Theme Park Insider

Monday Top 10: The Best Universal Attractions

November 10, 2014, 6:39 AM · This week we honor the best attractions from around the world of Universal Studios theme parks. With five parks around the world, Universal isn't the biggest theme park chain out there, but Universal's the clear leader in industry buzz over the past few years, with its Wizarding World of Harry Potter lands helping Universal claim more market share in Florida and Japan (and soon, Southern California, too). But longtime theme park fans know that Universal's more than Harry Potter, with some world-class attractions that have helped revolutionize the industry.

10. Studio Tour
Universal Studios Hollywood

Studio Tour

Universal's original attraction — the Studio Tour at Universal Studios Hollywood — only hangs on to the number-10 slot in our reader ratings, but with a new Fast & Furious 4D experience, as well as a nighttime version of the tour, on the way for 2015, we're expecting the Studio Tour to make another run up this list.

9. Despicable Me Minion Mayhem
Universal Studios Hollywood, Universal Studios Florida

Despicable Me Minion Mayhem

Other than Potter, the Minions might be the Universal theme parks' hottest franchise. The Florida original is dragging the new and improved Hollywood installation down to number nine, though. With Super Silly Fun Land next door and double the capacity with a second theater (which means, half the wait), Hollywood is the place to see Universal's new stars.

8. WaterWorld
Universal Studios Singapore, Universal Studios Hollywood, Universal Studios Japan

Universal's top show is one of the best shows in the industry, proving to skeptics that even a dog of a film can yield a top-quality theme park attraction, in the hands of the right creative team.

7. Revenge of the Mummy
Universal Studios Florida, Universal Studios Singapore, Universal Studios Hollywood

Revenge of the Mummy

We're considering this as one attraction for today's list, but Universal's three Revenge of the Mummy rides offer very different experiences, from the Hollywood insider-y Brendan Fraser version in Florida, to the impressive facade and dark ending in Singapore, to, well, the Cliff's Notes version in Hollywood.

6. Incredible Hulk Coaster
Islands of Adventure

Incredible Hulk Coaster

Universal's top coaster offers what's general lauded as the best start to any coaster in the world: a two-second launch up a 150-foot tunnel, leading into a zero-g roll, then twisting up into a cobra roll.

5. Transformers: The Ride 3D
Universal Studios Singapore, Universal Studios Hollywood, Universal Studios Florida

Transformers: The Ride 3D

All the action of a Transformers movie crammed into one five-minute, 3-D package. Transformers is the same ride in all three locations, and a big hit with fans, wherever they see it around the world.

4. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
Islands of Adventure, Universal Studios Japan

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey

The history of Universal's theme parks can be broken into two ears: Before Potter and After Potter. Universal's original Harry Potter ride enabled the company to operate on a prolific new level, ultimately leading to the construction or refurbishment of the three attractions that top it on this list.

3. Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
Universal Studios Florida

Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts

The centerpiece of Diagon Alley, Escape from Gringotts offers a milder ride than Forbidden Journey, though fans love its mix of effects and thrills.

2. The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man
Islands of Adventure, Universal Studios Japan

The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man

Newly enhanced with 4K projection, Spider-Man reminds fans why so many of us fell in love with this ride when it debuted with the park in 1999.

1. Hogwarts Express
Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure

A pitch-perfect recreation of the trip between London and Hogwarts Castle rom the Harry Potter films, Universal's Hogwarts Express captures the top honor from our readers. Bring the whole family — there's no height restriction on this ride. Enjoy your Butterbeer or Dragon Scale as you ride between Universal Orlando's two theme parks while imagining you really are steaming through the Scottish highlands, just like a real witch or wizard.

What are your favorite things to do at a Universal theme park?

Replies (28)

November 10, 2014 at 7:42 AM · I thought I was in the minority when I said that I believed Hogwart's Express was the star of the Diagon expansion, a truly Wow factor attraction. Glad to see some others agree. I would rank Forbidden Journey ahead of Gringott's & Spider Man though, and Mummy ahead of the Hulk. Just my own personal opinion.
November 10, 2014 at 7:57 AM · I completely agree with Rob Pastor^, that seems to be the obvious ranking
November 10, 2014 at 8:02 AM · There are some pretty strong attractions that aren't on this list, and that shows just how far Universal has come. My favorite is Spider-man, though the Hulk and Forbidden Journey are amazing. I still need to get on the newest Potter attractions, so I'm sure they'll be up there too.
November 10, 2014 at 8:02 AM · I would put it like this:
Forbidden Journey
Escape from Gringotts
Hulk
Spider
Jurassic river adventure. (I Love this ride)...
November 10, 2014 at 8:50 AM · Great list although I would have liked to see Popeye in there, it's the best ride of it's kind.
November 10, 2014 at 8:52 AM · I've always been a huge Men In Black fan, and I'm a bit surprised it could not crack this top 10.

I'd also agree that Forbidden Journey is superior to Gringotts. Gringott's has a lot going for it, but in the end FJ incorporated a completely new ride system and manages to integrate projected and practical scenes nearly seamlessly. The improved parabolic projection in FJ really sold me on our recent trip a couple of weeks ago. The formerly dimly lit screens were a huge determent to the ride in its first few years of operation, but the brighter, crisper images make this a much more engaging attraction.

November 10, 2014 at 9:07 AM · A very solid top 10, though I think leaving out Men in Black: Alien Attack is something of a small oversight. It's not only the best shooter attraction in the world (in my opinion), but in an era where 3D and screens are creeping into prominence in the Studios park, MIB offers a great change of pace and tremendous re-ride value.

And I'm very glad to see Spidey ranked ahead of its next generation offspring like Transformers and Escape from Gringotts; those rides are fun, but the original is still far and away the best.

November 10, 2014 at 9:28 AM · The comment on the strength of Universal attractions is right on. It's really tough to narrow it down to a top 10. So, while I love Despicable Me, especially the pre shows, I'd agree with Brian and put Jurassic Park on the list in place of DM. Popeye & Men In Black are also close to the top ten or deserving to replace Waterworld or the Studio Tour, though I haven't been to Hollywood so it's hard to judge. My opinion of Forbidden Journey also greatly increased when they sharpened the projection and calmed the ride down a little, though not enough to detract from it's excellent intensity. That's what put it ahead of Spider Man, Gringott's & Transformers for me.
November 10, 2014 at 10:09 AM · I'm slightly shocked to not see The Simpsons Ride on this list, which honestly is a hotter franchise than Despicable Me. Would you personally not put Simpsons on this list?
November 10, 2014 at 10:54 AM · Well, it seems I'm in the minority as usual, but I rode Spiderman in Orlando in 2012 and Transformers in Hollywood just this last June, and I thought Transformers was definitely the better of the two. Sounds like maybe Spidey has had an upgrade since then, so that could be the difference for those who have ridden both lately. Loved them both, but IMHO, Transformers edged out its elder competition.

Also, I'm thrilled to hear that there has been a projection improvement on Forbidden Journey since I rode it in 2012. That was my only criticism of that ride - that it took the term "dark ride" a little too literally. Can't wait to ride it again someday, now that it has been brightened up a little.

November 10, 2014 at 11:09 AM · Forbidden Journey is no question better than Gringotts. The only reason I believe people are saying it's better is because it's the newer of the two. I believe if they were opened in reverse order people would be proclaiming FJ to be the better ride
November 10, 2014 at 11:43 AM · I'd be shocked if anyone truly believes a train ride is better than the next half dozen attractions on this list. No way. But I am glad to see Spider-Man is still getting the love it so richly deserves. Truly a revolutionary ride experience and, as Brett noted above, the first of its kind.
November 10, 2014 at 11:58 AM · James:You need to reserve your judgement on Hogwart's until you experience it. The sum total of it's parts is an absolutely fantastic attraction. I rode it many times and saw the look in many young children's eyes as they boarded and rode the train. And, amazingly, I'm sure I too had that look in my eyes. This was not just a homerun, but a grand slam. (Note: But you do need a park to park pass to ride the Express...LOL)... And, you'll be amazed at how much better Spider Man is since the HD upgrade. If you loved it before the upgrade, you'll be in 7th heaven now.
November 10, 2014 at 3:43 PM · No way is a 3D cartoon better than Jurassic park!
November 10, 2014 at 7:05 PM · I think you have to be a pretty good Potter fan to love the train, Rob. A co-worker of mine just got back from USO and proclaimed the train ride to be the lamest attraction in the park. Not kidding. He loved the expansion, just thought the train was a real waste of his time. But each to his own. And you're right, my four day one park passes won't get me on the train anyway so the point is moot. The extra $200 for my family to ride a train is not in the budget.

I am very much looking forward to revisiting Spider-Man. I am sure it will still be my favorite ride just because I much prefer the Marvel source material over Potter or Transformers.

November 10, 2014 at 5:26 PM · James: Actually I'm not a Potter fan. If it wasn't for Universal I'd barely know it existed. Made it through about 30 minutes of a movie on TV but that was about it. But what Universal has done with the franchise just amazes me. We even did the green screen dvd at Diagon and I bought my GF an interactive wand and she absolutely had a ton of fun with it. The great thing about the Hogwart's Express is that there is no loss of immersion when traveling between the two HP lands. And wait till you see Diagon. You won't want to leave it, there's so much to do there. And you don't even realize that Diagon is just a part of a larger theme park. While you're in it it's like nothing else exists outside of it....Concerning HE, if someone's looking for thrills, you won't find it on the train. But it' a great family attraction, something like you would expect from Disney....Universal has been offering lots of alternative ticket packages, so you might end up with something affordable in a 2 park ticket by the time you go. Trust me, you will love Diagon, and Universal Studios has added so much in the last few years that it's a much different park experience. I love IOA, but I now find myself spending apx. twice as much time in the Studios as I do in IOA. Can't wait for Kong though. Already planning a trip for 2016 once I get an apx. opening date.
November 10, 2014 at 7:05 PM · Sounds great, Rob. And I am indeed looking forward to revisiting Universal especially now that my kids are tall enough to ride all the good stuff. And as I have stated many times my only issue with HE is the $40 upcharge to ride it. At this point I have yet to find a better deal than the 4-day, one park tickets, which, sadly exclude people from this particular attraction. I will keep my eyes and ears peeled, though, in case Universal offers a better deal.

One question for you, sir (and I apologize for the partial thread hijack), is the Portfino a noticeably better option than the Royal Pacific? (Please consider not only the room, but also proximity to the action and pool time fun in your answer.)

November 10, 2014 at 7:24 PM · Transformers is neck and neck with Spidey, but Transformers has way more thrill to it, in my opinion. Loved Gringotts, but Forbidden Journey edges it out in my book. Rode the Hogwarts Express both ways and I have to agree, it is the coolest way to travel between parks that I have experienced.

I have always had a soft spot for the WDW monorail, however.

James, we have stayed at all three premier hotels but keep going back to Hard Rock. A short walk to the CityWalk, which is nice when taxis aren't running. Also a party hotel by comparison. I liked Royal Pacific and Portofino was very upscale. With two teen daughters, they prefer Hard Rock.

November 10, 2014 at 8:06 PM · When you write "party hotel" do you mean it is noisy or lively? Or both? When we stayed at the Royal Pacific, it was a pretty short walk to the action, and the huge pool was calm and pleasant. Relaxing. I like relaxing.

By description, Portfino has much larger rooms than the Royal Pacific, but I cannot tell if the pool area is as expansive. Also, it looks like Portfino is still in walking distance of Citywalk - but is it a much longer walk?

November 10, 2014 at 8:30 PM · James; We prefer Portofino, but basically because it caters to a adult crowd. Their pools can't be beat. And the ambiance transports you to the Italian Riviera. It's very quiet & laid back. But since you have kids with you I would recommend the Royal Pacific. It's a very short walk to the parks or you can take the boats. Great scenery either way. The pool is very good and has a nice water play area where fathers seem to have a great time interacting with their kids. And RP has my favorite group of restaurants on Universal property. A great secret is Emeril's Happy Hour (5 to 8 pm)They have a revolving appetizer menu with appetizers for only $5 each. Usually beer specials also, but the liquor prices are high.Instead of a meal we order a bunch of appetizers, and they have some really unique choices you won't find in most restaurants. We also like Jake's restaurant a lot. The landscaping is also excellent and the room prices are the most reasonable among the Universal deluxe resorts. The Hardrock seems to be pretty popular with the older teenagers but it's cost is pretty close to Portofino's.One thing we have learned to steer away from is eating at the hotel resort pools. They have a 18% service charge PLUS tips so the bills get super high.... If I had children your age I'd probably choose Royal Pacific....Portofino's walk is longer. Generally it takes us 15 to 18 minutes. But their pools are better. The Roman Aqueduct ruins pool is great for kids & adults and it has a great slide. And the formal pool is excellent for adults, always quiet & serene, anmd absolutely beautiful. Porofino's rooms are huge, 450 to 490 square feet with the largest bathrooms I've ever seen in a hotel. While Royal Pacific's are 325 sq. ft....We've stopped at the Hardrock a few times on the walk over. It's great if you like rock music blaring everywhere, but it was way too loud for us.
November 10, 2014 at 10:15 PM · Ok, seriously, Hogwarts Express is the best ride at any Universal park? I don't buy it. Granted, my experience with Universal is somewhat limited (I've only been to USH), but to me every other ride on this list looks better than the Hogwarts Express, as from the video it looks like little more than sitting in a room surrounded by screens while being transported between parks. Maybe you have to experience it to get it, but I just don't think it would justify the price of a two park ticket, let alone the wait.

I'm also surprised Jurassic Park didn't make the cut. That's my favorite ride at USH, as I prefer animatronics and classic ride systems to simulators and screens.

November 10, 2014 at 11:01 PM · Here's thing to remember about reader ratings of thrill rides: When a thrill ride gets very intense, some hard-core fans will adore it and rate it up. However, theme park fans who can't deal with ultra-intense rides will rate that attraction down by more points than the thrill fans will rate it up.

That's what helps gives Gringotts an edge over FJ in reader rankings. The FJ fans will rate it up from a 9 to a 10 because of its intense thrills, but the people who don't like the intensity of FJ will rate it down from 9 to 5 or 4 or below. Net effect? A lower average score than the relatively tame Gringotts.

And don't for a moment overlook the significance that the number one ranked Universal attraction happens to be the one ride in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter that does not have a height restriction.

November 11, 2014 at 4:29 AM · Got to say that after TPI recommendations I made sure I was at the very first showing of Waterworld on the day I was in USH.
It was nothing short of amazing!! Where does the plane come from?? ...don't tell me, I dont want to know! Fantastic show. Really loved the entire park to be honest.
November 11, 2014 at 8:36 AM · Hogwarts Express is number one and The Simpsons Ride doesn't even make the list? This list is seriously out-of-whack. I agree with everyone who doesn't think Gringotts is better than Forbidden Journey... My reaction at the end of Gringotts was, "That's it?" It's a decent ride but if it weren't located in what is unquestionably the best area of Universal Studios, it wouldn't have received nearly as much fanfare.
November 11, 2014 at 3:48 PM · Okay, in the near future, on a cold, rainy Saturday, I’m going to finally rate all the rides and shows I’ve experienced at various parks over the years.

I was surprised that the Hogwarts Express was the highest rated attraction, but since I have actually ridden it I have to say it is a great, immersive ride and well worth riding both directions. I can imagine if one has small children with them, the ride will truly appear magical as it travels from one destination in the Harry Potter world to the other. We adults know exactly where the train is going through the backstage area, but to a kid they don’t have the same frame of reference of where they are at in both parks. The movement of the train when it was in motion felt authentic and the cabins were themed with great detail.

My personal Universal list would have had Hulk at the top. I would also have Transformers ahead of Spiderman, only because it is an enhanced, more thrilling version of the original ride system. Forbidden Journey would be well ahead of Gringotts. In fact, Gringotts would probably be near the bottom of the top 10 and part of that has to do with Bill Weasley’s underwhelming, nonchalant acting as part of the ride. Men In Black would definitely be in the top 5 because of its unlimited re-ride-ability (if that’s a word).

I’m also surprised Simpsons didn’t make the top 10. It’s a great, funny ride with plenty of small details that you notice on re-rides.

On the West coast - Waterworld is a great show and shouldn’t be missed. I haven’t been on the regular Studio tour ride, but the VIP version is awesome. If you can do it and you like filmmaking in general, you should definitely do it.

November 12, 2014 at 7:28 AM · No way is Gringots is better then Forbidden Journey. Forbidden Journey actually is the best Universal Ride, then spider man, then Hogwarts express THEN gringots.
November 12, 2014 at 2:06 PM · Why Hogwarts Express? Let's remember that everyone gets to ride this attraction. That means no strobes or fog effects along with no harnesses or restraints. There are also no stationary seats (there's no need) so everyone is part of the "action" at an equal level. The experience on the train is appropriate for all ages. When you exclude no one, you do what few attractions anywhere can do, include everyone. So I agree with this choice for number 1. I think it's not that everyone loves it but that no one hates it.
November 14, 2014 at 3:18 PM · Why is the Simpsons ride not on this list? It should be #1!

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