We last visited Universal Orlando six years ago and it was one of the highlights of our holiday to Florida. I remember at the time, people asking me why we were taking young children to Universal as there wasn’t that much there for them to see and do. It turned out there was more than enough rides and experiences to keep families with younger children occupied from Dr Suess to Minions to classics such as ET, which I covered in this previous article.
When we were planning what to do in Orlando for this holiday, the theme parks that the girls really wanted to revisit were Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. As a tween (12) and a teen (15) they both were now at the perfect ages to experience everything that Universal Orlando has to offer for a family holiday to Florida😀 .
This is our review of our two days at Universal Orlando.
Universal Orlando consists of two theme parks Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, its Volcano Bay water park and the huge entertainment and dining complex called CityWalk.
We could have spent a week here and still not experienced everything and it’s going to get even bigger and better with the opening of their brand new theme park Epic Universe in 2025.
We started our Universal Orlando adventure at their original theme park, Universal Studios. From the iconic spinning Universal globe at the entrance to the huge arches that you walk under as you arrive our excitement levels were through the roof, we couldn’t wait to get inside the park and see what had changed since our last visit.
Universal Studios is split into 8 different sections, designed to resemble a studio lot, each with its own unique vibe and theme covering the world of film and television.
First up was the latest addition to Universal Studios, Minion Land and the brand new Illumination’s Villain-Con Minion Blast ride, where we grabbed our blasters in this unique interactive gaming experience and tried to outscore each other as we battled the villains featured in the Despicable Me movies from Vector to The Vicious 6.
This was unlike anything we’ve experienced before and was so much fun that we used our Express pass for another go, the kids loved it.
This new area of Universal Studios is so well themed, it’s like being in the actual cartoon with its bright coloured buildings and being able to meet your favourite characters at the Illumination Theatre. Next up was Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, a thrilling motion ride with Gru and all the characters from the movie.
I loved the new dining options here, we called into the minion themed bakery ‘Bake My Day’ which serves the most delicious cupcakes and treats. The Minion Café next door is also worth stopping by for lunch or drinks, you’ll be greeted by a grand statue of a Minion cooking fun cuisine right in the centre of the restaurant, the attention to detail in here was incredible from a fake water dispenser filled with realistic goldfish to a vending machine stocked with bananas.
The merchandise in the shops here was so tempting, the girls are big into their Loungefly bags at the moment and there were so many unique items here like Minion themed backpacks, but today was all about the rides.
Production central is also home to Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit which dominates the skyline but after a full breakfast in our tummies, we skipped that for Transformers: The Ride-3D.
I didn’t know what to expect from this as the girls were too young last time to ride it, but it was a really good interactive motion simulator, very similar to Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure at Epcot but for an older audience.
New York was one of my favourites, a studio lot built to look the streets of NYC and it’s such a clever recreation with areas such as central park, Gramercy Park and even subway stations you often forget that you are actually in a theme park.
There are also cafes, restaurants and shops to look through along with two attractions here, and we started with the Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon. The girls love his show on TV and we got to see a tribute to The Tonight Show‘s hosts and history and clips from the show, the only thing missing was the panda – the ride itself was a fun 3-D simulator ride where we challenge Jimmy to a ride around New York.
The kids were itching to get on their first coaster of the day, Revenge of the Mummy, we can’t recommend this enough – there were so many twists and turns and a surprise at the end – this was so much fun and one of our favourite rides at the park.
New York is also a great option for lunch, the huge pizza slices at Louie’s Italian Restaurant were incredible and it’s a great location to watch both the Blues Brother’s and Beat Builders shows which are nearby.
We were soon walking through the streets of San Francisco which like areas of New York have been expertly recreated here at Universal. There is so much to explore walking around the park, it’s incredible and had so much fun in-between the rides.
After stopping for some selfies with Jaws, (wish this ride could come back) we made our way into London to experience the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter consists of two separate themed lands – Diagon Alley (located in Universal Studios) and Hogsmeade (located at the Islands of Adventure) and to make the most of the full experience, you need a park to park ticket – more on that later.
It seemed strange seeing famous London landmarks such as Leicester Square and Kings Cross in central Florida and after having fun with the interactive shrunken head on the Knight Bus we found the hidden entrance into Diagon Alley.
It’s difficult to put into words just how impressive the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Diagon Alley is. Every detail is perfect and the atmosphere is buzzing here.
As we walked around the cobbled streets of Diagon Alley it really did feel like we were in the actual movies as you see the wizarding world’s best-known establishments come to life, everywhere we turned there was something new to see or interact with.
We bought treats at Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes and tried on robes in the magic mirror at Madam Malkin’s. At the heart of Diagon Alley is the huge dragon, which dominates the skyline above Gringotts Bank – the moment it spits fire out of his mouth is such as visually stunning spectacle, so don’t miss this.
We didn’t visit Ollivander’s as the girls brought their wands back with them from 6 years ago, but we did call in for a wand repair for Holly as her wand had lost its magic. I thought this was such as great service, replacing the wand and the girls were soon back having fun casting spells at the various locations shown on their map throughout Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade.
The highlight was Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts, a hybrid dark ride and roller coaster. This was our first time experiencing this and everything from the pre-ride experience walking through the bank and its vaults to the actual ride itself facing Bellatrix Lestrange and Lord Voldemort which was unbelievable and a definite favourite with the kids.
Other highlights not to miss here are Gringotts Money Exchange, where you can exchange dollars into Gringotts bank notes and exploring the dark creepy streets of Knockturn Alley.
World Expo and Springfield USA – Home of the Simpsons
We battled aliens with Will Smith in Men in Black Alien Attack before being transported into the cartoon world of the Simpsons riding on spaceships with Kang & Kodos’ Twirl ‘n’ Hurl ride!
That’s what we love about Universal Studios, the lands are so different and each offer a different experience. The Simpsons area was a favourite with Ian and Holly, which like the rest of the park has been so cleverly recreated, it cleverly brings the cartoon to life. We posed for selfies with Springfield residents and even got to try the iconic Flamin Moes drink at Moe’s Tavern.
Woody Woodpecker’s Kidzone is now closed off for a new Dreamworks area of the park that is being built, but the old favourite ET remains and is such as classic ride. We completed the loop of the park ending the day in Hollywood, home to the Bourne Stuntacular.
This show really is a hidden gem and we very nearly skipped it, we only came in to rest our legs and cool down from the heat in the air-conditioning. However, we are so glad that we walked through the doors, this is one of the best and most unique experiences that you’ll find at a theme park anywhere in the world and was a real wow moment.
Combining cutting edge technology, video and live actors it’s one of the most visually spectacular stunt shows based on the Jason Bourne movies, if anyone remembers the old Terminator 2: Battle Across Time ride then you’ll love this one.
Hogwarts Express – King’s Cross Station
Once we had finished with the rides and exploring the park, we headed back to catch the Hogwarts Express from Kings Cross Station to Hogsmeade Station in Islands of Adventure. This is only available if you have the two park ticket and it’s well worth doing the journey both ways as the experience is totally different.
The train leaves from a replica of Kings Cross station in London and once more Universal have created such an immersive experience, it’s here that you can also capture photos and videos of you walking through platform 9 and ¾.
After an action-packed day, we spent the evening in CityWalk where you’ll find some of the coolest restaurants anywhere in the world. VooDoo doughnuts is a must for a sweet treat but for something more substantial we had dinner at the World’s largest Hard Rock Café, which is designed to resemble a roman amphitheatre.
After checking out all of the rock memorabilia (this restaurant has the world’s largest collection) and some great Hard Rock nachos and fajitas we left to explore the rest of CityWalk.
The Universal Store in particular had so many gorgeous, themed items to buy – there was literally everything in here from the Simpsons to Harry Potter to Jaws. The girls couldn’t resist the Thing 1 and Thing 2 t-shirts ready for day 2 of Universal Orlando at the Islands of Adventure park. More of that in the next post here…
Ready to book?
From the UK, the best value tickets for Universal Orlando’s can be purchased in advance at Attractiontickets.com or FloridaTix – these include unlimited 14 day access to the Universal Studios, Universal Islands of Adventure and Volcano Bay Water Parks.
For more information on Universal Orlando, its mobile app, parks and hotels – I highly recommend visiting the official Universal Orlando website.