My return to Orlando after 20 years came with new experiences as well as old memories. On my last visit in 1991 the Islands of Adventure was not yet the attraction it is today. In fact it didn't even exist. At the time the only attraction from Universal Orlando Resort which was open was Universal Studios.
It's amazing what can change over the course of 2 decades and my eyes were opened to new attractions which I had never before encountered. Universal Studios is still a prominent feature, but right next door you have the City Walk, an entertainment complex with an array of bars, clubs and restaurants, and the Islands of Adventure, a separate park from Universal Studios which still features popular movies as its theme.
As you approach the park's gates you will be greeted by a huge lighthouse standing sentinel. The story behind this is that it calls in travellers from all over who have built attractions reflecting the tales of their adventures, hence the name Islands of Adventure. This is anecdote is augmented as you reach the park's entrance and see an amalgamation of architecture and various styles of building, adding charm and imagination to your experience.
The first land you may encounter is the Dr. Suess' Landing where you can find a whole host of familiar characters from the books and movies. This area is more suitable for younger children however as the rides a fairly sedate, but entertaining nonetheless.
The most popular area of the park is, without a doubt, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and is the park's latest attraction. Hogsmeade is the imaginary location of Harry Potter's universe bought to life with startling attention to detail. For any fans of the books and movies, this truly is a dream come true as you walk through the entrance only to be greeted by the Hogwart's Express steaming and tooting away as if it had literally alighted at the station.
There are many shops to explore on your visit, including Honeyduke's and Zonko's, selling confectionary and joke supplies. Olivander's has also been bought to life, selling a range of magic wands and even exciting guests with its own show. There is even an owl post office, so you can send your postcards and letters back home.
For the thrill seekers and adrenaline junkies, the Dragon Challenge is a fantastic duel rollercoaster fashioned after the Hungarian Horntale and Chinese Fireball dragons from the books. The ride itself is quite intense with several loops and corkscrews, travelling at high speeds.
For people who aren't rollercoaster fans, The Forbidden Journey is a seamless ride simulator and makes you feel as if you are really flying through the hallways of Hogwarts, through the Forbidden Forest and finally speeding through a Quidditch game. You might just bump into a few characters as well.
Jurassic park is the next stop and once again the Islands of Adventure don't fail to impress on first impressions as you enter underneath a huge gate, recognisable from the movie. There isn't much in the way of thrill rides however, with the exception of the Jurassic Park River Adventure, taking you through the park to see various harmless dinosaurs, before veering off course after a mysterious accident. As you enter the restricted zone, there are signs of a velociraptor outbreak and evidence of a few attacks on the unfortunate workers. Coming face to face with a T-Rex is a terrifying experience, but just as you are coming to terms with the massive creature, you will drop down a rather steep slide and eventually soaked at the bottom. This ride was a lot of fun and caused uncontrollable laughter as the passengers look around to see their drenched friends.
We finally entered the Marvel Super Hero Island where a comic book geek's dreams come true. As you walk through the crowd, you might just bump into Captain America or Spiderman taking photo opportunities with the guests. There are some truly spectacular rides in this area of the park as well, the most noticeable one being The Incredible Hulk, a huge green rollercoaster which makes a deafening noise as it speeds passengers overhead.
This is by far one of the most popular rollercoasters in the park, with queues reaching up to two hours waiting time. Once you ride The Incredible Hulk you will soon realise why it is so popular. There is no chain lift to ascend the passengers, but instead a launcher, which shoots you out of a tunnel where you will immediately enter a twist followed by a loop and then a series of corkscrews. This ride is not for the timid!
Another spectacular ride is the Spiderman Experience. Considering this particular ride is almost over 10 years old, it is still way ahead of its time. Similar to Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, this is a motion simulator conveying the illusion of falling and climbing skyscrapers very effectively only this time in 3D. The result is seamless and is astounding.
Finally, we had time for one last ride and that was the vertical launcher, Dr. Doom. This particular ride isn't anything special and has various emulations in other theme parks, but I had never been on a vertical launcher before so I had to try it. I have to admit that I was more scared of this than any of the rollercoasters. You are shot straight up almost 100 ft. and get a very good view of Orlando! My only issue with this ride is that it did not last nearly long enough and I wanted a few more launches; a clear sign that I had shunned my fear for this type of ride.
The Islands of Adventure was an entirely new experience for me and had come into existence during my 20 year absence from Orlando. It is clear to see why this park was so popular, adopting many well-known cultural and entertaining themes. Although this park is available with the regular Universal Studios tickets, we were able to enter with our Orlando Flexticket, with which the Universal Orlando Resort attractions are included with admission.
This park appealed to all age groups with something for everyone and although you might need be a fan of the movies which have been bought to life in this park, the rides and atmosphere will surely excite and astound you. Perhaps I will visit in another 20 years and see what other changes have took place in my absence!