the Simpsons (and your party) are the first on the ride. It’s a great virtual trip through Springfield with a ton of humor and many familiar characters from the show. Basically, if you’ve ever loved The Simpsons, you should check it out.
Revenge of The Mummy: Must See
When I was first at Universal Studios a few years back, there was talk of changing this ride’s theming to focus on the new Tom Cruise version of The Mummy. But that movie apparently didn’t do well, and so the theming based on the familiar Brenden Fraser/Rachel Weisz version remains. Yay!
Warning: This is a freaky ride. The special effects are a combination of projections and animatronic figures. They feel real and there are real fire effects. Of all the rides we did, this one was the scariest.
Definitely don’t miss it, especially if you’re a monster fan.
Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon: Fun
This is one of the first rides in the New York City section, just as you enter the park. My kids were super-skeptical about this one, as it seemed “boring” to them. But I’d ridden it before, so I knew better.
They changed their minds after the ride. First, the waiting area is unique, set up just like a behind-the-scenes green room of The Tonight Show. There are clips from past shows playing and tables with some built-in video games. It makes everyone feel like they are backstage at the actual show. (Plus, there are seats, which you might appreciate after trekking around the parks.)
The ride itself is a virtual 4D ride through New York City, where your “car” races Jimmy Fallon. Again, it’s one of those rides where the vehicle moves around in sync with the 3D events on screen, not an actual coaster. Fly above New York. Almost crash in Times Square. And even go underwater to the Statue of Liberty.
At the end, the twins pronounced it pretty awesome.
Other Areas of Interest at Universal Studios:
In the Hollywood section, the Williams of Hollywood store features all kinds of movie memorabilia that’s interesting to look at, even if you buy nothing.
The Simpons Ride is part of a section of the park more oriented to younger kids, and there’s an E.T.-themed ride that sounded fun but decided against because it was for younger kids. Had we gone a third day, we would have tried those.
Universal’s Islands of Adventure
Jurassic Park: Must See
The massive gates loom over you, just like the movies. My younger daughter loves the films (and dinosaurs) and had a bit of a fangasm as we walked under the gates.
The essential ride here is the Jurassic Park River Adventure, a water ride that takes you through “Jurassic Park” after the dinosaurs have escaped containment. It’s a little bit scary, it’s immersive, and you will get wet. A must-ride for any Jurassic Park or dinosaur lover, but be warned: it can scare little ones.
After we left the River Adventure, we decided to get in line for the Raptor Encounter photo opportunity. I’d kept my research to all things Harry Potter, so this one was a surprise to me. My daughter, who is autistic, grew a bit antsy at the 20-minute wait, but then Blue from the movies showed up.
Yep, it’s a photo opportunity with an animatronic, interactive Blue.
I don’t know if someone is inside Blue, controlling her, or if her controls are radio-operated, but, either way, Blue likes to roar at those seeking a photo with her. My daughter decided to do her own version of #prattkeeping with Blue, with the results below.
She loved it, of course, and it turned into one of the highlights of our trip. There is also a huge play area for younger kids to go digging for dinosaur bones. (Which we skipped.)
The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man: Fun
Yes, there’s a Marvel superhero section of this park. Yes, I know it’s odd because Disney owns Marvel now, yet here are a bunch of Marvel characters at their competing park. (It has to do with rights to use the characters at the park being bought pre-Disney.) For those seeking to buy superhero stuff, this is a good section, especially Spider-Man-themed. (There are even comics you can buy!)
But the main attraction for us was the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man ride, an indoor medium-scary roller-coaster ride that takes you through a day with Spider-Man as he faces off familiar foes. The reporter in me loved the touches that included the Daily Bugle. The fangirl in me was thrilled to see that Stan Lee has a cameo on this ride. Fun and, again, a must for a Spider-Man fan.
Note: We skipped the Hulk coaster in this section because it looked too extreme for all of us. But I hear it’s grand for extreme coaster lovers.
Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls: Must See (If you don’t mind getting soaked)
The twins had zero idea who most of these characters were in this cartoon section of the park. They’re before their time.
But I, who grew up reading the Sunday comics, recognized just about all of the characters, which included Hagar the Horrible, Betty Boop, Gasoline Alley, the Family Circus family, Flash Gordon, and others. My favorites, however, were the tributes to the Saturday morning cartoons of my youth, such as Bullwinkle and Rocky, Boris and Natasha, and Dudley Do-Right—because every mountie gets his man!
The Ripsaw Falls is a log flume ride with Dudley theme-ing that features mock-ups of his various adventures and his battles with Snidely Whiplash. It’s a longer ride, with quite a few twits and turns. And, at the end, a big plunge where you will get super-soaked.
As a Dudley Do-Right ride, I was thrilled, especially the final message of “Every mountie gets his man!” The twins, completely ignorant of Dudley (yes, I’ve failed as a geekparent), loved the flume ride, even though we got very wet. (Note: There is a locker to put your belongings in next to the ride. It’s $2 for a large locker. Highly recommended.)
I also noticed the lack of crowds in this section, so it might be a good place to stop for food with younger kids who have less patience for waiting in line.
Skull Island: Reign of Kong: Fun
Hey, what’s not to love about a ride that takes you to see King Kong?
This one is based on 2005 King Kong movie and so it uses more modern special effects like projections. It’s a “let’s explore Skull Island” ride and, as your car travels, the foreboding music and scenary begins, until you’re in the middle of a fight between Kong and dinosaurs. The effects are impressive, as it seems Kong is on top of your car, and dinosaurs leap over and are flung over the car too.
It’s immersive, and well-done, though a bit on the scary side for little ones. But not as scary as The Mummy, because the effects were obviously due to technology.
What Else to Catch:
Again, if you’re a superhero fan, definitely check out the stores in this area for good swag. Plus, there’s a parade of superheroes that comes through at certain times of the day which was fun to watch.
We did miss a few sections of this park, particularly the Dr. Seuss area, but those with smaller ones might enjoy it.
We adored the Harry Potter sections of Universal, especially Diagon Alley. The reveal as you walk through the entrance will get you if you’ve never done it before.
But there’s more fun to be had in other sections of the parks too, so take advantage of those experiences. I’d recommend two to three days to see all the good things in the two parks. Though, be warned, because of the way the parks are set up, you either have to walk to the back of one park to take the Hogwarts express to the other OR have to walk all the way back out the entrance, through Universal City Walk, to the entrance of the other park.
Yeah, we preferred the Hogwars Express. Still, I clocked over 20,000 steps on my fitness watch one day.