ORLANDO - The official name is Universal Orlando Resort. That's marketing for you.
Here's what it is:
Two amusement parks, Universal Studios Florida and Universal's Islands of Adventure, with overlapping themes and missions and, of course, separate admissions. Which park has Barney and which park has Dr. Seuss?
There's also a restaurant-shopping-movie-nightclub sector, and three hotels thematically integrated into the rest of the property, mainly by ticket package.
No Disney-esque princesses here, unless you count Olive Oyl, though Ms. Oyl's best years were with Paramount. She's a presence in Islands of Adventure's Toon Lagoon. The other park has a Lucille Ball tribute of sorts - a wing of the main gift shop - but she didn't work at Universal either.
Neither did Spider-Man, who's also here.
But leave us not quibble. Besides, it's hard to beat Woody Woodpecker.
And the Hulk, incredibly big here, is a legit homeboy.
For adults who choose wisely, there is fun to be had at this Florida Universal. There also aren't quite as many tots being pushed around the grounds in strollers as at the Disney parks, which suggests that even with Barney and The Cat in the Hat, maybe Universal's primary target audience is beyond the preschool crowd.
Universal Studios Florida
It's almost all about nostalgia here, which should make this place a natural for adults - and puzzling for most kids. Not necessarily a bad thing.
The brilliant minds at Universal who specialize in reasonable facsimiles have given us an especially reasonable facsimile of concentrated Hollywoodland, including hints of Beverly Hills' swank Rodeo Drive, plus Sunset Boulevard and Hollywood Boulevard - Walk of Fame included.
So we see reproduced icons such as Schwab's
, the drugstore on Sunset where, according to a false but enduring legend, Lana Turner was discovered at the soda fountain - knowing 99 percent of kids younger than 18 don't know Lana from Tina (and may not know Tina).
Down the street is the spitting-image marquee of the Pantages Theatre
, a landmark that to many of us spurs memories of Bob Hope and the Oscars - even though Pantages hasn't hosted the awards in 31 years. There's a Brown Derby
, of course, but it's a hat shop, not a restaurant, and it's closed until Universal can figure out what to do with it.
There is Mel's Drive-In
, right out of American Graffiti
, itself a nostalgia piece that turns 35 this year - so we have nostalgia about nostalgia. Outside on this day, a 1950s-style rock band teaches adult guests the nuances of the hand jive. Kids might have seen a version in Grease
- if they like oldies. (That movie is about to turn 30.)
Will you find your thrill walking to piped-in Fats Domino on a replica Hollywood Boulevard or seeing replica Blues Brothers (1980), performing outside a replica New York (not Chicago) brownstone?
To the rides and attractions.
Some grown-ups into video games might like Terminator 2 3-D
, a mix of live action, seat-jolts and 3-D film starring the incumbent governor of California. It's been here a while, which means it now has its own nostalgic appeal. (Funny how that works: Lovers of longtime fave Back to the Future
ride, based on that nostalgia-heavy movie, will have to rely on the DVD now that it has been replaced by - Doh! - The Simpsons Ride
Coaster fans will enjoy Revenge of the Mummy
. The pre-ride story through Egyptian tomb passageways is merely a time-filler/line-tamer and not for the claustrophobic, but the ride - though quick - will lift butts and startle. It's a good one.
Beetlejuice's Rock 'n' Roll Graveyard Revue
is loud. If that's one of your favorite movies and you want to relive the madness of Michael Keaton and Catherine O'Hara up close and personal, don't get near this thing. Shrek 4-D
is another attraction that isn't nearly as much fun as the movies that spawned it; it's probably better with kids, who won't get some of the jokes but always laugh at donkeys.
Here's one that's too good for kids, which is what we really want:
One of Universal's signature attractions has been Earthquake
, a chance to be there when San Francisco collapses all around you. Fans this year won't see Earthquake on the signs and maps, but fear not: Disaster!
is Earthquake with both a new exclamation point and new set-up.The live-action-special-effects deal featuring one of Hollywood's most intriguing personalities (name withheld), perfectly cast is hilarious. And nostalgists will be thrilled to know that San Francisco still collapses.
There's also A Day in the Park with Barney
Islands of Adventure
Islands of Adventure is two big-boy (or big-girl) roller coasters surrounded by trademarks.
The Incredible Hulk
and Dueling Dragons
are both outdoor steel coasters that feature loops, meaning you'll be upside down from time to time, but that's about all they have in common. The Hulk is mostly about initial speed; Dueling Dragons is about two coasters flying at the same time and appearing doomed to collide, which safety records suggest probably won't happen.
Ask park regulars which is the preferred coaster, and you'll get conflicting answers. My take (aside from being impressed by both): Dueling Dragons' twin coasters give it an extra dimension.
Next to the Hulk on Marvel Super Hero Island
is The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man
. This is a 3-D-movie-simulator mix that sounded enough like the other park's Terminator ride that I skipped it, prompting an official Universal person to say that I'm an idiot for having skipped it (she was actually more polite than I deserved), so:
If you're a Spidey fan and, as with Terminator, are crazy for video games, I suspect you'll adore this. If you're mature enough to appreciate the one and only greatest superhero, Superman, who could beat up 20 Spider-Men, well, I don't know.
On The Lost Continent
(Islands of Adventure actually has, along with one island: a continent, a lagoon, a park - Jurassic - and a landing) is Poseidon's Fury
. There is a story line to this attraction, but mainly it's bursts of fire, bursts of water and a hysterical (crazy hysterical, not ha-ha hysterical) live-action lead character. It's ungodly awful.
Save some time: Islands of Adventure is a great place to go with a bunch of your junior high or high school friends while you're still in junior high or high school. Grown-ups with little children should enjoy Seuss Landing and some of the tamer rides and attractions.
Adult, kid-free roller-coaster people will like the coasters - and then want to roll out of there.
A concentration of a few shops, a lot of restaurants (many of the sponsored theme variety), plus nightclubs and show venues, plus a 20-screen multiplex cinema - that's CityWalk.
has Cirque du Soleil
; CityWalk has Blue Man Group
. Disney has Puck; CityWalk has Emeril. Disney has House of Blues
; Universal has a Hard Rock
. Both have cigar stores.
"They're pretty much the same, as far as what they offer," concedes a CityWalk greeter who won't be named because it would probably get him fired. "The older crowd tends to come to Universal. The younger ones go to Disney."
If you're here for a conference at one of the Universal Florida hotels, and you want to get out of the hotel and leave the rental car in the lot, it's nice to know CityWalk is here, reachable on foot or by water taxi.
And unlike Disney's comparable California Grill, Universal's Emeril was virtually kid-free the night I dined there. (There's a second Emeril restaurant, by the way, in the Royal Pacific Resort
More mainly grown-up food options: Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville
, Pat O'Brien's
(an outpost of the New Orleans watering hole) and a place named for reggae hero Bob Marley.
Downtown Disney's Pleasure Island
bars are mostly dance clubs (OK, there's a comedy club and an Irish pub), while CityWalk has dance clubs and several restaurants that, around 9, turn into adults-only music bars with a cover. One of them, CityJazz
, features comedy some nights and music the rest. And there are plenty of kiosks where you can get a cold beer or an icy margarita and just hang out beneath a large Woody Woodpecker.
One last point: If you want to see where actual Universal movies or TV shows are produced - where the magic happens, Universal-style - Universal City is in California. Just up the interstate from Anaheim.
Universal Studios Florida
opened in 1990, and the attraction more than doubled in late 1998 and 1999 with the openings of CityWalk
and Islands of Adventure
. The two theme parks attracted 6 million visitors last year (Walt Disney World drew 16.6 million).
Next year, a themed area based on the Harry Potter books and movies is scheduled to open in Islands of Adventure.
Both parks open at 9 a.m., but closing times vary (10 p.m. in July through mid-August).
CityWalk is open 365 days a year, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.
All of these prices are discounted for Internet purchases:
1 park/1 day . . . $69.99
2 parks/1 day. . . $75.98
2 parks/7 days . . . $80.98