The Beginner’s Guide to Universal Studios

If you’re going to Orlando, there’s almost a guarantee that you’re headed to Universal Studios, Disney World or both.  I’ve been to Disney World several times before and have a Disney guide for you, but I recently visited Universal Studios and have all the tips to share for your next trip there.

Before You Go

Check the weather, but there’s a good chance it will be toasty.  It was so hot when my family went, so be sure to pack comfy clothes that are well-suited for warm weather.  This isn’t the runway, so be sure to wear comfortable shoes like tennis shoes or Chacos.  I wore a convertible backpack-crossbody purse, which worked out very nicely. And don’t forget to hydrate, wear sunscreen and maybe bring a portable fan.

And if it’s in your budget (and I strongly suggest that it be), consider Universal Express passes.  Once you buy your pass, you just walk up to the Express lane; no need to make reservations for most rides.  It costs more than a pretty penny starting at $70.  But I will say it saved our family so much time, and hypothetically, you could pay for fewer days at the parks and get more rides and attractions in, due to the Express pass.  Another bonus is not listening to complaining children — at least as long.

Also think about downloading Universal’s app for your trip.  I’ll be honest and say that I didn’t download it because I had family members with the app.  But it gives you wait times and other helpful details for your trip.

Just like Disney has different parks like Magic Kingdom and Epcot, Universal has three parks: Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure and Volcano Bay Water Theme Park.  We went to the first two parks in two days, and I felt that I got a good sense of both parks but that there was still more to explore.  In addition to the parks, there’s also a strip called Universal CityWalk, which compares to Disney Springs as it’s a line of shops and restaurants to check out and doesn’t require a park ticket.  Here are some of my highlights from the two parks we visited:

Universal Studios

Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit-Before the ride begins, the rider gets to pick a song to listen to while on the coaster from Kanye to Daft Punk.  Note: if you’re not so sure about rollercoasters, this one is not for you as it’s the most intense ride I went on at the parks.  (The parents sat this one out.)

Shrek 4-D-Our family’s big takeaway was that Universal is really big into these 4-D rides with 3-D glasses, and many times it’s exhilarating and enjoyable; you sometimes forget you’re barely moving.  I do love Shrek, but this ride was an exception to Universal’s excellence with 4-D rides.  Underwhelming.  But if you have young kids who get spooked by big, fast rides, this might be an option.  (Just don’t wait more than 30 minutes.)

Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon-Very fun!  Another 4-D ride with not a crazy amount of movement but still enjoyable.  Before you explore New York with Jimmy, there’s a waiting area with a stage where we saw a barber shop quartet and Hashtag the Panda.

Revenge of the Mummy-My favorite coaster from either park!  This one is fast-paced and races you through the dark. This one is worth a wait!

Fast & Furious-Supercharged-Unlike it’s title, this one is anything but fast and furious.  It’s another 4-D ride with some movement, but it was bland and lacked a relevant, cohesive storyline.  Don’t wait too long for this one either.

Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts-Another Harry Potter ride to geek out on.  You can’t miss this one because right outside, there’s a large creature that breathes fire on the square.

Hogwarts Express-King’s Cross Station-This is the train that takes you in between the parks and is less of a ride than it is a practicality.  It’s nice to sit for a bit, but it also doesn’t take long at all once you’ve boarded.

Don’t forget to get your butter beer at The Hopping Pot, Leaky Cauldron or The Fountain of Fair Fortune.  I opted for a hot fudge sundae at Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlor to cool off from that Florida heat.

The Simpsons Ride-If you like the Simpsons, you will like this ride.  I am one of those people, and this was one of my favorite rides.  

Islands of Adventure

The Incredible Hulk Coaster-A coaster that’ll get your heartbeat up and probably too fast for your grandma unless she’s a BA.

Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls-Every inch of you will be soaked.  No ifs, ands or buts.  This is a classic log flume ride, but do be prepared to be drenched. We were bummed because the 5-seater logs didn’t fit our family of 6, which means a missed Christmas card opportunity.

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey-A happy medium between a basic 4-D ride and a crazy fast coaster.

Flight of the Hippogriff-Another Harry Potter-themed ride but outdoors this time.  More exciting than a 4-D only ride but not a wild coaster either.

Honeydukes-And of course, you gotta drop by this famed candy shop.

Skull Island: Reign of Kong-Another 4-D ride to suit your fancy with a big monkey chasing you around.

The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man-This was one of the first rides we saw when walking into the park, and not having really any game plan, we hopped in line for this one.  Out of all the 4-D rides, I think this one was most successful and exciting.  And my journalism background so appreciated all their nods to media.

These are just my highlights and quick thoughts.  There is so much more to explore at Universal Studios, and I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments.

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