Universal Studios Florida competed directly with Disney's Hollywood Studios when Universal opened in 1990. Both parks offered movie- and television-themed rides and shows, while other attractions provided an educational, behind-the-scenes introduction to the cinematic arts. And both had working film- and TV-production facilities.
In the summer of 1999, Universal launched its second major theme park, Universal's Islands of Adventure, which competes directly with Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure, the three Universal hotels, and the CityWalk dining, nightlife, and shopping complex are collectively known as Universal Orlando.
The Studios have gone in different directions since then. For example, Disney essentially abandoned its production facilities long ago, but even now on any day at Universal, crews will be shooting on its backlot in full view of guests who care to watch. Universal Orlando has also added more attractions, the most famous of which is the groundbreaking Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Islands of Adventure. Construction is under way now to expand Potter attractions to both Universal parks, and these may set the standard for years to come for immersive themed entertainment.
How Much Time to Allocate
It takes 8 to 10 hours to tour Universal Studios, including a break for lunch. Your early morning hours will be spent on rides; most of Universal's 7 stage shows don't usually start running until an hour or two after the park opens, and play to partially-filled theaters until early afternoon.
Universal Studios Florida is laid out like the letter P. The park entrance sits at the bottom of a long boulevard, while most of the shows and attractions are located in an oval around a man-made lagoon. Each area has a name and theme, although it's sometimes difficult to say just where one area stops and another begins.
Beginning at the park entrance and going clockwise, the first area you'll encounter is Production Central, which includes the Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem, Rip Ride Rockit and Shrek 4-D attractions. At the top of the P is the New York area, including Twister and Revenge of the Mummy. Next is San Francisco, with two attractions and four restaurants; World Expo, with MEN IN BLACK Alien Attack; Springfield, U.S.A. featuring The Simpsons Ride; and Woody Woodpecker's KidZone, containing E.T Adventure, two stage shows, a small roller coaster and several play areas. The last themed area, back near the front of the park, is Hollywood, featuring Universal Orlando's Horror Make Up Show, Terminator 2: 3-D, Lucy-A Tribute, and two restaurants.
Guests orient themselves by the major rides, sets, and landmarks and refer, for instance, to "New York," "the waterfront," "over by E.T.," or "by Mel's Diner." The area of Universal Studios Florida open to visitors is about the size of Epcot.
Where to Find Strollers, Wheelchairs, Lockers, Etc.
Services and amenities include stroller and wheelchair rental, lockers, diaper-changing and infant-nursing facilities, car assistance, and foreign-language assistance. Most of the park is accessible to disabled guests, and TDDs are available for the hearing-impaired. Almost all services are in the Front Lot, just inside the main entrance.
Child Swap at Universal is similar to Disney's version. The entire family tells the attendant as they enter queue that they wish to switch off and goes through the whole line together before being split into riding and nonriding groups near the loading platform. The nonriding parent and child(ren) wait in a designated room, usually with some sort of entertainment (for example, Forbidden Journey at IOA shows the first 20 minutes of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone on a loop), a place to sit down, and sometimes restrooms with changing tables. At any theme park, the best tip we can give is to ask the greeter in front of the attraction what you're supposed to do.
Dining at Universal Studios Florida
Universal Studios' fast-food restaurants are nothing special. Most menus offer a limited selection of theme park staples: burgers, pizza, pasta, chicken fingers, sandwiches and salads. The surprising thing is that the food quality isn't better, given the enormous competition coming from Disney. The mediocrity of the park's fast food is matched by the generic presentation of its restaurants. "American diner" theme? Check. New York Italian? Got that too. We're a little surprised there's not a Chinese take-out place next to a Laundromat in the San Francisco section of the park. The widely panned International Film and Food Festival was replaced in summer of 2013 by the much better Fast Food Boulevard featuring Springfield favorites like Krusty Burgers and Duff Beer.
Universal Studios offers two sit-down restaurants: Finnegan's Bar and Grill in the New York section of the park, and Lombard's Seafood Grille in the San Francisco area. Finnegan's menu includes burgers and wings — typical bar food — as well as fish-and-chips and other takes on Irish cuisine. Stick to the burgers. Lombard's is the better restaurant, but it's not in the same league as the Disney's Hollywood Brown Derby.
Although it takes more time, our advice is to head to Universal City Walk if you're either looking for a nice sit-down lunch or want better quality fast food.
Live Entertainment At Universal Studios Florida
In addition to the shows profiled previously, Universal Studios offers a wide range of street entertainment. Costumed comic book and cartoon characters (Shrek, Donkey, SpongeBob SquarePants, Woody Woodpecker) roam the park for photo ops supplemented by look-alikes of movie stars, both living and deceased, plus the Frankenstein monster, who can be said to be neither. Musical acts also pop up.
In 2012 the Studios introduced the Disney-like Universal’s Superstar Parade, featuring dancers and performers, four large and elaborate floats inspired by cartoons and animated features, and a very mixed bag of street-prowling Universal characters. The parade stops twice for a highly choreographed ensemble number. Though impressive in its scope and coordination, the performance is well-nigh impossible to take in from any given viewing spot. The same floats are trotted out individually at various times of day for mini-shows and character meet-and-greets.
The parade begins at the gate between Louie’s Pizza, in the New York section of the park, and Beetlejuice’s Graveyard Revue, in San Francisco. From there it proceeds along 5th Avenue, past Revenge of the Mummy. At the end of 5th Avenue, the parade takes a left onto Plaza of the Stars and heads toward the front of the park, where it makes another left onto Hollywood Boulevard, from whence it disappears backstage across from Mel’s Diner. The best viewing spots are along 5th Avenue, on the front steps of faux buildings in New York.
Daily show schedules for Universal Studios Florida are shown on our Showtimes page.