Setting the scene… It’s our honeymoon, we have just spent 6 wonderful days at Disney World and then taken a “relaxing” day to switch from our Disney Hotel over to our Universal Studios Hotel. We are still pretty tired at this point, so we decide to keep our Universal days pretty casual.
We considered these more like “Bonus Days” and I still think that is the right attitude when you are Disney fans who have Universal days in your schedule. There are pros and cons to Universal, but we did overall enjoy ourselves, though we weren’t too sad to leave it when it was time.
The biggest pro is, of course, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I had actually been to the Hogsmeade portion of the park before (both in Florida and California), but Adam had never been to either. I think the expression on my face when I saw Diagon Alley pretty much sums up my feelings.
We enjoyed everything Harry Potter that Universal had to offer. We bought wands and did all of the little, interactive stops they have along the way (the wands have sensors that activate “magic” at different places around the Wizarding World). We enjoyed the food, eating at both The Three Broomsticks and The Leaky Cauldron, plus getting the Butterbeer Ice Cream TWICE. We took the Hogwarts Express in between Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. We did it all. (It is with great privilege that I can say that – I am still perturbed that Universal has accessibility issues, that excludes many plus-size patrons from enjoying their rides. )
The Wizarding World is Universal Studios at its prime. It’s Disney levels of good. There are parts of the rest of Universal Studios that are also very nice. As we were walking around, I couldn’t help but feel that this was what Disney had been trying to achieve with Hollywood Studios. With that said, there is a reason why Disney is Disney and Universal Studios is… well, everything else.
Disney fans typically love all or most of Disney IP, that’s what makes Disneyland and Disney World so appealing. Their rides are based in nostalgia and movies we love. Universal Studios offers an insane amount of selection over a broad collection of genres. You have Fast & the Furious, E.T., Minions, Dr. Seuss, Hong Kong, Transformers, The Simpsons, the list goes on and on. Point being, you might only like some of what Universal Studios has to offer, but probably not all of it. This may seem like a silly criticism – too much selection! – but in my mind, it leaves the park feeling diluted. There were whole sections of the park I didn’t really care about visiting, but we did because we wanted to get all the value out of the cost of the ticket.
Along the same lines, a lot of their rides are based on movies or television shows and are what I call “green screen rides.” You are in a ride vehicle that shakes you around a lot, as the giant screens around you show clips from a movie recorded for the ride’s story. There are a lot of these around the park and they are based on media that people enjoy, but may not be fanatical about.
I watch all of The Fast & The Furious movies in theaters and appreciate them for the awesome action movies they are, but I have never obsessed about them the way I do Harry Potter or Disney. I enjoyed the ride, same with King Kong, and some of the other one-off rides they had. But after several of those rides, it did start to be less thrilling and more boring. I mean… just look at our faces in these ride photos.
It felt like a one-trick pony – even the Diagon Alley ride felt like that. By the time Adam and I got on The Mummy ride, we were so thrilled to see practical effects, we rode it three times!
Universal Studios also has a photo-pass option called My Universal Photos, and I am not sure we would spend the money to get it again. All of the photos we got from them were watermarked with these awful blue frames, the date, and the Universal Studios logo. Not only does it look tacky, but it was terrible to try and scrapbook. They don’t have as many photo-opportunities as Disney does and Disney also doesn’t feel the need to watermark their photos because they have done such a great job branding their theme parks, you already KNOW you are at Disney.
They also don’t have photographers stationed in the most popular section of their park – The Wizarding World. There are a few spots around the outside you can get pictures, like with Hogwarts in the background, but none in the actual park. I believe the original reason for this was because photographers made the experience “less immersive.” I don’t know how, considering there are photographers in Harry Potter… just theme the cameras! Whatever the reason, I do think that adding some photo-ops in this magical world would beef up the chances of me paying for My Universal Photos again.
Man, that was quite a rant on photos, lol. Okay, let’s get back to a few more positives: the actual roller-coasters are thrilling. Adam enjoyed many of the rides here just as much as Disney’s because of the excitement factor. I also enjoy my share of thrill rides, but as I have gotten older (and my motion sickness has gotten worse), I could take them or leave them. Universal is directed more at the teenage market, which I think suits it.
I wanted to write more positive things not related to The Wizarding World, but I honestly can’t think of more and neither can Adam. That is a little sad, lol.
Adam did want me to mention our experience with this terrifying roller coaster called Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit. This thing is insane because you go straight up, straight down, around and around in loops, and you are only being held in by a bar around your lap. Needless to say, we screamed the whole time and were absolutely scared out of our wits. Now, this ride offers what we thought was going to be a great souvenir – it records you the entire time and you can purchase the video on a DVD for $35. Adam wanted this video bad, so we plunked down the money, and were so excited to watch it when we got home. Now, keep in mind that we thought this was going to be 3 minutes of us screaming our heads off. Instead, this is what we got…
Worst. $35. Spent. Ever.
That was probably the biggest disappointment of our honeymoon. There are a few clips of us in there, but it’s mostly a pre-edited template “music video.” All you can really do is laugh about it.
Overall, the park is okay, but it’s not something we feel the need to do on every vacation. I’m not sure when we go back we will spend more than a day there. Even though they have since opened up a new ride, Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, that has gotten great reviews, we are still going to wait until Super Nintendo World opens in a few years before going again.
I would say that it was a nice memory from our Honeymoon and we are glad we did it, but that it is best experienced with some time in between. Also, if I’m talking to to myself in the future, I would encourage myself not to go on a bunch of rides that I am not interested in just to go on rides. There is plenty of selection there, so go on the stuff you really want to – or spend all day in the Wizarding World – and don’t worry about the rest.