The last time I visited Orlando’s theme parks, there was no Universal Studios. At all. Now, there are two parks: Universal Studios (the original) and Islands of Adventure. During our recent visit we only had one day to visit Universal, so my husband and I had to decide which park would be a good fit for our kids, ages 4 and 8. Since they were not familiar with most of the movies highlighted at Universal Studios, we opted for Islands of Adventure. As it turns out, our choice was perfect for our family.
We decided our first stop would be the Spiderman ride in the Marvel Super Hero Island, since it was early in the day and we could avoid a long line. As we approached the entrance, a park employee mentioned that Spiderman was greeting guests nearby, so we quickly detoured so my son could meet his favorite superhero. While the park featured its own photographer, visitors are allowed to take photos with their own cameras, a policy that both surprised and delighted me. After a few minutes talking up Spiderman, the kids were ready to try the ride.
The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman ride takes guests, who play the role of journalists, on a 3-D journey through the city streets as they are accosted by the bad guys. Spiderman comes and goes as he seeks to protect riders while fighting off the bad guys. Throughout the ride, the car twists and turns and bumps and generally tosses riders back and forth. This did not go over well with my 4-year-old, but my 8-year-old loved it. After we completed the ride, we decided to seek out friendlier territory for our youngest.
This path led to Seuss Landing, which, as you probably guessed, is inspired by Dr. Seuss. All the rides in this section were perfectly suited to our 4-year-old, and our 8-year-old loved them just as much. There was the “couch” ride through the house with The Cat and the Hat plus Thing 1 and Thing 2. Seuss Landing also featured our kids’ favorite rides in the entire park: One Fish Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish for my daughter (plan to get wet!) and The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride for my son. They also got to meet several Dr. Seuss characters, including Thing 1 and Thing 2, Sam I Am, and The Cat in the Hat.
One of my favorite “islands” was The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. As a fan of the movies, I loved entering Hogsmeade and seeing all the streets and storefronts straight from the films. We stopped by the Hogwarts Express so the kids could have a photo with the train conductor, then we headed over to the Butterbeer wagon for a sample. Touted as a type of cream soda topped with butterscotch foam, it was a bigger hit with my husband and son than it was with my daughter and me.
The highlight is Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. The line to ride weaves through the halls of Hogwarts, taking visitors past talking portraits, Dumbledore’s office, through a room where Harry, Ron and Hermione (via hologram) tell you what to watch for, and into the “Great Hall,” where you board the cars. Like the Spiderman ride, this ride also features a fast car that twists, turns, and jerks up and down a lot. Plus, you encounter some scary folks in the form of spiders, skeletons and monsters, which my daughter did not like. I liked the ride, but for those who don’t want to try it out, you can still walk through the building. Just tell the folks at the front entrance that you want to walk it without riding.
Across from the Hogwarts entrance, there is a small, family-friendly roller coaster called the Flight of the Hippogriff. This is a perfect coaster for young children. It’s short, not too fast and doesn’t include big hills. My daughter loved it so much she road it several times in a row before she was ready to move on.
Of course, we spent so much time in Seuss Landing and visiting Harry Potter that we didn’t leave much time to check out the other islands. We managed to explore Poseidon’s Fury in The Lost Continent, and ride the Pteranodon Flyers in Jurassic Park (note: Adults can only ride this with a child). We would have loved to ride Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls in the Toon Lagoon, but we didn’t want to get thoroughly soaked at the end of the day.
We enjoyed walking through Toon Lagoon, where I saw several cartoons from my childhood take larger-than-life forms, including Beetle Bailey, Shoe, Blondie and Cathy. I just wish we’d had more time to check out this “island.” I did manage to ride The Incredible Hulk Coaster in the Marvel Super Hero Island before leaving. It was, in my experience, one of the best roller coasters ever. As we exited the park at the end of the day, my husband and I applauded our choice in parks. In fact, we’re already planning a return visit!
Disclosure: Although Universal Studios provided tickets and express passes for Karon and her husband, Karon purchased tickets for her children to enjoy the park. All opinions are her own.