Universal Studios: Ultimate Guide to High-Stakes Thrill Rides

Universal Studios Florida Globe
Photo: Chad Sparkes via Flickr

Think Universal Studios in Orlando is only for families with older children, teens, and young adults that love fast thrill rides? Think again! This awesome park is for all ages. And if you’re a fan of the movies, this Orlando theme park offers thrill rides for adrenaline junkies, immersive experiences for über film buffs, and safe spaces for younger children to play and experience exciting, yet gentle rides.

Least crowds:  Apart from off-season, when the parks open in the morning there’s plenty of room to move and jump on popular rides at both parks. (See crowd calendar)

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Getting Around Universal Studios

1. Universal Studios Florida – Sectioned into themed areas, you’ll find thrill rides like Rip! Ride! Rockit! and Revenge of the Mummy. You can also catch a show hosted by Beetlejuice or shoot rogue aliens in Men in Black Alien Attack. Alive with the vibe of downtown city streets, this park has something for every level of thrill.

2. Islands of Adventure – Here’s where you’ll find rides for the adventurous and imaginative, including The Incredible Hulk Roller Coaster where you can learn what a “zero-G” roll feels like, or float over the crowds at the whimsical Seuss Landing on the High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train.

Islands of Adventure Ride Jurassic Park
Photo: Robert Linsdell via Flickr

3. Wizarding World of Harry Potter – There are now two themed Harry Potter areas – Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade – and the Hogwarts Express connects them both. If you’re a Potter fan and want to visit both parts of Harry Potter World, you’ll have to purchase a park-to-park ticket as Diagon Alley is located in Universal Studios and Hogsmeade is within Islands of Adventure.

Fire breathing dragon Harry Potter World
Photo: Cory Disbrow

4. Citywalk – Fun shopping, great restaurants, and lively shows are all at Citywalk. It’s Universal’s version of Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney). Best of all, you don’t have to pay admission to get in.

Universal Studios Florida: CityWalk at Night
Photo: Dave Herholz via Flickr

Must-See Universal Studios Rides & Attractions

1. Harry Potter and Escape from Gringotts: Diagon Alley, Universal Studios Florida – A 3D indoor roller coaster, the stunning effects are just as impressive as the ride itself! Even the line is great, as you’ll walk through Gringott’s Bank and encounter the goblins that run it before you head down into the vault area.

Harry Potter and Escape from Gringotts
Photo: Cory Disbrow

2. The Incredible Hulk: Marvel Super Hero Island, Islands of Adventure – Love speed? The Incredible Hulk goes from zero to 40 MPH in 2 seconds flat. You’ll feel like you’re taking off in a jet as you roll and spin for over two minutes! Riders are launched to 150 feet and its top speed of 67 MPH will satisfy most adrenaline junkies.

The Incredible Hulk: Islands of Adventure Rides
Photo: Cory Disbrow

3. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey: Hogsmeade, Islands of Adventure – The first major Harry Potter ride, Hermione enchants the seats and sends riders into a whirling dark adventure filled with thrills and surprises. The queue is well worth the wait, as you’ll walk through Hogwarts Castle and journey inside the classrooms, pass by Dumbledore’s office, and see the Gryffindor Common Room.

Hogwarts Castle: Harry Potter World
Photo: Cory Disbrow

4. Revenge of The Mummy: New York, Universal Studios Florida – An indoor roller coaster filled with impressive special effects including pyrotechnics, you try to escape the clutches of the evil Mummy. In only a few seconds, the coaster reaches speeds of up to 45 MPH and lasts for almost three minutes.

Revenge of The Mummy: Universal Studios Ride
Photo: Javier Loren via Flickr

5. Despicable Me Minion Mayhem: Production Central, Universal Studios Florida – Before Gru and his precious daughters turn you into minions, you’ll have the pleasure of walking through their home. After you’re a minion, though, be prepared for a fun, 3D motion simulation ride! It doesn’t end there, because after the ride there’s a dance party where you can meet one of the yellow guys. It’s a great spot for a photo op.

Universal Studios Parades & Festivals

1. A Celebration of Harry Potter – It’s three days of Harry Potter mania, filled with Q&A sessions with popular cast members, a Celebration Expo, and panel discussions. If you’re a fan, this is the time to visit.

A Celebration of Harry Potter: Universal Studios Parade
Photo: A Celebration of Harry Potter | Ricky Brigante via Flickr

2. Mardi Gras – An authentic (kid-friendly) Mardi Gras parade, live stage performances from top musical artists, and more shiny beads than you can fit around your neck. Seasonal Cajun-style food is also available to complete the festive New Orleans ambiance.

Mardi Gras at Universal Studios Florida
Photo: Jared via Flickr

3. Halloween Horror Nights – This one’s definitely geared for teens and adults, and not the faint of heart. Filled with haunted houses and scare zones, Universal Studios in Orlando closes early to prepare for the terrifying time on select nights in September, October, and November. Dubbed THE premiere annual Halloween event in the US, it’s sure to bring screams of terror and delight for fans of the holiday.

Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Florida
Photo: Joshua via Flickr

4. Grinchmas – Seuss Landing at Islands of Adventure gets turned into a winter wonderland. With a live retelling of the popular kids book, a character breakfast with the snarky green guy himself, and wall to wall Whoville-style Christmas decorations, it’s tough to know whether adults or kids will like it best.

The Grinch at Grinchmas in Universal Studios Florida
Photo: Joshua via Flickr

Where to Eat in Unversal Studios

1. Quick Service – This is the way to go if you want to spend as much time as possible riding rides or catching shows while visiting Universal Studios in Orlando. Quick and easy, counter service restaurants tend to be a no-fuss style but the food is still tasty.

My Top Picks: Kids Zone Pizza Company, Fast Food Boulevard Pizza Predattoria , Thunder Falls Terrace , the Leaky Cauldron Three Broomsticks

Krusty Burger at Fast Food Boulevard, Universal Studios Florida
Photo: Fast Food Boulevard | Corry Disbrow

2. Fine Dining – Looking for a nice, sit-down style meal when visiting Universal? There’s plenty of finer dining options that focus on unusual ingredients and great service.

My Top Picks: Mythos Restaurant , Vivo! Italian Kitchen , Emeril’s Tchoup Chop , Bice Ristorante , The Palm Restaurant

Cave at Mythos Restaurant: Universal Studios Florida
Photo: Mythos | Amoskalenko via Flickr

3. Snacks & Treats – How about Butterbeer ice cream or a sundae on a stick? Universal has tons of fun snack options to satisfy hungry bellies and sweet tooths.

My Top Picks: Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlor , Circus McGurkus Cafe Stoo-pendus , Croissant Moon Bakery , Bone Chillin’

4. Character Dining – You’ll find Universal Studios character dining at the parks and at Universal resorts.

My Top Picks: Universal’s Superstar Character Breakfast at Cafe La Bamba , Loews Royal Pacific Resort Character Breakfast , The Grinch and Friends Character Breakfast (seasonal)

Universal Secrets

Inside Hogwarts Castle at Universal Studios Florida
Photo: Portraits in Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey | Cory Disbrow

1. Steven Spielberg – hidden in the Men in Black Alien Attack ride, the famous director makes an appearance in his signature baseball cap and holding a newspaper. Aim your gun correctly and you’ll see a three-headed, alien version of him.

2. Banana trees for the minions – Planted beside Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem are banana trees in honor of the wee yellow guys’ favorite food.

3. Send mail with a Harry Potter-themed postmark – Send a postcard or a letter to a loved one while in Hogsmeade and it will arrive with an official Harry Potter postmark.

4. Shaving cream filled with dino DNA? – Tucked away in the Jurassic Park Discovery Center is a can of Barbasol shaving cream – the same kind that Dennis used to try to smuggle dino DNA out of the park.

5. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey without the ride – You don’t have to ride the ride to enjoy the detailed queue through Hogwarts Castle. Simply notify the employees if you’d like to just walk around.

6. Make a call to the Ministry of Magic – Pick up the right phone in Diagon Alley and you’ll be privy to a magical conversation from the Ministry of Magic.

7. Kreacher the House Elf can see you – Stand outside of 12 Grimmauld Place at the entrance to Diagon Alley and you’ll spy Kreacher looking back at you.

Kreacher the Elf at Harry Potter World
Photo: Cory Disbrow

8. Want to marry a goblin? It never hurts to ask – Inside of Gringotts Bank, not only can you exchange Muggle money for wizard currency, you can interact with the goblins and even ask one to marry you. Be prepared for a not-so-gentle refusal.

9. The Berlin Wall in Orlando? – Outside of the Hard Rock Cafe is a large chunk of the Berlin Wall. It makes for a great photo op, especially if you remember the day that it all came down.

10. Secret entrance to Universal Studios – To the right of the Blue Man Group entrance is a second one. You can have your tickets scanned at this single entry spot, which may save you time after 10 am.

Resorts Near Universal Studios Orlando

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For more great tips on parenting and educational adventures check out Kayrn's blog Sand and Snow...and Everywhere in Between! You can also view her tips and tricks to vacation planning on TravelingMom.

About Karyn Locke

Karyn Locke is a traveler at heart. A former military brat who caught the travel bug at a very early age, Karyn loves road tripping with her family and writing about her travels from small town Ohio at Sand and Snow...and Everywhere in Between! Her passion for all things Disney can be seen in her blog as well as on TravelingMom where she shares tips and tricks to successful vacation planning.