Universal Orlando Resort Trip Report (Summer 2019) Part 6

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 without Express Pass, split between the two parks, with a ton of EPIC fails.

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Click here to jump past the introduction if you read it in another post.

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 skip this introduction):

Some Quick Notes about This Day

I actually think visiting both Universal Orlando parks in a single day without Express Pass is a bit of a challenge. At Disney parks, you can count on Fastpass or FastPass+ to help you through the afternoon crowds a little.

At Universal Orlando, you rope drop one park and then are just left with the crowds at the other. This is made even more challenging if you rope drop Hagrid’s, as I did today.

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That said, there’s no excuse other than my own mistakes for how terribly this day went. If you look at any of the past days in this report, particularly the mornings on parts three and five, it’s clear that I could have just replicated those and then changed parks, and I would have had a better day.

One more thing to know is that, conversely, there’s also no perfect way to split between two parks, especially if you’re planning to ride Hagrid’s. On almost all days, you’ll need to make some sacrifices, because the two parks together have too many rides for a single, 12-hour day.

Another Hagrid’s Rope Drop

Once again, I decided to rope drop Hagrid’s. I did this partly because the ride is that good, but also partly because I knew from my past few days that the day would actually be pretty easy if I just skipped Hagrid’s.

Without Hagrid’s, I’d be done with the Islands of Adventure highlights by noon, leaving plenty of time for Studios. Just take part 5 of this trip report and swap the afternoon for waiting in lines at Studios.

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The biggest loss from this approach was that I was skipping Early Park Admission at Studios in order to have a better spot in line at Islands of Adventure. It turned out this was sort of a mistake, as we’ll see in a bit.

Coffee in hand at 7:23AM, I walked from Aventura to Islands of Adventure, arriving at 7:41AM to decent crowds.

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I was a bit surprised to see Monday crowds rivaling Saturday crowds. A lot of the chatter in the line was about how much the ride was down the previous day, though.

This just shows how much randomness Hagrid’s issues cause. A huge number of vacationers couldn’t get on yesterday and now have decided to wake up early for today’s rope drop, which makes the morning crowds at the park heavier than normal, even if the rest of the day actually was average.

At 8:30AM, the turnstiles open, and we had the slowest ticket scanner ever. This didn’t bother me—I’m really just there to write and report for you—but it’s a real bummer for ordinary guests to see another line moving more than twice (yes I counted) as fast as them.

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You know how sometimes during peak times grocery stores bring in a “ringer” to bag quickly? That’s what should happen at parks in the morning. Just for the first hour or so, have someone who can scan quickly there.

I obviously spend far too much time at theme parks in the morning…anyways…at 8:36AM, I was in the park, and shortly thereafter I found myself way in the back of the pack to Hagrid’s.

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As with my experience a few days ago, the crowd starting moving at 8:50AM. Farther back in the crowd today, I was surprised by how much worse an experience it was.

Being up front isn’t really that bad because people don’t have much ground to make up. A few people might push you to be in the very front of the pack, but most people that close are happy where they are.

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Farther back, everyone is jockeying for position. I still don’t think it’s Slinky Dog Dash bad, but it was much worse than my previous experience.

At 9:07AM we passed by Hogwarts Express, and I got a few important lessons. This was the time when the crowds in Hogsmeade and from the Hogwarts Express were allowed to merge into the line. Let’s quickly divert to talk about this…

Rope Drop to Hagrid’s From Hogwarts Express

Let’s say I had started my day with Early Park Admission at Universal Studios Florida. I ride Escape from Gringotts and then get in line from the Hogwarts Express. I’ll be on the first train at 9AM.

This is great because I’ve got one big ride down, plus a second good ride (the Hogwarts Express, in the direction I like). And it turns out I’d be in the same spot in line, because those guests merged right with me at 9:07AM.

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But there’s two problems with this reasoning. First, I was so far back for Hagrid’s in large part because a slow scanner put me there. I wouldn’t have known that ahead of time.

Second, that’s a big gamble on the Hogwarts Express running right on time. If the ride has just a five minute delay to start the day—as rides often do—you might be looking at a two hour or more wait for Hagrid’s.

To me, this is more a case of “hindsight is 20/20” rather than a “should have…” moment. That said, the people who did that won the day today, so kudos to them.

Back to Regularly Scheduled Programming

I wound up on Hagrid’s right at 10AM, which overall isn’t so bad. But by the time I was off, here were some of the waits I was looking at:

  • Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey — 90 minutes

  • Flight of the Hippogriff — 45 minutes

  • Spider-Man — 40 minutes

  • Incredible Hulk Coaster — 25 minutes

  • Jurassic Park Adventure — 25 minutes

The Incredible Hulk wait should have immediately appealed to me. Granted, I had to get all the way across the park, but I should have taken it even at up to 40 minutes.

Two days ago, when I started with Hulk, I had five rides (not the same five as above) done by 10AM. If you run the numbers (comparing Hagrid’s midday wait vs. the combined waits of the five rides I miss), it looks like to me that rope dropping Hagrid’s is generally a poor strategy.

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That said, it’s also the only way to be sure you’ll get on the ride, and it’s a truly fantastic ride. Push it into the afternoon, and it very well may wind up delayed all the way until park close (unlikely, but much more possible than it being closed all day). This will get more treatment in a full post.

Trying to Right the Morning

The only major wide still sporting a short wait at 10:15AM was Skull Island Reign of Kong. A 10:16AM queue entry had me headed to my next ride at 10:34AM.

I was once again baited by Ripsaw Falls posting a false wait. The five minute posted wait ballooned to 25, and I wasn’t headed to my next ride until 11:09AM.

Again, let’s do this exercise. Two days ago, by 11:09AM I was done with seven rides: Incredible Hulk Coaster, Dr. Doom Fearfall, Spider-Man, Kong, Flight of the Hippogriff, Jurassic Park Adventure, and Ripsaw Falls.

Today I was done with three rides: Hagrid’s, Kong, and Ripsaw Falls.

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At this point, I felt like I needed to go over to Universal Studios Florida and start checking boxes. I was hoping I could cover enough rides there to leave me a large chunk of day to work with in a single park later on.

This was my first EPIC fail, but we’ll get to why in a bit.

Early Afternoon at Studios Florida

The walk to Studios only takes five minutes park-to-park. I was baited by yet another false wait. At 11:24AM the app showed ET Adventure with a 10 minutes wait. By 11:29AM, it had updated to 45 minutes. Nope.

The Simpsons Ride was posted at 35 minutes, and an 11:32AM entry had me headed to my next ride at 12:25PM. Transformers or Revenge of the Mummy might have been better options here. The Simpsons Ride has an outdoor queue, which isn’t much fun at noon.

Next, I decided to check a must-do off the list, heading to Escape from Gringotts.

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At 12:30PM, the posted wait was 50 minutes. I would have boarded at 1:10PM, but I didn’t actually ride. I don’t really know why. Unlike Forbidden Journey, Gringotts has never given me real nausea. I think I was just frustrated with my morning and not thinking straight (see “theme park fatigue” discussed below).

Lunch over in Springfield was a slow affair. I waited about 20 minutes for my mobile order to be prepared. After I finished my “meat haters pizza,” I headed to Rip Ride Rockit, which had a posted 50 minute wait at 2:07PM.

In a turn of fortune, this wait actually shrunk, and I was off at 2:47PM. From there I got through Revenge of the Mummy quickly as well, as the posted 30 minutes wait was overstated by a little and I was off by 3:23PM.

No joke—ET Adventure baited me again, as the 25 minute wait grew to 45 by the time I got there. I decided it was time to head back to Islands of Adventure…and only then did the true errors of my day become exposed.

“You Must Be New Here”

At 3:52PM, the posted wait for The Incredible Hulk Coaster was 25 minutes. It increased to 40 right about the, but that didn’t bother me. It was a small price to pay for a must-do ride. Then the rain came…

(Video screenshot, sorry)

(Video screenshot, sorry)

Maybe it’s because my last two trips to theme parks were to California. Maybe it’s because I’d been crushing mornings the past few days (as is my M.O.) and just forgot afternoons. I don’t know.

But I forgot that it rains in Florida. A lot. If it was 1995 and we didn’t have apps to tell us exactly when it’s going to rain, pushing an outdoor coaster into an Orlando summer afternoon would still be a rookie mistake.

In 2019 when I can pull up an hourly forecast in about 5 seconds, it’s just plain embarrassing for someone who does this for a living to not check the weather.

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Of course, you’ll remember that I basically never plan to be on a ride in the afternoon for partly this reason. Yes, I’d forgotten the reasoning today, but there’s not a single strategy post on this site where I’m telling you to pile in outdoor rides in your afternoon. (Outdoor parades and entertainment that are only scheduled for afternoons anyways, sure.)

The bigger issue is that I just failed to remember how much of Studios continues operating through thunderstorms. Escape from Gringotts, Despicable Me, Transformers, Revenge of the Mummy, The Simpsons Ride, ET Adventure, and Men In Black all were options if I were in the right park!

Some Last Ditch Efforts

I left the Hulk queue and hung around nearby, wallowing in my mistakes. Finally, a little after 5PM, the downpour let up and I decided to try and improv a little bit to salvage my day.

I hopped on Storm Force Accelatron with only a 5 minutes wait at about 5:15PM because it was a short wait and nearby.

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The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man had a 65 minute wait, but I opted for the single rider line. As I’ve written before, I avoid single rider because I’m usually writing for families who prefer not to use it. In cases like this, I wholly encourage you to just do it.

Getting in the single rider line at 5:26PM, I was on at 5:36PM. Definitely a good trade for a 65 minute standby wait.

With Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey sitting at 75 minutes, I went for that. Usually I advocate waiting “up to an hour” for that ride, but the 15 minutes wouldn’t make much of a difference with the number of rides down for weather.

The wait upped to 90 minutes while I was in line, but I only waited 65 minutes and would have boarded at 7:01PM.

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While in line I noted that Twirl ‘n’ Hurl—the aerial carousel in Springfield—had reopened (the app had a wait time). This is a good indication that the larger outdoor rides would follow, and they did.

When waiting out a rain delay, it’s good to keep an eye on the wait times to see when the smaller rides reopen, then head to the bigger ones.

At this point, I called it. I had two hours left, which was enough time for essentially any two more rides, but I was over it.

What Went Wrong?

Before I close this post, I want to take a painful look back at my day. I don’t have all the exact boarding times, so some are approximate.

  • 10:00AM Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure

  • 10:25AM Skull Island Reign of Kong

  • 11:00AM Ripsaw Falls

  • 12:20PM The Simpsons Ride

  • 1:10PM Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts

  • Lunch

  • 2:40PM Rip Ride Rockit

  • Rain

  • 5:15PM Storm Force Accelatron

  • 5:36PM Spider-Man (Single Rider)

  • 7:01PM Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey

If you give me credit for two more “big” rides at the end of the day, I would wind up with eleven for the day—not great. Really more an acceptable count for three morning hours than an entire day. So, what went wrong…

Theme park fatigue. As my comments on my attitude throughout the day suggest, I obviously was a little worn at this point. I was on day four in the parks, and day five if you include my arrival travel day. I was a bit worn, and that played into making poor decisions and a lack of a “go get it” attitude. This is why we recommend things like resort days or just taking an afternoon to sit by the pool.

Few “Minor” Rides. This isn’t something that went wrong, but it’s worth remembering that if you target rides like One Fish Two Fish or Twirl ‘n’ Hurl, your ride count will be higher because they have shorter waits. Today was mostly about “big” rides, so the count would always be a little softer than a normal day.

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Hagrid’s rope drop. As noted, this cost me several rides. As of 7:12PM, the ride posted a two hour wait, meaning I could have closed my day with it instead of opening with it (again, there’s always a risk it breaks down). But is riding Hagrid’s ever a mistake? No, not really.

Poor weather planning. This is where thing really went wrong. I knew there would be rain between 2PM and 6PM, and I just ignored it.

Three of my first five rides were ones that would run in the rain. Worse, I came back to Islands of Adventure—the worse park for rain—right as the rain was starting. I easily could have covered four rides in Studios in the time I wasted waiting on the rain.

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As a morning person, I was definitely a bit dejected by 2PM when I had ridden so few rides. But that’s not even halfway through the parks’ 12-hour days. I took my eye off the ball, and instead of making the most of the remaining seven hours(!), I just let it go to waste.

What’s it to you?

Yea so you’re sick of me complaining by now. Here’s the upshot. These are all good lessons for you, and they’ll go into our two-park strategy, too.

I’ve had good split days at Universal before, so I know they’re possible. But today I wasn’t on my game. Keep an eye open for our two-park one-day post, and it should contain a significantly better strategy than the EPIC fails here. Hopefully I just remember to come back and update this post with a link.

Wrapping Up and a Merchandise Purchase

Y’all know where I closed out my day….

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I sat on the steps next to Gringotts with a lemon drink and some butterbeer soft serve, reflecting on my weekend. Bad days in the park are a learning opportunity, and I’m glad when I make mistakes so that readers and followers don’t have to.

I made a last minute purchase of a Slytherin Locket. It’s this one, but more expensive at Universal. I opted not to have the cashier show it to me before I purchased it, as I wrongly assumed I knew what I needed from seeing it on display.

When I got back to my hotel room and decided to open it, I was (just being honest) horrified by its poor quality. The chain is just plastic (but fine, replaceable). The locket itself was not at all how I thought it looked in the display. Even the coloring seemed off.

It has decent reviews on Amazon, so this could just be a case of my shopping in bad lighting (I bought it as Borgin and Burke’s). Regardless, I had intended to give it as a gift, and that was no longer an option.

You’re able to return items from the parks to the hotel gift shop, so I had no problem quickly resolving this mistake. And to be fair, the locket on display in the gift shop looked exactly like what I purchased.

Happily, I had bought myself this great mug as well, so I wasn’t heading home completely empty handed.

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And that’s it for my time at the parks for this trip!

Thanks For Reading Part Six Of The Universal Orlando Summer 2019 Trip Report! Click Here For Part Seven, Which Covers The Trip Home and Some Reflections on Universal Orlando!