Activities, History and museums
The Universal Orlando Resort, commonly known as Universal Orlando, is a theme park resort in Orlando, Florida. It is wholly owned by NBCUniversal and its affiliates. Universal Orlando is the second-largest resort in Greater Orlando after Walt Disney World.
Universal Orlando consists of two theme parks (Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure), a night-time entertainment complex (Universal CityWalk Orlando), and five Loews Hotels (Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, Hard Rock Hotel, Loews Royal Pacific Resort, Cabana Bay Beach Resort and Loews Sapphire Falls Resort.
Universal Orlando opened in 1990 as the theme park Universal Studios Florida. It was opened as a joint venture between Universal Entertainment and The Blackstone Group. The park in direct competition with Disney-MGM Studios (now called Disney's Hollywood Studios).
In 1994, executives started planning the expansion of the resort into a multi-day vacation destination. In late 1995, construction began on a new park, Islands of Adventure. The Islands of Adventure Preview Center opened in May 1997 replacing the Screen Test Home Video Adventure. During this time several new attractions were being built and opened at Universal Studios Florida, including Woody Woodpecker's KidZone, which opened in 1998, Men in Black: Alien Attack and Animal Actors (formerly Animal Planet Live).
On May 28, 1999, Islands of Adventure opened to the general public. It featured six themed 'islands' including Seuss Landing, The Lost Continent, Jurassic Park, Toon Lagoon, and Marvel Super Hero Island. The park opened to mediocre attendance, and several attractions were closed shortly thereafter, including Island Skipper Tours, due to lack of attendance. Attendance later improved.
Along with the new theme park, the resort also opened a Florida version of Universal CityWalk from Universal Studios Hollywood. CityWalk Orlando, but with different venues and design. Universal also opened the resort's first onsite hotel in 1999. Loews Portofino Bay Hotel (originally Portofino Bay Hotel, a Loews Hotel) was operated and partially owned by Loews Hotels but was also partially owned by Universal and The Blackstone Group. The two theme parks, CityWalk, and the hotel were branded as Universal Studios Escape, however the name was quickly changed to Universal Orlando Resort. In December 2000, Hard Rock Hotel opened as Universal Orlando's second onsite hotel. Despite the name, the hotel is owned by Loews Hotels just as Loews Portofino Bay Hotel is. Following that, in 2001, Loews Royal Pacific Resort opened. In the midst of all these openings, two parking garages were constructed and the popular water park Wet 'n Wild Orlando was acquired. On June 18, 2010, the newest 'island' at Universal's Islands of Adventure, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, opened.
The Blackstone Group sold its stake in Universal Orlando in early 2011.
Universal Studios Florida is composed of themed areas and attractions based on the film industry. Visitors get themed dining and shopping, a variety of special events throughout the year, and may even catch an actual film crew at work on the backlot. The original theme park in the resort, Universal Studios Florida opened on June 7, 1990, as a theme park that lets visitors "Ride the Movies." The themes of Universal Studio's are targeted at making guests feel like they are in a movie set with rides, shows, and attractions inspired by popular film, television, and music productions. The park consists of eight themed areas – Hollywood, Production Central, New York, San Francisco, Diagon Alley/London, World Expo, Springfield, and Woody Woodpecker's Kidzone.
Universal’s Islands of Adventure, opened in May 1999, is a theme park composed of seven distinct "islands" that are themed to various forms of adventures. Visitors start off in the Port of Entry and make their way through the various islands – Marvel Super Hero Island, Toon Lagoon, Jurassic Park, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, The Lost Continent, and Seuss Landing. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, based on the popular Harry Potter franchise, is the only island added after the park opened; it opened to the public on June 18, 2010.
Universal CityWalk Orlando opened in 1999, over the former parking lot and entrance, as part of the expansion that created the Universal Orlando Resort. Guests arriving at the resort park in one of two multi-story parking structures, then travel via covered moving sidewalks over Universal Boulevard into CityWalk. From there, guests can proceed into either of the theme parks, Universal Studios Florida or Islands of Adventure. The Universal Store offers merchandise from both parks. CityWalk features shopping, nightclubs, dining venues, an AMC Movie Theater, and a Blue Man Group show. There are many night clubs at CityWalk including Groove, CityWalks's Rising Star (a karaoke club with a live band), Red Coconut Club, and Bob Marley-A Tribute to Freedom (both a night club and restaurant). Some notable locations are The Cowfish, Hard Rock Cafe, Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville, Emeril's, and Bubba Gump Shrimp Company. Casual dining places include: Moe's Southwest Grill, Burger King Whopper Bar, Panda Express, Red Oven Pizza Bakery, and Fusion Bistro Sushi & Sake Bar.
Wet 'n Wild was founded in 1977 by SeaWorld founder George Millay as one of the first major water parks. In 1998, Wet 'n Wild was acquired by Universal Parks & Resorts, adding it to Universal Orlando. There are eighteen water slides and attractions at the water park. Popular attractions include The Storm, Bomb Bay, Disco H20, and The Surge. Wet 'n Wild is located at the intersection of International Drive and Universal Boulevard, about half a mile south of the Universal Orlando parking garage.
Wet 'n Wild will close on December 31, 2016, to be replaced by Volcano Bay. Volcano Bay is to be Universal Orlando's on-site water park when it opens in 2017 on 53 acres (21 ha) of land near the Cabana Bay Beach Resort.
The resort features four official on-site hotels: Loews Royal Pacific Hotel, the Hard Rock Hotel, Loews Portofino Bay Hotel & Spa, and Cabana Bay Beach Resort. All four hotels are located in close proximity to the Universal Orlando theme parks. The hotels offer guests free water taxi or shuttle bus service to the Universal Orlando theme parks. Another benefit is that the guests staying at the Portofino Bay, Hard Rock, and Royal Pacific hotels get free Express Pass access at the theme parks, allowing them to bypass the Stand-by line at participating attractions. Theme park guests who are not staying at the Universal official hotels are able to purchase Express Passes at an additional cost.
Opening in 1999, this hotel has rooms with Italian furnishings, villas, a Mandara Spa and fitness center, three themed swimming pools, and dining including the BiCE Ristorante, Trattoria del Porto and Mama Della's Ristorante.
This hotel was opened in 2000. It features a white sand beach pool, rock n’ roll memorabilia, and restaurants including the Palm Restaurant and The Kitchen. The hotel offers Kid Suites, a fitness center and some conference space.
The Royal Pacific has a large lagoon style pool, a fitness center, a conference and business center, and several restaurants, including Emeril's Tchoup Choup, Islands Dining Room, and Jake's American Bar. The resort also offers a white sand beach and a luau, occurring select nights of the week.
Announced in July 2012, the new hotel opened Phase 1 on March 31, 2014. Cabana Bay Beach Resort features a "hip, vintage look" and offers rooms for guests, made up of 900 suite style rooms that sleep 6 and 900 traditional style rooms that sleep 4. The hotel is built on a 37-acre site within Universal Orlando and adjacent to Universal's Islands of Adventure – just off Hollywood Way and Turkey Lake Road. The entire hotel opened on June 20.
Announced by Universal Orlando Resort and Loews Hotels & Resorts on September 9, 2014, Loews Sapphire Falls Resort is set to open Summer 2016. The location of the resort will be across Adventure Way from the recent Cabana Bay Beach Resort. Lowes Sapphire Falls Resort will become the fifth resort hotel at Universal Orlando Resort. It will feature 1,000 rooms, including 77 suites. The resort will bring the number of on-site hotel rooms at Universal Orlando to 5,200. It will also be a full service resort. The amenities will include Early Park Admission to Universal’s theme parks, a full-service restaurant that will include scenic views and outdoor dining, a Caribbean-themed lobby lounge, poolside bar and grill, quick-service marketplace, valet service and a fitness center.
On select evenings nights, Universal Studios Florida theme park is transformed into a Halloween event. Halloween Horror Nights is one of the largest Halloween events in the U.S., presented annually at Universal Orlando. From 1991–2001, the event was held at Universal Studios Florida. Halloween Horror Nights was moved to Islands of Adventure in 2002, and the 2004 event featured sections of both parks, but the event was moved back to Universal Studios Florida in 2006. The event celebrated its twentieth anniversary in 2010, and celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2015. It is a separately ticketed event.
Rock the Universe is an annual Christian rock music festival that is located within Universal Studios Florida. It began in 1998, and has been running ever since. The event typically occurs in early September, and lasts for two days. Many Christian rock artists play throughout the event both nights. The resort offers special tickets, packages, and church partnerships for that weekend. Select attractions are also opened throughout the evenings.
Summer Concert Series occurs annually, on select Saturday nights, and features a variety of popular music acts performing live at The Universal Music Plaza Stage in the Production Central section of Universal Studios Florida; adjacent to the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit roller coaster. This event is included with a regular park admission, and occurs during normal park operating hours.
Grad Bash and Gradventure are two separate events held in April and May at the parks. Grad Bash is an event for graduating high school senior classes who can gather for an exclusive, all-night party at Universal Orlando. This event features live performances by some of the most popular artists, dance parties with DJs, and pre-parties at The Universal Music Plaza Stage in the Production Central section of Universal Studios Florida. Gradventure is very similar but is designed for middle school graduating students. Both events are sponsored by Coca-Cola.
Macy's Holiday Parade brings some authentic balloons from the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade to Orlando in a month-long event in December that highlights the Christmas celebrations within Universal Studios Florida.
Generally in February through to April, a parade and concert series inspired by New Orleans' Fat Tuesday party is held within Universal Studios Florida. The event features merchandise especially for the celebration and is held usually on Friday and Saturday nights. Every event night guests will hear some of Louisiana's bands performing blues, and Zydeco. An after party occurs in the French Quarter at Universal CityWalk. It is included with park admission.
A Celebration of Harry Potter is an annual three-day weekend event held on the last week of January at both Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure, celebrating the fandom of the Harry Potter books authored by J. K. Rowling and the film series based on the books, in a collaboration between Universal Parks & Resorts, Warner Bros. Entertainment and Scholastic. The event, introduced on the weekend of January 24–26, 2014, features film talent Q&A sessions, panels, special demonstrations, photo-ops, exhibitions from Pottermore, Scholastic, graphic designer company MinaLima and film props and costumes brought in from the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London in Leavesden and the touring Harry Potter exhibition. During the event's debut in 2014, the Diagon Alley expansion of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Florida was still under construction at the time, raising an expectation among the celebration's attendees at what to expect of the new area of the theme park, which was set to open that same year. Since the event's debut, actors from the films who have attended the celebration include: Matthew Lewis, James and Oliver Phelps, Evana Lynch, Devon Murray, Mark Williams, Michael Gambon, Robbie Coltrane, Rupert Grint, Bonnie Wright and Katie Leung.
Many attractions in Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure allow guests to utilize Express Pass. This pass admits users to a separate line for the attraction, which is given priority status when boarding. Express Pass is not a virtual queuing service. Instead, passholders may enter the "Universal Express" line whenever they wish. This pass is not included with park admission.
The Universal Meal Deal is somewhat of a ticketed Meal Plan for park visitors. It allows visitors of either theme park to eat all day long from Lunch through dinner at select restaurants These include Mel's Drive-In, and Louie's Italian Restaurant at Universal Studios Florida and Circus McGurkus Cafe Stoo-pendous, Comic Strip Cafe, and The Burger Digs at Universal's Islands of Adventure. The selection food is limited, and drinks are not included. Beverages can be purchased through a Universal Souvenir Cup. For additional costs, visitors may add park-to-park Meal Deal Access allowing he or she to eat meals in both parks.
Universal Meal Deal was replaced on November 3, 2013 with Universal Dining Plan - Quick Service.
On November 9, 2006, Universal Orlando announced that Blue Man Group would occupy soundstage 18 in a new, unnamed theatre, which in May 2007 was named the Sharp Aquos Theatre. Construction began shortly after the announcement. The theatre is contained within Sound Stage 18, which was occupied by Nickelodeon Studios from 1990–2005. The sound stage was home to shows such as Slime Time Live, Figure It Out, and Double Dare 2000. In 2005, the sound stage was used for Where Evil Hides, a haunted house for Universal's Halloween Horror Nights: Tales of Terror event. The theatre is located between the Hard Rock Cafe and the main entrance to Universal Studios Florida.
The 1,000-seat theatre features a 30-foot-tall (9.1 m) Blue Man facade, and is accessible both from the Universal CityWalk as well as the Universal Studios theme park. In preparation for the rezoning of the building into CityWalk, a walkway was constructed between the Universal Studios theme park and the resort's Hard Rock Cafe allowing guests to enter the theatre without paying admission to the theme park, while the former Nickelodeon Studios entrance at the theme park was turned into an attended exit from the theme park to the theatre's entrance.
The theatre's seating diagram is organized into five different "zones". The "Poncho" zone consists of the first four rows of the theatre. It bears this name because of the ponchos that are in each seat of the zone as guests take their seats. This is due to the possibility of materials leaving the stage. The other zones, Zones 1–4, are arranged to provide the best possible view of the show no matter where you sit. The theatre has 13 ADA seats throughout to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Assistance for the hearing and vision impaired is also available.
As of October–November 2008, the pathway to Sharp Aquos Theatre has been moved for construction of Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, a roller coaster which opened in mid-2009. Construction on the coaster also resulted in the replacement of The Boneyard by The Universal Music Plaza Stage and the entrance of Rockit, and the reconfiguration of the queue of Twister...Ride it Out.
Universal Orlando features a large group of characters varying from Woody Woodpecker to Spider-Man. Visitors have three ways of dining with characters. On select mornings, visitors can have breakfast at Universal Studios Florida's Superstar Breakfast at Cafe La Bomba where they can consume breakfast with Spider-Man, The Cat in the Hat, Thing One and Two, and other characters. At Loews Royal Pacific Resort, guests can eat breakfast with Universal Characters on select days also. Throughout the day characters have meet and greets within the parks and make appearances during lunchtime at several theme park restaurants. During dinner, on select nights, guests can have dinner with Universal Characters at Trattoria del Porto, The Kitchen, and Islands Dining Room. The Marvel Super Heroes also appear in the Meet the Marvel Super Heroes attraction where the characters ride on motorcycles down the street of Marvel Super Hero Island.
Throughout Universal Orlando and its vicinity there is an organized transportation system which transports guests between the onsite hotels, Universal Partner Hotels, the theme parks, Wet 'n Wild Orlando and other area attractions. Mears Transportation runs the system.
Universal Orlando's internal transportation system is often dubbed Universal Transit. The system consists of water taxis, buses, escalators, elevators, moving walkways, and pathways which transport guests between the parking structure, hotels, CityWalk, the theme parks, and Wet 'n Wild. Onsite hotel guests can get to the theme parks and CityWalk by either boarding a water taxi which will take them directly to CityWalk or may use walkways. The dock at CityWalk is located at the center of CityWalk and can be accessed by theme park visitors via the bridges connecting CityWalk to the theme parks. Along the pathways, bicycles also transport guests for an additional cost.
For guests who prefer not to use a water taxi or walk or wish to go to Wet 'n Wild, they will find shuttle transportation also available at the onsite hotels. These stop at five locations: Loews Portofino Bay Hotel & Spa, Hard Rock Hotel, Loews Royal Pacific Resort, Universal Orlando theme parks, and Wet 'n Wild. The resort also features two large parking structures, for day and night guests who need to park, connected by bridge to Citywalk and the theme parks.
The vicinity of Universal Orlando consists of several hotels and a major airport all located within 20 minutes of the resort. Universal's Super Star Shuttle service is broken into two main routes. One provides transportation to all thirty Universal Partner hotels while the newest route will begin service to Orlando International Airport in late 2012. Universal's Super Star Shuttle also provides transportation between Universal Orlando, SeaWorld, and Wet 'n Wild. The service is free for Universal Parks & Resorts Vacations Guests and onsite hotel guests. The new airport route is expected to initially only be offered for onsite hotel guests. The Super Star Shuttle is run through Mears Transportation.