Monday, May 3, 2010

Universal Help...

Okay, here's the deal. We're going to Disney World this fall, and we've pretty much decided that, for the first time, we are NOT going to spend the entire trip at Disney parks. We're going to go to Universal Studios for two days. Which two days is to be determined. But my sons really really want to do the Harry Potter part, and they also want to do other things as well.

As we look into Universal, we notice that they "sell" fast passes. (I forget what they call them exactly.) Most of the days we will be there fall into the "least busy" or "second least busy" period, according to the way they have them priced. Is it worth getting them?

Next, are there rides there that are too intense for 9- and 7-year olds? My older one has no problem with any Disney rollercoaster, but the most advanced one that the younger son has been on is California Screamin'. (He counts it as his favorite.) Still, we usually skip the giant thrill coasters at Six Flags Great America when we go.

Looking at the website, I don't find too much detail on what some of these rides are. DISASTER looks like a ride through, sort of like THE GREAT MOVIE RIDE. Is that wrong? REVENGE OF THE MUMMY looks like a DINOSAUR or an INDIANA JONES type of ride. Is that wrong? I'm wondering about some of them because my wife gets motion sick and rides like DINOSAUR really bother her.

As far as restaurants go, I think we're going to try one or both of the Emeril LaGasse restaurants. Anyone have any other recommendations in that area?

I'm hoping that someone who reads this blog might have some ideas about some of these questions. If you do, please post your ideas in the comments section, or email them to me at Thanks!


Brian said...

My first love will always be Disney, but I do try to get over to Universal every once in a while. It's actually a very good couple of parks. But they are very different than Disney for several reasons. Their "Express" system is one big difference. You may want to consider a Universal hotel, which are very nice hotels - the cheapest is Royal Pacific which lies somewhere between a really nice moderate and a deluxe at Disney. The property is small enough that everything is walking distance and also entirely connected by water taxi. Most importantly, hotel guests get unlimited Express passes (at any time, you can just waltz right up to the Express line and get right on). The Express passes you can buy are a 1-time per ride (I think it's five per packet) system that are pretty pricey, depending on the season. The Express lines are just like Fastpass, except there's no timed distribution, so they are sometimes variable and you might have to wait. In general, however, the lines are even shorter than Fastpass lines. I should mention that it's not necessary at all times in the year. Last year, I went in January (marathon week) and it was possible to walk on to pretty much anything. But I also went during spring break once, and it was absolutely essential. If, as you said, it's not a busy season, it's really your call.
As for food, there are some very good restaurants. Unfortunately, the counter service locations in the park aren't great - certainly not on par with Disney's offerings. But the sit down restaurants are very good. Emeril has two restaurants. One in CityWalk (Universal's version of Downtown Disney) called Emeril's, and there is also one at the Royal Pacific resort (easily accessible by water taxi) called Tchoup Tchoup. I've only been to Tchoup Tchoup and it was fantastic. The food is very unique and themed to the islands. Emeril's on CityWalk is a more classic Emeril's location, but I've never eaten there. Heard good things though. Both are pricey. Other restaurants: I'd recommend Mythos in Isalnds of Adventure (if it's still there after Harry Potter arrives). It's frequently rated one of the best theme park restaurants in the world. Very nice place, good theming. In the Studios park, check of Finnegans. It's an Irish pub style restaurant with some good food, a casual atmosphere, and frequent live music. I think they both have kids menus. In CityWalk, you could check out Bob Marley's (very good Caribbean food) and Margaritaville (Jimmy Buffet's restaurant). I know there are some other Margaritavilles out there, so it may suffer from Rainforest Cafe Syndrome, but it's the first one that I ever went to, so I really like it. Both Marley's and Margaritaville have live music later in the evening and stop allowing kids after 9 or 10, and I don't think they take reservations so get there early (not much of an issue in the slower seasons). And they're all great for families until much later at night. At Margaritaville, there are people on stilts who make balloon animals for kids. Also, don't forget to check out the restaurant in the Harry Potter section - three broomsticks. I'm pretty excited for that one, even if it is Universal counter service.

Brian said...

On to the parks themselves - your impressions are pretty accurate. I'm going to attempt to cover most of the rides I can think of. In general, always check the warnings outside of the rides (as any Disney fan knows!). There are two parks - Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. Universal is very similar to Hollywood studios (right down to the abandoned concept of a working studio - although Universal still films some stuff there). The various "streets" are the themed lands to various movie locations - New York, San Francisco, Amity, etc. Here's a rundown:

Production Central - entrance area.
1. Jimmy Neutron (a very tame motion simulator featuring Nickelodeon characters - designed for kids. also has stationary seating).
2. Shrek 4D - also family appropriate. If your kids have seen the Shrek movies, they can see this. The seats move more than your average 3d movie, but there are stationary seats available. It's the same movie that was available in a package with Shrek 2 a couple years ago.
3. Hollywood Rip Ride, Rocket - a new coaster. Unfortunately, I haven't ridden it yet, but from what it sounds like, it is very similar to Rock n Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith, with outdoor areas, more loops and drops, and a customizable soundtrack (RnR on steroids, basically).Probably not the best choice for a kid who doesn't like big coasters.
4. Twister - technically, this is a show - but it is very immersive. pretty intense recreation of the experience of an earthquake. teenagers will think it is lame. little kids will be scared. i'd say your 9 year old will like it, but your 7 year old won't. check out a youtube video to see what you think.

Hollywood street:
1. Universal's horror makeup show: this is actually a comedy, but some of the scenes they show during it are pretty grotesque (american werewolf in london, phantom of the opera, etc). procede with caution (this would garner a soft pg-13 in my book).
2. Terminator 2 3D: This is a great show. A combination of live action stunts and 3D movies. The seats move, and the action is a bit lighter than the normal Terminator film, but it is very loud and intense with what looks like real machine guns and robots that are in the theater for real. I've seen kids scared in this - large scale Alien Encounter would be the best analogy I can come up with.

New York Street:
1. Revenge of the Mummy - You're pretty spot on. Actually, it's like if you took Dinosaur and fused it with Rock n Roller Coaster. After the animatronic portion, you are actually on a steel coaster track that goes forward and backwards. Good coaster, but it will scare those who don't like coasters and those who don't like Dinosaur!

San Francisco/Amity:
Beetlejuice show: PG rated rock and roll show staring Monsters (cartoony classic monsters like Dracula and Frankenstein's monster, but monsters nonetheless).
Disaster: This one you were kind of off on. It's mostly a special effects show that spoofs big budget Micheal Bay type disaster movies. The finale scene is a recreation of a large earthquake that puts you in the middle of it. No real risk of motion sickkness, very tame. The finale is the only part that isn't a stage show, and it's probably closer to Catastrophe Canyon than anything else (but much grander scale). It was recently revamped from its original incarnation, and I think it has been vastly improved.
Jaws: This is actually played for laughs. It's kind of like the Jungle Cruise gone wrong. The shark is still very scary (albeit very fake looking) and intense. Will scare the little ones unless they are pretty brave. No risk of motion sickness though. It's a boat ride very similar to Jungle Cruise (on tracks under the water)

Brian said...

World Expo:
Men in Black: this is just like buzz lightyear space ranger spin, except themed around the aliens from the Men in Black movies. Good for kids, as long as the comical looking aliens wouldn't scare them (with some twists and turns - the motion is similar to Toy Story Mania - no joystick to control where you point)
Simpsons - the ride is great, especially if you like the show. It's a motion simulator. You sit in a car, which is lifted up in front of a giant IMAX screen. It's like Soarin, only rougher and in a car (that's a terrible description, but the best I can do). I'd say the roughness factor is on par with Star Tours.
ET - classic dark ride style with the twist of sitting on modifed bicycles (don't worry, you're secured with lap bars). kids shouldn't have a problem. no motion sickness. think peter pan's flight. unless they're scare of ET like aliens.

Ok, now onto Islands of Adventure... This is themed very much like the Magic Kingdom meets Epcot. Various lands or "islands" situated around a big lagoon. Rumor has it that a lot of Disney Imagineers built this place, right after getting laid off from Disney at the completion of Animal Kingdom. Apparently they brought with them some of the ideas that were unused when Beastly Kingdom never came to frution.

Marvel island:
1. Spider man: A technical masterpiece. I don't know Spiderman well, nor do I recognize any characters in this motion simulator/3D/dark ride hybrid, but I love it. It will be too intense for those who can't handle a Dinosaur like ride though.
2. Hulk coaster - a big steel coaster, not for the faint of heart
3. Dr. Doom - classic free fall attraction, take it at face value

Toon Lagoon:
1. Dudley Do Right Ripsaw falls: traditional log flume, Universal's answer to Splash Mountain themed after the classic cartoon
2. Popeye Barges: Universal's answer to Kali River Rapids, themed after the classic cartoon.
Just a note: you will get wet on these rides. Be careful during the colder months. Unlike Disney where they seem to control the amount of water during the colder days, you will get soaked no matter what. I've gotten wetter on these rides than any other theme park anywhere.

Jurassic Park:
River Adventure: slow moving boat ride. Think outdoor Pirates of the Caribbean with giant terrifying dinosaurs, much like Disney's Dinosaur attraction. You never move fast, but the animatronics do the job of making it thrilling.

Brian said...

Lost Continent (i don't know how much of this is still going to be there and how much is going to be Harry Potter rethemed, so I'll refrain on explaining most of it):
Poseiden's Fury - special effects stage show. very cool, but you stand the whole time (20 or so minutes) so be careful. should be okay for kids, but again, i'd recommend checking youtube on this one
Dueling Dragons - confirmed that this is going to be rethemed to Harry Potter, but this is a large steel coaster with loops and corkscrews.

Seuss Landing: everything here should be family appropriate
Cat in the Hat - classic dark ride, very well done, some minor spinning. very similar to winnie the pooh in tone
Trolley Train - the WEDway people mover, except themed to Dr. Seuss

Anyway, I hope this helped. Probably more info than you wanted. I tried to list everything I could think of. At first glance, Universal (especially the Studios park) may seem like it is oriented more towards adults and teens. This is true to some exten (and an adults-only night may be fun, just to catch some of the more intense shows - T2 especially, because it's amazing), but I have many great childhood memories at Universal and it is definitely a great place for a family. In general, things are well labeled.It's the only park other than Disney that I go to in Orlando (SeaWorld and the others never did it for me - although I did really like Kennedy Space Center as a kid). As always, get to the park early, especially if you're not a hotel guest. Follow the same rules you would follow for touring at the Disney parks. If you have any questions, definitely feel free to email me. I won't be headed down until late October to check out the new Harry Potter section, so let me know your thoughts! And have a great time!

Scott said...

Thank you! That was great information! We're huge fans of Emeril's restaurants so we'll probably eat at both. We're also DVC members so we will be staying on Disney property at our home resort. No chance of us staying at a Universal Hotel.

It sounds like two days should be the minimum we spend at these parks. But as DVC members, we will be in the area fairly often. So if we don't get to do everything this trip, there's always the next. Harry Potter world is going to be our main focus. We HAVE to get to that. The boys insist! ;-) Thank you again!