If you’re looking at visiting Florida, then you’re certainly not alone. With over 1 million Brits heading to the Sunshine State every year, you can be sure that there’s plenty going on and always something to explore.
Where do you even start? With stunning beaches just for starters, there are then the likes of Disney World and the Kennedy Space Centre to keep you entertained. However, for me, there is one place that tops all of these. When visiting Florida, Universal is the place to be.
Okay, you may have started planning your US holidays with something else in mind but, trust me, you’d be missing out if you failed to even consider this as your location. If you want to know what makes Universal quite so great, and why its head and shoulders above any other theme park in Florida, then keep reading.
Universal offers 3 parks and plenty of choice
Just one of the great things about Universal is that there is so much going on. You’re not just limited to what you may class as the main park: there’s plenty going on elsewhere too. You’ll find that there are 2 parks in Orlando as well as a stunning water park to explore. Never heard of these parks? Well, this is what Universal has to offer:
- Universal Studios
- Islands of Adventure
- Volcano Bay
So a name doesn’t give much away, so let’s take a look at each of these in turn so that you get to know a little more about them (and what makes them all quite so awesome):
When thinking about a visit to Universal, this is perhaps the first park that springs to mind. Universal Studios has long been seen as one of the biggest attractions in Florida and draws a massive crowd each and every year. In fact, in 2019, pre-pandemic, over 10 million visitors came to this park and lapped up the amazing entertainment.
So, what’s Universal Studios all about? Well, this is the park where the stunning rides, amazing shows, and epic attractions all mingle with a real-life working TV studio. This is a place where blockbusters are made and you can find yourself getting in on all of the action.
For me, that’s what makes Universal Studios a must-visit park. Where else can you find yourself being bang in the middle of a TV and film production studio? It’s while in production central that you’ll witness the meeting of Orlando and Hollywood and over at New York street, you’ll find that famous backdrops have been recreated for you to explore.
On top of all of this, you can enjoy the Blues Brothers Show and the Cinematic Celebration. Of course, if rides are your things, and visiting a park they probably are, these are just some of my favourites that you’ll find in Universal Studios:
- Fast and Furious
- Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem
- Hogwarts Express
- Revenge of the Mummy
- The Simpsons ride
There are new rides being added regularly (I’ll be taking a look at some of these soon), so there’s always something different for those who choose to visit again in the future.
Islands of Adventure
The second Universal park to explore is called Islands of Adventure. This park is certainly different to Universal Studios and to make the very most out of your holiday, you need to be making sure that you’re visiting both.
Islands of Adventure are all about legendary worlds. You get to travel through these and experience incredible heroes as you become part of some of the most powerful stories that have ever been told. With myth and legends, and stunning rides and attractions, this park is one that will keep you entertained for as long as you want to stay.
This park is nothing short of amazing. You’re given the opportunity to wander around the real Jurassic Park and take a look at the place where the dinosaurs were brought back to live alongside us. If that’s not enough, there is then all of the magic of Hogwarts to take in. When you the n consider that we’ve not even touched on Spiderman, The Incredible Hulk, or the Cat in the Hat, you soon start to realise that this is a truly amazing park.
Choosing favourite rides is never easy. For one, there are simply so many to choose from, but the other issue is that we have different tastes. All I can say is what I enjoyed and for me the highlights were:
- Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
- The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man
- Jurassic Park River Adventure
- The Incredible Hulk Coaster
Again, this park has new additions and these are something that I’ll touch on shortly. Needless to say, I’m a massive fan of everything that Islands of Adventure has to offer.
This is Universal’s stunning water park and it’s literally within walking distance of the two parks that we’ve already looked at. I’m going to struggle here because Volcano Bay has so much going on that it’s going to be really hard to do it justice in just this section.
The previous water park was known as Wet ’n Wild and it was in 2017 that Volcano Bay was ushered in as its replacement. The big thing here is that the former water park hadn’t been built by Universal. Volcano Bay was purpose-built and has everything that Universal wanted it to.
What’s offered here is the perfect balance of relaxation and thrill-seeking. No matter what you’re wanting to get out of an experience, you can be sure that Volcano Bay will measure up.
The centrepiece of the park is the 200 feet tall Krakatau volcano. Day sees this streaming waterfalls while night leads to fiery lava effects being seen. If you enter the volcano itself, you’ll find a whole host of waterslides, some of which really do need ups to be more than just slightly brave to try out.
As you explore you’ll find great experiences to try out such as:
- The Aqua Costa
- Ko’okiri Body Plunge
- Raft Rides
- TeAwa The Fearless River
While the Rainforest village offers all that you could ever want in terms of both excitement and relaxation, the River Village caters for everyone, including any youngsters that you may have with you. A real modern touch here is that all visitors receive a TapuTapu when they arrive. This is worn on your wrist and used to get the most from attractions, take advantage of interactive sunrises, and make cash-free payments.
Always a new experience
Something that I mentioned a little earlier, is that Universal likes to keep things fresh. While it already boasts the best rides and experiences that can be found in Florida, it doesn’t just rest on its laurels. Instead, it keeps creating and continues to give its guests more and more to choose from. So, what are some of the best new editions? Let’s take a look:
Jurassic World VelociCoaster
Universal has already created some simply stunning experiences and rides when it comes to Jurassic Park. While it may have been easy to think that this couldn’t be taken further, along comes VelociCoaster and a whole new experience is born.
This new ride is about speed and fear! As you travel at speed through the jungle you’ll find yourself rising higher and higher above the terrain. It’s then that you experience the rush that’s created by travelling through the Velociraptor paddock and racing side by side with these terrifying predators.
Hagrid’s Magical Motorbike Adventure
This new addition to Islands of Adventure is truly breathtaking. Yes, there are already a number of Harry Potter experiences to enjoy, but trust me when I say that this is perhaps one of the best and is a great addition.
This is a thrilling rollercoaster ride where you fly deep into the Forbidden Forrest. You venture beyond the boundaries of Hogwarts Castle before being plunged into the path of the rarest creatures that the world has ever seen. This immersive rollercoaster experience is like nothing else that I’ve ever tried and I can’t rate this highly enough.
The Bourne Stuntacular
Not a ride, but a truly stunning show that leaves every audience member in awe. This is a stunt show like no other and you get to watch as Jason Bourne is pursued across three continents by enemies who can teach us all a thing or two about being sinister.
You may well have experienced stunt shows before but, honestly, this is like no other. You really do need to keep track of the number of times that you ask yourself “How is that even possible?”.
Perhaps the most exciting news at Universal right now centres around the plans for a fourth theme park. This was announced back in 2019 but then along came Covid-19 and scuppered all of the ongoing work. As things stand right now, the plan is to open this park in 2025 and I have no doubt that it’ll be worth the wait.
No more queuing thanks to Express Passes
I don’t know if you’re anything like me, but the biggest turn-off at any kind of theme park has to be the queuing. Fortunately, Universal has catered for people just like me by coming up with a great solution – Express Passes. There are three of these to choose from, and this is what they have to offer:
- Universal Express – Costing $79.99 this pass allows you to jump the queues at both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. It can only be used at rides that are signed up to accept the pass and you can only jump each queue once
- Universal Express Unlimited – With a price tag of $109.99, this offers the same as what you get with the first option. However, the difference here is that you can jump the queues as many times as you want to
- Volcano Bay Express – With a cost of $19.99, this allows you to avoid queuing in the water park. The pass can be used for rides and attractions that are participating and you’re limited to jumping the queue one time per ride/attraction.
Why you should be staying at a resort hotel
If you want to be close to all that’s going on, and not to waste your day travelling, you really need to be staying at a Universal resort hotel. With numerous resorts to choose from, you’ll find that they have varying benefits on offer. There are what can best be described as value hotels, such as Surfside Inn, and then there are the more upmarket options, such as the Hard Rock hotel. Everything in between is catered for too.
Getting from the resort to the parks is easy, and fast. You can opt for a water taxi if you’re staying at any of the following:
- Loews Portofino Bay Hotel
- Hard Rock Hotel
- Loews Royal Pacific Resort
- Loews Sapphire Falls Resort
The other main option is the shuttle bus that runs to every resort. Given how close Cabana Bay, Adventura, and Sapphire Falls are, you could even walk.
Great value for money
The other thing that makes Universal so great is the price. You can get yourself a 14-day pass that allows you access to all three parks and, for an adult, these are priced from £305. A child’s 14-day pass comes in at £299.
When you take a look at Disney, for example, you’ll find that the prices at universal are more than competitive. At Disney, you’d be looking at spending at least another £100 per ticket and this certainly adds up quickly.
For me, Universal is the perfect destination for a family holiday. There are rides and attractions for all ages and there is the chance to book accommodation that will suit anyone’s budget. Price is always a concern and when you compare everything that you get for your money here, the likes of Disney really don’t compare.