Friday, 21 March 2014

Universal Studios Florida

On our fourth and fifth days in Orlando, we explored the two theme parks of Universal Studios Resort, one of which - Islands of Adventure - wasn't even there during my last visit in 1996. The original Universal Studios was one of my favourite theme parks back then, and it certainly didn't disappoint on my recent return.

While we've both really enjoyed our time in Disney World's theme parks, we think Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure are superior in nearly every regard: the decors and environments look more detailed and imaginative, the rides are way more exhilarating and state-of-the-art, and the whole place just feels a lot newer and more impressive than Disney World, which frankly feels a little dated at times.

Islands of Adventure is especially magical; we were both so impressed with the new Harry Potter-themed area, as well as Jurassic Park and the Marvel Superheroes district. There are some stunning, otherworldly sets and buildings that have clearly had a lot of time and dedication put into them, and the rides are a cut above any we've found elsewhere (the Spiderman ride blew me away with its interweaving of 3D characters and concrete setpieces). The lines were also a lot shorter here, despite us not using any fast-passes like we did at Disney World. With the exception of the Incredible Hulk roller coaster, we didn't have to queue for more than 20 minutes for any ride, sometimes waiting even less than 5.

All in all, this remains my favourite theme park in the world, and hopefully these pictures will give a little taste of the magic that can be found there.

The entrance to Islands of Adventure, guarded by Pharos Lighthouse.
As soon as we entered we were immediately struck by the fantastical surroundings.
A Dr Seuss-themed area!
The Lost Continent.
But this was the place that we (Angela especially) were most looking forward to: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter!
The Hogwarts Express.
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. We were so impressed by the scale of this setpiece, as well as the craft and detail that went into it.
Exploring Hogsmeade.

Drinking butterbeer!

In Ollivander's Wand Shop.

Angela took her time selecting from a range of differently-designed wands owned by various characters in the books. In the end she elected the wand owned by Sirius Black.

Almost as exciting as Harry Potter world was Jurassic Park, based on one of my favourite childhood movies.

At the Discovery Centre.

One of my favourite rides: Jurassic Park River Ride!

After being terrorised by raptors and a T-Rex, we plummeted down a steep log flume section that got us soaked. After the disappointment of Splash Mountain being closed when we visited the Magic Kingdom, this was a more than adequate substitute!
In Toon Lagoon, there was another log flume ride, though we didn't ride this one.

The Incredible Hulk rollercoaster. This one was fun, though the queue was really long and it wasn't anywhere near as awesome as the Dragon Challenge rollercoaster in Harry Potter World.
Entering the city of Marvel's Superheroes.

As well as Islands of Adventure, we also spent some time in the original Universal Studios theme park. Along the way we saw this cool NBA statue.
Entering Universal Studios. The two parks are located conveniently close to one another, making it very easy to transition between them by foot.

Hollywood Rip, Ride, Rock it: despite the two of us being fairly experienced rollercoaster riders, we were both a little nervous before going on this one. That steep climb and drop makes me shiver just by looking at it.
Ah, the film set surroundings of Universal Studios. I remembered these well from my last visit.

At the Twister experience before a tornado tore through and got us soaked.
I was pretty sad that they got rid of the Jaws ride (as well as that old classic, Back to the Future, damn them!) but at least they kept the hanging shark.
A Simpsons-themed area.

A Hollywood avenue.

Universal Studios Resort was the highlight of our trip to Orlando. Both parks blew us away, and I would recommend anyone visiting Florida to check them out, especially Islands of Adventure. Just make sure you get there nice and early if you want to avoid the flurry of Potter fans!

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