It’s time for a winter off-season visit to Islands of Adventure. In this Universal Orlando park report, we share photos of Jurassic World VelociCoaster roller coaster construction, Wizarding World of Harry Potter crowds, wait times, characters, and offer thoughts on those same topics.
Let’s start with crowds, which is a similar conversation to our Universal Studios Florida Winter Report. In a nutshell, attendance is down considerably in both Universal parks since the peak holiday dates. Weekends are significantly busier than weekdays, which has been true since reopening. Tourists have every day of the week off, whereas locals are more likely to have weekends off.
This disparity between weekdays and weekends is most pronounced during the off-season, when the percentage of local visitors in attendance is at its peak. There are far fewer tourists visiting Florida than in a normal year, which means their relative impact on crowds is lower.
There’s still variance to that–more people vacation to Florida during school breaks (e.g. Mardi Gras) or the summer than the doldrums of January and February. In addition to the AP commentary in the USF park report, hopefully that helps explain why weekends are bonkers but weekdays are quiet.
Anyway, let’s take a look at Friday crowds and wait times at Islands of Adventure…
Things started out looking good as we enter.
Marvel Super Hero Island is pretty uncrowded, with the Incredible Hulk Coaster posting a 15 minute wait.
The facade of the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man is behind construction walls, but the attraction is not closed.
You only need to walk around the corner (there are signs guiding the way), but that probably still contributes to the lower 10 minute wait time for this all-time great.
The Hogsmeade side of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is frequently congested, but even that wasn’t too bad.
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey’s posted wait times ranged from 10 to 25 minutes.
Forbidden Journey’s wait time spiked when we were over here, likely due to Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure going down.
I had checked the wait time prior to leaving Universal Studios Florida and it was under an hour (my personal threshold). While Hagrid’s doesn’t have the same reliability woes as when it debuted, it does still go down from time to time. It’s probably more akin to Test Track (maybe a tad worse) than Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance at this point. Plan accordingly if you only have one day in Islands of Adventure, because this ride is not to be missed.
Hogwarts Express had the longest wait in the park at 60 minutes.
We’ve found that this is not uncommon, especially after lunch as guests start park hopping. It was also probably exacerbated by the Hagrid’s downtime.
Skull Island: Reign of Kong and Jurassic Park River Adventure were the only other two attractions with wait times at or above 20 minutes.
All in all, not too busy of an afternoon at Islands of Adventure. Again, if you’re visiting this weekend or even next week, you should plan for a very different experience. Crowds and wait times should return to these off-season lows on February 22.
I won’t belabor the same point about entertainment and characters in our Universal Studios Florida report, but the same is true with Islands of Adventure. Not to the same degree, in my view, but there’s still plenty.
I have no clue who this flying squirrel (?) is, but my sincere hope is that he’s Earl’s evil relative and has some shadowy backstory, Heart of Darkness style. Just look at those eyes and tell me this rodent hasn’t descended into madness.
Given that these characters, who I’m about 95% sure are from Kung Fu Panda, were appearing nearby, I’m guessing the flying squirrel is, too. He has that DreamWorks “look.”
However, I’d much prefer him to be original theme park IP, and also part of an interwoven story. If anyone from Universal Creative is reading, an elaborate squirrel universe is what the fans want. It could be the next Society of Explorers and Adventurers!
There were also a bunch of characters out in Suess Landing, but you’re just going to have to take my word for that. In over a dozen tries, I didn’t get a single shot with all of them looking at the camera.
As much as I love Seuss Landing–and think Dr. Seuss stories are timeless–it does feel a bit awkward to photograph the story time as a childless adult.
Finally, some looks at and thoughts on the Jurassic World VelociCoaster. I am really looking forward to this roller coaster, which will open at Islands of Adventure in Summer 2021. There’s no specific date or even month yet, but it looks really close to finished.
VelociCoaster has been testing over the last several weeks, including with riders. That has drawn crowds of theme park fans to the same view point above to watch and document VelociCoaster’s progress. We didn’t catch it testing, but there’s no shortage of photos and video on social media (here) and YouTube (here).
Many of you are understandably looking forward to Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, but VelociCoaster is far and away my most-anticipated addition to Orlando theme parks in 2021. That’s obviously not an apples to apples comparison, so let’s instead turn to Jurassic World VelociCoaster v. TRON Lightcycle Run.
Despite starting construction much later, VelociCoaster will probably end up opening a year or more before TRON Lightcycle Run. The latter is a clone of a Shanghai Disneyland roller coaster, whereas the former is vaguely reminiscent of the Flying Dinosaur–to the extent that they’re both roller coasters in Universal’s Jurassic Park areas–that’s about where the similarities begin and end.
Although they’re all different types of roller coasters, they are all the same general type of ride. That makes them “close enough” for the sake of comparison. TRON Lightcycle (Power) Run is a solid attraction with beautiful visuals. It didn’t make my Top 10 Disney Attractions of the Last Decade, but that’s definitely a “me problem.” I can understand why others–including Sarah–love it.
On the other hand, I absolutely adore Flying Dinosaur as a roller coaster, but its thematic elements are incredibly sparse and no effort was made to integrate it seamlessly into Jurassic Park at Universal Studios Japan. There’s netting everywhere overhead and a ton of visual blight. Its addition was a huge step backwards for a park that has otherwise made leaps forward in themed design. The Flying Dinosaur is “worth” all of those intrusions, but it unquestionably could’ve been done better.
From what I’ve seen thus far, VelociCoaster appears to be a Jurassic Park roller coaster “done better.” The track layout looks tremendous, the rockwork is beautiful, and there’s an ample amount of thematic elements and details. It should be suspenseful and fun. Even though they’re different species of coasters, it feels like Universal Creative iterated upon what worked and didn’t with Flying Dinosaur, and Jurassic World VelociCoaster is the evolution of that. Coasters find a way.
In a nutshell, that’s why I’m excited for Jurassic World VelociCoaster. It’s also why Walt Disney World fans who were hoping to experience TRON Lightcycle Run this year should not sleep on Universal Orlando. Between VelociCoaster and Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, there are two new roller coasters at Islands of Adventure that are on par with or better than TRON Lightcycle Run.
With that said, I’ll also admit I’m biased to all things Jurassic Park. I really like the aesthetic of TRON Lightcycle Run, but I can’t get through the original Tron movie without falling asleep. The lights on the roller coaster are entrancing, but the source material just doesn’t speak to me.
Conversely, Jurassic Park was one of the formative films of my childhood. I watched it over and over, using LEGOs to build my own raptor paddocks and other areas of the park. Some might look at the exterior of VelociCoaster and find it overly industrial and bleak, but I see the fulfillment of a childhood fantasy. To each their own.
Have you visited Islands of Adventure in the last couple of months? What was your experience with crowds and wait times? Have a chance to experience Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure? Looking forward to Jurassic World VelociCoaster, or is TRON Lightcycle Run more appealing to you? 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 year, or are you waiting until 2022 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!