Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Florida Update #6 - Universal Studios


It was 4th of July and we planned to stay at Universal Studios to see fireworks, so we had a late start. We didn't leave the hotel until lunch time. We ate a quick lunch at Bubba Gump's in CityWalk, which is like the "mall" outside of the two Universal Theme Parks. We decided to do a half day at Universal Studios because that appeared to have less toddler-friendly attractions. I think we made a good decision.


  • Production Central
    • Shrek 4D
    • Character Greetings
    • Rip Ride Rock-It
  • Woody Woodpecker's Kidzone
    • Animal Actors on Location
    • Nuthouse Coaster
    • Fievel's Playland
    • Curious George Goes to Town
    • ET Adventure
  • World Expo
    • Simpson's Ride
  • New York
    • Revenge of the Mummy
    • Twister
  • San Francisco
    • Disaster
    • Cinematic Spectacular - 100 Years of Movie Memories

Our Day - Details

We started right at the entrance at Production Central with the Shrek 4D show. It was very good - although I had to have another conversation with M about what is real and what is pretend (the dragon was a little scary). There is a cute pre-show while you are waiting to get in the theater that gives you a back story about Lord Farquaad. M ended up sitting in my lap for the entire show, but she did say she enjoyed it at the end.

Next, M waited for Shrek to make an appearance right outside the movie theater while my husband and I got in line for Rip Ride Rockit. Fiona and Donkey were supposed to be with him, but they had to go inside because of the rain.

Universal doesn't have FastPass like Disney does. Instead, they offer Express Pass, which you have to purchase to be able to get in the shorter lines. If you are going to ride a lot of the larger rides, it may be worth it, but if you're with a toddler I would say no. The price of Express Pass varies depending on the time of year, and we were visiting during the peak season, so it would cost $60 for a regular Express Pass that allows you to get in the express line for each ride ONCE (and you pay PER PERSON, including children!), or $80 for an Unlimited Express Pass that would allow you to get in the express line as many times as you want for the entire day. People who stay in the Universal hotels received complementary Express Passes.

I was very annoyed with the Express Pass people. I know we could have purchased the passes if we really wanted them, but I didn't feel like it was worth the money. It was frustrating to watch the Express Pass holders cut right in front of you in line, and the wait times really varied depending on how many Express Pass holders entered at any given time. It made the posted wait times less reliable than Disney's wait times. I really liked the way that Disney's FastPass system worked much better - everyone had equal access, and they limited the number of passes for any given time period so they didn't impact the wait times nearly as much.

Anyway, we waited in line for Rip Ride Rockit, and it was definitely worth the wait. The ride is pretty intense - it has a vertical incline, near vertical drop, and lots of flips. When you get in your seat and lower the safety bar, a touch screen is available to choose what music you will hear through the speakers on the sides of your seat during the ride - very cool!

While we were riding the coaster, my parents took M to Woody Woodpecker's Kidzone to watch Animal Actors on Location. They said it was a cute show, with a combination of video and live animal performances. They said they had volunteers from the audience come up to allow birds to land on them. M seemed to enjoy it.

M really wanted to ride Woody Woodpecker's Nuthouse Coaster, which has a 36" high minimum, but unfortunately she wasn't allowed on. It seems to be hit or miss with these rides depending on who is working at the gate. She wasn't allowed on this coaster, but was able to ride The Barnstormer at Magic Kingdom and Flight of the Hippogriff at Islands of Adventure, which both have 36" minimums.

She was very disappointed, so we tried to distract her by going into Fievel's Playland. Unfortunately, it had been raining (again), and they had closed several parts of the playground. (I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt and assuming they were closed because they were wet, and not that half the playground was just closed in general.) The playground was cute, but it was hard for a small 2-year-old to climb some of the equipment by herself, and it wasn't very accessible for parents. These types of playgrounds make me nervous because you never know how the older and bigger children will act and whether your smaller child will get knocked over if you aren't able to be close to them. There was a small water slide, but it wasn't clear if adults were able to go up, so we skipped it (we had already gotten plenty wet from all the rain and didn't really need another way to get wet at this point).

We left the playground and went to Curious George Goes to Town, which was.... another playground. This was more of a splash zone, although there was a "dry route" around the back that allowed you to get to the ball zone without getting wet. Overall, the splash area was very cute. I liked Curious George's town and all the little buildings the kids could go in, but honestly, the mini water park at our hotel was just as good (and had a pool too!). I wouldn't (and didn't) waste time here. If you plan to let your child run around, bring a bathing suit and a change of clothes so you aren't miserable for the rest of the day.

M did enjoy The Ball Factory, and there were plenty of benches for parents to sit and take a break while the kids played. My one complaint was that many older children (and even some parents?!) were shooting balls from the upper level down at the children and parents on the lower level. Most of the equipment in this room (vacuums, ball guns, etc) was not easily accessible to a toddler - either it was too tall or too heavy. M did enjoy herself, but only because my dad helped with everything!

 ET Adventure was the last ride in the Kidzone that we wanted to do. The wait for this ride fluctuated considerably (and I don't know how accurate it really was). It said 45 minutes at one point, and we started to leave, but then dropped to 20 minutes shortly after, so we decided to get in line. The wait really wasn't bad, and there is a lot to look at once you get inside. One note - children are not allowed to sit on laps for this ride, so if your child isn't able to sit on a seat alone (see a picture of the bicycle seats) or may get scared and want to sit with you, this may not be a good ride yet. We sat M in the middle between my husband and me, and she held onto both of our hands for most of the ride. She was so excited when ET said her name at the end of the ride! She had so many questions about ET (What planet is he from? Why is he here? Why does he want to go home? What do his friends look like?) - we ended up buying the movie later!

 Note: We skipped A Day in the Park with Barney, a sing-a-long show with Barney, because M doesn't know Barney (do kids still watch Barney?). It may be cute... but it wasn't something worth waiting for for us.

There were a couple of bigger rides that my husband and I wanted to go on, so my parents took M to the other side of the park. They ended up just walking around with M in the stroller because neither of them felt like chasing her around another playground (can you blame them?).

We went on The Simpson's Ride, which must have been the old Back to the Future ride. It was a 4D type ride where you got in a "car" and watched a big screen in front of you while the car moved around. These simulated coasters tend to make me a little sick, so it was not my favorite.

Outside of the Simpson's Ride was a carnival-type area with games. It seems like most of Universal Studios is just movie sets. There are lots of places for photo ops if that's your thing (Look - take your picture with Bart Simpson!), but not a whole lot else that I was impressed by.

We had planned on riding Men in Black Alien Attack, but the wait was 50 minutes, and we realized it was another 3D ride, and this one was more of a video game than an actual ride (you are given a laser gun to shoot aliens). Not really my thing, so we skipped out of line to find my parents.

We had made dinner reservations at one of the kiosks in the CityWalk on the way into the park, so we walked back that way. We ate at PastaMore, which was not bad. M was starting to lose it by the end of dinner (or maybe the beginning... it was a long dinner), so my husband put her on his back to walk back into the park to find the fireworks show.

 The fireworks show (which wasn't special for 4th of July - it was just their normal "Cinematic Spectacular" show) didn't start until 9:45, so my parents took M for ice cream while we rode Revenge of the Mummy. This was an actual roller coaster, and was a good one!

After the ride, we caught up with my parents and decided to take M on Twister. While we waited in line I talked to her about what a tornado was, and what to expect during the show (rain, thunder and lightning, strong wind, things blowing around, etc.). It's more of a show than a ride - you stand and watch the scene like a movie. I held M for the whole show, and she thought it was hysterical when a cow went flying across the "town." The thunder was loud, and there was fire, so you really need to know your own child to know how they would respond.

After Twister, M desperately wanted to ride Disaster. We headed that way, but missed the last show by just minutes. We were at a great spot to watch the Cinematic Spectacular though! The show was really neat - they had a "movie screen" made out of falling water. Before the show started they would make the water fall in different patterns. They also had fountains on the sides for a water and lights show. When the show started, they projected scenes from the top movies from the past 100 years. The show ended with a fireworks display. M hated the fireworks, but loved the water and lights, so I was really glad that we saw this show and didn't go out of our way to find a 4th of July fireworks show!

She fell asleep on the walk back to the car (it was after 10pm at this point), and slept soundly all night long!

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