Universal Studios Florida is just one theme park from the Universal Orlando Resorts group and is one of the most important and popular theme parks in the world, located in the heart of this American state. This vast complex, in which you are literally transported inside the events of famous films, offers an endless amount of entertainment. And it was simply not to be missed during our visit to Florida.
History of Universal Studios Florida
Who doesn’t know the famous opening scene with the globe with the Universal logo, which appears in many famous movies or series. We can mention, for example, Jurassic Park, the Fast and the Furious saga, Minions, Men in Black, Bridgitte Jones, The Mummy, Transformers, Mamma Mia! or 50 Shades … And thanks to the popularity of these and thousands of other films, the idea of opening an amusement park with this theme arose. In addition, the successful Walt Disney World was already operating at the time, so when the founders opened Universal Studios Orlando in 1990, they believed they could compete with it.
And they hit! The amusement park celebrated one success after another, so nine years later, in 1999, a “sibling” of this amusement park called Islands of Adventures was opened. Both amusement parks are close to each other and are connected by the so-called CityWalk, a district full of shops, restaurants, and movie theaters. In the vicinity of all these buildings, we can find not only several Universal hotels but also a water park with an artificial volcano in the middle of Volcano Bay. This entire giant complex is then called Universal Orlando Resort.
Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure?
So as mentioned, Universal Studios Florida is just one of two theme parks of the brand in one location. There’s an incredible amount of cinematic background fun to be found in both of them and if you’re short on time or money, it’s really hard to choose. In one we find Jurassic World with moving dinosaurs and in the other live Transformers await us, in one King Kong, and in the other The Mummy, in the first Diagon Alley, and in the next Hogwarts Castle,… If you have a favorite movie, then it is best to read something about both parks in advance and then decide.
But still, there is something that both parks have in common. And that is the world of Harry Potter. In Universal Studios we can find the mysterious magical Diagon Alley, in Islands of Adventures then Hogwarts Castle and Hogwarts. Both worlds are also connected by the Hogwarts Express, which is an attraction in itself. This stylized train has screens instead of windows to see the magical landscape on the way, just like Harry Potter in the movie. In addition, it is also a convenient way to get from one Universal park to another without stepping on hundreds of extra steps. That is if you have purchased a ticket for this Hogwarts Express with your ticket to both parks.
Our choice was Universal Studios
During our visit, we only had one day set aside for Universal, and we knew right away that we wouldn’t be able to handle both parks at once. And even though we were very tempted by the real Jurassic World and Hogwarts on Islands of Adventure, in the end, Universal Studios won for us with Minions, The Simpsons, The Fast and the Furious, and Transformers. We had Monday set aside for our visit and hoped that there wouldn’t be too many queues for the attractions. And although we sometimes stood in queues that were tens of minutes long, luckily it was one of the more free days.
What to expect from Universal Studios theme park?
It can’t even be described, maybe with one word “WOW”. It is a thing that must be experienced. You’re just walking through the park, while the scenery around you alternates in different ways. You see a cute little house from the cartoon Minions. Around the corner is the giant hangar known from the Transformers series. After that, you’re walking through a well-known neighborhood in Beverly Hills, Marilyn Monroe drives by in a cabrio and waves at you. Then you will find yourself in mysterious streets like from some zombie movie, which are so real that if you didn’t hear the music from a distance you would get scared. Three-meter-tall bodyguards of some mummified Egyptian monarch then walk in front of the cinema. Again, the police pass through the streets of New York and builders sing on the scaffolding. You end up looking for some shade in a park by the water and you come across a “live” Shrek there.
We probably don’t even need to mention that in a whole day here you can walk kilometers without exaggeration. One scene follows another and you don’t know where to go first. Some buildings are really just backdrops, in others, you will find shops, restaurants, toilets, theaters, and main attractions. Theaters are functional here, there are several of them, and you need to check the show times. We mention, for example, the action performance of the special agent James Bourne.
If you get hungry, there are many places to eat here. Of course, it’s not the cheapest, but higher prices can be expected inside the theme parks. You can choose fast food, a themed restaurant, or even a cafe. Like Starbucks and Häagen-Dazs. Of the restaurants, we can mention, for example, The Hopping Pot where you can taste the famous Butterbeer, you can also stop by for Krusty’s burger or the Minion cafe for something sweet.
And finally the shops. You can find them here as fan ones with merch from various Universal films, as well as special thematic ones. The most interesting ones are mainly in Diagon Alley, where you can buy everything you know from the Harry Potter films. In addition to them, in Universal Studios we can also find a shop dedicated to Hello Kitty, Spongebob, or horror movies. Get your credit cards ready!
Universal Studios attractions
The amazing setting of movie sets, theaters, and entertainment on the streets are not the main attractions of the park. These are the attractions. Each is different, each is unique and each draws you into the story of the film. Moreover, their number changes as some disappear and others arise. We will point out at least some of the ones we visited, but of course, there are more than just the ones mentioned below.
There are two attractions here on the theme of this movie, we chose the crazy ride. It is suitable for the whole family and can be used by children from 102 cm (the height limit is higher for the second attraction). Inside, you will be transported to the setting of the fairy tale “I, the Villain”. The entire attraction is actually a simulation of a roller coaster. You sit on the seats and variously slide, crash, and fall chased by the giggling characters from the movie. It’s nothing extreme and trust me you’ll be laughing from start to finish.
Fast and furious
Anyone who likes this saga will be delighted. You literally immerse yourself inside the car chase. You get on the bus with other visitors and the car chase starts in no time. Noise, crashes and shooting, an explosion, you hit a water tank and water splashes on you. To the right, to the left, in front, all around you, familiar characters from the movie appear in cars and reassure you that you can do it. A combination of real actors, holograms, and XD technology is used here.
Escape from Gringot’s Bank
Although Harry Potter is originally a fairy tale, Escape from Gringotts Bank is definitely not for young children. Entry is possible from a height of 107 cm, but as the attraction is scary, it is a lot for parents to consider. Those who have seen the films of this series know that the bank is controlled by ugly goblins and the individual safes are underground in dark, inaccessible caves, where anything can be done to you. During the course of this attraction, an elevator will fall with you, you will ride an incredible track underground and you will be chased by a dragon, trolls, and other ugly creatures.
Men in Black
If you want to be more involved in the plot and have a laugh too, go to the MIB headquarters. Compared to other modern and almost real attractions of this park, the Men in Black will seem a little outdated, but they are incredibly funny. Here you get into carts for 6 people, take a gun in your hands, and go on a drive to hunt aliens. This time there is no virtual reality waiting for you, but moving and flashing monsters. Your task is to “shoot” at them with a laser and collect as many points as possible, while the vehicle moves with you and turns unexpectedly in all directions. Our scores were: 1st place – dad, 2nd place – 4-year-old son, 3rd place – mom and grandpa finished last.
The Adventures of E.T.
Younger years maybe a movie from the eighties about the cute alien E.T. They haven’t seen it, but they’ve certainly at least heard about it. This attraction is the oldest and also the cutest in the park. It’s a beautiful bike ride over Earth and alien landscapes where you meet cute moving creatures. You drive slowly for a while, then a gentle breeze ruffles your hair. We felt almost like on the back of Falco the dog from The Neverending Story, but on bikes (they drive themselves, you don’t pedal).
Imagine that little Meggie was exposed to nuclear matter and grew to a giant size due to radiation. This is where the whole story begins. The Simpsons is actually a virtual roller coaster, full of sharp falls, turns, and dark humor, as we know it from the series. Smaller children can also go here, but the track is really quite steep, so it needs to be considered individually.
If you like action, you will enjoy it to your heart’s content here. This attraction is a super modern virtual reality ride. The Decepticons attack you, the Transformers try to protect you, and you run. Shooting, explosions, collapsing garage roof, crashing helicopter, just everything that belongs to such an action ride. Accessible for older children (from 122cm) and adults.
This attraction is quite specific. It is a combination of a haunted house where you are unexpectedly attacked by creepy mannequins, virtual characters, and roller coasters. Mummies and other characters from the grave don’t seem very nice. In combination with the roller coaster, when you fall somewhere after dark and they are waiting for you around the corner, the horror of these characters multiplies. Not something for little kids. On the contrary, ideal for adults who love horror movies and like to be scared.
Admission prices and how to save
Don’t be surprised to find yourself spending a fortune visiting Universal Resorts Orlando. But everything the place has to offer is worth it. Prices start at $109 (10/2013) for one-day admission to one park and on the off-peak days of the year. The discount for a child is minimal and you would have a hard time finding something like a family ticket here. In addition, entrance fees vary from day to day and rise with increasing visitor interest. We paid $144 per adult, tax-free (child $139) for one day at one park, for Monday admissions in mid-October several weeks in advance.
Tips to save on admission to Universal Resorts Orlando:
- Buy tickets online and in advance. The sooner the better. Even a year ahead.
- Multi-day tickets are cheaper than one-day tickets.
- Combined tickets to multiple parks are also cheaper. But one day for 2 Universal parks is not enough, the parks are vast and the most popular attractions have hour-long queues.
- From time to time, the park lists a discount event. For us, it was: “Buy a 2-day ticket and get another 3 days free.” If you have more time and desire to visit the parks, it is well worth it.
- Consider purchasing a vacation package at one of the Universal hotels. It usually includes not only free tickets but also other benefits such as priority entrance to attractions.
- Intermediary agencies also offer a smaller discount, but only for multi-day tickets and the discounts are in mere units of dollars.
More of our tips, advice, insights
- As already said, the ideal visit to the park is on a weekday outside of holidays and holidays. Not only will you save on the entrance fee, but you will also save your nerves because queues for some of the attractions can easily be up to two hours at peak times. Plan your arrival at the park before it opens. You can get to the parking lot through a dozen gates (similar to toll gates on the highway) and queues still form. Parking is $30 for the whole day excluding tax (10/2023). Alternatively, a free shuttle bus can be used from several locations in Orlando.
- The path from the parking lot to the theme park is long, you pass several floors, a security check with X-rays, and the entire CityWalk shopping district. You will conquer a kilometer or more playfully, but you will not get there any other way than on your own. And even though you and your bags go through X-rays when you enter, you also give a fingerprint of one of your fingers at the gate to the park. When you finally get inside, your stay in the park is entirely up to you.
- There is a Wi-Fi signal all over Universal, so it’s nice to have the official app with a map downloaded on your mobile phone, which will help you not to get lost.
- Toilets are on every corner, they are large, and clean, with corners for changing diapers and some even with vending machines with hygiene aids.
- So that you don’t carry an unnecessarily large package of drinks with you, take a refillable bottle where you can top up your water whenever you need it. Fountains for filling bottles are usually located near toilets or look for automatic Coca-Cola refill stands – water and possibly ice are free in them.
- In the park, you can purchase a themed refillable cup for $16.99 (10/2023) and refill it with non-alcoholic carbonated beverages of your choice throughout the day at designated locations. The cup will then remain as a keepsake.
- Do not carry full backpacks and large bags with you. They are not allowed on the attractions and you will not be allowed on some of them even with a kidney bag. At the most extreme attractions, storage boxes are free, but you can really only put a small bag, a fanny pack, or a bottle of water in them. Larger boxes are also available, but they are paid for and the amount is high – $2 to $20, depending on how long you stay at the attraction.
But the biggest advice from us is – come to the opening party, stay until closing time and really enjoy it! You will have experiences of a lifetime from the park.