While on my recent sojourn to Florida and the Caribbean, I enjoyed a day at Universal Orlando Resort – well, actually PART of a day, not the entire day. I was there specifically to complete the on-site portion of the Universal Specialist Program for travel professionals. Another program designed to better understand the destinations that we sell, and thereby boost our individual business for a particular destination. The Universal program includes an online and an on-site portion… I’d completed the online portion last summer. Now it was time for the on-site.
The last time I had been to Universal Orlando was in 2007, with my family. On that trip we’d stayed at the Nickelodeon Suites over on World Drive, near Walt Disney World. This time I was staying at Walt Disney World at Disney’s Old Key West Resort – and was going solo. I arrived at the Universal Orlando parking garage in my rental car at around 8:50 am, knowing the parks opened at 9 am. My plan was to visit Islands of Adventure first, and then head over in to Universal Studios Florida afterwards. By the time I got to the park entry, passing through the CityWalk area, and enjoying looking around to see what was the same and what was different from my last visit, it was a little after 9 am.
As a park, Islands of Adventure hadn’t changed a whole lot, with one large exception… and entire new land had been built… the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Though I will say that new land itself, wasn’t all completely new, as part of The Lost Continent was area was given up for this new land. The Wizarding World boasts two different roller coaster experiences that were existing attractions, simply re-purposed for the Potter theme. Dragon Challenge was formerly known as Dueling Dragons – and Flight of the Hippogriff was formerly known as The Flying Unicorn.
Full disclosure time – and go ahead and let your jaws drop in disbelief if you so choose – but I have never read a single Harry Potter book in my life. Nor have I seen any more than about 20 minutes of one of the films when it aired on television. That’s it. I am not a Potter fan, nor do I plan to become one. But I did have interest in seeing the land for myself. I wanted to know what I sell, and be able to answer questions that my clients might have. So when the opportunity to visit the parks presented itself, I jumped at it. And I will say, that even though I am not a fan, and I do not know the different storylines or backstories behind the various elements of the land itself – it was beautiful . And I believe, very well executed. The folks at Universal Creative apparently got it right, because I definitely heard a lot of “high praise” from guests all around me, oohing and ahhing at the various shops, backgrounds and scenic elements throughout Harry’s community. I knew some of the characters from magazine articles and conversations with friends, but the backstories... no.
The Hogwart’s castle that they created, which sits high atop the feature attraction, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey was simply stunning. I loved it for its beauty and grace as a thematic element to the land. Many of the folks at Universal Creative were once Imagineers for Disney, and were certainly trained well in the art of the show, and the theatrical immersion that comes across so well in many theme park environments. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter definitely comes across well in its immersion.
Now to get to the actual attraction, and my experience with it - I had read and heard many things prior to my visit, including get there as quickly as possible in order to minimize the wait time, otherwise expect a very long line. I did just that, and was pleasantly surprised to see just a stated 10 minute wait. Now the reality is my wait time was a little less, since I got into the Single Rider line, but in the end, it turned out to be more, simply because it took me about 10 minutes just to finally decide to ride it after I stood inside the center of the queue area watching the video which demonstrates what the ride technology actually does. Let me just state emphatically that I love roller coasters, and I don’t mind many different spinning rides (though Mission: Space at Epcot did make me very nauseous) – but I’m not one to jump up and down about being turned nearly upside down…backwards. And that’s what the video was showing. So hemmed and hawed for a while, trying to decide what I would do. Ultimately my curiosity won out, and I did go on the attraction. However – I will say – that as an attraction, it did not in the end make me nauseous – but I just didn’t like it. I didn’t care for many of the thematic elements included, nor did I care for how very dark and foreboding the overall attraction was. I can see how fans of the series might enjoy the attraction, but I didn’t. And that’s okay. It just means there’s one less person to be in line ahead of you the next time I’m in the Islands of Adventure park. Oh yes, and one more thing... with my apologies to the die-hard HP fans out there... I didn't like the Butterbeer either.
Pretty much everything else about Islands of Adventure was the same as my last visit. Although The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman over in Marvel Superhero Island had been updated, and I was sure to ride that one to see how it was different. I really enjoyed that one, just as I did the last time I rode it nearly 6 years ago. I wish that Disney had an attraction similar to it, as it really is a cool attraction.
Over in Universal Studios, more has changed since our last visit, as the new Transformers attraction is getting closer and closer to completion. Since our visit, the Jaws attraction has closed, and the real estate it once sat upon is currently under construction bringing a “bridge” between the two parks with some sort of Harry Potter connection (I’ve read about it online, but don’t recall exactly what it will be at the moment - something having to do with a Hogwart's Express or something to that effect); Back to the Future The Ride made way for The Simpsons Ride; Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit debuted; and Despicable Me Minion Mayhem replaced the old Jimmy Neutron ride. PLUS they have a cool new nighttime water & laser show on the central lagoon called Universal’s Cinematic Spectacular, which I might have enjoyed seeing had I stayed there until nightfall. It looks really cool, though I know I would stand there comparing it to World of Color at Disney California Adventure way too much.
While in USF, I did enjoy the Lucy: A Tribute exhibit (I have been a die-hard Lucy fan since I was a very small child...and now my kids are as well. We love watching "I Love Lucy" every Sunday evening with our dinner, going through episode by episode, as they were originally shown on tv all those years ago). I also had a nice piece of pizza at Louie’s Italian Restaurant in the New York section, but I really didn’t ride anything. I had no real desire to. Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit looked really cool, and in retrospect I wish I had ridden it, but alas, I did not. While I really like the backlot feel of the New York and San Francisco sections, I must admit I don’t care for Universal Studios Florida as much as I do for Universal Studios Hollywood. The Hollywood park is different, in that it sits inside an actual, functional, movie studio whereas the Florida park only simulates one. Plus I have an affinity for the Hollywood park, as I worked there in high school – it was actually my first paying job back in the summer of 1987. So for me, USF just falls a bit flat. Of the two Universal Orlando parks, I much prefer Islands of Adventure.
Alright, I’m going to call it quits for now, but will write more about my Florida adventures in the next installment of stopher’s stuff.
Until then make it a great week!