In the past, Universal Orlando had a hard time competing with Disney’s king of all mice, but that’s been changing. Universal has really pushed the boundaries of theme park rides, especially with their new Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It brings a whole new level to the theme park experience.
If Universal Orlando is one of the destinations you’re considering this summer (or anytime in the future), here are 12 rides you won’t want to miss, at either Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure.
12. Incredible Hulk Coaster (Thrill Level 9) The last time I visited Islands of Adventure, the Incredible Hulk Coaster was, unfortunately, undergoing redesign. However, I’ve stepped into Dr. Bruce Banner’s shoes once before and really enjoyed it, and I know the revamp will make it even better. The hulkier Hulk will re-open in late summer 2016.
11. Revenge of the Mummy (Thrill Level 8) Enter the world of the mummy on this fun-filled roller coaster, where you hope to escape his grasp as you plunge into total darkness and dodge actual bursting flames, all while fighting off his mummy army. As the ride comes to a stop and you think you’ve made it through alive—well, let’s just leave it at that. This ride also features Brendan Fraser who receives help from an unwelcome guest.
10. Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit (Thrill Level 10) Towering 17 stories and reaching speeds of 65mph, you will be rock’n to the song that you pick in this massive exhilaration of a ride. It also features the world’s first non-inverting loop. Parents, if roller coasters aren’t your thing, you might want to leave this one for your teens, who will have a blast riding it.
9. Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls (Thrill Level 7) If you don’t mind getting wet–let me rephrase that–if you don’t mind getting completely soaked, then this ride is not to be missed. Right from the start you will be entering an indoor world of twisting and turning as you help Dudley and his faithful horse, Horse, save the day by rescuing the fair Nell from Snidely Whiplash. However, Whiplash has a few tricks (or splashes) up his sleeve. He’ll send you down a steep vertical drop that will make you wish you had at least removed your socks before going climbing on board. On a super hot day, though, this ride will for cool you off for hours afterwords.
8. The Simpsons Ride (Thrill Level 3) This ride replaced the once famous Back to the Future Ride, which was introduced in 1992. Definitely an upgrade from its predecessor, this one has a bit more action along with more flying, floating, and falling, as you get thrown around in Krustyland’s kiddie attractions with Homer and the family. It is sad to see such an iconic ride being replaced, but some of its technology had become outdated.
7. E.T. Adventure (Thrill Level 2) You can’t have a list without this classic ride from one of the most successful movies of all time, and it’s the last remaining ride from when the park first opened back in 1990. Even though E.T. Adventure is slower paced and designed more with kids in mind, it’s nice to enjoy a more relaxing ride every now and then, and this case, enjoy that friendly extraterrestrial and famous accompanying music. At the end of the ride, pay extra attention to what E.T. says.
6. Dragon Challenge (Thrill Level 10) If you love big thrills, than this one is just for you. With a top speed of 60mph and 5 inversions along with a twisting and looping track, you won’t be disappointed in what this ride offers. Choose from two coasters—the Chinese Fireball and the Hungarian Horntail; for a faster ride, the former is more intense.
5. Transformers: The Ride (Thrill Level 4) This ride’s design is very similar to Spider-Man. Follow Optimus Prime and Bumblebee on a mission as they protect you from Megatron and other Deceptions. You ride inside Evac, an Autobot car, through tunnels, streets, and even the air and take in full explosions, water, spins, and thrills. Without any drops, this ride is one the whole family can enjoy.
4. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (Thrill Level 6) Want to know what it is like to fly on a broomstick? This 3D thrill ride will take you on one wild adventure as you fly though the world of Harry Potter. Not as intense as Escape from Gringotts, it’s still just as groundbreaking. But if the big spider scene in “Chamber of Secrets” was too much for you, then you might want to close your eyes when you enter Aragog’s lair. One bonus: while waiting in line you get to experience the entire Hogwarts castle as Harry, Ron, and Hermione, guide you around, and you’re treated to interactive paintings that will make you truly believe you are at Hogwarts.
3. Jurassic Park River Adventure (Thrill Level 7) This classic ride will always be a favorite. Starting out as a nice relaxing boat ride into the jungle while meeting some of your favorite herbivore dinosaurs, suddenly you take a wrong turn and meet your not-so-favorite (unless you’re a teen) long- and sharp-toothed, fleet of foot mega-monsters. Sit in the middle and you won’t get you too wet. But for those who wish to get the full experience, sitting in the front row should satisfy your adventurous side.
2. Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man (Thrill Level 4) If you only have time for one 3D ride, then this one would be the top pick. Follow Spidey as he swings into action, battling villains and protecting you from Green Goblin’s bursting fire balls and from crashing down onto the streets of New York. With all-new digitally enhanced animation and audio from when this attraction first debuted, it is definitely one of the best attractions at Islands of Adventure. Without any big drops or loops, this one is good for the whole family.
1. Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts (Thrill Level 7) If you find many of the 3D-theme park rides to feel kind of similar lately, this one raises the bar (or wand in this case) to an entirely new level. What is this ride exactly? Well, the answer depends on who you are speaking with, because with so much to experience, it’s easy to miss things. Fight alongside Ron, Harry, Hermione, as you battle Voldemort and his gang in escaping Gringott’s maze in this part rollercoaster, part 3D ride, and part interactive movie adventure. With groundbreaking special effects and 3D digital screens, you’ll think the action and acting is literally happening right in front of you. This ride is guaranteed to be unlike anything experienced anywhere else. It does have medium-size drops and spins with quick sudden stops and fast turns, so parents, as much as your children love Harry Potter, it could be a little too much for them.
Honorable mention: Skull Island: Reign of Kong Unfortunately, I was just a couple weeks shy of seeing this ride when I was at Islands of Adventure. It is now open, but I still am not quite sure what kind of ride it is. But from the outside, it looks like it will be incredible. It also holds up to 72 passengers at one time.
Should I Buy an Express Pass?
The answer to this question depends on a lot of factors. First, if you plan to be stay two days or more, then you probably don’t need to get one. Or, if you will be staying at any of Universal’s resorts, some already include the express pass. One other factor to think about is that a lot of rides have a “single rider” line, which can be shorter than the express line, in some cases. The only downside is that you won’t be riding with the people in your group. Staff will fill you in randomly, wherever they need a single rider.
Some rides like the Harry Potter, the Forbidden Journey, and Escape from Gringotts don’t allow the express pass so you will have to wait in line for these anyway. However, these do have a single rider line.
On another note, parents, if you are not as keen on riding some of the roller coasters and other intense rides, you may only need to buy the express pass for your children, in which case, you’ll be asking them why they don’t have the same energy and enthusiasm when they’re getting ready for school.
Can I Do Both Parks in One Day?
It is nearly impossible to do both parks in one day if you want to experience everything the parks have to offer. You could easily spend a half day just at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. However, if you only want to experience the main attractions and few other shows or events, you could cover a lot of ground with the express pass. But I recommend one day at each park. One exception: if you attend in the off season, you may be able to cover the parks in one day (yet you still may not be able to cover everything.)
Which is Better: Island of Adventure of Universal Studios?
This question is really all about your opinion. Both parks provide an equal amount of fun and excitement, so I recommend both. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is in both theme parks, but the Hogwarts Castle is only in the Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios has the Dragon Alley. One bonus is that if you have a pass to both, you can ride the Hogwarts Express to each area, which I highly recommend.
When is the Best Time to Go?
The summer months are going to be the busiest times, but for some people that is part of the experience. The absolute best time would be when school is just starting in the fall or before it is ending in the late spring, after spring break. For most families these times are just not possible, so having the express pass might be a good decision in this case.
Certain Universal resorts offer an early pass, which allows you to attend the Wizarding World of Harry Potter an hour before it is open to everyone else.
For a full, 12-month calendar, explaining the slowest and busiest times, visit Orlando Informer.com