My Trip to Orlando, Part 5: Universal’s Islands of Adventure

It’s very hard for us to say which part of our Orlando vacation is the best aspect because it was all very exciting and fun-filled, plus it’s even harder to state a definitive opinion when the various Parks offer different varieties, thus granting you entirely different experiences. Walt Disney World definitely offers the most magical experience but I feel Universal Orlando Resort offers a truly unique atmosphere which ultimately tops that of Walt Disney World.

Both offer great experiences, but there’s just something about the exciting aspects within Universal Orlando Resort that makes us want to keep coming back (plus it hosts Halloween Horror Nights, so, you know). And with Universal Orlando Resort recently expanding to a three-park system there’s even more to enjoy. Starting off this final stretch of the tour is Universal’s Islands of Adventure. It’s fair to say that this Park feels more like a theme-park because of its set-up. It has different areas, each with their own unique theming (which is made cooler cause they’re based upon famous licenced properities) and ride types, and the overall emphasis is to have a massive adventure filled with intense thrills.

I will say this now, considering Universal Orlando Resort has to compete with Walt Disney World (which owns a much larger landscape, has far more resorts, and attractions across their four Parks and two Water-Parks) it does extremely well at standing on its own two feet and offering a wide variety of entertainment that easily battles whatever Walt Disney World throws at it, and in many ways manages to outshine the magical realm with its own unique aspects.

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As soon as you walk into Universal’s Islands of Adventure you’re greeted with a fun atmosphere, chilling you out ready for the excitement ahead with its soothing music (which my partner absolutely loves listening to). The strange thing is as much as we love this Park we don’t actually do a lot within it, ultimately bypassing half the attractions and areas. But this doesn’t matter because the rides we do attend are freaking amazing!

Starting off this tour we head over to “Marvel Super Hero Island” where one of our favourite attractions resides, The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man. Now, I want to point out that this area is awesome. If you’re a comic-book fan then this area will be a dream come true for you and you won’t want to leave in a hurry. The attention to detail is spot-on, making it feel like this entire area has leapt out of the pages of Marvel’s infamous comics, creating a world in which Super Heroes can roam free and interact with you.

Around where The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man resides the buildings are done up to look like Manhattan, with some of your favourite Marvel characters and villains posing via massive cut-outs to showcase an epic battle between good and evil, pushing forward the idea that you are in the middle of Marvel’s comic-books come to life. Then there are the amazing gift-shops that sell some great Marvel merchandise from t-shirts, to awesome looking statues, and of course comic issues. On top of this is the chance to meet up with a selection of characters from The Avengers, Fantastic Four, and the X-Men.

And how can one forget about the thrill-seeking The Incredible Hulk Coaster and Doctor Doom’s Fearfall, but as you well know by now we don’t do roller-coasters or drop rides so we naturally give these two attractions a wide berth. But I’m not going to deny their popularity, especially The Incredible Hulk Coaster which is highlighted as one of the best coasters in the world. It certainly sounds thunderous as it launches itself out of the tunnel and into the insane drops and loops ahead, really capturing the chaotic relationship between Bruce Banner and The Hulk as you’re unfortunately trapped in the middle.

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The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Men is a truly amazing experience (no pun intended) because of its love for the character and his respective franchise. What makes it even more special is its modelled after the infamous 90s cartoon which a lot of us grew-up with, or certainly tuned into every now-and-then when it was repeated on FOX Kids back in the day.

One thing that I’ve failed to talk about during my articles (thus far) is the theming within the queuing areas. Here in the UK you come to expect the lines to be really boring as you spend many painful hours in a zig-zag queue without any form of entertainment (and this comes from experience being a ride operator at a now closed crappy little sea-side Theme Park). Over in Orlando, however, every ride/or attraction has something to offer while you’re waiting, allowing the immersion to begin well before you actually get to ride the ride which I think is really cool.

For The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man you get to roam around the offices of the Daily Bugle and get a little insight into Peter Parker’s life there, and the amusingly angry temperament of his boss J. Jonah Jameson. You learn through news reports, as well as messages from both Jameson and the villains, that Manhattan is being thrown into chaos and you are needed to enter the battlefield in order to deliver news reports to aid the desperate citizens caught in the crossfire (on the order’s of Jameson who isn’t very subtle at hiding his selfish, idiotic reasoning of gaining the best headlines first) within the highly advanced vehicle known as “The Scoop”.

Upon entering “The Scoop” you participate in a uniquely structured high-speed thrill ride in the form of a 3D motion simulator, travelling around a pre-determined track filled with set-pieces and 3D screens which formulate an interactive experience with the ongoing narrative, and your vehicle responds to all this accordingly via various movements. Within this experience you follow the activities of Spider-Men as he tries tackling the Sinister Syndicate (bringing together Marvel Super Villains Doctor Octopus, Hobgoblin, Electro, Hydro-Man, and Scream) across Manhattan whilst your caught in the crossfire.

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Each member attempts to get rid of you, with Electro trying to shock “The Scoop”, Scream clawing at you, Hydro-Man spraying water at you, Hobgoblin attempting to blow you up with his Pumpkin-Bombs, followed finally by Doctor Octopus blasting you with his Anti-Gravity Canon. This sends you onto the bumpiest part of the attraction as Spider-Man tries webbing you across the city whilst still battling against the Sinister Syndicate, thus you are flung around the air without any control whatsoever.

However, you do manage to aid Spider-Man in defeating the Sinister Syndicate, but not before being saved by “your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man” as he catches you in his web before you collide with the ground after falling from a building. It’s such a great ride and really does capture the spirit of Spider-Man perfectly, and all the cheesiness of early Marvel comics, and the 90s animated series, particularly through the narrative revolving around an Anti-Gravity Canon and the Sinister Syndicate threatening Manhattan via stealing the Statue of Liberty.

But it’s a massive blast nonetheless, one that me and my partner joyfully redo over and over again. Plus, there’s plenty of Stan Lee cameos to look out for throughout the attraction (his game of Where’s Stan? isn’t just reserved for the films).

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Moving over now to “Toon Lagoon” where not a lot really goes on because there’s only two attractions, a couple of stores, and one eating area. Due to this factor we do tend to bypass this area, along with “The Lost Continent” and “Seuss Landing”. But I’m mentioning it briefly because it does hold a ride that I actually enjoy (although my partner doesn’t think too highly of it). Within this Toon-based paradise which features all old classics, such as Popeye and Betty Boop (and a whole load of characters I’ve never even heard of), there’s a brilliant rapids ride called Popeye and Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges. And you get soaked!

Don’t be expecting to walk away from this thing dry because the ride is deviously designed to get you no matter what. Whether it be by the rocky rapids that constantly splash you, the water flowing into your circular boat, the constant water obstacles pouring massive amounts of water on top of you, animatronics that squirt water at you, or even the general public firing at you, there’s always something that gets you. Plus, there’s kind of a drop section towards the end just to catch you off guard. So, yeah, you’re going to get wet and this is exactly why I love it so much.

Then we enter the smallest area within Universal’s Islands of Adventure, which serves as the newest addition to the Park. It’s technically referred to as “one of the islands” but in reality it’s just an area in which the new attraction resides. In fact, it’s not even an area, which can prove to be misleading. The new attraction simply sits before the entrance to “Jurassic Park”, acting as sort of a bridge between that and “Toon Lagoon”. But nonetheless Skull Island: Reign of Kong is a fun little addition to Universal Orlando Resort.

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This acts as a gentle 3D simulator in which you ride a truck on an expedition into the heart of Skull Island, to which you come across all kinds of creatures, such as giant bat-things, enourmous insects, and even Dinosaurs that constantly try and attack you and your fellow explorers. The ride is clever at making you feel like you are actually within a moving vehicle and are totally immersed within the atmosphere of this dangerous wilderness forgotten by time.

At first you travel outside on a short trial before entering the jaws of a massive gate shaped like Kong, whilst the locals continue their sinister chants (to which you hear whilst in the queuing area, along with seeing one of the best animatronics I’ve ever seen in the form of an Old Tribes woman, along with live actors that try to jump-scare you). Once inside you become submerged within the world of Skull Island by having massive screens appear either side of you, granting you a full 360 degree immersion within the ongoing narrative.

And then he arrives. Kong himself. With that he charges in and gets into a massive fight with the Dinosaurs as you are once again caught in the middle (there seems to be a theme here…). The great thing about the 360 degree immersion is it makes this intense battle feel more real as King Kong constantly switches sides of the vehicle, as you rock in the process, before eventually being pulled off the cliff and plunging down belong. You’re then caught within the vines swinging around as the battle is still ongoing, until you’re finally rescued by Kong.

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You’re then treated to a grand sight of staring at a massive King Kong animatronic and it feels like it’s a living, breathing creature, adding greatly to this realistic adventure that’s filled to the brim with immersion. Unfortunately, we do find that it’s a rather short ride and finishes just as it starts to get truly interesting. There’s a lot of build-up to stuff with the damsel explorer constantly being captured and attacked by random creature encounters and then she eventually vanishes, only to reappear out of thin-air at the very end over the radio.

Pretty much as soon as King Kong arrives he quickly vanishes. The battle lasts maybe a minute and then after that the attraction is over, making the build-up feel rather anti-climatic. Add in the factor of a potentially long wait (because this ride is notorious for it’s extremely long waits [made worse by regular breakdowns, which isn’t funny when you desperately need the toilet like I did one time]) and you find your time spent waiting to go on this highly anticipated attraction feeling lack-luster. We still have fun, don’t get me wrong, it’s a great ride with a lot of effort put into it, but I don’t know, it just seems too short. At least for me personally.

Welcome to “Jurassic Park”. What would Universal’s Islands of Adventure be without its infamous “Jurassic Park” area. It’s just so iconic walking around this dangerous tropical paradise, filled to the brim with references to the films (via the T-Rex and Spinosaurus lunging out the trees as they attempt to attack the various vehicles) as you listen to John Williams‘ unforgettable score. I like how they even incorporated the Visiting Centre from Jurassic Park, turning it into an actual place for tourists to visit and look around, thus fulfilling John Hammond’s dream of entertaining guests through cloned prehistoric animals.

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Also you can meet a Raptor. Okay, it’s a guy dressed up as a Raptor, but still, how’s that for a selfie. #RaptorLove But the real highlight for this area is obviously Jurassic Park River Adventure, one of the oldest attractions within Universal Orlando Resort. You get to have a relaxing boat ride around Jurassic Park, observing the wonderful wildlife as they interact with their natural habitat. Everything seems perfect, added by Williams’ beautiful score adding to the soothing atmosphere of wonder.

But then things become a little worrying when the alarm bells ring out, and you enter a forbidden area and things start to get out of hand. Jurassic Park is turned upside down as the Dinosaurs break free of their containers, running amuck and killing the staff-members. You begin to panic as to how you’re going to get out of this mess, and what’s actually keeping you from becoming lunch to a prehistoric predator. And then you start climbing up a really steep slope, and oh boy it’s a terrifying moment of clarification. ⇑What comes up must surely come down⇓

This is where I always get anxious because I don’t like drops and I know now I’m stuck on a boat that is shortly about to do just that. And this one is a whooper! But before we reach that point we ride around an overrun facility that is glowing red, escalating the dangerous feeling, thus proving to be a perfect juxtaposition from the earlier portions of the attraction. Raptors try and lunge out at you and then the BIG girl turns up, staring at you in all her glory. Mrs. T-Rex herself prepares to take a chomp out of you when suddenly you plunge down an 85-foot drop, safely escaping the attack in the nick of time.

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It’s a great ride for sure, but it’s not one I highly recommend if you don’t like huge drops and getting wet because both of these elements are a key-factor in this attraction. Which maybe why the Wait-Time is always curiously short every time we pass it by. I think it is slightly tragic that there isn’t more within this area because it has the potential to be expanded upon, especially since the release of Jurassic World has brought the franchise back into popularity. Sure, we got given the Raptor photo area but wouldn’t it be nice to have some sort of simulator perhaps? Wink, wink Universal.

And onto our final stretch of the tour, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade. It’s kind of funny talking about this last area of the Park because when I first visited Universal’s Islands of Adventure back in 2008 this area didn’t even exist. I remember seeing the area closed off in preparation to build it, with the construction walls plastered with posters of what was to come. And now look at it!

A highly popular area filled with some of the best theming ever seen within a Theme Park. It has tons of shops selling all kinds of merchandise to help you become immersed within the Wizarding World even further, you’ve got “The Three Broomsticks” where you can drink actual Butterbeer, you can buy interactive magic wands that you can use around Hogsmeade, and on top of that they’ve added a whole new area within Universal Studios Florida which is connected by the Hogwarts Express. It’s truly magical. A stunning experience by just being able to observe it, let alone interact with it.

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This area holds a special place in our hearts because it was in fact the very place were I proposed to my partner. It wasn’t anything too fancy because I didn’t want to kick up a fuss, nor draw too much attention (because you know the Americans love to be really friendly and involved within such iconic moments and join in on the emotional connection) and so I did it out of the way, with a nice view of Hogwarts in the background, with an American Squirrel as our witness.

And so, along with the day I finally grew the courage to share my feelings with my partner (which honestly made her confused because no one had ever asked her out before), this stands as one of my most precious days because I brought myself closer to the woman I love the most in this world and I’ve never been happier. We’ve both agreed that our relationship is built on destiny, it was basically meant to happen due to all kinds of signs bringing us together before we’d even met. And this special day solidified that meaning as I fulfilled her wishes by proposing in Orlando (alright, she knew about it beforehand, but, she didn’t know where or when I was going to propose, so there was still an air of mystery behind the moment).

Of course the big shout out to this area (next to Moaning Myrtle stalking you in the toilets with her creepy voice) is Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Remember what I said earlier about theming. Well this attraction takes the cake for being the most ballsy representation of its product. I’m not kidding. You literally approach this ride and it’s Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry staring right back at you. The queuing area is you journeying through Hogwarts, from entering the Green House, to travelling through Professor Dumbledore’s office, to sneaking through The Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom, to finally making your way through the Gryffindor common room to reach your final destination.

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All the while you’re breathing in the very atmosphere of the Harry Potter universe through the characters interacting with you through clever trickery, especially when it comes to the pictures moving and talking. The attraction’s narrative is basically you trying to sneak out of class, via the help of Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger, in order to watch the Quidditch game between Gryffindor and Slytherin. The ride itself takes place on special chairs, in which you sit four in a row, which are lifted up with a robotic arm from behind that performs all the necessary motions, making you feel even more immersed.

The movements are very frantic and make you fully believe that you are flying around the world of Harry Potter. But, it should be noted that this ride can cause you to feel motion sickness because it does with me, to which I have to take travel sickness tablets just to ride it without discomfort.

However, it is still a very enjoyable ride as it incorporates different elements to immerse into the world around you, from using giant screens with the characters interacting with you, to animatronics that try lunging out at you (watch out for that Whomping Willow). It has to be commended on how the transitions between the two structures of immersion compliment each other, meaning that this attraction feels well thought-out and tightly crafted in order to grant you the best overall experience.

It is a mesmerising journey, one that has you twisting and turning as you fly through the grounds of Hogwarts, get chased by a dragon, fight through an army of giant spiders in The Forbidden Forest, join in on the Quidditch match, before being hunted down by the fearsome Dementors. It hits every necessary beat in order to wow you, and in some cases truly terrify you, mixing together both the light and darkness of the Harry Potter universe. If you’re a massive fan, or even just a casual fan of the series I believe without a shed of doubt in my mind that you will work away from this attraction completely blown away.

Seuss Landing at Universal's Islands of Adventure.

And that’s it for Universal’s Islands of Adventure really (or at least what we do there anyway). Say, we totally bypass both “The Lost Continent” (which isn’t a very active area when it comes to attractions, it has two interactive shows but that’s about it) and “Seuss Landing” (which serves mostly as a kiddy area filled with tons of references to Dr. Seuss’ iconic stories). But, overall, this Park is a truly fun experience and it never gets old. Despite us only doing a few of the rides, and when we don’t bother to ride all the ones specified in this article (which is most of the time) we only actually ride three rides in this entire Park.

But that doesn’t matter because we still have loads of fun, even if it’s just wondering through the different areas or roaming around the many different stores to look at what merchandise we’d like to buy, or see what nice food there is to eat. We finally tried a little pizza shack in “Jurassic Park” and it was both really tasty and cheap. A nice reasonably sized portion to keep you going until you have something bigger later on in the day.

Like I said near the beginning of the article, it’s amazing what Universal Orlando Resort has accomplished, especially when competing against Walt Disney World, delivering an amazing experience that will never leave our memories (double for my partner as she listens to the Park’s different themes on her MP3).

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