For some folks planning a trip to Central Florida, the Disney Universe (parks, hotels, Downtown Disney/Disney Springs) can consume every mental fiber you have available. If you find yourself with an extra day and you don’t need another “resort” day you might just say to yourself “what the heck, let’s head to Universal.” Full disclosure, I was guilty of this on our first trip down to sunny Florida. I am here to tell you that these parks deserve much more of your time, attention and love.
I think the trap that we sometimes fall into, given their proximity and target audience, is walking into a Universal park and just scouring for things “Disney wouldn’t do.” Go in with an open mind. It’s not Disney and I don’t think they’re trying to be Disney. Appreciate it for what it is – an amazing realm created for your enjoyment. You might just have the time of your life (man alive, I hope that doesn’t come across as cliché as it feels on my keyboard).
Universal Studios is actually broken up into two parks, Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure (IoA), both of which offer immersive experiences. I won’t go into full ride-by-ride overviews, but more of a highlight reel of reasons to give your Universal Day a little more gravitas. In this article, I’m going to focus on Islands of Adventure and we’ll save Universal Studios for next time. For a little perspective, I am a devilishly handsome father to an adorable 8-year-old princess and married to a woman way out of my league.
Islands of Adventure (IoA)
- My little princess absolutely loved this place on her first visit when she was about 5, her excitement was toned down when she came back at 7.
- 5-year-old loved the bright colors, the Whoville animals, story elements hidden around the shrubbery of certain rides, and the rides themselves were a thrill (Caro-Seuss-el and The Cat in the Hat being #1 and #1A). Seven-year-old loved One Fish, Two Fish.
- Poseidon’s Fury is a cheesy mess, but man it was a good time (sorry Craig). As I’ve said before, if you allow yourself to be taken on the journey and leave your worries behind, it can be a serious hoot (that’s right, I said “hoot”).
- Mythos was OK….not bad, but nothing that blew us away. The wife and I went for a very early dinner during a solo trip but I could see how the underwater kingdom setting would be much more romantic at night with the lighting and décor.
- The crown jewel of Mr. Universal (not a real character, but something to chew on). As the resident Harry Potter snob in our household, I will admit that WWoHP was my main motivation for heading to this park.
- The walk through Hogwarts for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey will make you feel like an extra in the books/movies. It is absolutely amazing and well worth any wait. There are props, classrooms, Easter eggs for us crazed fans and the ride is intense, but not over the top for those who are made uneasy by thrill rides.
- The Butterbeer will bring happiness to the core of your being. I prefer regular over frozen (again, dangerously close to a certain movie reference). I’ve heard some compare it to root beer and I would have to disagree (more of a butterscotch-like flavor), but to each their own.
- The line for Ollivander’s wand shop is out of control and I will admit to never having seen the show for the wand selection (GASP!). Before you deduct any house points, I do own seven wands that I have purchased on different trips to this beautiful and magical land. You can purchase the wands at Ollivander’s or at several kiosks scattered throughout.
- Flight of the Hippogriff is a ride that underwhelmed my 7-year-old munchkin. She loved the theme (Hagrid’s Hut, Buckbeak aka Beaky, etc) but the ride itself was rather tame and may be better suited for the younger students (see what I did there).
- Dragon Challenge is all about theming for me. This ride takes place during the Goblet of Fire, you get to see all of the banners made for the champions, props from the movie and you GET TO RIDE A FRIGGIN’ DRAGON! My little Gryffindor was not tall enough at 7 to ride, so I refused as a show of solidarity (my original trial was a parents-only adventure).
- To surmise, my 5-year-old thought this was area was ok. She wasn’t into the books and just didn’t quite get it. This may be due to me over-hyping things but I digress. 7-year-old daughter finally understood what I was talking about as we had read five of the books together at that point. She has since finished the series and made her poppa proud.
- The Jurassic Park Discovery Center is loads of fun and has plenty of interactive activities for kids. It’s also air conditioned and is a nice respite for parents if you head there right after WWoHP.
- We are huge fans of most things cartoon and as you can tell from my writing, my wife and I are giant children at heart…we did not care for Toon Lagoon. I can’t even point to a specific reason. It just felt a tad dated and didn’t give us much reason to explore.
- My wife is a huge Marvel fan, X-Men in particular and she loved this area. The coolest moment we had was when the alarms in the area went off and a ton of super heroes came running out of the stores, jumped onto motorcycles and burned some rubber as they drove off to save us from impending danger. It was really cool to see.
- The wife is not a fan of thrill rides, but we convinced her to try The Amazing Adventures of Spider Man and she thought it was great. Screamed her head off a few times, but that was expected.
- Shopping in this area is obviously Marvel/super hero-related, but I really enjoyed the comic book store which included some great comics and figures that were well out of our price range, but lots of fun to look at and admire.
So, if you’re coming alone then take your time and hit up all of the areas that interest you, even Seuss Landing as it might help loosen you up to just be silly for a little bit. If you’re with the kids, they’ll enjoy some parts more than others depending on their ages. I’ve seen this shift first-hand as the years have passed.
You may not see a princess or mythical mouse walking around, but you have a chance to feast your eyes on Spider-Man and other Marvel characters, Hogwarts students roaming the streets of Hogsmeade or even dinosaurs in their natural habitat. I preach patience and awareness in my writing and this still applies. Don’t push too hard to try to get everything done in one shot because this may just ruin it for everyone, slow down and accept the madness my friend. It’s a lot more fun on this side.
Sometimes it’s not what you say, it’s how long people will listen and I feel like we’re reaching the limit here. Let’s save the other park, Universal Studios, for Part 2.