Universal Studios for Thrill Seekers. Not.

What to do at Universal Studios if you hate roller coasters

Sometime between the age of 13 and 30 I lost my taste for horror films, heights, and thrill rides. One day I was merrily jumping out of planes and munching popcorn through Friday the 13th Part VII and the next day I was a complete and total chicken. I blame motherhood.

family vacations at Universal Studios Florida with young childrenAs you can imagine, theme parks present something of a challenge. On the one hand, I want my kids to experience the fun of roller coasters. On the other hand, I’d pretty much rather drink bleach than actually ride one myself.

On the eve of a recent press trip to Orlando, Florida, I had the following conversation with my 8-year-old son (who would be accompanying me):

ME:  You know I don’t actually like scary rides, right?
HIM:  Me neither!

I was never so relieved in my life.

So, what can you do at movie-themed Universal Studios Florida (and its book-themed sister park Islands of Adventure) if you are a coward who gets motion sickness? Plenty. Here are some rides and attractions that deliver maximum fun and minimum queasiness.

Universal Studios Florida with young children (and chickens):

1.  Animal Actors on Location
Grade: A-
Recommended for: All ages

I never met an animal show I didn’t like, and this one is no exception.  The dogs and pigs I understand, but how do they train the house cats?  It’s anybody’s guess.

family vacations at Universal Studios Florida with young children, Shrek 4-D ride2.  Shrek 4-D
Grade: A+
Recommended for: 4 and older

Motion simulating seats, water spritzers, and 3-D glasses put you right in the story as the ghost of  Lord Farqaad tries to derail Shrek and Fiona’s honeymoon.  The special effects in this 20-minute show could be a little intense for sensitive children, but they’ll love the signature Shrek toilet humor.

3.  ET Adventure
Grade: B
Recommended for: 4 and up

This ride is showing its age a little, but it’s still enjoyable to soar with ET over his planet and ours.  It’s nothing like the movie, but fun.  Listen for ET to say your name at the end (you check in with a passport so he can be programmed).

4. Jimmy Neutron’s Nicktoon Blast
Grade: B+
Recommended for: 7 and up

Another fun motion simulator ride with a story I couldn’t really follow.  I was laughing too hard to care though.  While this ride was a lot of fun, it was v-e-r-y bumpy.  I wouldn’t recommend it for people with any kind of back problems.

family vacations at Universal Studios Florida with young children, The Simpsons Ride5.  The Simpsons Ride
Grade:  A-
Recommended for: 7 and up

If you boarded this ride in an effort to avoid roller coasters, you’re in for a nasty surprise.   It kicks off with a simulated roller coaster.  An on an 80-foot IMAX screen?  It’s pretty freaking believable.  To tell you the truth, I had my eyes closed half the time.  Thrills include an evil panda, a killer whale, and a giant-sized Maggie (complete with baby powder scent).  It’s either sensory overload or awesome, depending on your point of view.

6.  Men in Black Alien Attack
Grade: A-
Recommended for:  6 and up

A four-minute arcade-style alien shooting game with 360-degree spins through the streets of New York.  A lot like Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters at Disneyland and Toy Story Mania at Disney’s Hollywood Studios with one major difference: the targets in this game shoot back.

Islands of Adventure with young children (and chickens):

family vacations at Universal Studios Florida with young children, Cat in the Hat ride1.  The Cat in the Hat
Grade: B
Recommended for: All ages

The couch we rode through 18 scenes from the iconic book of the same name spun a little too much for my taste, but my 8-year-old loved it.  With its whimsical colors, curved trees (bent by Hurricane Andrew and acquired by the park), and crazy architecture, the entire Seuss Landing is a visual delight.  The attractions are meant for young kids, so I felt right at home.

2. The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man
Grade: A+
Recommended for: 8 and up

This was my son’s favorite ride in all of Orlando, and he’s the one who gave it an A+, not me.  The technology is the latest thing: 3-D action and 2.2 million dollar cars that can twist, spin, plunge, and soar through the intense story.  For me, it was a question of survival.   Some tips for chickens:  1) Don’t sit in the front row, 2) Close your eyes if you feel sick, and 3) Grab an end seat so you can brace yourself in the corner.

family vacations at Universal Studios Florida with young children, Jurassic Park River Adventure ride3. Jurassic Park River Adventure
Grade:  B+
Recommended for: 8 and up

First of all, unless you enjoy the sensation of clammy underwear, get a poncho.  The suspense builds slowly on this ride as you wind your way through a dino-infested island.  Even though you know the big T-rex head and the 8-story drop are coming, you’ll still be terrified when you fly out of your seat seemingly straight into the beast’s teeth.  Rumor has it that Steven Spielberg made them stop the ride and let him out before the plunge—it’s that scary.

(My T-rex photo is actually from the Jurassic Park Discovery Center—the ride is way too wet for photography and too wild for loose items.)

family vacations at Universal Studios Florida with young children, the Wizarding World of Harry PotterObviously the big news this year is the much-anticipated opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  We glimpsed it from a distance, and it looked incredible.  Unsurprisingly we weren’t allowed to sniff around behind the scenes with our camera before the unveiling.  Maybe next year.

Want to win a trip to Orlando?  The Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau is giving away 67 Orlando vacations in a promotion called Orlando’s World Smile Search.

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  1. says

    That is one of the things that I really love about Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. I have a family which comprises those who are thrill seekers and those who would rather just seek an alternative! The parks have something for everyone.

  2. Mei Lin says

    In my opinion universal studios is for people who like movie-generated rides, there is only one ride for “thrill-seekers”, there’s a barney section which is great for toddlers, not that much for older kids, some are too scary or they dont really know the genre (ie the simpsons)

    i must admit the macy’s parade is great. we happen to go there when it was raining – very very bad idea, its wet everywhere and the bathroom floors are slippery, my friend fell and bust her chin open, the universal staff treated it like it was nothing and they did not even offer to refund part of her ticket – our day was pretty much done after that happened.

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