Movies have always been how I relate to the world. After all, there is a scene or a quote for everything. Missing friends and family? “E.T. phone home”. Feeling a bit underwater at work? “You’re gonna need a bigger boat”. Trying to revive a dying houseplant? “Life uh… finds a way”. To be honest, I’m not quite sure how to have a conversation with someone who hasn’t seen Jurassic Park.
I was raised on a steady diet of classics, fed to me from my living room couch every Friday night. I was that kid who kept a list of awards season contenders in my journal — even the ones I was too young to see. And now, I’m lucky enough to get to work at a place where the movies come to life.
For anyone like me, Universal Orlando Resort is a veritable paradise that truly recognizes the significant role film has played in pop culture history. The minute you walk by that iconic globe, you know you’re in for a thrilling day. But what should you do first?
I’m here to help with a list of everything you need to know — your screenplay if you will. Let’s begin!
A Little Exposition
It’s not hard to understand why Universal Orlando Resort offers the perfect vacation for movie lovers. Use a microscope to zoom in on the lifeblood of this place and you’ll find its DNA is built like a film strip.
In the mid-1980s, one of Hollywood’s most renowned studios (Universal Pictures — cue the logo) partnered with the director often credited with popularizing the blockbuster to bring their brand of can’t-miss entertainment to the East coast theme-park industry. Universal Studios Florida opened in 1990 with the tagline “See the Stars, Ride the Movies!” and twelve major attractions. Shows like Horror Make-Up Show educated guests on the filmmaking process, and the theme park still serves as a working production studio, with a handful of films using its streets as a backdrop.
Today, the destination has expanded to include three theme parks with Universal Islands of Adventure opening in 1999 and Universal Volcano Bay in 2017. Many attractions now focus on immersing you right in the stories you know from the big screen, as well as presenting new and interesting lands. Which brings us to…
Ride the Movies
One of the most fun ways to connect with the movies you love is to feel like you’ve literally walked inside the world of the characters. It would, of course, be easy to call out almost every single ride at Universal Orlando Resort as necessary for film buffs — if you see a name on the map that interests you, absolutely go explore! But here are some that I think could be particularly resonant.
Anyone who was captivated by the wonder of 1982’s E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial as a kid (or as an adult) needs to experience E.T. Adventure at Universal Studios Florida. After a message from the director himself, you get to sit on one of the famed bicycles and venture through several scenes from the movie before taking off for E.T.’s home planet, all set to that soaring score. Don’t tell me that doesn’t make you emotional.
From one Amblin film to the next, Jurassic Park River Adventure at Islands of Adventure allows guests to step inside 1993’s Jurassic Park and board a raft that will have you touring John Hammond’s herbivore containment area. Of course, you get thrown off course and end up face-to-face with some of the most memorable carnivores from the movie.
Now if you — like me — think 1999’s The Mummy is near flawless, you will be delighted to learn that you’ve been invited to the filming of a (frankly doomed) sequel. The queue of Revenge of the Mummy at Universal Studios Florida takes you through an active film set and surrounds you with concept art, props, and footage of the cast having fun between takes. You quickly realize that this production may be cursed, but it’s too late — you’re already on a high-speed mine cart controlled by Imhotep. *Note: this ride is closed for refurbishment from January 7 — to late summer 2022.
When in Islands of Adventure, you can get up close and very personal with a classic Hollywood legend on Skull Island: Reign of Kong.
For those who want to dive into what it takes to make movie magic, there are a couple must-see shows. Think of these as the “making of” documentaries I devour every chance I get: informative and mind-blowing, only live and right in front of your face.
When it comes to horror, Universal Pictures practically pioneered the genre, so it’s no surprise that a corner of the parks is dedicated to the art of monster-making. An opening day attraction, Universal Orlando’s Horror Make-Up Show has been making audiences laugh for over 30 years and is well worth a visit. The show perfectly marries comedy with insight into how make-up and special effects artists create the creatures that haunt your screens through clips, props, and interactive demonstrations. I also suggest arriving early to tour the lobby for authentic props from legendary movies.
If action is more your style, jump into the fast-paced, thrilling world of The Bourne Stuntacular. More than a stunt show, this fusion of stagecraft and film follows the titular character of the Bourne series across three continents as he attempts to uncover classified information, all while being pursued by foes who wish to thwart him. You’ll watch as amazingly athletic feats are performed right in front of you by real professionals who have doubled for A-list celebrities in some of the most popular movies of all time. Fistfights, car chases, and legitimate freefalls happen across rooftops, motorcycles, and even a helicopter. While it doesn’t quite break down the mechanics behind each stunt, you get to witness the makings of an action film live. This is a see-it-to-believe-it experience.
See the Stars
You’ve seen them in the movies, but here you can meet the characters in person! Pick your favorite and get ready for your close-up:
Marilyn & the Diamond Bellas
Maybe the most famous starlet of all time, Marilyn performs daily with her lovely backup dancers
Location: Universal Studios Florida, Hollywood Character Zone
Blue from the Jurassic World series
The brave (and lucky, as she’s not always around!) can approach this clever girl and snap a photo with the most recognizable member of Owen Grady’s Raptor pack. You might also see Bravo or one of the baby Raptors, Sierra and Tango.
Location: Universal Islands of Adventure, Raptor Encounter
Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, and Megatron from the Transformers series
One of the most fun and interactive character meet-and-greets you’ll find; prepare to look way up at these giants.
Location: Universal Studios Florida, Transformers area
Jake and Elwood from The Blues Brothers
It’s always a soulful street party when these two are involved. Watch them perform with the talented Mabel and her saxophone-playing partner, Jazz.
Location: Universal Studios Florida, The Blues Brothers Show
At some point during all this, you’ll probably get hungry, and the good news is that there are plenty of locations with connections to your favorite films. Just pick your vibe below!
Travel back in time at Mel’s Drive-In. A quick-service location, here you can grab a burger and fries or opt for a milkshake as you slide into a vinyl booth and bask in the neon lights and golden oldies.
Fans of the Harry Potter series will be happy to hear that there are two eateries that will place you right in the center of the beloved franchise. The Leaky Cauldron is a grubby-looking pub and inn that was first seen in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. The Three Broomsticks is a rustic tavern that first appeared in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Both serve delicious British fare and — yes, frothy, life-changing Butterbeer.
Dairy-free Butterbeer is now available at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
After all that food, be sure to visit the docks of Fisherman’s Wharf for a drink at Chez Alcatraz. But not just any drink… It’s really important that you order the Ocean Attack. If you’re at all a fan of Jaws, you’ll thank me later.
The Shark from Jaws
Get close to this guy and you can practically hear those two foreboding notes play in your head.
Location: Universal Studios Florida, San Francisco area
T.rex from Jurassic Park
The chase is on as this big bad roars onto your camera roll next to one of those instantly recognizable SUVs.
Location: Universal Islands of Adventure, Jurassic Park area
E.T. from E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
After you ride, make sure to stop by and see one of the most memorable moments from the movie recreated — wig and all.
Location: Universal Studios Florida, E.T.’s Toy Closet
Cars from the Fast & Furious saga
There are 15 vehicles driven by your favorite characters located throughout the queue, attraction, and retail shop.
Location: Universal Studios Florida, Fast & Furious – Supercharged
Lew R. Wasserman Statue
You may not be familiar with him, but this man changed the face of Hollywood. In the 1950s, he introduced the idea that stars could earn a percentage of a film’s profit rather than a set salary, which is widely practiced today. He was later responsible for reinstating the Universal Studios Tour, which eventually developed into Universal Parks and Resorts.
Location: Universal Studios Florida, New York area
Step into the scene
You’ve got your photos now, so let’s take it a step further and actually walk into some of your favorite movie moments. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, these two immersive locations will make you feel like a true witch or wizard:
Gringotts Bank from the Harry Potter series
It’s hard not to gasp when you step inside this grand lobby and feel as if you are on the actual set from the movies.
Location: Universal Studios Florida, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
Hogwarts castle from the Harry Potter series
The winding hallways of cinema’s most celebrated School of Witchcraft and Wizardry contain so much screen-accurate detailing that they deserved their own blog.
Location: Universal Islands of Adventure, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
Let’s finally get to one of my favorite pastimes: shopping! Anyone like me who loves uncovering nostalgic film treasures will want to spend some time at the following locations.
You have to hit up the Universal Legacy Store, which is not only home to plenty of the t-shirts, toys, and keepsakes you’ll want to peruse, but also items and photos that tell the story of Universal Orlando Resort as a whole. Walking in the door feels a bit like entering a prop warehouse or museum because you’re instantly surrounded by authentic pieces: ride maquettes, schematics, mannequins, and more. I should note that this décor is not for sale (unlike the pieces at Williams of Hollywood), but it’s easy to get lost in it all.
From set pieces used in the parks to vintage curiosities, digging through Williams of Hollywood will produce collectibles unlike at any other theme park store. This is truly one of my favorite places in the whole destination, and I can’t recommend it enough. It’s restocked often, so every time you check it out there are new and interesting finds!
Lastly, The Film Vault is where you can get memorabilia devoted to the classics. Browse apparel, mugs, posters, and figurines devoted to beloved movies like Back to the Future and Jaws.
You’ve seen the sights, you’ve ridden the rides, you’ve shopped the souvenirs. Is there possibly anything else movie-related you can do? Well… You could see an actual movie. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Universal CityWalk is home to the Universal Cinemark Movie Theater, showing the latest and greatest cinema has to offer, complete with recliner seats and your favorite snack. (Buttery popcorn or bust.)
I also want to mention that fans of the horror genre, or fans of the craftsmanship that goes into movie-making in general, should consider making their way to Universal Studios Florida during Halloween Horror Nights. The detail involved in every haunted house set is mesmerizing and very worth your obsession.
That’s a Wrap
I just checked the dailies and I have to say… I think you’ve got an award-winning vacation on your hands. Be sure to remember us when it’s time to deliver that speech you’ve been practicing!
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See you in the movies!
Must be 21 years and older with valid photo identification to purchase and drink alcoholic beverages.