Two great parks, lots of attractions, and the easiest way to pretend you’re worthy of attending Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. All these await you at Universal Orlando. We went. We had a blast. Now it’s time to offer our Universal Ride Review.
At both Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure, you’ll find first-rate roller coasters, water rides, motion simulators, and creative, multi-media experiences that marry 3- and 4-D movie effects with live action sequences. Here’s a rundown of some of the best rides in each park.
The Rides at Universal Studios Florida
- Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts: Located in Gringotts Wizarding Bank at the back of Diagon Alley, you walk through the opulent lobby, past the goblin tellers and into the vaults to get on a roller coaster that combines animation and live action movie effects. Prepare to face Voldemort and finally soar to freedom on the back of a fire-breathing dragon. The lines for this ride are incredibly long. Go early if you can get in the park before it opens to the general public or plan to stay late because Express Passes do not work here. (For more about Express Passes, Early Admission and lots more, click here for our insider tips on navigating the parks.)
- Men in Black Alien Attack: Riders are given the chance to zap animatronic aliens with their special MIB laser guns, racking up points and earning the moniker of MIB agent. (Be the first one to hit the red button when they tell you to, and you’ll end up with the most points!)
- Revenge of the Mummy: This is a very dark and fast, indoor roller coaster. It’s an exhilarating ride, launching passengers from a complete standstill to 40+ mph in a matter of seconds. Despite being over the minimum 48″ tall, our skinny, bean-pole of a teenager didn’t like the sensation of shifting around under the lap bar, especially when he couldn’t see what was coming.
- The Simpsons Ride: While shuffling through the line, watch the TV monitors that are showing a specially-created Simpsons episode that sets up the story of the ride. Best described as a stationary motion simulator, you feel like you’re moving forward while watching a screen in front of you. Even though you never actually leave the room, the whole experience is still a lot of fun, and, as usual, Sideshow Bob gets it in the end.
- Despicable Me Minion Mayhem: Much like the Simpsons, but with the addition of 3-D glasses, you basically watch a movie (this time in an auditorium) while your seat moves. Filled with amusing dialogue from Gru, the girls, and of course, the cheeky little minions.
- Transformers The Ride-3D: A dark, 3-D ride that merges motion platforms, a 2,000-foot track, and 60-foot projection screens. Autobots versus Decepticons. What’s not to love?
- E.T. Adventure: One of the older attractions in the park, visitors sit in bicycle-ish seats while flying over the city to help E.T. get back to his people, culminating in a wondrous, musical land of E.T.-like critters, à la “It’s a Small World.”
- Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit: Choose your personal roller-coaster-riding music as you take your seat and prepare for a straight-down drop right out of the gate. This is an outstanding, not-to-be-missed coaster that’s even better if you’re jamming to The Black Eyed Peas.
The Rides at Universal’s Islands of Adventure
- Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey: Pivoting seats and robotic technology commingle with special effects and pre-recorded, live-action footage featuring the actors from the Harry Potter movies. This time you’re on a broom, dodging everything from Hagrid’s pet dragon and the Whomping Willow to giant spiders in the Forbidden Forest and Dementors soaring over the Quidditch pitch, only to be saved by a Patronus charm before finally touching down in the Main Hall of Hogwarts Castle. Expect a seriously long line here, which is not necessarily a bad thing if you want time to soak in the ambience of the Castle’s interior which includes recreations of the Gryffindor Common Room, the Headmaster’s office, and the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom. To learn more about the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, click here to see our Harry Potter Photo Essay.
- Dragon Challenge: Arguably the best classic roller coaster in the park, this one lets you choose between two identical cars that run almost simultaneously. (We noticed consistently shorter lines for the pink coaster. Turn left at the fork.) Passengers hang under the cars as they spiral upside down and sideways. There’s an optional line for the front row — which is longer, but worth the wait! For those less brave, there’s a shaded waiting area by the exit.
- Flight of the Hippogriff: Right next to the Dragon Challenge is a family-friendly coaster with perhaps the shortest run time ever — under a minute, if that. But great for little kids.
- The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man: This one feels a lot like Transformers in the other park, mixing a special roving motion simulator with physical sets and action-packed 3-D movie effects. At one point, you’ll find yourself “falling” straight down only to be saved by… what else… a spider web!
- Jurassic Park River Adventure: When you’re hot and sweaty, it’s time to get wet! Considering the original Jurassic Park movie has been out for more than 20 years, this placid river safari feels a bit old-school with its fiberglass, herbivorous dinosaurs eating peacefully along the riverbanks as you float past. But once the containment cage has been compromised, look out! A T-Rex opens its giant mouth to chomp your boat just as you plunge down a darkened tunnel and get splashed on your way outside to safety. Like most rides in this genre, the folks in front get the worst of it.
- Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls: Even with Express Passes, the wait for this ride can be fairly long because each log only carries five people. There are several opportunities to get wet here, including passing through a waterfall on a slow incline and, of course, the final free-fall and drenching flume at the bottom that is the hallmark of every log ride in existence. Don’t sit in front if you don’t want to have soaking wet clothes. (For $5, you can stand in a hot-air-blowing “People Dryer” near the exit. Plastic ponchos are also for sale in many of the gift shops.)
Thus ends our Universal ride review, but it is by no means a complete list. There are so many more attractions and performances at the parks… we just didn’t get to them all. We missed the 4-D Shrek film, Fear Factor show, and Terminator 2 live action performance at Universal Studios, and the 150-foot Fearfall drop, Popeye raft ride, and Sinbad Stunt Show at Islands of Adventure. Both parks have classic spinny rides — Storm Force Accelatron and Kang & Kodos Twirl ‘n’ Hurl — which we skipped. Seuss Landing and Woody Woodpecker’s Kidzone offer things like the Cat in the Hat, Barney, and Curious George, but we traveled with a 14-year-old boy and no little children, so we have no advice to offer on the areas that are designed for younger kiddos.