This Spring Break, my family and I decided to visit the Universal Orlando Resort theme parks. While I love theme parks and the ability to lose myself in a world of fun and adventure, I want to be able to enjoy the escape from reality as much as possible and NOT have my trip ruined by the nauseating feelings that come with motion sickness. But alas, I am one of those unfortunate creatures who suffers from this condition. Boats turn me green, planes require thoughtful Zen meditation, and cars can even turn me queasy depending on who’s driving and what the conditions are like.
Of all the websites I visited while researching Universal Orlando, I found very few that addressed the motion sickness potential of the rides, so I decided to err on the side of caution and start each day with some motion sickness medicine to try to pre-empt any nausea that may arrive, uninvited, to the party. For the most part, this worked, but I thought I would write about my experiences for others out there who are prone to the dizzying, tummy-turning, head-spinning hell that is motion sickness. (For another good guide to Universal Orlando with some motion sickness advice and other great tips, see Theme Park Insider.)
What to Know About the Rides
As expected from a film production company, the rides at the Universal Orlando theme parks feature stunning film action that creates a “live” effect for guests. In other words, the films will surround you and you will feel like you’re in the middle of the action. The effect is amazing when combined with the motion of the rides themselves. But it can feel a bit unsteady, especially when the film scenes flash by quickly and have you falling or swinging or tumbling or swooping. In most cases, closing your eyes can help dispel the discomfort. You’ll miss part of the action, but your brain will be able to “recover” for a few seconds.
If you know where I’m coming from, you’ll understand why you won’t see the more extreme rides on here – the giant roller coasters that turn you upside down and drop you from ridiculous heights. I couldn’t look at them without feeling mildly ill, but I’ll do my best to describe those I did experience, either from riding them myself or sending my brave family members (usually my husband and our fearless 7-year-old daredevil). So, without further ado, here is my guide to rides at Universal Orlando’s two theme parks – Universal Studios and Universal Islands of Adventure.
Enter Universal Orlando’s Universal Studios park, and you’ll be immediately enchanted by the animated favorites every kid loves. Head straight into the park and get in line!
Despicable Me Minion Mayhem
About to go on a Minion Adventure
This is a motion-based ride, but in an auditorium-style setting. Your row of seats will move as you go through simulated minion training. The 3-D effects and surrounding film action will make you feel like you’re actually running, jumping & tumbling with the adorable minions. It’s quick and mildly jerky, but it won’t turn your stomach. If you DO start to feel a little woozy, just look at the other rows of seats, you’ll see the other people moving and won’t feel like you’re in the film action so much. This ride encompasses all the charm of the minions and is super fun!
Another auditorium-style experience, this ride starts with a story then takes you on a journey with Shrek. The seats move and you’ll feel effects like wind, sprinkles of water and other fun 4-D elements. This one is super mild as far a motion goes. The story is delightful, as you would expect from Shrek and Donkey. You’ll be laughing and smiling throughout. Everyone should be able to enjoy this ride with no problem.
Transformers: The Ride 3-D
Optimus Prime Outside the Transformers Ride
Definitely an immersive film-ride experience, this simulated adventure ride is loud, full of action and complete with cool special effects. In a ride car, you’ll be conveyed into the experience on a track, then be engulfed by sets and combined film-motion sequences and feel like you’re on an adventure with the Transformers. It can be jerky and fast with a few pitching and spinning elements. This one is a little more intense but totally manageable. Remember, close your eyes if you need to.
Men in Black™ Alien Attack™
No loose articles are allowed on this ride, so that tells you that it’s fast enough that they don’t want random things flying out of your car. If you’ve been to Disney and ridden the Buzz Lightyear ride, you’ll be familiar with the concept of Men in Black. You travel through the city shooting aliens. All the while, your car is moving and spinning, and if the car on the opposite side of the track shoots at you, you spin faster. If you don’t like spinning, this might not be for you. But I didn’t find it uncomfortable because I could see everything around me and it didn’t feel claustrophobic. It also combines the spinning with forward action and lots of stationary elements to focus your attention on.
Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts™
If you’re a Harry Potter fan, this ride is a must for the complete Wizarding World of Harry Potter experience (stay tuned for another post exclusively on the Wizarding World that resides in both of the Universal Orlando parks). You will be transported into the depths of Gringotts bank in a ride car with full motion and 3-D film effects. There is one roller-coaster-style drop at the beginning, but it’s not too steep and most motion sensitive folks should be able to handle it well. The film elements and sets are absolutely amazing but they flash by quickly as your car moves through the vaults under the bank. The car will pitch, spin and take some shallow dives, so take care if these motions bother you. I handled it well, partly because I was so immersed in the story, which you won’t find in any of the Harry Potter books, partly because it was surprising and fun enough that the motion didn’t bother me.
Ready to Board the Hogwarts Express
Make sure you have a park-to-park ticket to ride this attraction, then enter the Hogwarts Express through King’s Cross Station outside of Diagon Alley. You’ll immediately feel like you’re in the London tube station. Take in your surroundings, and don’t forget to notice the entrance to Platform 9 ¾ where you’ll see your fellow passengers passing through the barrier. The train ride, itself, is totally mild, and you’ll feel like you’re riding through the English landscape on your way to Hogwarts Castle. The ride is pleasant enough for even the most sensitive.
Universal’s Islands of Adventure
If you ride the Hogwarts Express from King’s Cross Station in Universal Studios, you end up in Hogsmeade Village – the other side of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – in Islands of Adventure. Once you enjoy all that this park has to offer, be sure to ride the Hogwarts Express back to Diagon Alley – it’s a totally different experience and well worth the return trip.
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey™
Enter Hogwarts to Experience the Forbidden Journey
Another must-do for Harry Potter fans, this attraction takes you through Hogwarts Castle as you wait for the ride to begin. Be sure to take in all the fantastic details they put into making the castle truly magical (and look for my other post, coming soon, for more on the Wizarding World of Harry Potter). On the ride, itself, you’ll be transported on an adventure with Harry and friends that will involve soaring on a broomstick over the Quidditch pitch and escaping a fire-breathing dragon. Once again, the film effects in combination with the ride motion make you feel like you’re really flying. But, for me, the motion elements of flipping upside down and back again, being tossed back and forth and zigzagging in and out of the castle were a little too much for my motion-challenged self. While I loved the new and exciting story, and I wouldn’t have missed the ride for the world, I did find myself wishing the ride would end. When it finally did, I stumbled out of the castle to find a cool drink and a place to sit down. While I didn’t lose my lunch – which I do NOT recommend eating right before this ride – I did feel quite unsteady for a while after the ride was over. Would I do this one again? Yes, because the effects were amazing and I’m a crazy HP fan, but I would definitely take another preventative Bonine before doing it. If you don’t want to risk it, you also have the option of just touring the castle through the line for the ride, then hop out of the line before everyone boards the ride cars and exit the castle.
Flight of the Hippogriff™
This kid-friendly roller coaster zooms around Hagrid’s cabin just outside of Hogwarts Castle and, while fast, is relatively mild for the motion sensitive. It is a traditional roller coaster, so you can expect a couple of drops and quick tilting, curving stretches. If you don’t do well on a regular roller coaster, you may want to sit this one out, but your kids will want to ride it, and it’s a short ride, so most should be able to manage it well. I really enjoyed this one.
Jurassic Park River Adventure®
Ready to get wet? This ride will take you into the world of Jurassic Park, right through the front gates and into the dinosaur habitats from the movie. It’s a mild river raft tour right up to the very end, where your raft will drop you down the waterfall. The drop will make your stomach travel a little further up your torso, but not quite all the way up to your throat. My family did this one twice. The first time everyone stayed relatively dry with only a few splashes to cool everyone down. The second time was significantly wetter. We were pretty soggy from shoulder to knee, but a little afternoon sun took care of that quite comfortably. The journey back into the prehistoric was worth it, and the single drop was just a small blip on the motion sickness meter.
Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls®
Bring a change of clothes for this one because you will get soaked. I changed my son into his swimsuit for the water rides, and after this one, I was very glad I did. This log ride moves pretty quickly with water sloshing in and out of the log boat throughout. The twists and turns through the ride come with a few ups and downs, but nothing to be too concerned about until the climactic drop at the end. The logs get launched down a water chute at high speed, and while that’s the worst of it, and it comes at the very end, it will make you gasp as your stomach leaps into your throat. Beware if that sensation makes you queasy. If you can handle the single, dramatic drop along with a quick pace – and aren’t afraid of a good drenching – go ahead and try this one.
The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man®
Like the Transformers ride in Universal Studios, this ride puts you in the middle of the action as Spider-Man tracks down villains and saves the city. Your car will move along a track as you travel through amazing sets amid the 3-D film adventure. The cars spin, dive and soar as if you’re part of the battle between good and evil. It’s a fast-paced ride with breathtaking effects – literally, some of the moves will take your breath away. Close your eyes if you need to, but you won’t want to miss this one, especially if you have any Spidey fans among you. The spinning and jerking will mess with your head a little, but not enough to bring on full-on motion sickness. We did this one twice with no problems.
Storm Force Accelatron®
Similar to the teacups at Disney, you control how fast your pod spins as it circles around the track. My husband and two youngest kids did this one twice and had a blast. I knew the pure spinning action of this one would definitely make me dizzy, so I sat this one out, but if you can handle the round-and-round, it’s a fun one.
Rides I Didn’t Get to But Definitely Will Next Time
Inevitably, there were a few things we didn’t get to do since we chose to go to Universal Orlando over Spring Break when the crowds are crazy. Our Express Passes (totally worth it) got us past many of the long lines, but there were some things that we just didn’t make it on. Here’s the rundown of our must-do’s for next time we’re in Orlando.
I hope my little one is still little enough to ride this the next time we make it to Universal Orlando. For this ride, a child who is between 36 and 56 inches tall must accompany all adults taller than 56 inches. It soars quietly above the Jurassic Park section of Islands of Adventure and looks like a peaceful yet exciting flying experience.
The Simpsons Ride™
Universal Studios has a whole Simpson’s world, and this ride is supposed to be fantastic. Again, with the combination of film and full motion, this carnival adventure with one of America’s favorite animated families gets great reviews and appears to be as motion-friendly as Spider-Man and Transformers.
Universal Orlando – Well Worth the Trip
So, there you have it! My incomplete, but hopefully helpful, guide to the rides at the Universal Orlando theme parks for the motion impaired visitor. As you can see, I rode a lot, didn’t get sick and enjoyed my trip immensely. There’s nothing worse than feeling ill to ruin a vacation, especially one where there’s so much to do and see and so little time. I hope this guide will help make your planning a little easier so you can enjoy a trip to this fabulous family destination as well.
If you use this guide, let me know how it goes. I’d love to hear if these tips hit the mark for you. And if you’ve been to Universal Orlando, I’d love your thoughts on this, too!