My last trip to Universal Orlando Resort was in May of 2021. My return this year was part girls’ weekend and part theme-park research trip.
Cloudy with a Chance of a Tropical Storm
Because people weren’t sure of the impact of Tropical Storm Alex, many resort and park reservations had been cancelled or postponed. Islands of Adventure was far less crowded, and I was able to ride Doctor Doom’s FreeFall, the Velocicoaster, and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey in my first hour.
I had been looking forward to a second visit to Poseidon’s Fury, as it had been closed in May 2021. It’s hard to describe what this experience entails, but I highly recommend it if you have 40-60 minutes to spare and are looking for an air conditioned attraction. After a quick vegetarian pasty in Hogsmeade I was optimistic with a posted 15 minute wait for Hogwarts Express. Unfortunately, the attraction went offline for a bit, so it took over an hour to get to Universal Studios Florida.
I avoided the long line at The Hopping Pot and purchased a Butterbeer from The Fountain of Fair Fortune, then spent time in the Diagon Alley Shops. The rain had dissipated and the chance for severe weather had passed, so the park began to look like a typical busy Saturday.
I was reminded that at Universal, frequent evening events can drastically alter the dynamics in the park. In past years it was a deluge of high school graduates at 6pm. This year the Orlando Informer was hosting a special ticket two-night event, so a huge line was forming in City Walk for their 4pm entry. Guests with general admission tickets may find longer waits and/or early park closures on these special event nights.
11am- Doctor Doom’s Freefall (It was supposed to be a 10-minute wait but thunderstorms pushed it to 25 minutes)
11:30am- Velocicoaster (30-minute wait)
12:00pm- Escape from Hogwarts (15-minute wait)
12:30pm- Snack (Plant-based English Pasty from the kiosk outside Three Broomsticks)
12:45pm- Entered Queue for Poseidon’s Fury (the shows last 20 minutes and I just missed the next one)
1:30pm- Shopping in All Hallow’s Hula Boutique
2pm- Entered Queue for Hogwart’s Express (the wait time was listed as 15 minutes but the ride went offline so I waited almost an hour to board)
Universal Resort Hopping
I was happy to avoid the park crowds and introduce friends to the many offerings of the Universal resorts. We opted for a Family Suite at Cabana Bay Resort, and the extra space was perfect for a girls’ night. We booked reservations for dinner at Islands Dining Room in Sapphire Falls resort, just a 10-minute walk from Cabana Bay along the lush garden walkway. From there we explored the lobby at Hard Rock Café, and then split a bottle of wine as were serenaded with live music in the Portofino Bay Resort Plaza. We used boat transportation to return to Cabana Bay via the lobby of the Sapphire Falls resort.
The evening was another reminder that staying onsite at Universal provides multiple exploration opportunities within walking distance, even without park tickets.
Volcano Bay hasn’t changed much since my first visit in 2021. The biggest difference this year was that it was a child-free visit with friends. Even though they weren’t thrill seekers, they found the atmosphere and relaxation time worth the cost of admission. We arrived just at the end of Early Entry for resort Guests, allowing us to still find a coveted chair spot in front of the volcano on Waturi Beach. We used Tapu Tapu (the genius “reservation” system that allows you to wait in a virtual line while you explore other parts of the park) to secure a spot in 50 minutes for the Krakatau Aquacoaster. We then relaxed on the somewhat lazy TeAwa the Fearless River, and then the very lazy Kopiko Wai Winding River. After returning from the Krakatau Aquacoaster, the Tapu Tapu wait for the Ko’kiri Body Plunge was 90 minutes.
We had no wait to order our plant-based lunch at Kai Nui Kitchen and we were happy to find plenty of seating away from the crowds of the other lunch spots. Dancing Dragons provided potent tropical drinks; splurge for souvenir glasses and you get discounts on the rest of your drinks.
The last time I had been on the Ko’kiri Body Plunge (it’s basically a telephone booth with a floor that drops out from under you and you fall through the volcano) I found a long wait even with Tapu Tapu, so this time I was surprised to get directly into the drop tube.
Early Admission & Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure
The first time I rode Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure in May of 2021 it was still operating with the Virtual Queue. During this recent visit, the ride had changed to standby and single rider lanes with no Quick Queue option. On Monday morning when I arrived at Island of Adventure at 7:30am to queue up for 8am early park admission the line snaked back to over the bridge at the Garden Walk entrance to Universal City Walk. Even after beelining through the park, the wait time was still over 60 minutes. As I boarded at 9am they had just opened the single riders line and my co-rider had waited no time in line. (Although many people I talked to said that later in the day some people wait just as long in the Single Rider line.) By the time I exited the ride at 9am (when the park opened to the general public), the wait for Hagrid was 120 minutes. Anyone NOT riding Hagrid during early admission hours would have found very short wait times for all of the other attractions.
At 9am I went to the Hogsmeade Hogwarts Express station and was able to ride one of the first trains to Diagon Alley, arriving at 9:30am. All guests were being routed through the Hopping Pot side of Diagon Alley, so it was a good opportunity to take pictures of the area without people, something nearly impossible later in the day. Most of the area was crowded with lines for Escape from Gringotts and the Ollivander’s show. The Hopping Pot, however, had no wait and I started my day with my first warm Butterbeer.