Exploring Universal Orlando Resort and Ignoring Disney on a First Trip
Interesting, as your dates will really only allow you to ‘do’ Universal properly anyway.
You would need more time to explore greater Orlando. I recommend that guests allow three days for the Universal Florida Resort Theme Parks.
There are two; the original Universal Studios, a theme park based on movies; and Islands of Adventure, a theme park based on… well… mostly movies (again) and TV. Universal’s theme parks follow the model established originally by Disney, in creating hiqh quality, well planned and well themed parks, divided into different areas based on their theming. Unfortunately, due to space constraints (Universal Orlando Resort covers 840 acres, while Walt Disney World occupies 28,000 plus additional thousands of acres of land now owned and controlled by Disney), Universal’s theming is not as good as Disney’s; it’s been compromised by having too much jammed too close together, which sort of ruins the immersive experience. (Being in Jurassic Park and looking over and seeing Hogwarts in the same view kind of wrecks the illusion of where you are, just as seeing the Jurassic Park discover center with a roller coaster surrounding it prevents it from looking just like the movie version. Another example is the Ghostbuster’s firehall having a roller coaster track coming out of its front window at a completely different scale, wrecking the illusion they attempt to create.) Many may consider that just being me too fussy, and no doubt I am a bit of a connoisseur of these things, but I also vividly remember and tremondously enjoyed much of the original theming of Universal Studios Orlando from 25 years ago, before it was badly over built.
Another interesting quirk of the Universal Theme Parks is that they BOTH have ‘Harry Potter’ sections in them. For many years after the first Harry Potter Hogwarts area opened in Islands of Adventure I would receive inquiries about it from guests, talking like it was a separate park (“We want to visit the Harry Potter Park!”), which it isn’t. It was just a retheming (although very well done) of an existing part of Islands of Adventure. Then later, Universal removed the previous Amity area (as in Jaws – The Ride, a former great attraction) and turned it into a different Harry Potter section with a train that takes guests between the two sections of both parks. This just added more confusion for guests about what the ‘Harry Potter Park’ is until they actually experience it and sort of figure it out for themselves.
So, to completely experience both parks at Universal Orlando Resort, I recommend spending one day at Universal Studios and one day at Islands of Adventure, and then a third day split between the two, doing anything you missed or couldn’t get too, or want to experience again. Having the extra day is especially important if you visit during the busy season, where you can lose a quarter of your day waiting in line for just one main attraction.
Just as I recommend for Disney, if going to a Universal park for a day, go VERY early, spend the entire day and be the last to leave. Get your money’s worth… the tickets are very expensive, but actually still a great entertainment value, especially if you ‘do the parks right’ meaning in a manner to get the best bang for your buck, by seeing, riding, doing and experiencing all you can. An Orlando theme park vacation has been done properly if at the end of your trip you leave needing… well, a vacation! These trips aren’t about relaxation; they’re about fun, education and learning, experiences, entertainment, exercise (expect a LOT of walking) and more fun!
Given my complaints about Universal’s theming, some may think that I don’t think it’s well done. It absolutely is. It is just as good as Disney’s in many ways, especially on a smaller scale… but it is clear that the purity of the theming and experience is not nearly as important to the managers of Universal as it is at Disney. Walt Disney secretly bought all of the land for Walt Disney World specifically so he would have space to ‘do things right’ and for the most part that spirit has been honored throughout Disney World.
Many describe Universal’s rides as being more for ‘adults’ than Disney’s and I agree with this. Many of Universal’s rides are about stomach wrenching thrills, while Disney’s are about story telling and theming, even on Disney’s more gut-wrenching rides (there are a few). Walt Disney built his parks for the entire family, while Universal’s are more for teens and adults, who spend more money per person than toddlers do. And it shows. Things for little kids feel like an after-thought at Universal Orlando Resort, while they receive equal billing at Disney.
Univesal Resort does have an incredible water park, named Volcano Bay, which was opened fairly recently. It was actually conceived of by a former Disney imagineer, who came up for the idea of a volcano themed water park while working for Disney, but Disney didn’t build it. He went to work for Universal, and they did. It is quite a spectacular site as it is quite prominently visible from I4 (the major highway through the area) when you drive by it.
But do be aware that Walt Disney World has the two top water parks in the USA based on attendance; Typhoon Lagoon, and then Blizzard Beach (followed by Volcano Bay at Universal, and then Aquatica, run by SeaWorld). These are all spectacular water parks, and the theming at Typhoon Lagoon, Blizzard Beach and Volcano Bay are absolutely top notch. Volcano Bay, being so new, is getting all of the media attention right now, but Disney’s parks are really great as well, and if you love waterparks, are not to be missed!
Thank you! It’s nice to know somebody reads those things! Hah hah! So, with four full days available, you would have time to properly ‘do’ Universal Orlando resort, and that is it. The rest of Orlando to see and expore would have to wait for a return trip!
Exploring Orlando outside the theme parks is a great idea!
There are many things to see and do, and frankly, most visitors to ‘Orlando’ completely miss them. They visit Walt Disney World, and perhaps Universal or SeaWorld and never actually even enter the city of Orlando itself. It took our third or fourth trip before we ever did. And there are a number of interesting things in the larger area to see as well, just outside of the Orlando metropolitan area. These are all listed and explained in detail in our Online GuideBook and App.