Category Archives: orlando

5 of the Best: Universal Studios Rides

In a land of simulators rides, screaming children and people dressed as minions, it can be hard to know where to find a real thrill in Universal Studios, or anywhere in Orlando for that matter. The park seems to focus on making people (read “children”) feel like they’re part of a film, meaning 80% of the rides involve sitting in front of a screen in a cart which moves slightly to correspond to the things you’re seeing. I mean, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’m sure kids love it, and, being honest, you don’t really go to Universal for the rides do you? Any of the roller coasters at Alton Towers or Thorpe Park would wipe the floor with these any day. You come for the experience…or to see Harry Potter World. But don’t worry, there’s still hope for thrill seekers. Here are five rides that are actually worth the wait, across both Universal parks.

1) The Hulk

Easily the best ride in Universal, The Hulk roller coaster can be found near the entrance of Islands of Adventure, overlooking the lake. Don’t be put off by the wait time, which is usually well over an hour, the queue is long for a legitimate reason. Think Rita meets Nemesis all tied up in Marvel themed ribbon and you’ll have some sort of idea of where this roller coaster is heading. In comparison to the sub-par children’s rides that fill the rest of the park, The Hulk, along with Dragon Challenge (see below), are head and shoulders above the rest.

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2) Dragon Challenge

Former known as Duelling Dragons, Dragon Challenge has been a main fixture of the park for around 15 years and is currently one of the most unappreciated rides in there. The 10 minute queues may be down to its age, or the proximity to the crowd pleasing Hogwarts Castle and Flight of the Hippogriff, but the ride is far better than it’s Harry Potter themed neighbours. When the ride was moved to it’s new wizarding home, the concept was changed to feature two trains (which they try to pass off as “dragons”) chasing each other, rather than having the two carriages running simultaneously, due to safety concerns. Despite the near misses of the two carriages being the original selling point of the ride, it still remains one of the few ‘real’ roller coasters worth riding in Universal, and with such a short wait, you may as well give both “dragons” a go.

3) Jurassic Park River Adventure

There are two great parts to this ride. 1) Going through the Jurassic Park gates as the theme music blasts out all around you. 2) The final “escape”, also known as a log flume that’s been jazzed up a bit to get more people interested. You do get a nice tour to see some animatronic dinos though before you “accidentally” enter a restricted area and get thrown out into the lake. Really, the bottom line of this ride is, if you don’t love a dinosaur themed log flume, there’s something wrong with you.

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4) Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls

This may have been my favourite ride. But that may have been because Pete found it terrifying, which was hilarious. It’s basically another log flume with much more actual ride and much less nonsense than the Jurassic version. The final drop is longer, steeper and wetter and the build up comprises of lots of smaller drops, just to keep your nerves on edge. Be warned: you will get SOAKED. There’s no hiding behind the person in front of you with multiple drops, fountains and waterfalls covering the entire track, purposefully making every inch of everyone is covered in water.

5) Men in Black: Alien Attack

My final choice was between this and the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit. I originally ruled out Men in Black because it’s basically just a copy of Disney’s Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger ride. Then I realised that Rip Ride is the same as Disney’s Rockin Roller Coaster and had to remind myself that the whole of Universal Studios is just a rip off of DisneyWorld and had to start my whole thought process again. I eventually picked the Men in Black ride because it’s different to all the other rides at Universal. While Rip Ride is a real high-thrill roller coaster, it’s the worst of its kind in the park, while MiB is interactive and offers the riders a chance to actually be part of the ride, not just watch a simulation. Each person gets a gun and has to shoot the escaped aliens whilst travelling around the track. I was horrendous at it. It was actually quite embarrassing.

Only one of my top 5 rides (MiB) is located in the Universal Studios park, however, this does not mean it’s worth missing. Most Universal tickets include both parks so be sure to pay a visit to the Studios to see the amazing Harry Potter Diagon Alley as well as loads of parades and shows. Also, there’s a lot of excitement about the new Minion’s ride here. Although really, there’s a lot of unexplained excitement about minions everywhere. When you’re done you can even catch the Hogwarts Express between the two parks. If you’re really lucky you can sit with an obnoxious kid, dressed as a Hogwarts student, who will try and perform magic on you. Yay…children.

If you’re visiting Orlando soon, I hope you have just as much fun as I did!

Katie x

 

Orlando | DisneyWorld vs Universal

There are so many theme parks in Orlando that it’s pretty tricky to know where to begin (unless you’re me and have had your heart set on DisneyWorld for years and years). However, there are two major players in the theme park game, Disney and Universal, so with only four days there, we limited ourselves to these. But which really is the best theme park in Orlando?

The Rest

Despite not going to any of the other theme parks, I managed to work out some information that may help you make a decision:

  • SeaWorld has pretty good rides as well as the animal shows. Also as we drove past I half expected it to look like an evil dungeon but it just looked like all the other parks to be honest.
  • Busch Gardens is actually in Tampa….which is a pretty long drive away.
  • Discovery Cove is the place to swim with dolphins however I’m not sure there’s much else there yet non-swim tickets are still three figures.
  • No one cares about LegoLand. Poor LegoLand.

Universal

Let’s start with the underdog in this race, Universal is made up of two separate parks on the main site, connected by City Walk, an area filled with restaurants, shops, a cinema and crazy golf.


Pros

  • Its definitely cheaper than Disney at only £122 for an unlimited 14 day ticket that allows you to chop and change between parks as much as you like.
  • Their resort hotels are also cheaper. They’ve even just opened a budget hotel on the grounds although I have no idea of the quality or what they think of as “budget”.
  • The best rollercoaster is definitely at Universal. The Hulk at the Islands of Adventure park is one of the only rides that would be at home somewhere like Alton Towers while most of the other rides across all of the parks are just trying to appeal to kids.
  • The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is simply incredible. I like Harry Potter as much as the next guy but I wasn’t expecting to be so taken aback by the replicas of Diagon Alley, Hogsmeade and Hogwarts. You could tell that some people had come specifically to spend their entire trip in this area of the park, we tried to avoid them.  
  • They served giant turkey legs. That is all.
  • Queuing wasn’t too horrendous as they often played clips from films and had interactive games throughout the queues.
  • You can add entry to Wet n Wild to your ticket for only £10 although we didn’t get to go as it thundered whenever we tried to.

Cons

  • It simply isn’t as iconic as Disney. I truly realised this when I was standing watching a parade that featured Minions and Dora the Explorer. This isn’t a magical place where dreams come true, it’s a theme park with characters in. There’s no consistency as Universal makes any old film while Disney has a distinct style. 
  • The variety of food was pretty poor. It was pretty much turkey leg or nothing.
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  • 90% of the rides where simulators. I think they’ve assumed that people want to feel as though they’re in a movie so you just get put in front of a screen in a moving box rather than on a real rollercoaster. 
  • You couldn’t just go into Hogwarts. The only way in, as far as I could tell, was during the queue for the Harry Potter (simulator) ride. They didn’t even have a great hall. 

DisneyWorld

DisneyWorld is quite possibly the most famous theme park in the world. It consists of four separate parks as well as two water parks and a downtown area. 

 

Pros

  • The Disney factor. Everything is just so magical. It’s completely cut off from the outside world making it the perfect place to escape.
  • The parades and characters are iconic and they don’t shy away from reminding you. They have a light show before the fireworks every night that runs through some of their best achievements and it really is awe-inspiring to see what one company has achieved.
  • They had a few shows such as Monsters Inc Laughing Floor which we went in to rest our feet and actually found really entertaining but it’s the musical shows throughout the day such as the Lion King that are truly something special.
  • The Animal Kingdom park was fantastic. I’ve only experienced safari-theme park hybrids in the form of Flamingo Land so I wasn’t optimistic but they combined the two so well. The park featured a fantastic rollercoaster and a 20 minute safari featuring rhinos, elephants, lions and more.  
  • The variety of food is so much better, especially outside of the Magic Kingdom.
  • I got to wear Minnie Mouse ears without seeming weird.
  • The Magic Kingdom is open till 12am every night so there’s plenty of time to squeeze everything in.

Cons

  • It’s crazy expensive. A two day ticket which didn’t allow park hopping cost £144. That’s crazy.
  • Everything is so spread out. You definitely need to drive between parks and the downtown area (which has free parking, thank god).
  • The rides are all for children so don’t expect anything too high adrenaline.
  • The kids are more irritating because they’re dressed like princesses and act like they own the place.

Conclusion 

On paper, Universal comes out on top but I really can’t ignore the magical Disney factor. Disney will always be my spiritual home. If you’re looking for high quality thrill rides then neither are really going to satisfy you. Universal is for film lovers and Disney is for big kids, but I’d definitely recommend going to both of you can.

For more info on Orlando theme parks, check out my Top Tips.

Katie x

Orlando | Theme Park Top Tips

Every kid has dreamed about going to Orlando, and quite a lot of them get their wish granted judging by the amount of little terrors running around the place. However in all my Disney fuelled excitement, I totally forgot that this wasn’t a magical dreamland and that things might not go exactly according to plan. Basically, I wasn’t prepared. Here are my hints and tips for surviving Orlando in the most painless way possible.

1) Avoid Children 

99% of the stresses of Orlando appear to come from children. I know that it’s a place meant for kids but the whole city would be a lot better if they just banned anyone under the age of 12. If you can avoid taking your own kids, leave them! You’ll have a much better time for it. From tantrums to being too short for all of the rides to waiting in line for two hours to take a photo with a princess, children in Orlando are the biggest hassle of all. Worst of all, they’re all made to think they’re princesses which makes them all around 20 times more bratty and irritating.

2) Be Prepared for Rain

If you go to Orlando in the summer it WILL rain. And I don’t mean a few showers, I mean a tropical storm every day. Make sure you pack ponchos or raincoats as buying one there is stupidly expensive. Lucky enough to avoid the rain? You’ll get wet on a lot of the rides anyway.

 3) The Temperature is Never Right

As you leave the hotel in the morning you’ll be greeted by temperatures of around 100 degrees Fahrenheit, so naturally, you assume minimal clothing is a good way to go. However, the theme parks know it’s cold so provide lovely air conditioning in many of the queues, restaurants and shops. This is delightful for the first 10 second until you realise you’re standing in a freezing cold room wearing shorts and a vest. Also, the heat very rarely recovers back to its previous temperature after the rain storms so adding some light layers to your rucksack are a good way to go. That brings me on to…

4) Take a Rucksack

I don’t care if it doesn’t match your outfit you’re not going to want to be carrying around a handbag for 14 hours. Put everyone’s stuff in one rucksack and take turns carrying it throughout the day. Your backs and shoulders will thank me.

5) Arrive at Opening Time

Of all people, I know that waking up is hard. But in this case, it’s worth it. Getting there at opening time means you avoid the huge queues to get in and can jump on at least two big rides before the masses descend. Another tips would be to start from the back of the park in the morning as the queue times will be way shorter.

6) Budget for Parking

The parking prices at both Disney and Universal are $17 a day so be aware of that, or find somewhere else to park your car. If you’re staying in a Disney resort then you can get the free bus to the Disney parks but it’s very hard to get to any other parks without a car, although if you can afford a Disney resort, you can afford $17 in parking, let’s be honest.

I hope you a great time I you’re visiting Orlando soon! If you’re going with kids….good luck.

Katie x

Orlando | Kennedy Space Centre

I was a bit sceptical about visiting the Kennedy Space Centre, just because our time in Orlando was limited and all I really cared about was rollercoasters and Mickey Mouse, but I was definitely glad we did. 

 The parking attendant told us to do the bus tour first as we might run out of time. It was like 11am. I really wasn’t worried about running out of time here, especially not for a bus tour that I assumed would just take me to look at the outside of some big buildings. I was wrong again. The bus toured around some active launch sights and the hangar used to assemble the craft, which is so big it can fit two Statue of Liberty’s standing on top of each other, and has a U.S. flag painted on it the size of an NBA court.  

 The bus then stopped at the Apollo/Saturn V centre for everyone to get off. I didn’t particularly want to. It was cool and the bus and it looked very very hot outside. What could be here that was that interesting. 

EVERYTHING. 

You have to get off the bus. You get herded into a cinema room where you learn about the history of the Apollo missions before entering the actual mission centre where they launched Appolo 11. Here they recreate what it would have been like in the room minutes before launch. It was a little contrived but really it was just a way to keep people entertained before letting them see the rocket, something which happened a lot. 

NASA, being NASA, were incredibly good at people control. I was always exactly where they wanted me, in some kind of queue or some kind of holding area but with no idea that I was waiting for something more. DisneyWorld should really take a leaf out of this book. 

After the simulator was the real life Saturn V rocket, along with everything you could ever wish to know about all the Apollo missions. And a gift shop. Obviously.   After returning back to the main centre you get slyly hearses into another cinema room, only this one is for the Atlantis Shuttle, and is WAY BETTER! After the film runs you through all of the accomplishments of the space shuttle program, the front screen drops to reveal the actual Atlantis shuttle in the exact condition it returned from space in. Even for someone who had no prior interest in this stuff, it was pretty inspiring and impressive.  

 After the main two exhibits there are plenty of interactive things for you to try, including an (apparently) accurate shuttle launch simulator, and of course, plenty of gift shops and extortionate food outlets.   Whether you think you like space or not, you should definitely give NASA a visit. They do a really great job at explaining things and keeping it interesting for any age with any level of prior knowledge. Still not convinced? At the very least it’ll be the most efficient attraction you’ve ever visited.