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Even if you’ve been to Universal Orlando a few times, I bet you have overlooked at least one of these hidden gems. Well, they are not hidden anymore! Next time you go to Universal, follow our tips and prepare for a new, extraordinary experience.
Universal Studios Florida
Fried Peanut Butter & Jelly with Bananas
Let’s all agree on something right up front. When you’re visiting the parks, you’re going to be doing a lot of walking. So that means you can relax a little bit on your diet routine and try a few new things. Food stop #1 in our book: The Fried Peanut Butter & Jelly with Bananas available at the snack cart in the New York section of Universal Studios.
At the fairly inexpensive price of $5.00, you get enough gooey, deep-fried goodness to serve two or three people. If some in your party aren’t so keen on this delicacy, the snack cart also serves funnel cake and fried Oreos.
Alert: Universal took this item off the menu at the start of Mardi Gras 2013, which is no surprise because they did the same thing last year. But this year they didn’t put it back on the menu once Mardi Gras was over. For shame! Contact Guest Services and tell them we want our Fried Peanut Butter & Jelly with Bananas back!
Animal Actors on Location
Unless you have kids who are animal-crazy, it is easy to skip this show when you’re visiting Universal Studios Florida. I’m here to tell you that it’s worth seeing.
The performance itself is an animal stunt show, where team members and trainers bring out many different animals and show off their Hollywood talents. Most of the animals you’ll see have indeed performed in well known movies. With its pleasant mix of learning and laughing, Animal Actors on Location a pretty quick show that packs a high entertainment value.
But what I like best of all about Animal Actors on Location is the “behind the scenes of your favorite movies” feel. In a day and age when Universal Studios Florida has become a theme park based on the movies instead of how it was originally conceived — a theme park AND a production studio — Animal Actors on Location brings you back to the park’s roots. It is a show I really enjoy, and I think you will too.
Islands of Adventure
Flight of the Hippogriff
This is a kiddie coaster near Hogwarts in Islands of Adventure’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Before it was part of Harry’s world, it was featured in Lost Continent as the Flying Unicorn. The ride was actually shuttered for a few years before it was given new life as Flight of the Hippogriff.
The ride itself is quite a bit of fun for what it is. But what lands this flight on our best kept secrets list is the experience of riding it at night! The sensation of “being there” in Harry’s world is brought to completion on this ride after dusk, as you take off past Hagrid’s hut, catch glimpses of Hogsmeade Village through the sparkling trees, and fly past Hogwarts Castle on your hippogriff.
Camp Jurassic might be Universal Orlando’s number 1 best kept secret. It is HUGE interactive play area that, while designed with kids in mind, is a ton of fun for all ages.
The area is located in Jurassic Park, one of the six islands that make up Islands of Adventure. One of the reasons I think it is easily missed is that, from the main pathway through Jurassic Park, it is nearly invisible. In fact, all you can really see is the sign. What is highly visible is Pteranodon Flyers, the ride overhead. Many guests assume that the walkway heading back to Camp Jurassic is just for the ride. It’s not.
So venture back there are prepare to be amazed by what you’ve been missing. There are rope nets, themed slides, suspension bridges, twisting trails, dinosaur skeletons, and so much more. There is also a cave for exploring and an interactive water cannon play area.
Look for this walkway.
Universal’s on-site hotels
Orchid Court Lounge and Sushi Bar at Royal Pacific Resort
Located in the main lobby area of Royal Pacific Resort, Orchid Court Lounge and Sushi Bar is definitely a Universal best kept secret. In fact, many guests visiting the theme parks don’t even realize there are on-site hotels, let alone superb restaurants at those hotels, like Orchid Court Lounge and Sushi Bar.
My wife and I love coming here. It’s got a great island atmosphere, impressive theming, excellent service, and most importantly, incredible sushi. We have ordered numerous items from the menu, and we have yet to find something we didn’t love. I highly recommend stopping here, especially if you have never been to Royal Pacific before. When friends and family visit from out of town, this gem is always at the top of our to-do list.
Orchid Court Lounge and Sushi Bar, with its central location, is also a perfect stop for people-watching. You definitely get pulled into the resort vibe. It’s got a great view of Royal Pacific’s pool area too. There’s just so much to like about this place. You should go.
OI tip Royal Pacific is located next to Islands of Adventure. You can either walk from CityWalk (takes about ten minutes — look for the path adjacent to Margaritaville), or you can take the complimentary water taxis (see the last item on this list).
The Thirsty Fish at Portofino Bay Hotel
The Thirsty Fish at Portofino Bay Hotel is a small cafe-style lounge that sits at the bay’s edge. It features wine, beer, cocktails, and a small menu of items for snacking.
As with my review of Royal Pacific’s Orchid Court Sushi Bar, what makes Thirsty Fish a best kept secret is that fact that so many guests don’t realize Universal has on-site hotels, let alone that the hotels have such impressive venues such as the Thirsty Fish.
Imagine this: It is early evening, the sun is setting in the background, you and your wife are sitting down in a beautiful outdoor plaza overlooking Portofino bay, sipping on wine, listening to live music, and watching your fellow travelers coming and going from the nearby water taxi dock. The shops and boutiques around the bay bustle with activity. All of a sudden it’s 8:00pm, and a small group of Italian opera signers walk out onto a patio across the plaza from you. For the next twenty minutes their songs fill the air as the romance of the evening fills your senses.
My friend, you are at Thirsty Fish. Sure, it takes just a pinch of imagination to complete the feel, but not as much as you might think.
OI tip Portofino Bay Hotel is located next to Hard Rock Hotel, which sits next to Universal Studios Florida. If you want to stretch your legs, I highly recommend walking from the parks to Thirsty Fish. The pathway, which starts just next to the main gates at USF, takes you along the landscaped waterway connecting the hotels and the parks. It is a very lovely and relaxing walk, and when you take the final turn onto Portofino property, you great an incredible view of the hotel. If you’re tired, you can also take the complimentary water taxis (see below).
Universal Orlando’s complimentary water taxis
Universal Orlando offers water taxi service that brings guests from a central loading dock at CityWalk to the on-site hotels. The water taxis start 30 minutes before Early Park Admission and continue to run every 15 minutes until 2:30am in the morning, 365 days a year. Each of the three on-site resorts has a dedicated taxi that goes right from the hotel to CityWalk and back.
You do not need to be staying on-site to use the water taxis! They can be used by anyone visiting Universal Orlando throughout the day and into the evening. It is only at later at night that the Captains will begin to ask for room keys.