Universal Studios Orlando

  • Attention adults: You don’t get enough attention.

    We mean, when you go to theme parks.

    After all, Disney has always been associated with kids. And attention there is almost always focused on the young.

    That’s a given.

    But what if you have none…no kids…or even better…

    If you can leave the children at home with a babysitter...and they’re not old enough or too old to bitterly denounce you for cruelty to children?

    This brings us to a major question:


    The better park

    If you can only do one park, which one should it be?

    There’s a lot of debate on which one in Orlando to choose: Disney or Universal?

    Kids often help make that decision for you.

    But what if there are no children involved?

    What’s the best park for us as adults?

    In other words, what’s the best park for adults only?

    We don’t have all the answer but we also asked others.

    It depends, of course.

    On your interests.

    If you are a zoo person, you almost certainly would choose Walt Disney World's Animal Kingdom.

    The real thing.

    Living, breathing animals.

    Wild ones.

    No coasting on this decision

    But the choice for you may also be simpler if you like or love roller coasters. There are simply more of them at Universal.

    Most people agree they are generally better.

    “You can spend two days there easily if you really like roller coasters,” said one of our respondents.

    Actually, much of what others will tell you applies to both parks.

    One piece of good advice for any park:

    “We found that while getting to the parks right when they opened allowed us to get a bunch of rides in before lines formed.”

    Both resorts relieve you of being forced to have your own vehicle.

    “The bus and transportation systems work well at both resorts. The only thing you need to research is how many stops there are. Some buses have a lot of them,” suggests a respondent.

    As far as the bus goes, another suggestion:

    “The car is nice if you are trying to do multiple parks in one day and don’t want to wait in the long lines that pile up when trying to leave the park. But honestly, we used the bus a lot and it worked great. Just try not to take the bus if you want to stay until a park closes… those lines get crazy long then!”

    Naps not just for the kids


    “We loved doing the early morning park visits and then napping in the hot afternoon before going back later to the parks for dinner.”

    “You’ll be blown away by how empty the parks can be when they first open compared to 11am,” is one suggestion.

    Said still another:

    “Tough call, (which park is preferred) but if it’s rides they want I would suggest Islands of Adventure. If they like the Harry Potter books/movies at all, the Harry Potter part of the park is a must. Has two awesome roller coasters that intertwine in just that section.”

    And still another:

    “I say tough call because my absolute favorite coaster of all time is in Universal Studios… Rip Ride Rocket. If they get in early, they could probably do all of Islands of Adventure in one day. So if they want to rethink getting tickets for another park, I would definitely recommend they get into Universal Studios to try Rip Ride… so good.”

    So it goes…

    Avoiding the kids

    If you want to avoid kids, you might as well stay at home.

    Both parks have a lot of children.

    You can’t avoid them.

    “Kids. Kids. Kids. They’re everywhere. There’s no getting around it,” is one comment. “So don’t even try to get rid of them.”

    And how about hotels?

    Adults only?

    One respondent told us:

    “No specific recommendations for hotels without kids as it is hard to escape kids. But if you’re up early you will miss all of the crowds since the kids don’t get to the parks until 10 a.m. or so.”

    Here’s some quick advice on how to beat the families.

    Start early.

    Sorry, no sleeping in this time.

    Sleeping late not an option

    Get there when the park opens (this is a recommendation not just from us, but just about everybody else).

    Families with kids take forever to get dressed and fed.

    You should beat child-burdened parents in the early hours when lines are shorter.

    Have an early lunch with the snacks you have packed. An early dinner, too.

    You are probably hungry from all that running around.

    No kids?

    Treat yourself.

    Take one of those VIP tours.

    They let you skip lines, of course.

    But also provide private transportation between the park and your hotel, and a look behind the scenes.

    Preferred seating at parades and fireworks.

    Spend the $300+ or so.

    It’s worth it

    What you get for the price is the ability to squeeze in a lot of activities in just a few hours.

    Either park has its champions.

    But for this article, we’re going to tell you why Universal may be a better choice for you as adults.

    To start with, you certainly know enough to bring sun tan lotion, bottles of water and some easy-to-reach snacks, of course.

    But even though you are an adult, you are here not to avoid sunburn or thirst or hunger pangs, but for the rides, right?

    (If you have already been to Universal, you might skip what we have to say about some rides…)

    As an adult, you likely will appreciate even more the type of technology found here.

    Universal is fittingly the home of the movie-as-theme-park rides, with many of them using motion simulators by combining intricate track systems with massive projection screens (as well as 3D special effects).

    Also as an adult, you might appreciate even more Universal’s creativity with the still relatively new Harry Potter attractions.

    Harry Potter takes some jumping around

    You know you will need a park hopper ticket to see both Universal’s Harry Potter attractions (which seems unfair but that is how it is).

    The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley is located in Universal Studios Florida, while The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Hogsmeade is next door in Universal’s Islands of Adventure.

    That means that you’ll need admission to both of the Universal Orlando theme parks to experience all of the Harry Potter offerings.

    A Park-to-Park Ticket gives you access to both theme parks plus access to the Hogwarts Express.

    At Universal’s Islands of Adventure, the village of Hogsmeade lets you quietly stroll the streets and explore the many shops and eateries.

    You can also wander through the classrooms and corridors of Hogwarts and soar above the castle with Harry Potter on the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride.

    At nearby Diagon Alley, you can follow in Harry Potter’s footsteps as you walk through the streets of London to Diagon Alley.

    Here, you find many of the wizarding world’s most famous establishments.
    More on Harry Potter

    There’s also the Hogwarts Express, where you can travel between London’s Kings Cross Station and Hogsmeade Station. You encounter characters and creatures from the Harry Potter films as you travel through the British countryside.

    It’s not unusual for many to say that the Diagon Alley portion of Universal Studios might be the most impressive theme park attraction found anywhere.

    At the center of Diagon Alley is a large building with a dragon nestled on its roof. Inside that building is Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts.

    There’s always something to look at, even while waiting in line. Gringotts is similar to The Transformers ride in that it’s a mixture of a moving vehicle and 3D film.

    The vehicle’s motions are far more elaborate, though.

    Eventually the two-car train splits into individual units that can rotate a full 360 degrees.

    The story involves an attack on the Gringotts bank, with your car stuck in a battle between Harry and his friends and the forces of Voldemort. The total experience is sensational.

    Other less hairy rides

    And even without kids, you will probably want to try Transformers: The Ride 3D.

    It’s another ride dependent on movie screens, but this time your vehicle is almost constantly moving, suddenly speeding up or slowing down, rushing backwards and making tight spins or turns.

    The story involves Transformers punching each other (including Megatron and Optimus Prime).

    Loud sounds of buildings falling apart are part of the action.

    The action is rapid-fire, all in 3D.

    This is Transformers as movie park ride.

    Since you’re older (only joking), you should also appreciate the E.T. Adventure.

    You might even have been around when the movie came out.

    This classic ride has been around for a while. No movie screens here. But there are the familiar shadows on the full moon and bicycle-shaped vehicles.

    You eventually get to E.T.’s home planet. So the trip is worth the effort.

    Another ride parents will be familiar with is Simpsons, a kid favorite, of course.

    There’s life-sized recreations of Moe’s Traven and Kwik-E-Mart and other locations.

    No roller coasters for you?

    You don’t have to even like roller coasters to enjoy this trip.

    You sit on a motion simulator that rises a few feet above the ground. It rocks and tilts as you watch a 3-D movie.

    You might recognize the jokes from the television show.

    Don’t want to ride anything?

    There’s always Twister…Ride it Out.

    After a brief introduction from movie actors Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt, you walk through the blown out ruins of a tornado. Then line up to watch the twister tear down a drive-in movie theater and a gas station. Windows shatter. A screen showing another movie, The Shining, falls apart.

    A truck knocks over a gas pump. Starts a fire.

    It’s all just like seeing the movie.

    On the other hand, if you really like roller coasters, try the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, Upside down.

    Or get on the Revenge of the Mummy.

    Complete darkness.

    Simulated flying through an underground tomb as you feel the heat from the flames.

    The cold-hearted mummy is also no friend.

    After dark best for adults

    Nighttime entertainment after the rides is a highlight for older folks.

    CityWalk offers a 20-acreen movie theatre, a wide variety of casual and fancier dining options. Also shops.

    Familiar places include the Hard Rock Café and Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville. Rising Star offers karaoke with a live band.

    Another highlight is the Red Coconut Club or a Cajun street party at Pat O’Brien’s, a replica of the iconic New Orleans watering hole. On select nights, a different headliner gets the party started playing their biggest hits and favorite tunes live on stage.

    Speaking of food

    Setting aside roller coasters and rides, when we look at dining, Walt Disney World has come a long way since it opened here in 1971. Dining choices then were not much more than hamburgers (with cheese an option) or hot dogs or maybe turkey legs. But dining options there have vastly improved.

    To the point when when they think of dining at the parks themselves, many visitors conjure up Epcot.

    It’s many countries.

    For various choices.

    But many prefer Universal.

    Which is often more adult oriented.

    But then again, both parks have wide appeal….

    No matter your age. ###


    Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios FloridaSure, it’s still months away but it’s never too soon to start panicking, is it? But the real question is this: how scary is it? Choices: (A) So much so that you hide in your bed and pull a heavy woolen winter blanket over your eyes; or (B) Fearful enough that you have bad dreams; or (C) The kind of pulse-pounding fear that can lead to severe anxiety attacks?

    We are referring here to Universal Orlando Resort’s Halloween Horror Nights 2015 (or HHN) which is generally viewed as the most elaborate and biggest event of its kind in the United States and perhaps the world itself. This year is its 25th and it is being promoted as more ghostly and ghastly than ever. We will put off answering the prior question until later. But meantime, HHN draws so many visitors (hundreds of thousands with no exact count available) and is popular enough that you might want to start thinking about it this early.

    Like a ghost, HHN 25 has a lot of information floating around. But here is what you basically need to know about it (starting with the when: September 19 to November 1, at least on select nights).

    Q: You are not a horror fan and don’t want to be scared. Can you still just visit Universal for its rides, entertainment, etc., during this time?
    A: The vast majority of rides are still running. In fact, lines at some may be shorter at least in the daytime. Operations are pretty much normal during the day. But at night, the darkness falls, you might way.

    Q: “Select nights.” What is that?
    A: According to the theme park: Halloween Horror Nights 2015 will run a record-breaking 30 nights from September 18 through November 1 on these select dates: September 18, 19, 24, 25, 26, 27, and October 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 28, 29, 30, 31, and November 1.

    Q: If you have never been to HHN, what can you expect to experience?
    A: When it comes to scary, expect to see chain saws. “A horde of horrifying mutants, monsters and maniacs,” says Universal in its press releases. Not only that, but stars of this show include haunted houses and live shows. Expect to encounter the type of flesh-eaters found in TV shows like “The Walking Dead” and various horror films. Zombies are common. Expect to see lots of scary-looking creatures running around. They may scare you but if it is any consolation, they won’t touch you. They may chase you, however.

    Q: Stars of the show are the haunted houses. So what can you expect from them?
    A: Any special effect imaginable. Hideous creatures, blood-curdling sound effects and loud music. All in tight and narrow passages for you to pass through as you endure air bursts, mirror effects and often gruesome set decorations.

    Q: So what are the best shows, anyway?
    A: Specific shows have yet to be announced this year but in the past the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” is sort of a G-rated event with clips from the movies and various songs (as well as audience participation). Obviously, this is a matter of opinion, but a voodoo show with a walk through a foggy patch with scare-mongers waving skulls around has been highly rated by some. Some staged scenes from movies such as “From Dusk Till Dawn” and “Alien Vs Predator” also got high ratings. Expect to see your favorite scenes and the costuming is Academy Award standards. But other venues like the “Dollhouse of the Dead” full of seemingly random doll parts have not been lively enough to get high ratings.

    Q: Any special circumstances for visitors at this time?
    A: Leave your costumes or masks at home; none are allowed.

    Q: What about ticket pricing? Does your admission cost include all shows?
    A: No, no, and no. Universal and others keep warning visitors that HHN demands a separate ticket for the park (must be the huge profit upside of the event). You will need to still pay for park admission. And buying a ticket during the day to visit Universal Studios Florida or Islands of Adventure does not get you into HHN. Why the continuing confusion? Probably because this is the opposite of many other popular Universal annual events such as Mardi Gras, which offer one-time admission. Last year, Universal continued their very popular tradition of offering Passholder nights the first two Fridays and Saturdays of the event. They reached capacity. It’s now been revealed yet whether they will return. An announcement should come in late August, based on past experience.

    Q: Can we bring our own “refreshments” to save a little money?
    A: You almost certainly know this already but of course the answer is no. Ditto with alcohol. Security points are tough on this. If you want to save money, do your eating and drinking before you get to the attraction.

    Q: Can I park close to the park?
    A: Glad you mentioned it. Universal usually reduces parking fees later in the evening -- for most of the year, anyway. But not at this time. Expect to pay at least $17 for regular parking and $22 for preferred (at least based on last year’s rates).

    Q: What about special deals?
    A: Various choices, particularly enticing if you plan to stay overnight. One Vacation Package is priced at $165 per adult, per night, including taxes (advance purchase required). It includes three nights at Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort, a 2-Day Park-to-Park Ticket including 1-night (non-Saturday) admission to Halloween Horror Nights, Early Park Admission (one hour before the park opens), and access to some entertainment venues at Universal CityWalk.

    Q: What if it rains?
    A: The show goes on, rain or not.

    Q: Is it likely to rain?
    A: No. Rainfall in October is not very heavy in the area. There is only an average of s little more than three inches that month. That compares to summer months of June, July and August when there is generally more than seven inches of rain. That is not a lot.

    Q: We’re pessimists, so what if it does rain while we’re there?
    A: If you worry about it, bring a lightweight rain jacket. Another suggestion: Use a rainy time to eat. Still another idea: Go on the indoor rides. Look at this as a somewhat rare chance to ride a roller coaster in the rain. It is a very different experience (just as long as there’s no lightning, which will lead to a temporary ride cancellation). If it happens to rain, and you’re in Islands of Adventure, you will find more indoor rides at Universal Studios Florida. These involve some kiddie affairs such as Shrek 4D, but there’s also event-related such as Revenge of the Mummy. Remember that at this time, everyone else will have the same thought, so expect some longer lines. Still another alternative for adults is to grab a beer at the Hog’s Head Brew at the back of the Three Broomsticks. Not 21 or old enough for a beer? Also served there: non-alcoholic Butterbeer.

    Q: When is the park the busiest? We ask because we want to avoid lines as much as possible.
    A: From past performance, HHN has the most crowds the week of October 14-18 and 21-25, which makes sense because those are the dates closest to Halloween, aren’t they? Least crowded: the first two weeks and the final two nights.

    Q: What about those long lines? We hate to wait in lines. We assume the park will be crowded then. Just how long are waits?
    A: Expect at least 30 minutes for most venues, though some can take an hour or more.

    Q: We hate to wait. Can’t we avoid it?
    A: You can pay more to buy an Express Pass. It not only get you faster admission to the very popular haunted houses but also for rides. There’s also an RIP tour where you can skip all the lines, if you can afford it. Participants rave about how this avoids lines of 90 minutes, even on slow nights.

    Q: Any other tips on admission?
    A: If you can, take advantage of early admission to Halloween Horror Nights. This is usually available on select nights for Passholders during the first two weeks of HHN. Then, throughout the entire event, it’s available to any guest who has daytime admission to Universal Studios Florida and can get inside the turnstiles by 4:30 p.m.

    Q: Any other tips on avoiding lines?
    A: Postpone your visit until late at night. Say midnight or so. On many dates, the park is open till 2 a.m.

    Q: Is it a good idea to bring any kids? Might they be too scared to even visit the regular theme park activities?
    A: Universal makes the point that many attractions are so large and elaborate that they can be viewed during regular daytime hours. But remember, kids are seeing these props in the bright sunshine of a Florida day, and not at night when their menace is more immediate.

    Q: We are still worried about the kids…
    A: If you are still concerned about kids, an alternative is Mickey Mouse’s “Not-So-Scary Halloween Party” or Sea World’s “Spooktacular.” Both are not as bloody as HHN, and far more deserving of their overall G-rating.

    Q: What about those choices at the beginning of this article on hiding under blankets and having nightmares?
    A: If you are older than 13, it should be OK. But most observers make the point that children should be at least 13 years old, or it may be too intense for them. No, they don’t have to be that old to get into the park. No ID’s required. But how scary is it for you? Keep in mind that Universal has had 25 years to refine their efforts at making you shudder. So come to think of it, all this mayhem may be too intense for adults as well. It’s up to you.

    Below are pictures from HHN 24:


    Universal Mardi GrasYou don’t have to visit New Orleans anymore to experience Mardi Gras, of course, and one of the best and brightest versions is going on now at Universal Studios, which will be offering their own version on select nights now through April 18

    The best part is that admission is included in the ticket prices.

    "It's Florida's biggest party," said Universal creative director Mike Aiello. "It's the next best thing to actually being in New Orleans for Mardi Gras."

    If you are an Olivia Newton-John fan, you’ve missed her. She kicked off the annual event, which is among the best and most attended of such celebrations outside of New Orleans. But check the schedule to see other entertainments who in March will include Trace Adkins, MKTO, Styx, American Authors, Becky G, Yandel, The B-52s and Phillip Phillips. Next month will bring the All-American Rejects and others.

    The Universal Studios version of Mardi Gras pays homage to the New Orleans version with live bands that have their roots from New Orleans and creole dishes that take place in the park’s French Quarter. The festivities get under way with a night time parade and finally a concert by a major recording artist.

    “This Mardi Gras is definitely the most authentic one you're going to find outside of New Orleans itself with the difference being we are family friendly. We want you to bring the kids out and have a good time but we do all the same things,” said Jason Horne, who is the show’s director.

    Universal Mardi Gras

    Photo Credit: Universal Studios Florida

    The party includes a parade with 12 floats, entertainers on stilts, more than 1.8 million beads thrown to the crowds, entertainment directly from the streets of New Orleans, a French Quarter with Cajun cuisine and an extensive concert lineup.

    “This year especially we are trying to include our audience more than we ever have before. It is about engaging the audience, interacting with them, giving out more beads then we ever have before and throwing the biggest party in Florida,” said Horne.

    Festivities get underway at 6 p.m. every Saturday night and on other select nights. The events are followed by a night time parade and finally a concert by a major recording artist. The parade typically begins 30 minutes prior to the beginning of the Mardi Gras feature concert for the night. Concerts are usually scheduled between 8-9 p.m. with the 25-minute Mardi Gras parade held 45 minutes before show time. Rides and attractions close at parade time, with all events rain or shine.

    The 12 parade floats are designed by the same company, Kern Studios, which makes the ones in New Orleans.

    "There's characters out there, stilt-walkers and authentic food," said a Universal spokesperson. "Red beans and rice, jambalaya, shrimp po' boys. It really is kind of an all encapsulating experience out there."

    Every Saturday night immediately following the parade is a concert by a major music artist that spans multiple genres across each weekend. Universal has setup the weekends so that a different group of fans can attend when their genre of choice will be playing.


    Mardi Gras Event Dates & Headliners (performing in the Music Plaza) 
    February 7 - Olivia Newton-John 
    February 14 - Jessie J 
    February 15 - Barenaked Ladies 
    February 21 - Kelly Clarkson 
    February 28 - Heart 
    March 7 - Trace Adkins 
    March 13 - MKTO 
    March 14 - Styx 
    March 15 - American Authors 
    March 20 - Becky G 
    March 21 - Yandel 
    March 22 - The B-52s 
    March 28 - Phillip Phillips 
    April 4 - The All-American Rejects 
    April 11 - The Band Perry 
    April 18 - Trey Songz

    Outside of the official festivities at the park, visitors can use their theme park ticket for free admission to Pat O’Briens at Universal Citywalk that celebrates Mardi Gras 365 days a year with cajun food and dueling piano’s. It stays open until 2 a.m. For dinner, one way to celebrate the occasion is to eat at New Orleans native Emeril Lagasse’s Emeril’s Orlando Restaurant at Universal Citywalk.

    If you want to stay at a Mardi Gras theme hotel, one good choice is to head over to Disney World to stay at the Port Orleans – French Quarter Moderate Hotel in the Downtown Disney Area. Also, Princess Tiana and her prince are available for meet and greets in the Magic Kingdom.

    Universal Mardi Gras

    Photo Credit: Universal Studios Florida

    Hotels on Universal Orlando property to make weekends out of it include the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, the Loews Royal Pacific Resort, and the Hard Rock Hotel that all have ferry access to Universal Studios Florida.

    In New Orleans, the celebration of Mardi Gras is defined by the final three days prior to Ash Wednesday, when the lenten season begins leading up to Easter, but Universal has long been known for its extended version. ###

    Halloween Horror Nights 2014 logoUniversal Studio's Halloween Horror Nights has become hugely popular over the last 24 years and with popularity also comes crowds and maybe even some aggravation.


    Here are some of our tips for enjoying Halloween Horror Nights 2014.







    • This is not a family/children friendly event, at all, period. This is an adult party with adult language, lots of adult humor and barely clothed women, 

    • Leave the camera behind unless you are a very skilled photographer. You are not going to get very many shots. Dark and fast moving makes taking photos all but impossible unless you have some expensive gear and crazy fast glass. Your cell phone camera will be fine for some of the photo ops (Universal arches for example) and other areas that are great spots for group photos etc.

    • Pick the right night, weekend event nights are way more crowded than weekday event nights.

    • Utilize early entry if you are already in Universal the day of the party (you are in the park). They basically escort everyone out around 4:30pm but if you have HHN ticket for that night you will be escorted to one of 2 holding areas that are inside the park rather than the rope drop waiting at the arches. The change over takes awhile so take this time to plan your strategy, do your email work, social media etc. They usually let the holding areas go around 5:45pm which is much earlier than everyone else. Go to the Walking Dead house!
    • The first house you should visit (Rope drop) is the Walking Dead house. This is the house that gets the longest line in my observation. The Walking Dead house is also the most detailed and has over 50 scare actors.

    • Drunk people, they are everywhere. They blend in with the zombies. Not to worry though because this event is heavy with security everywhere. Let me again state that this is not family friendly event.

    • 7pm to 12am is not enough time to see all the houses, make a plan what house you want to visit before you visit and just know that you will be in line most of the time. 

    • Purchase the 2 or 3 day Universal with Halloween Horror Nights ticket if you have to see everything. The link will also save you some cash!

    • HHN Express Passes are $99 per person and available at the entrance (this is on top of your HHN ticket price).

    • Street atmosphere is awesome, take time to look at your surroundings and enjoy the streets of Universal Studios which requires no waiting in line.

    • Slow your roll with the booze not only for the obvious reason but also consider that there are no bathroom breaks in line!

    • Don't try to sneak any, lets say extra fluids of your own in, there is a pretty strict bag check.


    Pictures from Halloween Horror Nights 2014 #hhn24



    Harry Potter fans are going to love riding the Hogwarts Express at Universal Orlando.  You can check out this fantastic POV video to give you an idea...