Universal Orlando

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.

Ride Guide for Skull Island: Reign of Kong

There’s no denying that Skull Island: Reign of Kong is the most popular ride at Universal Orlando this summer. Being the newest ride to open and one of the most interesting, it’s a ride with a lot of hype. I’m going to give you everything you need to know to determine if the 115-minute line is worth the wait.

I’d like to start by saying that this ride truly is a great ride. There’s nothing out there, that I’ve ridden at least, that’s anything like this. You’re driven by a fake driver that’s given a full character specific to your car so every time you ride, you can get a slightly different experience. Your car drives on a trackless course into a cave that soon turns into screens. You then get thrown into a new world that’s larger than life. While I’m tired of screened rides, this is one of the coolest rides I’ve ever ridden. For reference, my initial reaction as I was exiting was “Holy crap, what was that?!”

I may think this ride is insanely good, but I’ve only ever ridden it three times. The ride itself is very intense and I do get a healthy dose of adrenaline whenever I ride this. I enjoy rides that are genuinely thrilling, so my problem lies elsewhere. When you see the wait and decide to brave the line, you need to take that phrase very seriously. The queue for this ride is actually too scary for me. It’s an indoor line with great air conditioning and some incredible but scary theming. It’s dark, creepy, and loud. The worst part of this line is that it has people that jump out at you from hiding places. It’s a mini Halloween Horror Nights house for me. Personally, I found that to be disappointing. I would actually love this line for this ride because it’s so detailed if they didn’t have people trying to scare you through tight hallways. This might be your cup of tea, but it’s too overwhelming for me. If you have small children or just don’t like jump scares, I would skip this ride or go single rider where no one jumps out at you.

There is one other reason you might want to skip this ride. I don’t usually get motion sickness (unless it’s the Simpson’s ride) so I can’t say for sure how you might feel if you easily get queasy. I would expect that if you usually get motion sickness, you’ll probably feel a bit ill after this ride. I don’t want to give away too much about it, but if you can’t handle screens, I’d plan for a break after this one.

For some little tips, I always recommend you download the Universal app and keep an eye on the wait times. It’s a great ride but you might end up missing over two hours of theme park fun for just one ride if you don’t plan. While this is an indoor ride good for dodging the weather, I recommend riding when the skies are clear of storms so you get to ride outside and see those massive doors open for you. It’s a small feature, but it’s really cool to see. I also think you should try to sit in the back so you can take it all in and see the world you’re exploring. You’re in a big safari style car so the front is completely blocked. You won’t necessarily have a bad experience in the front, but you’ll enjoy it more the farther back you sit. As I mentioned above, this ride does have a single rider line. This is a great tool for most rides in the park, but especially this one. The carts are massive so even if you and your friend hop in line to ride alone, there’s a good chance you’ll still be in the same car as them. It’s hard to find the single rider line open, but if you do, I highly recommend you run through it.

While I have my problems with this ride, I think you should ride it. It’s one of the most unique rides in Orlando and it really is worth the line. I recommend getting there early so the line isn’t too long. Even an hour before the park closes it’s usually a 60-minute wait in the summer. I really want to stress that if you have a child that’s already scared to go on this ride, just skip it. The line alone will scare them witless. While I’m not usually brave enough for this ride, I’ll still get in line sometimes because this ride is worth it. Skull Island: Reign of Kong is a must if you haven’t ridden it yet, but maybe get a Fire Whiskey in Hogsmeade for a bit of courage before you queue up.

Let me know what you think of this ride. If you have any questions about Skull Island: Reign of Kong, I’d be happy to answer them in the comments. Do you have any rides, parks, or attractions at the Orlando parks you’d like reviewed? Let me know, I’d love to give you some insight. See you soon!


My Three Must Rides at Universal Studios

Universal’s Islands of Adventure in Orlando is known for being packed with thrilling rides around every corner, but Universal Studios has some incredible rides as well. Studios is a bit roomier than its neighbor and has more nooks to explore making it a more relaxing experience. While it’s a refreshing park, it does have amazing rides to get your adrenaline pumping. Obviously, I recommend every ride in this park because “when in Rome,” right? However, there are some stand out attractions that I think you need to make time to experience before your trip to Studios is over.

The first ride on my list that you’ll come across is Revenge of the Mummy. This is an indoor roller coaster based on the film series The Mummy. I was quite worried when the new movie was released that they would re-do the ride’s theming, luckily, I don’t think Brendan Fraser is going anywhere. I say “luckily” because this ride is one of my favorite rides in Orlando. It’s an indoor coaster that takes you through real sets as you escape Imhotep. The theming for the ride is immersive, the queue is perfectly creepy (and air conditioned), and the coaster itself is a blast. It’s a simple ride that’s easy to enjoy. If you don’t like the Florida heat, don’t like screen rides, and aren’t too jazzed about riding a coaster as big as Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, this is the perfect ride for you.

The next ride on my list is one I don’t think anyone would skip. Just in case you’re on the fence about it, you need to ride Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. Potterheads and muggles alike will enjoy this ride. It’s a 3-D ride that spins you, lifts you, and even drops you. It has some physical elements that are impressively massive and the videos that you watch are impressively realistic looking. I would like to include a disclaimer about this ride, if you’re lucky enough to be placed in the front cart, you’re in for a real treat. If you’re placed in the second cart however, your experience won’t be as incredible. It’s an unfortunate design flaw that takes away the immersive magic that this ride offers. I still highly recommend this ride to anyone visiting the parks. It really is magical. Both this ride and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey are groundbreaking rides that I think are both enjoyable as well as uniquely impressive. Both have incredible queues, amazing theming, and are just a good time. Even if you don’t like Harry Potter, you’ll be blown away by the detail and you’ll have no choice but to crack a smile.

Hidden in the back of the park is the ride for all people seeking a relaxing break from the heat without having to lock up your belongings for a thrill ride. E.T. Adventure is one of the cutest and most relaxing rides in the park. You start in an outdoor waiting area and are ushered into three small standing theatres where you get a special mission from none other than Steven Spielberg. After giving your name to an attendant, you enter a forest with the most satisfying smell anywhere. Seriously, I’d wait in line for an hour just for the smell. You then get on bikes and help return E.T. to his funky home planet. If you’re lucky, E.T. will even say your name as he thanks you for helping him. This is a relaxing indoor ride for everyone in the family to enjoy. It may seem a bit outdated but the nostalgia you’ll feel will make up for it. It’s a classic Studios ride worth the hike to the back of the park.

Unlike my Must Rides at Islands of Adventure, I do know which ones I like most. Revenge of the Mummy is hands down my favorite ride in this park. I ride is every single time I go to Studios.  It’s a great thrill ride and I hope to see its style copied in the new Fast and Furious ride. My second favorite is E.T. Adventure. I have a soft spot for this ride and when I’m lucky enough to sit in the front row, I’m actually giddy over it. Because of the design flaw in Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, this ranks as my third favorite. It’s a great ride that is worth braving the line for, but maybe head there as soon as the park opens so you can make the most of your day.

Much like my previous Universal Must Rides post, I struggled to pick these three since I have multiple favorites. So to be fair I have to give Men in Black: Alien Attack an honorable mention. This is an arcade style game that whirls you around as you try to protect the planet from an alien invasion. This ride honestly could replace Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts as a favorite for me but I’ve ridden this ride so many times that the excitement is wearing off. I think if you’ve never ridden this ride, it will most definitely be a favorite of yours. While I say I’ve over-ridden it, I still ride it almost every time I’m there. It’s just a fun ride.

Well those are my must rides for Universal Studios in Orlando. If you have any questions on rides for a vacation, staycation or a spontaneous day trip, ask away! If you have different opinions on these rides or have a different set of favorites, I’d love to hear them. Any info you’d like me to discuss on Orlando theme parks, leave me a suggestion. See you next time!

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!