Even though I live all the way in cold, snowy, remote Cleveland, Ohio, I’m still able to visit Universal Orlando Resort multiple times a year thanks to my job (hey – even the Orlando Informers have to keep informed, right?). Despite these more-or-less consistent journeys, however, I still find myself getting a little twitchy even after being away for just a few months; when certain symptoms start popping back up, I know it’s time to begin counting down the days again ‘til my next arrival date.
I’ve noticed that, during these bouts of “home” sickness, certain Universal items keep creeping back up into my consciousness as I attempt to go about my normal day. It didn’t take long to realize that these experiences are my absolute favorite ones to be had at the resort, whether they be an attraction, hotel, or little themed corner of one of the parks. I’ve already listed these over at our Universal Orlando Community and got some pretty remarkably consistent agreement – so now, I figure, it’s time to formally collect them all together and share them with the wider themed world.
These are the five things I miss the most when away from Universal Orlando Resort for too long. I’d love to hear what yours are either in the comments below or (even better!) at that Facebook community.
5. Cabana Bay Beach Resort
When Universal first announced Cabana Bay Beach Resort, its first-ever prime value hotel, many were worried; at least at Walt Disney World Resort, “value” tends to mean a significant scaling back on theming and amenities, and this would easily make Cabana the worst of all the on-site hotels.
Fortunately for everyone involved, that’s not at all the case. No matter how many times I’ve stayed here – and that’s been some four or five times now, the most of any Universal property for me so far – I can’t help but leave the place being happy. From the ambiance and overall energy level, generally, to the beauty that is the family suites or the grandeur that is its Starbucks (my personal favorite location the chain has out of all the ones I’ve ever visited, either here in America or over in Japan), specifically, Cabana Bay never fails to impress.
Seriously – it should be some kind of challenge to stay here and not smile while simply walking around.
4. The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man
Oh, Spidey – my favorite ride at all of Islands of Adventure (no small feat, given the presence of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade). It may be old compared to the median age of Universal Orlando’s attractions, and its queue may not hold up to the best the resort has to offer, but its ride experience is still one of the most impressive and the most fun in the entire world, even 19 years later.
My last spin on The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man gave me a whole new reason to appreciate it. I took my 40-something cousin with me for his very first Universal trip, and now I can’t get his response to just one specific scene out of my head: when Hobgolbin throws a CG pumpkin-bomb that results in a real-world explosion. “Whoa!” my engineer cousin shouted next to me, clearly impressed. Forget the technical mastery of blending different mediums together – generating surprise and pure delight is what theme parks are all about, right? Spider-Man does this more than most.
3. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
It’s hard not to miss literally every square inch of this entire attraction, but let me just boil my nerdy longing down to two specific moments.
The first is, of course, the queue. Walking the halls of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is such a dream-come-true experience, no matter how many times you do it – and Universal Creative did such a wonderful job accurately recreating (most of) the films’ sets, you truly do feel as if you’ve slipped through some sort of magical portal and have landed in Harry’s wondrous world. Even the greenhouse, an area early on in the queue that is essentially meant to be the overflow section (yes, I know Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey has a proper one of those, too), is chock-full of details and Easter eggs – it’s simply sublime.
But then there’s that majestic moment when you first take your seat on Hermione’s jury-rigged flying bench, and the team members fall away, and it’s just you, the wall, the floating candles overhead, and John Williams’s absolutely perfect score. It’s a moment of quiet before the chaotic storm that is Forbidden Journey, and it’s the closest to Universal Zen one can get.
2. Frozen Butterbeer
Let’s first take a moment to acknowledge that, even though there’s also hot and fudge and ice cream variations, this really is the only Butterbeer that counts, right? It’s cold, which makes it appropriate for Florida’s muggy climate no matter the time of year, and it has that absolutely delicious butterscotch head, which pops here more than in the other liquid formulations. There’s nothing else that quite says you’re at Universal Orlando than drinking a frozen Butterbeer – something which I could almost literally do all day long. (Thank God I live nowhere close to the resort, eh?)
If we exchange our fanboy caps for our theming-scholar ones for just a moment, we’d have to admire the ingenuity that goes into having a culinary experience be the one that, arguably more than any other – including the rides themselves! – serves as the anchor to a theme-park land’s immersion. Adding taste to the sensations of sight, sound, and smell has made all the difference in themed design, and it’s opened up a whole new frontier that Universal and Disney have just started to explore.
1. Revenge of the Mummy
Ah – the big one.
There is no other attraction that I think about more, that I mentally recreate the ride experience of more, that I continually learn to appreciate more than Revenge of the Mummy. My love for this little corner of Universal Studios Florida is so formidable, it’s even made the absolutely awful trilogy of movies that serve as the coaster’s source material watchable to me – something which continues to amaze my friends and family.
Revenge of the Mummy’s queue is dark and atmospheric, filled with subtle details and hidden surprises (yes, please do stick your hand in that hole in the wall). Its music is some of the best to be found at any theme park anywhere in the world – yes, even including the Wizarding World. And then there’s the ride experience itself, which is the almost-perfect combination of elements from both dark and thrill rides. Few things beat being whirled in the dark as you’re chased by fire, beetles, and (aging) audio-animatronics – and nothing beats Brendan Fraser’s continual lamentation of never getting that cup of coffee.
You want perfection on your next Universal Orlando trip? Be sure to take the journey into the Mummy’s catacombs.