As the flagship theme park for Universal Studios Orlando Resort, Universal Studios Florida boasts a unique blend of world-class attractions and dated rides. Despite its somewhat inconsistent offerings, the park continues to draw visitors from all over the world, making it one of the top theme park destinations in the world.
Visitors to Universal Studios Florida are met with an intriguing mix of state-of-the-art attractions and older rides that may have passed their prime. However, depending on the time of year, guests can experience some of the best theme park thrills in the world. So, does Universal Studios Florida live up to the hype as a star-studded theme park, or another big budget flop?
While the thrill rides may not be as big of a draw as the park’s next-door neighbour there’s still a good mix here of thrilling and themed attractions. Revenge of the Mummy is one of the standout attractions in the park, an indoor roller coaster that is a truly thrilling and immersive experience, just make sure you bring Brendan Fraser his coffee if you don’t want to feel the true mummy’s wrath.
Fast & Furious Supercharged is clearly the result of Universal trying to release a new attraction every year using whatever means possible. And the biggest pain comes from the fact we lost two incredibly unique attractions to open a fast and furious ride where you don’t go fast but hey the ride experience sure makes you furious. On the other hand, we believe ‘Race through New York with Jimmy Fallon‘ is better than most people seem to think, but it says a lot that the best part of the attraction is the awesome preshow experience that unfortunately not all guests get to enjoy.
Harry Potter Escape from Gringotts is the Forbidden Journey parallel for this park and manages to recapture lightning in a bottle with the Gringott’s setting. The ride is a super unique roller coaster that uses technology well to create an amazing mix of a thrill ride and a dark ride, with the ride’s first drop being a truly jaw-dropping moment. Elsewhere in the park is ‘TRANSFORMERS: The Ride-3D‘ a great thrilling dark ride that pales slightly when compared to ‘The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman‘. While we know a lot of people prefer this version, it brings up a slight problem with the resort some attractions make you go “Wow, I wish I was at Islands of Adventure right now! Also in the park is ‘Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit‘ – the worst roller coaster experience we had all trip. It was rough, painful, and down right unpleasant. Others have mentioned that it’s not always like that, but we can’t see it being worth the risk to experience again.
The lineup of family attractions is approaching that of a Disney park with a great mix of things to do for the young and the young at heart. You can’t talk about family rides at the park without starting at ET Adventure, a ride that has truly stood the test of time being one of the only opening-day attractions still on offer in the Park. Jump aboard a bike and soar through the sky with ET on an exciting journey to The Green Planet where an alien friend may even say your name in a creepily robotic voice at the end. This is attraction might old but it still stands the test of time that’s to its practical effects and sets that don’t rely on screens.
I’ve done one too many shooter dark rides in my time but MIB: Alien Attack really changes up the formula with its fully-featured animatronics, PVP sections, and setting. It’s just plain fun and probably the best shooter dark ride out there in the world. Despicable Me Minion Mayhem turns you into a Minion and is a 4D simulator that will be loved by children but can be completely skipped by adults.
Another ride though that’s similarly showing its ride systems age is the Simpsons Ride. A super fun ride film that truly does feel like an extension of the TV but the ride system itself is limping on being a holdover from Back to the Future The Ride, it will be interesting to see what happens to this plot of land in the next few years.
It should be noted that Woody Woodpecker’s Kidzone is currently closed for an expansion and retheme to DreamWorks properties, but what we experienced was great, and what they replace it with should be much better utilising Universal’s experience in creating world-class attractions utilising well-known and loved IPs. Expansions are also underway at the front of the park with a new Minions Villaincon attraction set to open in the next few months.
The timing of your visit to Universal Studios Florida will play a big part in determining what experiences are on offer around the park. Some of the world’s best theme park events are contained here such as Mardi Gras which brings the fun, food and festival atmosphere of New Orleans to Universal and later in the year you can experience the magic of a Christmas in New York without the blistering cold. Both events are included in your regular park admission, though similar to Epcot, outside of these events the park feels as if it’s something major, so be sure to check out what’s on offer before locking in your visit to really get the most out of your visit.
Outside of special events, the rest of the park is still teeming with quality experiences, such as the entirety of Diagon Alley which makes you feel as if you’ve stepped right into the world of Harry Potter. Unlike Hogsmeade where right next door to Hogwarts castle is a giant Jurassic World-themed roller coaster, Diagon Alley is all-encompassing with large facades that really bring an extra level of immersion, and as expected, Olivander’s makes another appearance here so that you perhaps be one of the lucky few to be paired with a wand of your very own. You can also get between Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley via the Hogwarts Express, but keep in mind that is only available to those with a park hopper pass.
Race Through New York with Jimmy Fallon is a ride that at certain times can offer a full package experience where the Ragtime Gals serenade you with current pop hits through the iconic barbershop quartet style, but you can get unlucky and at certain times of the day there will simply be a blank stage showing clips from the Tonight Show.
Whilst not necessarily an experience, those a little bit older will be hit by a wave of nostalgia with brands such as The Simpsons, Men In Black, The Mummy, ET and more being featured throughout the theme park. Plus, whilst no longer having his own ride, it’s not uncommon to run into Doc Brown from Back To The Future. This is also the theme park that Halloween Horror Nights calls home, so if you visit during the spooky months, you can pay a bit extra to experience a genuinely frightful event.
While it’s a shame the park doesn’t have the Universal staple of WaterWorld, it makes up for it by offering some incredibly unique and one-of-a-kind entertainment offerings. The Bourne Stuntacular is one of if not the best theme park stunt show in the world, combining technology and incredible feats into a spectacular package, we don’t wanna spoil the show too much for anyone but it’s our don’t-miss experience of the entire park.
Another do n’t-miss show for a completely different reason is the Horror Make-Up Show, a classic of the park that blends Hollywood special effects with a strong mix of improvisational comedy making it different every single time and on our trip we ended up with a 45-minute expanded version of the show just because the hosts were riffing off each other so strongly. Diagon Alley also has a number of shows on offer that are a lot better than those on offer at Hogsmede and thankfully these ones are in the shade.
The Animals Actors On Location show is a classic of Universal, who doesn’t love sitting back and watching some talented animals do their thing? With the show recently closing at Universal Hollywood, Orlando is now the one place to watch and enjoy the cute critters. This show is also one of the only surviving remnants of the studio park, and peeling back the curtains on movies is my favourite part of the classic Universal attractions it’s just a shame most of them have since been removed.
This might be an edgy opinion but the Blues Brothers show is one of the best things in the entire park, it’s fun, it’s vibrant, the crowds get involved and everyone just has an all-around great time with no queues in sight. So make sure you find the time to sit back and enjoy Jake and Elwood singing those soul classics as they have been for over 30 years.
Operations at Universal Studios Florida are simply world-class. Rarely were we inconvenienced with ride outages, and despite visiting during one of the busiest times of the year with it being Fourth of July, operations were kept smooth and efficient with all staff being friendly and courteous.
We did have Express Pass which helped us experience as much as possible during our short visit to the resort, but we were paying attention to the average waits around the park and they never looked extravagantly long.
With little more to say we ultimately see that as a good thing. When operations are done right, people barely notice them at all.
Universal Studios Florida is undoubtedly a studio theme park, but once you move past the vast beige soundstages littered around the entrance you enter into some genuinely well-themed lands even if they are just trying to emulate movie studio backlots.
Nestled in a corner of the park alongside Men In Black is the iconic land of Springfield which brings the cartoon world of the Simpsons to life with colourful buildings that look as if they’ve ripped right off the show. Whilst the heyday of the Simpsons has definitely passed, it’s still a great place to explore for those that grew up with the show.
As mentioned before, Diagon Alley is one of the most immersive theme park lands in the world and easily redeems some of the park’s thematic shortcomings. It’s a must-visit for those interested in Harry Potter or well-crafted thematic environments, and whilst we’ve always been iffy on the static dragon, it’s hard to argue this iconic centrepiece doesn’t grab people’s attention.
Studio theme parks aren’t for everybody, but it feels like the park is really embracing its movie-making setting instead of just using it as an excuse to be cheap.
If you’re looking to shop, Universal has something for you to buy. Universal Studios Florida is chock full of stores featuring some iconic merchandise, almost to an overwhelming degree.
Starting you’ve got the park-specific Universal Studios range which, unlike Islands of Adventure, is not lacking in any way. It feels like Universal has slapped its logo onto pretty much everything and honestly we are all for it. Many of Universal’s brands and IPs are well represented, and the inclusion of Citywalk means that you even need a ticket to the park to purchase what’s on offer.
Despite its impressive theming and thrilling attraction, Diagon Alley can best be described as the Harry Potter shopping mall. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as fans can purchase a full assortment of Harry Potter and Wizarding World gear that make great keepsakes and gifts.
Universal Studios provides a great retro collection with a ton of products celebrating attractions that are sadly no longer in the park and depending on when you visit, there is likely to be a Tribute Store which is just as much an attraction as it is a shopping location. We’ve experienced an incredible parade warehouse for Carnivale, a celebration of Universal’s most famous movie for Summer, and creepy haunted oddities for Halloween Horror Nights, all of which are immaculately themed.
There’s no doubt that Universal is expensive, but genuinely the value is there. Much like the other big resort in Orlando, Universal wants to keep you onsite as long as they can, so the more days you have on your ticket the cheaper each day becomes. In its current state, depending if there’s a special event we would recommend at least a three-day park hopper to enjoy this resort which will currently cost you $294USD but there are often special ticket offers like the current one which gets you into the parks for four days for only $221.
Staying onsite can be a great way to add additional value to your trip as it gets you into the parks an hour early and rooms at hotels like Endless Summer are very affordable for what’s included. Plus if you stay in a deluxe resort you get a free express pass which, if you’re planning to get an express pass anyway, can often be around the same price as the pass itself for multiple guests staying in a single room, essentially making the room free!
Food and drinks are expected theme park prices, and we found Universal Studios less desirable to eat, noting a lack of quality and variety compared to Islands of Adventure, and the pasta and pizza we ate in the New York area weren’t great. Just be aware that the most unique offerings at the park such as Halloween Horror Nights are completely separate ticketed events, though Mardi Gras and Christmas are included with your regular park ticket!
It’s Florida, so of course most of the year it’s going to be insanely hot, and unfortunately, the park doesn’t have any water rides to help cool you down like Islands of Adventure, but thankfully most attractions are indoors with plenty of queues being undercover.
Despite visiting during one of the busiest times of the year, the Fourth of July, the vast walkways and abundant greenery kept the park feeling fresh and the crowds were barely a problem, except for Diagon Alley which can get overwhelmingly crowded at various times of the day to the point that it was uncomfortable to be in, especially in the centre street.
Being a studio theme park you can expect some pop music whilst getting around, though many areas do have thematically appropriate soundtracks such as Springfield, Diagon Alley, New York, and San Francisco.
During events like Mardi Gras, the park has some of the greatest atmospheres that we’ve felt in a theme park, but outside of these events, the end of your night may feel a little lacklustre with no big event to draw the crowds together.
Universal Orlando is a world-class resort destination and has the services to back it up. As mentioned before there are plenty of hotels nearby to help immerse yourself in the resort experience, plus the aforementioned added benefit of an express pass if you stay in a deluxe resort.
Around the park are lockers that are a requirement for a number of attractions, with limited free options to temporarily store your smaller belongings, or additional paid options elsewhere for those looking to offload some of their unnecessary gear.
The park also offers the best way to park hop in the world the fully themed Hogwarts Express experience which can save your legs a ton of walking, just be aware that do require a park hopper ticket to utilise this service. The park also provides plenty of assistance and help to those who require it so if you need anything always ask one of the friendly team members and I’m sure they’ll be happy to help.
While this park may not have the big drawcard attractions like its younger brother next door, its unique seasonal offerings mean this park holds some of my favourite theme park memories of all time.
In a few years when Epic Universe opens though this park is going to be showing its age so if you want to experience Universal Studios Florida in its current state, I would get down there sooner rather than later as I feel once their brand new theme park wraps all focus will be shifted back to their original.
And a huge thank you to Universal Studios for inviting us out for the purpose of our review.