Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Universal Orlando Resort - A Review

Chris, Luke, and I in Harry Potter Land
Universal Orlando Resort
April 3, 2023

 It was a very full day. Chris and I departed home at 7:30 AM and returned home just after 9 PM. In between was four hours driving with the rest of the time spent at Universal Orlando Resort. 

Let's begin with the cost. We bought a two-park one day pass for $209 per person. We knew we would be visiting both Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios. We made the transition on the Hogwarts Express--definitely worth the ride, but not the posted 75 minute wait. To miss the wait, we also bought the two park Express passes at $314.99. Total admission cost for the one day jaunt for two people: $1116.12 (with tax).

First Observation. The resort is incredibly expensive and that jaundiced my objectiveness even before we arrived. I paid less for a 7-day cruise in November than one day at Universal. 

Second Observation: Driving to the resort is relatively simple. It is right off Interstate 4 and there are large parking garages close to the resort. I was not happy that after paying over $1K to visit the resort for the day that they gouged me for $30 to park my truck. Ugh! Really? With the price of admission being astronomical, parking should be included. 

Street Sight
Universal Orlando Resort
April 3, 2023
Third Observation: It took 45 minutes from parking the truck to finally get through security and the admission process and actually be inside Islands of Adventure. This meant navigating the crushing crowds on City Walk and getting scanned and admitted. The actual admission process is cumbersome, even with passes on the phone because there are so many people who are unfamiliar with the process.

When we finally met up with family, who proceeded us to the resort, we began to have some fun. We went first to the Jurassic Park area and our first ride was the VelociCoaster. Even with the express pass we had a very long wait and it was almost 90 minutes from arriving at the resort's gates until we were actually on our first ride of the day. 

As the day progressed, things got better. I was told, but unable to confirm, that the park was a maximum capacity while we were there. It was clear that they were unprepared for the crush of people and the crowds were evident all day. 

Fourth Observation. Use the mobile app to order lunch. It took about 90 minutes to get burgers and eat them because we did not use the mobile app. The automatic Coke dispensing machines are a joke. They were not dispensing drinks reliably and I saw many people put their daily paid cups in the dispenser only to be turned away. I found that beer was a much better choice. Overall food prices are not bad. The burger platter was $15.49 and beer was $9.50. Coke was $4.49 per glass or they had a plan for an all day drink package--which seemed a bit pricey to me. 

So let's talk coasters. I love coasters and I got to sit in the front seat on two of the best. We did not get to experience Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure due to long lines and it does not accept the Express Pass. But here is my ranking of the four coasters that I experienced:

1. Hulk - old, yes, but smooth and like flying a jet fighter (P.S. I did fly a jet fighter trainer, once) (I was in a front seat)

2. Hollywood Rip Ride Rocket - really cool vertical start and music to enjoy while riding (I was in a front seat)

Men In Black Alien Attack
Universal Orlando Resort
April 3, 2023

3. VelociCoaster - Fun, but not smooth and the turns are rough although the maneuvers are creative.

4. Revenge of the Mummy - Nice special effects, but I always think a coaster in the dark removes the fun of seeing the world spin around.

Other rides as I remember them:

Dudly Do-Right's RipSaw Falls - A classic log ride with a scenario that has outlived its time. A great ride to enjoy getting wet, but the story is dated.

Jurassic Park River Adventure - Great ride, you will get wet. It seemed that parts of the ride were not fully operational when we were on it. 

Men In Black Alien Attack - A great fun ride to play "shoot the outer-space aliens." I won the car with 75,000 points. Sorry Luke!

The Simpsons Ride - Not worth the time. They paid too much for this ride. The story is not compelling and the 3D graphics are cheesy.

The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman - nice ride, good 3D graphics, great story and put together pretty well. Enjoyable.

Hogwarts Express - already mentioned. 

Harry Potter The Forbidden Journey - great ride but somewhat intense. Great story and graphics.

We probably did a couple more, but these were the memorable rides. When you divide it out, I paid about $45 per ride. 

We departed the park about 6:30 PM to allow us to get home at a reasonable hour.

It was a fun day filled with thrills and the joy of being with family. Some of the rides were memorable, BUT the overall park experience needs improvement. Given the amount of money being collected, I expected a first class experience--I do not feel as though I received that. 

Fifth Observation - The Express Pass is a requirement! That written, the pass is expensive and in a perfect world I would do away with express passes and increase the capacity of the rides. I felt bad walking in front of families with kids who could not afford an extra $300/per person and had stood in line for 75 or 80 minutes for a 90-second ride, while I stood in line for maybe 10 - 20 minutes at the most.  As the day went on we actually almost walked onto some rides, for the same 90-second experience. 

Bob's Recommendation - Visit but only after fully understanding the cost! Universal Orlando Resort is overpriced; offering mediocre service in every venue. Some of the new rides are first class, but looking around, many of the others require maintenance and the warts are showing. The day I visited, the park seemed to be over capacity.

Important note--this was not my first visit to Universal Orlando Resort. I remember the days before Harry Potter when one of the marquee rides was the Jaws boat ride and there was a dueling rollercoaster, both now gone. Express passes were not a requirement in those days. I believe express passes are a result of running the parks above capacity.

-- Bob Doan, Tequesta, FL

Note: I updated the ride list and amount per ride because I had forgotten one. April 4

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