Friday, 6 February 2015

My Orlando, Florida Travel Tips: Universal Studios

Universal Studios Orlando Travel Tips

All imagery in this blog post is courtesy of Universal Orlando (link here) unless otherwise stated - the Universal Orlando sign included above was taken by me

Since I started my Orlando, Florida Travel Tips series with four of my favourite malls to visit in the Orlando area (link here), I thought that I would shift my focus a little (don't worry there will still be plenty more blog posts on all things shopping in the months that follow) to the best of the best that Orlando, Florida has to offer when it comes to theme parks. And I've started off with my favourite theme park out of the bunch; Universal Studios.

I just want to start by saying, I am aware that when I mention Universal Studios Orlando the first thing that might spring to mind for many is The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. This is obviously a must-see for fans of the books/movies (and I have a feeling that you will already have that pencilled into your plans if you are a Potter fan) but technically it's situated in Islands of Adventure, which is why I've not mentioned it fully in this blog post. Instead I thought that I would focus my attention on five of my favourite attractions at Universal Studios, as well as some of my top tips for visiting the park. For a full list of rides, shows and attractions at Universal Studios (click here).

Here are my Top 5;

Men In Black Alien Attack Universal Studios Orlando

Men In Black Alien Attack
This is and will always be my favourite ride at Universal Studios and I think it has a lot to do with the fact that there is a competitive element to this ride. Your team (in your vehicle) go head to head against a rival team of riders. You're equipped with a laser gun designed to destroy the aliens, whilst simultaneously accumulating points but watch out as the aliens can hit back. And you'll definitely know when they attack back! Expect a lot of spinning and strobe lighting. Each individual rider's score is recorded which means that every ride is completely unique and is something that I definitely appreciate as it makes each ride or visit equally as exciting.

TOP TIP: PRESS THE BIG RED BUTTON: When ordered to press the big red button make sure to get pressing as there is a small window of time in which it's effective. Every rider that successfully presses the button during this time is given a 100,000 point bonus. Considering that we would only normally reach around 40-50,000 points without the bonus this can make all the difference in beating the opposing team.

Terminator 2 3-D Universal Studios Orlando

Terminator 2 3-D
Having loved the first two Terminator movies (don't even get me started on the movies that followed or the fact that they are bringing out Genisys), Terminator 2 3-D is must-see attraction for those of us that are big Terminator fans. Even the pre-show is exciting. You're given a brief presentation by a Cyberdyne employee but that is soon interrupted by Sarah and John Connor. You are then told that everything security wise is under control and that you should take your seats for the Cyberdyne 'presentation.' This is a mixture of 3D, movie sequences and live actors, which might not be to everyone's taste but obviously Arnie himself isn't going to pop out and start fighting the Terminator's at Universal Orlando, especially now that it's twenty odd years after Judgement Day was released. 

TOP TIP: EXPECT EVEN MORE THAN 3-D: You will definitely be in for a couple of surprises if it is your first time seeing Terminator 2 3-D and by that I mean there will be more than a few special effects that will make it a truly 4-D experience.

E.T. Adventure Universal Studios Orlando

E.T. Adventure
For anyone who grew up watching E.T. the Extra Terestrial, the E.T. Adventure ride is a great way to revisit the story of E.T. and it's also perfect for young riders as it is situated in Woody Woodpecker's Kidzone. Each seat is modelled after the infamous bicycle from the movie itself, with the handlebars acting as a your lap restraint. You even get to visit his home planet which is a fun inclusion. The whole family can enjoy this ride, which is definitely a bonus if you are travelling with young children or there's a whole crowd of you who are movie fanatics. 

TOP TIP: LISTEN OUT FOR A PERSONALISED SHOUT OUT FROM E.T.: As you enter the ride you will be asked to give your name. Make sure that you do this clearly as it will become apparent why you were asked as the ride comes to an end. E.T. will personally thank everyone which is a lovely touch, especially for young children (I still get excited to hear my name read out by an animatronic E.T. even at this age).

Fear Factor Live Universal Studios Orlando

Fear Factor Live
Who remembers the TV show Fear FactorOkay so technically this is a seasonal attraction at Universal Studios but it's definitely worth a trip over to it if you happen to be visiting during the peak times of the year (summer, spring break, Christmas, etc.) This used to be one of my favourite TV shows, even if there were some pretty hard to watch eating tasks, so I think that's why I'm still attracted to this particular attraction even years after the show has finished. There's audience participation in this show which is really fun to see and more of an emphasis placed on the physical stunts than any of the gross eating trials.

TOP TIP: BE A CONTESTANT: If you want to be in with a chance of being selected to compete in Fear Factor Live, you should aim to arrive to the entrance of the ride 10-15 minutes before it starts.

Beetlejuice's Graveyard Revue Universal Studios Orlando

Beetlejuice's Graveyard Revue
If you're taking a little break from the rides or if you're not the biggest fan of them in the first place, it is well worth taking a trip to the graveyard to pay this cast of characters a visit. There have been several versions of the show in the past decade or so but the latest incarnation of the Graveyard Revue is more family friendly than ever. Expect twenty minutes or so of singing and dancing courtesy of whole host of classic horror movie characters and the main man himself; Beetlejuice. And there's plenty of mash-ups of some well known pop songs (most of which are from the 80's) in a Beetlejuice style.

TOP TIP: CHECK SHOW TIMES: Unlike the rides which run all day, the shows in the park (this includes Terminator 2 3-D, although that is a very frequent show to be fair and Fear Factor Live, which is much less frequent) have specific times. This all sounds pretty self explanatory but we lost count of the amount of times that we would be on another ride or across the park when the show was ready to start and would in turn miss that particular showing. There tend to be three or four shows per day, depending on the day that you visit, so make sure to take note of the show that you would like to attend and aim to make it over to the open-air amphitheatre around fifteen minutes before the show is scheduled to start. 

As I mentioned above, albeit rather briefly when it came to Fear Factor Live, depending on the time of year that you visit Universal Studios there might be annual events taking place that you will definitely want to check out while you're there.

All imagery that follows courtesy UniversalOrlando Instagram (link here)

Mardi Gras Universal Studios Orlando

February-April: Mardi Gras: Universal transforms into New Orleans, Louisiana in February and March of each year, where you can expect parades, concerts and French Quarter food and music. Every year the Mardi Gras concerts feature pretty impressive names, with this year's including Jessie J, Kelly Clarkson, Trey Songz, The All-American Rejects (this brings back memories), Heart and many more. For a full list of the acts playing at Mardi Gras 2015 (click here).

Halloween Horror Nights Universal Studios Orlando

September-November: Halloween Horror Nights: The Americans already do Halloween on a much grander scale than we do it here in the UK but Universal Orlando raise the Halloween stakes even further with Halloween Horror Nights. Each night the park transforms into a completely different world, one that features haunted houses (and not the rubbish fairground attractions that we're used to here in the UK), 'scare zones' and live entertainment all of which make you feel like you've just stepped onto the set of your favourite horror movies. It really is a must-see experience for any horror movie fanatics with movies and TV shows such as The Walking Dead, Silent Hill, The Cabin In The Woods, Evil Dead, Resident Evil and The Purge being featured.

Universal Studios Orlando Holidays

December-January: Holidays: If you happen to be spending the holidays in Orlando (that would honestly be the dream), then you can experience the famous Macy's Holiday parade, with floats and balloons coming straight from the New York Thanksgiving parade. You can also expect to find The Grinch strolling about but head over to the neighbouring Islands of Adventure where Grinchmas will be in full swing.

Have you visited Universal Studios before? If so, what were your favourite rides or attractions? I'd also love to hear what you would like me to discuss in next month's blog post. I'm thinking either another theme park (potentially Disney's Magic Kingdom), something food related (either fast-food or restaurants) or maybe even some more shopping. What do you think? What would you like to read next?

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