Friday, June 17, 2011

Impression: Universal Studios Florida

Universal Studios Florida was one of the most rushed park visits I have ever done. Now, that’s not saying much considering that some people make it a sport to see how many they can fit in. Between the two parks, there was just a bit too much to do in only one day. If anything good came out of the day, it was that now I know I have to go back soon.

We actually flew down to Florida for a long weekend. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision that we came up with on a Thursday night, booking the flights on the spot. We flew into Miami the next day to see family for a day or so. On Saturday, we made the three-hour drive up to Orlando.

I have always wanted to go to Orlando. It’s arguably the amusement park capitol of the world, with Disney, Universal, SeaWorld, and Busch Gardens nearby. The sad part is, I hadn’t been to Orlando since I was very young, and I don’t remember any of it. I was really looking forward to this trip - I had hoped to do a two week vacation someday where I’d do absolutely everything. This was a travel plan forming in the back of my mind. For this weekend, though, I knew that one park would have to suffice. I decided that Universal would be the best to do, as I figured it would be easy to move between the two parks easily, and they had the biggest coasters in the Orlando area. Not to mention that I am a big Harry Potter fan….

We arrived at the park around 11:30 on a Sunday - not a great start to an already full day. Anyway, we saved some time and did the valet parking, and hurried in to buy our 2-park tickets. We started off at Universal Studios, planning to do Islands of Adventure in the afternoon, and getting a quick lunch in the Citywalk in between.

The first thing we did in the park was run to Hollywood: Rip Ride Rockit. After all of the ups and downs it’s had, I wanted to make sure I got on it while I had the chance. If you remember from our live tweets at the park that day, it was a complete walk-on. This was a bit surprising for being a (relatively) new coaster and for being the largest in the park, but I wasn’t complaining.

We got on the ride in all of about 10 minutes, with the walk through the queue and then the loading process. As I sat in my seat, I hurried to choose a song, which was not as easy as I would have liked. Quickly exiting the station, I resorted to the first song on the list, Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.” I did, in fact, survive the ride, which was nice.

The ride itself was a lot of fun. The non-inverting loop was great, a fun and unique element. The rest of the ride was just my type - perfectly twisty, compact, and maintained speed. My only complaint is that I wish there was just a bit more airtime, but I can live with that. Overall, an excellent ride, and a great addition to the park.

I don’t quite know why, but we decided that Twister would be a good ride to do next. I had no idea what to expect, but it looked decent and the line was short. As for my opinion, it was pretty meh. That’s an “average” opinion, formed from my dislike of the first half of the attraction, and my approval of the second half. Really, the first video was a bit lame, and the walk-through was spoiled by the fact that the employees were shoving us along. The next “scene,” for lack of a better word, was very cool however. All of the effects were very well done, and genuinely surprising. As a whole, Twister was kind of fun, but I wish it could all be as good as the last few minutes were.

Time was running short at that point, as we had agreed to meet family in Citywalk for lunch around 1. We knew we wouldn’t have time for much more, so we went to Revenge of the Mummy next. This actually had a bit of a line, so it’s a good thing that the queue is (a.) indoors and (b.) themed. It moved pretty fast though, and we were on the ride in about 20 minutes.

I can now say that, having ridden both the Florida version and its California counterpart, I liked this version better. Maybe the California version was a bit hazy in my memory, but this version seemed faster, more exciting, and a longer ride as well. It had several good maneuvers, and really took advantage of the fact that riders couldn’t see what was about to happen. The California version did this to an extent, but not as well as I think it could have. Overall, this just seemed to be a step up from the “Mummy” in California.

After we finished with Revenge of the Mummy, we were really running out of time. After getting a little lost, we ended up near Jaws, so we made that our last attraction. There was no wait for this either, which I understood after I’d ridden it. It wasn’t bad, it was just a little… lame? I guess it was fun and all, but not something I needed to ride again. I was a little disappointed that I’d ridden it, because now I didn’t have time for Men in Black, which I’d heard a lot of good things about. Not to mention the fact that the kids behind us on the boat were yelling constantly and sarcastically, just to be annoying. Not very pleasant…

We power-walked back to the front entrance, as I grabbed a few quick pictures of Men in Black, the Simpsons Ride, and other stuff. I would have loved another ride on Hollywood: Rip Ride Rockit, but we just didn’t have time.

We had a quick lunch at Emeril’s (which was delicious), and then headed over to Islands of Adventure. The atmosphere once you step in the gate was amazing - completely authentic, right down to the locker area (which was in a small “cave”). Called “Port of Entry,” I immediately felt like I was somewhere in the Mediterranean, a small trading village in north Africa or southern Europe. The midway was lined with shops and stalls, all fitting the theme, which was a nice break from the traditional “Main Street” theme you see at a Cedar Fair or Six Flags park.

After doing a little bit of shopping, and stopping into a small restaurant for a drink, we headed into Seuss Landing. What a charming area, perfect for a Dr. Seuss fan. It was like I was stepping into one of Geisel’s books. My younger sisters loved the play area in the center, while we all enjoyed the Carouseussel. Cat in the Hat was one of the better non-shooting dark rides I’ve been on, but not quite as good as Winnie the Pooh was at Hong Kong Disneyland. The great thing about having these “islands” is that it’s easier to structure your day around them. By keeping the number of attractions small, you can easily ride everything and move on, without worrying that your spending too much time in one area. I really like how this park is set up.

We kind of rushed through the Lost Continent, stopping only for pictures and to look around. As much as I wanted to try Mythos, I had just eaten at Emeril’s and there was still butterbeer waiting for me in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Of course, that’s where we went next. We started out by heading into Zonko’s Joke Shop, which was mostly just crowded. As a Harry Potter fan myself, I loved how everything looked and how well they had paid attention to all the little details. We headed into Honeyduke’s Candy Shop next, which had a lot of great Harry Potter candy. We ended up buying a box of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans and three Chocolate frogs, and hurried out before we could be tempted to buy more.

Skipping the long line for butterbeer right outside, we instead headed to Dragon Challenge. There was a very short wait for this too - we didn’t actually stop at any point until we were in the station itself. The queue is a bit too long, I’d have to say - it really drags on for a while. The first time through, I was questioning if we’d ever actually see the light of day again.

We did the Chinese Fireball (Fire) first, and managed to get relatively close to the front - I think I was in the third or fourth row. It was a very nice coaster, fast and forceful. It was much better than some of the newer, milder B&M inverts, and more reminiscent of the older style, as seen on Raptor or Montu. Of course, I couldn’t miss out on the Hungarian Horntail (Ice) either. We all looped back around and did it again, and this time I sat in the front row. After riding, I easily decided I liked the Horntail better. It was just as powerful as the Fireball, if not more so, and also seemed to interact better with the Fireball than vice-versa. Either way, both were excellent, and I was surprised that they didn’t have longer lines.

We started to get hungry at that point, so we headed over to the Three Broomsticks for a quick snack and the famous butterbeer. I can’t seem to remember what I ate, except I vaguely remember that there was macaroni and cheese involved. The butterbeer was amazing, though - we tried the regular kind (not the frozen variety), and it was delicious! The soda was a bit strange itself, but the cream on top made it all better. This is something everyone should try, it really completes the Harry Potter experience!

This was when our experience soured a bit. First, my camera died, so I didn’t manage to take any good pictures of the castle. Needless to say, I was disappointed. Anyway, it was starting to get late, and the park would close at 7 that night. We decided that the Forbidden Journey would be the best way to end the night, as we knew we wouldn’t have time to do much beyond that. The line wasn’t actually too bad, which was nice, so we hurried to put our stuff in a locker and we got in line. The queue was very well-themed and moved quickly, and before long we were in the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom. Unfortunately, that’s when we heard the dreaded announcement - the ride was down. We stayed in line for a good half hour, while they continued to play the same announcement over and over, with no progress update. At about 6:25, we decided that we didn’t want to wait all night, and we left the line.

We figured that we could make it to the Incredible Hulk Coaster if we hurried. We ran through Jurassic Park, Toon Lagoon, and finally ended up in Marvel Super Hero Island at around 6:40. We got in line for the Incredible Hulk Coaster, which was only about 10 minutes long. Our ride, even in the middle of the train, was excellent. The launch was unique and fun, and the barrel roll and cobra roll over the water were really great. The whole ride was one of my favorites - it kept very good speed, and had a lot of quick maneuvers. There was a bit of head-banging in a few spots, but nothing too bad. It beat out Hollywood: Rip Ride Rockit as my favorite coaster of the day. As we exited the ride, we noticed that it was only 6:55, so we hurried to get in line one last time. We were in the back for this ride, and it was a bit rougher. Still a lot of fun though, and a great way to end the night.

We started to head out of the park after that. I was beating myself up over not getting to ride the Forbidden Journey, but I was consoled by the fact that I had gotten two great rides on the Incredible Hulk. At least now I knew that I had to come back - not only for the missed rides, but simply because both parks were amazing. It was really a great day - a bit rushed maybe, but still a lot of fun. We managed to do a lot in one day, and I was proud that we had managed it.

Looking back on the visit, I can’t think of any single thing I didn’t like about either park. Both were well themed, had a good selection of rides, and well-executed in design. The only mildly annoying things I can think of were Twister’s first half, the kids on Jaws, and the crazy-long queue line walk on Dragon Challenge. I really don’t have much to complain about, so those few things are the only factors that have influenced these ratings, besides the fact that I didn't get to see all of each park. When I go back, I’ll be sure to post another Park Impression with updated ratings. Until then, I hope you enjoyed this (very large) report!

Overall Rating (Universal Studios): 8/10 Stars

Overall Rating (Islands of Adventure): 9/10 Stars


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