Trip Report, Universal Feb 5 through 9


#1

Just returned from our trip to Universal Studios Orlando/Islands of Adventure, Monday Feb. 5 through Feb. 9.

Day 1 - Monday, Feb. 5: We (myself, my wife, son - 15, daughter - 14, and son - 8) decided to treat day one as “Harry Potter day”. We arrived at the park at 9:00 am and headed straight back to Diagon Alley, since that was the primary reason we chose to do Universal rather than Disney this year. The attention to detail was incredible, and you really did feel like you walked straight into the pages of Harry Potter. I can honestly say that as far as the Harry Potter portion, Universal has outshone Disney. We went immediately do Gringott’s Bank with about a 10 minute wait. This includes the “built in” wait time that comes with how they stage the line, otherwise it might really have been only 5 minutes.

We did learn, after the fact, that while they say NO LOOSE ARTICLES, the truth is they really only mean no bags. Phones, etc., are fine as long as they are secure in a pocket, so we didn’t actually need to use the free lockers that first time.

We checked out the shops and did the Olivander’s experience, which was worth seeing once since the wait was only a few minutes. I wouldn’t wait for the little show, however, if the wait was more than 10-15 minutes. They didn’t even pick a child for the wand in our group, despite there being several.

We then took the train to Hogsmeade. The train experience is well done, but only available to park-to-park guests. Each direction is a different experience, so definitely try to do both, as we did. By this time, it was nearing lunch time (about 11:30) and the crowds had picked up considerably. I’ve grown to despise people with their cell phones in hand since their need to capture selfies and such invariably blocks passage for the rest of us. I understand the desire to take photos, but it was enraging at times.

We ate at The Three Broomsticks, which was decent, not great, then headed to Forbidden Journey and then the Flight of the Hippogriff. For a family of 5, The Three Broomsticks ended up costing us about $66, which was $4 under our lunch budget. More shopping, and crowds continued to grow uncomfortably. By about 2:00 the streets were packed. We ended up deciding to get our Butterbeer snack of the day. Everyone got a frozen Butterbeer except me. I got Butterbeer fudge. All told, snacks ran about $40, which is, frankly, ridiculous! Fortunately, we had budgeted for it, but I’m not really sure it is good enough to justify the price. As a result, we all skipped Butterbeer for the rest of the trip except for my daughter, who got it on the last day. The fudge was a disappointment. I wouldn’t get it again.

We headed back to Diagon Alley via the train and did Gringott’s once more before deciding we’d had enough for the day. By 3:00 pm we were headed back to our condo.

Day 2 - Tuesday, Feb. 6: We dedicated day two to Islands of Adventure. Crowds were down from the first day all day long (partly because of the day, and partly because we avoided Harry Potter entirely). As a result, almost all the lines were 5 minutes or less with the exception of The Hulk, which was more like 15 - 20 minutes by the time we got there.

My older son and I headed immediately to Kong, which was an incredible ride experience. Not really great for the younger crowd, but aside from the roller coasters (which I love), I’d say Kong was my favorite ride of both parks. It was almost a walk on since we went there first. Later in the day, the wait times grew as long as 60 minutes, which is why we went there first. Meantime, my wife, younger son and daughter headed over to Seuss Land and did some of the rides. We all met back up in Marvel Super Hero land to do Spider-Man, Hulk, Dr. Doom’s Fearfall, and the Stormforce ride (which was too spinney for me to even attempt – think Disney’s tea cups). Lines were still quite short. At this point, we’d done most of the park and it wasn’t even lunch time.

We ate lunch at Captain America’s Diner. Based on on-line advice, I ordered three kid’s meals and two adult meals. This saved a lot of money, since the burgers were exactly the same size (just without the lettuce, etc). All said, we spent about $44 for lunch. On Thursday, I saved even more by just ordering 4 kids meals and one adult meal. The burgers were mediocre, but the fries were good. Mostly, this food choice was about saving money!

After lunch, we repeated a few things (Hulk, some Seuss rides) and did some shopping. Again, we left by 3:00, since we’d gotten through everything we wanted to do and crowds were getting busier. The exception was the Pteradon Flyers. The line was always huge for that, so we skipped it. Jurassic Park itself was closed due to ride refurbishment. We had snacks later that evening at Disney Springs (Mickey Mouse Ears and Wetzel’s Pretzels!).

Day 3 - Wednesday, Feb. 7: Universal Studios! This was by far our favorite day of the trip. Lines were even shorter, and there is more to do. Since Despicable Me lines always grow long, we hit there first with about a 10 minute way, and then did Rip Ride Rocket twice (less than a 5 minutes wait). If you don’t know about the secret code, press and hold the Rip Ride Rocket logo for about 10 seconds then let go. There is a keypad that comes up. Enter 901 and press enter. Trust me. Way better than the musical choices they offer by default. (902 is nice as well, but 901 is better.)

One by one, we hit Transformers (a disappointing flurry of action with no real point), Revenge of the Mummy (my 8-year-old’s favorite ride of the trip), Men in Black (which is a lot of fun), Simpson’s (one of the better 4-D rides, even if you don’t like the Simpsons), Twirl and Hurl, E.T. (which seems quite dated now…and an attempt to be very Disney-ish it seems), the Woody Woodpecker coaster, and finally Shrek. In there we did lunch at Luigi’s (I think that’s the name) and got a pizza for the entire family for $34. Cha-ching! Cheapest meal of the week, and quite good actually. We got snacks at various stands. Frozen Lemonade, Frozen Coconut Icee, Pretzels, and me? Ben and Jerry’s.

Day 4 - Thursday, Feb. 9: This day was our highlights from both parks day. We started at Islands of Adventure, did some shopping, hit Kong, Hulk, and Dr. Doom again right away. But park crowds were way worse, and the weather had turned very humid. There were several huge groups of people with 50+ people in each group, so we were kind of racing to stay ahead of them to keep the lines shorter. Didn’t help much, though. Lines were more like 20+ minutes for most things as the day progressed. Anyhow, we did Forbidden Journey again and had lunch at Captain American again, this time spending under $40.

Headed over to Universal Studios for another go on Gringott’s and The Mummy, We were more worn out and lines were long, so we left around 3:40, headed to the condo then back to Disney Springs for some more shopping and snacks.

While it was overall a good time, we found we just prefer Disney and look forward to our next Disney trip. Unless there is some amazing transformation at Universal Orlando, it is unlikely we’ll be back. It is worth doing once. This was actually our second trip to Universal, but only because of the addition of Diagon Alley. I’m not sure it was worth it, though. In hindsight, we’re just Disney people at heart, I guess!


Touring Plan for park to park
First time at Universal. Tips?
#2

Thanks for you report. We go to Universal once a year, but only as an add on to our longer Disney trip. I could skip it, but my teens won’t let us! I am just a Disney person too, although I enjoy Universal.


#3

Thanks for the report! Glad you at least gave it a go. I like Disney, but the rest of my family would be content if we just did Universal from now on.


#4

You know, I don’t think I could call myself a “Disney” or “Universal” person. Disney is special and magical because, well, it’s Disney and it’s classic. But I am a HUGE Harry Potter fan, and the Harry Potter areas in Universal far surpass anything Disney has in the way of theming and detail. I love them both for different reasons.


#5

I suppose it is fair to say we did enjoy Universal. But since we are from Michigan, and we only take a trip down to Florida about once every 2-3 years, given the choice, Disney always wins. We decided to give Universal a go this time around again due to Diagon Alley. I was glad we did. But after we were done, we were just done. There really isn’t a whole lot to do. We’re used to amusement parks with 50, 60, 70 rides in them, etc. Cedar Point, King’s Island, Six Flags, Hershey Park, etc. When we want rides, that’s what we do. When we want a vacation, we want Disney…usually going for 6 days. Since we always go during the lightest crowd times (we’ve done September, October, and now Feb.) lines are rarely an issue, but we still end up filling our days at Disney. With Universal, we did four days and found that we were done halfway through the day each day. The fourth day wasn’t even necessary.

So, yeah. We’re definitely Disney people. And Universal is nice. But we’re looking forward go our next vacation in about 3 years…in Disney!


#6

Last year I visited WDW and UOR for the first time. In a nine day trip, I went to UOR three times, not all full days.

I thought the rides were typically much better at UOR — my personal favourite was Super-Man, with Kong a very close second. On one day we did Super-Man and FOP at Disney to see which won the Best Ride in Orlando Award. I thought it was going to be Spider-Man, but it ended up being FOP.

I was disappointed with the Harry Potter rides, but I was impressed by the theming of the two areas, though I didn’t really give them enough time and attention.

I’m going back this year — again to both resorts. I really do like the rides at UOR and want to do them again.

Overall, I’d say WDW and UOR are very different experiences.


#7

I’ve been noodling on why it is we like Disney more than Universal. The rides are completely different, for the most part. Rip Ride Rocket, for example, is just a great coaster. But the truth is, you have rides like Expedition Everest at Disney.

Then I realized that it comes down to family. At Universal, we just found we kept having to spit up the family to do things. While there are things we can do together, the truth was many of the rides my 8-year-old COULD do he just wasn’t crazy about, and the rides he wanted to do, such as Rip Ride Rocket, he wasn’t allowed to do. As a result, we spent more of our time splitting into groups to do things.

At Disney, this is almost NEVER the case. Disney has practically perfected the art of making rides that the whole family can do together. Expedition Everest, for example…I consider it a world-class coaster experience (and I am a coaster maniac, riding well over a 100 coasters, many the biggest/best in the world). Yet, they designed it such that my son, who was six at the time, could ride it with us. We were at Disney two years ago with a 6, 12, 13, and 17 year old. We actually said we could split up so that the older kids could go off and ride whatever they wanted. In the 6 days we were there, they only chose to do it once, and that was only because we, the parents, were worn out and decided to sit out the final rides of the evening. Instead, they preferred actually being with us and doing everything together. They loved riding the rides alongside their 6-year-old brother.

I think there was only one ride that I recall that my son couldn’t ride…that was The Rockin’ Roller Coaster. Everything else we did together.

So, I think that is the MAIN reason we prefer Disney to Universal. The second is that there is just a lot more to do at Disney.

Oh, and in a showdown between Butterbeer and Mickey Mouse Ear Ice Cream Sandwiches…the Mickey Ears win every time! :slight_smile:


#8

I’m from the UK and there are two pretty good theme parks within a two hour or so drive from my house (Alton Towers and Blackpool Pleasure Beach). They both have some great rollercoasters. What neither has is anything like FOP or Spider-Man. These were totally new in concept to me and I just thought they were incredible experiences.

So roller coasters aren’t a huge priority for me because I can get them back home. In fact — dare I say it? — nothing I rode on my last trip to WDW/UOR beat my favourite UK rollercoasters.

But that may be because I bottled RRR at UOR. I’d read some bad reviews of it and decided to skip it. I am going to give it a try this summer, though. I did ride Hulk but I don’t remember it, weirdly. So I’m doing that again.

As for EE, I don’t remember thinking it was all that great to be honest. But my memories are dominated by FOP, Spider-Man and Kong.

(If this means anything to anyone, for reference in the UK my favourites are Oblivion and Rita at Alton Towers — both are short, but an incredible rush — and the Big One at BPB: which is long and tall and definitely world-class.)


#9

Oh, I agree with you, profmatt, on the comparison of ride types. Neither Disney nor Universal are really meant to be coaster destinations. Cedar Point’s Millennium Force, Six Flags’ Goliath, King’s Island’s Diamondback and Beast, etc…nothing from the Orlando parks can hold a candle to those in terms of coasters. But the ride experiences are so different, which is why we find ourselves down in Florida every 2-3 years. (I do think, however, that Rip Ride Rocket and Expedition Everest are both world-class coasters…but not as high up as many others at amusement parks elsewhere.)

I wasn’t really blown away with Spider-Man, but it was enjoyable. To me it is a one-and-done ride. Terminator was just frenetic overload. Not really enjoyable. Kong was something I did twice, though. Possibly my favorite ride experience at Universal. I’m looking forward to doing FOP at Disney.

Oblivion at AT is similar to Valravn at Cedar Point. Rita is kind of like Maverick (and others elsewhere). The Big One is like Magnum at Cedar Point (same manufacturer and such). So while I haven’t ridden those, I’ve been on similar rides here in the U.S.


#10

I think my obsession with Spider-Man arises from the fact it was my first ride at UOR. I’d never been on anything like it before. I even wondered whether it was better than FOP. (A few days later I rode both on the same day and decided FOP was the winner.)

The first time I rode Kong I sat at the end of a row. I thought it was good, but not amazing. But the second time I was in the middle of a row and that’s when I got the full effect. Now I’m not sure if it’s even better than Spider-Man.

What makes Disney special/unique to me is the atmosphere — there’s a strong emotional factor at play — and, actually, the food. I almost never eat out at home because I have a dog and I won’t leave him alone in the house. So it’s a treat to eat in a restaurant. Let alone one or two a day, as I do at WDW. The food isn’t all first rate, but the architecture and setting make up for that.


#11

Oh, so you’re just insane. Got it! LOL!


#12

Those are fighting words, to be sure!

I think a better comparison is LeFou’s Brew and Butterbeer. Though I like LeFou’s quite a lot (and make it a point to get when I’m at WDW), it isn’t in the same world as Butterbeer.

And the Mickey Mouse ICS compared to Florean Fortescue’s? MM is certainly more iconic, but FF’s is better.

Of course, YMMV…


#13

Since we’re discussing it…

I found the Butterbeer to be good, but not at all great. The frozen stuff, for example, kind of has a waterered down flavor. The best part is the “foam”, but they won’t give you more of that, even if you ask. (Which suggests to me they need to offer JUST the foam as a treat!) Of course, as fans of the Harry Potter books, who couldn’t help but need to sample the Butterbeer?

My past experience encouraged me to try, instead, the Butterbeer fudge. That was even more of a disappointment. I mean, it was fine, but lackluster in terms of flavor. I’d call it bland, in fact. Since my wife couldn’t finish her Butterbeer, I did have some of that as well just to make sure I’d remembered correctly. Yep. It was “meh” at best.

While there are other treats that are better than Mickey Mouse Ice Cream Sandwiches, they are also iconic in the same way Butterbeer is, but far more refreshing and flavorful. Aside from my daughter (who got Butterbeer twice on the trip) the rest of us got it once, then each subsequent day picked a different treat…some of us picking the Mickey ICS at Disney Springs TWICE. :slight_smile:

But my sanity has been questioned before.


#14

Honestly, I don’t know that I could compare them anyway. I just love both the frozen and the hot butterbeer. :wink:


#15

I have never had the butterbeer fudge, and honestly, it sounds completely gross to me! I am also not a huge fan of the regular butterbeer. My heart goes out to the frozen and the hot.


#16

That’s a straight forward trip report and an honest assessment of your experience. Thanks!


#17

I usually don’t read trip reports, but I did this one because it sounded very similar to our upcoming plan of spending one day seeing all that Harry Potter has to offer in both parks. Well done!


#18

Glad it was useful.