Early this summer we made the easy trek from North Carolina to Orlando, Florida. Our first stop was Universal's Islands of Adventure which is part of the larger Universal Orlando Resort. The resort includes three on-site hotels, CityWalk entertainment area, and two theme parks, one of which is the aforementioned Islands of Adventure.
CityWalk is the hub for Universal Orlando Resort and has many restaurants, entertainment venues, and shops. Unless you are staying on-site, you will need to park in one of two large parking garages. Once you enter the resort follow the signs to the entrance to the parking garages. Parking is currently $15 for standard parking which is average for most of your larger amusement and theme parks. If you want to park closer you can pay an additional $5 for preferred parking. Since most of us have cell phones, I recommend that you take a picture of a sign near your parking spot so you can easily find your way back at the end of the day. The parking garages are very large.
Once you leave your vehicle, follow the signs to the parks. While it is a long walk just to get to CityWalk, Universal has made it easier with multiple moving walkways. Once you get to CityWalk, you have to navigate the crowds through the venue to get to the theme parks on either end of the strip.
It was early on a bright sunny Saturday as we attempted to dodge the crowds that were sure to be heavy next door at Universal Studios with the Summer Concert Series starting.
We entered the park from City Walk through the Port of Entry, easily found by heading towards Pharos Lighthouse. Just as expected, the crowds were moderate despite the local schools having just dismissed for the summer. After all we were there for the start of the peak summer season.
We headed past the shops for now because the kids were restless. Who wouldn't be restless knowing the excitement that lay ahead. Of course the best part of any park is the rides (at least in my opinion and I am the one writing this so I can say that.)
We headed left to Marvel Super Hero Island. There are numerous large metal grates on the ground in this area in case you forgot where you were. What's really cool is the lighting that emanates from them at night giving a, well, super hero ambiance to the area. But I digress. The Incredible Hulk Coaster is the first ride we came across and it was calling my name.
The Incredible Hulk Coaster is the first and only launched B&M coaster and I'm happy to say that it lived up to the quality that you expect from a B&M. It had nice moments of intensity, a few moments of air time, and an interesting layout. This made it into the top ten list of my daughter's favorite coasters and we were able to ride it a few times. If you ever get the chance to ride it at night you won't be disappointed.
After a quick spin on Storm Force Accelatron, a tea cup style ride themed to X-Men (think that one through: tea cups and X-men), we headed over to Doctor Doom's Fearfall. It is a dual drop tower style ride that shoots you upward instead of the more common free fall style drop. There is a moment in the ride cycle with great air time that is sure to catch you off guard. I'm not going to spoil that surprise; oh snap, I already did.
Right around the corner was the next ride that made it into all of our top three favorite Islands of Adventure rides, The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man. This is a 4-D dark hybrid simulator ride in roving vehicles with 3-D projection, elaborate sets, and special effects. You are transformed into a reporter and Spider-Man continually saves you from evil villains. It originally opened with the park in 1999 but was closed for nine months to update the ride and remaster the film footage in high definition. It reopened in March of this year to high praises. We are happy to jump on that bandwagon and tell you that this is one ride you do not want to miss. I could continue to sing the praises but we must move on.
At the very least, Toon Lagoon is a fun place to walk through. The bright signs and well-done theming can cause whiplash if you're not careful as there is so much to see. There are lots of shops to browse through with all kinds of goodies featuring your favorite comic book characters.
Also located in this area are Popeye and Bluto's Bilge-Rat Barges and Me Ship, The Olive. We passed on the barges, a white-water rapids style raft ride, and the interactive play area of The Olive.
We couldn't pass on Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls, since I have a secret passion for log flumes. Well maybe it's not so secret but it's a passion nonetheless. Anybody know of any log flume enthusiast clubs? It was a fun experience for all of us although we got soaked. Next time we will surely remember to wear ponchos.
Next we headed into Jurassic Park. The dense foliage along the pathways conjures up images of tropical forests. Here and there you come across scenes that remind you where you really are.
Soon you come across a coaster designed specifically for kids between 36" and 56" tall, Pteranodon Flyers. I had heard that when the park is not real busy they will let anyone ride. It was clearly too busy today as they wouldn't let us ride since all of us are over 56" tall. I was back at the park later in the week for a special event and they had the ride open to everybody. I was fortunate to get a trip around the suspended coaster at night and it was exhilarating flying through the trees. Fortunately no vicious dinosaur jumped out and snatched my Pteranadon and me out of the air.
Also in this area is Camp Jurassic, a kids exploration area, and Discovery Center. We didn't do either this time. You should note that Discovery Center closes well before the park does so you won't want to save this until the end of the day or you'll be disappointed. One thing to not skip in this area is the river raft ride, Jurassic Park River Adventure. You board the big boat and go on an adventure that is mildly based on the movie series, Jurassic Park. Be warned that younger kids may be frightened and you will probably get wet on this ride but not nearly as wet as you do on Ripsaw falls.
What's next? The most highly hyped area of any amusement park I've ever seen, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Since we had not originally watched any of the Harry Potter movies, we watched the first three before our trip hoping to enjoy this area of the park as much as possible. We enjoyed the movies and we were not disappointed with Universal's interpretation. This experience at Islands of Adventure is not over hyped. Executives from other parks should visit and take note. This is how you draw guests from around the world and create a big buzz about your park.
First we checked out Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. The queue line drops you right into the middle of the movie story line exposing you to many familiar items such as the Mirror of Erised, talking portraits, and more. I don't know how to properly describe the ride but it is a dark ride combined with a simulator ride and then some. I won't try to describe it more but you must experience it. While I suffer from minor motion sickness, I enjoyed this ride greatly although I had to close my eyes a couple of times to regain my bearing. The line is always long for this attraction so be prepared to wait. If I had only learned the spell to make the line shrink.
Upon exiting the ride you enter the village of Hogsmeade. If it weren't for all the muggles wandering the streets you would truly felt like you were transported into the movie. We ate lunch at Three Broomsticks and enjoyed the shepherd's pie, BBQ chicken, and fish and chips. The shepherd's pie was the best of the three but all of the food was a comparable price and quality to a mid level sit-down chain restaurant. We were well pleased.
The next ride you encounter is the Flight of the Hippogriff. It is a basic family coaster with some nice theming done to the station and queue line. Everyone 36" and taller should enjoy this mild roller coaster. Right next to this you can experience the Frog Choir and Triwizard Spirit Rally. Due to the crowds (I think half the people in the park were in this area) we didn't try to catch any of these presentations. It can get claustrophobic here. That is the price you pay for visiting one of the most talked about theme park areas in the country.
Be sure to check out the shops in Hogsmeade. If you like the books or movies, you won't be disappointed with the fine details in the stores if you are able to navigate them. The only big critique that I have about the village is that they should have made some of the shops bigger to handle the large number of guests.
You should also try some Butterbeer. Despite the name it is non-alcoholic and available for purchase at a few different areas in Hogsmeade. It comes in two varieties, chilled and frozen. My personal favorite is frozen. In case you are wondering, it is sweet and combines the flavors of butterscotch and shortbread. My only wish is that it came with some actual shortbread.
The last ride in this area is the Dragon Challenge. It is a unique twist on the standard B&M inverted roller coaster as there are two separate coasters intertwined providing different ride experiences on each one.
After leaving Hogsmeade we ventured into the Lost Continent. Choosing to skip The Eighth Voyage of Sindbad Stunt Show, we spent some time watching The Mystic Fountain. It is fully interactive with the people in the area and has a number of fountains and spouts that may catch you off guard. If you don't like getting wet you should not venture too close to it.
If you haven't eaten yet you may want to check out Mythos Restaurant. The indoor cave-like decor is great and the food is highly rated. I wouldn't call it the best theme park restaurant there is (despite the claims) but it certainly isn't the standard amusement park food you come to expect. The prices are reasonable but you should make a reservation if you want to eat here or you may be famished by the time you can get a table.
Our last stop in the Lost Continent is Poseidon's Fury. It is a walk through experience with special effects and a decent story line. We had a good guide and enjoyed it. I was surprised because of the large number of mediocre reviews I read before our trip. You should do it at least once in your lifetime.
There is always room to squeeze in some Coke Freestyle machines.
We have made it to the last section in the park, Seuss Landing. While this is primarily a kids area, there is plenty to see and do for kids of all ages. You can't and won't want to miss the relaxing ride on The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride. This is a Seuss-themed electric overhead train that takes you around Seuss land, encountering a few of the Seuss characters along the way. The manufacturers of this ride must have consulted with Intamin as it was down numerous times during our visit.
The bright colors and excerpts from Doctor Seuss's books are all around here at Seuss Landing. The Caro-Seuss-el is no exception. With the bright lights, moving parts, and Seuss-character-themed 'horses,' it is certainly an experience. It's certainly not the carousel that your Grandmother remembers.
We passed on One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, a flat ride where you can control the height of your fish as you go around and around but are happy we didn't do the same for The Cat In The Hat. This is a dark ride where you board a 'couch' and become immersed in the well-known book's story line. Beware of the net.
Leaving Seuss Landing we arrived back at the Port of Entry and the entrance to the park. It was the perfect opportunity to explore some of the shops and wind down from our exiting day.
This ends our excursion at Universal's Islands of Adventure. The fun-filled, unique trip helped make this park one of our top 10 favorite amusement/theme parks. If you don't happen to travel to as many parks as we do, take my word that this is one that you don't want to miss.
You should note that on busier days the lines to some of the more popular attractions can be an hour or more so you may want to consider the Express Pass, especially if you are trying to cover the park in one day. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey isn't included in the Express Pass so you're going to have to wait for that ride regardless.