Against all odds, I recently took an unprecedented fourth trip to Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida this past weekend. The occasion was visiting my girlfriend’s family, and to take advantage of an Orlando Informer meetup.
Apparently, Orlando Informer is a blog dedicated to the major theme parks in Orlando—Disney World, Universal Studios, Sea World, etc.—and various deals and special events in the parks. In scrolling through their website on our trip, I found, for example, a post about a one-day-only Beetlejuice haunted house that Universal slapped together for Halloween (I was able to get to the other two, longer-running houses on my last trip). For theme park enthusiasts, it seems like a great website.
The publication also organizes vacation packages, as well as twice annual “meetups,” special after-hour events that give guests extended park time and—and this one is huge—unlimited concessions. We had passes for the 12 December 2020 meetup, which meant we could stay in the park until 1:30 AM. Access with the passes began at 3 PM, so we used our Seasonal Passes to enjoy the park beforehand.
It truly made for an unforgettable—and long—park experience. We hit Islands of Adventure around 9 AM Saturday morning, and did a long stretch there until we went to get our meetup passes (we did manage a late lunch at Mythos, a must-visit on any trip to Islands of Adventure). As we were essentially in Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios for fifteen hours—essentially two park days—we managed to hit up almost everything we wanted to ride and see on Saturday (other than the ever-elusive Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, which is virtually impossible to get into via the Virtual Line feature).
After Mythos and picking up our meetup passes, we enjoyed Universal Studios. My perspective has shifted, after four visits, to favoring Universal Studios over Islands, although the latter does have some of my favorite attractions (the classic Jurassic Park ride, Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls, and Flight of the Hippogriff). Universal Studios has the E.T. ride—my all-time favorite, due to its practical effects and heavy nostalgia factor—and that fun, bustling feel. I love walking through the New York-Chicago section of the park, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Blues Brothers. There’s also the super fun Men in Black ride, which combines a dark-ride track experience with laser tag.
Aside from the extended hours, the biggest upshot to the OI meetup passes was the food. The passes came with one quick-service meal prior to 6 PM (which meant I was force-feeding myself a slice of pizza before getting on The Mummy—yikes!—after indulging in Mythos just three hours earlier), but after 9 PM we could get unlimited food at any concession stand or snack bar that was open. Considering a footlong corndog is around $11, that’s yuge.
It also made it possible to sample concessions I would never purchase of my own accord (like the aforementioned corndog, which was delicious). In Simpsonsworld, we had strawberry sprinkled doughnuts (like those Homer eats at the nuclear power plant). My girlfriend’s little cousins tried butterbeer in the Harry Potter area. We got chocolate cake from a café in the Marvel city—and on and on. We ended up stuffing some leftovers in plastic bags, because it was impossible to eat everything on offer (but if it’s already paid for, why not try it?).
The wait times were also far less than during the day. E.T. went from sixty-plus-minute waits during normal hours to ten minutes. Even big attractions were very short wait times. That made it possible to hop onto rides far more quickly, getting in more of them before heading home. It was also fun riding at night.
The passes cost around $210 for one night, according to the website, so it’s not cheap, but I think my girlfriend’s mother scored them for a bit less. Regardless, it was a really amazing experience, and I highly recommend it to Universal enthusiasts.
Originally, my girlfriend and I had only planned on spending Saturday in the park, but we realized her family had booked another night in the hotel. I didn’t have to go into school Monday because I didn’t have an exam to administer, and my girlfriend can make up lab time over the weekend, so we spent Sunday in the parks, too, and pulled out of Orlando around 4 AM Monday morning. I had to finalize grades Sunday night for an online course I taught at the local technical college this semester, but otherwise, it was a work-free weekend. Because we hit so much that Saturday, our Sunday was much more leisurely—we hit the park around noon (as we were all wiped out from the previous day) and left after dark. My girlfriend and I managed to squeeze in the JP ride and Spider Man as the park was closing, so we truly shut the place down.
All in all, it was a great trip, and I’ve definitely gotten the value out of my Season Pass. The next OI meetup dates are 4 and 5 June 2021, and it looks like one night is just $179 at the moment. Dang!
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