Universal Orlando is Walt Disney World’s biggest competition in the Orlando area, and for the most part it delivers. I personally don’t think it is in the same league as Disney, but there is a specific demographic who will prefer it (mainly teens or young adults who want nothing but thrills, or kids these days who like to stare at screens for hours on end). That being said, I love to see Universal do well as strong competition can do nothing but good for Disney park fans.
Where Universal falls short for me is its lack of ride variety, paid express pass and various issues I’ve had or witnessed with customer service / employee attitudes. The paid express pass really irks me, not only because it can cost as much as entry to the park itself, but also because I routinely still waited 20 minutes to ride each of the two times I purchased it. The dining is also terrible.
One thing I can’t deny however, is that Universal Orlando has some killer attractions. Sadly, none of these have opened within the last 3 years, which means I haven’t been a big fan of recent park additions (I’m looking at you Fallon). That being said, here are 11 fantastic rides you can experience at Universal Orlando.
Before I start, there is are two omissions on this list that are probably quite controversial.
Everyone seems to love big roller coasters, regardless of theme or execution. Me, not so much. I live close to a 6 Flags park here in NJ and if I want to just go ride big and barely themed coasters, I can do so there whenever I want (spoiler alert… I very rarely do… and whenever I do I usually regret wasting money on it). The queue for the Hulk is themed somewhat and the launch tunnel is cool, but after that its nothing more than an amusement park coaster. Rip Ride Rocket has even less theming, instead substituting a choice of on board music to listen to while you ride. Sure, I’ll ride each of these once per trip, but overall neither really does much for me. I’ll take Space Mountain and its 28 mph top speed any day of the week.
Now that I got that out of way, lets get to the attractions I do love at Universal Orlando:
11. Popeye and Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges
This makes the list for being the only good rapids ride in Florida. As you will probably learn by reading this blog over time, I find Kali River Rapids at Disney Animal Kingdom to be a complete joke, with a queue thats far better than the actual ride. Its short, has little to look at and you have only about a 33% chance of getting drenched.
None of those things are issues here. First of all, you WILL 100% get soaked on this ride. Some people may not like that, but if I’m going on a rapids ride to cool down, then I bloody well want to get cooled down. Too many times I’ve gotten on Kali River Rapids on the verge of heat stroke, only to get through the ride with a couple drops of water on my shoulders. On Bilge-Rat Barges, there is zero chance of that happening. There is also plenty of entertaining props throughout and it lasts a good while (I’d guess at almost twice as long as Kali).
10. The Simpsons Ride
First off, I’m just going to come out and say that this ride was better when it was Back To The Future. Sure, the video quality needed an upgrade, but other than that I loved that ride and have never been able to fully support the Simpsons ride because of it. That being said, its still a fun ride with some very funny moments.
I’m only a casual fan of the tv show and as seems to be the case whenever I watch that, Homer has all the best lines here. I particularly like when he tells Sideshow Bob that he sounds just like his doctor after Bob informs him “There is nothing you can do. You’re about to die.” While I still miss BTTF, I can’t deny that the Simpsons ride is a lot of fun with a few really funny moments.
9. Dudley Do-Right Ripsaw Falls
I’m a sucker for a good flume ride. Splash Mountain is my favorite ride at WDW and is as close to a perfect attraction as there is for me. While Ripsaw Falls doesn’t come close to Splash Mountain in terms of theming, quality or duration, its still super fun in its own right.
The set pieces are all super basic but they have that classic Dudley Do Right humor to them and are charming enough. There are a few drops along the way and the one at the end is great.
One thing I don’t like is that the boats are single file ala Splash at Disneyland. Its uncomfortable but not enough to stop this from being a great attraction.
8. Men In Black: Alien Attack
A simple premise, ride through the streets of New York and shoot aliens with a laser gun as you see them. This is similar to Buzz Lightyear at MK, but its much better. The set designs are more fun, the queue is better and the guns don’t hurt your thumbs after a minute and a half.
7. Diagon Alley, Hogsmeade and Hogwarts Express
I am including these together since they are what really brings the Potter lands together as a whole. The theming in the 2 areas set a whole new bar, better than anything Walt Disney World had done up to that point. It directly forced Disney’s hand to go all out when it came to Pandora and the upcoming Galaxy’s Edge. You feel like you stepped into the Potter world when you are in these lands and the attention to detail is incredible. Just walking around them is a joy.
Being able to take the Hogwarts Express between them without leaving the Potter bubble just takes it to another level. The ride on Hogwarts express is really neat as well, using video screen windows to simulate the journey.
6. Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringott’s
While still good enough to make the number 6 spot on the list, I consider Escape From Gringott’s to be an overrated attraction. The hype around this when it first opened was huge, with several people telling me it was the best attraction they had ever ridden. I guess that set me up for a letdown because after my first ride in it my immediate reaction was “Really? That was it?”.
I’ve since softened on it and I admit I do enjoy it quite a bit. But it is far from one of the best attractions I’ve experienced. The coaster elements are too short and few and far between, and the rest is typical Universal screen based action. Screen based action isn’t bad, but this brings nothing new to the table like the #1 attraction below did when it debuted. Honestly, the best part about the ride is the queue which is nothing short of fantastic. I would prefer to wait a half hour and enjoy the crew then to skip it via the single rider option. Its that good.
5. Revenge of the Mummy
Now, this is my kind of roller coaster. Heavily themed and thrilling without needing to rely solely on speed and inversions. The story and effects are the stars here with the thrills just an added bonus. It also features a great twist ending as you are returning back to the station. This rivals Expedition Everest for the best themed roller coaster in the country.
4. E.T. Adventure
A dark ride that rivals anything in Magic Kingdom’s Fantasyland, E.T. Adventure should not be missed. The “Flying Bike” ride system is super neat (way better than Peter Pan’s flying ships) and the show scenes are all great, particularly once you get to E.T.’s home planet. There are always rumors of Universal having plans to replace this attraction and I really hope that doesn’t happen anytime soon. Its always a must do attraction whenever we visit.
3. Jurassic Park River Adventure
When the first Jurassic Park film came out in 1993, everyone (by everyone I mean me, but I can only assume that every other single person felt the exact same way) thought to themselves how cool it would be if that were a real park you could visit. Well, Universal gave us what we wanted by including “Jurassic Park” as one is its themed “islands” when it opened Islands of Adventure in 1999. Well sort of anyway.
Overall, the land leaves a bit to be desired as its a big area with not a ton to do. The keystone attraction however, is everything you could want it to be. The ride starts as a peaceful boat ride through the park, drifting slowly along taking in the site of majestic (robo) dinosaurs all around you. Honestly, if this was all the ride was for 10 minutes or so, I would be completely fine with that. But this being Universal, of course things have to go completely wrong and you are soon face to face with several dino baddies who want you dead. It all ends with a great finale into the big drop. A wonderful ending to a super satisfying ride.
2. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
Housed inside Hogwarts Castle, Forbidden Journey is like no other ride I’ve ever experienced. You ride aboard a high flying bench (attached to a robotic arm on a conveyor belt), the ride is both thrilling and awe inspiring at the same time. Physical sets blend with screen scenes seamlessly combining for a truly engrossing experience. The queue is great as well which can help ease the common long waits to ride.
1. The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman
A game changing attraction, I am amazed that Disney has yet to copy this ride system. Everything about this ride is perfection. The story is entertaining and easy to follow, the pacing is perfect, the effects are still “amazing” to this day (see what I did there). It was one of Universal Orlando’s first screen based rides (I can only think of Back to the Future pre-dating it but I may be wrong), and it is still their best. This ride more than any other will keep me coming back to Universal Orlando every couple years.
Honorable Mention: Kang and Kodo’s Twirl n’ Hurl
This was very close to making the list. Its just a basic spinner ride but the dialog is nothing short of hilarious.
Defending my omissions in 10 words or less.
- Incredible Hulk Coaster — Gives me a headache and not enough theming.
- Hollywood Rip Ride Rocket — Same as the Hulk.
- Transformers: The Ride — Ripped off Spiderman ride system. Too much going on.
- Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem — Another screen simulator, but stationary. Meh.
- Kong: Skull Island and Fast and Furious Supercharged — Both part of studio tour in Hollywood. Underwhelming as solo attractions that demand long waits. (Cheating and using under 20 words since its two attractions).
- Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon — NO
- Anything else not on this list is either off my radar or just fine and not worth getting into.
Feel free to let me know what you think in the comments below! Thanks for reading!