Rides and attractions here combine technology and special effects to produce excellent entertainment. While waiting in line, you'll be entertained by excellent preshows -- far better than those at the Disney parks (some are as entertaining as the attractions themselves). Universal, as a whole, takes itself less seriously than the Mouse, and the atmosphere is peppered by subtle reminders that in the competitive theme-park industry, it's really not such a small world after all.
The somewhat corny Universal Horror Make-Up Show gives behind-the-scene looks at what goes into (and oozes out of) some of Hollywood's most frightening monsters (PG-13, shows from 11am). Lucy, A Tribute is a remembrance of America's queen of comedy, and the Blues Brothers launch their foot-stomping revue several times a day on Delancey Street.
Back at Woody Woodpecker's KidZone, Fievel's Playland is a wet, western-themed playground with a house to climb and a water slide for small fry. Curious George Goes to Town is filled with whimsical watery fun, from fountains to ball-shooting cannons -- bring a change of clothes.
Frommer's Rates the Rides
I use a grading system to score the Universal Orlando and SeaWorld rides in this guide. Most of the grades are As, Bs, and Cs. That's because the major parks' designers have done a pretty good job on the attractions. But you'll also find a few Ds for Duds.
Here's what the Frommer's ratings mean:
A+ = Your trip wouldn't be complete without it.
A = Put it at the top of your to-do list.
B+ = Make a real effort to see or do it.
B = It's fun but not a must-see.
C+ = A nice diversion, if you have time.
C = Go if it appeals to you but not if there's a wait.
D = Don't waste your time.
Age Appropriate Rides/Shows
Here, as in Walt Disney World, height and age restrictions aren't bent to accommodate a screaming child. Even where restrictions don't exist, some shows have loud music and pyrotechnics that can scare young kids. Check the attraction descriptions that follow to make sure your child won't be unduly disappointed or frightened.
Overall, Universal Studios does a much better job in the way of entertaining its guests while they wait in line for the attractions (though recent upgrades at Disney have ensured there are a few notable exceptions). Many have preshows or TV screens with previews or introductions to the attractions. They've also got it all over the House of Mouse when it comes to beating the sun -- many of the attractions here have waiting areas under some sort of cover or, in some cases, indoors (unless the line is so long that it extends beyond these areas, which it sometimes does in the busiest seasons). It is also exponentially easier to get from your car (or resort) to the parks. From the parking lot, if you have kids and all of the gear that comes with them, pack your stroller and bring it along -- you will be able to walk directly to the parks, though it can be a long haul for small feet (and there are no trams from the parking decks to the theme parks). Elevators, moving sidewalks, and covered walkways will take you up to the entrance of CityWalk. And, if you're staying at a Universal resort, you'll be glad to know that all three resorts are relatively close by and are serviced by a water taxi that'll drop you off in CityWalk (and the Hard Rock is within walking distance). I'm not saying that you will not have to wait at all -- it can take several minutes -- but not nearly as long as some trips at Disney can.
Universal Has a Few 'Toons, Too
While the options pale in comparison to Disney, Universal has character meet-and-greets on a rotating basis. At Universal Studios Florida, you may run into the Simpsons, Scooby-Doo, SpongeBob SquarePants, Shrek, the Rugrats, and Jimmy Neutron, among others. At Islands of Adventure, the cast may include Spider-Man, Captain America, the X-Men, Popeye and Olive Oyl, the Cat in the Hat, Betty Boop, or Boris and Natasha.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.