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Universal Studios Florida

Universal Studios Florida entrance at Mardi Gras
Universal Studios Florida entrance at Mardi Gras

Universal Studios Florida was Universal’s first theme park in Florida following on from a similar park in California. Covering more than 100 acres it first opened in 1990, just one year after Disney’s own movie based theme park Disney’s Hollywood Studios opened.

Both parks are working film and television studios though the level of production has gone down in recent years, particularly at Disney.

Like Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Universal Studios Florida is themed around movies and entertainment with the original tag line “Ride the Movies!” but Universal has always tried to differentiate itself from Walt Disney World by going with a slightly more ‘adult’ theme in terms of more intense rides, shows and events.

No where is this more apparent than the comparison between the intensely scary Universal Halloween Horror Nights and the family fun Disney’s Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party.

As well as drawing on its own film characters it has also licenced in characters from other studios, including Marvel which is now owned by Disney and the recently announced deal with Nintendo. It has also enlisted the help of Steven Spielberg.

Most theme parks are divided into a number of areas or lands and Universal Studios Florida is no exception with seven lands and an entrance area.

Like the neighbouring Islands of Adventure, the central lagoon area means you have to navigate from one land to the next in either a clockwise or anti-clockwise direction. Travelling in a clockwise direction:

  • Front Lot - contains most of the administrative buildings including Guest Services, Family and Health Services, stroller, wheelchair and ECV rentals, lockers, Lost and Found
  • Production Central - a collection of working sound stages including the attractions Transformers: The Ride - 3D, Shrek 4-D, Despicable Me Minion Mayhem and Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit. The Universal Music Plaza Stage is used to host live concerts
  • New York - a realistic New York street set plays host to Revenge Of The Mummy and Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon (which replaced Twister: Ride It Out) plus a live music show, Meet The Blues Brothers
  • San Francisco - west meets east with San Francisco’s Disaster! and New England’s town of Amity and the former home of Jaws. Also home to Beetlejuice’s Rock and Roll Graveyard Revue (now closed) and Fast & Furious: Supercharged
  • The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley - the newest addition to Universal Studios Florida recreates the landscape of London from the Harry Potter books including the Knight Bus, the dark ride, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts and Kings Cross Station. From here you can transfer to Universal’s Islands of Adventure by riding on the Hogwarts “Express” if you have a park-to-park ticket
  • World Expo - themed on a modern World Exposition park with The Simpson Ride, Men In Black: Alien Attack and the live stunt show Fear Factor Live
  • Woody Woodpecker’s KidZone - a child friendly zone including E.T. Adventure, the Curious George Goes To Town water play area and a children’s coaster, Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster
  • Hollywood - a Hollywood set with a number of restaurants and shops plus the Terminator 2: 3-D Battle Across Time adventure (now closed) and the live show Universal’s Horror Make-Up Show

During the day there are opportunities to meet-and-greet characters including Betty Boop and characters from Transformers and The Simpsons.

Each afternoon there is the Universal’s Superstar Parade which starts next to the Horror Make-Up Show in Hollywood and makes its way in a loop through Production Central and New York. At certain times of the year like Mardi Gras there is a special evening parade.

In the evening, just before the park closes, The Lagoon is home to Universal 360: A Cinesphere Spectacular which combines movie clips with fireworks. This event only takes place when the park is open late such as during the summer months and major holiday times.

Universal’s Cinematic Spectacular closed unexpectedly in October 2017 following damage caused by Hurricane Irma. A new replacement show is planned but there are no timescales

Eating and Shopping at Universal Studios Florida

Universal Studios Florida offers a range of full table service and fast-food quick self service restaurants plus seasonal kiosks dotted throughout the park.

If you like a lot of fast-food, then you could consider the Universal Meal Deal which gives you “as-much-as-you-can-eat” at selected quick-service restaurants.

One thing that sets Universal Studios apart from Walt Disney World though is the ready availability of alcohol though it is strictly policed to prevent under-age drinking (21 in Florida).

Throughout the park you will find merchandising relevant to the area you are currently in plus the large Universal Studios Store at the front entrance.

Universal Studios Florida Park Tickets

You can buy single day or multi-day park tickets to Universal Studios Florida with or without the option to park hop to Universal’s Islands of Adventure.

If you want to avoid waiting in line, there is also a Universal Express Plus ticket; similar to Disney’s FASTPASS+ system but not free.

Getting to Universal Studios Florida

Universal Studios Florida is approached from the multi-level parking garage. Moving sidewalks lead you to the Central hub. From here, you pass through the CityWalk entertainment area and then turn sharp right to enter Universal Studios Florida.

Straight ahead is Islands of Adventure, Universal’s other theme park.

Universal Studios Florida Special Events

Universal Studios Florida plays host to a number of special events throughout the year including live music concerts . Some are included in the standard admission but events including Rock the Universe and Halloween Horror Nights are separately ticketed events:

  • Mardi Gras (February to April) - New Orleans style street parade with floats, baubles and beads followed by an evening concert
  • Summer Concert Series - included in standard admission (no longer presented)
  • Fourth of July - spectacular fireworks display
  • Rock the Universe (September) - Christian music festival
  • Halloween Horror Nights (September to October) - Halloween horror event, one of the most intense in Florida
  • Christmas) (November to December) - New York style Macy’s Holiday Parade
  • New Year’s Eve - street party with fireworks. The park usually stays open to 1:00 am to see in the New Year