Saturday SixUniversal Orlando Resort

The SATURDAY SIX Looks at Universal’s ISLANDS OF ADVENTURE! (The Rides, The Details, The Easter Eggs and More!)

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Last week readers of this fine blog series looked back at the last wild, wacky, and wonderful 25 years of Islands of Adventure, and this week we are back  to look at the park we have today.

Aerial overview of IOA. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

Our journey through IOA starts before you even hit the park, as the impressive Pharos Lighthouse stands tall outside the gates and the fantastic Call to Adventure theme plays in the background. As far as park icons go, the Pharos Lighthouse is right up there with EPCOT’s Spaceship Earth and Animal Kingdom’s Tree of Life in my list of personal favorites and the background music never ceases to thrill me. THIS is how you start a park day!

Pharos Lighthouse. (photo by Michael Carelli)

# 6 – Port of Entry

Bird’s-eye look at Port of Entry. (aerial photo by @bioreconstruct)

Once through the turnstiles, guests pass by an archway which promises The Adventure Begins and they generally make a beeline to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter or over to the Hulk Coaster and Spider-Man at Marvel Superhero Island. Allow me to make a plea to you, Dear Reader, and slow down on your race to the rest of the park and take in the immersive land Universal Creative has delivered with Port of Entry.

The Adventure Begins. (photo by Hunter Underwood)

IOA’s Port of Entry is my favorite “Main Street USA” of any theme park. The world building that Universal does throughout this land is incredible, as there are many stories being told as you walk through the thoroughfare and connects to rest of IOA.

Port of Entry. (photo by Hedgehogs Corner)

While we are still mourning the loss of many walk around characters at Disney’s theme parks, you can still encounter a wide array of characters – including pirates, adventurers, and musicians – when traveling through IOA.

Be sure to keep your head on a swivel, as there are a whole bunch of great details to notice, such as the scorched building that was the former home to the Port of Entry Fire Department.

Every theme park has an area at the front of park where you can rent things such as strollers and mobility scooters. Port of Entry even themes this area nicely with a truly wonderful sign.

Reliable Rentals. (photo by Hedgehogs Corner)

While there are no attractions in Port of Entry, there are plenty of great shops and some of my favorite dining venues in the park, including The Last Chance Fruit Stand right when you walk into the land. This is open even during Early Admission and a great way to grab a drink or snack on your park journey.

The Croissant Moon Bakery has some fantastic options for those who like to get up early and rope drop the park, including the must try Cream Horn.

Croissant Moon Bakery’s Cream Horn.

I’d consider Confisco Grille to be one of the most underrated restaurants in the entirety of the Universal Orlando Resort.

There is great theming throughout, as the restaurants theme is that it has confiscated items from travelers of the islands that make up Islands of Adventure. When you look around you never know what you’ll see, such as a Triceratops skull from Jurassic Park…

…or other items from Seuss Landing, Marvel Super Hero Island, and The Lost Continent.

Aside from the theming, the overall menu is fantastic with one of the must-get items being their signature Sweet and Sour Sticky Ribs.

Sweet and Sour Sticky Ribs – Philippine inspired smoked pork ribs tossed in a sweet and sour sauce, Boursin cheese polenta, sesame seeds and green onions .
Chicken Lettuce Wrap – ginger-soy marinated chicken, Bibb lettuce, pickled daikon and carrots, cucumber, bean sprouts, cellophane noodles, crushed peanuts, cilantro .

# 5 – Marvel Superhero Island

Marvel Super Hero Island. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

One of my favorite details in Marvel Super Hero Island is something you can really only appreciate from above, and thanks to blogger-in-the-sky @bioreconstruct, we can get a great view of it. The backstory is that a meteor crashed into the land and this led to Marvel Super Hero Island.

Point of explosion.
The explosion of characters Disney can’t use East of the Mississippi. (photo by Michael Carelli)

With a birds-eye-eye view you can see the bigger picture where the meteor hit…

Marvel Super Hero Island point of explosion. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

..along with how the explosion went out further via the “smoke clouds.”

Marvel Super Hero Island. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

For many years, Marvel Super Hero Island was pretty much the signature land for IOA because not only did it have some world class attractions, but you could also see several of them when driving on I-4 in Orlando. The Incredible Hulk Coaster and Dr. Doom’s Fear Fall dominate the IOA skyline and can be seen for miles.

IOA Skyline.

In fact, until Hogwarts Castle took its place in 2010, the Hulk Coaster was for all intents and purposes the most well known icon of Islands of Adventure from Day One. It’s curved green track dominates the landscape and you can hear (happy) screams from guests well before you even enter the park. Hulk is also one of the rare coasters at Disney or Universal where guests can get some fantastic shots of people riding it because of how the track is laid out. Several years ago the coaster had a total overhaul; with every piece of track replaced, new ride vehicles added (with on-board audio) and an enhanced queue. The new logo for the attraction even has an impressive Hulk figure preparing to “smash” one of the older ride vehicles with the old ride track!

The Incredible Hulk Coaster. (photo by Michael Carelli)
The queue has many references to important men in the history of the Hulk comic books. including his creators Jack Kirby and Stan Lee. Among other names referenced on this board are Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno, the actors who played the Hulk on TV, and Peter David, writer of some of the greatest stories in the Hulk canon including one of my all time favorite: FUTURE IMPERFECT. (photo by Seth Kubersky)

One of my personal favorite things to do when taking new visitors to Universal is ride the Hulk with them. I always try to make sure they know as little about the ride as possible, because the start of the Hulk coaster is one of my favorite experiences in any theme park ride! Total exhilaration and an experience replicated in many newer coasters in Florida made afterwards.

The Incredible Hulk Coaster. (photo by Mike Sperduto)

A nighttime ride on Hulk may actually be better than during the day as the lighting features really pop and the overall darkness add an extra layer of thrill.

The Incredible Hulk Coaster looks just as impressive at night. (photo by @ViewsAndQueues)
Lights of The Incredible Hulk twisting upside down and then descending in a long duration photo. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

What needs to be said about The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man? It has been 25 years since it made its debut, and it still ranks among the best attractions at Universal or Disney. A ride that will leave you in awe, Spider-Man combines 3-D screens seamlessly with actual sets and props, having you constantly wonder “how did they do that?!” Filled with humor, action, and a thrilling finish, Spider-Man appeals to all demographics, and is everything we want in a theme park attraction. It even has two completely themed queues (one for standby and one for Universal Express) along with terrific gags to catch along the way. If you are a comic book fan…if you are a Marvel fan… if you are a fan of ol’ web-head…you OWE it to yourself to ride The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man.

The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man. (photo by Michael Carelli)

For comic book fans, both the Stand By and Express Pass queues are a lot of fun to walk through in Spider-Man. They simulate walking through different rooms inside the Daily Bugle and have completely unique things to see. The Express Pass line includes going through Peter Parker’s photography darkroom, as well as a room full of filing cabinets filled with references to Marvel characters. The standby queue walks you through a lot of the news rooms, but it also leads you by a trophy case filled with references to members of  Universal Creative who worked on the Spider-Man ride. It is also one of the only rides in Florida with a pressed penny machine midway through the queue, scoring high points with an exonumist such as myself.

Universal Express Queue. Photographer dark room, note the Spidey feet and hand prints on ceiling.

Maybe the all time greatest sign in ANY theme park queue…

For some final thoughts on the Spider-Man ride we reached out to none other than Len Testa, co-host of the Disney Dish podcast and the grand poohbah of all things TouringPlans: “The high-definition film and projector upgrades that went in to this attraction back in 2012 improved the look of what was already at the time the best ride in Orlando. Spider-Man combines a truck-like ride vehicle with fairly detailed sets and amazing video effects. I still can’t believe the ride vehicles don’t leave the ground. The 3-D effects work better for people with glasses (like me), and the effects are less likely to induce motion sickness.”

(photo courtesy of Universal Orlando Resort)
(photo courtesy of the Universal Orlando Resort)
The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man’s Scoop ride vehicle and wall that blasts flame after being hit by a Hobgoblin pumpkin bomb. (art by SonderQuest)

Over the years one of my favorite parts of Marvel Super Hero Island was the Spider-Man meet and greet located directly across from the Spidey ride. Spider-Man would interact with guests young and old, but also take a photo in front of a green screen.

Spider-Man poses with a guest.

Which allowed your photo to become the cover of a comic book!

Spidey was also available for autographs.

We’ve said it many times in the past, but the theme parks just don’t give enough love to “the bad guys.” Heck, a hero is only as good as his villain. We’ve got Gaston’s Tavern in the Magic Kingdom along with the occasional meet and greet with a villain but we need more. Have you ever had an interaction with Lady Tremaine, Anastasia, and Drizella at Disney’s Magic Kingdom? It is priceless. We all love Diagon Alley, but how great is Knockturn Alley? It’s nice just to bask in the pure creepiness of it. Marvel Super Hero Island has an entire section of the land dedicated to the bad guys that we love to hate with Villain’s Alley. It all starts off with Kingpin’s Arcade, and anyone who has had to drag kids away from video games while in a theme park knows an arcade operator is a natural fit for a true baddie.

A bust of Venom in Villain’s Alley. (photo by Brandon Glover)

Of course the main feature of the area is Dr. Doom’s Fear Fall. This is an attraction where the queue needs to be experienced as it is completely subversive for a theme park ride. The videos that play are a must watch. Nothing will ever touch the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror in terms of quality, but as far as drop rides go, Doom’s Fear Fall presents a great take on the concept.

Fear Fall. (photo by Michael Carelli)

In a next level touch of evil, on the ground surrounding Fear Fall are outlines of characters who have fallen from the ride.

In effect a “chalk outline” of a person who “fell” off Fear Fall. (photo by Brandon Glover)

On the streets of Marvel Super Hero Island you will have opportunities to meet both heroes AND villains. The bad guys are Dr. Doom and the Green Goblin and they have so much fun with guests because they can basically do whatever they want.

Green Goblin. (photo by Michael Carelli)

Of course the kids are always going to want to meet the good guys, and there’s no man better than the Sentinel of Liberty himself, Captain America.

Captain America. (photo by Brandon Glover)
Meeting Captain America.

It might be hard to believe considering how many character dining opportunities there are at Walt Disney World, but there are almost none at Universal. Thankfully the one you can go to features the Marvel characters and here  you can meet all the good guys at once without having to stand in line.

Spider-Man and the X-Men’s Rogue.
X-men leader, Cyclops

They say everything old is new again, and the upcoming release this summer of Deadpool & Wolverine is going to present Wolverine in his classic Blue and Yellow suit, which just so happens to be the one Universal has the theme park rights to.

Now, we all love the little details and “Easter eggs” hidden in Walt Disney World and Universal, but one of my favorite examples of these is located in Islands of Adventure. Marvel comic book artist Adam Kubert created many of the larger-than-life drawings that you see throughout Marvel Super Hero Island, and if you look closely you will find the name “Adam” cleverly drawn into many of the characters.

Adam drawn into a shoe. (photo by Brandon Glover)
Adam drawn onto Captain America’s arm. (photo by Brandon Glover)
Adam Kubert put his son’s name MAX into a drawing of Iceman. (photo by Brandon Glover)

# 4 – Toon Lagoon

A nearly straight down look into Toon Lagoon. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

The biggest “complaint” about Toon Lagoon is also – in my opinion – one of the land’s strengths. Toon Lagoon is based around characters from newspaper comic strips and the subversive Jay Ward cartoons. As anyone who has read a newspaper lately – and judging by newspaper sales that probably isn’t you or anyone you know – comic strips are becoming a dying breed. Once a daily staple of American life, comic strips and editorial cartoons have slowly had their space in newspapers reduced. Toon Lagoon is a reminder of the importance comic strips once held in America. Filled with humor, heartbreak, and a healthy dose of speaking truth to power, newspaper comics can appeal to every single person in the household – young or old, male or female, rich or poor – in a way that no other section of a newspaper could.

All that historical context said, Toon Lagoon is best known for the fact that it has two of the better theme park water rides in all of Orlando. The kids in our family LOVE water rides and several times when we have gone on Kali River Rapids at Animal Kingdom they have gotten off of the attraction upset because they didn’t get wet. This doesn’t happen in Toon Lagoon. You are going to get wet: no ifs, ands, or buts about it. It is impossible to walk off Bilge Rat Barges without getting drenched. One or more people on your raft may possibly drown.

The theming of Bilge Rat Barges is whimsical and fits right into the “straight out of the funny pages” style of Toon Lagoon. Among the drops, waterfalls, and ability for guests not on the ride to spray you with water cannons AND have water dumped on you from a shower head, all the people in the raft are gonna feel like they just took a shower with their clothes on while exiting the ride. Bilge Rat’s length (it’s a nice long trip) and some hilarious surprises during the ride make it one of the best water rides ever made.

Bilge Rat Barges in Toon Lagoon. (photo by Mike Sperudto)
Bilge Rat Barges shower head.
“Who needs some more water?!”

Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls is filled with the trademark humor (and puns) of the Jay Ward cartoon it is based on, but thanks to budget and time constraints which it was built under, it doesn’t have the “wow” factor of animatronics or the immersive scenery that we’ve seen in other theme park log flume rides. What it does have is an amazing façade, a combination roller coaster/log flume ride, several decent drops, and one great drop at the end. In fact, the final drop of Ripsaw Falls can hang with any flume ride and includes a rather interesting surprise at the end.

Do-Right Mountain. (photo by Michael Carelli)
Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls. (art by SonderQuest)

The 75 foot main drop at Ripsaw Falls is one of the most impressive drops in any water ride.

Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls. (photo by Michael Carelli)

Once guests go down the intense final drop at Ripsaw Falls, most assume that they’ve been through the worst and the ride is over. NAY NAY, this is where the fun really begins.

Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls. (photo by Michael Carelli)

As the logs circle around back to the unload station, they travel under a bridge. This bridge connects Toon Lagoon to Jurassic Park and is quite large. After purchasing a token, guests on the bridge have an opportunity to trigger one of the dozen water cannons aimed directly at the guests on Ripsaw Falls. It can not be expressed in mere words how fun this is (for the guests on the bridge, at least), and seeing the look of surprise from the unsuspecting riders as they get one final blast of water is almost worth the price of admission to Universal itself.

Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls water canon.
A maniacal laugh as riders on Ripsaw Falls get one more blast of water. (photo by Joseph Matt)

If your family enjoys taking a lot of photos in the parks, you’re in luck because Toon Lagoon is FILLED with photo-ops. More than any other land at Universal or Disney. While this fine blog series has repeatedly mentioned that taking a vertical photo is the cardinal sin of Theme Park Photography, the way the Marmaduke photo-op works is that you take a vertical shot of a guest holding on to Marmaduke’s leash, and then transition the photo to landscape to see the “scene.”

Marmaduke photo-op. (photo by Michael Carelli)
Marmaduke. (photo by Scott Sanders)

Throughout the land there are props to take pictures with along with word balloons up above that you can place a person under to be photographed like they are thinking or saying what is in the word balloon.

Toon Lagoon. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Toon Lagoon photo-op featuring several dogs from classic comic strips. (photo by Michael Carelli)

I’ve always been a huge fan of newspaper comic strips. Growing up, my grandmother would do the crossword puzzles, my mom would do the Jumble, and I would read all my favorite comic strips like Garfield, Peanuts, and Beetle Bailey. As I got older, I still enjoyed those strips, but started to fall in love with more nuanced comics like For Better or For Worse, Bloom County, and Calvin & Hobbes. Comic strips like The Far Side, Non Sequitur, and Pizarro encouraged me to read more and inspired me to draw my own stories.

Readers of the Disney Outlet Store Photo Report may remember that to celebrate that series’ Four Year Anniversary I used comic strips as the running theme. One of my “guilty pleasure” strips is Family Circus. I’m a sucker for the strip despite the fact that it is a humor-based comic with just about zero humor. One of the long running gags in Family Circus are the Sunday comics in which the character Billy is shown taking a long circuitous route, only to eventually arrive at someplace nearby. This is done with the use of a dotted-line showing his travels. Toon Lagoon has a Family Circus strip with Billy breaking the fourth wall and leaving the comic strip, with a dotted line path going across the land.

Billy from Family Circus gag. (photo by Michael Carelli)

Eventually you will find the character of Billy in another classic comic strip.

Billy from Family Circus Gag. (photo by Brandon Glover)

That’s not the only “dotted line” gimmick in Toon Lagoon, as the back of the sign for Me Ship, The Olive play area is a treasure map that gives directions for guests to find the “X marks the spot.”

X Marks The Spot. (photo by @litemandhide)

The X is actually found in the water at the nearby water front.

X Marks The Spot. (photo by @litemandhide)

In fact, the waterside area of Toon Lagoon is one of my favorite “secrets” of Islands of Adventure. No matter how busy the park is, this area is almost always completely empty and has plenty of fun surprises to discover. You’ll get to see neat details in the water, along with great views of the Wizarding World, Lost Continent, Seuss Landing, and Marvel Superhero Island. It is the perfect area to take a break and relax.

School of Fish pun.
Toon Lagoon. Plymouth Rock. (photo by @bioreconstruct)


# 3 – Jurassic Park

Aerial overview of Jurassic Park. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

The tagline for the original Superman film in 1977 was “you will believe a man can fly,” and the original Jurassic Park‘s might as well have been You will believe that dinosaurs have been brought back. The ground breaking CGI and physical effects work were YEARS ahead of their time, to the point where the movie has aged better 30 years after its release than pretty much any special effects laden film made in the last 10 years, let alone 20. The score by John Williams is iconic and well known as those in Star Wars and Jaws. And lastly, Jurassic Park is about dinosaurs, and everything is better with dinosaurs (at least that’s what Tom Bricker keeps trying to tell us.)

Jurassic Park. (photo by Michael Carelli)

Jurassic Park River Adventure hits a lot of great beats for me and it all starts with the attraction being a boat ride. From the Jungle Cruise and Pirates of the Caribbean at the Magic Kingdom to Living with the Land and Gran Fiesta Tour starring the Three Caballeros in EPCOT, if it’s a boat ride, it’s probably one of my favorite attractions in the park. JP River Adventure gets bonus points for its queue having a fun reference to Walt Disney as well.

Our journey on JP River Adventure begins by passing through the iconic Jurassic Park gates and proceeds to give a Jungle Cruise-like leisurely ride while enjoying some larger-than-life dinosaurs. As theme park rides will do, “something goes terribly wrong” and we find ourselves smack dab in the middle of a raptor attack and surprise, you’re NOT the alpha. In fact you just may be dinner. It is during the second half of the ride when the tension gets amped up, highlighted by the incredible T-Rex animatronic and a huge drop to cap off the ride. When all the effects are working, Jurassic Park River Adventure is one of the greatest water rides in any theme park.

Jurassic Park River Adventure T-Rex. (photo by Jeff Kyle)
Jurassic Park River Adventure splashdown.
Jurassic Park River Adventure ride vehicle and brachiosaurus. (art by SonderQuest)

Camp Jurassic is hands down the #1 most underrated attraction in Orlando. Because there are no rides for adults, many guests completely skip this area, but I implore you to check it out on your next trip to Universal. This is the most immersive play area I have seen in my entire life, with two completely different components. Think of it as a dinosaur themed Tom Sawyer Island, except with a lot more stuff to interact with. Slides, rope bridges, water cannons and more are mixed along an insanely elaborate rain forest theme. Forget kids, I have gotten lost in this area several times… it’s incredible. But the real draw here is the amber mines. It’s almost impossible to believe these actually exist in a theme park, let alone a kid’s play area. The caves are so detailed and immersive it is as if you stepped into another world. Highest possible recommendation and its guaranteed your kids will want to spend a good amount of time here.

Camp Jurassic. (photo by Michael Carelli)
Camp Jurassic’s Amber Mine caves. (photo by @hatetofly)
Camp Jurassic rope bridge. (photo by Michael Carelli)

I am going to take some heat for this next one, especially from hardcore Universal fans. But that’s okay, and I’m ready to fight my last stand on this hill. Pteranodon Flyers makes the “worst” list for many guests, mostly because of its horrendous loading time. I’m not here to defend that, but I do think that it is awesome that a theme park has an attraction which caters directly to small guests, especially at Islands of Adventure. One of the knocks against Universal, and one they have made great strides in overcoming, is that the parks are not kid friendly. At IOA, there is one ride after another that they are told “No” to, but not only is Pteranodon Flyers a “Yes,” it is the one ride at either park where you must be with a small child to ride. I think it is fantastic that there is an opportunity to make these smaller riders feel special, that they can go on a cool ride that their older brothers and sisters can’t, because it’s almost always the opposite. And Pteranodon Flyers is cool, having that Magic Kingdom Skyway-feel that many of us of a certain age miss.

Pteranodon Flyers. (photo by Michael Carelli)
Pteranodon Flyers. (photo by Michael Carelli)
Pteranodon Flyers. (photo by Michael Carelli)

Some readers may remember the time several years ago that Walt Disney World tested a walking velociraptor experience at Animal Kingdom. It was something that was impossible for many of us to forget (no matter how hard we tried.) So when Universal announced they were opening a Raptor Encounter, to say we were skeptical was an understatement. We should have had more faith in Universal Creative though, especially after they nailed the Transformers meet and greet over in Universal Studios Florida, because it turned out the Raptor Encounter is flawless. With raptor puppets designed by Michael Curry (the same genius behind the puppets which were used in Finding Nemo: The Musical and Epcot’s legendary Tapestry of Nations parade) and a themed set that hides the human actor, this is a meet and greet that will bring you right back to the days of When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth. The raptor sound effects and the Team Member “Gamekeeper” are the cherries on top of this awesome theme park sundae.

Raptor Encounter. (photo by Michael Carelli)

What I love about the Raptor Encounter is that it is one of the few theme park attractions where not only is your experience fun, but it’s great just watching others interact with the raptor while waiting your turn in the queue. Now that Talking Mickey has taken a vow of silence at Disney’s Magic Kingdom, it has become the best pound for pound meet and greet experience in the theme parks.

Raptor Encounter. (photo by Michael Carelli)

The VelociCoaster is a coaster fans’ coaster, while still being an attraction built for theme park fans. This ride proudly wears its coaster bonafides on its sleeve with great airtime, speed, zero trim brakes, and the incredible Mosasaurus Roll while also giving a fully themed immersive experience even if you don’t want to ride. This creates a perfect combination of opposites not seen since chocolate & peanut butter, Aliens & Predator, or TouringPlans’ own Len Testa & long hair.

VelociCoaster. (photo by Michael Carelli)

You can read my love letter to the VelociCoaster by CLICKING HERE.

VelociCoaster. (photo by Michael Carelli)
Mosasaurus Roll. (photo by Michael Carelli)
VelociCoaster. (art by SonderQuest)

The opening of the VelociCoaster also led to one of my favorite photography challenges at the parks, getting both it and the Hulk Coaster in the same frame.

The Incredible Hulk Coaster in background. (photo by Ivonne Ramos)
Hulk Coaster blasts by as the VelociCoaster hits its tophat. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

We established earlier that Port of Entry’s Confisco Grill is an underrated sit-down restaurant, and I feel the same way about Thunder Falls Terrace as a quick service restaurant. It has large indoor and outdoor seating areas that face the big drop of Jurassic Park River Adventure, so you can see (and hear the screams of) guests as they plunge down into the water. This is even more fun to watch when guests walk by this area not realizing they are about to be in the Splash Zone and get soaked.

Thunder Falls Terrace. (photo by Hedgehogs Corner)

The menu eschews the traditional theme park chicken nuggies and burgers for more flavorful items such as chargrilled ribs, rotisserie chicken, and fresh corn on the cob.

Prehistoric Raptor Wing Platter – Char-grilled chicken wings marinated with olive & spices then tossed in a sweet chili sauce. Served with cilantro lime rice, black beans and  plantain chips
Thunder Falls Terrace. Roasted Pernil Combo

Can’t leave Jurassic Park without pointing out it has one of the best beer taps I’ve ever seen with its giant Mosasaurus (complete with shark its mouth!)

Isla Nubar IPA tap. (photo by Michael Carelli)
Isla Nubar. (photo by Scott Sanders)

# 2 – Seuss Landing

Seuss Landing. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

For me personally, the works of Dr. Seuss worked in many ways like the best of The Muppets. Children like the fun characters and easy to understand stories, but underneath that there was another level that was targeting adults paying attention. Whether its skewering commercialism with the Grinch or showing the importance of environmentalism with the Lorax, Seuss was decades ahead of his contemporaries in using children’s stories to teach valuable lessons. Seuss Landing is filled with colorful, over the top characters and rides that the whole family can enjoy.

Seuss Landing’s Caro-Seuss-el is hands down the most creative carousel I have been on in any park. There are over 50 different “animals” to ride, and all bear the trademark Dr. Seuss insanity in their design. Many of the mounts also have an interactive feature for the rider to control as well, such as blinking eyes. An E-Ticket carousel.


When Universal does a spinner ride, it does them right. Over in Universal Studios Florida, the Kang & Kodos Twirl ‘n’ Hurl is one of the most subversive experiences you can have in a theme park. Seuss Landing has One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, a spinner that can get you more wet than the average guest on Kali River Rapids. The One Fish, Two Fish song that plays on a constant loop always becomes an earworm for me, to the point where I find myself humming the song long after we have left the land. The song is actually giving instructions on how not to get wet, by moving your ride vehicle (a Seussian fish) up or down at the right time.

One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish. (photo by Michael Carelli)
Riders on One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish trying to avoid getting wet.

The Cat in the Hat features the cat’s large hat as the Seuss Landing’s “weenie” and also features a dark ride that is equivalent to those in Fantasyland like Pooh’s Honey Hunt.

Cat in the Hat. (photo by Michael Carelli)
Cat in the Hat.

One of my favorite attractions in all of the Universal Orlando Resort is The High In the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride. Extremely reminiscent of one of my favorite Disney rides – the Peoplemover – guests board trains and ride along an elevated track. This allows for some extremely great views of the park. Even better, there are actually two different ride experiences depending on which track your trolley goes on.

High in the Sky Seuss Trolley train Ride.
Hi in the sky (photo by Michael Carelli)

One of the two tracks has the ride going through the Circus McGurkus Café Stupendous quick service restaurant. Disneyland has Blue Bayou overlooking Pirates of the Caribbean, EPCOT’s Garden Grill lets us look down into Living with the Land, and Universal has the Trolley. What we really need is more rides that go through restaurants!

The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride! passes through Circus McGurkus.

Speaking of Circus McGurkus, this year brought a whole new menu to the venue and finally makes it one worth going well out of your way to try.

Chicken & Biscuit. Love the circus peanut shaped biscuit (which had the taste and consistency more like a waffle) and be sure to ask for extra hot honey sauce on the side.
Magician Meatball Cone.

One of the food items most associated with Dr. Seuss is Green Eggs and Ham, which is also a quick service restaurant in Seuss Landing.

There are times I think Universal puts in details just for @bioreconstruct, because an aerial view of the building shows details no one on the ground will ever see.

“Green Eggs and Ham blue plate special. Would you eat them here or there? Would you eat them in Seuss Landing? With an aerial photographer up there?”

A few years back the menu was overhauled to a one based around Tater Tots and it’s fantastic.

Who Hash.
Green Eggs and Ham tots.
Green Eggs and Ham pizza tots are an S-Tier theme park snack.
Seuss Landing’s Green Eggs and Ham & the one of land’s signature Washington Palm Trees. (art by SonderQuest)

During the Christmas season, Seuss Landing becomes even better. The Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular begins, and it just may be the best live show at either park all year long. Just an incredible combination of the live action movie and the beloved cartoon classic. Meanwhile the already crazy Seuss Landing itself is completely decorated in outrageous fashion (you may even run into more Whos putting out more decorations) and the Grinch meet and greet is incredible as you get to interact with the Grinch who has all the wit and sarcasm as the one from the live action film. A total blast!

Grinchmas. (photo by Brian Hyde)
Whos decorating Seuss Landing. (photo by Michael Carelli)
Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular. (photo by Michael Carelli)

One detail to look for in Seuss Landing is Dr. Seuss himself. Look for the photo-op below…

Seuss Landing photo-op. (photo by Michael Carelli)

…as the character on the far left is based on Dr. Seuss.

# 1 – The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade Village

June 18, 2010 (AKA, the day everything changed.) Opening day crowds for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter went throughout Islands of Adventure all the way back through Universal Citywalk. (photo via The Orlando Sentinel)

Many readers today may not realize, or have completely forgotten, that it was actually 25 years ago when Universal made their first major move against Walt Disney World. In 1999, Universal Studios Florida was joined by Islands of Adventure, Universal CityWalk, and several onsite hotels in a major splash to turn “Universal” from a one day theme park experience into a true vacation destination. However, as fans of the movies John Carter and Tomorrowland will tell you, sometimes marketing can make you – or more importantly – break you. Universal branded the new entertainment complex Universal Studios Escape, and to say it did not connect with the average guest is an understatement. Insiders say that Walt Disney World was all geared up to “respond” to Universal with new attractions, but kept their arrows in the quiver when it was clear Universal hadn’t made a dent in the armor

In the 2000s, Universal made a pitch to author JK Rowling for theme park rights to the Harry Potter universe. In many ways a last ditch effort to save the entire resort, the ensuring land based around Hogsmeade Village not only completely changed the course of the Universal Orlando Resort, it rocked the entire theme park world. Disney would see its market share in Florida dip below 70% for the first time EVER.

Walking into Hogsmeade was like walking straight into the Harry Potter Universe. It was a dream come true for Potter Heads and  is also a true “wow” moment for the casual theme park fans. This is a level of immersion you generally don’t see anywhere outside of Disney, to the point where you couldn’t even purchase Coke products in the Wizarding World. This is just about mindboggling when you think about how Coke products are ubiquitous at all the Disney and Universal theme parks, but what else could you expect from a land that is so authentic it has Moaning Myrtle in its bathrooms?

Hogsmeade Village. (photo by Michael Carelli)

The introduction of Butterbeer completely changed the fortunes of the Universal parks. It is said that Universal made more money on Butterbeer sales in the first six months than it cost to build the entirety of Hogsmeade Village, the drink was that popular.

Hogsmeade Village. Butterbeer. (photo by Brandon Glover)
Butterbeer. (photo by Brandon Glover)

Hogsmeade Village also took the art of merchandising to a level we had never seen before. Stores themselves became an attraction, filled with items taken straight from the Harry Potter films and books.

Chocolate Frog. (photo by Brandon Glover)

Over the next decade, Universal would supersize the Potter fandom with some truly deep dives into the Potter universe through the Wizarding cards that come with the Chocolate Frogs (you can read more about that phenomenon by CLICKING HERE.)

Beatrice Bloxam, with who wrote The Toadstool Tales. (photo by Hedgehogs Corner)

The Ollivanders Wand Experience in Hogsmeade was a fun show to watch as a guest, but if you were chosen to participate in the show – and ultimately, have a wand choose you – it became the first attraction in theme park history to have guests wanting to buy an item IMMEDIATELY. The attraction was such a smash hit from Day One that Universal made an Ollivanders Wand Experience in Diagon Alley with even more capacity.

Wand choosing a wizard at Ollivanders.

Next to Ollivanders is the Owl Post, and outside of that is a manned Owl Post station where you can mail letters and get them marked with an actual Hogsmeade stamp. We all have friends and family who can’t make it down to Orlando, and this is one of the cheapest souvenirs you can get for them. It can also be a unique Wizarding World item to have waiting for you once you return home from vacation, so consider mailing something to yourself.

There is stationery you can buy in Hogsmeade Village to write your letter, or you can just bring your own. In fact, you can get anything flat stamped (except your skin,) so consider bringing a copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and get a stamp on Chapter 3 (The Letters from No One.) Keep in mind you are also responsible for your own postage. Once you are ready, take your mail to the witch or wizard manning the station, and he or she will stamp your envelope and hand it off to Errol, Pigwidgeon, or the next owl up for delivery.

(photo by Michael Carelli)

The main attraction in Hogsmeade Village takes place in Hogwarts Castle.

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey had a lot of hype heading into it…

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. (photo by Brandon Glover).

…and it became an instant sensation. The queue for Forbidden Journey was the first time in the history of theme parks in which guests wanted to spend more time in the queue, letting other guests pass them in line so that they could soak up more of the details. Universal Creative nailed the “living paintings” concept and even had the debut of the Four Founders of Hogwarts, with the four having a conversation about the guests through their paintings. Fans of the Potter series get to walk through places such as Dumbledore’s office, the Gryffindor Common Room, and the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom.

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.

Featuring characters and elements from the popular Potter films, Forbidden Journey delivered in every possible way.

Sorting hat. (photo by Brian Hyde)

Its hard to believe any ride could beat Forbidden Journey in Hogsmeade, but Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure may actually top it as Universal brought even another E-Ticket coaster that is filled with wonderful surprises.

Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure. (photo by Michael Carelli)
Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure. (photo by Michael Carelli)
Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure. (photo by Michael Carelli)

Honorable Mention – The Lost Continent

While only a shadow of its former self, The Lost Continent still exists in Islands of Adventure and does have a couple things that truly stand out, including Mythos Restaurant.

Mythos Restaurant. (photo by Michael Carelli)

The theming outside and inside of Mythos is ON POINT.

Come for the overall theme, but stay for the great food as the menu at Mythos just may be the best in any Universal theme park.

Pad Thai – rice noodles, mixed vegetables, chicken and shrimp tossed in a mild sweet and sour peanut sauce.

The chicken stingers from Fire Eaters Grill are an extremely popular food item at IOA, and be forewarned, these pack some heat!

Chicken Stinger plate.

Lost Continent also has the wonderfully interactive Mystic Fountain.

Mystic Fountain.

It can be a blast watching the fountain interact with guests, and I would put right up there with the Donkey meet-and-greet over in Universal Studios Florida as one of the best people watching experiences you can have at Universal.

Mystic Fountain.

Double Secret Honorable Mention: SKULL ISLAND

Situated between Toon Lagoon and Jurassic Park is Skull Island: Reign of Kong.

Skull Island: Reign of Kong and Jurassic Park’s Pteranodon Flyers. (photo by @bioreconstrcut)

The queue for Skull Island is BONKERS (in the best way possible) and rumors & innuendo suggest that the attraction is currently being refurbished so that the ride vehicles can once again travel outside before they head into the show building. When every element of Skull Island is working it is a fantastic experience.

Witch in Skull Island queue. (photo by Travis Terrell)

So there you have it: The SATURDAY SIX Looks at Universal’s ISLANDS OF ADVENTURE! See you next weekend for the latest installment of the SATURDAY SIX, where we’ll look at something fun from the world of Disney and Universal. If you enjoyed yourself, be sure to check out the THEME PARK ENJOYMENT INDEX, giving a monthly recap of all the theme park news you need to know (and a lot more you don’t need to know, but we’re gonna tell you anyway). You can also follow Your Humble Author on Twitter (@derekburgan).

If you enjoyed this article, you will surely like the following: 

The SATURDAY SIX Celebrates Ten Years with TouringPlans

SATURDAY SIX Presents: The Disney Merchandise Hall of Shame

SATURDAY SIX Presents: The Disney Signage Hall of Shame

SATURDAY SIX Presents: The Disney Food Hall of Shame

SATURDAY SIX: Tribute to Josh easyWDW

SATURDAY SIX: Tribute to Ian Barritt

Special Thanks to The Elite Brandon Glover, Digital Maestro Scott Walker, the bio-est of all reconstructs @bioreconstruct, Captain Cruiseline Scott Sanders of the world famous Disney Cruise Line Blog, my personal protege Hunter “Elvey” Underwood, artist @SonderQuest, the mighty maven of merchandise Hedgehog’s Corner, the SAT SIX Fun Squad of Parkscope Joe and “the Dadalorian” Nick, hot shot Michael Carelli, charter member of the Universal Four @Nitro230, the permit princess Alicia Stella, master cartographer Tommy Hawkins, and Hermione Granger’s tutor Megan Stump for their invaluable assistance with this article. Absolutely no help was added by SeaWorld Influencer @SuperWeenieHtJr. The SAT SIX is inspired each week by goofballs Aengus Mackenzie and LitemAndHyde and you Potterheads will  enjoy Meg’s other blog work over at the Central Florida Slug Club.

The Adventure Lives On. (photo by Michael Carelli)

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