Universal Studios Florida!

I love Universal Studios Florida!  It’s delightful as an adult, but I also have a deeper nostalgic childhood connection to USF than Disney World because I went to that one more as a kid.  I have incredibly dim but fond memories of Back to the Future, King Kong, Earthquake, Jaws… Actually I’m not actually sure if I ever rode Jaws as a kid.  It was always broken!  It’s very possible I only rode it a single time as an adult right before it closed.

When I started vacationing again as an adult I started with Disney but eventually made my way to Universal.  While nothing can beat WDW, I do find Universal much less stressful, mainly because there’s a lot less walking.  Cabana Bay, their cheap on-site hotel, is literally across the street from Islands.  I can leave my hotel room, hop on a short bus, and be inside the gates inside of 15 minutes, whereas at Disney you’re lucky if that takes an hour.  It’s so much easier to slip back into your hotel room for an afternoon break.  I also love how the hotels and the shopping district and two parks are all tightly packed together.  Having to pass through City Walk just to enter the parks always makes it feel a little more epic.

Universal Studios the original park will always my favorite of the two.  Like Magic Kingdom, it just has a lot more rides than its sister park, and this is the place of my childhood.  And while I miss the classic original attractions, there are even better additions now with the addition of Diagon Alley and Springfield.  Diagon Alley is an astounding achievement in total immersion.  It’s amazing just to walk around in there.  And the big pink donut remains my favorite park treat.

10. Animal Actors.  Who doesn’t love a stage show of animals doing tricks?

9. E.T. The only remaining opening day attraction!  It’s incredibly dated but there is still something magical about the twilight Pacific forest journey.

8. Fast and Furious. I’m definitely not a fan of all these new rides being nothing more than 3D screens, and this is the worst example of it.  But it’s moderately fun.

7. Jimmy Fallon.  Hate the host, but the ride is actually a pretty fun sim ride through NYC with a trip into space.  The pre-show is also very impressive.

6. Men in Black. An aging attraction, but walking through the cavernous MIB office is never not cool and the shooting game is pretty fun.  At least it’s interactive!

5. Transformers.  Another screen ride, but a well made one.

4. Minions.  This is an excellent simulator ride with a great ride film.  It’s great to take a journey through Gru’s vast underground layer.

3. Simpsons. Back to the Future was my favorite ride as a kid, and this replacement is actually better.  This ride, and the pre-show, is chock full of hilarious jabs at theme parks and Disney.  The graphics aren’t very sharp, but still look epic on the huge screen.

2. The Mummy.  This is my all time favorite roller coaster.  It is just at the acceptable limit of thrills for me with fast accelerations but no big drops.  The story and setting is perfect.  The queue is legitimately creepy and the pre-show is great too.

1. Gringotts.  While it’s mostly just another screen ride, the story and theming is so perfect it’s still incredible.  Walking through the bank is incredible and it’s great to see this story actually taking place in the middle of the seventh book with the actors involved.  Also it doesn’t help that it’s based in Diagon Alley, an incredible area!

ISLANDS OF ADVENTURE.  After the theme park wars of the 80s and 90s, this is shockingly the most recent theme park in Orlando from all the way back in 1999.  I went only once a teenager when it first opened, so my knowledge of the park is almost entirely as an adult.  I don’t even remember the original “Merlinwood” land where Hogsmeade now sits!  This park has great theming with its different lands, but it’s a lot of walking around for a handful of great rides.  

10. Seuss Monorail.  This is me really struggling for ten things.

9. Poseidon’s Fury.  I loved this as a kid and while the story is very goofy, the theming and the sets and the water effects are incredible.  And that building exterior is the best one ever!

8. Hippogriff.  It’s a fun little baby coaster.

7. Bilgewater Barges.  A pretty good river rapids ride.  You will get soaked!

6. Ripsaw Falls.  It’s a lame copy of Splash Mountain but the cartoons are cute.

5. Jurassic Park Ride.  Now here’s a much better Splash Mountain ripoff with some excellent theming!  Too bad the ride is so short though.

4. Skull Island.  Another bad example of a modern ride relying on 3D screens, but the pre-show is second to none and the story / ride film is very cool.

3. Spider-Man.  This ride was a revelation in 1999 and it still holds up well.  The false sensation of motion and falling is very well done and it’s a Spider-Man cartoon so it’s a winner for me.

2. Harry Potter Forbidden Journey.  The pre-show alone, walking through Hogwarts Castle, is worth it alone, but the ride is also fun and thrilling with a great sense of motion.

1. Hagrid’s Coaster. I’ve only gotten to ride this once so far, and it scared the crap out of me, but the theming and story was excellent and I’m sure it’ll be less terrifying on repeat attempts.

I was extremely excited when they finally announced the first new theme park since 1999 in EPIC UNIVERSES, and very disappointed when the pandemic threw all that out the window.  They’re only just now resuming construction for a targeted 2025 opening.  It will be astonishing to experience a brand new theme park for the first time in decades; not a new ride, or a new land, but an entirely new location from the ground up!

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