When you think of iconic theme parks, many people’s minds go immediately to Disneyland in sunny California. After all, it’s where you can get Mickey Mouse ears and ride iconic rides from your favourite movies. However, there’s another big theme park in a sunny climate — Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida. It’s certainly a bit different than Disneyland, but many pop culture junkies actually prefer the Florida spot. And, given that they’ve made a few incredibly popular recent additions, including the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, it’s no surprise that people are heading to the theme park in droves.
You’ve probably heard a fair bit about what’s in the park and what you can expect, but every spot like that has certain secrets and insider perspectives that you might not pick up on if you’re just strolling through the park. So, we’ve gathered 15 unusual things you may not have known about Universal Studios. This way, whenever you decide to visit again (or decide to visit for your first ever time), you’ll have a few little secrets to check in on. Sure, you could get a tour or something like that, but let’s be honest – they wouldn’t spill half these cool things. Consider this a self-guided tour through sunny Universal Studios, perfect for any movie buff.
15. You can mail something from Hogsmeade
If you’re a huge Harry Potter fan, chances are you’ve dreamt of getting a post by owl. After all, it sounds so charming in the books. Well, we’ve got news – while you aren’t able to tie a roll of parchment to the leg of a bird and have it magically delivered, you can, in fact, send a letter from Hogsmeade. That’s right – just like a Hogwarts student. So, if you want to write a little note to a friend, or even pick up a few postcards from the shops in the park, all you have to do to get it mailed is drop it off in the Hogsmeade mailboxes. They’ll send it right out (not with magic, unfortunately), and it’ll even get a special stamp to indicate where it came from. Honestly, we’re a bit surprised more people planning a Harry Potter themed wedding don’t take the park up on this feature!
14. You might get the chance to name a dinosaur
Okay, this one is very much a ‘you need to be there at a specific moment’ type of secret, but it’s pretty incredible nonetheless. As fans of the dinosaur franchise know, Universal Studios includes a Jurassic Park section, including a ride as well as a Jurassic Park Discovery Center. On the ground floor of the discovery center, there are a few eggs in a cage, designed to be little dinos waiting to hatch. Well, those aren’t just static prop eggs – those dino eggs are designed to actually hatch at some point. If you’re lucky enough to be there when one of them hatches, the park employee might give you the opportunity to name the newborn baby dino, and you’ll be able to walk away with a once in a lifetime souvenir – a dinosaur birth certificate. Okay, we’re not saying you should camp out in the Discovery Centre hoping you’ll see a dino hatching, but… it’s kind of tempting.
13. Some of the buildings in Superhero Island are painted with special paint
When you’ve been in a theme park for a while, and it’s really hot, and you’ve been tossed and spun on countless rides, it’s easy to assume that your eyes are playing tricks on you when you spot a building that looks like it’s a different colour as you see it from different spots in the park. However, if you’re talking about the buildings in Marvel Superhero Island, rest assured your eyes are just fine – it’s that tricky paint. Several of the buildings in that portion of the park are painted with a unique type of paint that transforms into different colours based on the angle you’re looking at it from. It’s probably more magical to assume that the buildings just change colour based on some type of magic, but the reality is a bit more understandable – just a really funky coat of paint.
Look for the ‘Adam’ on the superheroes
Imagine being an artist and being commissioned to create huge superhero figures that tons of people will see and admire as they’re walking through a theme park. That’s a pretty big deal, right? Well, that’s exactly what happened to Adam Kubert, an artist who is a comic book art veteran. He seemed just the right man for the job – but creating public art for a theme park is a little different than creating art to sell, so he wasn’t supposed to sign the creations. However, Adam decided to go rogue and work his name into the drawings on all of the superheroes he had a hand in creating for the theme park. If you’re ever looking for a fun scavenger hunt, or simply want to kill some time while waiting in line, just look for the name on the superhero figures – you’ll often find them in unusual spots you never would have looked at twice, and they’re blended in seamlessly.
12. There are no straight lines in Seuss Landing
As any Dr. Seuss fan will know, the children’s book legend had quite a sense of imagination. He created crazy worlds with imaginative creatures that most of us wouldn’t have been able to dream up, no matter how hard we tried. Well, in order to capture that sense of creativity, Universal Studios decided that nothing in Seuss Landing would be totally straight, because where’s the fun in that? There are no right angles either – everything is some kind of zany, twisted, wavy shape. Some of the plants included are naturally twisted, such as the trees that were damaged by a hurricane, and some are careful creations of wire covered in foam, concrete and paint. Given the bright colours and sense of freedom in his works, it’s fitting that Seuss Landing isn’t a structured place of straight lines and precise angles – it’s a little creative and zany, just like his books.
11. There’s a big statue with a removable head (seriously)
Okay, so in the theme park, there’s a big statue dressed in period attire, gazing over a busy area. The body of the statue in question was intended to resemble Abraham Lincoln – hence the period clothing. However, the head was actually a tribute to an insider responsible for getting the theme park up and running, Lew Wasserman. However, when the piece was commissioned, they apparently wanted to have a bit of flexibility in case the need arose, so that an entirely new statue wouldn’t have to be commissioned if they were looking to get something particular done. So, the solution – a removable head! While the statue’s body remains constant, the head can be removed and replaced with another sculpted head in case studios want to promote their project by featuring their leading star’s head on the statue, etc. It’s certainly a creative solution — we just wonder where they would store poor Lew’s head if that was the case!
10. It’s a working, filming studio
Everyone who knows anything about Universal Studios knows that it’s essentially a tribute to the film industry. There are worlds and rides designed to emulate specific movies, and you get a unique experience of being involved in your favourite films in some way. However, did you know that there’s a small chance you could actually be involved in a real film at the theme park? Unlike Disneyland, Universal Studios’ most famous counterpart, the Orlando theme park is a working film studio with a back lot containing six sound stages. Films are often filmed there, so in the odd chance they find themselves in need of extras or an audience, someone might send out a scout to ask people visiting the park on a day out. Sure, it may not be as exciting as touring some of the huge backlots in California, but it’s still pretty amazing that they’ve managed to combine a successful theme park with a working backlot.
9. There are real banana trees planted outside the Despicable Me ride
While you might assume that an animated film would have a younger audience, the huge success of Despicable Me demonstrates that, sometimes, adults can be charmed by animated movies as well. The plot wasn’t anything revolutionary, but there was just something so charming about the characters that the flick won the hearts of fans around the world. And some of the most memorable characters in the franchise are, of course, the Minions – those cheeky little pint-sized critters. Well, when a Despicable Me ride opened at Universal Studios, not only did they incorporate Minions in the ride itself – they also planted banana trees at the entrance to the ride as a nod to the Minions’ preferred food. There are many character-influenced snack foods and things like that throughout the theme park, but still – it’s kind of neat that they paid attention to every detail of the ride, including the plants as you’re walking in.
8. You may get glared at by Kreacher
Any fan of Harry Potter knows exactly who Kreacher, the grizzled old house elf, is. He may not be as beloved as Dobby, but he’s certainly recognizable. Well, next time you’re checking out the London portion of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, take a close look up at the windows of 12 Grimmauld Place. You just may see a grumpy old house elf peeking out at you – or, more accurately, glaring down at you. It’s just lucky that the creators didn’t decide to incorporate the shrieking portrait in any way – that would have scared quite a few visitors for sure! And, it may be a little bit reassuring to know that Kreacher is safely there in Grimmauld Place, and not about to pounce out at you from some corner of Diagon Alley.
7. The Transformers ride has a hidden elevator
Transformers the Ride 3D is definitely a popular pick at Universal Studios – the continued success of the franchise means that new fans are being created every day, fans who want to get a taste of that transforming world. Well, if you wondered how on earth they manage to pack the crazy ride into the facility where it’s housed, there’s a bit of a secret – there’s actually an elevator incorporated. No, you don’t have to get off mid-way, ride up a story, and get back on – they’ve done it seamlessly, so that guests would likely never even notice. So, if you ever find yourself on that particular ride, pay attention to any moment where you seem to slowly be going straight up, just for a moment, before things continue – that’s the elevator portion. Seriously, we’re in awe of the people who create these rides – there are so many crazy details that the average person would likely never even consider!
6. You can see a piece of the Berlin Wall
When you think of any memorabilia that has found its way into Universal Studios over the years, chances are you think of pop culture bits and pieces – props from films, costumes worn on television shows, etc. However, there’s a bit of history tucked away in the theme park – if you know where to look. In a small back garden behind the Hard Rock Café, you can see an actual piece of the Berlin Wall. If you ever find yourself in Universal Studios with a history buff, now you’ll know exactly where to take them. Sure, if you’re looking to spot a ton of historical stuff you may want to head to a museum rather than a theme park, but this little piece is a cool detour if you find yourself in the theme park already.
5. There’s a hidden entrance to the park
Unfortunately, you’ll still have to pay to get in – there’s no crazy entrance that tunnels underneath and spits you out somewhere in the middle of the park, although that would be supremely cool. However, as everyone knows, waiting in line can be super frustrating, especially when you’re just trying to get into the park in general, not even on a specific ride. Well, we’ve got news – there’s an alternative to the main entrance. Right by the Blue Man Group Theatre, there’s a second entrance that not many people know about. Since it isn’t as obvious as the main one, it’s also usually not busy at all – which means you can head on into the park in minutes, while others who got there at the same time as you are still waiting in line at the main entrance. Plus, you get to feel like you’re an insider who knows about all the park’s little secrets, which is kind of cool.
4. You can DJ your own ride (on one specific ride)
The Hollywood Rip, Ride and Rockit roller coaster is a ride that any roller coaster enthusiast absolutely needs to check out in Universal Studios – and it has a little secret. As anyone who has been on the ride knows, you’re able to choose from a selection of a few songs when you’re on the ride. It’s a cool feature, one that not many rides offer. However, the list of tunes you could be ripping, riding and rocking to is longer than you might believe. If you hold down the logo of the ride for ten seconds, then enter a three-digit code, you’ll be treated to the sounds of a favourite tune – and there are tons of choose from. A quick search online will get you the codes to a ton of songs, from a classic by Madonna to heavy metal and rock thrashers totally appropriate for a coaster ride.
3. You can call the Ministry of Magic
Okay no, there’s no place where you can get in a phone booth and immediately head down to the breathtaking lobby of the Ministry of Magic. And please, please don’t go sticking your feet in any toilets – that’s just unhygienic. However, if you want a little bit of magic in your life, all you have to do is dial MAGIC (62442, for those who aren’t sure) into a phone in Diagon Alley. It won’t immediately whisk you through the air and into one of the magical departments within the ministry, but it’ll connect you to them – which is pretty cool. Adults may want to check out this trick just out of curiosity, but for younger children who might actually believe they’ve been put through to the Ministry of Magic? It’s probably pretty magical. The question is, have any of our favourite characters gone on to snag positions there over the years? You’ll have to call to find out!
2. There are many references to Jaws in Diagon Alley
For those who might not know, before a certain spot within the Wizarding World of Harry Potter became Diagon Alley, it was the Jaws section of Universal Studios. The designers wanted to tip their hat at the spot’s history, so they included a few jaw references, including a set of shark jaws in an apothecary shop window, a record in a record shop window titled “Here’s To Swimmin’ With Bow Legged Woman,” as well as telescopes made of boats within Wiseacre’s Gift Shop. There’s no question that the Jaws section of the park was hugely popular when the movies first came out and while people still went nuts over the horror classic, but it was time for a bit of a refresh, and the new Harry Potter section is constantly busy as fans hit the park specifically to see it. However, it’s pretty cool that the designers tipped their hat to the previous occupant.
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