Islands of Adventure Report: Hagrid’s Magical Morning
For this park report, we’re heading over to Universal Orlando Resort to do Islands of Adventure. Crowds have been picking up at Universal over the last couple of months, with the parks hitting capacity multiple weekends in October. In this photo report, we cover wait times and some of what we did throughout the day. Let’s start with Universal’s post-reopening successes.
I’ve been really impressed with the way Universal Orlando has handled its reopening. In many ways, their approach has been better–or at least preferable, in my view–to Walt Disney World’s. While still adopting the same health safety protocol, Universal opted not to require reservations and didn’t overcomplicate things. The proactive communications, clear policies, and the way Universal has demonstrated that they value their customers are all commendable.
Universal Orlando has also offered a variety of ticket, Annual Pass, and hotel deals that really make all the changes and cutbacks more palatable. And truly, not as much has changed at Universal, as the key on-site and AP perks among other offerings were never cut. Obviously, the style of Disney’s and Universal’s theme parks are very different, so it’s never an apples to apples comparison. Nevertheless, the value proposition remains strong at Universal Orlando right now, which makes it easier to recommend.
Consequently, we’re once again toying with the idea of covering Universal in greater depth. We’ve contemplated and discussed doing that many times. We’ve been Universal Annual Passholders to the parks in Florida, California, and Osaka and have a Guide to Universal Studios Hollywood and Guide to Universal Studios Japan in addition to our Universal Orlando Planning Guide. Obviously, we’re big fans of the Universal parks (and hotels).
Still, we’ve never gone all-in on more granular coverage. We could blame you for that, and a lack of interest among readers. 😉 That’s only partly true–it mostly comes down to a lack of time on our end. It’s impossible for us to cover everything. Meaning that if we spend more time at Universal, that’s less of our hard-hitting Disney journalism. To that end, we’re curious if you want to see more Universal coverage and, if so, what? (Park reports like this, itineraries, dining, hotels, etc.)
Selfishly, I’m hoping there’s some interest in this Islands of Adventure report and our upcoming Universal Studios Florida report. For one thing, I’ve really enjoyed our hotel stays thus far at Universal and “needing” to book the more expensive resorts “for the sake of research” is a great excuse for doing more.
Second, each visit to Universal Orlando is at least one ride on E.T. Adventure, which is right up there with Country Bear Jamboree on the list of potential UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Central Florida. With things on earth not going so hot, I’m ready to relocate to the Green Planet.
Now that the long-winded preface is out of the way, let’s get down to the brass tacks of this visit to Universal Orlando. Due to the drive, line at the parking booths, and getting into the park taking longer than expected, we didn’t enter Islands of Adventure right at rope drop.
So basically, Universal already shares something in common with Disney’s Hollywood Studios–taking longer than expected to enter–despite being about 30 minutes farther away from us. Once we did get into Islands of Adventure, we headed directly to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter…
The Universal Orlando app indicated that the wait time for Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure was already 90 minutes, but wait times boards in the park said 60 minutes, as did the Hagrid’s marquee.
Even if the wait time was trending upwards and it ended up being somewhere in between, we figured this was going to be about as good as it got. Wait time data suggests no drop-off over the course of the day.
The queue wrapped all around the Lost Continent, including into the theater that previously housed the Eighth Voyage of Sindbad stage show.
This whole area isn’t currently used for much of anything, so overflow queue for Hagrid’s seems like as good of a use as any. Plus, the venue could probably house a lot more of the extended queue if necessary on busier days, as we only entered the upper area of the amphitheater.
Regardless of whether the posted wait time was 60 or 90 minutes, the actual wait for Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure ended up being much lower–only 35 minutes.
Given that this was Orlando’s second-biggest new attraction debut of last year (after Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance) and is the best themed roller coaster in Central Florida, I’d say that’s not too shabby. I won’t willingly wait 35+ minutes for much, but Hagrid’s is definitely one such attraction.
After wandering around the Wizarding World of Harry Potter for a bit, we figured it was time for lunch.
With crowds peaking in Hogsmeade and already a long line for Three Broomsticks, we thought it might be a good time to take the Hogwarts Express Train over to Universal Studios Florida. Posted wait time was 60 minutes; our actual wait was 25 minutes.
We’ll have a separate report on Universal Studios Florida very soon, but for now let’s fast-forward to late afternoon when we returned to Islands of Adventure.
Rather than doing a play by play of our afternoon, I’m just going to offer some photos and stray thoughts in the captions…
Universal Orlando is doing a great job with the socially-distanced selfie stations.
This one probably is not the best example as these costumes look like they’re knockoffs from the clearance aisle of Party City. Nevertheless, there are a variety of options with little to no wait…which is probably because no one wants to meet any of these characters. But still. Points for effort.
“Knockoffs from Party City” might be an apt way to describe the aesthetic of Marvel Super Hero Island to anyone only familiar with the movies, and not the comics.
However, one undeniably top-tier component of the land is the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, which is one of the best theme park attractions in the world. It honestly shocks me that Imagineering chose Spider-Man as the character for a DCA attraction because it’ll inevitably invite comparisons to this twenty year old attraction–and I doubt most objective assessments will be favorable towards Disney.
Universal does this thing where it oscillates between flavor of the month IP and characters no one born this century has ever heard of. Maybe Walt Disney World does the exact same thing and I’m just too close to the subject to have a clear view.
Or, maybe I’m still bitter that Universal removed all but one of my childhood favorites. To add insult to injury, Universal then had the nerve to replace the new cult classic Disaster with Fast & Furious Supercharged. That abomination was literally one of the worst theme park attractions/segments of all-time years before it even began construction in Florida.
Speaking of childhood favorites, let’s turn to the park’s King Kong attraction. While this blog (rightfully) sings the praises of E.T. Adventure, my all-time favorite Universal Studios Florida attraction is Kongfrontation. As a child, this was a top 5 of Orlando for me–not in the same league as Journey Into Imagination, but close.
Skull Island: Reign of Kong is no Kongfrontation. However, it is better than the similar segment during the Universal Studios Hollywood tram tour, so there’s that. Skull Island: Reign of Kong’s end scene is undeniably impressive, and offers a brief shot of nostalgia. The queue is also normally a highlight, but not as much right now.
Jurassic Park is also a really solid land, and one that is improving with age.
The Raptor Encounter is fun, bringing some of the magic from the Discovery Center into a standalone experience.
I’m also really looking forward to Jurassic World VelociCoaster, which Universal recently announced opens in Summer 2021.
The track layout looks tremendous, as does the rockwork and thematic elements. It also looks like VelociCoaster won’t introduce the same type of clutter to the land as the Flying Dinosaur. If it’s even half as good as that (very different) roller coaster, VelociCoaster will be a top-tier addition to the Jurassic Park/World land.
Ultimately, it was a really fun day at Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida. A long day, but we got a ton accomplished and the visit had great flow (thanks to park hopping) that we haven’t experienced recently at Walt Disney World. This “great flow” may not be readily apparent here since this Islands of Adventure park report is clunky and disjointed.
In my defense, it’s not easy to write something like this since I don’t know really know where to begin. Do I assume most people reading this have no experience with Universal, and start from square one with a bunch of background that would be absent from our comparable Walt Disney World park reports? Or do I assume the primary audience is Universal fans who have said knowledge, and simply leave those who don’t behind in the dust? In retrospect, it would seem I’ve chosen a “worst of both worlds” approach that makes a range of assumptions and confuses or alienates everyone. Perhaps we’ll find our footing in the Universal Studios Florida park report. Or perhaps not, and this will end up being a very short series of interest to no one. We shall see!
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Have you visited Islands of Adventure in the last couple of months? Did you rope drop Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure? Stay until park closing? What was your experience with crowds and wait times? If you’ve visited both Disney and Universal post-reopening, which do you think is doing better? Do you have any questions about the current modified Universal experience? Will you be attempting to visit Central Florida this holiday season, or are you waiting until 2021 or beyond? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!
I would love for you to cover Universal Orlando. I am curious about the meal plans and how that works with the mobile ordering. I’d love to read reviews of the premier hotels and Citywalk restaurants. Plans for handling Universal during busy times like the upcoming holidays would be amazing. Thanks for your blogs! Reading blogs obviously helps people be prepared for their trips, but I most enjoy them as a way of building anticipation.
I am from Canada and can’t get to the parks as often as I would like. Even though Disney is my main point of interest universal has become a thing to do because of Harry Potter. For my visits I do A-LOT of pre planning and this site my main go-to for info (on all of it…hotel, food, strategy, your thoughts on what’s worth doing and what can be skipped). I would love to hear more on Universal.
I really enjoyed your coverage of Universal. I would love to read more- just like you cover Disney.
What hotels are available? What are the costs? What’s the best restaurant? What is there to do for children aged 0-3? Etc!
Can’t wait to see your ‘expensive‘ hotel used as a write off!
We visited USF, IOA, and Volcano Bay in July. We actually stayed DVC but decided that Universal – with cheaper tickets and fewer things closed – was a better value proposition than WDW, and so now was as good a time as any to check it out. We had a great trip – never waited more than 10-20 minutes and more often than not a walk-on. They were using a virtual queue for Hagrid’s so not a lot of waiting for that, either, and we rode multiple times per day. It was also really fun to be able to explore Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley with no crowds.
I think more guidance / itineraries from you would be super helpful to people. Because we went with no crowds, a park plan was unimportant, but I imagine that’s changing. I think food recommendations from you would also be valuable.
That said, I’m not sure when we will go back to Universal. Loved it, but still just not as magical as Disney (some well-themed areas for sure but also some duds), so I’m not sure I would care to go and wait in lines, and since we have DVC I also don’t know that I’m willing to stay on-site for that advantage. And, not a single Disney ride makes me sick but so many of Universal’s do.
I’d love to see coverage of Universal & Disney. I love your honest insight to the parks.
I have to say, your taste in attractions is impeccable my good sir. I am a regular reader, and I would very much welcome more Universal content. I’d especially like to read your opinions on Mythos. Personally, my family finds it to be an incredibly affordable upscale theme park dining experience, and we try to eat there every time we visit.
I’ve been thinking long before Covid that you need to cover Universal more. It’s difficult to find coverage regarding Universal and for someone who has been to Disney four times within the last 12 months, I have made Universal a destination each time. I think there are many Disney fan who will need more information re Universal than you may think.
The express pass option is so valuable as well as the early entry for on site guests. I also appreciate that they allow you to use express pass for the day you check in and the day you check out. We were able to ride all three Harry Potter rides by 10:30 starting at Universal Studios. They start running the Hogwarts express at 9:45 even though IA opens at 10.
Contrary to popular belief my 3 small children had plenty of entertainment at Universal especially IA (Seuss landing is a fav).
Go for it!
Hi Tom I would be delighted if you provided more coverage of Universal. I would like to know:
How you find visiting Universal as a guest experience, particularly compared with Disney World. Character greetings, staff interaction, restaurant food, ride experiences, Volcano Bay review, hotel reports and whether the guest privileges provide good value, and Universal Express assessment. Is staying on-site so valuable in terms of park benefits that it is worth the hotel cost?
I would like to read some ride ‘duels’ e.g. Toy Story Mania vs Men In Black. Jurassic Park vs Kali River Rapids. Flight of Passage vs Despicable Me / Simpsons/ Fallon / Shrek. (Presumably) Ratatouille vs Spiderman / Transformers / Kong / Fast and Furious.
I would love to understand your statement that Kong’s queue is ‘normally a highlight’. I think the queue is awful and am surprised that you think otherwise, as my understanding is you really value a well put together queue that adds thematically to the ride.
Kong’s queue (and ride) doesn’t make any sense to me (SPOILER ALERT):
1) Where are we?
2) Why is there an ‘old crone’ seemingly conjuring spells?
2) Why do people jump out at you while you are wandering through the queue? I understand on a basic level they are trying to make you jump, but that is all they appear designed to do. What do they have to do with the ride? If we are entering the world of Kong, how do they fit with the story? We never see them again nor do we get any reference to them on the ride.
3) How does the final section of the queue connect to the beginning section with the ‘crone’? I understand in Flight of Passage’s queue that you are going through the natural environment and then you transition into the human made structure, an understanding that is bolstered in one of the pre-ride videos which explains how humans came to settle on Pandora. By contrast, you don’t know why you have taken the route you have taken in Kong, and the final section adds nothing to your understanding generally. Radio reports that seemingly don’t fit with the ride journey, random boxes, some sort of slug type creature. What is going on? It doesn’t feel like deliberate mystery.
4) What are we doing going on the ride vehicles? If you listen to the queue story in Transformers, Spiderman, Simpsons, Fast and Furious, Forbidden Journey, and Gringotts (to name a few), you know exactly where you are and what you are supposed to be doing when you board. By contrast, when we board the Kong vehicle I don’t understand where I am, what the ‘company’ is doing in this place, or what we are boarding the vehicles to do.
5) I still don’t understand what we are doing when the ride gets going either. We just seem to be taking a drive for no apparent purpose. At the end of the ride one of the ‘drivers’ says “Kong IS alive” (or something to that effect). I don’t think anyone has officially mentioned Kong up to this point, and at what point in the experience were we supposed to think Kong was just a myth?
I’d love to read a primer of sorts on a translation of language/systems/pricing between Disney and Universal. We are interested in taking our kids to universal in a few years (we are big HP fans), but honestly learning a new park system and how to get the most from it feels daunting. We know Disney and love it, it costs a lot but it’s worth the comfort and familiarity. So I’m curious if you’d write something of a “Disney does this… and Universal’s equivalent is…” for beginners.
Yes, I rope dropped Hagrid’s last week, pretty much walk on at early park opening. Best ride in Orlando, IMO. Crowds were significant, with park closing to capacity a few days I was there. Mobile order at 3 broomsticks was ridiculous, but express pass helped with most of the rides & shows.
Having spent last week in Orlando, with time in both Disney and Universal, I think Universal is much better in the covid era. Better park hours, required hand sanitizer, socially distant shows , characters, express pass, and early parking opening & boat transportation for resort guests.. universal offers a better experience in many ways. I can’t wait to return to Universal, but Disney has a long way to go to restore value for $, IMO.