Early this summer we made the easy trek from the Carolinas to Orlando Florida. Our second stop was Universal Studios Florida after a great time at Islands of Adventure the day before. From CityWalk we turned right, headed down the path and spotted the iconic Universal logo.
Upon entering the gates we saw the big 'city street' in front of us that leads to Production Central. We took off down the street like so many others had done before us. The first attraction we came to was Shrek 4-D. This is a 4-D movie that takes off on a tangent from the movie storyline. Family members of all ages are sure to enjoy the adventures of Shrek and donkey in the moving seats with nice 4-D effects. It was nice to see lots of our favorite characters and the attraction is family friendly.
Across the street was the new Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem. It doesn't officially open until July 2 and was closed on this day but we were able to go through it during a technical rehearsal later in the week. It is another 4-D movie simulator that takes place in a modified theater. You can read more about our experience at the attraction here.
Up the street on the left was the most prominent feature of this park, Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit roller coaster. You can see it from CityWalk, Islands of Adventure and many other places in the resort. This roller coaster has significance to us as it was my daughter's 100th roller coaster! She found it really fun. You can pick an individualized soundtrack that plays exclusively through the speakers in your seat. I'm surprised that this coaster is only three years old as I found it unpleasantly rough for a steel coaster. My speakers also kept going in and out so I only had my soundtrack blasting about 1/3 of the time; most of the time it was static. If they could smooth out the coaster it would be more intriguing.
In this area you will find the Impact Wrestling show. This runs at various times throughout the year and is broadcast on TV. There were no events scheduled during our visit so we didn't even consider this venue. You will also find the Universal Store and two restaurants in Production Central. I have firsthand knowledge that the cheesecake at Beverly Hills Boulangerie is really good. There went my diet.
Continuing on our quest we come to New York. We first came across Twister...Ride it Out. A large part of the attraction was more of a documentary type setting as you are shuttled from area to area hearing comments from people who were in the movie or had a part in making it. When you finally get to the meat of the attraction where you are exposed to a simulation of an actual twister, it ended up leaving me wanting more. Even though this was my first visit, I think it is time for this attraction to be retired or modernized.
At the end of the street we hang a right and we're at the main reason I wanted to come to Universal Studios, to ride Revenge of the Mummy, an indoor roller coaster. I wasn't disappointed. In my mind, this is certainly the best roller coaster at either Universal park with two great instances of ejector air time and other special effects you don't often find on a roller coaster. The entire family loved it and we were able to ride it a few times during our trip.
You will also find The Blues Brothers Show, which we weren't able to do, and the Delancey Street Preview Center as well as a couple more restaurants. The Preview Center will pay you a small fee to view and rate a brand new show under consideration. We were approached and given the opportunity to do this but we declined as we were under a tight time constraint.
Only at Universal Studios will you find San Francisco next door to New York. With just a few steps we went from the big apple to the city by the bay. Here is Beetlejuice's Graveyard Revue, a rock 'n' roll show based on characters from the movie and Fear Factor Live, a take from the TV show that involves the audience. Neither one really piqued our interest so we passed for this trip. Under construction to replace the former Jaws ride is an expansion to draw on the success of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Right now all you can really see is a wall on both sides of the walkway while Universal Studios works their magic.
The other attraction in this area is Disaster! We weren't sure what to expect but overall it was a lot of fun being part of a 'motion picture.' The 'actors' working the attraction were good although the actual scene at the end in the subway train could use some updating. Nonetheless we enjoyed it and I recommend that you make sure to do this during your visit. Don't be afraid to volunteer to be one of the audience participants. You are sure to have a lot of fun.
After leaving San Francisco we head into the World Expo. Literally the only thing here is two attractions. First we came to Men in Black Alien Attack. This is a spinning laser-shooting dark ride themed to Men in Black. The ride was originally designed for you to be pitted against another team riding in an opposing vehicle although there was only one side running when we were there.
The final attraction in this area is The Simpsons Ride. This is a standard motion simulator-type ride themed around the popular Simpsons television series and a cartoon theme park called Krustyland. Like most of these kinds of motion simulators, my wife and I found it extremely rough although the kids liked it. Every time I do a simulator like this I am tempted to change my career path into programming and developing simulators that everyone can enjoy.
Next we head into Woody Woodpecker's Kidzone. The first show we come to is Animal Actors on Location, a show staring animals. This plays at various times throughout the day but we were unable to catch it this trip. Right around the corner we came across what was our most important show to see this trip, A Day in the Park with Barney.
My special needs son has been watching Barney since the first show debuted on TV and has loved it ever since. I think we've seen nearly every episode at least once. This was his first opportunity to see Barney 'in person' so we wanted to make sure it happened. I must admit that the entire family knew all of the songs that were sung at the show and we sang along. The staff invited us to stay in the Barney Theater after the room cleared out to meet Barney personally. They were even courteous enough to offer to take our picture. This was the highlight of Jeffrey's trip.
For the younger ones there is an interactive playground themed to Curious George. We passed on this but heard lots of younger children having a great time. Right next door to that is Woody Woodpecker's Nuthouse Coaster. It is a family coaster so we all took a ride on it. On the other side of the coaster is another play ground based on the movie character, Fievel.
The last attraction in this area is E.T Adventure. It is a unique twist on a dark ride where you ride a suspended set of 'bicycles' flying through the air to help E.T. save his planet. The story line took off from the movie and wasn't closely related other than some of the basics. The only bit of magic in this ride was that E.T. thanks you by name at the end of the ride if you listen carefully. It took us two trips through here to realize that. This attraction could also use some updating.
We move into the last area of the park, Hollywood. The fronts of the buildings are made to resemble the streets in Hollywood. Another show here is Universal Orlando's Horror Make-Up Show. Right down the street is Terminator 2 3-D We didn't know how our son would do with these shows so we choose to skip them. Also in this area you'll find Lucy - A Tribute featuring memorabilia to the famous Lucille Ball.
We were in this spot at the right time to see the new Universal's Superstar Parade that runs daily at 5:00 PM. It features Despicable Me...
Spongebob and crew...
and Dora the Explorer. The parade was a nice length and done well. We all had a good time.
If you time it right, you'll also get a chance to experience some live music from the Sunset Sidemen performing well loved television and movie theme songs.
While there are six different areas to Universal Studios, you can see that many of the attractions seem to have little to do with the name of the area that they are located in. Maybe I just don't watch enough movies.
All six areas encompass a lagoon where every night is Universal's Cinematic Spectacular, a night time show that debuted this year. It features famous scenes from Universal Pictures films that are projected onto large waterfall screens. The show also includes fountains and pyrotechnics, celebrating the 100th anniversary of Universal Studios. If you have the time you certainly don't want to miss the one of a kind extravaganza.
Overall, we had a good time at Universal Studios Florida. While the park is only 22 years old, a lot of the attractions are starting to show their age. It would be nice to see Universal work on modernizing this park and bringing it up to the level of Islands of Adventure. We did observe at least three different areas behind construction walls so it appears that the process is already in the works.
For the best bang for your buck, I recommend that you stay at one of the on-site resorts. If you purchase tickets to the parks you get complimentary Universal Express Unlimited ride access as a hotel guest. As RVers we were disappointed that they don't have an on-site campground where we can receive the same benefits.