I’ve written before about how useful the Unofficial Guide series is, so it was only logical that for my first trip to Universal I would turn to the Unofficial Guide team once again. For those unfamiliar, the Unofficial Guide is the print side to the TouringPlans universe. They are known for giving a complex, critical, reverent and even irreverent look at theme parks and more, and that is precisely what this book provides.
The Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando, 2018, is authored by theme park veteran Seth Kubersky, with Bob Sehlinger and Len Testa. It was released in December 2017, has a pre-index length of 365 pages, and an MSRP or $19.99.
This size, and author team, is pretty much the same as the Disneyland edition. Naturally, if you have seen the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, it is much larger.
The book itself is laid out in roughly ten sections. After explaining the general approach in the Introduction, the guide covers “Planning Before You Leave Home,” “Accommodations,” “Arriving and Getting Around,” “Bare Necessities,” “Universal Orlando with Kids,” “Dining and Shopping at Universal Orlando,” “Universal Studios Florida,” “Universal’s Islands of Adventure,” “Universal’s Volcano Bay,” and “Universal Orlando CityWalk.”
As with other Unofficial Guides, this one has some great maps, orienting you to the area as a whole (including it’s location in relation to Disney World), the immediate area around the resort, and the parks themselves. For spatial people, being able to read about something then turn and actual see where it is and what it is near is a great resource.
Also, one of the things I always appreciate in the Unofficial Guide is the inclusion of comments from their surveys. For me, this provides perspectives different than the authors and allows readers to not just “trust” the expert, but put themselves into another family’s shoes. The deference and humility of the authors to put in comments that directly contradict their advice, just because readers might find it useful, is a great asset of these books.
One early comment they included is actually about one of the decisions they made that I found the most useful – comparisons to Walt Disney World. While some readers didn’t care for the constant references to a different park, for someone like me these comparisons could immediately give me a much fuller picture of what to expect for various areas, attractions, and more.
If you have never read or seen one of these before, my favorite part is the breakdown of each restaurant and attraction. The format for each is a little different – for restaurants they rate the quality, value, portion size, location, and up or down votes from the reader surveys and then describe the selection and give an overall description.
For attractions, they give their rating (out of 5 stars) followed by the reader ratings broken down by preschool, grade school, teens, young adults, over 30, and seniors and also let you know if it is eligible for Universal Express. This is followed by a brief rundown, including “what it is,” “scope and scale,” “when to go,” “comments,” “duration of ride,” “average wait in line per 100 people ahead of you,” and “loading speed” and a fuller description and comment section. There is also an indication on some rides as to whether they are known to cause motion sickness. Interspersed through these are touring tips, “Wizarding World Whispers with Jim Hill,” and more. This level of detail and explanation can get you informed, prepared, and excited all at the same time. The one thing I wish was a little more explicit in this section is how the attractions might impact people with back pain or other health concerns. Other issues of the Unofficial Guide have had more detail on that, so I was definitely noticing the omission here.
Finally, one of the things that has made the Unofficial Guide team famous is their TouringPlans. The book comes with several starter options, depending on how many days you have and if you have children or seniors in your party. However, they actively encourage you to sign up for a touringplans.com subscription and download the Lines app to get the fullest and most customizable experience for you and your party.
Overall, the Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando 2018, is (unsurprisingly) a great and well organized asset for those planning a trip to the dark side. Before reading this I felt like I had experience with Universal that was a mile wide but only an inch deep. Now I really feel like I have a much better grasp about the resort and what to expect, and that is a great feeling. Even with all the technological innovations that help us plan, sometimes sitting down with a well-written book can not only be satisfying, but also time saving.
Have you visited Universal Orlando before? Share your best tip in the comments.
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