I hope you set your alarm clocks this morning, because this Best Week Ever is up and at ’em before daybreak to enjoy one of my favorite theme park perks. Early entry to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is usually restricted to Universal Orlando Resort hotel guests, but throughout January annual passholders were allowed to join to early morning crowds on weekdays. At the same time, Universal has made some tweaks to the way this popular option operates, so this past week I awoke ahead of the sun to bring you the Universal Orlando Early Park Admission update.
First, the big news about Universal Orlando Early Park Admission is that it is currently offered at Universal Studios Florida only. For most of 2015, Early Park Admission was offered only at Islands of Adventure during off-peak times, and at both parks during peak holiday periods. Early in 2016, Universal returned off-peak Early Park Admission to Universal Studios Florida only. While communications from Universal have been inconsistent about the future EPA calendar, we currently expect Early Park Admission to remain at Universal Studios Florida only until the Easter/Spring Break peak season.
Here are some other Universal Orlando Early Park Admission updates:
- When Universal Studios Florida opens for Early Park Admission, only Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem and the attractions inside Diagon Alley (including Escape from Gringotts) are regularly open. Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit and Transformers may also open early if the crowds warrant, but they were not operating early during my recent visit.
- When Islands of Adventure opens for Early Park Admission, the Hogwarts Express usually begins operating 30 minutes before Universal Studios Florida officially opens. However, when Universal Studios Florida open early, the first Hogwarts Express train depart only a few minutes before IOA’s opening hour.
Got all that? Great! Now, let’s take a morning stroll around the parks.
On this morning, I broadcast my visit via Periscope. A big thanks to everyone who viewed and participated in the stream! A technical glitch ate the first portion of my trip, but you can relive a substantial portion of my stroll — including visits to both Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley and a trip on the Hogwarts Express — through this YouTube archive:
With the usual apologizes for the poor resolution of the Periscope archive, here are some high-res photos of highlights from the park.
Universal has reorganized the security setup in the central parking hub yet again, expanding the number of walk-through scanners. All Universal guests are now being scanned upon arrival, not just a random selection like at the Disney parks.
In Islands of Adventure, construction on Skull Island: Reign of Kong continues towards its “Summer 2016” opening.
Next time you are waiting in the standby queue at Spider-Man, inspect the certificates in the trophy cases outside the photo op. Many are tributes to designers who worked on the attraction.
Visiting a theme park early on one of Orlando’s only wintery days has its rewards, like this empty Spider-Man queue:
Not only was there no wait for Spidey’s ride, but I waltzed into a photo op with the web-head himself. At Disneyland, his meet and greet usually requires at least a half-hour wait.
The Islands of Adventure skyline just doesn’t look right without the Incredible Hulk. Thankfully, the new coaster track has arrived and is being installed as I type. I can’t wait to ride the Hulk again this summer, and having it be as smooth as it was when I first rode it in 1999!
Hopping back over to Universal Studios Florida, The Simpsons Ride has both simulator domes operating again after a refurbishment. However, the improvements must have been behind-the-scenes, because I didn’t notice a marked improvement in the projections, which still pale in comparison to the 4K video in Transformers and Gringotts.
I stopped in for another performance of the Horror Make-Up Show, which still gets my vote as the most re-watchable comedy show in any Orlando park.
If you haven’t seen the Horror Make-Up Show, or just want to see it again, here is a full performance I recorded in 4K:
On my way out of Horror Make-Up, I just had to stop by Williams of Hollywood to see what new props were on the shop floor. If only I had a spare grand or five lying around…
Work is progressing on the new Hello Kitty shopping experience, which displaced the Lucille Ball tribute.
This next section will be sad for fans of a few recently closed USF attractions. Disaster, Beetlejuice, and Twister are all being demolished right now, with their half-rotted corpses open for all to see.
Race for New York with Jimmy Fallon should debut by Summer 2017, while Fast and Furious will arrive in San Francisco later that year.
We’ll end in the Wizarding World at Diagon Alley, where prices have gone up on the Harry Potter signature drinks. This is part of a resort-wide roll out of price hikes on food and incidentals we’re noticing all around Universal Orlando.
But pay no attention to those rising prices, there’s a brand new sweet shop to explore! Surgarplum’s has just opened in Diagon Alley, adjacent to Weasleys’ Wizarding Wheezes in the space originally occupied by Shutterbutton’s photo studio.
The new shop carries a similar selection to the larger Honeydukes shop in Hogsmeade.
One new item in Sugarplum’s case is Butterbeer fudge, yet another variation on the popular beverage.
I purchased one piece for $3.95 ($3.58 after tax and my annual pass discount) and discovered it was just as delectable as its liquid namesakes. The fudge, like the drink, is a two-for-one: the white top portion is vanilla-marshmallow with a silky icing-like texture, while the caramel-colored base is denser with a butterscotch flavor.
The fudge was way too rich to finish in a single sitting, but not as sickly sweet as I feared. Now I have to go reorder my list of favorite Butterbeer snacks…
Thanks for joining me, and let everyone know your favorite kind of Butterbeer in the comments below!