In the second of her reports from the theme park capital of the world, Ruth Brindle spends some action-packed time with Spiderman, Harry Potter and the Simpsons and previews a huge new attraction
BIG things are happening at Universal Orlando. A giant of a new ride is now open and ready to add to the already awesome thrills and spills at the two parks – Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure.
Skull Island: Reign of Kong is one of the latest additions at the fast-growing resort, including a new hotel, with even more to come next year.
With director of the latest Kong movie Peter Jackson on board to help reimagine the story for park visitors, it promises to send you on an unforgettable journey. I haven’t yet had the chance to take the journey myself but here’s what Universal has to say about the attraction: “It begins as guests are transported deep into a wild and mysterious world, where their mission is to discover creatures of unknown origin – but where they are soon fighting for their own survival. Their journey will take them through an ancient temple inhabited by hostile natives, a perilous jungle ruled by prehistoric creatures, a foreboding underworld of caves concealing unspeakable terrors – and face-to-face with the colossal Kong himself.” Eeek!
This is one to visit on my next trip, but earlier this year, with grandkids in tow, it was time to introduce them to all that Universal has to offer. While it’s said that Brits love a queue, when it comes to Orlando’s theme parks, the less time spent in line the better the experience.
Having recently returned from what was definitely the best trip I’ve ever enjoyed to Florida’s fun capital I can reveal that you don’t have to be an A-list celebrity to get quicker access to the rides.
If you have school age children, there’s no choice but to visit at the busiest times, so my advice is, plan and budget early to buy Universal Express passes.
We certainly felt special from the first moment we arrived at Universal Orlando during the Easter holidays. Try paying a bit extra for valet parking too and you will be nearer to the park entrance than most guests. Sorted.
It’s so exciting to make your way to that iconic entrance along with other guests.
With our family’s three generations of adults plus children aged from four to 10, there was a lot to pack in and we all had our priorities. So, raring to go, we started off in a very busy Universal Studios and straight to Production Central, near the park entrance, for the Despicable Me Minion Mayhem ride. Bypassing the main wait line, we got in quicker to enjoy the amazing 3D attraction within minutes.
With everyone, and especially our four-year-old, clearly delighted and buzzing with excitement, it was on to gain faster access to more of our favourites – Transformers, The Simpsons Ride and the ET Adventure, where the cute alien actually says your name as you cycle through the air, and an up close and personal hug with the big purple dinosaur, popular with youngsters all over the world – Barney. Here at Woody Woodpecker’s Kidzone is also a great place to get some rollercoaster thrills that are not too scary.
All this fun helped us build up an appetite and got us in a good mood for our lunch at
the fun ‘50s drive-in style Mel’s Diner for American favourites burgers and root beer floats. Make sure you stop for photo call by one of the great vintage cars outside.
We then had plenty of time to fit in some of the other bigger and most popular rides – Revenge of the Mummy and Men In Black, but the lure of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter was too great to resist.
Diagon Alley, accessed, of course, through a hole in the wall is mind blowing. Just the detail of the buildings and the shops can keep you mesmerised for hours. But we knew exactly where we wanted to go – straight to one of the most popular rides – Escape From Gringott’s. Queues here can be long but it’s more than worth the wait!
It’s a fantastic ride, but a bit intense and dark for youngsters, so it’s an ideal experience to kid swap – one adult in the party rides while one looks after the very young kids and then they swap without having to queue again. Here even the ride’s entry, past lines of animatronic bank clerks, is like being on a real film set.
Then on to a real train at King’s Cross Station – the Hogwarts Express which took us through to the sister park Islands of Adventure sharing the ride with Harry Potter and friends and with views out the windows familiar to all Potter fans. Great fun.
Couldn’t quite believe how smoothly it was all going, but it was all thanks to lots of pre-planning and guidance from all the Universal staff as we made our way around during the day.
The train brings you to the village of Hogsmeade and another top attraction – Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. It’s awesome, but because not all of us could ride, we chose something all the family could get a thrill from – Flight of the Hippogriff. We all loved it.
But by this time it was getting very hot, so we were up for a drenching at Toon Lagoon and the flume ride Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls with its scream-inducing big drop. Then Popeye and Bluto’s Bilge Rat Barges was a hilarious whirling, twirling ride along river rapids. Duly soaked and cooled down it was on to the playground Camp Jurassic where adults can sit and take a breather and youngsters can run around. If we’d wanted more of a soaking we could have tried the Jurassic Park River Adventure on our way through. Another awesome drop.
But I couldn’t wait to go on to my personal favourite and one of Universal’s signature rides – the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man. It’s a 4-D experience that involves you in a superhero battle and finishes with a breathtaking finale.
Seuss Landing also proved a big hit with the little ones, especially The Cat In The Hat ride on our way back to the Hogwarts Express (the ride is different for each direction) and into Universal Studios to relive the hilarity of the Minions ride.
It had been an epic, fun-packed day and one where we had done everything we wanted to do. Yes, there were bigger rides to try, and we could easily have ridden them – Doctor Doom’s Fear Fall, Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit and Revenge of The Mummy (The Hulk coaster was closed) but we filled the day with our personal favourites and our memories will stay special for ever.
The only thing left to do was shop! That is something we are all good at.
Open this summer is the Caribbean-themed Loews Sapphire Falls Resort built around a lagoon and waterfall, the fifth resort hotel at Universal Orlando which has 1,000 rooms, including 77 suites. There’s a resort-style pool and water slide, children’s play area, sand beach and fire pit and the convenient and relaxing water taxi or shuttle gives stress-free access to the parks and also entertainment and restaurants at City Walk. A great bonus is early access to all the rides and attractions which gives you an hour on the big rides before the crowds arrive!
What’s coming up?
In 2017 Universal’s new water park Volcano Bay will open to further complete the offering that has expanded rapidly over the past few years. Already under construction, the huge park will be fully-themed in a ‘postcard-perfect tropical island’ style.
For further information on everything on offer at Universal Orlando Resort, visit www.universalorlando.co.uk A Universal 2-Park Bonus ticket costs from £157 per adult and £149 per child, Universal Express tickets, from £43, can be bought on the day, to book visit www.attraction-tickets-direct.co.uk
America As You Like It offers a seven-night holiday to Orlando, including return flights from Gatwick to Orlando on Virgin, seven days fully-inclusive intermediate car hire and seven nights room only at Universal’s Cabana Bay Hotel from £2,660 for a family of four (two adults and two children 2-11 years), telephone 020 8742 8299, www.americaasyoulikeit.com