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Universal's Islands of Adventure Too Crowded, but will not issue refund

Universal Orlando: My family was unable to do ANYTHING at Universal's Islands of Adventure because it was too crowded, a mob. The Guest Services would not issue me a refund. This is not right.

From Jim Unger
Posted January 3, 2011 at 9:53 AM
My family from Nebraska planned a vacation to Orlando and Tampa for the last week of December, 2010. Busch Gardens, DisneyQuest, and Seaworld were "busy" but not a "mob" of people. We were able to ride the roller coasters and other rides with waits from 10 to 50 minutes. HOWEVER, our experience and treatment from UNIVERSAL'S ISLANDS OF ADVENTURE was UNACCEPTABLE.

We arrived about 9:30 a.m. with pre-purchased tickets already in hand. It took over 30 minutes standing in line just to get in! Then, we thought we would walk all the way to the back of the park to Harry Potter before it got too crowded.

We were bumped and pushed continuously by a "mob" while just trying to walk, and observed ANY RIDE on the way there had 180 minutes wait time. When we got to the entrance for Harry Potter, we were told that the whole section of the park was closed/full. The LINE to WAIT IN to get a ticket for entry into Harry Potter later went on and on for hundreds of yards, (I would guess at least 2 hours of waiting in that line) just to get entry into that part of the park. At that point, we would STILL have to wait hours to get on the roller coaster.

We decided to just forget Harry Potter, and walked the rest of the way around the park--ALL the rides were 180 minutes wait time. We were getting bumped and pushed by the huge crowds all the time. It was not an acceptable experience. We had made one whole lap around the park, had done ZERO rides and ZERO shows or activities, and went to Guest Services to ask for a refund. I had paid $480.00 to get my family in, and got NOTHING for my money.

The LINE for Guest Services took 40 minutes to get in--almost everyone in line echoed the same thing, they wanted a refund, too. The lady next to us was absolutely beside herself--she was furious. We both entered the Guest Services at the same time; she screamed that she wanted a REFUND not another TICKET for another day, but they would not budge. I tried the "be real nice" approach but they would not refund my money, either--just gave me a Reference Number to tell them next time we wanted to use our replacement passes.

I tried to dispute the $480.00 with my credit card company, but they said I was admitted to the park, so choosing not to wait in 3 hour lines was MY choice. Looks like I may be changing credit cards too. I will try letters to the CEO, Consumer Affairs, BBB, Twitter, the Florida Attorney General, and anything else I can think of to get not only a refund, but maybe more.

I would appreciate any ideas or input. I have run my own business for over 30 years, and have always tried to please my customers--including a refund if they ask for one. I would guess that there were 70,000 to 100,000 people at the park on Wednesday, December 29th, 2010. They should have never let that many people in there--I bet the fire marshal would have had them shut down.


Comments in chronological order. Most recent at the bottom. Scroll down to respond.

From Hermione Potter
Posted January 3, 2011 at 10:16 AM
I'm sorry you had such a bad time, but you should know that none of the FL parks refund tickets for any reason. Maybe years ago it may have been possible, but ever since fastpass/express pass has existed they first offer you those and then move on to a ticket to come back another day - refunds don't exist and it says it in tiny letters on all the 3 companies' tickets. :(

If you've got the free tickets for another time and ever decide to give it another go, try for January, September, or the first 2 weeks of December - it will be 5-20 min waits for everything. Christmas through New Years is the busiest time of the year.

From Derek Morse
Posted January 3, 2011 at 11:18 AM
Sorry you had such a bad experience, I know its frustrating to get to a park and find that the wait times are unmanageable at all the attractions. Unfortunately though, that is the risk you run visiting any Orlando theme park at the end of December. It is bar none the busiest time at the parks and you will inevitably run into a day with ridiculous wait times.

From Manny Barron
Posted January 3, 2011 at 12:06 PM
That sounds like a rough day. I've also heard horror stories like this from this last week of December when theme parks are mobbed. Even though it's tempting I will never go to a theme park during that time of the year. They had to close down IOA a couple of times that week because of how full it was.

I went to IOA on June 18 of 2010, the first day Harry Potter opened. I waited 1 hour to get into the park, 7 hours to get in the land and 2 hours to get on the Forbidden Journey ride and all of this in 100 degree temperatures. I knew it was going to be packed so my mentality was just to soak in the atmosphere and after several hours experience something I had been waiting years for. It was my decision to go on the day HP opened and not wait 2 or 3 years when lines would be more manageable. Going to the hottest theme park destination in ages during the busiest time of the year, well things are going to get crazy.

It's unfortunate that you had a day like this. A refund is out of the question here, but I think it's nice that they offer another ticket, with no expiration date on it. IOA is truly a wonderful park that can be so enjoyable on any other days.

From Terri Pierce
Posted January 3, 2011 at 12:28 PM
I would take the replacement passes. It's the best that you're going to get. Either that or nothing at all. Calling and disputing to the credit card company is a bit much in my own opinion. As well as changing credit card companies for something that isn't their fault. TPI, Universal Orlando, Busch Gardens.. any one of these sources could have told you that this time of year is beyond ridiculous inside the park. The best time to go is Halloween-First week of December, OR February-First week of March.
Just take the tickets. It's your best option.

From Anthony Murphy
Posted January 3, 2011 at 12:43 PM
Since you were admitted into the park, your only option is to take replacement tickets.

All theme parks will not refund you in cash if you were admitted into the park, no exceptions. Its the same for Universal, Disney, and Busch.

While you probably did not do this, what is not to say that you did go on some attractions. How would they know? I know, it takes only a few people to ruin honesty for everybody else.

Always follow the golden rule on theme parks: Arrive early!

From Mike Gallagher
Posted January 3, 2011 at 1:19 PM
Universal crowded between Christmas and New Year's? Who knew?

I wouldn't be surprised if there were a coupla people at Disney, too.

From Orrin Carstarphen
Posted January 3, 2011 at 2:14 PM
I think the point Jim is trying to make is that while he expected it to be busy, Universal should have monitored guest levels more closely and perhaps they should have closed the turnstiles earlier. I also think you should just take the replacement passes and move on.

From Frank Forrester
Posted January 3, 2011 at 4:21 PM
I went to Universal on Dec. 30th and ignored IOA because I know it would be crazy because of the time of year. I went to Universal Studios and the wait times were anywhere from 10 minutes to 60 minutes. I saw that they had closed access to IOA and there was a line of people waiting to get in.

Later in the evening the park had reopened and there was no wait to get in. I heard that later that night the wait times were not bad for any of the rides including Harry Potter.

I have no sympathy for the original poster. If you come to Orlando during the busiest time of the year and go to a park that has a major new ride in it where there was unheard of wait times for it during the summer, you should expect it to be just as bad or worse. New Year's Day there was no wait to get in the park and even into the Harry Potter section.

They offered you a replacement ticket which you could have taken and either gone over to Universal Studios or waited until after New Year's Eve to hit IOA. None of the other parks you stated you visited had any major new rides this past year, so that is why they weren't as busy as IOA.

From bryan shepard
Posted January 3, 2011 at 4:43 PM
well I dont think its right for someone to spend all that money and have an aweful time... they should limit the amount of guests in the park to endure the guests that make it in the gates have a great time... its time businesses start realizing its us who pay the bills and stop just trying to make more more more.... for someone like me, another pass would be a slap in the face being i live across country... god knows they can afford to refund people that had an aweful time, chances are they may come back, but im sure the poster will never again try to attend IOA, as I wouldn't either if I had that happen to me... im sorry but if you can charge 3.50 for a 20 oz drink, and 60 or more to get in the park, and more for fast passes and parking, you can ensure the guests are taken care of no matter what they want.....

From Anthony Murphy
Posted January 3, 2011 at 9:11 PM
I live across the country as well, but I know that Christmas through New Years is one of the busiest time of the year. I have been at a Disney park on NYE and, guess what? I didn't get on too many rides and all the reservations and fastpasses were taken up. I never asked for a refund!

They do limit the amount of people entering the park, but they will limit for safety, not some arbitrary number that feels "confortable".

I feel bad for the poster, but there should be no suprise that IOA was crowded and there should be no expectations to get back the money. Once again, the family got into the park. Though I am not accusing the poster of doing this, but how does IOA know he didn't go on the rides, eat the food, shop in the shops?

From Rob P
Posted January 4, 2011 at 2:28 AM
It's true to say that you expect big crowds on certain holidays but I think the onus lies directly at the feet of Universal to avoid overcrowding. They simply have to lower the limit at which they consider the Park to be at capacity.
Wait times should never exceed 2 hours on more than one or two attractions. Universal should know by experience what a reasonable capacity for their Parks should be. I should have thought that allowing such huge numbers through their gates breached the Health & Safety regulations. But Universal should take the comfort and safety of their guests more seriously than they appear to do.
I can't imagine what might have happened had there been an emergency evacuation of the Park.

From James Rao
Posted January 4, 2011 at 4:41 AM
I guess one thing to keep in mind is that being "at capacity" is a new experience for Universal. As with anything new (especially where money and greed are involved), there are bound to be growing pains. I am truly sorry those growing pains so negatively impacted your vacation.

Personally, I am thinking of postponing my previously planned IOA excursion this summer until a few years from now when things have really died down... and when Rip Saw Falls is restored to its former (circa 1999) glory.

From Anthony Murphy
Posted January 4, 2011 at 9:19 AM
James, you might be right when it comes to "at capacity" for IOA.

Trying to compare apples to apples, how different does Disney do it?

From sarah g
Posted January 4, 2011 at 10:16 AM
IOA's "capacity" was somewhere in the mid to high 40k range- too high, considering that capacity for Disney's AK and DHS top out at about 40k. I like how Disney uses "phase" closings, limiting access to resort guests, etc. I was at the Magic Kingdom six days last week working and though the park was Phase closed every day, it didn't feel too awful. Sure it was busy, sure the rides had lengthy waits, but there was no "mob" feeling like you are describing. It was like that there

A refund for it being too busy? That'll happen the same day they give rain checks. Plus its not like Universal is really known for it's amazing guest service. Out of all FL parks, they are the WORST. I'll repeat what everyone else has said- come back in january-february, september. The two weeks surrounding Christmas and New Years are the busiest in Orlando. You have to expect crowds and chaos and lines and people everywhere.

From steve lee
Posted January 4, 2011 at 11:11 AM
You had my sympathy until you said you tried to dispute the charge on your credit card. Disputing charges like that is blatant dishonesty on your part. You may not have had the experience you wanted, but to dispute that you received what the charge entailed (entry through the turnstile and nothing else) is wrong on any level.

From Kelly Christiansen
Posted January 4, 2011 at 11:14 AM
I was at the park on the exact same day however; I had a completely different experience. The difference is...I knew what to expect. I knew it was going to be crowded. At no time did I feel unsafe, though. I usually avoid theme parks duing their peak but since I had friends in town, I went anyways. With a little bit of plannig and research, we were able to have a fantastic time. It was the people working I felt sorry for - dealing with those that simply did not educate themselves and plan accordingly.

We were there from 8am until about 10pm and saw everything we wanted to IN BOTH PARKS! Take the generous offer for replacement tickets, plan ahead and visit at a different time of year. We are BIG fans of Universal and IOA in my family and I hope you take their offer and see how fantastic the place really is.

From deborah richards
Posted January 4, 2011 at 11:32 AM
I am sorry you had a "rough" day at IOA, but honestly what did you expect during the holidays?

we were over in Sept and still waited over 60 minutes for Harry Potter ride, and walked straight on everything else in the park, its a brand new ride its going to be busy for the next 12 months or so.

Each and every theme park in Florida has a " Capacity limit" which they all stick to by law, not only for guest safety, health safety but to abide by Florida law. Each park is checked routinely to ensure this happens and always during the busy times of year. I remember MK reaching capacity a few years ago on Christmas day 40,000 people still no overly long wait times , and no complaints off the guests.
I worked in Epcot that day and we reached capacity by 3pm that day and stayed that way for the duration. overflow from MK ,
If you want to go to ANY of the Orlando theme parks during holidays seasons then expect LONG lines, expect to be bumped by others, And no you shouldnt be offered a refund YOU chose to go on that day, I think you were darn lucky to be offered passes for another day.
In short if you dont like lines then dont go to the theme parks!

From Tom Rigg
Posted January 4, 2011 at 12:32 PM
I have to agree with pretty much everyone else, while it is unfortunate that you didn't have the experience you wanted at IOA if you had checked this or several other sites you would have seen this coming a good distance away. While it is the goal of a theme park to offer you a unique experience in return for your money, simply because you didn't get what you expected doesn't make it their fault. If you buy a cookbook and find all of the recipes to be bad, that doesn't mean you get to return the book. By paying for the ticket you take on the responsibility to know what you are paying for. And it seems a little over the top to contact the FL Attorney General and BBB. the company may have missed the mark on where they should close for capacity, but they didn't do anything unethical, deceitful, or illegal.

From Benjamin Odom
Posted January 4, 2011 at 3:19 PM
I completely understand your anger, but you must understand the holidays are indeed very, very busy for theme parks in Orlando. The main thing you can learn from this experience is that planning is crucial. Buying your tickets ahead of time was smart: don't stop doing that! Also, express passes are great, but not needed if you plan wisely. Look online for blogs and travel guides on what you can do to make the most out of your day. Many people like you have posted stories of their experiences and what they did to make the most out of THEIR day. Learn when the best time is to visit the park, what the best rides are, what you should ride first, when to eat, etc. You can use all this to make for a less stressful experience next time.

From Anthony Murphy
Posted January 4, 2011 at 6:14 PM
I vote for Tom's answer as the best concise answer to this problem.


From Terri Pierce
Posted January 4, 2011 at 9:19 PM
Tom I like your answer- And I just want to make a short story because it made me giggle a bit. I've worked at a bakery going on 6 years now. We sell a large variety of cookbooks and have a lot of loyal customers. We had this one lady who has always been a "hoot" to serve. Shes hilarious whenever she comes in and VERY old fashioned and tight with her money-- she wants the MOST out of everything and perfection none the less...

She bought a cookbook one day and came back and returned it the next week. Since she was loyal we allowed it going on her word. However, she bought another cookbook the same day... then returned it the next week. Again- being a small town my boss allowed it to keep her service. However- she did it again and I finally brought it to my boss that she was most likely driving to the library- fore she would NEVER invest in "blasted technology"- and photocopying everything she wanted. Sure enough, I opened the book when she brought it in that day and checked it for marking on pages. Several of the pages were dog-eared and some even had erased side notes. I almost laughed in our guests face I was so tickled. I politely explained to her that due to policy change that all cookbooks would no longer be refundable and that I would made an exception for her, "since she didn't know prior to buying," (wink wink nudge nudge), had the corners of several of the pages not been damaged.

The reason I explain this is one, I'm a story teller, and two the same applies to theme parks. You buy it and you're in the long haul with it. There was a terms and condition that you agreed to somewhere along the lines stating that for no reason with a rain check or refund be possible. So yes-- you were VERY lucky to get an offer for tickets to come back another day a.k.a. a "Rain check" considering that's not even allowed.

I do agree with several other posters however- IOA doesn't understand capacity and they need to do a cram session- and fast!

From Meow Mix
Posted January 4, 2011 at 9:40 PM
I'm pretty sure I was in IOA on the same day or same travel period as Jim, because he describes a mob and a 2-hour wait for standby tickets into Hogsmeade.

Upon returning at 9:00pm, we could just walk into Hogsmeade and had a 20-minute wait for Hogwarts (FJ).

Sure, everything was crowded, but not hazardous. In the Harry Potter books, I'm told (ha ha) that the streets and shops are always crowded and raucous. So they're being true to form!

Plus, if you get to ride Spiderman and Ripsaw Falls in a day, you should be having plenty of fun.

From Frank Forrester
Posted January 5, 2011 at 12:42 AM
I like the poster that said no ride should have a 2 hour or longer wait. I wish that could happen in reality, but IOA is not the only one that has that problem. Disney has that problem with some of their popular rides. On Jan. 3rd the wait time for Toy Story at Hollywood Studios was 130 minutes.

Of course that wait time can not compare to the wait times on New Year's Eve at any of the parks. Soarin' at Epcot reach a 260 minute wait with Test Track hitting 180 minutes. Good thing he didn't go to the parks on that day.

From Marc Flothe
Posted January 5, 2011 at 12:58 AM
This is a prime example of why you never should go to the parks during Christmas Break like every travel guide tells you not to. We went the week before Christmas...and experienced waits such as these...

Harry Potter: 30 mins (the ride...we actually waited maybe 20 mins).

Hulk, Spiderman, Cat in the Hat (walk-on)

Dragon Challenge (5 mins)...

Men in Black & Revenge of the Mummy (5-10 mins)...

Actually, the longest wait other than HP was ET @ 15 mins....

So, a word of advice...get to the parks early and visit during off season. You will get more value for your money

From Rob Viala
Posted January 5, 2011 at 10:32 AM
Honestly I know that a lot of people plan trips around when school is out but to go to a major resport destination (mainly a theme park destination) shouldnt common sense reign supremem here and general knowledge would tell you that this park along with all other parks in the area are going to be crowded. With the wizarding world going through its first holiday season it seems logical that it would have been crowded especially the last week of december or as I cann it in the retail biz "Hell Week". I have the luxary of planning my disney/usf trip the last week of feb into march due to me not having kids or school to worry about but in all honestly you can not think that there would be a refund given especially when the company could say that these crowds are expected as they are on a yearly basis.

From Sylvain Comeau
Posted January 6, 2011 at 12:59 AM
The last week of December is the single most insanely crowded time of the year at theme parks. You can bank on that, every year. You couldn't pay me enough to show up then.
Also, if you want to go to Universal during a crowded time like that, Express Pass is a MUST. They give free Express Passes if you stay at one of their on-site hotels.

From Rob P
Posted January 6, 2011 at 3:59 AM
Sorry to disagree but I don't entirely subscribe to Tom's rather simplistic assessment. I think it's the responsibility of the management and not the visitor to regulate the number of people in a Park.
We've witnessed a number of crowd disasters at football ( soccer ) stadia in England and Europe where the crowds were uncontrolled on entry and which resulted in masses of injuries and considerable numbers of fatalities.
The numbers permitted entry into any theme Park are not controlled by the paying guest. We put our trust in responsible crowd management by those running the show.
I think Jim has every right to feel aggrieved at not getting value for money when it's clearly as a result of the over zealous selling of tickets. I also think that compromising the safety of families by alllowing overcrowding is both cynical and irresponsible.
Just because it's the holidays does not mean that these Parks should be allowed to exceed capacity and make anyone's visit uncomfortable. If you arrive late and can't get in until the crowds ease then too bad. Come back later or, as should happen, be given the option of a refund.

From J. Snow
Posted January 6, 2011 at 6:35 AM
The capacity of the parks is set by state and local authorities to ensure guest and employee safety in the event of an emergency. It may seem that there would be no way to evacuate a park-but there are unseen exits all around the parks that can be used to move people quickly.

I wonder how the OP would have felt if they had arrived at IOA and been denied entry with a full refund? I'll bet they would have been very upset considering the time and money already spent just to get there.

The park was in fact sold out the last few days of the year several weeks in advance. That meant that anyone showing up without a pre-purchased ticket (as well as a passholder) was denied entry.

I also wonder if the OP did in fact take up the offer for free tickets...

From Anthony Murphy
Posted January 6, 2011 at 10:52 AM
Who said the park was over capacity?

From Ray Schroeder
Posted January 6, 2011 at 11:52 AM
Mike G, thanks for the chuckle.
I was in the MK Christmas Day. Crazy crowded but not mobbed. I guess people have different perceptions of what crowded/mobbed is. I work in NYC. I deal with "mobs" of people every day trying to get to work. When a park is crowded, I go into "commuter mode" and zig zag through the crowds. Coming from a part of the country where you're not used to dealing with thousands of people eveyday can be a bit overwhelming.

From Carrie Hood
Posted January 6, 2011 at 9:10 PM
Like everyone else here, I have zero sympathy for you. If your would have done even a hint of research into your vacation you would have know what to expect and what the crowds would be like. I grew up in Orlando and worked at all the theme parks for nearly a dozen years between them, anyone can tell you that if a theme park is open during Holiday Seasons you know it's going to be hell upon this earth. If you didn't expect lines, your a naive fool.

IOA's capacity is 40 thousand to my knowledge (as is WDW's Magic Kingdom). The theme parks don't set this limit, the State of Florida does based upon fire codes and the License and Inspection department. The same way the base any building or area has a body limit of what they can safely fit.

I can't think of a single theme park that offers refunds for any reason. I've been to Hershey park during a city wide power outage due to a severe car accident and didn't get a refund. We accepted the refund tickets which is very generous, if you read the fine print on your ticket you accept and acknowledge all park rules and regulations upon entry. There for you accepted the fact you would encounter wait times as well as crowded conditions.

We when to Universal Orlando between Sept 27 and Oct 8th. Our ride times where decent, HP was the longest wait at 70 minutes. I've been around for ride openings (I've worked a lot of them too) and that was decent for an opening year. When Journey to Atlantis opened at Seaworld it was and endless nightmare. Those of us from surrounding areas where called in daily to deal with crowds and line control. You take that risk going to ANY theme park during a busy season or an opening year. I do mean ANY theme park, I've been threw so many it's not even funny now. Wait times are a fact of life my friend, No one is special and we all have to wait just like everyone else.

And if you think THAT was bad, try going to Halloween Horror Nights on a Saturday!

From Hermione Potter
Posted January 7, 2011 at 7:38 AM
"And if you think THAT was bad, try going to Halloween Horror Nights on a Saturday!"

lmao! Yeah, he would just love those 'themed' queues with minimum 3 hour waits and drunk guys falling over him in line.

From Annette Hatch
Posted January 7, 2011 at 2:37 PM
Sorry you had to travel to find that out. We are lucky to have season passes so we can just go back on a weekday when things calm down (hopefully).

We went on Jan 3rd. It was pure chaos. Went to Universal side 1st & got on everything right away. Headed over to Islands & got to do NOTHING. I take that back, Jurassic Park was a 5 minute wait if that, but that was it that we could do. Marvel Island had 180 minute waits plus on everything. Even "Dr. Doom" which is not very popular. Headed to the back as most of the time the back things are less crowded. After J.P. we saw the biggest line known to man. It was a line to get IN TO Harry Potter. Not even a ride line. Just to get inside. Hours of wait to get in line to wait.

We wound up going back over to Universal side & it wasn't bad at all. The longest wait was for the Rip Rock-It. That was about a 30 minute wait to the top, but then it broke down so we just left when the repair guys showed up & it obviously wasn't going to be a quick reset. Glad we did that in the morning.

From David Sutter
Posted January 10, 2011 at 5:52 AM
Im sorry about your bad experince. But visitting a major theme park durig a Holiday to get into a brand new attraction. Formula for a real bad day. Sorry to say they do have crowed control. And if a park is at its max. They will close the gates. They have to by fire code. Disney does it every chirstmas with the Magic Kingdom and every now and then Epcot. Except to pass holders and resort guests. How ever 280min. wait for IOA is not uncommon on busy days. The Hulk cna take up to three hours. been there done that. And you were offered free tickets by guest services to visit another day. Which is the best any park will do. I would have asked for tickets and returned to the studios and enjoyed it exploring every nook and cranny there is. Im a local and would have more then likly just syucked it up. But again sorry . And as pointed out here there ie the fine print "No refund or Excahnges, Mangment reservices the right to ...and on and on.

From Davina Dunkel
Posted January 12, 2011 at 3:30 AM
I know, in 20th and 21th December have suddenly a lot of people there, no place free and very tiny walk of the side forwards and backwards too many people... then third time we going there same time and there aren't a lot of people...
proposal I may to say better the week of days: tuesday, wednseday or thursday there, as friday and weekend are full.
if you stand morning but better 6am or 7am morning breakfast finish then you can to come early to parcs.

We have been 20th, 21th and 23th dec. 2010 to parcs when I love Harry Potter parcs, there are beautiful little attraction. ;) We are not younger visit (grinned)
My english isn't great when I am deaf and writing some bad grammatic or spelling words, sorry for all, if isn't read to understand.

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