Universal Studios first came to Florida in 1990 with the opening of the Universal Studios Florida theme park to rival Disney’s Hollywood Studios (originally called Disney-MGM Studios) which opened a year earlier.
Like Disney’s Hollywood Studios it was themed on television and the movies with attractions like King Kong (now closed), E.T., Shrek, Terminator, Jaws (also closed) and Revenge of the Mummy and carried the tag line “Ride the Movies”.
The second park, Universal’s Islands of Adventure, opened next door in 1999 with a range of thrill-based rides and attractions such as the Incredible Hulk Coaster, Dueling Dragons and the Doctor Doom’s Fearfall.
It was originally built around five themed islands, based on Marvel Super Hero, Toon Lagoon, Jurassic Park, The Lost Continent and Seuss Landing. A sixth land, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter was opened in 2010 and the seventh land, Skull Island opened in 2016.
Universal Orlando Resort
Today, the Universal Orlando® Resort consists of:
- two theme parks, the original Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure
- the new Volcano Bay water park which opened in 2017
- CityWalk which is an entertainment complex much like the original Downtown Disney and Pleasure Island with night clubs, themed restaurants, speciality shops and a 20-screen movie theatre.
- the new Blue Man Group theatre and Hard Rock Cafe which are sandwiched between the two parks
- two luxury resort hotels, two family hotels and two budget hotels, operated by Loews - the rock and roll Hard Rock Hotel and the Mediterranean styled Portofino Bay Hotel, the tropical South Pacific themed Royal Pacific Resort and Sapphire Falls, plus the retro inspired budget Cabana Bay Resort and Adventura Hotel
- Universal also owned the Wet ’n Wild water park, a short distance away on International Drive which closed at the end of 2016 and the site is being developed into two further hotels.
Universal Theme Park Rankings
Whilst Disney continues to hold the top five spots for most visited theme parks in the whole of the United States, the Universal Orlando resort comes in at number six for Universal Studios Florida 10.0 million visitors) and seventh for Universal’s Islands of Adventure (9.4 million), according to the TEA/AECOM survey for 2016.
Over the last couple of years, Universal has been looking for new ideas and has built a record number of new attractions.
In June 2007, the renowned Blue Man Group opened at the Universal Orlando® Resort, in May 2008 a new Simpsons ride opened in the then closed “Back to the Future: The Ride” building and in 2009 a new music and video themed roller coaster, Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit opened.
The most exciting news though was the opening in 2010 of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Hogsmeade, a 20 acre theme park within a theme park, inside Islands of Adventure. This was followed up by a second Harry Potter themed land, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley which opened in 2014.
Universal Studios is renowned for some of its special events including one of the most intense Halloween celebrations with over 1,000 cast member recruited to terrify the guests.
Unlike the other main Florida theme parks, Universal Orlando® has a novel parking arrangement with two enclosed multi-storey parking garages serving all the attractions via moving sidewalks, escalators and elevators. It is about a 10 minute walk to the gates. There is also on-site wheelchair rental and an on-site kennel.
History of Universal Studios Theme Parks
The very first Universal Studios park, Universal Studios Hollywood offered tours of the Universal Studios sound stages and sets in Hollywood before being developed into a full-blown theme park.
Universal currently has two resorts in the United States - Universal Studios Hollywood and the much larger Universal Studios Orlando. A third park, Universal Studios Japan in Osaka is licenced to use the Universal name but in 2016 Universal bought a majority stake. A fourth park, the Universal Mediterranean resort in Spain was sold in 2004.
In 2006, Universal Studios announced a licencing deal which saw a licenced theme park, Universal Studios Singapore opening in 2010 which is larger than the parks in Japan and California but not as big as Orlando.
Then in May 2007, further announcements were made regarding two more licenced Universal theme parks; Universal Studios Dubailand and Universal City Dubailand due to open in 2010 and another park in South Korea due to open in 2012. The developments in Dubai were subsequently put on ice following the global recession and the plans to open in South Korea have also been suspended.