Universal Orlando Resort Trip Report (Summer 2019) Part 7

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 my trip home and some thoughts on Universal Orlando Resort.

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Click here to skip the introduction if you read it in a previous 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):

Shuttle to the Airport & Flying Home

My flight was scheduled for around 12:45PM, and Universal had me on a 9:35AM shuttle. This is not surprising, and Disney’s Magical Express also uses a three-hour window for domestic flights.

Aventura having been the last stop on my way into the resort, I was pleased that I was also the last pickup. Picked up at 9:31AM (a little early), I was at the airport at 9:49AM. With CLEAR and TSA Precheck, I was through security before 10AM.

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You’ll recall the shuttle was $39 roundtrip per person. An Uber X at that time would have cost about $23+tip. So families of more than one will usually find it more economical to just Uber.

The Orlando weather struck again, and I sat through a lengthy delay. As I had no connecting flights and it was the middle of the day anyways, I didn’t really care.

Our delay was due to lightning, which is often a problem at MCO. Our pilot did a bit of research and shared with us that the airlines all have different policies for when their people can or cannot be out on the tarmac. United’s rule restricts activity for 10 minutes following a lightning strike within five miles.

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Other airlines use different policies, including a smaller radius of three miles. This meant that since the lightning was (I guess) constantly four miles away, several other flights took off with no issue while we waited. We eventually departed at 3:54PM, over three hours late.

Reflections on Universal Orlando Resort

I don’t want to belabor things too much here (and our site mostly traffics in facts and strategy, not opinions), so I’ll try to keep it brief and ask you forgive me for not drenching you in “context” about my personal opinions.

Screen Rides

Like many, I think Universal relies to heavily on screen rides, but I think the problem is more subtle (beCauSE i’M wOKe). I think the chief issue is the writing and directing on some of the screen rides is poor.

Soarin’ (Epcot), Flight of Passage (Disney’s Animal Kingdom), Spider-Man (Universal’s Islands of Adventure), and Transformers (Universal Studios Florida) are all screen rides. Personally, I think the music, direction, and writing on the first two evoke powerful emotions. On the latter two, I get about halfway through when I wonder “why is this still happening to me?”

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Universal’s screen rides often seem to rely on chaos to create fear or excitement, and I find that annoying. It might work well on people who can suspend disbelief for a second, but to me it feels more like something being done to me than something I’m experiencing.

Obviously my age and tolerance for motion simulation rides is a factor here. I don’t ride Forbidden Journey often because it makes me nauseated. I’ll ride everything else, but it’s not like I feel like a spring chicken after most screen rides.

That said, I’ve never had any nausea on Flight of Passage or Soarin’, so obviously Universal takes these to a different level.

Express Pass

I don’t like that Express Pass is a paid service, and I don’t like that it’s an all-rides-or-nothing system. With a good approach to the park, you probably only need to skip the line on about three rides a day.

If someone decides midday “I can’t wait 80 minutes for Hulk, but I have to ride it” they have to buy Express Pass. Then they spend the rest of their day extending the waits on rides that they might have reasonably skipped had they not had Express Pass.

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Express Pass mostly serves to help people who have to do both parks in one day. It would be a rare day where it would make sense to have it as part of a full day in a single park.

These are just off-the-cuff thoughts, though. We’ll have a much more in-depth treatment of Express Pass coming in the next few days.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

As this report has made clear, I love Diagon Alley, and I have since I first visited it a few years ago. Unless Batuu in Hollywood Studios is significantly different than in Disneyland, I’m comfortable saying Diagon Alley is my favorite themed space in the United States (Aulani Resort maybe excepted).

If you count both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade as one land, then I think it’s probably the best theme park land I’ve been to in the world, though parts of Tokyo DisneySea could reasonably claim that crown.

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To that end, I think The Wizarding World winds up anchoring these parks a ridiculous degree. Islands of Adventure is clearly a good park that stands better on its own than Studios, but in total I think what wins the day for me is The Wizarding World.

I had a great trip, but the highlights were almost all found in Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. I’m not really sure there’s a practical conclusion to be drawn from this, but I think it’s that I’d encourage people with a single day to approach the parks with a focus on The Wizarding World and to take everything else as a bonus.

A New Vacation Kingdom?

With their announcement of a new park (and surrounding development), Universal has positioned themselves to create a new “vacation kingdom” akin to what Walt Disney World has. They have a ways to go, but there’s potential.

My two full days at the parks reflect that each park can fill a day if you take it for all its worth. But I don’t think in their current states they can really justify two full days to each vacationer.

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Add in a new park that is a full-day park, and I think you’re looking a two easily justifiable park days, plus maybe a waterpark day. I’m not sure that’s enough to get people to buy into the four-day stays they probably want.

Magic Kingdom alone has nearly as many attractions as both Universal parks combined, and is essentially a 1.5-day park. Disney has three other parks and two water parks to keep its “vacation kingdom” destination status. Granted, they also have 20+ hotels to fill, so the financial pressure is a bit heavier.

But what Universal can do with a third gate is take time to fix their other two parks. At any one time, at least one Disney park is getting significant improvements. Animal Kingdom got Pandora, then Hollywood Studios got Toy Story Land and Star Wars Land, next Epcot will be seeing big changes.

Multiple parks allows them to invest in significant improvements without scaring guests away with construction or overly encouraging them to delay trips.

Thanks for Reading!

I could go on, but if you’ve really made it all the way here, then I think it’s time I set you free. Thanks for reading the trip report. If you’ve got a Universal Orlando vacation on the horizon, keep your eyes open for a ton of planning content in the coming week!

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