My wife (Sj) and I recently completed an epic trip of theme park madness, gluttony, debauchery, and more while in Orlando. My previous posts focused on the food and drink options of the Disney properties, but this final entry in the series will look at Universal Studios. I’ve actually never been to Universal, so this was a cool add-on for me to experience. We stayed at the Loews Royal Pacific Resort (just after finishing up at the Polynesian in Disney) as yet another Island themed hotel! Glad I packed a lot of Hawaiian shirts! By staying on property (depending on which hotel and package you get of course) we ended up with Express Passes that ended up saving us a ton of time not waiting in lines for rides and shows at both of the theme parks. I highly recommend that!
Universal is split up into the classic Universal Studios and the newer Islands of Adventure. We ended up going to both and covering most of the properties within a day and a half. Our hotel was an easy walk to both parks and to the City Walk–an area in between the parks filled with restaurants and nightclubs.
The main impetus for us to ditch Disney property and go to Universal was to visit Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade and get our Harry Potter on. Cue grown man wandering around waving his replica of Voldemort’s (ohhh is typing it as bad as saying it out loud?) wand at various spots in the parks to perform magic spells whilst shouldering aside small children dressed as wizards. For fans of the books and movies, walking into these areas of the parks is simply incredible. The amount of detail put into this was amazing and intricate beyond belief. If you have a park hopper pass you can actually take the Hogwarts Express from one park to the other and I recommend taking it both ways for the full experience.
Getting to the actual drinking side of things, Universal has three beers contract brewed for the Harry Potter areas by Florida Beer Company (the Cold Spring of Florida). My first beer was just after 10:30 AM in Hogsmeade at the Hog’s Head Pub–because I was on vacation. A huge wild boar’s head mounted behind the old fashioned dark bar would animate briefly from time to time and snuffle or snort–quite disconcerting the first time it happens right behind you! I had the Hog’s Head ale since I was currently staring at an enormous snarling boar: it was a decent malty Scottish ale. Over the two days I tried the other two as well. The best of them was the Wizard’s Brew–a decently made classic Irish stout. The Dragon Scale was a slightly hoppy amber beer. All were fair, but not stellar–but not made by Budweiser, so I’ll take it!
Non-alcoholic options are all over the area including pumpkin juice (go for the carbonated version) and Butterbeer. Butterbeer is served cold, iced, and infused into ice cream. It’s pretty sweet but worth a try. After buying chocolate frogs at Honeydukes and visiting all the other classic shops from the series we finally headed out for the rest of the parks.
We got to get our picture taken with a testy velociraptor at Jurassic Park. We wandered around the trippy and nostalgic Doctor Seuss land debating on just how much psilocybin and quaaludes he had been on while writing these masterpieces of our youth. We battled supervillains on the Spiderman ride. We fought Decepticons with our Autobot allies. We met Jaws.
Once we tired out a bit we stopped into Springfield for a drink at Moe’s Tavern…”Home of the Flaming Moe!” I had a Duff on draft (also made by Florida Beer Company) as a decent but uninspired malty ale. Sj was upset that there was no Lady Duff. #Beerfail. Other than these spots, Universal didn’t have much in the way of beer options outside of macro lagers.
One other useful hint for visits to the original Universal: check out the Horror Makeup Show. This was a high point of our visit. Waiting in line, you get to check out a bunch of old Universal monster masks and set pieces that are pretty cool in their own right (we came back in later to look more since our line moved too fast to get in!) The show is short but incredibly funny and somewhat gory. Like stand-up comedy with severed limbs and fake blood! Sit in the front. I dare you.
The Universal parks were a lot of fun and well worth the visit, seeming much more contained and accessible than the Disney properties, and making it tougher to justify a whole day at any one of the parks. On the other hand, Universal has been better about updating rides and adding new features than Disney has been. Frankly, I would have been happy just to visit the Harry Potter areas, but the rest was just gravy.
The City Walk is worth mentioning here. This is the Universal equivalent to Disney Springs with shops, restaurants, and bars…and is just a quick walk between both of the parks. There are lots of big showy restaurants here like the Hard Rock Cafe, Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville, Emeril’s Restaurant, and more. Plenty of entertainment options are here such as: Blue Man Group, a big theater complex, and an epic mini golf course that we just plain forgot to visit.
While wandering around I spotted some big stainless steel fermentors up in the second floor windows of the massive NBC Sports Grill and Brew that got my beer-starved attention. We stopped in just to check it out on recon for a possible future stop. Those fermentors are just for show and are wasted just sitting in there! There are a couple of contract brewed beers beers on tap, but it isn’t a real brewpub. The beer list is otherwise fair, but mostly mass market beers, “crafty” beers like Blue Moon, and some large regional craft brews. Meh.
Our last evening out we opted for dinner at the incredibly wordy Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen. They were actually having a soft opening while we were there so we lucked out! This is my kind of place. All of the staff are dressed in steampunk garb including top hats, goggles, vests, and more. The entry area is taken up by a huge chocolate and candy shop with some pretty amazing looking comestibles. We had to wait a while for dinner as they weren’t doing reservations at that time, but availed ourselves of the upstairs steampunk bar. Our bartender was working hard mixing up cocktails for a fairly large crowd, but he was very friendly and good at his craft. They had an OK craft beer list including some chocolate themed beers like Young’s Double Chocolate Ale, Boulder’s Shake, and a house (Florida Beer Company again) beer named Too Chocolate Stout. We sampled the latter and it was certainly full of chocolate aroma but had an unpleasant bitter finish that prompted us to go with cocktails. I ended up with the very pleasant Revolutionary Old Fashion (Fashioned?) that was a bit sweet but nice. Sj went with the also sweet Old Chocolate Fashion. Seriously that spelling is hurting me.
Once we were seated we had a very nice meal. The menu was a bit too big and could afford some pairing down. I had a perfectly well done burger. They also had enormous (seriously freaking huge!!!) malts and shakes that were big enough for 3-4 people. We made up a mini-game of guessing which other patrons would order their own colossal malts…and who would finish them. Our server was not the greatest at keeping tabs on our progress, but I was on vacation and wasn’t about to let it bother me. The fictional proprietress of the Emporium and her cyborg side-kick wandered around in full steampunk gear to greet patrons, but never made it over to our table. The kids in the restaurant seemed to really dig the interactive characters. I ended the night with a bourbon sampler served on a heavy metal gear-shaped tasting tray and Sj had a Vanilla Chocolate Cocktail. I enjoyed this place a lot (more than Sj did but she’s a tough critic when it comes to service) and would recommend it as a very cool themed restaurant. Head and shoulders above Rainforest Cafe or that ilk.