Islands of Adventure

Christmas Magic at Universal Orlando

While Disney may do everything on a grand scale, the have some competition with this year’s Christmas celebrations at Universal Orlando. With plenty of free events to check out, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

The Decorations:IMG_1807

Universal only fully decorates certain sections of their parks for the holidays. There are three main sections to look for. At Universal Studios, the New York section is all lights and garland. With a massive tree at the entrance, this region is all Christmas from the second you enter.

If you’re looking for an overload of Christmas cheer, Seuss Landing at Islands of Adventure is the place for you. It’s all decked out for Grinchmas in the most Seuss-inspired style possible. Every inch of this area is a Christmas overload.

For a special treat, Universal has finally started decorating Harry Potter World for the holidays. As a massive Harry Potter fan, I was naturally most excited for Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. I was not disappointed. Every decoration has a naturalistic look with details about the shop that they’re on. Each building has different decorations and different greenery. If you know the books or movies, you’ll appreciate this section’s extreme detail.


I didn’t see much change with Universal’s merchandise or store layouts. Many regions that didn’t have decorations had trees lining the entrances to popular shops with a holiday t-shirt at the front of each store. Seuss Landing went wild with decorating stores, and even restaurants. Their merch remained the same as they showcase the Grinch year-round. Other than ornaments being added to the main display at IoA’s conglomerate store, the Harry Potter sections remained untouched with holiday goodies. If you’re looking for a wonderland of holiday merchandise, check out each park’s Christmas shops.

The Shows:

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Universal offers a wide variety of holiday events for no added cost. At Studios, they have a Macy’s Day Parade that takes to the streets around 6pm. While it is a lot better than their usual parade, this just doesn’t compare to Disney. If you’re tired of walking and want to relax for a few minutes, this might be your speed. Studios has also themed their smaller performances, like Blues Brothers and the Diagon Alley singing show, to have Christmas tunes.

Islands of Adventure is where all of the action happens. Seuss Landing has Grinchmas every year. It’s a cute show with indoor seating. If you can brave the wait, you’ll be watching an adorable musical in cool air conditioning. The main event of the night is The Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts, a Harry Potter light show. Projected on the castle every few minutes once the sun goes down, there are several showings to catch before you call it a day. Trust me, this is the one event you don’t want to miss.


Everyone is ridiculously excited for The Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts show. The more crowded you notice Hogsmeade is getting, the shorter the wait time is for Skull Island: Reign of Kong. If you watch a later showing of the light show and head over to Kong, you could be welcomed with a 10-minute wait time. Believe me, that’s rare for this ride.

Catching a later showing of the Harry Potter show could help you in more ways than one. Since the parks are closing ridiculously early, 7 pm, you can avoid a big chunk of traffic if you leave around 6:45 or at 7 since everyone tends to leave after the light show. You may also miss some of the crowding. Hogsmeade is packed during this show so staying toward the back/middle of the crowd will give you an easy escape rather than being pushed to the front.

Universal outdid themselves with the sections they did decide to decorate. While it’s unfortunate that you only have about an hour to fully appreciate them once the sun goes down, they went all out where they could.


Dragon Challenge Disappointment

I’ve been putting this post off for a while now. I didn’t feel ready to discuss how upset I was or how angry I still am over the tragic closing of Dueling Dragons. I think it’s time I try to put it past me so I can hopefully go back to the parks again, something I haven’t been able to do since.

As you all know, Dragon Challenge is one of my favorite rides at Universal’s Islands of Adventure. Originally named Dueling Dragons, this ride has been a fan favorite since opening in 1999. Being an original ride, it’s got some great history. It was there before Harry Potter was incorporated and stood out as a staple ride for your Orlando vacation. The great theming of the ride helped that out as well. Come on, you’re riding a dragon next to another dragon. What more could you ask for?

The closure of this ride has been rumored for quite some time. The consistently short wait time was a red flag for fans that this ride wasn’t getting enough attention. Personally, I look to Universal for this. Advertisements of the parks used to focus on The Incredible Hulk and Dueling Dragons. Lately, the focus on Dragon Challenge has switched to Rip Ride Rockit, the newest coaster. The placement of the ride didn’t help its survival, either. Had the Dragons originally been in the front of the park, I doubt they’d be considered for closing. They simply took away the necessity for this ride on your trip to IoA.

With such nostalgia guarding the ride, the unnecessary closing of the ride would obviously rub fans the wrong way. Clearly, Universal didn’t care.

I arrived around 5 pm to Islands of Adventure that day. On my mission to get to this funeral, I trekked through the park as quickly as a could. The looming threat of bad weather was concerning, but we’d wait it out. I saw a lot of management walking though the park so I was under the impression that Universal delivered and gave an event to their fans.

Boy, was I wrong. All there was given to us was an extended queue for the lockers and some extra security. My heart dropped as I saw the missed opportunities for a franchise to give back to its fans. I was among the line that waited for two hours to wait out the impending storm to get one last ride in, even staying until after the park closed with unwavering dedication. The cheering that echoed through the cave walls when they reopened the ride was filled with joy. I’m not sure how a theme park neglects its fans like that by not giving them anything in return.

I know what you’re thinking, “Wow this girl is way too passionate about Dragon Challenge.” Yes, I’m horribly sad over this ride being taken out, but I’m mainly angry with the manner it was handled. There was some PR gold to work with that night, and for some reason, nothing happened. I will give some credit, when I walked off the ride for the last time with tears in my eyes, I saw tables with candles and black table cloths. Maybe there was a ceremony done, but I have yet to find it anywhere online. If anyone has a link, I’d happily look it over to see what they did for the closing.

The reason franchises are so great to be apart of is the fans. They give so much to what they love, it gives that company or studio room to give back and interact. We see this at any convention. Comic Con is a great example of how franchises can give back to their fans while also getting great publicity for it.

Simply put, nothing was done for the fans who came in original merchandise, who recited the original story of Dueling Dragons, and who waited for hours through weather delays. It’s not up to your fans to make your events. Whether it was PR department’s fault or if higher up management didn’t consider it worth the money, Universal slept on what could have been a great night for fans and for profits.

As a fan, here are some of the things I wanted to see done for the Dragons:

  1. Re-Release of old and new merchandise. I’m not sure how much it would have cost to do this or if there were licensing restrictions, but this would have been a huge money maker for Universal. The old merchandise I saw has me currently scouring eBay for the chance to get one. People were even making their own shirts and selling them in honor of the occasion. That’s all money that could have gone to Universal and could have kept fans happy and feeling justified.
  2. Cocktails and Mock-tails. The seating area next to Dragon Challenge could have been rearranged for a small cart. All they needed was a slushie cart with red and blue flavors and some alcohol to throw in the adult drinks. Boom, Fire and Ice themed drinks for everyone in the family. In that long bag line, this would have been a gold mine and a life saver.
  3. Regular park hours. I don’t know why they scheduled the closing date on a night with limited hours. Not only does that limit the people who could only ride after work, it puts your employees in a tough spot. You know the line will be long and extend past park hours when you close two hours after people get off work. Better time management could have helped a lot with this process.
  4. Pass Holder and Press Event. Universal’s annual pass holder events are a blast. There’s shorter lines, a better environment for fans, there are sometimes prizes, and it’s a nice way to give back to your regular consumers. Had park hours closed early for a pass holder event, that would be understandable. With press there, they see first hand how universal cares for pass holders and gives them a nice article about their incoming ride.
  5. Duel. I know they can’t duel for safety reasons, but maybe at this pass holder/press event, they could have had an empty cart duel to start off the night. This would be on every fan’s social media and would have gotten great feedback for the parks.
  6. Invite the Creator. This is an idea that might not have worked but the designers of the ride and the concept creator could have been invited to the pass holder and press night to speak to the fans and watch one last duel before their babies got taken down. This would be another great way to show that Universal is a family community and something you want to be apart of.

After the disrespect to the fans and the Dragons, I’m not sure it’s a family I want to be apart of anymore. I had high hopes for that night and they all fell through. With the way Disney World respectfully handled the closing of The Great Movie Ride, there’s no excuse for Universal on this one. Hopefully they can step their game up for their sake and for their fans.

My Three Must Rides at Universal’s IoA

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a Universal Orlando Annual Pass holder. I love spending time at the parks whether it be for the day or just a few hours, but no matter how long I’m at the parks, I have a few rides I know I always have to find time to enjoy. If you’re just visiting the parks for a little vacation or staycation, these are my favorite gems at Islands of Adventure that I think you need to check out.

One of my favorite rides is a Universal classic, The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man.This ride is just a blast. It’s based off of the cartoons/old comics so don’t expect Tobey Maguire to be the Spider-Man you’re fighting crime with. With mainly an indoor themed line, this is a good ride to escape the rain or the Florida heat. This is a 4D ride with 3D glasses and an inevitable squirt of water in the face. While 4D isn’t my favorite thing, this is one I’ll gladly ride whenever.Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

Maybe 4D rides aren’t your favorite but you’re having trouble finding exciting rides without the glasses. If that’s the case, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is a great compromise.This isn’t your average 4D ride. It actually isn’t even 3D. There are no glasses needed for this ride. There are screens that make you feel like you’re in the world, but there are also live elements as well. The ride splits between screens and sets giving us some variety. Add in the most immersive queue theming in the park and you’ve got a ride worth braving the line for. With a unique seating and car system, taking the single rider line won’t result in awkwardly sitting with strangers. I will recommend going through the full line at least once if you have the time and have never been before, it really is magical.Processed with VSCO with m5 preset

Now I imagine most of you are expecting The Incredible Hulk to make my top three since it is the most iconic ride at Islands of Adventure. Although it is the famous Universal roller coaster that can be seen from I-4, my favorite coaster has to be Dragon Challenge.Every time I ride it, I fall more and more in love with it. Front row, back row, day or night, this is a coaster that changes every time you hop on. What’s unfortunate is that the wait is never above 15 minutes. You may read that and get excited for a quick line, but this could prove to be tragic for this thrill packed ride. If you love coasters or are trying to get into them for the first time, stop by and show this ride some love, it needs it.Processed with VSCO with m5 preset

If I had to rank them, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey has to be my favorite ride, and the other two change depending on my mood. It was extremely hard picking those three out of all of the amazing rides so I do have an honorable mention for this park. If you don’t mind getting a bit wet, Jurassic Park River Adventure is an incredible attraction and I couldn’t write this post without giving it some praise. It starts out calm and serene but as the danger picks up, this ride is anything but relaxing. I used to be terrified of River Adventure when I was younger and now I can enjoy it while still jumping and screaming. If you don’t like the 4D rides, this will be one you’ll fall in love with.

There are some incredible rides at these parks and all deserve some recognition. I’m by no means bashing any rides, just celebrating my favorites. I’ve got some other posts about the attractions at these parks coming soon so stay tuned and let me know what your favorites are, I’d love to hear!