Whenever the name ‘Universal Studios’, Florida comes to anybody’s mind, we immediately tend to be transported to the magical world of the very famous, vibrant theme parks of Orlando, the place where all the fun and excitement awaits for all ages!! And when we decided to spend our one week long New Year vacation in Florida, the Studios were the topmost in our minds, along with the Sea World and Walt Disney’s fascinating Magic Kingdom! And why not, when this happens to be the only place on earth with two amazing theme parks, non-stop nightlife and three world-class hotels, all in one convenient location, it already had all the promises of being an entire universe of action, thrills and excitements! And there we were, flying all the way from the freezing east coast, to share some unforgettable experiences and explore brilliant theme-based rides, shows and stunts of the award-winning Hollywood movies–at the Universal Studios and the breathtaking Islands of Adventure! And oh…to complete and compliment two of our days like never before was a scrumptious dinner at Downtown Disney’s Planet Hollywood, one of the many glamorous fine dining destinations in the whole of Orlando!! Not only are the settings just custom-made for couples like us, but also ideal for the entire family where you can do a whole lot of things like having the ultimate adventure amidst spectacular theme-parks, enjoying fun with your kids, rejuvenating yourself, having a romantic dinner and also relaxing by the pool in a beautiful Florida setting! At the Universal Studios, they are famously said to have packed more excitement per square foot than anywhere else on earth! After our visit there, we can safely say every word of it is true, as it is undoubtedly Orlando’s most extraordinary vacation destination!
We started off our tour to the Studios with the fabulous Citywalk area, where the simulated streets of Hollywood, simulated streets of the San Francisco Amity was a real treat for the eyes! It was here that with the glitz and glamour of the entire Hollywood, along with the street décor, simulated buildings, costume/apparel stores and above all, the live jazz and rock performances, the movie-making capital of the world seems enchantingly recreated. On the other hand, there happens to be an entire area themed after New York city, with New York street sets constructed to create the perfect filming backdrop for any production set in the majestic city of New York! Amazing as it may sound, you have to see it to believe it; and there we were, enjoying a really unforgettable lunch with rotisserie chicken in the La Bamba restaurant inside the Hollywood Walk of Fame vicinity and proceeded to visualize the sheer adventure and thrills of our favorite Hollywood movies and TV shows in the fabulously crafted theme parks of the Universal Studios.
Terminator 2:3-D and the Back To The Future ride:
As an ardent fan of the phenomenal science fiction “Terminator 2–The Judgment Day”, what could be a better way to start enjoying the shows of the Studios than entering the Terminator 2: 3D show, a unique interactive experience that combines 3-D cinematography, digital graphics, and live-action stunts? Simulating a battle to prevent mankind’s extinction at the cold, steel hands of futuristic cyborgs, the “Terminator adventure”, as it was called, was replete with live-action stunts, special effects, and amazing 3-D film–all coming together and saying “Hasta la vista, baby” to entertain you as well as to baffle you! For anyone who would be interested: The motorcycle in the attraction is a custom-built Harley Davidson “Fat Boy”! In the same line of entertainment punched with the marvels of science fiction was the “Back to the Future ride”, a motion simulator ride which was combined with a seven-story-high Omnimax film screen to totally engulf and involve you within its setting! To heighten your feeling of involvement, there’s also this liquid nitrogen fog that literally surrounds each car, giving the feeling of traveling through space. To top it all, the feelings you will undergo while flying from 2015 Hill Valley through an Ice Age avalanche and into the clutches of a dinosaur and back to the future is indescribable! You have to really enjoy the ride yourself to feel a fantastic blend of the futuristic and the retro!
The Revenge of the Mummy show:
Americans just love to get scared out of their wits! After having a tour of the Ripley’s “Believe it or not”, the Haunted Mansion in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and a weird show house here and there in every city we’ve visited, and needless to say, after experiencing the crazy supernatural shows in the whole of Universal Studios and Disneyland, I am quite confirmed that the fear factor in our minds and the psychological thrill we derive from supernatural stories have been turned to quite an art and industry here! And that is, apart from the superb scary films being produced in Hollywood! Be it the extremely weird looking “Bettlejuice’s Graveyard Revue” where the dead come alive from their graves and do all kinds of scary tricks, or the smash hit “Revenge of the Mummy Show”, or the much celebrated “Pirates of the Caribbean” ride in Disney’s Magic Kingdom, the horror element in each show is crafted with much style, panache and sheer visual fantasy! And there we were in the psychologically thrilling roller roaster ride of “The Revenge Of The Mummy”, plunging into total darkness as we faced fireballs, scarab beetles, and an army of warrior mummies of 3,000 years–all coming alive in a truly intriguing experience! All of us in the ride, some 80-90 people–were screaming, yelling at each and every height, with our adrenalines soaring to unbelievable heights when the ride catapulted guests at speeds up to 45 mph in virtual darkness! What was more scary, many of the Egyptian hieroglyphics on the walls spell out real words and ancient warnings that really shocked us like never before!
Jaws: Another one, simulating the fear factor was the Jaws Ride, the amazing ride in the boat and a unique boating adventure with quite a couple of solid adventure stunts based on the Oscar winning “Jaws”. The experience we had in the boat was just unforgettable, what with a giant fin slicing through the waves every unpredictable moment. Then you’re suddenly face to face with three tons of Great White fury! Just when you think you’re quite safe in the waters, a gigantic shark is going to move through the water at realistic speeds of 20-feet-per second! Unbelievable as it may sound; it is all but an artificial 32-foot, three-ton shark, made of steel, fiberglass, latex skin and urethane teeth! So, if you are young (at heart), daring and quite ready to withstand the all-out assault of JAWS, this ride, located in an area themed after the tiny New England fishing village of Amity– is sure to make you thrilled for at least a couple of minutes! Quite similar in nature, we found out, was the funny “Jurassic Park river adventure” at the Islands of Adventure, located in Jurassic Park®, the largest of the five islands at Islands of Adventure, in the vicinity of the Universal Orlando resort. Remembering the pre-historic dinosaurs who have been brought back to co-exist with man for the first time anywhere, we were simply amazed to experience an unforgettable river raft ride, and see dinosaurs in their natural habitats! But, more about that later, in another travelogue that will feature the “Islands of Adventure” exclusively!
Twister…Ride It out®: Much in the line of simulating the human fear factor, was the amazing action-packed ride Twister…Ride It out®, based on the blockbuster of the 1990’s. This was the ride where each of us could really feel what it feels like to be a storm chaser, looking a tornado right in the eye, that too with amazing special effects that had recreated exactly the same explosive force of nature at its worst! Simply bowled over, we had to just clutch the railings where a piercing sound system and every minute of full-force air created a perfect backdrop to our fears! And what can I say about the amazingly crafted New York City street sets where you get just about everything from a 1920’s alleyway to a modern Manhattan street of brownstone residences!
The Men in Black “Alien attack”: Well, if you have already seen and enjoyed this memorable 1997 Hollywood flick and sci-fi comedy and its 2002 sequel Men in Black II where The MIB is a top-secret agency that monitors and directs alien activity on Earth, this show featuring the MIB “Alien Attack” is a must for you! And this time, the show needs your complete personal involvement, as in it, you are actually a protagonist who has to protect the Earth from aliens in the ‘MEN IN BLACK Alien Attack’ game! As funny and intriguing as it may get, you’re there as an agent trainee, zapping aliens as you chase them through the streets of New York in this high-tech ride! And well, the outcome is based on your score – the punchline says it all: save Earth and you might get promoted to full-fledged Men in Black agent! Naturally, with multiple endings, it’s never the same ride twice, and there lies the fun of the game! Mind you, there are as many as 120 different alien species, many created specifically for this thrill ride. The rest are just there on vacation!
Well, and now with our platter full with horror rides and shows, alien attack rides, the sci-fi shows and adventure stunts, it was time we explored some romance, some fantasy and total fun before we stepped out of the amazing Studios! To compliment our desire of romance and adventure, what would have been a better idea than experiencing the spectacular Shrek-4D show where we could join the extremely beautiful Princess Fiona, the extremely sweetheart Ogre Shrek on an all new honeymoon adventure? Based on the smash hit Oscar award-winning animation flick “Shrek”, this one is again a motion stimulation ride, featuring an original 3-D film, plus an extra dimension of special effects through the miracle of OgreVision, where you can really see, hear and actually feel the action right from your seat! As the fairy-tale romance of Shrek and Fiona reminds us, there’s an enduring appetite among people for stories about beauties and beasts. This classic fable, repeated over centuries and across cultures, has been a staple for lovers of romance and animation, and now, with the Shrek-4D show, this transcending romance is recreated along with scintillating stunts and thrills, all woven together with the magic and marvels of 4D animation!
Located in the Production Central area of Universal Studios, this entire area is bound to give you a feeling a real working film and television production studio, what with Hollywood and the business of filmmaking meeting Orlando! And did you know that this fun-filled 4D film show has excelled in utilizing four state-of-the-art, high-resolution digital cinema projectors — two for each eye? In addition, while sources say that this happens to be the first time when a film’s original cast and creative team have united to produce an attraction based on an animated film, people have unanimously said that the show is exceptionally thrilling, with a meticulous attention to details unequaled anywhere. Brimming with enjoyment for an hour or so, we were made party to the lovely Princess Fiona, the awesome ogre Shrek and their loveable donkey in their newest honeymoon adventures, picking up right from where the movie “Shrek” left off!
After our super-crazy day out in the Universal Studios, we were there to explore the marvels of Downtown Disney’s Planet Hollywood in the evening. Boy it was the beginning of January, so naturally it was windy and quite cold too!! Nonetheless, we found Pleasure Island to be a really fascinating place to hang around! With music in the air, with videos that quite rocked the screens and with an incredible choice of clubs, there were so many things to do: dance, rock, laugh and shop the night away! And the best part of it was that it wasn’t on a weekend, so it was not very crowded! For dinner, we chose the phenomenal ‘Planet Hollywood’ as we felt no other restaurant in the Downtown Disney vicinity would be as replete with the glamorized look and feel of Hollywood as the Planet Hollywood! Well, along with a scrumptious continental dinner with Ribeye Steaks, fresh seafood and decadent desserts, there was this unforgettable collection of the best movie memorabilia of Hollywood, including exhibits of Marilyn Monroe, glass encased jacket worn by Julia Roberts in a film, stunts of some of the best Hollywood flicks and more! Even if you don’t count the food, the inside décor of the restaurant and the excellent ambience, along with live rock music being played while we ate was enough to make me and my hubby a really happy twosome at the end of a really memorable and eventful day!