January 2012: Universal had a name problem for a while. The movie production place in Hollywood, Universal Studios, opened its doors one day to tourists, and the name stayed. In Orlando, the company simply used the same moniker and stuck “Orlando” behind it. Then it grew. Suddenly, “Universal Studios Orlando” was both a park and a resort. The resort had two parks, a downtown entertainment district, and three hotels (also called “resorts”). To avoid confusion (it doesn’t), the entire complex is now “Universal Orlando Resort,” and the theme park is called “Universal Studios Orlando.” Universal’s second theme park, Islands of Adventure, stayed out of the name fray altogether.
Why go to Universal Studios?
• Style. Some people find Disney saccharine and Universal is PG. For evil, Disney relies on its trademarked villains but, untethered by a public that is shocked – shocked – when an attraction is anything less than G-rated fun, Universal offers villains from bawdier movies that kids many times can’t even see – the Mummy, for example, and bizarre aliens from Men in Black. The shows include mild sexual innuendos that are gray enough for kids to miss while adults stifle a laugh. Some of the park’s special events, such as Halloween Horror Nights and Mardi Gras, flirt with an R-rating.
• Rides. In general, Universal has fewer rides, but the ones it has are blockbusters. Disney throws in a smattering of dressed-up carnival rides, like Dumbo and the carousel. At Universal, an hour-long line comes with a top-rated attraction at the end. Few are high-class versions of something you’d find at a carnival.
• Themes. The attractions at Universal (or Islands of Adventure) do not duplicate anything at Disney. You don’t find Curious George, Men In Black, or earthquakes anywhere close to Mickey Mouse.
• Nickelodeon. Kids in the cartoon ages love Disney and Nicktoons. If one of the characters on Nickelodeon is a child’s personal favorite, it’s found only here.
• Taste. Some people simply don’t like Disney much and they love Universal.
Universal Studios has an easy-to-follow layout. Essentially, it’s a circle. Guests enter at one end and circle all rides and attractions by going straight ahead or turning right once inside the gate. The straight-ahead portion is about one block long and one block wide, which requires a bit of backtracking while touring that part; but otherwise, a single walkway connects everything.
The park is semi-themed, meaning it has distinctively different areas. However, no area has a distinct personality like the lands found inside Disney’s Magic Kingdom. In some cases, it’s difficult to look at the park map, see a themed area’s name, and know what it even means –“Production Central,” for example. The New York section is presented as a movie set, so it doesn’t feel quite real; and the San Francisco area is too small to be any particular city.
Assuming you head straight once inside and circle the park clockwise, you’ll encounter the following attractions. To make comparisons easy, they’re labeled “A” through “E” with “E” being best, using the old Disney ticket system. Since Disney no longer offers “A” through “E” tickets and Universal never did, the ratings here are subjective. Disagree if you wish. In general, however, an E ticket ride was expensive to produce, offers some kind of special effect, and has a high “wow” factor. Don’t think of the rating as a review, however. You may not enjoy a ride even if it’s an “E” attraction.
D: Despicable Me (motion simulator)
D: Shrek 4-D
E: Hollywood Rip, Ride, Rockit (coaster)
E: Twister … Ride it Out (a show rather than a ride)
B: The Blues Brothers (show)
E: Revenge of the Mummy The Ride (a coaster and more)
C: Beetlejuice’s Graveyard Review (show)
E: Disaster (moderate movement)
C: Fear Factor Live (show)
E: Men in Black Alien Attack
E: The Simpsons Ride
C: Animal Actors on Location (show)
E: E.T. Adventure
B: Fievel’s Playland
C: Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster
C: A Day in the Park with Barney (show)
C: Curious George Goes to Town (water playground)
C: Universal Horror Makeup Show
E: Terminator 2: 3-D
A: Lucy – A Tribute