Universal Orlando Resort’s Rides and Attractions (excluding Harry Potter)
Taking a trip to a theme park is fun. Planning a trip to a theme park? Not so much, especially when it’s your first time visiting. But here’s the good news: My 12 and 14 year old sons and I just explored the Universal Orlando Resort (UOR), and I’m going to tell you everything you need to know for your visit. I’m nice that way.
What you’re reading now is the UOR Rides & Attractions Guide, but there are two other complementary guides for your reference:
- Guide to Hotels, Tickets & Transportation at Universal Orlando
- What to Expect at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter! (WWHP) at Universal Orlando
- There’s also an overall “main” guide entitled Your Everything Guide to Universal Orlando Resort that links to this post and the other two that I just mentioned above.
As you read these guides, know that “Universal Orlando Resort” is the umbrella name for the destination, and UOR includes five hotels, two theme parks – Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida – and the shopping and restaurant/entertainment area called CityWalk.
I discussed the Express Passes and Express Unlimited Passes in the ticketing and transportation post, so take a look at that as far as options for not waiting in line too long at any of the parks. Also, it should be noted that UOR has a Child Swap policy that you should definitely check out. If your kids are too small or unwilling to go on a particular ride you want to experience, one member of your party can wait in the child swap area with the little ones while the rest of your party rides. Once they are off the ride, swap places and whoever rode can stay with the kids while the adult(s) who sat out get the opportunity to enjoy the ride. Cool, huh?
Now let’s get started:
UNIVERSAL ISLANDS OF ADVENTURE
Islands of Adventure is all about heroes, cartoons and legends. I discuss this park’s Hogsmeade area in our WWHP article, but now I’m going to tell you about the many other fun parts to explore, including areas devoted to Jurassic Park, Marvel Heroes, and The Cat and the Hat.
Islands of Adventure Rides & Attractions
1) THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF SPIDER-MAN
The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man is a hugely popular ride that boasts “high-definition animation, high-tech 3-D glasses and encompasses 1.5 acres including a virtual 400 foot free-fall experience.” I don’t know if it’s because we’re not huge comic fans, or because it was just too loud and jarring, but none of us liked this ride very much. I know we’re in the minority here, however, as it’s considered one of the most popular theme park rides ever. Children must be 40” to ride this, and an adult companion is required for those under 48”.
2) JURASSIC PARK RIVER ADVENTURE
On the Jurassic Park River Adventure water ride, you plunge down an 85-foot waterfall to escape a T. Rex. You know, yawn. (Kidding.) We really liked this ride because we’re very familiar with the movie franchise, and there’s a lot to see and react to before you’re drenched in water like a rat. And you will be drenched. Maybe skip the mascara that day. Height requirement is 42” for this one, and it’s not really scary to most except very young kids.
Dr. Doom’s Fearfall ride in Marvel Town is two towers that reach 200 feet tall. You’re “rocketed skyward, 185 feet into the air, then hurled back down faster than the force of gravity itself.” Yep. This ride “accelerates faster than the space shuttle” (astronaut diapers, anyone?) and is recommended for teens. Thank goodness because that meant I didn’t have to go on it and could instead clutch my stomach as I saw my two precious babies go flying into the sky. Of course they loved it because their frontal lobes are not yet developed.
4) CAT IN THE HAT/SEUSS LANDING
This part of Islands of Adventure is designed with smaller guests in mind, but I still made the boys visit it because I love Dr. Seuss (and they did, too, before they hit puberty). There is a gentle Cat in the Hat ride where you slowly go through the house from the book, which was clever, but boring for us, the Caro-Seuss-El merry-go-round with all kinds of crazy creatures to sit on, a train ride and another spinning ride based on One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. The entire area is really colorful and fun, especially for kids who are familiar with the books. Oh, and there’s no shortage of Thing 1 and Thing 2 t shirts in the various shops.
5) THE INCREDIBLE HULK COASTER– This ride was closed when we were there.
6) SKULL ISLAND: REIGN OF KONG (Summer 2016)
We saw the Skull Island: Reign of Kong ride from behind the fence because it’s still under construction, and we were impressed because it looks huge and kind of menacing. It’s based on the new King Kong movie that’s not even in theaters until the summer, so let’s hope that’s not a flop. Universal predicts that on this ride you, “Enter the ruins of a primal realm and journey into the dark heart of an island filled with untold dangers.” I imagine that means a humongous ape will jump out at you, so heads up!
7) DUDLEY DO-RIGHT’S RIPSAW FALLS and 8) POPEYE & BLUTO’S BILGE-RAT BARGES
Unfortunately, we weren’t able to go on either of these water rides (neither Dudley Do-Right’s nor Popeye’s & Bluto’s) because it was dark and cold by the time we got to them. However, if you’re there on a hot sunny day, Dudley is a flume ride that drops you 75 feet, and Popeye is a white water rapid ride that, rumor has it, gets you more soaked than any other ride at the parks. Bring ponchos. These rides require kids be 42-44”, and are considered to be “best for family” by UOR.
Islands of Adventure Shows
We didn’t make it to any of the live shows due to time, unfortunately, but they are:
- The Eighth Voyage of Sindbad Stunt Show – An open air stunt show featuring water and pyrotechnics
- Oh! The Stories You’ll Hear! – Characters from Seuss books on stage telling stories.
- Poseidon’s Fury – This is a live action show that uses special effects, lasers, water cannons and mortars (!)
Islands of Adventure Dining
There are quite a few choices of restaurant for breakfast, lunch and dinner here, and most of them serve your expected fare like burgers and chicken. However, you can get kebabs, Greek salads and Gyros at the park. There are also treats like ice cream, churros (which, OMG), sodas, etc. Fun fact: when I Googled “Islands of Adventure food image,” my friend Jyl of MomItForward popped up holding a churro, so I have to include it:
UNIVERSAL STUDIOS FLORIDA
We much preferred the Universal Studios Florida theme park over Islands of Adventure, mostly because of Diagon Alley, the Simpsons and Minions. There are a lot of the same rides at this park as there are at Universal Hollywood, so we were familiar with a few. If you had just one day and could only visit one park out of the two, Universal Studios Florida is our pick.
Universal Studios Florida Rides & Attractions
1) TRANSFORMERS: THE RIDE-3D
I reviewed the Universal Hollywood version of this, and it’s 100% the same for the Florida experience: The boys and I haven’t ever seen a Transformers movie, but we still had a lot of fun on this ride that fuses HD 3D media and flight simulation technology. Basically, you put on 3D glasses, and sit in a cart that whips back and forth while things and robots appear to come right at you. I admit that it’s actually kind of thrilling, like when you see big balls of fire, and hot air is blown on you. As far as the robot fight stuff, I have no clue what was going on. Ultron beat Megatron or something. With a height requirement of just 40”, younger kids are allowed to ride. It’s intense, however, so keep that in mind when deciding if your tot will enjoy it.
2) DESPICABLE ME MINION MAYHEM
Based on the Minions movie, this is another “wear 3D glasses, watch a little movie while the cart moves up and down and side to side type ride”. The kids and I thought it was amusing, but not very exciting. (The wait was full of videos, etc. to entertain you, which we liked.) This is probably better for younger kids. It’s also an “Exit Through the Giftshop ride,” so be prepared to walk into a store filled with 40,000 pieces of Minion merch.
3) HOLLYWOOD RIP RIDE ROCKIT
My son Sam looked at the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit for a good 20 minutes before he was able to talk himself into doing it. (Jack and I waved him good-bye, happy with our choice to sit nearby with our churros). Riders of Orlando’s tallest roller coaster (17 stories) that reaches top speeds of 65 mph first choose the music they want to listen to in their seat — Classic Rock, Pop/Disco, Country, Hip Hop/Rap, Club/Electronica — then they hang on tight as it whips around in a crazy non-inverting loop. Sam was a little pale when he was done, but whispered that it was, “Awe. Some.”
4) THE SIMPSONS RIDE
My oldest son, 14 years old as of this writing, and I are huge fans of The Simpsons, so we were in heaven when we entered Krustyland on The Simpsons ride. Everything you’d expect to see from Springfield–The Kwik-E-Mart, Moe’s, Disco Stu’s Disco, the Springfield DMV–is there, and it’s all very clever. The Simpsons Ride is similar to Star Tours at Disneyland where you go into a cart that only moves up and down while you watch a 3-D movie, but it’s on an 80 ft. diameter dome. Really funny animation, with Sideshow Bob as a homicidal maniac. My son Sam loves Sideshow Bob. And I loved having a Duff Beer at Moe’s Tavern DOH! Kids must be 40” to ride this.
The Simpsons motion-ride is a great entry-level way to know if your kids will be okay with the more intense, scarier subject matter motion-rides like Transformers 3D and Spiderman.
5) KANG AND KODOS’ TWIRL ‘N’ HURL
The Kang and Kodos’ Twirl ‘n’ Hurl ride is just a silly up-and-down spinning ride in Simpsons land, but my younger son, Jack, went crazy for it. We rode it at night, so we got to see all of CityWalk (read below) and the park lit up, which was a treat. And, despite its name, this is actually a gentle ride. We didn’t even come close to hurling. This is fine for even small children (with an adult companion).
6) SHREK 4-D
This is a 4-D movie because it’s 3-D, plus extra things you’ll feel like moving seats, water, mist, etc. It’s an original film based on the two Shrek movies, and uses “OgreVision” to bring things to life. It’s almost 30 minutes long, so if you don’t have a lot of time in the day to spare, I’d skip it. However, if you do have time and need a break to sit down inside, this is for you! Definitely appropriate for all ages.
7) REVENGE OF THE MUMMY
Just like at Universal Hollywood, I went on the Revenge of the Mummy ride with my oldest son, my youngest (12 years old) begging off after suspecting it was too scary. He was right—it is scary. This is a super fast rollercoaster, in the dark, with mummy-type creatures jumping out at you. Personally, I wouldn’t do it again, but my older son loved it. So he went on it one more time by himself. Yay for him.
8) MEN IN BLACK™ ALIEN ATTACK
The Men In Black ride is called a “thrill ride,” but I wouldn’t go that far because you basically just sit in a six-seat vehicle and “shoot” aliens with a laser gun as you move along. The high score is then announced at the end. The boys liked this a lot because it’s basically like a video game, but it wasn’t for me. I stayed outside and watched a seagull eat popcorn while they went on it multiple times. This is definitely okay for all ages. Not scary or wild in any way. The “aliens” are more silly than anything.
9) E.T. ADVENTURE
E.T. Adventure is one of the oldest rides at Universal Orlando, and well, bless its John Williams original scored heart. Guests “fly” on bikes to E.T.’s home planet, The Green Planet, which seems to be home to a psychedelic 60’s rave. I love E.T., but this is definitely dated. Or, as my boys said, “Is that what people used to think was exciting?” That said, rumor has it this ride has a huge cult following. Great for all ages.
Universal Studios Florida Shows
Animal Actors on Location!
Animal Actors on Location! is an open amphitheater show and overly-scripted live stage production that shows animal “actors” doing tricks with their trainers. It’s always fun to see cats and pigs and dogs running around on stage, so we liked it. (Although my friend whispered that all of the animals were “basic C-listers” based on their movies.) The most exciting thing was when my son Jack got to meet one of the actors from “Beethoven, Part 6.” I’m not sure who is more cute. I didn’t particularly love this show, but if you have the time and need to sit a spell, by all means check it out.
Other shows at Universal Florida (that we ran out of time to see) include:
- Terminator 2®: 3-D
- Fear Factor Live
- The Blues Brothers® Show
- A Day in the Park with Barney™
- Universal Orlando’s Horror Make-Up Show
Universal Studios Florida Dining
This park has more to offer restaurant-wise than Universal’s Islands of Adventure, with about 20 options. In The Simpsons area alone, you can eat at Krusty Burger, Cletus’ Chicken Shack, The Frying Dutchman, Lisa’s Teahouse of Horror, and even Moe’s Tavern. There’s also a seafood grill in the San Francisco street, Finnegan’s Bar & Grill in the New York Street, and a Mel’s Drive-In in the Beverly Hills street. We opted to eat at either WWHP or CityWalk (see below), but a lot of the food here looked SO good.
We probably could have spent another day at the Universal Studios Florida park, but we still saw most of it. Even the Mystery Machine!
On the other side of the river from the two parks is Universal City Walk. This is considered an entertainment district, open to the public with no tickets required, with shopping, restaurants, clubs, movies and live shows. It’s open into the wee hours of the morning, 2 a.m., so not suitable for me and my young companions, but I’d love to experience the nightlife on a return trip.
There are plenty of restaurants here, and we managed to eat in three of them during our stay. Choices include:
- Antojitos Authentic Mexican Food
- Hard Rock Cafe
- Hot Dog Hall of Fame
- Red Oven Pizza Bakery
- Emeril’s® Restaurant Orlando
- Jimmy Buffett’s® Margaritaville
- Bob Marley–A Tribute to Freedom
- Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.™ Restaurant & Market
- Pat O’Brien’s
- The Cowfish
We had a great, huge meal at the fairly new NBC Sports Grill & Brew. This place was a big hit with the boys because they’re sports freaks, and the place features 100 HD TVs streaming games. There are also 100 beers on tap, plus an extensive menu that has burgers, salads, sliders, wings, and even Caribbean Grouper. Oh, and did I mention the teeny tiny pretzels?
The tables are also working Foosball or shuffleboard games, so that kept us entertained for a couple of hours. It’s teen sports lover Nirvana in that place.
We also ate at Vivo Italian Kitchen. Entree prices range from $11-32, which isn’t bad because the portions are sizable. We all ate our entire meals. We were able to sit at the counter by the kitchen and watch the goings-on with the chefs and pasta makers, so that was especially fun.
Finally, we ate in the CityWalk Food Court at the Bread Box, that features new twists on sandwiches. Highly recommend, and we hope they get one in Austin because we liked it so much.
Our top choice? Well, mine is Vivo because it’s more upscale with great food, but my boys loved the NBC Sports Grille because they’re boys who love sports and giant portions.
If you have time during your stay, there are a few fun things to do at CityWalk, like Mini-Golf, concerts and/or DJs playing music on the main stage, and the AMC Universal Cineplex 20 with IMAX. We chose to go see Blue Man Group because we’ve never been to a show of their’s before. They have their own theater right outside the park gates with one or two shows nightly. If you’ve seen them before, you know what to expect. If you haven’t, it’s a clever, fun explosion of music, color and crazy. I don’t know that we’d go again, but it’s definitely something everyone should experience at least once.
Have a wonderful time!
Thank you to Universal Orlando for hosting me and my family during our stay and visit; as you read, we had a fantastic time! All opinions are my own.