When we visit Disney World we always visit Universal Studios too. Though my Grumpy Husband is a reluctant Disney fan he is an out of the closet Universal lover. The bigger and bolder attractions at the two Universal parks suit him perfectly, he absolutely knows no fear and will try any ride, at least once.
For his Universal Studios favourite attractions list there was a lot of competition. Even at Universal great attractions aren’t just about fast and furious with a side order of adrenalin. At both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure the rides are exciting but they are clever too. Universal have taken the idea of themed rides from Disney and applied their filmic expertise to produce rides which are both exciting and experiential. So vying for position in this list are a mix of the two distinct style of rides to be found at Universal Studios, thrill rides and experiential rides.
Grumpy Husband’s Number 3: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
It’s got to be said the whole execution of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which includes both Hogsmead and Diagon Alley, is spectacular. No expense has been spared and no detail overlooked. Almost as if walking up the main street of a snow-covered Hogsmead village towards the towering and awe-inspiring Hogwarts wasn’t enough, Universal also created the ultimate in Harry Potter experiences with Forbidden Journey.
The attraction is actually housed within Hogwarts Castle. Universal have succeeded with Forbidden Journey in building a queueing area you absolutely want to spend time in. After depositing any bags in the lockers, no loose items at all are allowed on this ride. The lockers are a bit of a bun fight but don’t let that put you off, they are free for the duration of the ride. We enter the castle via the school greenhouses.
Once inside the castle prepare to be mesmerised. All the features from the movies are there, the paintings which line the walls, all moving and talking. A carved griffin staircase, the entrance to the Headmaster’s office, and detailed stonework with atmospheric lighting all adding to the immersive experience. At one point we emerge into a classroom where Ron, Hermione and Harry appear on a balcony. The trio then play out a short scene which culminates in Ron casting a spell. We have been in the queue on a number of occasions and each time a different effect has ensued, the best one; it snowed on us indoors! It’s so cliché to say it but it is totally magical.
Finally, after strolling past the sorting hat, we enter the Room of Requirements. Attraction riders are escorted to an elaborate bench seat, like sitting in your own private cloister. These seats are on a travelator with no apparent ride mechanism. It’s almost a shame that the perpetually moving conveyor means there’s no time to admire the beautiful effects which create the Room of Requirements and its millions of floating candles.
Then you’re off, on a thrilling ride which mixes a dark ride and animatronics with an epic filmic ride on a broomstick. If you’ve tried Soarin’ at Disney then you’ll understand the effects. Forbidden journey is Soarin’ on steroids, using the latest technology which the original Disney Imagineers, of the Epcot favourite, could only dream of. This ride is sensational, all our family love it, though my son hates the Dementor (you have been warned!) This is a not to be missed ride. Go early in the morning to avoid the long queues and bear in mind you will want to ride it more than once, or twice, or three times…..
Grumpy Husband’s Number 2: Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit
If my Husbands number 3 choice was all about the theme, the atmospheric queue and ground breaking technology then his second choice attraction couldn’t be more different. Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit is all about the thrills. It’s a massive and I mean massive roller coaster. Ride cars ascend a vertical tower over 16 stories high before plummeting downwards. Riders choose a rock song from a duke box type listing which they can then listen to during the attraction. If you can hear it over your screams, that is. My Hubby loves this ride, its such a great interpretation of a classic coaster mixed with some unexpectedly steep turns and an extended ride time.
Grumpy Husband’s Number 1: Dragon Challenge.
This list was difficult to put together due to the amount of great attractions at Universal. Many were under consideration but the number one choice was always going to be Dragon Challenge. This ride doesn’t really have any theming to speak of, though the queue does feature Ron’s car and some Triwizard memorabilia. Despite its location, at the entrance to Hogsmead, and its name there’s only a tenuous link to the Wizarding World. In fact it was constructed before Harry Potter invaded Islands of Adventure. Following the creation of Hogsmead it was reimagined, but the ride isn’t the poorer for this. Dragon Challenge is the longest dual inverted roller coaster in the world. The ‘dragons’ no longer race each other, but they do run along the track simultaneously. Choose your Dragon wisely, each provides a slightly different ride experience.
Riders choose either the Hungarian Horntail or the Chinese Fireball. There’s also a queue for front row seats and it’s worth noting that riders can join a shorter re-ride queue on exit. My Husband, love, love, loves this ride, he rode it over and over. If you like this type of coaster, it’s one of the best around.
Top Tip : Universal VIP Express Pass
When we visit Universal we always stay at one of the on-site hotels which offer guests some pretty good perks. Universal offer similar things to Disney, like charging privileges and having purchases sent direct to the hotel. Universal also have early opening hours for on-site guests. This is a big thing as there are fewer rooms at Universal so the parks, in those hours, are far less crowded. For access to Hogsmead and Diagon Alley this is a big bonus. It means you can enjoy both Harry Potter areas at their best, in relative quiet, and practically walk on to the Gringotts and Forbidden Journey rides, if you go there first.
Is it worth the cost?
For guests who stay deluxe (Hard Rock, Portofino Bay or Royal Pacific) Universal also offer a VIP Express Pass. If you do your maths, and you have full room occupancy, the Express pass can pay for the room cost.
The VIP Express Passes can be purchased in the parks, but they are expensive. I can’t stress to you how good these are. When we have visited Universal VIP Passes have allowed us to walk on to any ride, apart from the two Harry Potter rides, with little or no wait. They are an amazing timesaver especially if you have kids. In essence it means you can breeze past Minion Mayhem at park opening and go directly to the Potter rides that don’t allow the VIP Pass. Once those are in the bag it’s easy to access the other attractions using the VIP Express pass and you’ll then wait 15 minutes, at the most, for ANY ride in the park.
I totally understand why families find it too expensive staying on-site at Disney but I would really recommend it at Universal. You won’t need to spend as long at Universal. Most people spend 2 days there, maybe 3 once Volcano Bay is open, so the hotel could be more affordable. Also the VIP Express pass is for the check in and check out day. That means you can book for one night and use the VIP pass for two full days if you arrive early and leave late. Sign up for the Universal Resort email, they send out some great discount offers to make stays an even better deal.