The Essential Guide to Universal Studios Orlando
Living in Florida has come with many perks, like being located near Orlando and purchasing annual passes to some of my favorite Florida theme parks. Y’all know about my Harry Potter obsession, but you might not know that I love the non-HP parts of Universal Studios Orlando, too! In this guide, I will tell you everything you need to know about vacationing like you mean it at this epic Orlando destination.
Three parks make up Universal Studios Orlando: Universal Studios Florida, Universal’s Islands of Adventure, and Universal’s Volcano Bay. The property also includes Universal CityWalk, which is a shopping and nightlife area.
Universal Orlando has resorts on property where guests can stay. Guests can also stay in the general Orlando area and drive to the park ($20 per day) or Uber/Lyft. I have never stayed on site, but have heard great things from people who have (like the perk of visiting the Wizarding World early).
Ticket prices for Universal depend on how many days/parks you plan to visit. The longer you stay, the cheaper the tickets become. During low season, you can visit both Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure in a single day. At peak season, it takes the majority of the day to hit the major attractions of just one of these parks. Ticket prices can be found here. If you’re a Florida resident, I suggest buying an annual pass because it is such a great value and includes perks, like free parking.
In this guide, I will discuss Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure. I won’t talk about Universal’s Volcano Bay as water parks creep me out (what is in that water anyways?!) and I haven’t visited. I also won’t be discussing Universal’s CityWalk because it’s basically just a movie theater, restaurants, nightlife, and Blue Man Group (no rides).
Universal Studios Florida
Universal Studios Florida is arranged to transport park visitors into movie sets. Golf carts filled with “stars” will occasionally drive through, janitors will start street performances, and many of the attractions take place within large buildings that house famous movie sets. The park is split into eight sections: Production Center, New York, Hollywood, San Francisco, Diagon Alley, World Expo, Springfield (Home of the Simpsons), and Woody Woodpecker KidZone. I’ve posted about the Diagon Alley in the past and will not be going into it here. I also won’t be talking about Woody Woodpecker KidZone because it is my literal worst nightmare (all kids all the time *shudders*), though you should visit ET Adventure.
Production Center is home to some of the most popular rides in the park. First up is Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, which takes you into Gru’s home. The entire premise of the ride is that Gru tries to turn visitors into Minions and things go comically wrong. The line for Minions grows quickly so head here early. Kids LOVE the Minions.
One of the most iconic rides at Universal Studios is the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit. You’ll hear it and see it immediately, trust me! This steel rollercoaster lasts just over a minute and a half, but the cool part is that riders can choose one of 30 songs to listen to while on the ride! My favorite track is “Harder Better Faster Stronger” by Daft Punk.
Next is Transformers: The Ride 3D. Transformers follows a ride trend at Universal where a roller coaster like track is combined with 3D movie shorts, pyrotechnics, and other ~thrills~. All you need to know about Transformers before riding is that the cars are also robots!
Finally, there is Shrek 4-D. I am NOT a fan of the Shrek franchise (I know, it’s an unpopular opinion). This is probably why the fart jokes and cheap laughs presented in the 4-D show don’t stick for me. That being said, I’m sure the show is fun for people who enjoy Shrek or have small kids!
While in Production Center, you can grab some food at Universal Studios Classic Monster Cafe. The cafe has cheeseburgers, ribs, chicken, and hot dogs with a horror film twist and each combo is served with a milkshake.
New York is decorated like Midtown Manhattan. The most recognizable ride in New York is the new Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon, human gem and my forever crush. Fallon’s ride is a simulated 3-D film where you fly through New York and to the moon! In order to ride Fallon’s ride, you must first visit a “ticket booth” to receive a time slot. When it’s your time slot, you’re taken upstairs at NBC. You then wait in a room catered to fans of Fallon before boarding the ride!
Another New York staple is Revenge of the Mummy, which is part interactive coaster and part dark-room coaster. This ride is mildly scary, so it is typically a haven away from small children. The Mummy is one of my favorite rides in the park! You get to see many of the “artifacts” from the Mummy franchise while in the queue.
The Blues Brothers Show is a stage show in New York that I honestly did not know existed until I started writing this guide. If it’s anything like the other shows in Universal Studios, I’m sure it’s entertaining!
While in New York you can get your caffeine fix at Starbucks and cool down at Ben and Jerry’s. There are also two sit down eateries: an Italian place called Louie’s Italian Restaurant and an Irish pub called Finnegan’s Bar and Grill.
Hollywood is a smaller section of the park. It is home to one show and lots of food. In Hollywood, the Horror Make-up Show is the main attraction. Visitors can see how make-up artists build the faces of iconic horror movie villains and pull off gory stunts at the Horror Make-Up Show. I love everything about this, especially the lobby full of replicas from movies!
There are four food options in the Hollywood section of the park. Cafe La Bamba is a character dining space where you can grab some food with some famous Universal cartoon characters. Mel’s Drive In is a 50s style diner where you can get your cheeseburger and milkshake fix. Schwab’s Pharmacy has delicious ice cream in fresh waffle cones and more milkshakes! Finally, there is Beverly Hills Boulangerie, where guests can get bakery items for breakfast and soup and sandwiches at lunch.
The San Francisco area of the park used to be home to the beloved Jaws ride. Unfortunately, Jaws had to go to make room for Diagon Alley. You can still see nods to Jaws with the great white hanging on the dock, the Amity Island water tower, and a great white jaw on display in Muggle London.
Now, the only ride in San Francisco is the brand new Fast and Furious: Supercharged. This ride is so new that I have not yet been able to ride it, but I am hearing great things! Last time I visited, it was awesome to see all these incredible cars outside of the construction space.
If you’re into seafood, San Francisco is the place to eat at the parks. Lombard’s Seafood Grill serves up delicious seafood – my favorite is the fish tacos! Chez Alcatraz is a walk-up bar on the docks in San Francisco that has some great specialty drinks. San Francisco Pastry Company boasts (shockingly) pastries. Finally, Richter’s Burger Co. has burgers in a 50s style diner.
The World Expo is the smallest section of Universal Studios Florida, being home to only two attractions. The first is Men in Black Alien Attack, a ride where you blast aliens who have invaded New York! Be warned: the aliens shoot back and will cause your car to spin. The other attraction in the World Expo is Fear Factor Live, which is basically a show where visitors can eat bugs on stage for prizes.
Springfield: Home of the Simpsons
The final section of Universal Studios Florida is Springfield: Home of the Simpsons. Another unpopular opinion: I absolutely hate the Simpsons! Visiting Springfield is worth it, though, for the rides and giant donuts.
There are two rides in Springfield. The first is the aptly named Simpsons Ride. The Simpsons Ride is a roller-coaster-like indoor simulation. I have ridden this once because it stars a clown, which absolutely terrify me (thanks, IT!).
The next ride is Kang and Kodos’ Twirl ‘n’ Hurl, which is basically a tilt a whirl that goes up and down. Definitely do not ride this on a full stomach.
Springfield is home to some pretty food! Dining options in Springfield include Fast Food Boulevard and Moe’s Tavern. You can grab a drink at Duff Brewery, which has Simpsons themed beer.
Universal’s Islands of Adventure
Universal’s Islands of Adventure is home to the fantasy side of movies. From jungles to the home of superheroes to Dr. Seuss’s dream come to life, Islands of Adventure manages to have it all! Like Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure is split into eight parts: Port of Entry, Marvel Super Hero Island, Toon Lagoon, Skull Island, Jurassic Park, Hogsmeade, The Lost Continent, and Seuss Landing. As mentioned above, I’ve already written about the Wizarding World at length. I also won’t be going into detail about the Port of Entry, as it is mainly gift shops.
Marvel Super Hero Island
Marvel Super Hero Island is where you can find the best thrill rides in any of the Universal parks! When you walk in, the first thing you’ll likely see is The Incredible Hulk Coaster. The Hulk is a suspended roller coaster that launches quickly and is seriously insane. Hulk goes upside down and fast enough that things were flying out of riders pockets/hands/heads, so now riders have to go through a metal detector on the way in.
Next is Storm Force Acceleration, which is similar to a tilt-a-whirl like you’d find at a carnival but X-Men themed. Near Storm Force Acceleration is Doctor Doom’s Free Fall, a set of twin drop towers that stand at 185 feet. Maybe skip Doctor Doom if heights freak you out.
Finally, there is The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, which is similar to the above-mentioned Transformers ride. Spider-Man teams riders with the hero to fight the villains of the Sinister Syndicate to save the Statue of Liberty!
There are two food options in Marvel Super Hero Island. Make sure to hit the rides above before food, or things can get messy. Cafe 4 is the place to grab pizza, spaghetti, and meatball subs. The other option is Captain America Diner, which has food Cap would be proud of: burgers.
I don’t tend to spend a lot of time in Toon Lagoon, as it’s mainly water play areas. That being said, the water rides here are worth going on at least once! Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges takes you through a variety of scenes where you continuously get wet. Popeye & Bluto’s is cute and you get absolutely drenched.
Next is Dudley Do-Right’s Ripshaw Falls, which combines roller-coaster and flume rides. The final “fall” is 75 feet and takes you under the water level. Needless to say, this ride also drenches you.
Toon Lagoon has two food options open year-round. Blondie’s is a sandwich shop that allows you to build your own sandwich or foot long hotdog. The second option is The Comic Strip Cafe, which has pretty much everything: burgers, pizza, Chinese food, desserts. The cafe is a pretty safe option if you’re with a larger group. There’s also Wimpy’s, which is open seasonally.
Skull Island is the newest section of the park and King Kong themed. Skull Island: Reign of Kong loads riders on to a truck and then drives through a theater. The ride is very anti-climactic because all you do is sway side to side in various rooms. The setting of the ride, though, is cool as heck! The engineers at Universal literally built Skull Mountain in the middle of the park. It’s worth visiting, but only if you can basically walk on to the ride.
Seuss Landing is definitely aimed at kids (it’s Dr Seuss, after all). Hear me out, though: this is one of the most fun areas of the park! If you’re looking for some snazzy pictures with some bizzare-o animals, head to Caro-Seuss-El! This carousel is home to some of the strangest creatures from the Seuss books. Ride The Cat and the Hat to become transported into the middle of the adventures popularized by the book.
Seuss Landing is home to some kid-friendly food options. First off is Moose Juice, Goose Juice, which has frozen juices and various sweet treats. Next is Hop on Pop Ice Cream Shop, which boasts ice cream. Lastly, Circus McGurkus Cafe Stoo-pendous serves pizza, pasta, and chicken and is set under a big top. The best thing about the Circus is definitely the decor around the big top, so make sure to look up!
Everyone’s favorite dinosaur franchise inspired the Jurassic Park region of the park. The area is really neat because there are dinos, trashed jeeps, and other photo ops everywhere! Beyond the photo ops, there are two rides and one “experience”. First is the Pteranodon Flyers, an air transport ride made for kids. Pteranodon Flyers lifts riders into the air and allows you to tour the park from above.
Next is the Jurassic Park River Adventure. River Adventure cruises riders through Jurassic Park attractions until things go haywire. There is one raft fall in the River Adventure, but riders don’t typically get super wet.
In Jurassic Park, there’s a place where you can meet a raptor. The raptor encounter has always been down when I’ve visited, so I haven’t gotten a chance to do this.
Food is abundant and huge in Jurassic Park. Thunder Falls Terrace is a carnivore haven, serving ribs, turkey legs, and various meats. The Burger Digs has burgers and fries while Pizza Predatoria serves pizza. Lastly, The Watering Hole has snacks and all sorts of alcohol.
The Lost Continent
The Lost Continent is an interesting part of the park, as it is not really based on any movie. This area is essentially an ancient, exotic area. The Lost Continent is all about the theatrics. The Mystic Fountain is a talking fountain that is located by the bathrooms. The fountain is like a comedy show without a formal venue.
The Eighth Voyage of Sindbad is a stage show that involves a lot of illusions and acrobatics. Sindbad is in an amphitheater and last a little over half an hour.
Finally, Poseidon’s Fury is a show that moves patrons from room to room. Greek mythology plays a huge role in Poseidon’s Fury. The show includes pyrotechnics and can be a bit intense at times.
The food in The Lost Continent is some of the most unique in the park. Mythos is an award-winning theme park eatery. Mythos serves a mix of Asian, Mediterranean, and American food and has some awesome decor. Fire Eater’s Grill is a walk-up that has chicken and gyros. Doc Sugrue’s Kabob House boasts kabobs and is great on the go!
Now that you’ve read all about Universal Studios Florida, it’s time for you to visit! If you’re planning to extend your stay in the Orlando area, be sure to check out my guides on Disney (Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios) to make the most of your trip.
What’s your favorite ride at Universal? Let me know in the comments below.
August 16, 2018 at 6:49 am
Wow! Looks like there is so much to do, America just jumped up my travel list! I’m also a big Harry Potter fan so will check out your other post!!