As with virtually all parks, Universal Orlando shuttered its gates in mid-March of 2020 as the COVID-19 outbreak escalated. The Florida resort was the first major theme park operator to reopen to guests. All three parks–Islands of Adventure, Universal Studios Florida, and Universal’s Volcano Bay water park–began welcoming visitors again in early June. Universal has introduced many new changes, guidelines, and policies to help ensure safe operations.
It is important for guests to learn what is different at the parks so that they would know what it would be like to visit during the pandemic. According to Universal, virtually all of its rides and attractions, including the ones we outline below, are open and available to experience. But with the new guidelines, you might have to wait longer than usual because of reduced capacity on the attractions (even though there are less people overall in the parks). You might also have to use the resort’s Virtual Line system to book a time. These are just a couple of the things with which you should familiarize yourself before you visit the parks.
To learn more, check out our comprehensive guide to visiting Universal Orlando during the pandemic.
So You Don't Like Extreme Rides
Wait, what’s that? You're someone who doesn't like extreme rides, and you're wondering what, if anything, you'll be able to experience without dissolving into a quivering bundle of nerves? First, take a deep breath and calm down. Second, rejoice, because you've come to the right place.
Universal’s crosstown rival, Walt Disney World, offers a relative safe haven for folks who aren’t keen about roller coasters or other thrill rides. Most of its coasters, such as Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, are fairly poky and tame. And there are plenty of other rides and attractions that don’t pose much of a thrill threat (“it’s a small world,” anyone?). Then again, scaredy cats visiting Florida’s other major theme park resort may want to heed the advice offered in this guide to Walt Disney World.
Universal, on the other hand, isn’t shy about featuring major-league thrills for some of its attractions. To differentiate itself from The Mouse, Universal positions its parks as the places to go when pre-teens graduate out of the princesses and pirates phase. That doesn't mean, however, that every ride is a Six Flags-like, adrenaline-provoking, scream-fest. In fact, Universal coined the phrase, “Ride the Movies,” and many of its attractions use screens and media to simulate thrills and whisk visitors away into the films that Universal and other studios made famous.
How could you tell by looking at a park map or staring up at the facade of one of Universal’s rides whether it would be too much of a challenge for the thrill-impaired? Generally, you couldn’t. So, let’s run down the major attractions at each of the resort’s two theme parks and steer visitors to the ones they’d likely want to avoid and the ones they’d probably want to include on their must-ride list.
Remember, you shouldn’t ever pressure family members or friends (especially children) into experiencing a theme park attraction if they are wary of it. Parks are supposed to be fun places, not exercises in torture. If your park buddies are scared of extreme rides, but would like to overcome their demons, learn how to conquer roller coaster fears.
Universal Studios Florida: Rides to (Probably) Give a Try
- Despicable Me Minion Mayhem- This is a fairly tame motion simulator ride. Sections of seats move in sync with action projected onto a large screen. While it simulates steep falls and other maneuvers, the seats never actually move more than a few inches in any direction. We give Despicable Me Minion Mayhem a thrill factor of 3.5 (on a scale of 10). If the action becomes too intense, shut your eyes, and you should be fine. If you discover that you enjoy the experience (which is likely), you should be able to handle most of Universal’s other simulator rides—and there are many of them.
- Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon- Another fairly tame simulator ride. Instead of sections of seats, the entire theater is on a motion base.
- Shrek 4-D- If you are fine with 3-D movies, you’ll be fine with this attraction. In addition to the eye-popping visual effects, there are “4-D” sensory effects such as water spritzes and seat pokers. The theater’s seats have limited movement. (This is not, technically, a simulator ride.)
- E.T. Adventure- A mostly tame dark ride, you’ll take a journey (on bicycle vehicles suspended from above) to E.T.'s home planet.
- Men In Black Alien Attack- An interactive dark ride, you’ll be issued blasters to shoot aliens and score points. There is some vehicle spinning, but nothing too wild.
- Hogwarts Express- A great, slow-moving train ride that takes passengers on a trip from Hogsmeade to Diagon Alley, Universal’s two Wizarding Worlds. Note that you need a special type of ticket to ride the Hogwarts Express.
- Fast & Furious – Supercharged- This is a variation on a motion simulator attraction known as an “immersion tunnel” ride. It simulates fast (and furious)-moving vehicles by using media and a motion base. The illusion isn’t especially convincing. The Kong ride at Islands of Adventure (see below) uses the “immersion tunnel” concept to greater effect.
Universal Studios Florida: Rides to Cautiously Consider
- Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster- Yes, this is a roller coaster. But at a height of 28 inches and a top speed of 22 mph, it is a toned-down family ride. Even if you get freaked out, the whole thing is over in 44 seconds.
- Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts- Speaking of roller coasters, Gringotts is technically a coaster, although it really only behaves like one at the beginning of the ride. Most of the attraction is a (wonderful) screen-based romp beneath the vaults of the bank made famous in the Harry Potter books and films. The first 20 seconds or so are a bit challenging, so you may want to consider whether you could handle Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts.
- The Simpsons Ride- Using the former Back to the Future attraction’s show building and ride system, The Simpsons Ride is a slightly more aggressive than Universal’s other simulator rides. If you are perfectly fine with Despicable Me Minion Mayhem and Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon, chances are you’ll be okay taking a ride with Homer and Bart.
- Transformers: The Ride-3D- Using the roving motion-base ride concept that Universal pioneered for its landmark Spider-Man ride, passengers wage battle alongside Transformers. It’s more aggressive and disorienting than a theater-based simulator ride. But like those rides, the action is mostly an illusion and not a physical thrill.
Universal Studios Florida: Rides to (Probably) Skip
- Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit- A high-speed coaster with a 90-degree lift hill and inversions, you should avoid this ride at all costs (and it’s not all that great, anyways).
- Revenge of the Mummy- Like Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, Mummy is a hybrid coaster-dark ride. Unlike the Potter attraction, the coaster, which includes a magnetic launch at 40 mph and hairy drops in the dark, is more intense.
Islands of Adventure: Rides to (Probably) Give a Try
- The Cat in the Hat- A cute dark ride that retells the classic Dr. Seuss story. The ride vehicles (which are designed as couches!) mildly spin during the ride.
- Caro-Seuss-el- A carousel with Dr. Seuss characters
- Poseidon’s Fury- Despite its ferocious-sounding name, this walk-through attraction shouldn’t scare anyone but the youngest children (and only then because of the occasional darkness and loud noises).
- Skull Island: Reign of Kong- Another “immersion tunnel” attraction, Kong takes passengers on a simulated ride through Skull Island aboard a self-driving transport vehicle. It will appear that you are moving fast and falling into a ravine—but really, you'll just be surrounded by media and moving slightly on a motion base.
Islands of Adventure: Rides to Cautiously Consider
- The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man- Universal invented the roving motion-base simulator attraction with this ride. It enhances the concept of a motion simulator theater by incorporating dark ride vehicles that move through multiple rooms. It may seem as if you’re soaring with Spider-Man, but your vehicle really never leaves the ground. If you’re okay with the Transformers ride, you’ll be fine with Spider-Man (and vice-versa).
- Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges- If you want to get wet on one of Universal’s water rides (and you will get positively soaked), this is the one to try. It is a bit wilder than most parks’ river raft rides, and there is a small drop near the end of the course. But most people who don't like thrill rides should be able to handle it.
- Flight of the Hippogriff- Like the Woody Woodpecker ride, this is a roller coaster. But at a height of 43 feet and a top speed of 29 mph, the junior coaster is fairly tame (albeit, more aggressive than Woody’s Nuthouse Coaster). At a little over one minute, it is also quite short.
Islands of Adventure: Attractions You Probably Should Skip (but Might Want to Consider)
The following two attractions are tough ones. Among all of Universal Orlando’s rides to cautiously consider, these warrant the most caution.
- Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey- A fabulous attraction (which is why you might want to consider it), Forbidden Journey uses ride vehicles mounted on robotic arms to deliver a unique, and sometimes wild, attraction experience. There are no huge roller coaster-like drops, but there are abrupt movements and moments when the vehicles tip passengers to nearly prone positions. It is also loud and depicts frightening scenes. If that sounds too extreme for you, skip it. If you’re on the fence, however, you might want to suck it up and go for it; this is the best ride at Universal Orlando (and one of the best in all of parkdom for that matter).
- Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure- This one is even tougher to gauge than Forbidden Journey. The Hagrid’s ride is a roller coaster. It is not as tall, fast, or intense as Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit or The Incredible Hulk Coaster. Nor does it include any upside-down inversions. But it does feature seven magnetic launches (the most of any coaster in the world), reaches a top speed of 50 mph, includes a vertical spike, and sends passengers backwards for part of the ride. Perhaps most disconcerting, it (major spoiler alert) includes a vertical drop element that has passengers freefall 17 feet. Still, Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure is considered a “family” coaster and has a relatively low height requirement of 48 inches. If you are wary of coasters, steer clear of the attraction. If you are the least bit inclined to give a rollicking coaster a try, do consider riding Hagrid's Motorbike Adventure. The highly themed attraction is among the best that Universal Orlando offers. You can read our detailed article to help determine whether you’d be able to handle the Hagrid coaster.
Islands of Adventure: Rides to (Probably) Skip
- The Incredible Hulk Coaster- A 67-mph launch—uphill no less—that immediately sends passengers into an inversion 110 feet in the air? This ride is definitely NOT for people who are thrill ride-adverse.
- Jurassic World VelociCoaster- You know how we said that you might want to (very) cautiously consider Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure? Well, another highly themed thrill machine, Jurassic World VelociCoaster is scheduled to open in 2021 at Islands of Adventure. But you decidedly would want to steer clear of this one. Whereas Hagrid’s might be considered on the extreme upper end of a “family” coaster, this ride will firmly be in the extreme thrill category. The launched coaster will hit 70 mph, climb 155 feet in the air, and will likely include at least one inversion. Nuff said.
- Doctor Doom’s Fearfall- Trust us. If you don't like thrill rides, you would not want to be blasted 185 feet into the air and experience the crazy airtime that Doctor Doom delivers.
- Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls- Another one of Islands of Adventure’s water rides, this log flume ends with a potent 75-foot drop. You can watch the drop from a pedestrian bridge in front of the ride.
- Jurassic Park River Adventure- The park’s third water ride sends boatloads of passengers screaming down an 85-foot drop at a steep angle into a splash pool. You need not take this adventure.