Universal Orlando Resort
Universal Orlando Resort | 6000 Universal Boulevard | Orlando, FL 32819 | 1-877-801-9720
I still remember the anticipatory butterflies I had the first time I visited Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida. It was during spring break of my Junior year of high school. The year was 1993. My best friend Billy and I met up in Orlando and ventured off into the theme park that, over the years, would become one of my most treasured vacation destinations.
Ever since that first visit I have been a loyal fan. I was there for the grand opening of Islands of Adventure in 1999 and MANY other grand openings, including the openings of onsite resorts, new CityWalk restaurants and ride premieres.
I have experienced all of Universal Orlando’s events including Halloween Horror Nights, Mardi Gras Celebration and Grinchmas. I’ve welcomed the New Year while watching the fireworks over Universal Orlando’s lagoon, faced my fears by going on some pretty intense thrill rides and have slept in rooms at all four of their onsite resorts (don’t ask me to choose a favorite, it is impossible!)
I have enjoyed a luau at Royal Pacific Resort, Italian serenading at Portofino Bay Hotel, Rock concerts at Hard Rock Hotel and was transported back to the 1950’s and 60’s at Universal’s Cabana Bay Resort.
My most recent visit was this past spring, just shy of the grand opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley (I am already anticipating my return in December to check out this mind-blowing addition).
Here are my TOP 10 reasons why Universal Orlando Resort is my absolute favorite theme park.
1.) THE RIDES – I know this is pretty obvious, but Universal Orlando’s rides kick every other theme park’s rides in the “you know what”. I’ve been all over the country and have visited dozens of amusement parks. Nothing even remotely compares to the quality of Universal Orlando’s rides and overall experience in my opinion. It’s a fact that Universal Orlando Resort has the most technologically advanced rides in the world.
Rides like Harry Potter & The Forbidden Journey, Spiderman, The Incredible Hulk Coaster, Revenge of the Mummy and Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit have to be experienced.
2.) THE WIZARDING WORLD OF HARRY POTTER – No, you do not have to be a fan of the Harry Potter movies to enjoy these magical additions to both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. As a matter of fact, I hate to admit it, but I “maybe” have seen two Harry Potter movies and have never read any of the books (hopefully I don’t lose any readers because of that confession). With that said, I was blown away by The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade when I first experienced it last year.
You are completely immersed in the magic of Harry Potter. You can tour Hogwarts castle, shop in Hogsmeade, dine in the Three Broomsticks and sip on (ridiculously delicious) Butter Beer (a frothy drink reminiscent or shortbread and butterscotch served cold or warm…mmm…yum).
The most commanding site is The Hogwarts Castle.
I took dozens of photos of The Hogwarts Castle last time I was there as it is visible from everywhere in Islands of Adventure and such a beautiful site!
Within the castle is one of the most amazing thrill rides ever created – Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. You get to soar over Hogwarts, escape a dragon attack and, well, need I say more? Just go. Trust me.
This summer The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley opened up at Universal Studios. Although I have yet to personally experience it, from what I have seen, read and heard — it is even more amazing than anticipated.
You now get to enjoy even more of the Harry Potter magic through revolutionary attraction experiences, all new shops and dining establishments. Universal Orlando has completely created the signature areas of London features in the series including Diagon Alley and Knockturn Alley. And, the best part, Universal Orlando has created the world’s first centrally themed multi-park experience transporting guests between both Hogsmeade (Islands of Adventure) and Diagon Alley (Universal Studios) aboard the iconic Hogwart Express!
3.) UNIVERSAL ORLANDO’S ONSITE RESORTS – It is the marrying of two companies I love. Loews Hotels and Universal Orlando Resort. I have been lucky to stay at all four properties which include – Loews Porofino Bay Hotel, Loews Hard Rock Hotel, Loews Royal Pacific Resort and Universal Orlando’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort. I can say with absolute conviction that these are among the best accommodations in Orlando. The resorts themselves are attractions. You will find delicious dining options, live entertainment, expansive pools, gift shops, an array of room choices and convenient transportation options (my favorite being the boats that depart Portofino Bay, Hard Rock or Royal Pacific Resort and drop you off at CityWalk).
Each resort has their own theme. Portofino is themed after the Mediterranean Italian village of Portofino. The Hard Rock Hotel is a Rock ‘n Roll, mission style resort with a nod to the ‘Hotel California’ theme found throughout. Royal Pacific Resort is themed around the tropical nation of Bali int he South Pacific.
The newest hotel, Cabana Bay Beach Resort, Universal Orlando’s “value priced” resort, takes you back in time. The retro theme will take you back to road trips of the 1950’s and 60’s and will feature Universal Orlando’s first ever lazy river! They are all stellar in design and must be experienced. You can find out more on Universal Orlando’s onsite lodging options HERE.
4.) CITYWALK – No trip to Universal Orlando Resort is complete without a stop at CityWalk, a 30-acre nighttime entertainment complex offering some of the hottest, most recognizable entertainment experiences in the world with dozens of clubs, restaurants and shops. You will find such restaurants as Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville, Emerils Restaurant Orlando, Hard Rock Cafe, Bob Marley – A Tribute To Freedom, Nascar Sports Grille, Pat O’Briens and Bubba Gump Shrimp Company. You will also find numerous shops, nightclubs, the new Hollywood Drive-In mini golf, the fabulous Blue Man Group show (not to be missed) and AMC’s Cineplex 20 with IMAX theater.
As an avid Jimmy Buffett fan and proud “parrothead” a stop at Margaritaville is always a must for me and my wife Jennifer. In my opinion, the CityWalk location in Orlando is the best out of all Margaritaville locations. There are three bars, live entertainment, an exploding volcano that erupts Margaritas throughout the day, outdoor seating on the ‘Porch of Indecision’ and colorful Adirondack chairs outside for you to relax in. Across the way is the Lone Palm Airport, featuring Jimmy Buffett’s actual seaplane, the Hemisphere Dancer! How cool, right? The outdoor lounge and tiki bar serves drinks and quick eats and even has an area called “Parakeet Beach” for the kids to play.
Universal Orlando’s CityWalk will undergo a historic expansion throughout 2014. It will be adding eight new venues as part of a bold growth strategy designed to complement the entertainment complex’s already popular collection of national brands. New venues include Hot Dog Hall of Fame, featuring iconic hot dog creations from some of our nation’s most famous ball parks. Cowfish, a sushi and burger bar and popular frozen treat spots Cold Stone Creamery and Menchie’s. Also new will be Bread Box, a home-style sandwich shop and VIVO Italian Kitchen, where guests can watch as the culinary team handcraft their pasta from scratch.
Already open are Antojitos Authentic Mexican Food, a unique, vibrant dining experience and Red Oven Pizza, Universal Orlando’s first ever Neopolitan-style pizza bakery (which has some of the best pizza in all of Florida – try the Marghertia pizza – yum). For more information on Universal Orlando’s CityWalk click HERE.
5.) THE EVENTS – There is almost always something going on at Universal Orlando Resort! I have watched “snow fall” in Island’s Of Adventure’s Seuss Landing during their Grinchmas celebration, caught dozens of beads as I cheered on the Mardi Gras floats during parades and have been scared silly at their Halloween Horror Nights event. It is evident that Universal Studios is a pro when it comes to creating magic and experiences that really stick with you.
Here is a list of annual events:
Rock the Universe® – Universal Studios Florida®
Join in Florida’s biggest Christian music festival, Rock the Universe®, where the biggest names in Christian rock take the stage at Universal Studios®.
Halloween Horror Nights® – Universal Studios Florida®
On select nights in September, October and November, your worst nightmares will take shape as Universal Studios Florida® theme park is transformed into Halloween Horror Nights®, the nation’s premier annual Halloween event.
Grinchmas™ – Universal’s Islands of Adventure®
Seuss Landing™ is transformed into a wintry wonderland complete with The Grinch™ and plenty of Whos.
The Macy’s Holiday Parade™ – Universal Studios Florida®
Giant floats direct from The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade® in New York City, plus marching bands, Santa and more!
Mardi Gras – Universal Studios Florida®
Electrifying concerts by music’s top names, plus an authentic Mardi Gras parade, authentic Cajun food* and beads by the handful.
For more information click HERE.
6.) WET ‘N WILD WATER PARK – Located minutes from Universal Orlando, Wet ‘n Wild Orlando will impress you with its signature thrill rides including hits like Disco H20™, Brain Wash™, The Flyer and more. Their newest attraction, Aqua Drag Racer, will have you sliding through four lanes of high-speed, in a head-to-head competition. With temps in Orlando usually
hot as hell nice and toasty, a trip to Wet n’ Wild Water Park is a must! 😉
7.) THE ARRAY OF DINING OPTIONS – Universal Orlando has so many dining options you may feel overwhelmed deciding where to eat. I am here to tell you to — RELAX. Chances are your experience will be a good one, regardless of where you choose.
Some of my personal favorites include Red Oven Pizza in CityWalk for authentic Neapolitan-style pizza at reasonable prices, Mama Della’s at Loews Portofino Bay Hotel for Italian specialties from Tuscany, Naples and Piemonte. Not only will you enjoy delicious food and a cozy atmosphere, you will also enjoy strolling musicians serenading you table side!
Emeril’s Tchoup Chop (pronounced chop-chop) at Loews Royal Pacific Resort offers bold Asian and Polynesian influenced food in an exotic atmosphere making you feel as if you are journeying through the Pacific Seas.
Three Broomsticks Restaurant at Islands Of Adventure’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade offers dining in a rustic tavern serving everything from the “Great Feast Platter” to fish and chips, shepherd’s pie, apple pie and of course — Butterbeer!
Mel’s Drive-In at Universal Studios is a 50’s style drive-in featuring delicious comfort food, classic oldies on the jukebox and some of the best Root Beer floats around!
Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville at CityWalk. I like mine with Heine’s 57 and french fried potatoes, how about you? 😉 Oh, and of course you need an ice cold Margarita to wash that “cheeseburger in paradise” down. Great food, atmosphere and live music.
Galaxy Bowl at Cabana Bay Beach Resort. I was impressed by the table service restaurant located inside this bowling alley! The food was very good, especially the burgers!
For a complete list of dining options at Universal Orlando Resort click HERE.
8.) HALLOWEEN HORROR NIGHTS – I have been to several of Universal Orlando’s award-winning Halloween Horror Nights events and let me tell you —- it is scary. No. Like REALLY, REALLY, REALLY scary. The kind of attraction others try to replicate. Universal has this way of making you feel as if you are in a horror movie, or shall I say horror MOVIES.
The special effects are out of this world, the actors are sincerely engaged and no matter how many times I attend the event, I am amazed at how much transformation takes place from the time the park closes and opens to ticket holders! You know you are being scared by “the pros”. This is no “mom & pop” haunted attraction. No way. This is a “bring an extra pair of underwear” type haunt. The type that make grown men scream and women cuss like sailors. Yeah, I think you get the point.
Each year there are new themes and attractions usually based on what is current. I recommend purchasing tickets WAY ahead of time for popular weekend nights (especially the closer you get to Halloween) and definitely make the investment for the EXPRESS PASS and/or RIP TOURS. Lines can be EXTREMELY long, making it difficult to see everything in one night. An Express Pass and multi-day ticket will help tremendously.
This year Halloween Horror Nights runs select nights between September 19 – November 1st. You can enjoy numerous haunted houses, spine-chilling street experiences, live shows, rides and more. More information on this year’s event can be found HERE.
9.) UNIVERSAL ORLANDO’S SHOWS – During your stay at Universal Orlando be sure to take in as many shows as possible! Whether you are at Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, CityWalk or one of the onsite resorts, you will be entertained.
Some not to missed shows include Universal’s Cinematic Spectacular, taking place within the Universal Studios lagoon. You will be taken on an emotional journey through epic cinematic moments projected onto cutting-edge waterfall screens, surrounded by colorful, synchronized fountains, and pyrotechnics against a customized musical score.
Blue Man Group never fails to amaze me! Catch the Blue Man Group show at CityWalk and enjoy their signature humor, music and celebration of art and technology
(** TIP ** enjoy FREE admission to select CityWalk venues with your Blue Man Group ticket stub).
Universal’s Superstar Parade at Universal Studios Florida. This daily parade will win you over with its lovable characters, floats, technology and street performers. Characters include Nickelodeon’s SpongeBob SquarePants, Dora and Diego, E.B. from the hit animated film, Hop, and Gru, Agnes, Edith, Margo and the minions from Despicable Me.
Wanitan Luau (Saturday nights year round) at Loews Royal Pacific Resort. Enjoy an authentic Polynesian luau with food, entertainment, Hawaiian music and fire dancers.
For a complete list of Universal Orlando Resort’s shows click HERE.
10.) VACATION PACKAGES – The best way to experience Universal Orlando is with one of their vacation packages. They have many customizable options to chose from. Universal Orlando has a BEST PRICE GUARANTEE and guests who book packages through the resort receives special benefits such as Early Park Admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter one hour before the theme park opens.
You can choose from a wide range of hotels, both onsite and offsite as well as ticket options. For more information click HERE.
So there you have it! My TOP 10 reasons why I feel Universal Orlando Resort is pretty spectacular!
And let’s not forget that Orlando is a popular gay friendly North American destination. Check out the Orlando LGBT Convention & Visitor’s Bureau web site HERE.
No matter how many times I have been to Universal Orlando, there is never enough time and I always leave anticipating my return……and next Butter Beer! 😉
Owner / Editor-In-Chief