Welcome to our Universal Orlando Resort summer 2019 trip report! This trip was mostly a chance to visit the new Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, but will also mark the beginning of our coverage of Universal on this site. This post covers a day at Universal Studios Florida with Early Park Admission.
About This Trip Report
This trip report covers an August visit to Universal Orlando Resort. As it includes much coverage of the new Hagrid’s attraction, it should be largely useful for the coming months. However, note that as the holidays ramp up, you’ll want to be aware of how they impact your trip. In particular, Halloween Horror Nights is a huge event at the resort beginning September 6.
Trip reports usually supplement our existing coverage, but in this case we are building a significant amount of content based on these visits. Although we’ve visited before, we’ve never done so as serious bloggers. As a result, you might feel like the times and photos are similar to, say, our one-day itinerary posts.
I decided it was still worth doing the separate trip report, though, because some people enjoy the less formal nature of trip reports and are just here to see what a trip looks like, not to plan one themselves. Here are all the posts in this trip report (links open in new tabs and jump past this introduction):
Universal Orlando Trip Report Part 3 — Day at Universal Studios Florida with Early Park Admission (this post)
I suspect none of you actually read the entirety of the first two posts, but that’s okay because it’s finally time to talk about a day in a theme park—which is why we’re all here!
Arrival and Opening at Universal Studios Florida
I actually wasn’t 100% sure where I would spend this day. As a guest of a Universal hotel (Aventura), I had Early Park Admission at Universal Studios Florida beginning at 8AM. And Islands of Adventure—with its new Hagrid motorbike ride—opened at 9AM.
I figured I’d head to Studios and see what the crowds looked like. If they were too big, I’d try my first Hagrid rope drop at Islands of Adventure.
Getting my coffee from the Starbucks inside Aventura Hotel at about 7:15AM, I headed outside and walked right onto a Universal bus at 7:19AM. I prefer walking, but I still hadn’t seen the path and I didn’t want to get lost on a fairly tight schedule.
I’m not 100% sure whether I could bring my coffee through security, but I thought not. So I had to down a venti iced coffee in about ten minutes. I stuck to grande the rest of the trip. [Update: Universal confirmed to me on twitter that coffee not in a glass container will be allowed through security.]
We were dropped off at CityWalk at 7:29AM, and I was at the Studios gates at 7:37AM. Crowds weren’t bad, so I decided I’d be spending a day at Universal Studios Florida.
Initially I picked a shortish line on the end, but you can see there was an unused turnstile even farther at the end. Eventually a team member showed up and it became clear it would be opened, so I hopped over into that line. Gates opened at 7:50AM.
Early Park Admission
For this visit (and all of August 2019), Early Park Admission was only offered at Universal Studios Florida and included two rides, Despicable Me Minion Mayhem and Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. My goal was to start with Gringotts and fit in Despicable Me if possible, before heading to Rip Ride Rockit at 9AM.
Walking in, there’s a checkpoint before Despicable Me where you have to show your room key. There are several routes to Gringotts, most with wide pathways, making this a good opportunity to move ahead of the crowds.
Several people got right in line for Hogwarts Express. The goal here was to take the 9AM Hogwarts Express to Hogsmeade and get in line for Hagrid’s. Later in this trip (part 6), I was able to estimate that these guests will get on Hagrid’s at about 10AM.
Given that they were probably there before 7:30AM, I think it makes more sense to try your hand over at the actual Islands of Adventure rope drop. If the Hogwarts Express starts operating even a few minutes late you’ve just completely ruined your morning.
Anyways, by the time I got to Gringotts at 7:59AM I had only a small group in front of me. The ride began operations at 8AM, and I was off at 8:14AM.
The crowds coming into Diagon Alley were much heavier now, and these people are behind the morning curve. They won’t get Depiscable Me done before 9AM, but maybe they slept more than I did and are fine with that trade!
It took me 8 minutes to walk back to Despicable Me. The hotel key check is backed up by 8:22AM.
With a short wait but lengthy pre-shows, I was on Despicable Me at 8:42AM and off at 8:48AM. While I don’t think the ride offers anything special, the Despicable Me writing is on-point.
Rip Ride Rockit began operations early, which worked out perfectly for me, because it meant I’d get another ride in before the park opened to regular guests. You have to place all loose items in a free locker before boarding. You’ll go through a metal detector to confirm you got ride of your items.
As I posted on Instagram, I don’t ride “real” roller coasters often. I was distracted picking a song for the ride at first, but then looked and saw myself headed straight upwards. I let out a quiet “oh s__t.”
The ride is good, but it’s a bit shaky for my liking. I was off the ride ride at 9AM.
Morning at Universal Studios Florida
With Rip Ride Rockit already done, I was well ahead of the crowds. Probably 75% or more of the people entering the park now would go to one of the three rides I already visited, and I was likely the only person who had done all three by now (remember, only about 6 or 7 people were on Gringotts before me).
Now I just needed to stay ahead of the crowds, which isn’t too difficult at this point. I started with Transformers and its posted 5 minute wait, entering the queue at 9:02AM and exiting the ride at 9:10AM.
The queue for that ride is pretty cool and includes some Transformers artifacts. I’m not a fan of the ride itself, as it feels just like the same 10-second scene (Transformer fight with bobbing and weaving ride vehicle) repeated over and over.
Revenge of the Mummy had a posted 15-minute wait, which didn’t bother me. I entered the queue at 9:13AM, basically walked right on, and exited at 9:23AM.
This is a good ride. It has a few really clever spots, and it’s overall one of the better uses of a wait (it spends much of the day around 30 to 45 minutes) at this park.
Now it was time to go to the back of the park. I went to The Simpsons Ride, boarding at 9:41AM after an 8-minute wait. MEN IN BLACK Alien Attack slowed me a bit. The posted 5 minute wait took 10 minutes, and I was on at 10:01AM.
ET Adventure was just now opening, so I headed there. I decided to quickly hop on Kang and Kodos Twirl ‘n’ Hurl, walking right on at 10:13AM.
At 10:22AM, ET Adventure had a posted 15 minute wait. I wound up boarding at 10:40AM. As it’s a rare traditional dark ride at Universal Orlando Resort, ET Adventure is one of my favorite rides at the parks. I definitely rate it as a must-do.
Through the early morning, here’s what I’d completed by 11AM:
Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
Despicable Me Minion Mayhem
Rip Ride Rockit
Revenge of the Mummy
The Simpsons Ride
Men In Black
Kang & Kodos Twirl ‘n’ Hurl
While in the ET line, I started reviewing the entertainment times in the Universal app and piecing together my afternoon.
As for attractions, I had only the Woody Woodpecker kiddie coaster, Shrek 4D, Race through New York, Hogwarts Express, and Fast & Furious left.
I grabbed virtual return times for Race Through New York and Fast & Furious, eventually settling on 4:50PM to 5:50PM for one and 5:30PM to 6:30PM for the other. I’d just aim to ride them back to back around 5:30PM. Thinking more about this later, I would try and fit at least one of them in between the 7PM parade and 9PM nighttime show.
This left Woody Woodpecker (which I wound up skipping, but which rarely has a significant wait), Shrek 4D, and the Hogwarts Express. In other words—no challenges left for the day.
“Afternoon” at Universal Studios Florida
I use quotes because I’m beginning at about 10:45AM, after I finished ET Adventure. At this point I like to just start checking boxes off and cutting through some of the entertainment. Universal Studios Florida had a decent lineup for this visit. For stage shows, I had:
A Day In the Park With Barney (skipping, “childless millennial”)
Horror Make-Up Show
Animal Actors on Location
Fear Factor Live
Streetmosphere includes Studio Brass Band, Blues Brothers, Tales of Beedle the Bard, Celestina Warbeck & The Banshees, Beat Builders, Marilyn Monroe, and Sing It!.
If you wanted more to do, there are several character greetings, as well as the wand experience at Ollivander’s. Finally, on this day the parade was scheduled for 7PM and the nighttime show, Cinematic Celebration, for 9PM.
I kicked things off with the 11AM Blues Brothers show. This is about 15 minutes long and takes place in the New York area of the park. I followed that up with the 11:20AM showing of Sing It!, an acapella group, in the same spot.
Neither of these are must-see shows, in my opinion, but they’re both good park streetmosphere. From there I was aiming for the 12PM showing of The Tales of Beedle the Bard in Diagon Alley. This left me about 30 minutes. I had a very quick lunch (pizza) and grabbed a butterbeer for the show.
There were some technical issues that led to the show abruptly ending after about 2 minutes before beginning again. I would call this a must-do, even if the story of the three brothers isn’t new to Harry Potter fans.
The puppetry is really cool.
After that show, I had another small gap before the 12:45PM Marilyn Monroe appearance, which I used to further enjoy Diagon Alley (a common theme throughout this report will be that I like Diagon Alley…a lot).
I swung by the Gringotts money exchange and purchased some Harry Potter dollars (I don’t know what they’re properly called). You can buy denominations of $10 or $20 and use them within The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Change is given in US dollars, and if you don’t use them you can convert them back to US dollars at guest services.
If you just want to see one and grab a picture with it, just buy a $10 right before a butterbeer, which costs $8.50.
Walking across the park, I passed by the fountains mid-show. This show isn’t on any schedule I saw, but it’s simply a dancing fountain show in the middle of the park. Worth taking a minute if you’re walking by, but not something you need to seek out.
The Marilyn Monroe show is only about 7 minutes long, then it’s just a greeting. So I was actually able to make it across the park to the 1PM Fear Factor Live.
This is pretty much what you’d expect. There’s a stunt competition component, and between that are “gross” challenges where contestants eat bugs and such. I probably won’t be watching it again, but I don’t regret seeing it once.
I was able to just make it over to the 1:30PM showing of Animal Actors on Location. I found the writing really clunky, but the animals were the stars of the show, and they were enjoyable.
This bird isn’t on a string, he’s just using it as a mark (I think) and flying in the fan’s “wind” against a “green” screen. Pretty cool.
I explored the prop shop, a store near the front of the park that sells movie/other props. It’s a really good shop to explore for a few minutes, and it includes props and signage from within the park itself.
Next up was the 2:15PM Horror Make-Up Show. I arrived a little early because it was raining, and the waiting area has some awesome displays about horror movies.
I wish I had just spent the next 20 minutes out there, because the Make-Up Show itself was the worst thing I’ve ever experienced in a theme park.
The 3PM Studio Brass Band and 4PM Celestina Warbeck shows were cancelled because of the weather.
I grabbed a beer at Moe’s in Springfield. I really enjoy that land, no doubt because I grew up watching The Simpsons. I’d venture to say I probably prefer it to Toy Story Land, which is another straightforward lift of animation into a theme park. The ride options in Springfield are obviously way worse.
Toy Story Land stans will surely praise its “detail.” And it is more detailed than Springfield, I agree. But much of that detail comes from taking pre-existing elements, like board games, and just making them large. Springfield seems as detailed as its source material, and Toy Story Land as detailed as its source material.
My next activity was checking in for Race Through New York at 5:10PM. While the 3PM and 4PM street shows I wanted to watch were cancelled, you can see I basically had 2:45PM to 5:10PM to do whatever. This would have been a good time to play with a wand around Diagon Alley, for example.
The waiting area on the first floor of Race Through New York has some really cool displays celebrating the hosts of The Tonight Show.
I didn’t get much time in the second floor because as soon as I got up there my color card was called. The ride itself is neither the best nor worst screen ride in Universal. I was off at 5:30PM.
Then it was over to Fast & Furious. That ride is the worst screen ride in Universal. I checked in about 5:40PM and exited around 6PM.
Evening at Universal Studios Florida
With three hours left in the day, there are only the 7PM parade and 9PM close / nighttime show to work around. I think the best plan is generally going to be to ride the Hogwarts Express to the other park for their nighttime show.
Outside of the busiest of busy days, the ride shouldn’t really have a wait between like 7PM and 8PM. With two days of park-to-park tickets, just swap nighttime shows by taking the Hogwarts Express to the other park.
As I was skipping the Woody Woodpecker coaster, I only had Shrek 4D and the Hogwarts Express left. I hopped in line for Shrek at 6:17PM when the posted wait was only 10 minutes, and I was on at about 6:30PM.
The 7PM parade was cancelled (rain), so I went ahead and grabbed dinner.
As a vegetarian, there are plenty of options at Universal, but a lot of them are duplicative, and really none of them are great. I had a black bean burger from Krusty Burger for dinner.
It was one of the worst veggie burgers I’ve eaten. I’ve had less palatable burgers, but this one was just dry and tough. Moe’s is still cool though.
At 7:45PM, I basically walked right onto the Hogwarts Express to Hogsmeade. I arrived just after 8PM. That’s plenty of time to walk back to Studios for the nighttime show. Or, as I said above, you could just hang out in Hogsmeade and watch the alternative nighttime show on Hogwarts.
I was pooped, so I just headed out. As I exited CityWalk, I was happy to see Universal had buses lined up to take guests home. My bus stopped at Cabana Bar and Aventura, but that was fine by me and it had me back to the hotel in just about 10 minutes.