The Best Tips for Universal Orlando Resorts and Parks, Reviews of Rides by Grandpa and Our Near Ten Year Old Grandson, and Why Grandparents Should Have the Parents Along For the Rides

theme_parkGrandpa has always been a roller coaster addict.  When our children were too young in this Grandma’s opinion to go on upside down roller coasters, their father, Grandpa, was encouraging them to try them out.  The parents of our grandchildren, as children, loved the upside down roller coasters and the more outrageous and exotic roller coaster the better.  Grandpa grabbed the children and ran to every new roller coaster all over Florida.

That was way over thirty years ago.  The last roller coasters he went on were a few years ago at Busch Gardens, until this trip to Universal with our third grandchild in birth order.

Planning to take our nearly ten year old grandson to Universal, this Grandma researched the net, the official Universal site, and the blogs and reviews for the best tips.  Our grandson is heavily into roller coasters as is his grandfather.  They could not wait to hit every single roller coaster at the two Universal Parks.  After their return, this Grandma interviewed them both and the following best tips for Universal Parks Orlando are edited with their recommendations.


First, take a look at and print the three maps of Universal Orlando Resort which is separated into three areas of Universal CityWalk, Islands of Adventure, and Universal Studios Florida at the link for downloadable maps.  You will see that Universal Studios Florida, is the largest park, at the north with Hard Rock Hotel and Portofino Bay to the East, and the Islands of Adventure Park and the CityWalk share the southern part of Universal Orlando Resort  with Royal Pacific and Cabana Bay.  A new water park is coming.  Universal CityWalk is where most of the restaurants are and does not open until 11 am.


Yes, it is worth springing for a deluxe Universal Resort hotel. Our daughters had stayed at the Hard Rock Hotel and loved it.  We stayed at the Loew’s Royal Pacific Resort and loved it.  The service is outstanding everywhere and the rooms are well appointed and maintained.  The food at the restaurants is pricey but of good quality.  We ate at Islands twice and they have a great children’s menu and separate children’s dining room with TV in a covered bed space and toys.  Alternatively, before coming to the hotel, stop at a nearby Walmart or bring food from home.  There is a refrigerator in the rooms and pizza delivery flyers will be placed under your door by at least a half dozen vendors.   There is a Keurig in the room so you can bring your own favorite pods from home, but the hotel said they will give you as many as you like.

If you are staying at Universal and going to a Disney park one day, the best way to get there is Uber.  It costs about $15-17 each way at the time of this post, leaves you off and picks you up right at the transportation center for the monorail to the Magic Kingdom or Epcot, so saves time with no trams or parking cost.

Most important, Express Passes, which allow fast access to rides multiple times, cost upwards of $85 in addition to the cost of Universal Orlando park tickets, are complimentary for guests staying at one of the onsite deluxe hotels.  At a kiosk in the hotel lobby, open 24 hours a day, with your room key, you take a picture and obtain the express pass with your picture on it. You must bring your room key for each person, including children, to the park with you for Early Admission.

According to Grandpa and our grandson, the Express Pass was essential.  You get in a separate line, similar to the Fast Pass line at Disney, that moves very quickly cutting down wait times significantly and allowing for going on the rides several times in a row.  Unlike the Fast Pass, the Express Pass allows you to go on any ride at any time and for as many times as you want.  This is imperative with grandchildren, who want immediate gratification and we grandparents want to provide that for them.

The only exceptions to the Express Pass are the two rides of Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade, Islands of Adventure and Harry Potter and Escape from Gringotts, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley, Universal Studios Florida.  These are two of the most popular rides, and one cannot use the Express Pass for them, so that is where Early Park Admission comes in.

Early Park Admission gives deluxe Universal Resort guests access to a theme park an hour before its scheduled opening to the public. See the listings.However, the listings may not be accurate.  Before we arrived, early admission was listed only for Islands of Adventure, but the Concierge informed us that both parks had the 8 am to 9 am slot open for those staying on property during our stay.  Check with the concierge upon arrival.

You can ride whichever or both Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and Escape from Gringotts with Early Park Admission over and over again between 8 am and 9 am before the major crowds descend and there is a two hour wait for each of these rides, as Grandpa and our grandson saw.

By staying at a Universal Resort hotel, you are minutes from the parks, and can choose to walk or take a water taxi.  The Concierge advised that Grandpa and our grandson leave close to 7 am to be sure to get to the park very early to be able to take full advantage of the extra hour.  They left at 7:30 am, and said it was not that crowded upon arrival for the 8 am opening.  There is a Starbucks at the entrance to Islands of Adventure.


Adding the above extra benefits to staying at a Universal Resort brings you to the third reason why this is a good idea when visiting Universal parks.  Because of the early admission and the Express Pass, you can do everything in one day, which saves you another day of food and lodging!  And, it saves the adults from another day in an amusement park.

Buy a 2-Park 1-Day Park-to-Park Ticket which entitles one guest admission to BOTH Universal Studios Florida AND Universal’s Islands of Adventure theme parks on any one calendar day corresponding to its season.

The Hogwarts Express is only accessible to guests with park-to-park tickets. You need a park hopper ticket so you can ride Hogwarts Express in the two parks.  Many blogs recommend the park hopper ticket just so you can get to ride the Hogwarts Express which is an attraction unto itself, and some recommend going in each direction as it is different each way, but Grandpa and our grandson were too interested in maximizing their roller coaster time and skipped it, walking instead from park to park.   Our grandson said everything seemed closer than on the maps, but then he is only near ten years old.  He said his fitbit said he walked 29,000 steps.


The parks have interaction wands that you can use while at the park.  Most of the blogs recommended against buying them as they are expensive (as of this post $50 non interactive and up) and can slow down movement through the parks, especially if you are trying to do both in one day.  But, it depends.  Our grandson wanted one and, of course, Grandpa bought it.  Our grandson did not let it slow him down a bit and this Grandma has to admit it was beautiful and a wonderful remembrance of his special day at Universal with Grandpa.


This Grandma read that there were several wet rides and there were some recommendations to bring backpacks with extra clothes and snacks for the day and some recommendations said bring no backpacks, as you are required to place your items in lockers that are free for up to 45 minutes before going on many rides.  There are lockers you can rent for the day.  Grandpa paid the $5 to dry off in a huge People Dryer near Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls at Islands of Adventure.

One source said it is inconvenient to stop at lockers before and after riding.  However, Grandpa and our grandson said that you are required to empty your pockets and take off your glasses on the roller coasters anyway, so it does not matter if you have backpacks, and you should bring extra clothes, drinks and snacks.  Our grandson said someone on a roller coaster left on his glasses and they flew off, gone forever.  So, this is the first reason to bring a grandparent who does not go on rides.  The grandparent can hold everything while everyone else goes on the rides!


The food at all these parks is expensive for what you get and no one described anything special.   Those Harry Potter fans are going to want to try Butterbeer, of which there are three varieties (frozen, hot, and regular).  Most of the blog posts recommended the table service restaurant, Mythos, at Islands of Adventure.  For counter service restaurants, blog posts recommended Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley at Universal Studios and Three Broomsticks at Hogsmeade at Islands of Adventure.


Grandpa and our grandson did not want to waste one minute so I prepared an itinerary using the maps which maximized their one day, with the most roller coasters they could go on.  We planned looking at the maps, and going to Islands of Adventure first because we were under the impression that Universal Studios was not going to have Early Admission.  You can reverse this itinerary and do Universal Studios first.  I left in rides that were not roller coasters that were highly recommended and Grandpa and our grandson chose to skip a few.  Because they followed the itinerary and did not skip into Universal Studios between 8 and 9 am, Escape from Gringotts had a two hour wait (Express Pass does not include this ride) when they arrived there and they skipped it.  Remember, both Escape from Gringotts and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey are the only rides for which the Express Pass are not available, so try to get to them both during Early Admission.  THE EXPRESS PASS WORKS ON EVERYTHING BUT THE TWO HARRY POTTER RIDES.

The numbers before the rides coincide with the number that appears near the ride on the Universal maps.  The reviews are by Grandpa and our grandson.  The ratings are by our near ten year old grandson on a rating scale of one to ten, ten being the best. If there is a height requirement, it is noted next to the review by our ten year old grandson and Grandpa.



  1. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey

According to our grandson, who rated this ride between a nine and ten,  this is a scary roller coaster with lots of things jumping out at you, lots of spiders, so if you are scared of or do not like spiders, you will not like or be really scared on this ride.  There is lot of moving back and forth and Grandpa said it made him queasy.  Grandpa said these new roller coasters with new electronics and visuals have much more movement than previous roller coasters, and more likely to make you feel sick.  Grandpa and our grandson went on this once.   Height 48″

  1. Flight of the Hippogriff

Recommended, but they skipped this roller coaster.  With a 36″ height requirement, it was not advanced a roller coaster for them.

  1. Harry Potter Dragon Challenge

According to our grandson, this is actually two very fast and different roller coasters, not one.  He rates the red dragon roller coaster, which goes upside down and faster with less turns, a rating of a ten.   He rates the blue dragon roller coaster, which is slower but has more turns and loops, a nine.  Grandpa went on one, and it again made him sick.  Fortunately, there was another family with a ten year old boy, and our grandson and his friend went on each three times.  This was the last ride Grandpa went on and he, from that ride forward, held everyone’s possessions.       Height 54″


  1. The Incredible Hulk Coaster

According to our grandson, this is one of the best roller coasters at Universal.  He said it is great and fun, looks scary like a rocket that launches you, and it is fast with many loops and turns.  He and his friend went on it five times.  He rates it a 15 on a scale of one to ten.  Height  54″

  1. Dr. Doom’s Fearfall

Our grandson did not like how this ride looked, that you fall straight down and intentionally skipped it.  Height 52″

  1. Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man

Our grandson loved the 3D rides and this is a 3D ride with Spiderman in fights.  He described this ride as awesome, and rated it a ten.  He only went on it one time. Height 40″


  1. Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls

This was recommended as a flume ride, on which you will get very wet, but was closed.   Height  44″

  1. Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges

This was recommended as a wet ride, but they skipped it.  Height 42″


  1. Jurassic Park River Adventure

Our grandson loved this ride, going on it three times, and could not stop raving about it, giving next to the highest rating of all the rides in the park, a seventeen on a scale of one to ten.  He said dinosaurs pop up and at the end you go up and down a big ramp.  He did not describe it as scary, just a lot of fun, where you get very, very wet, especially if you are in the last row. Height  42″

NEW Skull Island: Reign of Kong

This is the newest ride in the park, and our grandson described it as the same as Spiderman.  He said you go through a cave on a safari truck and Kong is fighting a T Rex which is thrown onto the truck which shakes.  He said the truck feels like it is falling off a cliff at one point.  He gave this ride a rating of a ten and went on it one time. Height  36″


The Hogwarts Express connects Diagon Alley (located at Universal Studios Florida) to Hogsmeade (located at Universal’s Islands of Adventure), destination: King’s Cross Station in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley, located inside Universal Studios Florida. In a hurry to do more roller coasters, Grandpa and our grandson and the other family walked from park to park.


  1. Harry Potter and Escape from Gringotts

This is a highly recommended ride described as an impressive indoor roller coaster. Because by the time they got to this ride there was a 120 minute wait they skipped it.  Height  42″


  1. Men in Black Alien Attack

This is a recommended ride described as similar to Disney’s Buzz Lightyear.  Our grandson described it as a shooting ride where you try to shoot aliens who have targets on their stomachs.  He went on it once and gave it a rating of ten.  Height  42″

  1. The Simpsons Ride

It is recommended to skip this because of motion sickness.  They did.  Height   40″


  1. Revenge of the Mummy

Our grandson described this ride as like Disney’s It’s A Small World, and although the mummies yell at you, it is not scary.  He went on it once and gave it a rating of ten. Height  48″


  1. Transformers

Our grandson described this ride as a fighting ride just like Spiderman, where you are inside transformers with everyone fighting.  Grandpa and he went on it once and gave it a rating of ten. Height  40″

  1. Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit*

This Grandma always tries to leave the best for near the end, and I nailed it with this ride, which our grandson said was awesome, the best in the park, giving it a rating of eighteen on a scale of one to ten.  He said you lay on your back climbing straight up and that is scary, and as you are about to go down you close your eyes, but it turns and only goes down about half way, so when you open your eyes, it is not that scary.  He loved that you picked a song (see* below) and music was playing that you selected. He picked “U Can’t Touch This.”  Grandpa, who did not go on this ride, wanted to play “I Will Survive.” Height  51″

  1. Shrek 4-D

This is recommended as a 3D show, but our grandson knew it was a show in which you were spit on, and he skipped it.

  1. Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem

Our grandson described this as a funny 3D ride, where you are turned into a minion at the beginning and back to human at the end.  He went one time and gave it a rating of eleven to twelve.  Height  40″

As you can tell, Universal Studios has a lot of indoor rides that use 3D glasses. Universal Studios Florida, like Universal Studios Hollywood in Los Angeles, revolves around movies and TV shows like The Mummy, Transformers, Twister, The Simpsons and Harry Potter. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley, is its Harry Potter section.

As you can tell, Islands of Adventure, is the smaller of the two parks.  The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade, is its Harry Potter section.  Islands of Adventure has great rides and roller coasters too, and more water rides.

As you can tell, both Universal parks are more for intrepid nine and ten year olds and up rather than younger children and some of the rides are skipped, but most are rated ten or higher by our grandson.  And, if you read Grandpa’s scant reviews and his musical selection for

Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, this visit to Universal made him realize that the roller coasters of today are much more advanced with higher speed, greater movement and special effects.  Intrepid grandparents who love the roller coasters of yesterday may look forward to and try Universal, as Grandpa did.  However, be forewarned.  As with so much of new electronics that become beyond us, the roller coasters of our grandchildren’s era may become beyond us.

No, we still refuse to admit that it is our age, of course.  But, we may admit that we need the parents of our grandchildren along with us at Universal to go on the rides, while we assist by avoiding the locker delay and hold all the possessions which also cannot go on the strenuous fast moving and bouncing rides.  After a few of those roller coasters, the parents may agree that they too need to bring extra children the age of the grandchildren to take over from them too.

So, the best tip is to bring extra children or hook up with another family with children of the same age as your grandchildren to go on these advanced roller coasters with them so everyone one at Universal will experience this wonderful Universal Park






Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit* MUSICAL SELECTIONS


After riders board the train and lower their restraint, attached to the restraint is a small screen containing the logo of the ride and five categories of songs the rider can pick from. The song that the rider picked begins as the train climbs the vertical lift hill. Depending on the song, it may not begin at the beginning and end early as the total cycle time of the roller coaster is 1 minute and 39 seconds.


Classic rock and heavy metal

Bring Me to Life       Evanescence

Paralyzer                    Finger Eleven

Born to be Wild        Hinder (a cover version of the song originally performed by Steppenwolf)

Rollin’                         Limp Bizkit (from Jacksonville)

Kickstart My Heart   Mötley Crüe

Gimme All Your Lovin’             ZZ Top


Club and electronica

Intergalactic             Beastie Boys

Busy Child               The Crystal Method

Keep Hope Alive      The Crystal Method

Harder Better Faster Stronger     Daft Punk

Pump Up the Volume                MARRS

Le Disko                   Shiny Toy Guns


Rap and hip-hop

Sabotage  Beastie Boys

Don’t Phunk with My Heart       The Black Eyed Peas

Pump It    The Black Eyed Peas

Insane in the Brain    Cypress Hill

Stronger                    Kanye West

Rock Star                 N.E.R.D.


Pop music and disco

Bad Girls                 Donna Summer

Glamorous                Fergie

I Will Survive           Gloria Gaynor

That’s the Way (I Like It)           KC and the Sunshine Band (from Miami)

U Can’t Touch This   MC Hammer

Hella Good               No Doubt






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