Visiting In The Off-Season
It’s wonderful to visit Universal Studios in the off-season. My daughter and I spent the day there a couple of weeks ago: we had sunny weather, no crowds, and our average wait time was only five minutes. There were a few drawbacks: the park closed at 5 p.m. and some of the better restaurants were closed. But I don’t know if it would be worth going in the summer when lines are long, and it’s hot and crowded. Most of the rides are fun, but only a few are great.
Why We Chose Universal Over Disneyland
These days Disneyland is no longer worth it. It is expensive, parades and entertainment are cut way back, you have to make a reservation and buy your tickets in TWO SEPARATE transactions (if you wait between making your reservation and buying your ticket, your day could sell out), ticket choices are complicated, food portions are cut back but prices are up, fast pass is no longer free ($20 for the Disney Genie), and guests can no longer meet and greet Disney characters (they wave from afar). In early March, Disney required masks for the unvaccinated, but it looks like that policy has changed. Hooray. Still, until they simplify their ticket system and bring full value back to the price of entry, I won’t be going. It used to be you could justify spending a lot on tickets because the entertainment within the park was outstanding. You didn’t need to go on a single ride to be happy–at least that’s how I felt.
In contrast, Universal Studios is cheaper, so far they don’t require reservations (that might change), and you can meet and greet Hollywood characters. It is more laid-back.
Character Sightings at Universal Studios
Maybe it’s my age, but out of everything we did that day, I most enjoyed meeting some of the characters. They really go out of their way to make guests feel happy. Walking around, we saw the donkey from Shrek talking animatedly to a little girl, a “real-live” raptor (absolutely amazing), Dracula, random Brooklyn neighbors calling out from their window, Scooby-Doo, a giant transformer, and a short minion.
The only problem was that some of them wore masks. Marilyn Monroe in a mask? Come on! Oh, and the dude from Psycho – Norman Bates. Why would a psychopathic murderer all alone on his set need to wear a mask? Kind of ruined the affect.
See Hogwarts/Hogsmeade Early or Late in the Day
Walking around Hogsmeade is always fun. Naturally, it’s modeled after the movie sets; but as good as it looks, it can’t compare to my imagination after reading the books. Oh well, it’s still fun. Just beware, it gets crowded, so go there first thing in the morning or before the park closes. Oh, and before you buy your child an interactive wand, know that they hardly ever work correctly! It’s sad to see so many frustrated kids waving their wands at the right spot and nothing happening.
There are only two rides within Hogwarts. There really should be more. The most promoted ride is The Forbidden Journey. Waiting in line is entertaining with the talking pictures and scenery; the ride however, is disjointed. You sit in a chair that moves and shifts while watching a screen. You are supposed to feel like you are flying behind Harry on a broom. There are some good animatronics (dementors anyone?), but unfortunately, all you remember afterward is the slightly blurry and frenetic journey through the screened-film part. While we were sitting in the ride it broke down. We faced a dark screen. Then our chair started moving, and shifting, before the picture came back on. Now that was scary!
Flight of the Hippogriff is the second ride at Hogwarts. There is an amazing animatronic Hippogriff that bows to you when you start off, followed by what must be the shortest roller-coaster ride in existence. I think it lasted 15 seconds! Ridiculous! Don’t wait in line for this ride. We walked on, so it was okay.
The Best Rides
The best ride was Jurassic World – hands down. They added a lot more dinosaurs (animatronic) and it is exciting. People probably like Transformers (we skipped it), and we enjoyed Despicable Me, and Revenge of the Mummy. For young kids, Super Silly Fun Land looked enticing with it’s water features, Silly Swirly Fun Ride, and pastel sets.
The Universal Studios Tour
The one-hour studios tour is a must-see attraction. A tram takes riders through four acres and 13 city-blocks to tour parts of the actual Universal Studios’ sets. Visitors get to see movie sets lined with false-front buildings that were used in many famous films. Movies are still being made in the studios and if you’re lucky, you might spy an actor! Or at least a member of staff.
Parts of the tour include amazing entertainment. King Kong fighting a T-Rex (in 3-D), an earthquake, a flood, JAWS. The only entertainment I did not like (but many love) was the Fast & Furious Supercharged ride. It is SO loud and just too much. Everything else though is amazing.
The Sets, Atmosphere, and Food
Universal Studios can be as relaxing or crazy as you want it to be. It is a large park (we skipped the City Tour) with a fun walk-way of shops leading up to the entrance. There is room to spread out, at least when we were there. The different lands make you feel like you are walking through a movie set, and musical entertainment or characters appear sporadically.
Food choices, however, are limited. There used to be some delicious, healthy food at the Three Broomsticks in Hogwarts, but I think they’ve changed the menu (they were out of roasted chicken salad) and definitely raised the prices. At least they don’t skimp on servings. The healthiest and most atmospheric restaurant in Jurassic World – the Jurassic Cafe – was closed. Maybe they are still struggling with hiring enough staff. We ended up buying pre-packaged salads from some cafe.
If You Go
Like I said before, if you go in the off-season, Universal Studios can be really fun. If you go in the summer, be prepared to face a hot day and long lines. Choose your rides carefully and make the most of the fun atmosphere and character sightings. Here is their website for up-to-date information.
Stay tuned for the next blog where I return to my series on Traveling Massachusetts. Thanks for reading and please share!