We don’t get to a lot of amusement parks. Living in the far “upper left” makes it a long trip to most of the really good parks for us. We were given the opportunity to travel to Orlando to visit Universal Studios with Family Forward for a 4 day retreat – so we packed our bags and set off across the nation! As complete newbies to this park we were shocked and amazed with everything. We are a family of roller-coaster fans. We love them fast, and upside down, and full of corkscrews, and 3-D, and we were not disappointed in the slightest. It was all new to us but I wanted to share the very newest attractions, hotels and restaurants. I think even the veterans of Universal Orlando Resort will love what they are doing.
Let’s start with the newest rides!
The Incredible Hulk! Coaster found in Marvel Super Hero Island in The Islands of Adventure has been newly refurbished and just reopened in August 2016 to much fanfare! As you pass through the newly designed queue you will notice a new story line transporting you to a scientific facility centered around a massive gamma core. General “Thunderbolt” Ross is leading the experiment and you are at the center of it – a gamma-charged Hulk! Once you pass through the queue you board a really sleek new vehicle and are literally whisked away! There are loads of loops and corkscrews and just when you think you get a little break you are looped again. It was awesome! Fun fact: the on-board ride music is composed by Patrick Stump, the front man for Fall Out Boy! This ride is a beast and so much fun! Minimum height requirements are set at 54″ and my son loved it but suggests that you ride the Incredible Hulk with an empty stomach! Sound advice for any big roller-coaster!
Skull Island: The Reign of Kong is also new and found in The Islands of Adventure. After journeying through time back to the 1930s, you join the “8th Wonder Expedition Company” to explore a mysterious world with temple ruins and hostile natives. You board a massive 40-foot-long, 17-ton expedition vehicle to navigate you through the increasingly foreboding terrain. What is truly special about these vehicles is that they operate on a completely trackless ride system and there is no real driver! It is so cool experiencing a ride system I have never seen before! The drivers of your vehicle can change with each ride, which will give guests different narratives. The trip takes the rider through a brutal struggle between beasts of unimaginable size and ferocity. Massive dinosaurs roam and fight and a mysterious Kong leaves you wondering if he is there for good or evil. This might be kind of scary for small children and the experience is 3-D making everything feel real and close. Older kids and adults should enjoy it though. The minimum height requirement is 36″. Wait times can be long for this one, so get there early, or use an Express Pass if you have one.
On to the newest hotel!
Universal Orlando Resort boasts some pretty fantastic hotels. I was given an opportunity to tour the brand new Loews Sapphire Falls Resort. It just opened in July 2016! This gorgeous new hotel has 1000 rooms that are decorated in the theme of the Caribbean. Cool blues and greens calm the senses and give guests a
true relaxed feel. The rooms are spacious, bright and clean in design. This property boasts the largest pool out of all of the on-site hotels. It is a really beautiful space where you can relax after lots of fun at the parks. The kids will love the water slide and play areas. The adults will love the Drhum Club Kantine with plenty of Caribbean inspired food and drink. The property has 2 other restaurants on-site including Amatista Cookhouse and Strong Water Tavern. Amatista Cookhouse serves breakfast, lunch and dinner right on the waterfront and keeps with the Caribbean theme. Strong Water Tavern is a Tapas style restaurant and a great place to go for dinner. My husband really enjoyed the Seafood Ceviche he had there. They also have a huge selection of Rum, some made in house, if that is your thing! For grab and go food, check out the Dutch Trading Company! This hotel offers early admission into the Islands of Adventure as well!
Another brand new restaurant!
Universal Citywalk gives visitors a huge selection of food and drink choices. Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville, The Cowfish, Vivo, Antojitos, NBC Sports Grill & Brew, Hard Rock Cafe and many others line the walk and tempt you with all of their specialties. The newest addition to the collection of restaurants is Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen which is a 19th century Steam-punk themed restaurant. As of our visit in September they were in the middle of their soft-opening and were not taking reservations yet. The wait times were very long, even at opening which is 4:00pm. The menu is as big as the restaurant and they have something for everyone in your family! Burgers, sandwiches, brunch, and more are all on offer. If you are looking for colossal milkshakes this is the place to come! Even if you don’t want to sit and have a meal, although the food was great, they have an amazing chocolate and candy selection that you should definitely check out! Plus the interior is a feast for the senses and I love the uniforms/costumes! There is just so much to look at and characters walk around engaging with guests.
What’s coming next year!
Big new things are being planned and worked on for next year as well. The biggest news is that a third theme park is currently being built on the property. Universal’s Volcano Bay is currently under construction and plans to open during the summer of 2017. This is going to be a huge, revolutionary water park with very lush surroundings. They have promised it will be different than any water park you have ever seen. They have toured water parks all over the world and researched all aspects resulting in designing and planning the very best experience for their guests. Incredible slides, a massive wave pool, a lazy river, waterfalls and sandy beaches are all part of this “little known tropical Pacific Isle” you will be immersed in. Guests will not have to carry their tubes or mats to the top of the queue, they will be transported to the top for you. There will be 18 attractions in 4 differently themed areas which are bound to leave us in awe. The same people who created the amazing Wizarding World of Harry Potter are working on this project and based on the level of detail I saw with Hogsmead and Diagon Alley, I think we are going to be in for a real treat! The park is located next to Universal’s Cabana Bay Resort and Loews Sapphire Falls but will be easily accessible from all of the onsite properties. To get you excited, check our this “first look video” from Universal Orlando Resort about Volcano Bay!
I want to thank Mom It Forward, Family Forward, Universal Orlando Resort and Loews Hotels for the opportunity to experience all of these wonderful and exciting things. All of the opinions expressed here are mine.