Picking up where Universal Orlando Trip Report – Part 1 left off, I’m back with more thoughts and photos (most of the Diagon Alley night shots are at the bottom of the post, so scroll down if you don’t care about my random notes). The Wizarding World of Harry Potter areas and attractions were my main reason for making the visit to Universal Orlando since I knew so little about its other attractions and most of my old favorites were gone, but I wasn’t going to visit the parks without experiencing the rest.
From Hogsmeade, we ventured out in Islands of Adventure to hit some attractions in the other lands. My apologies for the lack of photos in the top half of this installment; my camera was often in a locker during the day…
The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man was one such attraction. I had last visited Islands of Adventure sometime after the park’s opening, and I didn’t remember the attraction from then at all. In fact, not only was I under the impression that it opened in conjunction with Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man movie, but I thought it was based upon that movie.
Despite my surprise that it was based on the comic-book world of Spider-Man, and teenage me’s disappointment that Kirsten Dunst was absent, I was blown away by the attraction. I’ve heard it frequently cited as one of the best attractions anywhere, and I felt it lived up to that praise.
Even though it’s fast-paced, The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man felt balanced in terms of being a fast-paced attraction and one with a coherent plot. This probably isn’t what’s mentioned up front with this attraction very often as the attraction’s technology and effects are its greatest strength, but in my view this was the weakness of several other technically-impressive Universal attractions, so it does bear mentioning.
As far as the technology utilized, I don’t even know where to start. The attraction so seamlessly blended screen-based technology with physical sets and the moving vehicles that it really wasn’t possible to tell where the former ended and the latter began. Or, perhaps it was if I were really looking, but I was so captivated by the quality of the experience that being in the world of Spiderman was the first thing on my mind, not questioning what tech was used where.
I can tell commentary on this is going to be a recurring trend in this trip report, but–at the risk of sounding redundant–I think it’s necessary. This is clearly where the theme park industry is heading with many new attractions. How well an attraction employs its effects, ride system, and blends its various components has always been make or break in terms of how well the attraction causes the guest to suspend disbelief, and it feels the stakes are raised even further with the proliferation of screens.
It’s also been something on my mind recently as several of my new favorites like Spider-Man, Mystic Manor, and the Harry Potter attractions have utilized screens so successfully. By contrast, the misfires (for me, the biggest of which would be L’Aventure Totalement Toquée de Rémy in Walt Disney Studios Park at Disneyland Resort Paris) show how even the smallest things can significantly damper the experience. Maybe it’s just me, but more “classic” experiences don’t suffer so greatly by their issues. For example, seeing the flying ships suspended from a track in Peter Pan’s Flight has never really impacted my feelings about that attraction.
Anyway, rather than fixating on Spider-Man and how these types of ride systems are higher stakes, let’s keep moving along. Wandering further, we also did The Incredible Hulk Coaster and The Cat in the Hat dark ride. Neither of these really made much of an impression. Hulk seemed like a fun coaster, but I’m not much for unthemed coasters (I forgot to mention in the last installment that we also did both tracks on Dragon Challenge in Hogsmeade; same goes for it) so while fun, it was a bit of a throw-away for me. The Cat in the Hat was fine for what it was, but being a childless guy with no nostalgia for it, it was a bit of a yawner. Basically like The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, except with Cat in the Hat characters instead of Pooh characters.
We also did a loop around the park, hitting every area except Port of Entry (which I later did visit, and is awesome). As a whole, I have to admit that I was not all that impressed with the lands. Yes, Hogsmeade is pretty awesome in terms of design, but the rest…isn’t. Mind you, there are some flashes of great theming, but there are also some places that feel decorated moreso than themed.
Part of this might be general disdain that Universal owns the rights to the greatest theme park intellectual property that will ever be known to man in Jurassic Park, and totally squanders it. Jurassic Park River Adventure is a solid attraction, but given the source material, it should be far and away the best attraction in the park, drawing 700 minute waits. As for the rest of the land, the Visitor’s Center and random huts are the best Universal Creative could do? Really?! I built way more awesome Jurassic Park lands with my LEGOs when I was 8 years old. (EDIT: I did not visit ‘Camp Jurassic’ and it has been brought to my attention that this area is really well done–perhaps all my ranting and raving is misplaced. I’ll have to check that out on the next trip…)
The dinosaur lands in Islands of Adventure and Disney’s Animal Kingdom are probably the ultimate insult to the imagination of children everywhere. It’s sort of mind-boggling how they both suck so hard given that a theme park land based upon dinosaurs should be ridiculously easy to make awesome. If someone told me there was a Florida state law against awesome dinosaur lands, I would honestly believe it, as that’s literally the only explain that makes even remote sense. Such a law might be in the public interest, too; Florida theme parks already have enough of an issue with guests suffering heat exhaustion, and I’m sure those types of problems would be exacerbated by killer dinosaur lands that blow minds too hard. (I believe the medical term for that condition is ‘Permirificus Aneurysm’.)
The general thematic feel of the Universal Orlando Resort parks is something I’ll return to in my summary to conclude this trip report, especially as it relates to how Universal has seemingly stepped up its game in recent years with significant growth and changes in the last few years, but just the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
After wandering Islands of Adventure a bit, it was back to Universal Studios Florida. On the agenda was The Simpsons Ride, E.T. Adventure, Men in Black: Alien Attack, dinner, and photographing Diagon Alley at night. I usually use photos to help recall the order of things done on a trip for trip reports, but I had my camera in lockers for good chunks of the day, so I’ll just cover this stuff without regard to the order of the experiences.
I think we did Men in Black: Alien Attack first. This shooter game did not disappoint. From the Googie/Mid-Century Modern architecture of the 1964 New York World’s Fair exterior to the clever queue and the ride scenes themselves, this was a real sleeper hit for me. Disney fans may not like this assessment, but it’s far and away the best shooter in Orlando. Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin feels like a cheap knock-off by comparison, and I’m unimpressed by the very basic screen-based nature of Toy Story Mania, so neither of these attractions can touch Alien Attack, in my opinion.
The Simpsons Ride was another big winner for me. I used to be a huge Simpsons fan, but I slowly lost interest in the show as I felt it became less about clever parody and more about quick (often mindless) laughs. This attraction feels like Simpsons episodes of the past, a theme park attraction that wryly skewers other theme park attractions with most jokes hitting the mark. The ride itself is fine, recycling the same system from Back to the Future: The Ride, but I felt the real highlight here was the humor. Going in, I was disappointed that an old favorite of mine in Back to the Future: The Ride had been replaced, but after experiencing Back to the Future: The Ride again after this in Universal Studios Japan, I think Universal made the right decision. Back to the Future: The Ride is still a worthy attraction, but it’s unfortunately showing its age. Sorry, BTTF fans.
E.T. Adventure was next up…a few times. I’ve been unabashed in my praise for this attraction on social media since my visit to Universal, and given that I’m not good at sarcasm, I think a lot of people have misconstrued that praise for derision. It’s not.
I could go on and on about the greatness of E.T. Adventure, and at some point I probably will. Suffice to say, I think this is the best Fantasyland-style dark ride in Orlando. Yes, it’s a bit kitschy and isn’t without faults, but that could be said for all of Walt Disney World’s dark rides. If you think otherwise, I suspect your opinion of the Walt Disney World rides is colored by nostalgia.
Where E.T. Adventure succeeds is that unlike the rest, the ride portion of the attraction still feels fresh, with quality figures and vibrant scenes that feel alive as you glide past them in your bike. In terms of the bikes (somewhat akin to the ships in Peter Pan’s Flight), they actually do move fluidly, and are a great way to bring guests into the story.
The plot in the attraction is easy to follow, but it’s odd in that it introduces a bunch of new characters (I later learned they’re from E.T. The Book of the Green Planet, which costs $.01 and should obviously be owned by everyone), most of which are equally as bizarre as E.T., but also unfamiliar to most guests. This makes it feel a bit campy, but the whole of the experience holds up well and is campy in a fun way, not a dated way. None of this should come as any surprise given that E.T. is national treasure that will be cherished by future generations of Americans for billions of years to come, much like Jurassic Park, and you’d have to consciously try to make the theme park adaptation anything less than stellar for an IP like this. Oh wait…
E.T. Adventure is pure magic from beginning to end, with a fun(ny) pre-show video, great queue, beautiful sets, and a novel means of drawing guests into the story. As much as I like many of Universal’s new attractions, this is one of the last remnants of what made Universal Studios Florida a special park when it opened, and is now a needed foil for the rest of Universal’s attraction lineup.
After this, it was time to refuel with dinner at Fast Food Boulevard in Springfield USA. This Simpsons area recreated the basic look of Springfield well-enough, but the overall quality seemed a bit suspect. As for the food (I had the Basket O’ Bait), it seemed like an attempt to further parody generic theme park food, which probably wasn’t an advisable move, given that people actually consume the food. I wasn’t impressed with it.
It was then time to return to Diagon Alley for some night photography. For those of you scrolling through my rambling hoping for a payoff, this should be it!
Like Cinderella Castle, I don’t think photographing this dragon will ever get old…
All of the environments in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter remind me of random side streets in Europe. It’s all very quaint and intimate, making for good “details” shots.
The next two shots are tripod-mounted takes on the same scene taken about 5-30 seconds apart, with each combining two different photos for radically different results. I like each of them for different reasons.
As I get back into the swing of things on this site, I’m trying to figure out what types of posts work, and which don’t. If a post detailing the technique behind these different shots (I actually have a few like this from Diagon Alley) is something that would interest you, please let me know in the comments.
For the record, I had my camera set up here before these people stopped in front of me. I like the human element in this shot, but I wish the girl with the short-shorts stopped a little farther in front of me…
Even the seating area for Butter Beer is pretty cool looking.
Another dragon photo that feels incomplete without fire.
I have no idea what this stand is…I think some sort of elixir station? I just liked the way the fireworks from Universal’s nighttime show illuminated the sky above the arcade’s glass ceiling here.
The dragon on top of Gringotts doesn’t move or anything, so I’m assuming this is a fairly simple effect–proving that it doesn’t take something flashy and cutting edge to impress.
The design of Diagon Alley really lends itself to shooting with an ultra wide angle lens, and leveraging those converging lines for dramatic impact…
I don’t care who you are, fire is impressive.
More converging lines, plus balancing warm and cool lighting.
That was it for my first day at Universal Orlando Resort. The next part will pick up at the start of day, which features more classics at Universal Studios Florida, including ~10,000 words on why every attraction should feature Christopher Walken. I’m sure you can’t wait for that! 😉
These photos were all taken by me with my Nikon D810; I used my Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 Lens for the vast majority of the shots. I also used my MeFoto travel tripod for some of the shots, particularly the Diagon Alley nighttime ones.
To get some more Universal photo ideas, check out my Universal Orlando Resort Photo Gallery.
I’ll level with you–after not being too active with this blog for a while, I’m trying to kickstart it again and post here on a regular basis. If you enjoy this Universal Orlando Resort trip report, the photos, whatever, I would greatly appreciate it if you’d share it on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, USPS, UPS, FedEx, etc., via the social media buttons on each installment to help spread the word. Reader comments with your feedback, thoughts, etc., are also greatly appreciated!
Do you agree or disagree with any of my thoughts about Universal, screens, etc. in this installment? Are you interested in visiting Universal Orlando Resort? Have any questions or other thoughts? Please share below in the comments!