Theme Park Insider

Happy 25th Birthday to Universal Studios Florida

June 7, 2015, 11:05 AM · Universal Studios Florida today celebrates the 25th anniversary of its official opening, on June 7, 1990.

Universal Studios Florida 1990
Photo illustration courtesy Universal

The park that opened that day looked very different than the one that now stands in the middle of the Universal Orlando Resort. The land that would become Islands of Adventure was USF's parking lot. There was no CityWalk, no hotels, and no parking structures. In fact, some of the land that those would stand upon wasn't even land, as detention ponds lined the edges of the Universal property.

Universal Studios Florida in 1990

Universal opened with what was billed the world's largest Hard Rock Cafe, but it wasn't the current restaurant. Universal's original Hard Rock stood atop a massive guitar-shaped platform that spanned from the Psycho house to the parking lot where the Hard Rock Hotel now stands.

Original Universal Hard Rock Cafe

So, yeah, things were different back then. Heck, everyone who visited that first summer was given a free one-day ticket to come back again someday, thanks to all the rides that either weren't working or, at best, working only now and then.

Universal is celebrating today with special guidemaps and some social media posts, but the resort's not offering anything like the year-long promotion that Disney typically serves up whenever Disneyland or the Magic Kingdom hits a milestone anniversary.

Don't blame that rough opening day, 25 years ago, though. Disneyland's opening in 1955 wasn't exactly smooth, but that's not stopped Disney from pulling all the stops on its anniversaries. Anniversary celebrations rely on nostalgia to be successful, and Universal's never been as into looking back fondly at the past as Disney has. At the rate Universal is employing construction crews to build new rides, a water park, and hotels, it is clear that Universal's focus lies more on the next 25 years than on the past 25.

Still, happy birthday, Universal.

Update: This is rich. To celebrate the breakdowns 25 years ago today, credit card machines, turnstiles and WiFi service at Universal Orlando failed Sunday, leading to waits and cash-only service throughout the parks. Let the Universal-style snarky comments begin!

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Replies (13)

June 7, 2015 at 1:13 PM · We arrived at 8:30 and took our time walking back to Gringitt's taking pictures along the way. Had a great ride on Gringott's and then breakfast at the Leaky Cauldron. We encountered slow credit card processing at 3-4 locations but more longer than 60 seconds of waiting.

Highlight of the day was the Raptor Encounter. The packed queue demonstrates that people love these extra little experiences. I know we sure did.

June 7, 2015 at 3:01 PM · If I remember correctly Disney didn't pull out the stops with the Epcot anniversary except for a pin you could buy and a cupcake.
Universal at least has 6 free concerts.
June 7, 2015 at 5:53 PM · Not even a photo credit for the aerial shots? Sigh ... (Shakes head).
June 7, 2015 at 5:18 PM · Lol, I actually just visited the resort yesterday and didn't realize that today marks the 25th anniversary!

How's that for irony?

June 7, 2015 at 6:01 PM · I have such incredibly vivid and fond memories of the park's original lineup of attractions from my first visit back in 1993. For as great as all the park's newest offerings are, it is a little sad that - aside from E.T. and the Horror Makeup Show (and Disaster, essentially) - very little remains of the original park that so wowed the six-year-old me.
June 7, 2015 at 6:52 PM · Putting on those rose-tinted glasses and looking back at the past is a slippery slope, so I'm glad Universal doesn't do it, frankly.
June 7, 2015 at 7:39 PM · I remember my first visit to the Universal Orlando Resort back in the summer of 1990 with two college buddies. It was a major letdown. Almost every ride we tried to go on broke down (Kong and Earthquake were both out, and Jaws was down in the morning), with the exception of the Funtastic World of Hanna-Barbera and E.T.

We did get to go on the original incarnation of Jaws later in the day, which was way cool. One highlight for me was sitting on the side of the boat with a clear view of Jaws grabbing onto the pontoon and spinning the boat 180 degrees. A great deal of that ride, though, didn't work as planned. For example, the shark was supposed to destroy the boat house, but all we saw were some wall side panels fall into the water and felt the shark go under our boat twice. We did see an unplanned visitor sneak into the queue, though: a small white field mouse.

I don't think Universal was taking a jab at Disney with that very real, live rodent! At the time, Universal was so unready for prime time that we complained and got our admission refunded. We took the proceeds and went the next day to Cypress Gardens, of all places, and had a blast.

I've been back to Universal Orlando a few times since and immensely enjoyed my experiences. But none of my subsequent visits have been as memorable as the first visit during its grand opening.

June 7, 2015 at 8:42 PM · Photos courtesy TH Creative. Sorry! (They're from the first link in the "You Might Also Like" list.)
June 7, 2015 at 11:17 PM · (Chuckle)
June 8, 2015 at 12:24 AM · I still have my free one day pass from 25years ago somewhere unused
June 8, 2015 at 7:45 AM · How many Hard Rock cafes were there? I ate in one of them more than 10 years ago. I heard it closed. Then they opened another. Is it still there?
June 8, 2015 at 6:15 PM · EPCOT's 30th anniversary:
http://disneyparks.disney.go.com/blog/2012/10/the-celebration-of-the-30th-anniversary-of-epcot-is-underway/
June 10, 2015 at 4:12 AM · i would love to see a before and after photo from the same angel of universal studios as i think the tranformation over the last 25 years is incredable

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