We all have that friend, don’t we? That one friend who is a daredevil, a thrill-seeker. She’s the one who eagerly signs up to skydive, who ice-climbs in the winter, and goes bouldering in the summer. She cajoles you into taking belly dance lessons and pressures you to come hang-gliding with her. She’s the only person you know who actually ate fish tacos from a street vendor in the middle of nowhere, whose “grill” was an old oil barrel cut in half, and somehow didn’t die of ptomaine poisoning. Deep down inside, don’t you wish you were a little more like your adventurous friend?
Well, no. Not really. I am fond of my staid life, but sometimes I do long for a little more adventure – and I got it, in a safe and family-friendly way, on a recent trip to Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida.
As far as theme parks go, Universal Studios packs in all the adventure and thrills you can handle. The rides are faster, the thrills are bigger, and the water rides are…well, you’ll see.
The Roller Coasters
I may be a sedate, middle aged woman, but I confess that I am a bit of a roller coaster junkie. I love a good roller coaster, and the ones at Universal Studios did not disappoint. In fact, the roller coasters were bigger, faster, and crazier than anything I had ever experienced.
Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit
Many roller coasters start off by going up a steep hill. This ride goes up a 90-degree hill, giving new meaning to “steep” and “hill.” It is famous for featuring the world’s first non-inverting loop, and if you want thrills and speed, then this is your jam. Speaking of jams, each seat comes with an option for music that you choose to be played while you are riding. I chose “I Will Survive” as it seemed apt.
Tip: if you have long hair, tie it back in a ponytail or bun. You’ll thank me later.
The Incredible Hulk Roller Coaster
I’m going to be honest with you: I think I blacked out for a minute on this coaster. The speed tops 67 miles per hour, the coaster corkscrews and turns upside down over and over, and the track goes below the bridge where people stand to watch. HULK SMASH. I wobbled off the roller coaster and promptly walked into a wall.
Tip: If you are wearing your park pass on a lanyard, tuck the lanyard INSIDE your shirt.
This roller coaster isn’t as crazy as the other two in terms of speed and twists, but it is very high on the spooky factor. The Mummy is going to steal my soul–the special effects are terrifying, especially the fireballs, and swarms of scarab beetles that “drop” onto you.
Tip: This is an indoor ride, which is perfect when the weather isn’t.
And now for a second confession: I have neither read the books nor watched the movies. However, I live with three Harry Potter fans and they were thrilled with the detail and incredible effects of Harry Potter World. Hey, I was thrilled with it and I know literally nothing about it! The rides within the two Harry Potter areas – accessible by the Hogwarts Express – are thrilling too.
Escape from Gringotts
Beneath the fire-breathing dragon in Diagon Alley is Gringotts Bank; walking through the bank alone is interesting enough. The ride itself is a multi-dimensional 3D thrill ride is exciting enough, even for those of us in the 1% who have no idea who any of the characters are.
Tip: Take a long-sleeved shirt, because the walk through the bank to the ride is really, really cold.
The Forbidden Journey
If you’ve ever wanted to play Quiddich, this is your chance! This is another multi-dimensional 3D thrill ride; don’t fear the lineups, because there is so much to look at when you enter the castle.
Tip: Be careful on the moving carpet when you exit the ride. Trust me.
“Which one did you do, Mom?” my kids asked me after I left them to take the Dragon Challenge. I didn’t realize – even AFTER riding it – that there are two separate roller coasters going at the same time, intertwined. Each one is a very different experience, but both are high-speed coaster with lots of twists and loops; your legs hang in the air, which adds to the craziness of the experience.
Tip: Try both!
The three big water rides are the Jurassic Park River Adventure, Popeye and Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges, and Dudley Do-Right Ripsaw Falls. I innocently asked the employee at Ripsaw Falls where I could sit to minimize getting wet, and he laughed at me. Drenched is the term I would use. In fact, on the only day I wore a white tank top, I inadvertently was holding my own, sad, wet t-shirt contest. I am going to warn you right now that if you don’t like getting your hair wet, steer clear. Or buy one of those waterproof ponchos.
Tip: If you like water rides, put your hair up and wear waterproof mascara.
If you have a fear of clowns, here is a good way to face that fear: meet Krusty! Hey hey!