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Posted on Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012

Dave!I have never, ever felt that I got my money's worth any time I've visited the Universal Studios Orlando & Islands of Adventure theme parks. This is the opposite of visiting Walt Disney World where I always leave satisfied that my money was well-spent.

The problem begins from the minute your plane touches down in Orlando. If you're staying at Disney hotel property, they have a "Magical Express" bus that will whisk you to your hotel for free AND take care of your luggage for you. If you're staying at a Universal hotel property, it's a $50-$60 taxi ride and you have to go to baggage claim to handle your own luggage. Ditto for when it's time to fly home. Disney is free with luggage transfer included. Universal is another $50-$60 and you're checking in your own luggage.

Then there's the internet. Disney hotels offer it for free (at least in the resorts I've stayed at)... Universal hotels charges you $10 a day.

And don't get me started on how messed up Universal is on their bundling. Because I had Blue Man Group tickets in my bundle, I wasn't allowed to get my theme park tickets at my hotel... I had to go to the Blue Man Theater box office, which is crazy. And then I had to go to a machine for my Express Passes, which is even crazier. With Disney, everything you bundle is waiting for you at your hotel when you arrive. So much easier and less stressful.

Then there's the parks themselves.

The reason I even bothered with Universal Studios was because of their new "Wizarding World of Harry Potter" area they dropped into Islands of Adventure. They have a ride there called Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey which uses an insanely great new robotic arm technology that I simply had to experience...

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey

And, sure enough, it's pretty spectacular. Even if you can't stand Harry Potter like me.

What makes it so revolutionary is that the robotic arm attached to your seat isn't bolted to the floor like other rides which use robotic arms. The robots on this ride move!

So, not only are you being flown all over the place, you're moving at the same time. It's kind of like they merged Star Tours with Soarin' and then made the whole thing mobile. The result is one of the more fascinating theme park ride experiences available today... even if I thought the Harry Potter material was kind of weak.

But that's about it for Islands of Adventure. The only other ride I give a crap about there is The Incredible Hulk Coaster which is one of my favorite roller coasters on earth. So... $88 for two rides then? Yeah, that's about it. Jurrassic Park River Adventure is boring and lame. A poor imitation of Disney's Splash Mountain with shitty rubber dinosaurs that gets you completely soaked for no reason. Amazing Spider-Man is actually a good ride (especially now that they've upgraded the visuals to HD), but it just doesn't hold up to repeat visits. Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls is okay, I guess, but it too pales in comparison to Splash Mountain at Disney.

Then there's Universal Studios itself, which is also $88. It fares only slightly better with five rides I like... Despicable Me Minion Mayhem (a new Star Tours-like ride that's really great... mostly because I LOVE Despicable Me)... The Simpsons Ride (which was far better when it was Back to the Future: The Ride, but still entertaining)... Revenge of the Mummy (a slightly more intense Space Mountain that's far more comfortable to ride)... Hollywood Rip Ride Rocket (a decent roller coaster with a 90° high-rise that allows you to pick your own soundtrack)... and Terminator 2 3-D (which is badly dated and gutted — NO MORE TERMINATOR ARRIVING ON A MOTORCYCLE! — but, hey, it's the Terminator, so of course I have to like it).

You can get a two-day ticket that allows one park per day... but it's kind of a waste, because I can never find enough stuff to do for an entire day. Better instead to do this...

  1. Reserve a room at a Universal Studios hotel property... like the Hard Rock Hotel Orlando.
  2. Bundle a 1-Day Park-to-Park pass ($123) with your hotel room.
  3. Check into your Universal Studios hotel one afternoon.
  4. Wake up early the next morning. Claim your free Hotel Theme Park Express Pass, which allows you to skip the long lines at the two parks.
  5. Check out of the hotel and let the bell desk store your luggage.
  6. Your hotel stay allows you to visit Wizarding World of Harry Potter ONE HOUR EARLY. Since your Express Pass won't work for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, you need to get to Islands of Adventure an hour-and-a-half early so you can get in line to race to Harry Potter.
  7. Ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey then stand in line at Ollivanders Wand Shop if you want to see a quick "show" of how magic wands choose their owners (WARNING: even if you are selected for the demonstration, wands cost $34 each!). The line for Ollivanders gets very, very long later in the day, so don't delay if you want to see it!
  8. Visit the other rides you want to see at Islands of Adventure (Incredible Hulk Coaster and Adventures of Spider-Man are the only two I really recommend... but ride whatever you want. With your Express Pass, it ain't going to take long.
  9. Once you're worn out Islands of Adventure, head next door to Universal Studios and ride what you want there. Your Express Pass works for everything except Rip Ride Rocket Coaster, but it's kind of scary, so the line doesn't seem to get very long.
  10. Once you've worn out Universal Studios (and, again, it ain't going to take long with your Express Pass), go back to your hotel, claim your luggage, then get your ass to Walt Disney World!

Two last things...

You actually don't have to stay at a pricey Univeral Studios Orlando hotel property to get an Express Pass. You can buy the Express Pass outright at the parks. HOWEVER... the only way to get the hour-early admission into Wizarding World of Harry Potter IS to stay at an on-site hotel, so I recommend it to save yourself hours standing in line for Forbidden Journey.

And, if you want to ride absolutely everything in each park no matter how lame it is... getting the two-day single-park pass is probably the way to go. You won't be quite so rushed as you go from ride to ride. But, just as an FYI... using the steps I outlined above, I could easily ride just the stuff I want in one day... but it's up to you.

And that's about all I have to say about Universal Studios. I probably won't be back unless they come up with something so spectacular that my life won't be complete unless I experience it... like Elizabeth Hurley Land (where you get to ride Elizabeth Hurley!) or something equally awesome. Otherwise theree just doesn't seem to be enough bang for the amount of bucks you have to spend.

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Categories: Travel 2012Click To It: Permalink


  1. vahid says:

    I am picturing the look of sublime joy on your face upon walking into Elizabeth Hurley Land for the first time.

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