Theme Park of the Week: Universal Studios Florida

June 5, 2022, 4:54 PM · Happy 32nd birthday this week to Universal Studios Florida, which opened officially on June 7, 1990. To celebrate, we are honoring Universal Studios Florida as our Theme Park of the Week.

Universal's first purpose-built theme park got off to a, uh, tough start. As I wrote in A short history of Universal Studios Florida, "If there's anything positive to be said about Universal Studios Florida's grand opening on June 7, 1990, it's that the World Wide Web wasn't around yet to allow theme park fans from around the Internet to roast the park in real time.... Even Disneyland's rough opening — with ladies shoes sinking in fresh asphalt, inoperative water fountains and hours-long lines — looked like a day with a private VIP tour guide compared with Universal Studios Florida's debut, when almost none of the park's rides actually worked."

Universal Studios Florida in 1990
An aerial view from 1990. The guitar-shaped platform under the old Hard Rock Cafe is now the site of the Curious George water playground. The ET ride's show building is to its right, and the Bates Motel that once stood on the site of the old Barney theater is below that. The surface parking lots are now the sites of CityWalk and Islands of Adventure. Photo courtesy TH Creative.

But Universal got to work, bought itself some goodwill by handing out thousands of free tickets, then spent a bunch of money to fix its rides and expand the park. Universal then doubled down on Orlando, announcing plans for the Islands of Adventure theme park and the expansion into what is now the Universal Orlando Resort.

Today, Universal Studios Florida is the 11th-most-visited theme park in the world and home to three of our readers' Top 25 Attractions and three of our Top Theme Park Shows in the world. In 2014, Universal welcomed The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley, which remains the only installation of that land in the world.

Other favorite attractions include Men in Black: Alien Attack and Revenge of the Mummy, which has been undergoing a major renovation. Top shows here include The Bourne Stuntacular - our readers' top-rated theme park show in the United States last year, as well as the long-time favorite Horror Makeup Show and the nighttime Universal's Cinematic Celebration lagoon show.

If you are thinking about a visit, our travel partner has discounted single and multi-day tickets on its Universal Orlando tickets page. And for more theme park news and advice, please sign up for Theme Park Insider's weekly newsletter.

Replies (8)

June 5, 2022 at 9:34 PM

Even with its faults (screen-reliance, outdated Kids Zone, sparse theming at World Expo/Springfield), USF is still the park I prefer compared to IOA. #sorrynotsorry

June 5, 2022 at 9:50 PM

Took until 1992 to get there and really enjoyed it. A long break before again in 2012 when so much changed but still a great experience. Like MGM, it took a while to go from actual studio to "ride the movies" but a great park to experience.

I still miss Back to the Future, Jaws, even Twister and the feel of an actual studio but it works.

And kudos to how ET is still there from opening day.

June 5, 2022 at 10:45 PM

Show of hands: who remembers and/or misses the Ghostbusters show?
I do!

June 6, 2022 at 9:30 AM

I agree James, on my last few visits I've preferred USF to IOA, but that was before Hagrids and Velocicoaster, so my preference may change. MIB is my jam, and I could easily spend an entire day just riding that over and over and over.

June 6, 2022 at 11:58 AM

One of the coolest retro things you can do for this park is check out the old souvenir video with John Forsythe. About a decade ago I bought a vhs copy of it from ebay (I'm sure its online now) and its a good window to those earlier years and its attraction line-up/vibe.

USF is a heck of a park today and one of my favorites.

June 6, 2022 at 12:24 PM

I remember Ghostbusters too! Ahead of its time with fun effects and such.

And enjoyed that Forsythe video as well.

There's this cheesy mid-90s kids show WMAC Masters (basically think a kids version of Mortal Kombat) where their "combat zones" are spots like Kongfrontation city, Wild West Stunt Show area and more, a reminder how much was once there.

June 7, 2022 at 9:59 AM

I moved to Florida the same month Universal Studios opened in Orlando. This was the first park we visited as a family just a couple of weeks removed from our moving date. I remember sitting in the back seat of our car looking on in awe of the giant Jaws billboard that sat at the intersection of I-4 and the Florida Turnpike. On our first visit of course almost everything was either closed or experiencing technical difficulties. Our family actually were some of the lucky/unlucky folks to get some of those re-visit vouchers which we ended up using one year later. That first night we went, it was closer to the late afternoon we saw a hoard of people running in the same direction. Jaws opened up and we joined the crowd. The original version of the attraction is something I'll always remember and was the cherry on top of a day we enjoyed even with the Earthquake and Kongfrontation closings. Hanna Barbera, Alfred Hitchcock, and Murder She wrote were so much fun and in my opinion, highly underrated. This park has undergone so much change since its inception but to this day, it is one of my favorites. Although I miss those classic studio attractions, I feel they have evolved well over the years and have managed to keep us engaged with some high quality attractions and fun times. IMO, Diagon Alley is the single best themed area of any theme park. MIB is so much fun and I can't wait to see the return of the great Mummy attraction. It's also nice to get a kick of nostalgia with the original ET attraction and the hilarious Horror Make up Show. I love this park and over the years I have probably visited this park more than any other.

June 7, 2022 at 12:18 PM

My first trip to USF was in 1996 as the first stop on an Orlando vacation that included WDW afterward. The rides were much more scary than most of the stuff at Disney at that point. I recall going on Jaws that day then later in the week my younger brother being terrified of Jungle Cruise because he thought the same things would happen on that ride.

While Disney has certainly replaced some rides that I'll miss, I'd much rather take a trip back to that incarnation of USF. Back to the Future, Kongfrontation, Jaws, and Earthquake were all great attractions.

This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Park tickets

Weekly newsletter

New attraction reviews

News archive