As many parental geeks have experienced, Orlando, Florida tends to draw families with little geeklings to that southern state to seek the warmer weather and visit The Mouse. I am of course referring to Mickey, and all that Disney Theme parks have to offer. This last week, business took me to Orlando and my family was blessed with a coinciding school break so we arranged to have them join me and soak up some sun. The little geeks were quite a bit older than our previous excursion and so we bypassed Mickey and chose to spend our days at Universal Theme Parks. Now that the trip is over, I can honestly say that for the comic book and pop culture geek, this was a great family vacation that offered many things that you can't find with Mickey and his friends.
Universal's Islands of Adventure has been around for over a decade and the park has grown and undergone renovations to try to keep it fresh and timely. For our family, we were excited to see Super Hero Island and all that Marvel had to offer. Marvel is in a bit of an unusual situation. The attractions at Universal have been opened since the 1990's and features many of the current Avengers, The X-Men, Spider-man, The Fantastic Four, and many of their associated villains. Even though Disney acquired Marvel in 2009, the proprietary agreement still stands. That's why you haven't seen Avengers: The Ride at Disney's Hollywood Studios. The entire look and feel of Super Hero Island at Universal seems to have been ripped from comic book in the 1990's. With bold, bright colors on the buildings and landscapes, the larger than life images of your favorite Marvel characters leap from the page. The attractions also pay homage to the Marvel hero's with a varied degree of success.
The Hulk roller coaster can easily be seen from all over the park and it stands as a classic and exciting experience. Riders are harnessed in and then quickly taken in a twisting and turning thrill ride with full 360 degree inversion. The hollow supports on this coaster provide the roaring sound that really adds to the experience. My kids loved it and immediately wanted to ride it again. Storm Force Acelatron is not so successful but would probably play well with a younger audience. Essentially, a take on the spinning teacup ride, it doesn't offer any real story line tie in and did not hold any interest for a repeat experience in my little geeks.
Next we ventured on to Dr. Doom's Fearfall. It stands tall and dark over the park and is accessed through a menacing alley. The ride itself was essentially just a free-fall experience but was fun and did actually lift the big geek off his seat, which is a near superhuman task indeed! Green Goblin startled us as we were getting off the ride and he quickly darted away to wreak havoc elsewhere. He was the perfect introduction as we headed over to finish the attractions with The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man experience.
Opened in 1999, The Spider-man attraction was cutting edge technology at the time. The ride was refurbished in 2011 and new digital projectors and high definition. This is quite different from the other thrill rides presented. The entire experience allows the rider to feel like they are part of a Spider-man adventure. The story starts as riders are herded through the turnstiles. You learn that Dr. Octopus has created an anti-gravity device and is terrorizing the city. The graphics are showing their age a bit but it was still a great 3-D experience. It really played to the hardcore Spider-man fan. When was the last time you saw Scream and Hydro-man get any attention Electro (classic version) and Hobgoblin also make an appearance and "shake" things up a bit. Needless to say, this required several repeated rides just to make sure we didn't miss anything.
We had to drag the kids back to the room so that we could recharge to tackle The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. As we were leaving the park my wife (who is not a hard-core geek) made an interesting observation. “Disney seems just a bit more DC, and Universal is definitely a little more Marvel”. Then we talked about Disney’s ownership of Marvel again but I did appreciate her point. Disney is much more user friendly, the thrill rides are pretty tame and besides The Tower of Terror, things aren’t too scary. Universal is a bit more in your face and unapologetic. It is very family friendly but it’s goal does not seem to be “The Happiest Place on Earth”. At Universal, there is a bit more grit, the rides have a higher fear factor and a lot more thrill. It is a great way to step into the comic book landscape and experience Marvel first-hand.