“Ride The Movies! The brilliant opening-day ad slogan coined by Steven Spielberg, though sadly no longer in circulation, still says it all. In creating its first Florida theme park, Universal Studios built on the lessons learned over three decades at their original Hollywood movie-themed attraction, and injected a giant jolt of high-tech thrills. Over the last 20 years, much of the park's film-making "edutainment" has given way to some of the world's greatest thrill rides. But the cinematic spirit still thrives here among meticulously detailed, working movie sets that can make the simple act of sitting down to eat a hot dog seem like an adventure..
When Universal Studios Florida (USF) opened in 1990, it quickly became the number two draw in Orlando, right after Mickey's realm down the Interstate. With just over 100 acres and a price tag of a mere $650 million, Universal couldn't match Disney in size and scope. But that didn't mean Universal was willing to accept perennial also-ran status.
For starters, while Disney's parks remained comparatively static during the first decade of the new century, Universal Studios Florida went through an amazing evolution. Of the opening day attractions, only the E.T. Adventure remains essentially unchanged. Former headliners Kongfrontation, Earthquake, Jaws, Alfred Hitchcock, Hanna-Barbera, and Back to the Future have all been replaced or radically revamped from their original incarnations, and numerous new adventures have been added. So if your last visit here was in the late 90s, it's a whole new park to you.
The word that visitors and locals most frequently use to differentiate Universal from Disney is "adult." Whereas Disney World is perceived by many as a kiddie park that adults will enjoy, they see Universal as a park conceived with grown-ups in mind. There are a number of reasons for this:
Adult Themes. Many Universal attractions are based on films and shows that appeal primarily to adults — Jaws, Disaster!, Terminator, Revenge of the Mummy, and Twister are a far cry from Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.
Intensity. Whereas Disney (at least in its early days) would tend to tone down rides in the development stage lest they frighten young children, Universal Studios seems to delight in seeing just how intense they can be. Revenge of the Mummy is a prime example.
Beer and Wine. Beer and wine are readily available at Universal. And not just in the restaurants. Don't be surprised to see a beer vendor plying the lines on hot summer days. Some of the sit-down restaurants serve pretty decent wines by the bottle or glass and at a few places you can get a mixed drink. One of these, Finnegan's in the New York section, is a full-fledged Irish pub and a very good one at that.
There are two other elements that, while not necessarily contributing to the "adult" nature of the park, tend to set Universal apart:
Film Production. Universal Studios Florida is a working studio. While there's not as much production as there once was, virtually every corner of the park was designed in such a way that it could serve the needs of Universal's own film makers as well as those of other producers who use the facility to shoot films, TV shows, and television commercials. The New York set can be "dressed" to stand in for virtually any urban setting in the world, so they say, and was even flooded for Creed's "My Sacrifice" music video. While most filming takes place inside the Studio's soundstages, don't be surprised if you see a film crew at work in the streets during your visit. You are welcome to watch if you are discreet.
Pyrotechnics. If Universal Studios Florida has a stylistic signature, something that tells you that this is a Universal attraction and not someone else's, it has to be their lavish use of fire, fireworks, and loud explosions. You can almost feel your eyebrows singe on Disaster!, Twister, Revenge of the Mummy, and Jaws.
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