Universal Orlando Resort’s Rides and Attractions (excluding Harry Potter)
COVID-19 UPDATE: Universal Orlando reopened on June 5, 2020. They ask that visitors follow guidelines from the CDC and health officials, and also follow Universal Orlando’s policies, including the mandatory wearing of face masks. Full details on their policy here.
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: We 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. The first time we visited and I wrote about it, my sons were 12 and 14. Our most recent visit, in 2020, they were 16 and 18 years old.
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, three theme parks – Volcano Bay Water Park, 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:
The Volcano Bay water theme park is a perfect addition to the Universal Florida Resort. After experiencing the rides and attractions of Islands of Adventure and Universal Orlando, cooling off on an exhilarating water slide or two feels amazing, as my two teenage sons (14 and 16), husband and I discovered on our recent trip to UOR. We spent an entire day at Volcano Bay, and can’t wait to return.
Adjacent to the Cabana Bay Beach Resort, Volcano Bay opened in May of 2017. The first thing you see when you enter the park is Krakatau, a 200-foot tall artificial volcano that houses three drop capsule slides–the Ko’okiri Body Plunge, the tallest body slide in America ranging at 125 feet tall, and the Kala & Tai Nui Serpentine Body Slides which travel throughout the middle of the volcano, winding around the Krakatau Aqua Coaster. (There are a lot of K words at Volcano Bay.)
Besides the rides, the most innovative feature of Volcano Bay is their TapuTapu, a wristband wearable you’re given when you enter the park. Use it to wait in line virtually instead of in person, thereby saving a lot of time. Update: Be on the lookout for “Ride Now” on the entrance signage of rides. You can tap right into those rides without losing your place in the Virtual Line™ for another attraction. Hop out of one Virtual Line™ and into a new one by tapping into a new ride at any time. Your return time will then be updated. It’s a lot easier than I maybe make it sound.
The VB wearable also has TapTuPay, which links a credit card through the Universal Orlando app and allows you to pay for food, drinks and merchandise with it. No need for a wallet in your swimsuit! The wristbands can also be used throughout the park to set off water features, like spraying water at people on the lazy river. And if that wasn’t enough, you can also take photos with your TapuTapu. Use it to activate cameras at photo spots throughout the park, then purchase the photos before you leave the park.
Volcano Bay has plenty of chaise lounges throughout, but they also offer private cabanas that feature comfortable seating, concierge service, and complimentary fruit, bottled water and snacks. Single cabanas start at $199.99 per day and the family suite cabanas that hold up to 16 people start at $599.99 per day. VB also offers Premium Seating that includes a pair of padded loungers with an adjustable shade canopy, a built-in storage lockbox and an area attendant for food and drink orders for $29 and up. Might be a good option on a crowded day when you don’t want the hassle of finding seats.
Pro Tips for visiting Volcano Bay
- Be sure you have the TapuTapu secured tightly to your wrist. Both of my older teenage boys lost theirs on rides, which they weren’t penalized for, but they had to go get new ones.
- Use your TapuTapu to activate cameras throughout the park, then you can purchase the photos before you leave.
- Unlike some resorts and water parks, the towels at Volcano Bay are not included. You can either bring your own or pay $5 per towel to rent for the day.
- Upon arrival, head to the back of the volcano where you’ll find slides, lockers and food that others may not discover until later.
- Stay at an on-site Universal Florida Resort hotel and get into Volcano Bay and hour earlier than general admission.
- Now, let’s talk about the Volcano Bay rides!
1) Krakatau Aqua Coaster
On this ride, four-person canoes slide upward (yes, up against gravity) starting outside the volcano, then go through twists and turns inside the volcano. You’re then are plunged down a waterfall and get absolutely soaking wet. My teenage boys said this one is hands-down the best ride in the park because it’s fast, surprising and has a great drop.
2) Honu of the Hona ika Moana
This twisting, turning, multi-person slide speeds you through an open flume on a four-person raft, then you “surf the underwater currents before streaking along two massive walls emblazoned with Waturi turtles.” Sounds and looks super fun, but sadly it was closed during our visit.
3) Punga Racers
Single riders on manta ray mats slide down four lanes through underwater sea caves. The first racer to cross the finish line gets a celebratory spray of water. (Not the best prize, IMHO.) Sadly, this was closed during our visit.
4) The Reef
This pretty pool is a nice respite from the rides and has its own private waterfall. While you splash around, you can also watch riders on the Ko’okiri Body Plunge shoot into the 5 ½ foot deep shallows and laugh while they scream. Suitable for younger kids, but life jacket required under 48”.
5) Ko’okiri Body Plunge
This is an exhilarating 70-degree fall through a drop door where you plunge 125 feet into a pool. My teen boys loved this slide, with the only complaint being the “tons of water” that went into their faces. Note that there are a lot of stairs to climb for this ride and the height requirement is 48”.
6) Kopiko Wai Winding River
Per Volcano Bay, this is “a slow ride on the Kopiko Wai Winding River through the tropical landscape of Universal’s Volcano Bay™, a land full of surprises. Sprays of water surprise along the way, and beneath the lava rocks, Stargazer’s Cavern reveals the magical night sky above.” There are a few places you can hop on and off the river, and tubes on our visit seemed to be plentiful and easy to get, which may change on crowded days.
7) Ohyah and Ohno Drop Slides
On this ride, you climb to the top, then choose between two slides. The Oyah Slide drops you four feet above a pool (which is really deep, so take note if you’re not a good swimmer). Then climb up to the top again and cross a rope bridge to take the plunge down the Ohno Slide, a serpentine adventure that ends six feet above the awaiting pool. My teen boys really liked both of these.
8) Maku of the Maku Puihi Round Raft Rides
This is a multi-person raft ride, so it’s a fun way to be face to face with your friends and family while you’re being drenched with water and yelling for help. Once on the raft, you careen through a winding, dark cavern, then your stomach drops during a moment of zero-gravity hang time before zooming out of a funnel and into a pool. We all thought this was super fun and went on it a few times. Height requirement is 42”.
9) Taniwa Tubes
There are four tubes from which to choose on this basic water slide ride, so you can try a different one each time. Jets of water spray you when you’re least expecting it, but overall this is your pretty basic water slide. Height requirement is 42”.
10) Kala & Tai Nui Serpentine Body Slides
This water slide in the “thrill ride” category involves the top of a volcano, twin trap doors and courage. You’re plunged through intertwining tubes and splash into the pool below. Really fun. Height requirement is 48″.
Volcano Bay also has a few beach/shallow water areas appropriate for smaller kids or those not wanting to take part in the intense rides. Check out Waturi beach, Puka Uli lagoon, Runamukka Reef, and Tot Tiki Reef.
- Feasting Frog Tacos – Casual, featuring a taco sampler, poke poke bowls, plantain chips, etc.
- Whakawaiwai Eats – Island BBQ Chicken Pizza, Tropical Baby Greens salad, Hawaiian Pizza and more
- Bambu – Quick and easy food like pretzel dogs, burgers, and tropical fruit salad
- Kohola Reef Restaurant and Social Club – Located at the base of the Krakatua volcano, this has island inspired fare like mango BBQ pulled pork sandwiches, quinoa edamame burgers, coconut crusted fried chicken and more
- Kunuku Boat bar and Dancing Dragons Boat Bar – Tropical cocktails and frozen drinks, light snacks. Highly recommend stopping and relaxing here for a bit because their tropical drinks are great. I can confirm.
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”. UPDATE: Both boys, now 16 and 18, like this ride a lot now, and they went on it multiple times. Another plus is that despite its popularity, the lines were never too long, especially when going as a Single Rider.
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. UPDATE: Universal is adding even more to their Jurassic Park area, so we’re excited to see what the new attractions will be.
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. UPDATE: My younger teen son (now 14) really, really, really loved this ride and he went on it many times. He found it super easy to get on as a Single Rider, but I still went with him a couple of times. Our only complaint was that it’s over too quickly. UPDATE: My younger son (16) likes this one a lot and he went on it many times. He found it super easy to get on as a Single Rider, but I still went with him a couple of times. Our only complaint was that it’s over too quickly.
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. UPDATE: My now-teen boys weren’t at all interested in even walking through Seuessland, which was sad for me because it’s so fun and clever. Also, if you’re looking for a Thing 1, etc. t-shirt, this is the place to find it.
5) THE INCREDIBLE HULK COASTER
This coaster that reaches speeds up to 67 mph is hard to miss when you’re in the park because it’s enormous, chunky and green. Kind of like The Incredible Hulk character. (Oh, I just got that.) It was closed on our previous visit, but it was worth the wait because it’s maybe the best ride in the park, according to my 16-year-old son and coaster-loving husband who said he loved the “awesome way it combined a traditional gravity coaster with a steam-powered launch coaster.” Nerd. Exhilarating and fun, and definitely a scary thrill ride. Minimum height 54”. UPDATE: The guys all still love this one, and the line goes really quickly, even when the park is crowded.
6) SKULL ISLAND: REIGN OF KONG
This ride based on the latest King Kong movie was under construction during our previous visit, so we were really excited to finally hop into a vehicle and travel through “the dark heart of the jungle where prehistoric predators and fearsome creatures attack from all sides.” Unfortunately, our disappointment began with the 80-minute wait time (40 minutes for Express), and continued with the underwhelming ride that’s mostly just shaking around in a (cramped) vehicle while you pass giant screens of dinosaurs and King Kongs. The set design is really cool, especially at night, but that wasn’t enough to compel us to go back for a second ride. We (2 adults and 2 older teens) didn’t think this was very scary, but little kids might. Riders under 48” must have a supervising companion with them. UPDATE: The wait is now shorter due to this no longer being the newest ride, so you’ll get on a lot quicker. It’s still not our favorite, but worth your time just to see the set design.
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. UPDATE: The weather was much warmer during this visit, so my younger son (now 14) and I went on Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls and got absolutely soaking wet. I don’t usually like being wet like that, but I have to say it was really fun. We loved that this ride is fairly long in duration, so you get a lot of bang for your buck.
8) STORMFORCE ACCELATRON
This kid-friendly ride is easy to miss because it’s tucked behind the super popular Hulk coaster. Basically a spinning teacups ride with a superhero theme, it’s fun if not very exciting. We never saw a line at this ride, so that’s a definite plus. Kids under 48” must have a supervising companion.
9) KINGPIN’S ARCADE
We spent a bit of time in this traditional arcade next to the Dr. Doom ride because it was a nice respite from the crowds and heat outside. It has pinball machines and most of the other games you’d expect to see at an arcade. Be prepared to spend some time at the “buying desk” if you rack up enough tickets to cash in for small prizes (or pull your kids away).
10) JURASSIC PARK DISCOVERY CENTER
Both now-teen boys were eager to return to this bright, air conditioned building in the middle of the Jurassic Park area. It has the feel of a very small natural history museum with a few big (fake) fossils, and fun interactive displays. They loved the interactive trivia game You Bet Jurassic where you answer silly questions in a game show format. It’s a nice place to get a break from the crowds, plus it has plenty of air conditioning and bathrooms.
Islands of Adventure Shows
We didn’t make it to any of the live shows due to time, unfortunately, but they are:
- Poseidon’s Fury – This live action show in the “ancient” Temple of Poseidon uses special effects, lasers, water cannons and mortars. The special effects are amusing, as is the archeologist’s assistant who leads you through the adventure. Plus, the temple is really cool, temperature-wise, so it’s a nice break on a hot day.
- 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.
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 Mythos Restaurant. This is a really pretty sit-down place featuring Mediterranean, Asian, and American food. The food was great and our server friendly and fun.
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. UPDATE: We ate at Three Broomsticks again, which had a really long wait, but was still a good meal. If you’re looking for an uncrowded restaurant, look in the park section my teens call “comic book characters nobody knows” (Cathy, Beatle Bailey, Dagwood) because those were never very busy.
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. UPDATE: When I took the boys back this time around, at ages 14 and 16, they weren’t quite as enamored. One of them said it had “too much strobe light flashing and movement,” so either they’ve just been on enough rides like this or he’s becoming middle-aged. SECOND UPDATE: The boys enjoyed this one, but only went on it once.
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. UPDATE: We enjoyed this, but I don’t think we’ll go on it again as it’s mostly geared for little ones and now my boys are 14 and 16. Plus I think we’ve missed the past few Minion movies, so we’re not as excited by the characters as we once were. SECOND UPDATE: Best for smaller children, but we tried it again and enjoyed the fun energy.
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.” UPDATE: My husband went on this a few times with our oldest son, now 16, and they loved it. Their favorite part was choosing your personal music to listen to during the ride, then changing it up the next time around for a different experience. SECOND UPDATE: My 18-year-old son and husband went on this one a lot, and had fun choosing their own music. Guess which one chose Kanye?
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. UPDATE: Still fun, even now that my boys are 14 and 16.
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. UPDATE: Now that the boys are 14 and 16, we didn’t want to go to this again, but we were in the minority as there were long lines for it every time we passed.
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. UPDATE: My husband and older son (now 16) went on this, and both of them liked it quite a bit because it’s in the dark and really fast. Plus the lines were usually short. UPDATE: My husband and older son (now 16) went on this, and both of them liked it quite a bit because it’s in the dark and really fast. Plus the lines were usually short. SECOND UPDATE: Still scary.
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. UPDATE: The boys (now ages 14 and 16) still really like this one. “Interactive, kind of weird, and fun.” SECOND UPDATE: The boys love this one. I think because they keep trying to better their scores.
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. UPDATE: Asked his opinion on this very dated, sedate ride, my youngest son (now 14) just said, “Never again.”
10) RACE THROUGH NEW YORK STARRING JIMMY FALLON
We couldn’t wait to try this ride that opened in April of 2017. Set up so you feel like a guest at The Tonight Show in Studio 6B at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, Race Through New York is really well done. The waiting area looks just like the real 30 Rock, with the ride workers dressed as NBC pages. While you wait for the ride, you can relax on comfortable couches and enjoy a hip-hop barbershop performance by the Ragtime Gals. The ride itself is a simulated race through, below and above New York City, with Jimmy Fallon leading the way. We really liked this one. Appropriate for most ages.
11) FAST & FURIOUS – SUPERCHARGED
If you enjoy the Fast & Furious film franchise, you’ll have a great time on this immersive ride. Step into the F&F crew’s headquarters that’s filled with actual supercharged vehicles and props from the movies. While you wait in line, play trivia on the Universal app about the films, then get ready to go on a simulated high-octane street chase with F&F characters.
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:
- Universal’s Superstar Parade: Younger children will love this parade featuring characters like SpongeBob SquarePants, Dora and Diego, and Gru, Agnes, Margo, Edith and the Minions. There’s music, confetti, floats, and a lot of excitement. The streets of Universal Studios™ are transformed into a giant stage in one of the largest interactive experiences ever created. The parade features elaborately themed floats, energetic street performers and spectacular music.
- Fear Factor Live
- The Blues Brothers® Show (UPDATE: We saw this and it was really, really fun. We enjoyed it more than the kids, but that’s to be expected.)
- A Day in the Park with Barney™
- Universal Orlando’s Horror Make-Up Show
- Epic Cinema Under the Stars – This new show celebrating movies combines music, water, and light. You’ll hear music from films like Jurassic World while dancing fountains erupt and massive walls of water blaze with incredible movie moments. It’s really cool. s and powerful projections bring the entire waterfront into the movies.
- The Bourne Stuntacular – This live-action stunt show based on the Jason Bourne film franchise hasn’t launched yet, but it’s slotted to debut at the park this summer and promises to bring exciting action to the park.
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 (my son Sam’s favorite), 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.
The newest restaurant is the TODAY Cafe. Inspired by NBC’s popular morning show, the cafe has stage lighting, a clean, crisp look, and TODAY segments on the big-screen TVs all over the restaurant. The menu is filled with salads, sandwiches, and seems to be a much healthier option than most other places in the park. I really enjoyed my vegan portobello mushroom sandwich.
Lard Lad Doughnuts: We’ve resisted a giant doughnut from this popular place in The Simpsons land, but finally caved in and bought a pink frosted delight that required a knife and fork to eat it. I now look like Homer Simpson, but no regrets!
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
- Fusion Bistro Sushi & Sake Bar (NEW)
- Bigfire American Fare (NEW)
- Voodoo Doughnut (NEW)
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? UPDATE: All of us still really enjoy this place. It’s right outside of the main entrance to the park, and wasn’t ever crowded. Plus it has something for all of us, despite some picky eaters in the mix.
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. UPDATE: We ate here again, but it was really crowded with a bit of a wait. I recommend making reservations in advance (which you can do online or on their app.)
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, CityWalk’s Rising Star karaoke club, where you can belt out your favorite tunes with help from talented backup singers and a live band, 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 theirs 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.