Review of "Universal Studios"

published 01/12/2017 | Secre
Member since : 23/04/2003
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About me :
Journalling more for myself than anything else now, so I don't expect reads or rates!
Super
Pro Well themed and great fun
Cons Not as large or as customer service oriented as Disney
exceptional
Prices
Is it worth visiting?
Transport links
Family Friendly

"Worth it just for Diagon Alley"

Gringotts external

Gringotts external

Universal Studios, Orlando was the second of the parks that we visited during our honeymoon and was actually the larger of the two Universal parks with a fair few more attractions, although set out in a very different manner.

Universal Studios

Although the second park we visited, this was the first park opened in 1990. The parks theme is the entertainment industry, in particular movies and television and it encourages its guests to ‘ride the movies. It is made up of eight sections; Production Central, New York, San Francisco, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley, World Expo, Springfield: Home of the Simpsons, Woody Woodpecker’s KidZone, and Hollywood.

Many of the attractions at the park have been developed with the original creators of the films they are based on and several actually feature the stars who played roles in the film. Steven Spielberg helped create E.T. Adventure for instance. Many of the rides including the Simpsons, Despicable Me and Transformers have guest appearances from stars of the show.

Whilst there are a significant amount of ‘experience’ attractions, this is a park that has far more of the stereotypical rollercoasters one has come to expect from a theme park. We did our previous trip of taking the park backwards and whizzing through to Diagon Alley… although there’s no right or wrong way to do it.

What Is On Offer?

Production Central
If there’s one thing that has to be said, there’s certainly a wow factor as you walk into the park; Production Central isn’t themed in the same way as the rest of the park, but that is because it is meant to represent a working studio. You can therefore imagine yourself walking through a studio set-up and it is certainly effective.

In terms of attractions, you have two 3D rides; Despicable Me Minion Mayhem and TRANSFORMERS: The Ride-3D. For the Despicable Me ride you go through the process of becoming a minion; Gru gets called off on some important business and the process of training you is left in the hands of the girls… this quickly becomes amusingly disastrous. For some reason this was the only ride on the park that left me motion sick! For the Transformers ride you are recruited to save Earth from Megatron and his villainous Decepticons and so you board your little N*E*S*T vehicle and go on a 3D trip through an explosive battle. The 3D effects in both of the rides are really very good and they are both very enjoyable.

There is then the Hollywood Rip Ride Rocket which quickly became one of my favoured rides on site! This is an excellent roller-coaster and it has a twist; you get to pick what music you want to play at you around the ride! The only thing I thought could have been improved was that the ride wasn’t quite as long as the songs I picked. Surely it would have been neater to have chosen a selection of correctly timed songs from each genre! Either way, I think this is an excellent idea and one all roller-coaster should implement!

New York
New York has the Revenge of the Mummy which is another spectacular ride and because it’s no longer new, it rarely has queue times, so double win. The queue line is very well set-up, taking you into the set of the Mummy and the ride itself features some of the best effects – and the most surprising – that we saw on site. It truly did get a wow factor from us. There is also The Blues Brothers Show which we did not go and see as neither of us are massively into blues and Race Through New York, starring Johnny Fallon, which was another 3D ride. It was well done, but a lot of inside joke references were made which we didn’t get,

San Francisco
This area was under construction for a Fast and Furious zone in 2018. Therefore no attractions are available.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley
Our favourite area of the park for obvious reasons, and there is no doubt that they have gone truly out of their way to set this up spectacularly. This is a truly wonderful area and outside the broken brick wall you have the Knight Bus and Grimmauld Place for photo opportunities – including a peeping Kreacher through the window and the shrunken head – and then you walk into Diagon Alley and it is undeniably breath-taking.

It’s a cluttered high street hull to the brim with different wizarding shops. Some of them, like Weasleys Wizarding Wheezes are open for business and honestly, the attention to detail that has been put in here is superb. The crowning achievement of the area though is Gringotts bank, complete with full sized dragon atop it… and the dragon even periodically breathes fire!!!

In terms of attractions, there is only one ride but it’s a good one! Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts is another 3D ride within the pork and takes place during the time period Harry, Ron and Hermione are stealing the Sword of Gryffindor from Gringotts. Gringotts itself is stunning, from the detail on the walls including the warning poem, through into the main hall of Gringotts with animatronic goblins that all seem to have personalities and then through the back offices and finally into the elevator and onto the ride itself.

This is another one of my favourite rides; I have a few favourites as you might be able to tell! The set-up of the rides really successfully tells a story and yet it is enjoyable to go on more than once, which is really quite an achievement.

World Expo
This is a small section and has MEN IN BLACK Alien Attack which is a shoot at monsters style ride; I’m awful at these, never get many points and don’t have a lot of fun, so we only did it once. It’s difficult to see where you are aiming and whether you have actually hit… and if not, which way you need to correct your aim. You can tell you’re in America when the person next to us got a score topping 500,000 in comparison to my paltry 10,000! Fear Factor Live was some form of stunts show that you could participate in… not our cuppa tea either and we moved on!

Springfield; Home of the Simpsons
This was actually one of the really disappointing areas and that’s simply because of its age I think. It has The Simpsons Ride which has very early 3D technology and is easily overshadowed by the Transformers ride and for that matter the Harry Potter ride… even the Minions ride was more impressive and that’s more of an experience than a ride. I suppose if you have any mad Simpsons fan it might be worth going on, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the next area to get a significant re-vamp. There is also Kang and Kodos’ Twirl n’ Hurl which is a children’s flying saucer ride. The whole area looks distinctly dated which is a shame.

Woody Woodpecker’s KidZone
Not having sprogs, we didn’t bother fully exploring this… or indeed paid much attention to it at all, mostly just skipping through straight into Hollywood as you didn’t have to actually walk through it at all. Worth noting for those who do have small people, is that there is a wide variety of activities here including Animal Actors on Location which is a show of sorts, A Day in the Park with Barney, which is a theatre attraction, Curious George Goes to Town and Fieval’s Playland which are both play areas.

For coasters there is Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster which is a very child friendly coaster, meant to be a kind of first-timer coaster and E.T. Adventure which is a fairly old child friendly coaster. These were the only two coasters we did not go on.

Hollywood
Finally, Hollywood was another area under construction; the ride TERMINATOR 2: 3D has been closed and will be replaced with a new attraction. The ride was the second oldest ride at the park, so I can see why this has been done.
Food and Drink

Theme park food is always expensive, that is a common theme across the entire spectrum of parks unfortunately. The average ‘snack meal’ put us out anywhere from $10 - $17 per person and this could easily hike up to $25 - $40 if you ate at the sit down establishments. A regular drink of soda was generally $3.50 and a beer anywhere up to $10… don’t ask about the cocktails; that’s enough to make you wince.

There is a wide range of eateries throughout the park although it is definitely worth moving out of Production Central as the range here is slim indeed. Either way, there is an Italian, a Starbucks and A Bar and Grill in New York, San Francisco hosts a wide range including burgers, Chez Alcatraz, a Seafood Grille and a pasty company. Springfield is home to fast food outlets and Duff Brewery, there’s pizza in the KidZone and some more quick service outlets in Hollywood.

Diagon Alley is worth a special mention as there are several specifically themed eating establishments here including the Leaky Cauldron which serves a selection of British themed food, The Hopping Pot which is a drinks establishment with Tongue Tying Lemon Squash, Otter’s Fizzy Orange Juice, Peachtree Fizzing Tea, Fishy Green Ale, and our Wizard’s Brew and Dragon Scale beers. There is then Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour and carts which sell snacks and drinks like Butterbeer and Pumpkin Juice.
Shopping

There are a wide variety of shopping opportunities around the park although for generalised items, you can find most things in Production Central where a lot of shops are situated. Each ride and attraction has a shop at the end specifically themed to it, which obviously sells more specific items related to the topic at hand. These often include t-shirts and jumpers, Christmas ornaments, pin badges, cuddly toys, notebooks and mugs amongst other things.

There is a very specialist shopping area in Diagon Alley; it has a spin-off Knockturn Alley which has a shop selling the items that would be more related to the Dark Arts. There are some lovely – and expensive – items in here, and I for one picked up a gorgeous set of Basilisk bookends for a total of $124 including tax. It’s well worth a specific look into Knockturn Alley as there are many items that are not available in the other shops on site – my Basilisk bookends were one of these. A lot of the stock in here is aimed at the adult audience as well, so it is far fancier and more expensive. Within Diagon Alley you also have a clothing shop, a general Potter shop and the Weasleys’ Wizarding Wheezes.

In Comparison to Disney

In light of the comparative rates between Disney and Universal, I consider this to be a fair comparison. Disney is obviously more aimed at smaller children, however as we were going around both sites as adults I don’t think this alters my comparison. The 14 day tickets cost approximately £250 for each set of parks each, so this is not a cheap expenditure. I am aware that Disney includes five parks to Universal’s three, but if this is to be taken into account then I would anticipate a lower entrance fee.

This park is larger than Islands of Adventure and had more rides and attractions, therefore taking longer to get around than the other park. That said, it is still significantly smaller than any of Disney’s parks. It took us just over a half day I would estimate to make our way around this park, including doing the slower bits like the Hogwarts Express between parks. Disney did have longer queues, but the comparison is still striking as Magic Kingdom alone took us two days to fully explore… and we managed to find another half day of less important things we hadn’t done after that. Epcot was about a day, Animal Kingdom another two days and just over two days for Disney Studios, where it is worth noting they are having a huge expansion in 2018-2019 so that will easily be a full day once that is complete.

Another thing to note is that that there is a significant difference in customer service between Universal and Disney, and Disney win hands down. At the Universal parks you were fairly met with actively sarcastic staff, and whilst I recognise that repeating the same information over and over again can’t be great fun, this is basic service standards here. Disney staff always greeted you with a smile – actively looking for the Happily Ever After badges to congratulate you, they were always polite, friendly and helpful. We didn’t get a single member of snarky staff at Disney. The experience was also significantly more cohesive at Disney; they seemed to have joined everything together more coherently and made it an exceptional experience.

That said, I very much enjoyed Universal Studios and was highly impressed with the theming of the park in general and the quality of the rides and attractions specifically. Many of the rides are of higher technological advancement than many of the Disney rides, although this may also be due to the fact that Disney Studios was having so much renovation done and new attractions being built. However, it pains me to say it, but it’s true; if you can only afford one set of parks then I have to recommend Disney without a shadow of a doubt. Disney was an add-on for us but had we not picked up tickets we’d have run out of things to do rather quickly.
Prices

Prices depend very much on how many days you are going for and who you book with. Universal themselves only seem to offer up to five day tickets and they want £210 ($280) for the privilege. We booked through British Airways and got a fourteen day ticket for £250 ($327) so you can do your own maths on that one! It’s certainly worth checking around for the deals! You can buy individual park tickets but I would strongly recommend not doing this.
Do We Recommend?

Yes. This is a larger park than Islands of Adventure and we had great fun going around it. That said, I don’t think Universal should be charging the same as Disney if I am brutally honest. There isn’t as much here and Disney is simply so much bigger, it seems a little bit like overcharging. That said, our tickets worked out at £18 so I certainly can’t complain.

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Comments on this review

  • torr published 04/12/2017
    I'd bee interested in seeing it just to see how they'd gone about it. The Americans do these things with a commitment and ambition that we find hard over here.
  • snow_drops published 03/12/2017
    Excellent review :)
  • 2mennycds published 02/12/2017
    Really enjoyable read!
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