Is Universal Studios Orlando Worth The Steep Admission
In the last six months we’ve been to four major theme parks, and to be honest, we haven’t had a worthy experience until this month!
Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida was our most recent theme park visit, and by far our best. I’ve decided to tell you about our Universal experience first, so that you don’t think we’re total haters when you see our thoughts on the others in upcoming articles (Disney World vs. Disney Land and Not Scary, Knotts Berry Farm).
Neither of us had ever been to Universal Orlando before so we really didn’t know what to expect. Sure we’ve seen the seemingly epic TV commercials with the tag line, ‘Vacation Like You Mean It’, but we already knew from our other theme park experiences what the commercials weren’t depicting: it’s going to be crowded, we’ll waste countess hours waiting in a lot of very long lines and we’ll leave the park wondering if it was worth the steep price of admission! Needless to say, we didn’t go into Universal naïve, nor with high hopes of being wowed.
It all starts with a ticket
Picking up our tickets at will call and getting into the park were both pretty painless and quick. We had one day park-to-park tickets plus an express pass which together costs $200+ per person, depending on the day you select. Universal has an online calendar with pricing that varies, literally, day-to-day. If you plan on riding rides, you will want the express pass…no scratch that…you will NEED the express pass! It is a price increase but it provides a much better park experience and easily cut our wait times in half (and maybe even by 3/4).
We arrived just minutes after the gates opened and quickly made our way to the first map station to began plotting out our plan of attack.
I am not going to sugar coat it, after looking at the map I had two main objectives and anything outside of that was gravy:
- Both Harry Potter worlds would be thoroughly investigated, critiqued and compared (which will take most of the day).
- See if Dr. Seuss had been properly represented and if so, take design notes for my future home (yes, someday I want to have a home that looks like it was designed by Dr. Seuss, Tim Burton and Antoni Gaudi).
Even though it’s a land mostly for kids, it felt exactly as it should. The shops were just shops and the food was just food but the whimsical buildings were pulled right from the pages of the iconic books! I would have loved a giant, crazy Seuss themed roller coaster but it didn’t exist, we did have one ride picked out on our “if time allows” list.
The Wizarding Worlds of Harry Potter
Without forcing every guest to wear a costume, this is about as close to Hogwarts as you’re likely to get. Every detail from the food, drinks, shops and everything in between was all about making you feel transported to another world. It doesn’t take much to see what all the fuss is about.
If you don’t like crowds, this isn’t the place for you! People line up for everything here and rightfully so. They’ve made everything from choosing a wand to shopping for chocolate frogs an immersed Harry Potter experience. Half the fun is strolling through all the shops as each one is decked out with “appropriateness”.
We didn’t buy into the consumerism but I do see the appeal, especially when it comes the interactive wands. We loved watching the little kids proudly step up to each spell locator, thoughtfully wave about their wand and smile ear to ear with each accomplishment.
Taking the Hogwarts Express train from he The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade (located at Islands of Adventure) to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley (located at Universal Studios Florida) was another lovely surprise that was extremely well executed and highly entertaining. Universal could have made it a simple, boring transfer from Islands of Adventure to Universal Studios Florida but instead we were surrounded by a theater of Harry Potter magic, and within what seemed like a blink of the eye and the train arrived at the station and we were immediately transported to another world.
Both worlds were equally impressive, down to every detail…but the dark, cool and misty feel of Knockturn Alley was especially fitting and probably our favorite area.
I love a good thrill ride and while I can’t say that most of the rides at Universal got my adrenaline going they were all fun and extremely interactive experiences. The newer the ride, the better the effects…so Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey was an experience worth the wait (express passes don’t work here) and the talking pictures are just too cool for school! Jason however, will not be joining a Quidditch team anytime soon, poor guy just doesn’t have the stomach for it.
One Major Flaw
The bigger rides do not allow you to take anything with you! Everything has to be left behind in a fingerprint safe locker. This wouldn’t be a big deal if there was a little organization and it wasn’t such a free-for-all. The lockers in the Harry Potter area can get crazy intense and it took us 20 min just to squeeze our way in, just to find there were “technology” issues with the finger print readers. This must be done before you can get in line. So it can be a frustrating, time consuming way to start the line waiting experience.
The Big Takeaway
One day isn’t enough to explore everything and one day tickets are just too expensive. Multi day tickets offer much better values. We only got to half of the rides and attractions on our list. Luckily with our express passes we were able to see and experience a lot of the parks.
Overall we found that each area was a fun experience in its own way. Chances are if you loved the film or cartoon, you will very much like being surrounded by the world dedicated to it within Universal. Jason was always a big Simpsons fan so he had fun poking around Springfield while I liked the colorful world of the comic book hero’s (especially the heart stopping Hulk coaster that Jason did NOT ride). But of course, the most impressive by far is The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
The day we visited the park closed at 8pm, which seemed early to us, but City Walk is outside the park boundary and turned out to be the perfect place to wind down, instead of jumping into the exit traffic. Surprisingly, they had some interesting restaurants, specifically one called CowFish that Jason knew from its original location in North Carolina. Their claim to fame is the Burgushi (think: meat collides with fresh fish) but their housemade veggie burger and killer sushi rolls are perfect for pescatarians like us.
We couldn’t believe it, of all of the cities this place would choose to open another location, it would be here. So, we settled in for some well-deserved cocktails, excellent sushi rolls and the craziest bento box combo I have ever seen. A few recommendations: save your appetite and food budget to use here because the food quality and pricing is better than inside the park; if you eat meat the “Prime Time” Filet and Lobster Roll (take that surf n turf) looked crazy good; dessert might be best enjoyed elsewhere as our order didn’t wow us; and finally ask for the Wisconsin transplant Dean as your server, he was way cool.
Overall, it’s hard to justify the price of admission but if it’s within your budget it is an experience. We had a fun day and we finally walked away with a good theme park adventure…or better yet an experience we would actually recommend to others.
Where We Parked It
There are a lot of parks to choose from in the area with pricing all over the map. So, we went the easy route. We still had a couple of kamping vouchers left and the Kissimmee/Orlando KOA was a good middle point between the major theme parks in the area. It made for a very easy decision for us, and the 23hr pool (the 24th is closed for maintenance) was a nice bonus.
Are you a big theme/adventure park person? Have a tip, story, or a favorite park we should consider? Tell us all about it in the comment box below!
Disclaimer – A big thanks to Universal Studios Orlando for the media passes and CowFish for hosting an awesome dinner. As usual our thoughts and opinions are our own and not swayed or purchased. We just tell it like it is.