Inspired by the backlot studios found in Hollywood, Universal Studios at Universal Orlando Resort is the original theme park, built in 1990. Most of its rides are centered around Universal and their partner companies’ famous films and it was where many Nickelodeon projects were filmed.
But there’s more than just rides. The entire park has Easter eggs, or nods to different films if you just know where to look. There’s also shows, character encounters, and play areas.
Despite the newer rides at neighboring Islands of Adventure, Universal Studios boasts The Wizarding World of Harry Potter‘s Diagon Alley and the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit coaster. Give yourself plenty of time to explore.
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Perhaps the biggest reason people come to Universal Studios is for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Diagon Alley. While there’s also Hogsmeade over at Islands of Adventure, Diagon Alley really takes your breath away once you arrive by the Hogwarts Express or enter the alley from central London . It’s also where the biggest crowds gather, so it’s a good idea to go there first.
Despite its popularity, there’s only really one ride at Diagon Alley: Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. Make a beeline for this ride, as the wait times can crawl past an hour. It’s a good one to use your Express Pass or single rider lane for.
In this ride, you’re placed in a car that goes deep into Gringotts Bank. It’s not really a roller coaster, but rather an interactive motion ride, but has some thrilling elements to it. If you do wait in line, you’ll get to see the goblins that work in the bank.
The Hogwarts Express is another that transports guests between the two parts of the Wizarding World. It’s different each way you go, so be sure to take it twice, which you’ll need a Park Hopper pass for. It leaves from King’s Cross Station in Universal Studios, which is where you’ll find Platform 9 3/4. Grab a seat in the carriage and watch the action out the window.
If you purchase a wand from Ollivander’s or any of the shops licensed by Universal, you can “cast spells” at points that have a metal symbol in the ground. It will show the pattern you should make with your wand for the desired result. The wand ceremony at the shop is also unique as one person is selected from the crowd to have a wand chosen for them, which can be purchased later.
Celestina Warbeck performs daily and so does a puppetry show of the Tales of Beedle the Bard. What sets Diagon Alley apart from the rest of the park is its shopping. Not every window is for a real place, but each has been carefully decorated like those from the films. Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes is a must-see, inspired by the twins’ joke shop.
Food and Drink
Everyone heads straight for the Butterbeer, but keep in mind that you can purchase it in many places throughout the Wizarding World and in many different forms: frozen, hot, and standard. There are a few kiosks, like The Fountain of Fair Fortune around that also carry Gillywater (bottled water) and Pumpkin Juice that won’t have the wait time of full restaurants. There’s also a stand outside Diagon Alley selling jacket potatoes.
If you are ready for a full meal, The Leaky Cauldron offers classic English pub meals. The decor is reminiscent of the movies and the menu features draft beer (!) and fire whisky as well as Beef, Lamb, and Guinness Stew, bangers and mash, and sticky toffee pudding. If you still haven’t fully indulged your sweet tooth, grab unique flavors of ice cream at the legendary Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour.
Whether you’re a fan of The Simpsons, one of the longest-running shows in history, or not, the Springfield section of the park is lots of fun. Some of your favorite venues have been recreated, including the Quick-E-Mart. You might even spot characters here!
When it comes to rides, there are only two in Springfield. On The Simpsons Ride, you’re placed in a car that moves around with a screen. The Kang & Kodos’ Twirl n’ Hurl resembles a tilt-a-whirl.
This is a place where you might spot characters from the show. There are also plenty of photo ops within Springfield, including a crashed police car and the massive Krusty head in front of The Simpsons Ride. There’s also a section of classic carnival games where you can win a prize.
Springfield is, in my opinion, the best part of Universal Studios when it comes to food. There are plenty of options and so many unique finds. My personal favorite is the Korean beef tacos at Bumblebee Man’s Taco Truck. The massive donuts from Lard Lad are also popular but don’t be afraid to share with a friend.
Grown ups can enjoy the adult beverages at the Duff Brewery or grab a Flaming Moe at Moe’s Tavern. The food court contains The Frying Dutchman, Lisa’s Teahouse of Horror, Krusty Burger, Luigi’s Pizza, and Cletus’ Chicken Shack, which has a recommended chicken and waffles sandwich.
A number of shop windows pay homage to The Godfather, with Genco Imports and M. Corleone. It’s a New York I’ve never seen, with recreated brownstones and shops. Explore the alleys and pose for photos in this interpretation where you aren’t at risk of being hit by a taxi.
The only ride to speak of is the Revenge of the Mummy, which doesn’t seem to fit in in New York. It is a spooky indoor roller coaster that draws inspiration from the Brendan Fraser film. The actor even makes a cameo at the end of the ride.
The Superstar parade passes through much of the park, but New York is a good place to spot it since you can watch from “brownstone” steps for a better view. The Blues Brothers show is another popular experience.
Despite a number of shop windows advertising food, there are only two full-service restaurants, as well as a Starbucks. Louie’s Italian is decorated like the restaurant from The Godfather and serves lunch and dinner. The menu includes spaghetti and meatballs, pizza, subs, and salads. Finnegan’s Bar and Grill is Irish-themed, serving corned beef and cabbage and Guinness beef stew.
Despite the fact that it doesn’t have any rides, you can’t miss Hollywood. It’s one of the first sections you enter upon passing through the gates at Universal Studios. Like New York, it hails from a long gone time in the City of Angels. Classic Los Angeles establishments are recreated, including the Brown Derby and Max Factor studios.
The Horror Make-Up Show is part instruction and part comedy, showcasing your favorite spooky films. Special effects artists display their work and what goes into creating a horror movie character. It’s not recommended for younger audiences.
During Halloween Horror Nights, this area offers character dining. The Superstar parade also passes through here. You might also see employees asking for volunteers to review television programming. Also keep an eye out for the Hogwarts Express, which you can see passing by.
Inspired by the drive-in from American Graffiti, Mel’s Drive-In transports you to the 1950s with classic cars and decor. The menu features burgers and root beer floats.
Designed like an old-school soda fountain, Schwab’s Pharmacy is the best place to cool off in Hollywood, serving Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, shakes, and splits. Named for a 1930s establishment on Sunset Boulevard, it was where industry folks mingled with aspiring actors.
Today Cafe is one of the park’s best breakfast options and is a great alternative to Starbucks. They serve pastries, coffee, and sandwiches. And if you purchase the VIP passes, dining at Cafe La Bamba is included and offers dishes from all of the park’s eateries, served buffet style.
The City by the Bay is also represented at Universal Studios to honor the films that have been set there over the years. While the ride is no longer there, you’ll find Easter eggs to Jaws, from the shark hanging up to the records in the window of the London area before you enter Diagon Alley. It’s a small section of the park, but sits almost entirely on the water and boasts a number of unique shops.
A Beetlejuice attraction and Disaster were retired to make way for Fast & Furious Supercharged, a high octane ride to escape the bad guys from the films.
For such a small park section, San Francisco is full of dining options that honor its namesake. Grab a bowl of chowder from Lombard’s Seafood Grille, which is inspired by the eateries of Fisherman’s Wharf. The menu is seafood-heavy and they take reservations.
Chez Alcatraz is a watering hole with beer and cocktails overlooking the “bay.” Named for the earthquakes that plague the Bay Area, Richter’s Burger Co. crafts custom burgers. San Francisco Pastry Company has quick sandwiches and a display case full of desserts, including character cakes.
Some of the best rides in Universal Studios are in Production Central, one of the first areas you enter in the park. It’s also a great area for all ages since there are both thrill rides and family-friendly 3D shows. This section is inspired by studio backlots.
The little ones will love Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, a motion ride with 3D glasses that has you being recruited to become a minion. The Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit coaster is my absolute favorite ride in the park, a thrilling roller coaster that has a steep incline and plays your selected music during the ride (tip: I recommend Beastie Boys!).
Shrek 4D is similar to Despicable Me and is appropriate for younger visitors. Transformers: The Ride is an interactive 3D motion ride that transports you into the movies, under attack from the Autobots.
The newest ride in Production Central is the Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon. You’ll start in the recreated NBC studios, complete with displays on past hosts of The Tonight Show and live performances by the Studio Brass Band. The ride itself is a high octane motion experience where you race through the streets of Manhattan. Those prone to motion sickness may want to sit out.
Whether you ride it or not, don’t miss the performances in the Race Through New York. There’s plenty to keep you occupied while your family rides or you can use it as an excuse to cool down in the air conditioning. Production Central is another spot to see the Superstar parade.
Because of all the rides, food is sparse in Production Central. There’s a Ben & Jerry’s to indulge your sweet tooth. Monsters Cafe is the best, and only, option that calls back to the classic movie monsters with themed areas, including Wolfman and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. The kiosk has a similar menu, but the full-service restaurant offers ribs, rotisserie chicken, and turkey legs.
World Expo and Woody Woodpecker’s KidZone
World Expo only really includes one ride, but Woody Woodpecker’s KidZone is where younger visitors will spend most of their time. It’s tucked away to the right before you get to Springfield, so it is sometimes overlooked but contains a few classic rides and experiences for all ages.
Perhaps no ride in the park is more beloved, or more outdated, than the E.T. Adventure. It has an introduction by Stephen Spielberg and transports you on bikes through E.T.’s world. The best part is when he says your name at the end.
Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster is the only ride in the Woody Woodpecker area. Men in Black is an interactive game where you shoot at aliens. Insiders tell me that the ones that are higher up are worth more points.
If you’re a fan of Spongebob Squarepants, you can usually catch him at his namesake store in this area. Curious George Goes to Town, Fievel’s Playland, and Barney’s Backyard are all playgrounds. For a break from walking around, there’s the Animal Actors on Location show, which features creatures seen in film. Fear Factor Live is close to Men in Black and recreates elements from the show with audience participation.
KidZone Pizza Company is the only dining option in Woody Woodpecker’s KidZone. In addition to pizza, enjoy hot dogs and chicken fingers.
For more on ticket prices and cost-saving methods, see our guide to Universal Orlando Resort.
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