Universal Orlando is a huge resort split into two theme parks, promising endless entertainment for families and visitors of all ages. Here you can visit Universal Studios Florida, dedicated to the magic of the movies, and head to the exploration-themed Islands of Adventure to discover a wealth of fictional worlds for yourself.
Universal Orlando is a relatively young theme park resort, having opened in 1990 by NBCUniversal. Originally, it was just Universal Studios Florida – its sister park Islands of Adventure didn’t open until nine years later. In the same year, Universal Orlando also expanded Universal Studios Florida to include the Universal CityWalk Orlando, an incredible night-time complex promising plenty of dining options and entertainment throughout the evening.
Over the years the park has also seen smaller additions and amendments, such as the inclusion of luxury hotel resorts and transport systems between the parks. More recently, in 2010 a new “Island” opened at Islands of Adventure – the famous Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Attractions like the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and the E.T. Adventure ride are firm favourites at Universal Orlando – but what about those attractions that aren’t as well-known? Here we’ve taken a look at some of the more underrated rides and shows you can see during your visit – so ditch the guidebook and start exploring!
This fascinating look into the special effects of the movies is often overlooked by families who want to avoid the “horror” aspect of the exhibition. However, the staff are great at making the show funny, rather than scary, and you’ll get a chance to see demonstrations of the most famous special effects in the movies. Keep your eyes peeled while queuing, too, as you’ll spot plenty of movie props while you wait!
More special effects take centre stage here in a fantastic movie-making attraction that’ll have you crying with laughter. The first highlight will reveal itself when Christopher Walken materialises in front of you – Disaster!… uses a technology called Musion to give a jaw-dropping 3D holographic effect. The second comes with a little audience participation, as you’ll be invited to act out a few movie scenes to the delight of the audience. Your scenes will then be spliced into an action movie trailer featuring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as a park ranger in the ecological disaster thriller “Mutha Nature”!
Over at Walt Disney World, the line for The Magic Carpets of Aladdin is always full to bursting point. For some reason Kang & Kodos’ Twirl ‘n’ Hurl doesn’t get the same reception, despite essentially being the same experience – a super-fast spinner that’ll get kids and adults wobbling their way back round for another turn. Even the queue has some funny touches hidden within – but you may not be queuing long enough to catch them all!
We’re fans of Poseidon’s Fury because, frankly, it’s gorgeous. The outer facade is stunningly elaborate and beautifully realised, with statues and water features rising out of the rubble of this Greek ruin. Inside is a great walkthrough attraction dedicated to Greek mythology, including a battle of water and fire (and lasers) between Poseidon himself and his nemesis Lord Darkenon. Truly awesome.
CityWalk at Universal Orlando is full of enough famous names and chains to keep you busy night after night – Hard Rock Cafe, NBA City and the Jon Lovitz Comedy Club are all here – but it’s the small Jamaican restaurant themed around singer and icon Bob Marley that promises a dining experience unlike any other in the Universal Orlando complex. As well as authentic Jamaican food, you’ll also find a true replica of Bob Marley’s home, including photos and artifacts documenting his incredible life and career.
There are four on-site hotel resorts at Universal Orlando, all owned and managed by luxury hospitality group Loews. They all have their advantages, so it’s worth doing some research and deciding which suits you best – we’re big fans of the Hard Rock Hotel Orlando, which features a white sand beach and countless items of rock n’roll memorabilia to make sure there’s always a photo-op in sight.
All of the hotels feature free transport to the theme parks, either by bus or ferry over the lakes. The Universal Orlando hotel keys also double as an Express Pass – so if you want to skip the queues, this option is for you!
As you may have guessed, Walt Disney World is just a half-hour drive away – but if the thought of another theme park doesn’t grab you, you could always escape the crowds and take a day out in the Greater Orlando countryside instead. The area has some of the region’s largest lakes and a wealth of beautiful footpaths, particularly through the Shadow Bay Park, home to a number of endangered plants and animals.