Universal Studios

Orlando is just crammed full of theme parks and other entertaining days out; it would take literally weeks to visit even just the highlights of what is on offer, so our three days was always going to be difficult to plan. We wanted to fit in a theme park and a water park on Monday and Tuesday, before finding something to do on the Wednesday morning before the scheduled launch of space shuttle Endeavour.

In the end we tossed a coin to decide between Universal Studios and Disney World’s Magical Kingdom (the main theme park in Disney’s complex of attractions). Universal won, so we rose early on Monday to get there before the queues. The attraction is split into two separate parks: the Islands of Adventure, which is like a small Alton Towers, and the main Universal Studios attraction, which contains mostly shows and IMAX films.

We bought tickets to allow entry into both parks and headed straight for the roller coasters of Islands of Adventure at 8.30am in order to beat the queues. We were able to walk right onto the Incredible Hulk, a hair-raising course of twisted green metal. I’ve not been on a decent roller-coaster in years, due to an irrational dislike that I developed during my teens, and Neil has never been on one, so we approached the Hulk nervously. As it happens, I loved it, though it would take a couple more roller-coasters before Neil grew to enjoy them.

The highlight of my morning was the Spiderman ride (although it was responsible for forcing the Spiderpig song from The Simpsons Movie to be stuck in my head for the rest of the day). It was a cross between a conventional roller-coaster and a 3D simulator. The carriage we were in actually moved through the streets as Spiderman and his foes swung right up to our 3D glasses, but then at times we apparently moved on the spot while surrounded by screens. This led to a disconcerting suspension of reality for us, as at times we had no idea whether we were really falling off the top of a building and being caught by a spider’s web or whether we were simply rocking backwards in our seats to make it feel like we were falling. This blurring of reality and fiction made for a superb ride.

Next, we mistakenly queued for half an hour for what turned out to be a children’s ride (which nonetheless caused Neil to scream with terror), before riding a couple of log flumes and an under-hanging double roller-coaster (two trains on separate tracks that pass hair-raisingly close to one another at ridiculous speeds).

In the afternoon we entered the main Universal Studios site and watched a couple of IMAX 3D films. The first, based on Terminator, uniquely combined live action characters on a stage in front of us with Arnie and co on the silver screen behind them. At times, the actors (lip-synching in time with the Governator’s speech) actually walked into the screen and appeared to become the on-screen actors. I thought that was pretty cool, but the others weren’t so impressed. The second was a showing of Shrek 4D, which is the same as Shrek 3D (available on DVD with glasses) but in moving seats and with water and air being sprayed at appropriate moments.

We had hoped to ride the only roller-coaster in the main park, The Mummy, but as we approached the front of the queue technical problems closed it for what would turn out to be the remainder of the day. Instead we tried their latest ride: the Men in Black simulator. This is much like the ghost train at Alton Towers in that riders are given laser guns and asked to shoot at aliens in the streets. Andy got the highest score in our car.

Before the day was out we experienced some of Universal’s more senior rides, including the famous Jaws riverboat experience, the ET ride and simulators of both tornados and earthquakes. The day ended by the lake in the centre of the park for an epic showcase of Universal films. Giant balloons on the surface of the lake were internally projected with movie clips, and accompanied by classic soundtracks such as Jurassic Park and Back to the Future. Finally, the show was rounded off with a stunning firework display, before thousands of people simultaneously headed for the car parks.

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