When Universal’s Islands of Adventure was named the top ranked theme park in the US,
it was something of a surprise. At least to some — such as the Orlando Business Journal, where the headline in mid-July was this:
Orlando attraction No. 1 on TripAdvisor’s top amusement parks list — but it’s not the one you think it is
Universal took the No. 1 rating not only in the US, but worldwide.
So why did it beat out its expected rival, Walt Disney World (the Magic Kingdom was No. 3)?
TripAdvisor said its rankings were based on reviews and opinions from travelers everywhere. Winners were determined “using an algorithm” (whatever that is…rush to your dictionaries). It considered “quantity and quality of customer reviews” collected over a year-long period.
Here’s what TripAdvisor said about the subject:
“A one-day Islands of Adventure ticket is $102 for adults and $97 for children. This is a bit cheaper than Disney’s Magic Kingdom– which rounds out the top three behind Discovery Cove in Orlando– with fares at $105 and $99 respectively for adults and kids.”
“Appealing to the young and young at heart, these entertaining enclaves offer a variety of budget-friendly accommodations and dining options that are highly-rated on TripAdvisor,” Barbara Messing, chief marketing officer for TripAdvisor, said in a press release.
They also added a bit of useful advice:
The most affordable time to enjoy a stay at an Orlando hotel is September, when the average nightly hotel rate is $138, 26 percent less than its peak of $187 when spring breakers arrive in March.
Ah yes, reviews. And customer reviews.
That is obviously what the site used to evaluate “the best.”
Customer reviews in the last couple of decades have come into their own.
Reviews are everywhere
Recent studies found that about 75 percent or three out of four such reports posted on web sides are “positive” rather than very critical. But no one thinks all are totally true. However, at the same time, they are trusted. Another report said 83 percent of consumers said they trusted and believed them.
Review sites nowadays often ask readers whether these reviews “were helpful.” They often are. But there are exceptions.
Trip Advisor says it bases its findings on millions of reviews. But another source, a site called “Consumer Complaints & Reviews” only named 47 complaints. No wonder it came with the stipulation that Universal Studios Theme Park does not participate in this particular program.
Note to Universal: Don’t take it personally
We summoned a few expert park-goers to comment on customer reviews. This is not done as a criticism or complaint about Universal but more as a way for you to pick up often valuable tips to better enjoy the park. We did this by asking theme park experts to re-evaluate TripAdvisor’s mainly positive comments.
But before we do that, let’s take a quick look at the complaints from the other site.
Even someone who generally liked the park at that site had criticisms: “Apart from the prices of food and merchandise being extremely high, we generally enjoyed the stay.”
One blogger complained about taking their son out of a show to go the restroom, and then not being allowed back to their seats to see the rest of the show. “I will not be recommending Universal to friends, family or anyone else who inquires about the theme park,” she complained.
One blogger wrote that spending four nights at the Royal Pacific Hotel with two children was nice enough except for one part. “I felt the prices of all the food was absolutely crazy.” She cited a $19 poolside Pina Cola (it did include the glass). She also got stuck on “Transformers” for 30 minutes.
Another person had the misfortune of being at the park during the temporary banning of water and other bottled drinks brought in by guests. “I tried to tell the security check person that I had to have the water in the bottle for my six-month-old’s baby formula (who was strapped to my chest in a baby carrier),” she wrote. Alas.
Security was not sympathetic
“He insisted that the ‘higher ups’ said no liquids were allowed including baby formula and I just threw it out,” she wrote.
Fighting was another complaint. Wrote one person:
“We were at Islands of Adventure in the Harry Potter section when this family decided to have a fight and the man and woman decided to starting yelling and swearing, and then threw Butterbeer at each other and also got a number of people wet (including my youngest son), and then continued to swear at each other. The scene played out over about 30 seconds and then another couple of minutes in the aftermath of people wet and with their mouths open trying to figure out what happened and also trying to figure out where was security.”
The fast pass was not always what it was cracked up to be, either.
“Fast Pass (Express Pass) which really was not fast at all. The rides that were 45 minutes long took us 35 minutes to get thru. Only got onto 4 rides,” wrote another.
But let’s get to more positive news from TripAdvisor customers…
Before getting into this, however, we have eliminated a lot of the reviews.
“Smashing,” one critic writes. Well, yes, (sounds British, doesn’t it?), but what does that mean, anyway? (Maybe it is lost in translation?).
Likewise, when someone says clichés like “awesome.” Compared to what?
Others describe the park as “brilliant.” Einstein was brilliant, but what would it mean for a theme park to be that way? No ready answer.
We’ll concentrate here on more specific comments:
“Go very, very early. The days you’re going, get there for 8 a.m. — queues (lines) at 10 a.m. range from 45 minutes to 110 minutes + – get your favorites (rides) done and leave the park by 11a.m.” So wrote one Universal customer.
Our own critics comment: Whether or not you leave the park by 11 a.m., which seems ridiculously early unless the temperatures are well over 100 degrees, the “get there early” is always good advice for all theme parks. Early is a good time to get in the rides that you make priorities because lines are generally shorter at that time.
“Well organized, plenty of shade, decent food if you look for it, state of the art rides, superb coasters, amazing theming, not too crowded. Some of the best attractions in the world and beside Citywalk, which is a good entertainment venue. Loved Harry Potter and all the rides, Jurassic Park and the water rides. Just go already! “
Shade is a good thing here because long summers ARE hot. The rides are great and saying they were “superb” is no exaggeration. Citywalk does have a great selection of bars and restaurants that should please most tastes. As for food, decent is about as good as it gets or the best you will find. Food at Citywalk is about the best you’ll find here.
Several TripAdvisor comments: “The Harry Potter experience (literally in and out). THAT is an amazing ride… The park got a lot better by adding the Harry Potter area….We were very impressed and this is by far one of the best parks we ever visited….Amazing rides and coasters…Incredible theming, incredible rides.”
The Harry Potter addition is all it’s cracked up to be. Universal continues here to be great at theming. Maybe just as good as Disney. As for Harry Potter, it helps if you are a fan but even if you are not, the rides there are just as good as the longer existing ones here before Harry. Universal keeps hitting home runs.
We loved this park, it seems it’s been updated quite a bit since our last visit. There’s something for everyone to do.
You could say this about all of the Orlando theme parks. There really IS something to do for everyone or all ages, though roller coaster fans may enjoy it the most.
Problem with this review?A great park, though some of the attractions are getting old and tired.
This is not really fair, since it is true everywhere. Some elements of any park begin to show age quickly. The important thing is that newer attractions keep coming. You can’t expect EVERYTHING to be brand new.
Problem with this review?Tremendous quality, over-the-top employees & the best time EVER!
Dedicated and enthused employees are an obvious key to a theme park’s success. How managers here motivate employees to always keep smiling is a mystery to many of us, but however they do it, they do it well.
Several TripAdvisor comments: “Spent a weekend at Islands of Adventure…Everything was top flight…The details to quality and the FUN factor where great! Do not miss this park!… Great place for fun especially the Jurassic park section and the Harry Potter, hard for anyone to come here and not enjoy themselves.
It does happen: unhappiness. But not normally. So it’s easy to agree with all of this.
This was our first big trip ever. My wife and our two sons, eleven and six had so much fun. The best thing we did was to install the universal app to monitor wait times. We had an express pass on the 4th of July but really didn’t need it. We packed our own water and snacks.”
Smart first-timers: bringing their own water and snacks is always a good idea, even if you are buying more at the park. Ages of the children is about right also. It’s not unusual to see much younger children who can be terrified by very fast roller coasters. Parents at times need to be reminded this is not Mickey Mouse land, and not everything is gentle and rider-friendly to all age groups.
I don’t feel they do enough to keep the lines hydrated and cool during long wait times. Not enough misting fans while people are waiting in 100 degree heat for hours!
Another matter of opinion: what else could they do at Universal to reduce temperatures? Not really something under their control.
Came here with all the family. Three generations thoroughly enjoying the rides and entertainment. It was great watching the grandchildren enjoying what the old ones enjoyed.
Finding things that the entire family can enjoy, crossing all age groups, is not easy. So this is a real accomplishment and worth noting.
Fantastic water rides – bring change of clothes.
There are rides like Bluto where you will get wet. No one disputes that. But since the weather here is usually warm or even very hot, no biggie. So bringing a change of clothes may be ideal, but it is usually not necessary for most people.
The place to go if you love Marvel superheroes, Harry Potter and being a big kid! So much fun, right beside Universal Studios, so split the day between the two parks.
Remember there are two parks, so you might want to do as they suggest: split the day.
Rolling with coasters
If you are looking for great roller coasters, you are at the right place! I would highly recommend the fast pass (Express) as this park is usually very busy and you will not have to stand in line for hours
The park can be very busy and there are often lines. Most people don’t want to accept that fact. So you can pay more to shorten the wait. The best way to cope is to buy the Express Pass, so this is good advice. Please keep in mind that the passes don’t work everywhere (such as Harry Potter).
Of all the parks for me this is the best (and I don’t like roller coasters).
Believe it or not, you can go here without being a roller coaster fan. There are many other options to thrill rides (and families with children old enough will often split up so individuals can choose their own preferred entertainment or rides).
My family does the split up thing when it comes to certain areas of fun. My daughter is the adrenaline junkie so my husband was with her to ride the different coasters while I went to watch different shows, check out the shops, or just wander.
That’s our advice as well.
Although the price is a bit high for working families, the park is a great place to spend a couple of days having fun.
You know what the price is. It is what it is. Whether that is high or not depends on your own judgment. You will have to decide that.
The best days to go are Tuesdays-Thursdays.
The best days for most people are simply when crowds are shortest. But in general, those days are the best during most times during the year. Holidays and times when schools are out are generally the most crowded with the longest lines.
Don’t miss out on the Spider-Man 3-D Ride, Jurassic Park and Hogsmeade/Hogwarts. The train ride to the Universal Studios was also amazing!
All good ride choices.
The water rides are so worth the 4-day park-to-park tickets we purchased. The food at the park is below average. The quality of food is not worth the money. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is what really brought us to Universal.
What stands out here is the quality of food. No standouts but whether it is worth the money is certainly a good question.
My only advice is to bring only teens and adults who like thrill rides.
The age group that enjoys this park the most is generally teenagers. They may have the best time but others can still find rides to their liking.
Our family usually goes during Christmas/Winter time but after being there during the summer we will definitely stick to summer time. Christmas/Winter holiday time is a lot more people and longer wait times.
Deserves to be the top?
Out of all the theme parks in Orlando, I would put this at the top. Great atmosphere — great rides. If you want to get wet there are some fun and thrilling rides to try (make sure it’s warm and preferably sunny — you WILL get wet!). Add to that the thrill of Spiderman and The Hulk and you don’t get much better with attention to detail as The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Jurassic Park is a great section to stroll through — very realistic. All in all this is a great day out — if you stay in one of the Universal hotels you are blessed with an Express Pass to skip the queues. Well worth it.
That says it all. A very good summation.
7 attraction reviews
2 helpful votes
On a final note, consider this: Four out of the top five theme parks in the world are right here in Orlando. You can’t miss. Anywhere you go.Reviewed July 17, 2015 NEW
Top to bottom, Universal did a tremendous job. The rides are amazing & unlike any other themepark. The Hulk coaster & Spider-Man ride are great. The Harry Potter Journey is one of the coolest things you will ever do. It’s got places to shop, eat, & have fun. So much detail goes into every single part of the park it’s… More
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London, United Kingdom
9 attraction reviews
23 helpful votes
As for the customer ratings list, consider what else the Orlando newspaper said:
Reviewed July 17, 2015 NEW
Out of all the theme parks in Orlando, I would put this at the top. Great atmosphere – great rides. If you want to get wet there are some fun and thrilling rides to try (make sure it’s warm and preferably sunny – you WILL get wet!). Add to that the thrill of Spiderman and The Hulk and you don’t… More
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“Aren’t lists interesting sometimes?
Enough said. ###