This weekend I said hello to an old friend. No, not the dragon perched atop Gringotts in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley in the photo above, but the Universal Orlando Resort theme parks, Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida, which I had last experienced in my early high school years. On our annual family trips to Walt Disney World, we always spent a day doing Universal (just Universal Studios Florida for every trip but one, as most of these trips predated Islands of Adventure). Some of my favorite attractions as a child were in Universal Studios Florida: ET Adventure, Jaws, Back to the Future: The Ride, Alfred Hitchcock: The Art of Making Movies, Earthquake: The Big One, and my ultimate favorite, Kongfrontation. These attractions sparked my interest in classic Universal blockbusters and my passion for Alfred Hitchcock films, with both interests continuing to this day.
For various reasons (okay, it’s entirely due to laziness in never wanting to rent a car), Sarah and I had not returned to Universal Orlando on our many Walt Disney World trips over the last several years. Being a fan of themed design, I wanted to see Hogsmeade when the original Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened in Islands of Adventure a few years back, but not enough to stop being lazy and actually rent a car. Finally, with the opening of Diagon Alley and all of the fanfare on Jimmy Fallon and the dedicated NBC special, I knew I couldn’t put it off any longer.
I knew most of my childhood favorites were gone (which was also a reason for me not being so eager to visit), but I had no idea of just how excellent the replacements were. I’m used to being disappointed by attractions that replace those of my youth, both due to the tight grasp of nostalgia on me and the reality of the changing landscape in many theme parks. Although I missed the smell of bananas in the queue for Kongfrontation and the gas on Jaws, I was impressed with virtually all of the replacement attractions. Most of these were fully realized and used a variety of effects, clever structure, and storytelling devices to form really solid attractions. Certainly not what I expected in light of the (undeserved) criticism that Universal is all screens and 3D.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, consisting of Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade, was especially awe-inspiring. Prior to the week before the trip, I had never seen any of the Harry Potter movies. I watched the first three, but couldn’t really get into them. That made no difference, as I was still blown away when I stepped foot in Diagon Alley for the first (and second, and third…) time. It is a next-level theme park experience that I think is on-par with the best of Tokyo DisneySea, and anyone who knows me knows that this is the ultimate praise for any theme park. Beyond the excellent detail and immersive sense of place in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, I was blown away by the ambitious main attractions in each land, and intrigued by Hogwarts Express is, which is interesting both from an operational and substantive perspective.
I could write a wall of text about the Wizarding World of Harry Potter alone, but that would be getting ahead of myself. This is only meant as an introduction to my upcoming posts about Universal Orlando, and to gauge interest in what you might want to see and read about with regard to Universal Orlando. With a few exceptions, this will be the home to all of my postings that relate to Universal Orlando. I know I haven’t exactly been active with this site, but I plan on resuming a regular posting schedule this fall. I suspect many of you reading this are primarily Disney fans with a curiosity or potential interest in a “side trip” to Universal, so, what are you interested in reading about with regard to Universal Orlando? Unfortunately, despite my many trips as a child, most of that knowledge is stale, and I’m far from an expert on the contemporary Universal Orlando Resort, so the best I can really offer is critique, reports, and tips based on anecdotal observations, rather than anything even remotely comprehensive. With that said, I’m more than happy to write restaurant reviews, a trip report, or whatever else might interest you.
As for the knowledge thing, I’ll work on quickly bringing myself up to snuff on Universal Orlando through future trips. Admittedly, I was half-hoping to be disappointed by Universal Orlando Resort so as to not feel the need to revisit. That was not even close to the case, which I means my lazy ways of not renting a car in Orlando have come to an end. On the plus side, I have two more theme parks to add to my rotation of things to do in Florida! That more than offsets the hassle of having to rent a car.
To see more of my Wizarding World of Harry Potter photos, check out my Universal Orlando Resort Photo Gallery.
What would you like to see covered here with regard to Universal Orlando? Have you visited Universal Orlando recently? Interested in visiting? Any questions? Share any thoughts you have in the comments!