Within a week I’ve gone from lying on a sunbed in Florida to freezing my proverbials off back in Mallorca. For those of you reading this and saying what’s he on about, cold in Mallorca? Yes we’ve even had snow on the mountains!
A lot of great feedback from last week so I thought I’d give you a rundown of the good and bad of the Universal theme parks in Orlando. Personally and due to previous visits I think they’re now better than the Disney parks and the main reason is the building of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in each park. This opinion does depend on the age of your children as there is a minimum height on most of the rides which start around 102cm and all of these can be checked beforehand online. As our kids are 13 & 9 no problem and we’ve been going since they were 9 & 5. My advice is to buy your tickets online before you arrive as you will definitely save money. It does get a bit confusing to be honest as their are 3 parks to choose from, Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure and the new water park Volcano Bay. Without doubt you’ll want to do both of the theme parks and the water park is optional and weather dependent. What ticket you buy will be down to how many days you are there but if you can spread it out as much as you can you’ll enjoy it more as it’s a lot of walking! If you book into a Universal hotel you are entitled to enter the parks an hour before anybody else. You can walk or there are motor boats that take you from the hotels to the centre of City Walk the parks entertainment area. It’s then a short walk to the entrances. A lot of people have asked if buying a Fast Pass for the rides is worth it. I wouldn’t buy them beforehand as it depends on how busy the parks are. The less busy times would be out of school holidays and midweeks. Also most of the rides have ways to keep you entertained in the queues which are missed sometimes with Fast Passes. These passes can be bought inside the parks if it is busy. Not all the rides open early but the Harry Potter ones do so take advantage as whatever queue you meet at that time I guarantee it will be the shortest of the whole day. If you’re not in a Universal hotel or don’t get up early enough always head for the rides furthest from the entrance. Most people will jump on the first ride they see making the queues shorter at the furthest rides. There is a Universal app that you can download to get all the up to date queueing times and there are screens inside the parks listing them too. Be prepared to be hit by photos and merchandise on every single ride and this can drain the pockets if you’re not careful. You can get a card to save all your photos and buy them at a later date. Merchandise from all the rides can be bought in the general stores as well as at the ride shops, meaning you can buy at the end of the day so you don’t have to carry them around with you. Take a rucksack that can hold purses, wallets, phones etc and these can be put into free lockers before you go onto any ride. Take a couple of drinking water bottles as you can refill them at the many water fountains dotted around. Food and drinks are not cheap, you can take your own or check out the resort map for what is being served and where. The parks open 09.00 to 19.00 in the less busiest times and 09.00 to 21.00 in the most busiest. Remembering that’s 08.00 opening if you’re staying in a Universal Hotel. So as you can see from the times they are long days, along with all the walking and queueing which is why I said spread the days out if you can to relax and recharge the batteries. Both Harry Potter parts of each park are amazing and no expense has been spared. If you can, buy your kids the interactive wands as they will be able to carry out tasks around the parks that is great fun and stops you just going from ride to ride. The rides in both are for me the outstanding ones and the Hogwarts Express between the 2 parks is a must. Remember you can only ride the train if you have a 2 park pass ticket. The Hulk is the next most popular ride in Islands of Adventure and the Rip Ride Rocket in Universal Studios. There are water rides in the Studios and contrary to what you may hear you will get wet, actually soaked as we did! You either dry in the Florida sunshine, stand in a man size dryer for $5 or put a spare t-shirt in your rucksack.
Top 10 facts you might not know about Universal.
The best secret of them all is Universal’s second entrance, a great tip for those who want to get into the parks as quickly as possible. This entrance can be found near the Blue Man Group, between the Despicable Me ride and the Studios Store. Compared to the regular entrance this one rarely has a queue. However, it does open slightly later (10am) than the usual park opening time, so if you want to be the first on the rides go to the main entrance. We discovered this on our way to visit friends at the Hard Rock Cafe.
Universal Orlando opened in July 1990 with a raft of original rides. Since then many of those rides have evolved into new ones. ET’s Adventure is actually the only original ride that still remains at the park. You can find this ride at Universal Studios park in the Woody Woodpecker Kid Zone. The one ride of old I would bring back is Back to the Future.
The Harry Potter-inspired attraction, Diagon Alley, is designed to look exactly how it’s played out in the movies. Located at Universal Studios, it features the film’s famous secret alleyways and quirky buildings including Gringotts Bank and Olivanders – plus many more elements to make it super authentic. In Diagon Alley all the buildings are at least 3 stories tall and the sky is part of the set. This means that when you look around you can’t see any part of the real world. I told you no expense was spared.
For Harry Potter enthusiasts, there’s something very special about getting your mail branded by the famous franchise. At the Wizarding World of Harry Potter you can post your letters at the mailboxes in Hogsmeade and they’ll be delivered to your recipient with a special stamp. It will probably be faster than the Royal Mail and definitely quicker than out correos here!
If you head down to the Fast Food Blvd at ‘Springfield: Home of the Simpsons’ you can buy a pint of original Duff Beer from Moe’s Tavern. Taste-tested by writers of the Simpsons television show, the beer can only be purchased at Universal parks. Although I’m sure I saw a can of it in Lidl once!
When you buy a refillable souvenir mug at any of the gift stores at Universal Orlando, you’ll be able to refill it with a soft drink for just 0.99 cents. Whether it’s a Transformer mug, a Butter Beer beaker or any other refillable, just take it to one of the many drink stations at the park and get it filled up with your favorite soft drink. This deal is valid all year round, plus you can refill your mug as many times as you want. Beer is not included unfortunately.
For all Harry Potter fans this is one of Universal’s must-see experiences. If you’re taking the Hogwarts Express train from Universal Studios’ Kings Cross Station, you can actually walk through a solid brick ‘wall’ to Platform 9 3/4 to catch the train.
If you love both roller-coasters and music, the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit is for you. Once you’re on board you can choose your very own personalised sountrack and mix it up as you ride. Thirty songs are available from five different genres including rap, hip hop, rock, country and pop. The trick is to hold down the touchscreen on your safety bar and your special music show will start. I’ll be honest I didn’t go on this as I hate rollercoasters but my Wife and kids told me!
At Diagon Alley in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, can you actually speak to the Ministry of Magic. Dial 62442 in the red phone booth outside King’s Cross Station and it will directly connect you with the Ministry. What people don’t know is that 62442 on an old phone translates to ‘MAGIC’ on a new one.
Most ride queues in Universal are located indoors as a way of helping visitors stay cool. As such, there are plenty of extra attractions in the queue lines as I said before. These include special attractions and themed video clips packed with fun facts and entertainment. At the begining of the queue at ‘Revenge of the Mummy’ look out the gold King Kong statue which commemorates the old King Kong ride once located there. Over at the The Simpsons ride, you’ll see animated appearances of Doc Brown while you’re queuing; it may sound random but it’s a throwback to the Back to the Future Ride originally located there.
As I said last week we love Orlando and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anybody. Hopefully all the above is useful if you’re thinking of going or you know somebody that is.
Back to freezing my wotsits off back here in Mallorca as my youngest has a kick-off in Campos at 20.00 Friday evening, madness! Real Mallorca play Deportivo La Coruña on Saturday evening at 20.30, daft! And just when I thought I could have a relaxing Sunday my eldest kicks off at 17.00 Sunday afternoon, it rhymes with rollocks and it was said in Parliament this week so I might just get away with it!
Dad taxi working overtime this weekend with the heater on full blast.
Enjoy your weekend!
Richie presents the Radio One Mallorca Breakfast show Monday to Friday 07.30-11.00am on 93.8fm in Mallorca and 102fm in Calvià, online at www.radioonemallorca.com on mobile through their free App for IPhone, Android, The Tunein Radio App and on the Spanish TDT TV service. If you can’t hear him on the radio then you’ll find him working at Pirates Adventure the islands number one night out and every now and again he may make an understudy appearance!
Feel free to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org