Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure & Volcano Bay

After an incredible 4 days at Walt Disney World, we were ready to start the next part of our Epic Orlando holiday.

We checked out of the Disney hotel at 1100 and arranged a taxi to our next hotel, Floridays Resort, located on International Drive. Booked through hotels.com, we got a great price on a massive 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom condo and the stay contributed towards my Hotels.com Rewards, which I was quite happy about. 

I’d emailed the hotel in advance to ask about early check-in so that we wouldn’t have to hang around all day without a room. As we were going to Halloween Horror Night at Universal Studios that night, we wanted to be in the room and sorted before heading to the park around 1600. Luckily, the hotel had a room available for us and we were all checked-in by 1130. 

Our room was located at the far end of the complex, overlooking the quiet pool and lake. We had a full kitchen with oven, hob, microwave, dishwasher and washing machine, a dining table and separate sitting area with sofa bed. The master bedroom had a super king size bed and the en-suite bathroom had a jacuzzi bath with separate shower. The second bedroom had 2 double beds and there was a separate family bathroom. The apartment was perfect, a great location and plenty of space for the 5 of us. 

 

As well as the quiet pool, the complex also has a family pool with bar and cafe, but the main reason for choosing this hotel was their free shuttle service to the theme parks. As we didn’t want to hire a car, getting from the hotel to the theme parks is a big consideration. We used Lyft a lot during this trip but having the choice of 3 scheduled transfers from the hotel to Universal and back was a great bonus and saved us a lot of money in Lyfts. A lot of hotels around International Drive offer free theme park shuttles but the times are often rubbish or there’s only 1 shuttle a day in each direction. I didn’t find any other hotel offering as many shuttles as Floridays, not just in frequency but also variety. Floridays has shuttles to Universal, Sea World, Disney World and a local outlet mall with multiple services each way. I would definitely recommend them just for their shuttles!

As a hotels.com silver member, I also got a 2 hour extension on check-out which meant we could keep the room until 1300 on our last day. A cheeky request to reception and they extended this even further to 1400 which was an absolute treat. Our taxi to the airport was booked for 1500 so we only had an hour to wait in the cafe which meant we could spend the morning relaxing the pool. You don’t often get this level of service in hotels, but this is another reason why I’d happily stay at Floridays again. 

Aside from Halloween Horror Night, me and the other half knew what to expect from Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure as we’d been before. Nonetheless, we were excited to go back and were especially keen to try out some of the rides that we didn’t get on during our last visit and some of the new ones. 

After a terrifying night at HHN, we spent the next day chilling and checking out the slides at Volcano Bay waterpark. As we’d bought a Universal Studios 3 parks for the price of 2 ticket, we effectively got in to Volcano Bay for free and it was a great day out. Locker rental is pretty steep at $12 per day and towel rental is $5 per towel which is just unnecessarily expensive. 

Volcano Bay has a virtual line system which tells you when to return to a slide you want to go on. You make your reservation at the entrance to the slide using a TapuTapu wristband. Similar to the Magic Band at Disney World, you tap in to the slide you want to go on and the band vibrates when it’s time to go back. The wait times for certain slides got very long – over 2 hours in some cases – but TapuTapu allows you to go off and explore the rest of the park whilst waiting for your slot. 

Some of the slides said “ride now” if there was little to no line so you could go on those whilst waiting for your reservation on another slide. There’s also a wave pool, lazy river and fearless river. The fearless river was actually a lot of fun and whilst it might look sedate from the sidelines, it really isn’t once you’re in the water! We loved it though and must have gone around about 6 times throughout the day! 

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The downside to the virtual line system is that you can’t stack up reservations so if you tap in for a slide with a 2 hour wait, you can’t tap in for any other slide during that time without forfeiting your space in the line for your first slide. Although you can grab a snack, go in the rivers or sunbathe, if there’s not a lot of “ride now” rides available, you could end up only getting on a few slides in the day. 

Another downside is that you can only tap in to a slide at the entrance to that slide. This means constantly walking around the park, often barefoot, to tap in for a slide. There are screens with wait times dotted around the park and it would be better to tap in to a slide from those screens or some other central points which would save the constant walking around the park. 

Even with the virtual line system, you still have to wait to go on the slide. We waited up to 20 minutes in some cases which is pretty annoying when you’ve already waited an hour and have barely been able to get on any of the other slides. 

There are some excellent slides though and I’d definitely go back. I especially loved the aqua coaster which was unlike any other water ride I’d ever been on. The tube slides were also a lot of fun but my sister didn’t get on well with the big drop slide as it ripped a hole in her bikini bottoms! I also misunderstood what one of the slides was   and was unprepared for the 4 foot drop at the end which resulted in a gallon of water  going up my nose! 

I’ve heard that Volcano Bay gets extremely busy, to the point where they start turning people away, so get there early if you don’t want to miss out. There’s also loads of sun beds behind the volcano which people didn’t seem to discover until later in the day, although the view of the front of the volcano is much better. 

After a relaxing day at the water park, we were back on concrete exploring Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios. We finally got to experience the King Kong ride which was being built during our last visit. Despite us stopping off to ride the Hulk rollercoaster on the way, there was virtually no line when we got to the ride. My heart sank when I noticed the same type of vehicle being used for The Fast & The Furious ride as that really isn’t a good ride at all. However, Kong is much better that Fast, the visual effects were much better and the story is better too. It’s still not an amazing ride though and I would have been disappointed if we’d have waited in line to go on it. 

 

As we were making our way to Hogsmead to go on the Harry Potter rides, we took the opportunity of a 5 minute wait for Jurassic Park River Journey which was another ride we didn’t get to go on during our last trip as it was closed for maintenance. I wasn’t at all prepared for how wet the ride gets you and the photo of me on the ride was really special! I’m actually a bit disappointed we didn’t buy it because it makes me smile just thinking about how ridiculous I look on it!

Harry Potter’s Forbidden Journey had a 35 minute wait which isn’t bad for this ride, we then stopped off for lunch and a butterbeer before catching the Hogwarts Express to Universal Studios. The wait for the train was less than 10 minutes for us but was nearly 2 hours going the other way! 

 

We also ended up waiting 35 minutes for Men in Black which really isn’t worth it. The ride is old and the guns didn’t keep a very good score. The Jimmy Fallon ride was also a bit weird, or at least the virtual line system was; you register for a show time and go back within a 30 minute slot. Whilst waiting for your ride, there’s Tonight Show memorabilia to look at and when the lights change to the colour of the card you’re given on entry, you go upstairs to the “studio”. It all seemed messy and over complicated, people didn’t really know what to do and we nearly missed our slot in the confusion. 

As it was a Halloween Horror Night, the park closed at 1700 and rather than going back in to Islands of Adventure, we took the opportunity to spend a quiet night in the apartment. We ordered Chinese takeout and watched tv. It was great and I think my feet were grateful for the rest!

A quiet night in was followed by a quiet morning by the pool in preparation for round 2 of Halloween Horror Night and then for our last day in the parks, it was a sweep of the last few rides that we hadn’t been on; ET, Hogwarts Express from Kings Cross to Hogsmead, Spider-Man and the Hulk (again!). 

Me and the other half left my sister and the kids to finish some rides and we stopped for lunch at the Dessert Emporium at City Walk. We both had amazing salads as big as our heads and then shared a stupidly big and delicious dessert of brookies and ice cream. Extremely indulgent but absolutely delicious! It made my Cinnabon look like a Ryvita!

 

After the morning in parks, my niece wanted to go to Bath & Bodyworks so we caught a Lyft to a nearby outlet mall for some retail therapy before heading back to the apartment. 

After 9 amazing, hot, sweaty, wet, terrifying and tiring days, we couldn’t quite believe that the holiday was over. This had been my most logistically challenging holiday ever and there was so much pressure to make sure that everything went right for my sister and her family. This was their holiday really, me and the other half were just there as chaperones, but it was a pleasure and a privilege to spend the holiday with them and the memories we made will stay with me forever. 

 

 

The less that’s said about the Orlando Starflyer, the world’s tallest swing ride, the better.

 

Date of trip: October  2018

Price paid: £212.00pp for the Universal Studios 3 parks for the price of 2 ticket bought through Floridatix. £616.00 for 5 nights at the Floridays Resort booked through Hotels.com

Points earned: 636 Virgin Atlantic Flying Club Points for paying for the tickets on my Virgin Atlantic reward credit card. 2152 Virgin Atlantic Flying Club Points for booking the hotel through hotels.com and 807 for paying for the hotel on my Virgin Atlantic reward credit card. 

 

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