Orlando Florida - Universal Studios (part 1)

Karrie and i had always talked about going to Harry Potter World at Universal Studios in Orlando Florida. We decided that the best time to go would be over Memorial Day weekend. That way we only had to take one day off of work to get 4 days of vacation.
Our original plan was to drive a rental car from Michigan to Florida. So we reserved the car and hotels for the two nights we would be staying there. Then Karrie saw flights from Air Tran for $240 total after taxes and fees. So we decided to fly. I wasn't looking forward to two 20+ car rides anyways. But we did have to get two more nights at hotels for the two extra days we would be staying down there and also rent a car once we arrived.

Day 1
My dad gave us a ride to the airport and we left on Air Tran Airways at 6:35pm.

It turned out to be one of the best flights ever. Like all airlines now a days, Air Tran wants to charge you to reserve your seat. So when we arrived at DTW we went to the counter to pick our seats. We picked two seats in the back row. It turned out that even though the flight was almost full, no one ended up sitting next to us so we got the entire back row to ourselves. Three seats for two people. Which meant that we got to sit sideways and stretch out.

We arrived in Orlando at 9:04pm and caught a bus to pick up our rental car. We reserved a budget economy car from Payless Rental. It turned out to be a super ghetto car rental place.

I'm used to the rental car place trying to sell you the "extra insurance" and stuff like that, but it turned out that they didn't have any budget cars. So they ended up giving us a minivan. Here's the Kia Sedona that we had for the weekend. It was bad, don't buy a Kia Sedona.

So we drove to eat dinner at 11pm then went to our hotel, the Orlando Metropolitan Resort. This was one of the worst hotels i've ever stayed at. Not as bad as the Maplehurst Motel in Pennsylvania, but very close. The first room we went in, turned on the lights and nothing happened. So we went back to the front desk, told them, and got another room. In this new room the chair and couch cushions were all messed up and it was dirty.

Karrie and i were on the verge of going back and getting a refund and staying some place else. We called the Windham Resorts (the hotel we were planning on staying the next 2 days) but they were booked. We were also debating sleeping in the car. But it was past midnight and we were super tired so we just went to bed. So much for our $43 a night room.

Even the TV stunk.

Day 2
We woke up early, ready to leave our nasty hotel and get to Universal Studios. The park opened at 9am and we arrived soon after. Parking was $15 for the day. But as long as we kept the receipt we could leave, come back and park for free.

Now Universal Studios is basically 3 areas: City Walk, Universal Studios, Islands of adventure. Here's the map i was carrying around in my back pocket for two days. It showed us all of the rides, bathrooms and restaurants.

Here's the entrance to the Universal Studios island. This park is focused mostly on movie themed rides.

And here's the entrance to Islands of Adventure. This island has a lot more rides and roller coasters.

We ordered the tickets online around the same time we got the flight and hotels. We got tickets to get into both parks, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. So we didn't have to deal with buying anything at the entrance.

City Walk, which is lots of restaurants and bars that are open till 2am and you don't need a ticket to enter. You don't really need a map for this, it's basically just one street you walk through to get to the islands.

Here was our ticket, a 2 day Park-to-Park pass, which cost $140 for each of us. When you first use the pass, they have you write your name on it, then scan your finger print so that each ticket is assigned to each visitor.

We did see this flier for Discount Tickets on the last day we were in Florida. A hotel had them at their front desk, directing you to a store nearby. Supposedly you could save lots of money for places like Disney, Sea World, Universal Studios and even Gatorland!

It didn't turn out to be that much of a savings, on average about $5 per ticket. We paid $140 for the 2 day 2 park pass online and their price was $137.

Anyway, back to Day 1 at the park. We decided to go right to the good stuff, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter which is on Islands of Adventure. The island was split up into different themed areas with rides, restaurants and stores for each theme. It's amazing once you enter the Harry Potter area of the park.
(click to enlarge)

Hogwarts castle looked amazing.

Visiting Harry Potter was really the highlight of the trip. It was great. You enter into Hogsmeade Village and the first time you walk through it's almost too much to take in. All of the stores, shops, vendors and people look very overwhelming and you think, "i'll never be able to see everything".

Here's the first thing you see when entering the park is the Hogwarts Express train.

They even have trunks and owl cages on platform 9 3/4.

The detail on the buildings and shops was the best part. It was exactly like the books and movies. Over the course of the first day we went in every shop in Hogsmeade. Honydukes had Chocolate Frogs, Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans, and almost every other candy. The prices were a little high though, Chocolate Frogs were $10. Over all though, prices at the park weren't bad at all. A lot less than we were expecting.

Connected to Honeydukes was Zonko's Joke shop. This was dull, just lots of dollar store toys marked up to $8. But they did have stuff like Extendable Ears and Sneakoscopes. There was lots of stuff like a foam Quaffles. Stuff that's sort of cool but not worth buying, then having to carry around for the rest of the day.

We waited in line to get into Olivanders. They only let a small group of people inside and then pick one person to "try out" a wand. It was kind of fun, shelves moved and things fell just like the movie. Again the small details inside was the best part. It was all dusty and looked a hundred years old.

The wands themselves cost around $35. Definitely not worth it, but it was cool to look at all of the different wands for the different wizards.

Like i said we went into all of the stores to see the broomsticks, robes, hats, Marauders Maps, and even the Monster Book of Monsters.

We definitely wanted to try some butterbeer and they had multiple places where you could buy some.

But we figured that the best place to go would be the Three Broomsticks, which was attached to the Hog's Head. The Three Broomsticks was the restaurant side where you could sit down to eat, the Hog's Head was where you could get drinks. As you were waiting in line the hog moved and looked around.

So we each got a glass of butterbeer, which was really foamy.

I really wanted to like it, but i didn't. I hated to white foam on top, it was too thick and had this weird buttery taste. But i thought the drink itself was ok, sort of like a mix between root beer and ginger ale. Karrie thought the exact opposite. She thought the foamy part was ok and hated the drink part. It was definitely unique.

Now there is more to The Wizzarding World of Harry Potter then just the shops at Hogsmeade. And in between going to all the shops we rode on the three Harry Potter rides. In the weeks leading up to our trip we talked with lots of people about the park and got some great tips. The best tip i can give for visiting Universal Studios is to go in the Single Rider Lines. Let me repeat that...Single Rider Lines.

When you come up to the start of the rides there are 3 entrances. There is the General Line (that most people go through), Express Pass (which you pay extra for) and Single Rider Line. They have an electronic sign at the entrance to each ride, which shows the waiting time for the ride. This is for the General Line waiting time. On average the waiting time for the Single Rider Line is 1/4 of that time. For example there would be a ride with a wait time of 60 minutes and Karrie and i would go through the Single Rider Line in 10-15 minutes, be on the ride.N ot every ride/show has Single Rider Lines, lots of the movies, group shows or small cart rides had only the General Line, but definitely use the Single Rider Line whenever possible.

You might be thinking, "Ya but i want to be on the ride with the people i'm with, not ride by myself." 90% of the time that Karrie and i were in the Single Rider Line, we were on the same ride. And about 60% of the time we sat right next to each other. There was only once or twice that she went on the first ride, then i was on the next one after.

The most popular ride at Harry Potter World is Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. It's inside of Hogwarts Castle.

The secret to getting to the front of the line super quickly is to enter through Filch's Emporium. It's a gift shop on the back side of Hogwarts castle.

You walk through the door and head to the left toward the tunnel. There you can leave you stuff in the lockers, then cut across the General Riders Line and skip way ahead through the Single Riders Line.

We went on this ride twice. The first time we went through the Single Riders Line and it only took 15 minutes. The line for the ride winds through Hogwarts castle and you get to see some great stuff. Just before you get on the ride, the Sorting Hat warns you of things to come.

If you do the Single Rider Line you miss a lot of that cool stuff, so just before the park closed we went back and went through the General Rider Line. Since it was late, there wasn't that long of a wait. The General Rider Line has lots more to see in line. There's the phoenix spiral staircase entrance to Dumbledore's office. But it only opens if you know the secret password.

Dumbledore's office is really cool, he speaks to you from the balcony. And there's tons of cool stuff inside like the Pensieve.

I was disappointed that there wasn't a staircase that moved but they did have paintings that moved and talked to each other.

I got a little sick on this ride. I thought it might have been from the butterbeer i just drank, but the second time i had the same queasy feeling. I didn't like the rides where you are sitting in a car that moves back and forth while you are looking at a screen. I'm perfectly fine with roller coasters, but my head and stomach didn't like these.

The ride was actually really cool though, you fly on broomsticks through the castle, past Dementors, over the giant spiders (which spit water), past the Whomping Willow, by a dragon (which blows real fire) and across the Quidditch field.

Here's a little side note about the lockers at Universal Studios. They are awesome. They work with the same finger print they scan at the entrance and there are lockers at the front of every major ride at the park. I thought we were going to have to pay $3 every time we used them but we didn't, they were free. If the wait time for the ride is 45 minutes, the lockers will give you 60 to 80 minutes for free. Just scan your finger print and a locker opens. If you come back within the time limit it doesn't cost anything. You only have to pay if you go over the free time it gives you. We must have used the lockers 12 times in the two days we were there and didn't pay once. The tough part was remembering the locker number, because you had to put in the number before you scanned you finger print for it to open. By the 7th locker of the day and after a half hour wait in line and ride, you forget if it was locker 1345 or 1453.

After spending several hours at the Harry Potter area of the park we walked around and went on the other rides. We did skip a lot of areas like Dr. Seuss, The Cat in the Hat, The Lost Continent, Sinbad and Toon Land. Either because it was for little kids or the rides didn't look or sound real fun.

Here's a short description of all the rides we went on and a rating of 1-10. 1 being the worst ride ever and 10 being the best. Also the type of ride, time of day and the amount of time we waited in line (Single Rider Line).

Islands of Adventure

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey -- 8.5 - Robotic Arm and Video - 11am - 5min - & - 9:30pm - 20min
Like i said i got a little sick and dizzy afterwords but it was still super cool.

Harry Potter Dragon Challenge -- 8 - Big Roller Coaster - 11am - 20min - & - 11am - 5min
We rode this one twice too. There was no single rider line for this but the wait wasn't too long. The first time we decided to sit in the front and it was definitely the way to go. There are no other carts or people in front of you. It's kind of like the Rapter from Cedar Point, your feet dangle below your seats. There are lots of turns, spins and barrel rolls. And it's super fast.

Harry Potter Flight of the Hippogryph - 4 - Small Roller Coaster - 10am - 20min
Not really that exciting, more of a kiddy ride. There was no single rider line, the ride was really short and slow. Kids might like it though.

Dr. Doom's Fear Fall - 5 - Power Tower - 1pm - 25min
This was in the Marvel comic book area of Islands of Adventure. We had to ask where the single rider line was and we had to go through the building next door. But for some reason it was a long wait for such an average ride. Even though there was only 10 people in the single rider line it took 25 minutes. Probably because of the type of ride, it was like a smaller version of the Power Tower at Cedar Point. It didn't go as high but at the top it shot you down and was pretty fun.

Incredible Hulk - 6.5 - Big Roller Coaster - 12:30pm - 15min
One of the larger rides at the park. And the first few seconds of the ride is the best part. It doesn't slowly pull you to the top it shoots you out of the tunnel, over the first big hill and through the ride. There were lots of loops and big turns.

The 3 Water Rides

We actually went on these water rides on Day 3 but since they were part of Islands of Adventure i'm putting them here. Definitely wear a bathing suit for these rides.

Jurassic Park Water Ride - 6 - Water Raft Ride - 4pm - 8min
We asked and were able to sit in the front row of the big raft. There was no single rider line but the wait wasn't that long. The ride was kind of lame at first, you drift along a river while robotic dinosaurs pop out of the bushes and water. The end is the best part, you go up a big incline then a T-Rex comes at you just before you go down a huge drop into a lake.

Rip-Saw Falls - 4 - Water Log Ride - 1pm - 65min
There was no single rider line so we had to wait with everyone else for over an hour. This was by far the longest we had to wait in line. And standing with a bunch of screaming wet kids was not fun. The ride was your typical log ride, 5 to a "boat" with a couple of twists, a mini drop and splash before the big final super fast drop into the water. Had the wait been shorter i might have had a better time but all i remember is standing in a dark hallway line with a bunch of annoying kids. And they didn't have any free lockers nearby so i had to bring my backpack with me on the ride, wrapped in two plastic raincoats.

Popeye Bilge Rat Barges - 5 - Water Raft Ride - 11:30am - 20min
Again no single rider line for this one. The ride is a big round raft that winds down a fast river. There are lots of spots to get wet and splashed. I got soaked twice, a bathing suit is a must. Also there were no lockers here either but they had a covered compartment on the raft for your stuff so it was fine.

Around 4pm we left Islands of Adventure and drove to our new hotel the Windham Resorts. For just over $60 per night we got a super nice room at a much better hotel. The resort is actually several buildings on a big piece of property. They had pools and places for you to walk around. The only bad thing was the traffic, it was crazy there. The intersection by our hotel was super busy and it took us 20 minutes to go a half mile. It's because we were right in the middle of Disney, Universal Studios, Sea World and a water park. We rested for a few hours, went to dinner then headed back to the park around 7pm. We kept our receipt so parking was free.

The Universal Studios island closed at 9:00 and Islands of Adventure closed at 10:00. So we walked over to Universal Studios first. Since it was after 7pm, the lines were a lot shorter.

We were able to go to the T2 show, the E.T. ride, The Simpsons 3D ride and MIB ride all before the park closed. We were the last people on MIB. Descriptions of the rides below.

At 9:30 they shut off the lights and shoot off fireworks. It was pretty cool actually. Everyone either leaves the park or, like us, has a park to park pass and walks over to Islands of Adventure, since it closes an hour later.

So we walked back over to Harry Potter World, walked through Hogsmeade and that's when we rode The Forbidden Journey for the second time. Then Islands of Adventure closed, we left the park and went back to the hotel.

Day 3

We were pretty tired from the day before so we didn't get to the park until around 10:00am. Also we decided to wear our bathing suits because we planned on going on the water rides (which i described earlier).

The forecast didn't look too promising for the 4 days we were in Florida. Tropical Storm Beryl came inland, stopped, then headed out to the ocean.

The Universal Studios portion of the park is much more "movie" related. Not as many rides as Islands of Adventure but more show type attractions.

Like i said earlier, the night before we went on a couple of rides at the Universal Studios park so this morning we walked in the other direction. We on every ride we could and most were pretty fun. Here's the rides and descriptions.

Universal Studios

Terminator 2 (T2) - 6.5 - Interactive 3D Movie/Show - 7:30pm - 10min
A quick description of this would be "corny but cool". Karrie said that when she came hear years ago, this was the main attraction, T2 had just come out. We had to stand in line, then go to another room for a boring video and speech before entering the theater. It was a combination of real actors and a 3D movie. Actors playing John and Sarah Connor repel down from the ceiling, Arnold comes out on a motorcycle, then drive into the movie screen. Then they play a movie that must have been filmed at the same time as the real T2 movie. It was cool seeing that, they looked like old deleted scenes and the real Arnold Schwarzenegger had his typical one-liners. Even though it was dorky, the 3D, actors, smoke effects and robots made it really fun. Maybe outdated but i still liked it.

E.T. - 3.5 - Slow Ride - 8pm - 20min
First they have you watch a short clip of Stephen Spielberg talking about E.T.'s home planet, which was dumb. Then you tell them your name and you get a white plastic card before standing in line. Sadly for me, standing in line was the best part. You were in a forest just like the movie. There was the speak-and-spell set up for E.T. to call home.

The ride was dumb though, you sit on fake bikes and slowly ride around different scenes and see see new "E.T.-like" characters. Then at the end E.T. says thank you to everyone on the ride (saying your name you gave earlier). It was boring.

The Simpsons 3D - Karrie=9, Dave 6 - Robotic Arm /3D Movie - 8:30pm - 10min
You'll notice that there were 2 different ratings for this ride. Karrie loved it and i just thought it was ok. It didn't help that i felt sick after the ride. 8 riders got into 10 different carts that were in front of a huge 3D IMAX screen. It was definitely cool looking, kind of funny, but the motion and screen movements made me a bit dizzy. There were no effects, just a moving car and the sensation of falling from the movie. But Karrie loved it.

MIB (Men In Black) - 3 - Shooting from Cart - 8:59pm - no wait
Like i said earlier, we were the two last people they let in before the park closed. Another dumb video, then you walk through a building just like in the movie, with robotic aliens, before you stand in line. The ride was boring. Just a cart that spins around while you try and shoot them with laser guns that are in your cart. It's suppose to be an interactive ride but it was boring.

Spiderman 3D - 7 - Robotic Arm /3D Movie - 2pm - 15min
The single rider line was a lot shorter and Karrie and i still got to sit next to each other. The ride is like a combination between The Simpsons and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey You wear 3D glasses so the movie screens are super cool, but there is also real effects. The combination of 3D screens and actual effects like big fireballs make this one super cool. And i didn't get queasy from this one at all.

Fear Factor Live - 3 - Live Show - 1pm - 25min
This is a live show where you sit in the crowd and watch actual park visitors compete in 3 challenges. They have 4 shows a day at 1, 2:30, 5 and 6:30. We showed up at 12:35 and had to wait to be let in at 1pm. It was kind of dumb, out of the 6 contestants that agreed to do it, two quit even before the first challenge started. They were suppose to hang from a bar high in the air. Then there were the usual bug eating, throwing of octopi, water canons and climbing on a car, with two annoying hosts.

Nearby the Disaster Ride was closed for the entire day so we never got to go on that.

Revenge of the Mummy - 8 - Indoor Cart Coaster - 11:30am - 2min
This was by far the biggest surprise at the park. It was great.

We got in the single rider line and instead of waiting 20 minutes like the sign said we walked right to the front of the line. Karrie and i even got to sit next to each other. Then the ride started and i thought "this is dumb" we slowly rode by robotic mummy's and screens. Then it got sweet. You zoom backwards, spin go up an ramp then fly through the dark down the ride. You stop in a room before the ceiling bursts into real flames then fly to the finish line. After getting off the ride we immediately walked back through the line to the front and rode it a second time.

Twister - 5 - Production Scene - 11:00am - 10min
You stand in two different rooms and watch corny trailers for the movie, which came out 2 decades ago. Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt finally tell you to go into the next room which is actually a cool looking studio that looks exactly like the scene in the movie where they are at a drive in theater. It starts to get loud and windy and you see a tornado coming closer. Then all of the set starts to crash, spark and fall. A cow fly's by in front of you and the gas tanks blow up into flames. It was ok but nothing too exciting and the wait was annoying.

Hollywood Rip Ride Rocket - 7.5 - Big Roller Coaster - 10:30am - 15min
We rode this roller coaster twice, once in the single rider line and once in the general line. Both times it took about 15 minutes. I loved this ride it was fast and really smooth. The seats were really comfortable. I don't like the shoulder harnesses that most roller coasters have, this one had a foam bar that went over your waist which i liked. And the best part was that you got to pick your own song that played from the speaker behind your head. I picked Motley Crue - Kickstart My Heart. The music really made the ride fun and the vertical take off and drop in the beginning was great too.

Shrek 4D - 5 - 3D Movie - 2:30 - 10min
This had another long dumb intro where everyone had to cram into a small room and watch a video that set the premise of the movie. It was boring. Then we got to go into the theater and put on our 3D glasses. The actual movie was pretty cool. It was almost like a new 15 minute Shrek movie with all of the real characters voices like Mike Meyers andEddie Murphy. Then the chairs started moving and water and smoke sprayed the crowd.

Around 3pm on Day 3 we had finished riding everything at the Universal Studios park and headed toward City Walk for lunch. At the exact moment we got to the restaurant it started to rain, it was perfect timing. We sat down and ate and by the time we were done, the rain had stopped. That's when we walked back over to Islands of Adventure to go on the 3 water rides. We made one last stop at Hogwarts castle and walked back through Hogsmeade before leaving the park for good.

Here's a summary of the best and worst from Universal Studios.
  • Best Roller Coaster - Harry Potter Dragon Challenge
  • Best 3D "Motion Simulator" - Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
  • Best Movie/Show - Terminator 2
  • Best Water Ride - Jurassic Park
  • Best Park Area - Harry Potter (Hogsmeade)
  • Best Food - Jurassic Park
  • Biggest Surprise - Revenge of the Mummy
  • Best Park Idea - Free Locker Rentals
  • Biggest Disappointment - Butterbeer
  • Worst Show/Ride - Fear Factor Live (Karrie) - E.T. (Dave)

Besides all of the rides and shops, the park was cool to walk around and look at. They had tons of interesting plants and trees, especially at the wacky Dr. Seuss area. There was lots and lots of bamboo there as well. This is what i want all the bamboo in my backyard to look like.

They also had a cool area near Jurassic Park with ponds, turtles, lilly pads and lotus plants. The lotus in my backyard would be lucky to flower this year.

In case you ever want to go visit Universal Studios i would suggest spending 1 day for 1 park. So if you want to go to both Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios, plan on spending 2 days there. Also here's a list of some of the things you should plan on bringing with you if you go to the park.
  • Backpack
  • Sunscreen
  • Water
  • Camera
  • Cell Phone
  • Bathing suit
  • Rain poncho
  • Garbage Bag
  • Zip-lock bags
We headed back to our hotel, got through the busy traffic, then since we were wearing our bathing suits, decided to go to the hotel pool. The water felt really warm because it started getting cold because of a cold front from Tropical Storm Beryl. We went back to the room, changed and then went out to dinner at a super nice restaurant called Fish Bones, which was right across the street.

Day 4 was off to the ocean and Kennedy Space Center...more to come from the trip.


Anonymous said...

Awesome post! Thanks


Unknown said...

Thank you very much. You opinions are appreciated and will be considered by my family and I.