Written by Robert Niles
Published: July 21, 2004 at 2:04 PM
The Inside Scoop
A tour plan for visiting Universal Studios Florida
Before you go: Universal offers discounts to AAA members. You can order tickets online and pick them up at the park, via Universal's website. Check the website for online-only ticket deals, as well.
If you need a hotel, check out reader reviews and room rates on our Universal Orlando hotels page. If you stay at one of the three on-site Universal hotels, you get front of the line access to most Universal theme park attractions.
Getting there: Take the Universal Boulevard exit off Interstate 4 in Orlando, seven miles north of Walt Disney World. Follow the signs to theme park parking.
What to do:
You can find single-rider lines on Men in Black and Mummy. Men in Black offers two rows of three on each car, ensuring plenty of slots for single riders. After seeing the detailed queue and pre-show once (pay attention to the scoring tips!), re-ride using the single rider line, splitting your party if necessary. Visit Universal stalwarts such as Jaws, Earthquake and the Horror Make-up show later at your discretion.
If you have young kids:
The Florida Mummy drops Hollywood's launch and backward segment. But it makes up for those omissions with a far more lively coaster, as well as crisper audio and lighting effects that help riders better follow the attraction's storyline. Is the Mummy real, or a studio gag? Well, of course, it's all part of a theme park attraction, but Universal's flirtation with that question within the context of the ride injects the experience with welcome sardonic humor. I felt that Hollywood's version lacked that playful "wink" which helps make attractions such as the Jurassic Park River Adventure so enjoyable. This Mummy delivers it.
After a four-day break to fly to Orlando, settle in, and do some family visiting, Laurie and I arrived at Universal Studios Florida this morning to continue my theme park tour. Despite arriving a few minutes before the posted opening time of 9 a.m., we entered the park to find the wait for Shrek 4-D already over 30 minutes. Mummy sat on the top of my to-do list, so we continued up USF's Plaza of the Stars, only to find Mummy under a delayed opening.
Since 9 a.m. Orlando time represents 6 a.m. in our home California, and we hadn't yet eaten breakfast, Laurie snagged an apple danish and some orange juice at the San Francisco Pastry Co. rather than rushing off to try some other ride. By the time we'd finished, I'd noticed the stream of people walking past from Mummy's direction had narrowed. We ran back, and sure enough, Mummy was now open. Only a five-minute walk through the queue separated us from the ride.
As we climbed aboard in the two-sided loading station (another difference!), Laurie asked what she should expect. What the…?
"Honey, I read your site, perhaps you might consider reading mine every now and then?"
She shrugged, and we were off.
After the ride, I chatted up the unload attendant, who didn't even know the Hollywood version had opened yet, then tried to engage Laurie in some contextual ride analysis. Mistake. She stared blankly at me for a moment, then declared, "I was too busy screaming with my eyes closed to notice any of that."
Hey, she liked it.
After Mummy, the only other must-see for me at Universal Studios Florida was the highly addictive Men in Black: Alien Attack dark ride/shoot-‘em-up. Laurie and I talked trash as we entered this faux science exhibit "transported here from the 1964 World's Fair." (Shout out to Disney's moldy Carousel of Progress!) Confident in my ability to show Laurie my insider's knowledge, I only panicked silently when I remembered I'd forgotten to read our darn article on how to post a high score on this ride.
Final score: Laurie, 63,000. Robert, 41,000.
Forty-one freakin' thousand?
What an embarrassment. Last year, I never dipped below 100K. Now, I just lost to a rookie. Whom I'm married to. Not good times. Definitely not good times. I demanded a rematch.
I whipped Laurie by 35,000 the next time around, but we were both humbled by the ex-Army sharpshooter sitting in our row who effortlessly racked up more than 600,000. Afterward, I didn't want to shoot again. I wanted to find the USF sports book where I could lay a couple Jacksons on this guy.
Having walked on to our first three rides of the day, Laurie asked as we strolled back through the Hollywood section, "Does this park ever get busy?"
We turned the corner to find a 90-minute wait for Shrek, 60 minutes for Jimmy Neutron, and lines blowing up like Tony Montoya all over the park. So we decided to go old school and blow the rest of the morning on Earthquake and Jaws.
Mark Earthquake as the next attraction that needs to go to the great movie studio theme park in the sky. Universal's attempt to freshen this stale attraction by adding props and scenes from other movies succeeded only in making this creaky old show confusing and irrelevant.
As I've said before, behind-the-scenes looks at movie-making technique have lost their appeal in an age where every DVD reveals how these things are done. The Hollywood park's Studio Tour retains its appeal by taking visitors to the very location where so movies have been made, and by showing them films and TV shows in production today. Absent a live production, the simplistic how-to on Earthquake holds little appeal. Nor does the ride offer thrills to match those available elsewhere in the park.
I'd rather "ride the movies" (to use USF's old slogan) by immersing myself in movie-inspired narratives like Mummy and Men in Black than getting lectured on basic concepts like blue screens and high-speed photography. If Universal wants to show its visitors how movies are made, they'd do better to offer a new, ever-changing show employing the latest CGI and digital techniques, instead of serving up an ancient flip clip of Charlton Heston. Time to retire this one, guys.