Year-end Universal Orlando trip report (holiday crowds, Diagon Alley construction, and great new shots of Hogsmeade Station)
My family and I visited Universal Studios Florida (USF) and Islands of Adventure (IOA) yesterday, the Sunday after Christmas. Knowing this time of the year is the busiest for area theme parks, I was very curious how crowded the parks would be and how long the wait times would be for all the attractions, with the additional factor of cloudy skies and periodic rain.
[wptouch target=”non-mobile”]Remember, you can click any image to view it full-screen. And don’t miss the complete photo gallery with 60 new full-screen images at the bottom of the post.
Entering USF, I noticed the Christmas decorations were still providing a festive atmosphere starting with the Macy’s Holiday Parade medallion and inflatable elf at the entrance. (The Macy’s Holiday Parade will be marching through USF through January 4, 2014 — learn more in the OI Universal Center.) Most of the ticketing kiosks were open and had long lines. All the entrance turnstiles were open and very busy, including the temporary turnstiles in the center.
Crowds throughout the morning and early afternoon at USF were heavy, but it seemed most guests were concentrated in Production Central.
Wait times in Production Central were very long: 145 minutes for the highly popular Despicable Me Minion Mayhem and 45 minutes for Shrek 4-D; the awesome Rip Ride Rockit coaster’s standby line was 120 minutes with the single rider line posted wait time of 90 minutes; and Transformers: The Ride 3D, one of my favorite USF attractions, had a posted standby line of 75 minutes before noon and 90 minutes in the afternoon.
In contrast to the long wait times in Production Central, posted wait times for the remainder of USF’s attractions were significantly lower with most attractions posting a wait time of 15 minutes or less.
As I walked around the park, Twister, Revenge of the Mummy, Disaster!, MEN IN BLACK Alien Attack all had posted wait times of only 10 minutes. In the Springfield section of USF, The Simpsons Ride had a posted wait time of 10 minutes also. In Woody Woodpecker’s KidZone, E.T. Adventure had a posted wait time of 15 minutes and Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster was 20 minutes. While the attraction wait times were low, the crowd levels in the streets of each section were heavy.
I noticed that most food and drink kiosks were busy at USF but lines were only a few people deep. In addition, I surprisingly didn’t have to wait in line to purchase lunch at Fast Food Boulevard in Springfield.
Since my last USF trip report, the concrete work in Springfield has been completed and the walkway near the Back to the Future train and DeLorean is open again.
The progress of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley is extraordinary.
Most of the brick has been painted along with additional detail on most of the buildings. I observed the new WWOHP-DA section from several vantage points, and it dominates this section of the park. So much of King’s Cross Station is completed and looks uncannily like the real thing.
After a fun time touring USF, I walked over to Islands of Adventure in the early afternoon. The ticket booths and entry turnstiles were busy as I entered the park even at this time of the day.
Heading into Seuss Landing, the posted wait times for the attractions ranged from 35 minutes for the High In The Sky Trolley Train Ride, 30 minutes for the Cat In The Hat to 10 minutes for One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. The very popular holiday Grinchmas production had eight different shows scheduled for the day, and Who’s were posing for photos with guests around Seuss Landing.
In the Lost Continent, Poseidon’s Fury had a posted wait time of 40 minutes which seemed to be reflective of the crowd level in this section of IOA. The Eighth Voyage of Sindbad Stunt Show had seven different shows scheduled.
The most popular and crowded section of IOA, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, also had the longest wait times for attractions. Although Dragon Challenge posted only a 15 minute wait time, Flight of the Hippogriff was 65 minutes and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey was 105 minutes. The streets and shops of the WWoHP were very crowded along with long lines for all butterbeer carts.
Also in WWoHP, construction continues on the Hogsmeade Station for the Hogwarts Express. We were able to take a few photos of the construction while riding Dragon Challenge, and we were thrilled with the progress that has been made with most of the exterior walls in place and painted.
Also, these new photos really give you a sense of how Hogsmeade Station is creating “near miss” experiences with Dragon Challenge’s coaster tracks.
In the Jurassic Park section of IOA, park guests were thoroughly enjoying the Jurassic Park River Adventure, which had a posted wait time of 25 minutes. I laughed to myself when I heard one guest trying to convince his family that they wouldn’t get wet on the ride. Even though they had watched the ride from the splash zone, they seemed to believe him.
As I entered Toon Lagoon, home to IOA’s other two water rides, ironically it began to rain. Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls had a posted wait time of 60 minutes. Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges, a fun attraction where guests are guaranteed to be soaked, posted a wait time of 10 minutes for the standby line.
In Marvel Super Hero Island, the thrilling attraction of The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man had a posted wait time of 75 minutes, Doctor Doom’s Fearfall was 30 minutes and the The Incredible Hulk Coaster had a 60 minutes posted wait time. The 4:00pm Marvel Super Heroes meet-and-greet production was delayed by about 15 minutes due to inclement weather. Many guests were lining the sidewalks waiting for the production to begin and to meet their favorite Super Hero.
Similar to USF, the IOA food and drink kiosks and counter-service restaurants throughout this park were busy but did not have long waits with the exception of WWoHP section.
The temperatures were in the upper 70’s with mostly cloudy skies. It rained steadily for about an hour in the afternoon, but the rain did not cause any attractions in IOA to close including all the coasters and outdoor attractions.
Both parks opened at 8:00am and USF closed at 10:00 pm while IOA closed at 11:00 pm. Being in the middle of the busiest time of year at Universal Orlando, it was not surprising to see the high posted wait times for the most popular attractions. Consequently, I would recommend purchasing an Express Pass for busy days like this one or stay on-site at a deluxe hotel to get unlimited Express Passes as part of your room package (learn more in the OI Universal Center). The lower wait times for some attractions and the shorter lines for food and drink were a pleasant surprise.
Even with the inclement weather, I spent an enjoyable day at both parks. I look forward to visiting USF and IOA again soon in 2014, which will be a phenomenal year for Universal Orlando Resort and its guests.
As of last week, Universal has updated their in-park guidemap to reflect the addition of Springfield USA and the Simpsons Fast Food Blvd:
Even better news, you can now find pages in the OI Universal Center covering all of Springfield USA, including a brand-new overview page, Fast Food Blvd, Moe’s Tavern, Duff Brewery, and Kang & Kodos Twirl ‘n’ Hurl.
[wptouch target=”non-mobile”]My photo gallery with 62 new images can be found at the bottom of this page. [/wptouch]If you’d like to see even more, check out Orlando Informer’s new Flickr page. The December 26 photoset will help you see all the crowds, then check out the December 28 photoset for some spectacular nighttime images.
Universal Orlando Resort – photo gallery
Click any image to view it full-screen. When the full-screen image is open, click to the right or use the right arrow on your keyboard to advance through the gallery.
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