For many years, the Disney parks had a monopoly in North America on the spectacular E-Ticket rides that it pioneered. Universal, however, entered the fray and ended The Mouse's exclusive reign. By using animated characters, set design, stirring soundtracks, wild special effects, projected media, and other techniques inspired by Disney's Imagineers, as well as some incredible innovations of its own, the Universal parks have produced some stunning attractions.
Some are so stunning, in fact, they not only compete with the rides found at Disney's parks, they actually surpass them (in our humble opinion, anyhow). Let's count down the 11 best rides at Universal Orlando. If you only have limited time to spend at the Florida resort, these are the ones that you should include on your itinerary. By the way, the following rides are located at the resort's two theme parks, Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida. We did not include the slides and rides at the water park, Volcano Bay, in our listings.
You might want to consider carving out at least a full two days at the resort to better experience all that it has to offer. To learn more about when to go, ticket deals, dining recommendations, and more, see my overview of Universal Orlando. If you are planning a trip to Universal Orlando, you might want to consider staying onsite at the resort's hotels.
OK, let’s move on to the best rides.
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey at Islands of Adventure
When the first Wizarding World land opened in 2010, its rich detail and level of immersion caused jaws to drop and Potter fans’ hearts to soar. The highlight of the land is this wild romp which includes a getaway through Hogwarts Castle, an airborne Quidditch match, alarmingly close encounters with Death Eaters, and more hairy Harry moments. The robotic ride vehicles are a breakthrough in attraction design. Read our review of Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.
The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man at Islands of Adventure
When it debuted in 1999, The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man's revolutionary roving motion base vehicles helped blur the line between virtual and reality to an astonishing (amazing?) degree. The hybrid attraction blends dark ride concepts, ridefilm-style 3-D projected scenes, 4-D movie elements, and other high-tech trickery to immerse passengers into Marvel's stylized comic book world. A 2012 update rendered the imagery in remarkable high-definition. Read our review of The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man.
Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts at Universal Studios Florida
The centerpiece of Diagon Alley, Universal Orlando's second Harry Potter land (which is even more immersive and extraordinary than the original Hogsmeade land), Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts sends riders on a journey alongside Harry, Ron, and Hermione in one of the climactic scenes from the book and film series. It uses a tricked-out roller coaster train to take passengers deep into the subterranean Gringotts Bank vaults where dragons, Voldemort, and other menaces await. Read our review of Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts.
Revenge of the Mummy at Universal Studios Florida
The "psychological thrill ride" combines both a dark ride with impressive animatronics and special effects and a kick-ass, launched roller coaster experience. It will have you screaming for your mommy. Read our spoiler-free review of Revenge of the Mummy. Universal Studios Hollywood has a Mummy ride also, but they differ in subtle and significant ways.
Transformers: The Ride 3D at Universal Studios Florida
Using the roving motion base ride system it developed for Spider-Man, Universal invites citizens to help the Autobots save the world (not to put too much pressure on guests). Instead of the comic book look used for the Marvel ride, Transformers employs the photo-realistic look of the Michael Bay movies. Befitting the series' giant robots, the characters depicted in the attraction are enormous. Among its clever features, the ride vehicles themselves are transformed robots. Read our review of Transformers: The Ride 3D.
Despicable Me Minion Mayhem at Universal Studios Florida
Channeling the cheeky, slapstick humor from the Despicable Me films, Minion Mayhem is funny and irreverent. It is the third attraction to be presented in the park’s ridefilm theater. With its high-def resolution and engaging story, it is by far the best of the three. Read our review of Despicable Me Minion Mayhem.
Skull Island: Reign of Kong at Islands of Adventure
One of two attractions at Universal Orlando that use immersion tunnel technology to simulate moving through an adventure (the other is Fast & Furious – Supercharged), Skull Island: Reign of Kong is by far the better choice. The Kong animatronic at the finale of the ride is quite impressive.
Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon at Universal Studios Florida
Addressuniversalorlando, Orlando, FL 32819, USA
The 4D motion simulator ride puts you in the driver seat as you race against the Tonight Show host through Times Square, under the East River, above the Statue of Liberty, and around other landmark locations in New York. It's a funny, engaging, and not-too-thrilling attraction. Before you ride, there are displays about the Tonight Show to explore as well as opportunities to see Hashtag the Panda and other show features.
Men in Black Alien Attack at Universal Studios Florida
Universal's interactive shoot-em-up ride recruits “scrubs” to take a test run with the Men in Black. When catastrophe strikes (as it nearly always does in theme park rides), the recruits are called into action to zap aliens. The ‘60s-era world's fair theme is evocative, the spinning ride vehicles make for a dizzy ride through New York City's streets, and the gameplay is a hoot. Read our review of Men in Black Alien Attack.
Hogwarts Express at Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure
Address63 Earthquake Backstage Rd, Orlando, FL 32819, USA
You can travel back and forth between London and the Scottish town of Hogsmeade just like Harry Potter aboard the Hogwarts Express. This isn’t a mere means of transportation, however. It is an attraction itself with magical events occurring in passengers’ berths as they make the journey. Read our full review of the Hogwarts Express. Note that passengers need a certain type of ticket to ride the train
The Simpsons Ride at Universal Studios Florida
The Simpsons Ride takes guests into the decidedly dangerous Krustyland theme park for a gag- and calamity-filled excursion. Retrofitted into the ridefilm building that formerly presented the Back to the Future attraction, it is thrilling. True to the beloved Simpsons, it is also wildly funny. Read our review of The Simpsons Ride.