Universal Orlando Resort
Tours of Universal Studios in Hollywood have been popular since the studio opened, and when those back-lot peeks turned into a full-fledged theme park in the mid-1960s, Universal became the undisputed king of combining amusement-park attractions with movie-making glamour. It was only a decade after the Walt Disney World Resort opened that Universal began making plans to open a theme park in the Orlando area, and those plans came to fruition with the opening of the Universal Studios theme park in 1990.
The original park was much more in line with the movie-magic concept of Universal Studios Hollywood, but the addition of Islands of Adventure in 1999—which focused more on thrill rides—has made the Universal Orlando Resort not just a formidable competitor to Disney but also a thematic complement.
While Disney’s image is all about halcyon Americana and the magic of imagination, Universal pointedly exhibits a bit of a rebellious (read: teenager) streak, stressing its adrenaline-rush coasters and superhero fantasias. As such, you won’t find quite the same level of service or fastidiousness at Universal as you do at Disney, and in the shadow of the Mouse, Universal feels like nothing more than a couple of truly exceptional amusement parks.
However, taken on their own merits, they easily outstrip every other non-Disney theme park in the country in terms of heart-pumping action and immersive imagination.
One-day one-park admission at Universal Orlando is $73, a price that’s in line with admission prices at the Walt Disney World Resort. Getting a deal here requires far less commitment than at Disney: You can add a second park to a one-day pass for an additional $12, or get a two-day two-park pass for $95. Even better: the two-park seven-day pass, which allows unlimited admission to both parks for a week for only $100. Florida residents can get additional discounts, and annual passes are also quite a bargain.
Universal also sells “Orlando FlexTicket” packages, which provide unlimited admission for two weeks to both Universal parks, SeaWorld, Aquatica, and Wet ’n’ Wild for $235 adults and $215 children. For an additional $45 you can add Busch Gardens Tampa to the list, and they’ll provide round-trip shuttle transportation at no extra cost.
Getting to the Universal Orlando Resort
There are two airports that serve the greater Orlando area, Orlando International Airport (MCO, One Airport Blvd., Orlando, 407/825-2001, www.orlandoairports.net) and Orlando-Sanford International Airport (SFB, 1200 Red Cleveland Blvd., Sanford, 407/585-4000, www.orlandosanfordairport.com). Universal Orlando and the nearby hotels on International Drive are only about 15 minutes from Orlando International Airport; the Sanford airport is 45 minutes away.
Universal Orlando Resort is located near the intersection of I-4 and International Drive.
© Jason Ferguson from Moon Florida, 1st Edition