Before I delve into our specific time spent at Universal Studios in Orlando, I thought that I would share some general information about the Universal parks.
I know people often say that you can’t or shouldn’t really compare Universal and Disney, but you really can’t help but compare the two, especially when you spend time at both parks within the same week.
Is Universal worth visiting?
I would answer yes. We did have fun during our time at Universal. If you like roller coasters and more thrilling rides, Universal delivers. If you are a geek for things like comic books, Transformers, and Harry Potter, you really should go there at least once.
I purchased our tickets through my work. We got a 3 day pass because it was only $4.00 more than the 2 day pass. We weren’t sure we were really going to use the 3rd day (we did end up using it to kill time before our plane ride home) but for $4.00 we thought it was nice to have the option. We got the park-to-park option on our passes which means that you can move freely between Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios during each day. It is important to know that if you don’t have a park-to-park pass, you will not be allowed to ride the Hogwarts Express. I know people who only got a one day Universal Studios pass to see Diagon Alley and were either deeply disappointed at finding out that they couldn’t ride Hogwarts Express, or they had to “upgrade” their current pass for a price that probably would have been less if they had purchased the park-to-park pass ahead of time.
Express pass at Universal Studios allows you to get ahead of those in the “Standby” lines for attractions. It is somewhat similar to Disney’s fast pass plus, but unlike Disney, you have to pay for the luxury of an express pass, or be staying at a Universal Resort, and it is important to note that the express pass does not work for either of the big Harry Potter rides.
I would highly recommend waiting until you get to the parks to feel it out before you invest in an express pass. For the time of year that we went, it would have been a complete waste of money as we were able to walk on most rides with barely a wait. If during the day it starts to get too busy for your liking, you can always pick up an Express pass at plenty of locations in the park.
Single Rider Lines
Something that Universal does really well is having a good amount of rides with single rider lines. This includes both big Harry Potter rides. We rode Gringotts twice using the single rider line and never waited more than 20 minutes when the standby queue wait time was usually 45 minutes. Both times we still ended up riding together. Both a positive and a negative about single rider lines is that you bypass the elaborate queues and pre-shows. Now it is worth walking through most of the queues once, but for some, like Men in Black, once is enough, so if you want to ride again, and again (like we do), skipping the elaborate queue and pre-show is an excellent option.
Universal is very picky about you not bringing any bags or loose items with you on attractions. There are some attractions like Forbidden Journey that are understandable (it would totally ruin someone else’s ride experience if they had to stop the ride to retrieve your sunglasses), but for something like Men in Black, we were a little surprised. Also perplexing was that the water rides, like Popeye’s Barges where you get soaked, did not provide lockers where you could stash your stuff to keep it from getting wet (Kali River Rapids at Animal Kingdom did have free lockers).
The lockers located near or at specific attractions are free for a time frame that appears to be based on the particular attraction’s wait time. If you go over the time frame, you then have to pay to get your stuff back.
When you enter a locker area you will spot kiosks with screens (these areas tend to get very crowded and claustrophobic depending on the ride) where you submit your finger print, it assigns you a locker, you throw your stuff in, and once you close the door it locks. When you get off the attraction you go back to the kiosk, type in your locker number, submit your fingerprint, and the locker opens. One of the biggest issues is that you are putting your stuff in lockers over, and over, and over again. By the seventh locker you come back and say,
“It was locker 816 right?”
“No, 816 was the last ride. This was 132…no that was two rides ago. 262!” We always ended up remembering our locker number, but we saw plenty of people who either forgot or didn’t pay attention in the first place and had to get an attendant who then had to open every locker until the park guest recognized their stuff. If you bring your phone with you on a ride in a secured pocket it might be a good idea to take a picture of your locker number if you are forgetful.
We could never quite figure out why, but the other guests at Universal just seem to be less polite, less considerate, and a little rougher and ruder than the guests at the Disney parks.
One thing that continuously annoyed us was people standing in the ride entrances. It appeared that they were waiting for someone to join them who was several miles away in a different section of the park. They would just gather and stand in big groups in the ride entrance completely blocking anyone else from getting on the ride and when you tried to politely say excuse me and get by them they would give you the evil eye like you were the one who was completely inconsiderate.
Universal seemed very popular with sorority groups (while Disney seemed popular for bachelorette celebrations). There were a lot of young sorority girls wandering around the parks while we were there. This group of lovely young ladies accosted Shannon and asked if he would take their picture.
People at Universal were also more likely to mow you down, push into you, jump in front of you, and so on and so forth, so the environment in general feels more hectic, chaotic, and you leave the parks feeling more weary, drained, and less relaxed at the end of the day. After two days in a row at Universal, we were more than ready for a break. So head there, but be sure to pack a good dose of patience.