I have been hearing great things about Islands of Adventures for years, especially with the addition of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Iím more of a coaster fan than a Potter fan, but many had told me that Universal had finally outdone Disney with the addition of this area.
Why have I waited so long? After some less-than-enjoyable trips to my local amusement parks on the west coast (cough: Six Flags), Iíve been reluctant to do other parks except Disney. Disney may not have the most extreme rides, but it is always fun and enjoyable. Universal Hollywood is enjoyable, every once in awhile, but is Islands of Adventure really worth a 3000 mile trip?
Was it worth the trip? Absolutely! I look forward to returning again when the Harry Potter expansion is complete, and I would consider picking this resort over Disney World next time I am in Orlando.
Note: I had a Universal Express pass because I stayed at a Resort Hotel. I would definitely purchase this again.
This was my biggest fear going to a non-Disney park. After a surly captain on the boat ride from my hotel to the park, I was reluctant. However, that changed once I made it to the park.
All the staff I met were very friendly and helpful. Every ride had a greeter at the queue entrance. Universal may have originally needed this to handle the Express queue, but it was nice to have nonetheless. All the ride ops waved as the attraction started and cheered when the attraction returned. Itís a small thing, but definitely adds to the overall feeling of the park.
Wow. Wizarding World of Harry Potter is amazing. I thought the Cars Land backdrop was amazing, but Hogsmeade with Hogwarts in the background is a bit heart stopping. And with the squeals of all the kids around me, I think Universal nailed this one.
The rest of the park did not disappoint. Iím sure some of the theming may appear old to the locals, but it worked well for me. The entrance bazaar to Seuss Landing to Lost Continent to Wizarding World pathways are a pretty amazing trip through different areas.
The Universal Studios park theming isnít as great, especially at the front of the park. Just a bunch of buildings and maze of queues. However, the back of the park is much nicer with the San Francisco area and the soon to open Simpsons area.
Both parks have a great center lagoon. However, Islands of Adventure seems to let most of the space go to waste. Most of the areas on the lake are dead-end paths. Iím not sure why these areas donít connect. It seems like a few benches and a drink cart near the lagoon would be a great addition.
Wow again. Hulk, Spider-Man, Rip Ride Rockit. All world-class attractions. Even the second tier attractions are great: Simpsons, Men in Black, Revenge of the Mummy, and Cat in the Hat.
As for The Forbidden Journey, the queue is incredible. It should probably be considered its own separate attraction as the attention to detail is amazing and the active elements in the queue make it feel more like an exhibit than a queue. I found the ride to be a bit of a confusing mess. The ride technology is great, but I think Spider-Man is a better overall ride.
I only had one meal at the park -- a typical amusement park hamburger and fries. Nothing special, nothing horrible. However, and this is a huge plus to me, I was able to eat inside an air-conditioned building at a table. Yes, it was a standard plastic table, but it was inside! It seems like more and more parks will sell you food, but then they send you out into the wild to try and enjoy your food.
Portofino Bay Hotel
I picked this hotel as I was told it was the nicest hotel on property and the most adult friendly. I would agree, although I did not visit the other hotels to compare. With 3 pools on property, it was easy to switch between the family friendly Beach pool and the smaller, more intimate Villa pool.
My only complaint would be that the restaurant selection was limited. Although all the restaurants were nice, you are somewhat limited to a very upscale Italian restaurant, a family-style Italian restaurant, and the Italian steakhouse restaurant. See the theme there?
Otherwise, the hotel is very nice and the bay is beautiful at night. This is a huge hotel and it is easy to get lost! The martini and burger at the Bar American made up for the lack of other restaurant choices at the hotel.
P.S. 24 hour room service!
I have been a long-time Disney fan. Disneyland is my go-to park.
Do I think Universal has out-Disneyed Disney? Yes.
Universal has world-class attractions, theming, and staff. They have created one of the most amazingly themed attractions and queues. I enjoy Cars Land, and I think Radiator Springs Racers is a better ride than Forbidden Journey, but Wizarding World is in a class of its own.
More importantly, I feel Universal Orlando ďResortĒ is a real resort, not just a couple of parks smashed together. With a simple boat ride that went from my hotel -- and only my hotel -- to the park, Universal transported me to a real resort destination.
With Disney Worldís tangled mess of transportation systems and park distances, and Disneylandís checkpoints between hotels, shopping, and parks, both require me to think of real world problems while at a resort destination.
Granted I may have just lucked out for a couple of days. The crowds at Universal seemed moderate to heavy (40 minute queues on IOA attractions, 20 minutes at the Studios), but I never had to wait when switching parks. I always have to wait when switching parks at Disneyland ďResortĒ.
More importantly, Universal already seems to be addressing this potential problem with an inter-park transportation system for next year.
Whatís missing from Universal? Fantasyland and princesses. Although there are some attractions geared for younger children, Seuss Landing is definitely not Fantasyland. Toontown maybe.
This is a new go-to park for me. I would recommend this park to other Disney-loving adults and families with young to older teens.