Being away from Universal Orlando did our family some good. I’d been an annual passholder at Universal for years and years. Then, my husband and I became pregnant and we decided to not renew our passes in order to save some money. We’d planned on getting passes once our son was at least five years old, but plans changed, and we bought passes while a promotion was running. We recently celebrated our return to Universal’s theme parks after four years away, and noticed some changes.
By Dani Dennison Meyering
What I noticed at Universal Studios Florida
The original park of Universal Orlando has seen lots of changes in its 30-year history. When my husband, son and I walked through the gates again during our first trip back, we were giddy — well, my husband and I were, at least.
The Today Cafe greeted us as the first big change I noticed. I knew about its opening, and have seen many folks remark on how great the food is, but seeing it in person showed a clean and modern space. It felt slightly out of place to me, as most of the buildings around it are styled around the 1930s-1960s era. Still, it’s a welcome addition.
Just around the corner was The Bourne Stuntacular, which replaced T2-3D. The facade hasn’t changed much, but it is exciting to see something new in this space. Although the Terminator franchise is a classic, the Bourne series feels more modern and relevant.
Further down in the Hollywood area, a welcome sight tempted me. The bar window at Cafe La Bomba was not open very often, if at all, during my many years as an passholder. Nowadays it is open more consistently. I look forward to trying out a mimosa or two here sometime soon.
Back in the World Expo section we relaxed along the lagoon, sipping our Duff Lite beers from Moe’s Tavern. As I gazed across the water, I noticed a change in the skyline. The Aventura Hotel could be seen towering in the distance. The last time we were in Universal Studios, ground had not been broken for this hotel.
Returning to Diagon Alley filled us all with such excitement and glee that it was difficult to notice anything new. That is until I saw the New York window at the Global Mundi shop. The shop itself is new as are the window displays. Sadly, this shop was not open during our visit.
During this return trip we did not get into the San Francisco area, so I did not see the Fast and Furious Supercharged entrance up close. I am one of those holdouts who still misses the original Earthquake attraction. But there is one attraction that is now gone, which I am happy about. Fear Factor LIVE was hanging on by a thread as a seasonal show during my last visits. I am glad this one is now permanently gone. It was a great show when it was relevant, but its time has passed.
What I noticed at Universal’s Islands of Adventure
Walking through Port of Entry at Islands of Adventure as morning crowds streamed through, brought smiles to our faces. This visit marked the first time I’d been to Islands with a young child, let alone my own child. Watching him explore each of the photos ops in this area made for the most memorable moments of the morning.
Soon we made our way into Seuss Landing, and after some exploring it was time for a late morning meal. I couldn’t wait to try the Green Eggs and Ham Cafe. This landmark location never opened during my previous years as a passholder.
We navigated our son’s food allergies, opting for the Green Eggs and Ham Tots without egg and cheese (so just tots and diced ham), as well as the Brisket Philly Tots for us. Perhaps my expectations were low based on past dining experiences at Universal, but these tots impressed us. The substantial serving size satisfied, and the amount of toppings compared to the amount of tots pleased us as well. Overall, it seems Universal has elevated its quick service dining, and I can’t wait to try more.
As we departed Seuss Landing for The Lost Continent it struck me how dramatic of a difference VelociCoaster makes on the sightline of the lagoon. And as we entered Hogsmeade the sounds of Hagrid’s Magical Creatures added to the magic of this area. It’s good to have a coaster that fits the theme of the area much more than Dragon Challenge did.
Within Jurassic Park the amount of changes I noticed surprised me. Obviously I knew about VelociCoaster. I have to say it is an interesting sensation to see an attraction open in a park without having watched its construction and progress while visiting over months and months.
It was also an intriguing sight to see The Watering Hole bar have a line. I’ve been fond of this bar before, but now with the new specialty IPA it seems this spot will be a popular watering hole for many. This visit also marked the movement of the classic T-Rex photo op, which is now near Thunder Falls Terrace.
We visited the Raptor Encounter, which as an experience itself is not new to me, however, it was my first time visiting its permanent location. This permanent location features a shady queue and an elaborate set. The raptor handler interaction is far better and more humorous than I remember from my visits to its temporary location four years ago. This is the type of meet and greet that you can visit repeatedly and each time it will be a little different. We might wait until our little guy is a bit older before we visit the raptors again, though.
What I noticed at Universal CityWalk
Like the parks, CityWalk is constantly evolving. Besides Bigfire Restaurant (which I look forward to trying), VooDoo Doughnuts is a culinary addition that’s new to me. After waking up in Sapphire Falls Resort, we took the beautiful boat transportation to CityWalk, and made our way to VooDoo Doughnuts. At the suggestion of the Universal Orlando Social Media Team, I ordered The Grape Ape. Wow! This yeast doughnut packs a pucker without being overpowering. It will be hard to resist going here any morning I find myself at Universal.
This visit also marked the first time I saw the new Universal Studios Store. This large store replaces a collection of smaller stores that didn’t make much of an impression. The new Universal Studios Store is somewhat Universal’s answer to the World of Disney store at Disney Springs.
Overall, it was a joy to come back to Universal Orlando after a four year absence. Right now there are some changes in procedures due to COVID-19 safety. Those changes aside, the experience we’ve come to expect at Universal, with friendly service and innovative attractions, is still exactly as I remember it. Seeing places we’ve enjoyed over the years with fresh eyes gave me a new appreciation. And plenty of new experiences created excitement to come back and explore some more.