Designed by director James Cameron, Terminator 2: 3-D is a fantastic attraction. Utilizing both live action and 3-D film work (not to mention the thespian abilities of T2 stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, and Edward Furlong), it’s an incredibly immersive and often quite scary attraction, which is an impressive feat considering that there’s no actual “ride”—guests are visiting the Cyberdyne plant on a tour, and as the action unfolds around them, it can be easy to forget that it’s all make-believe.
The Universal Horror Make-Up Show is, well, a scripted show about the use of makeup in horror movies, so it shouldn’t be too surprising that it’s kind of gross; it’s also got a few interactive elements and is pretty funny.
In contrast, Lucy — A Tribute manages to reduce one of television’s all-time great comediennes to a collection of context-free artifacts.
Shrek 4-D puts guests into a theater equipped with buzzing, bumping, and squirting seats to watch an amazingly effective—and pretty hilarious—film featuring Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, and many of the other voice stars from the Shrek films. The 3-D effects are impressive, and the physical gags the theater imposes on guests are a hoot, but what makes the attraction a winner is the smart-aleck humor from the characters.
Jimmy Neutron’s Nicktoon Blast is a silly motion-simulator ride that puts you in the middle of the titular cartoon character’s science experiments—which, of course, go completely awry. As you “fly” out of the park and into the Nickelodeon universe, characters from other Nickelodeon shows like SpongeBob SquarePants and the Fairly OddParents take part in the shenanigans.
Universal Orlando made up for its complete lack of roller coasters with the recent addition of Revenge of the Mummy, a bracingly fast (45 mph) indoor steel coaster that would be thrilling even without the effective scary Egyptian curse theme. Dark and intense, the ride also features a particularly frightening finale.
Twister…Ride It Out is less a ride than a special effects display, with guests standing on a platform watching wind blow, water spray, and plastic cows fly by. Yes, it’s exactly as much fun as that sounds.
Disaster is little more than a rethemed update of the park’s long-standing Earthquake ride. Using a new script and the inimitable presence of a Christopher Walken hologram, the basic premise is the same: Riders on a San Francisco subway train wind up trapped in the middle of various simulated disasters. The effects are still impressive, from the sheets of fire and dousing rain to the rumbling tracks, except now they’re part of an in-progress film, making it a bit more interactive than its predecessor and less dependent upon a 30-year-old film for its story line.
Long the signature element of the back-lot tour at Universal Studios in Hollywood, the Jaws attraction at the Orlando  park expands that singular moment into a full-blown ride. Guests take a ride on one of “Captain Jake’s Amity Boat Tours” with the purported intent of gawking at the sites made famous by the movie. Of course, this bit of metaentertainment is interrupted by…well, you know. In addition to the sight of the gaping maw of a giant shark, guests are also treated to an array of explosions and other pyrotechnics.
Men In Black Alien Attack has one of the best-themed queue areas of any attraction at Universal Studios. Designed around the conceit that visitors are coming to check out “The Universe & You” exhibition at the 1964 World Expo, the Disney-esque preshow abruptly segues into the “reality” that guests are taking part in a training exercise to become MIB agents. Peeks into labs and coffee-break rooms are funny, helping pass the time until you board your training vehicle. Once on board, the object is to shoot as many aliens as you can with your laser gun; some, however, shoot back, causing your car to spin in rapid circles. Just like in the film, the aliens are often disguised, posing a greater challenge than one might expect.
The arrival of The Simpsons Ride at Universal Studios was greeted with mixed emotions by many parkgoers; while many were upset to see the Back to the Future motion-simulator film ride disappear, the idea of a ride themed after the popular animated television series was quite promising. Thankfully, the Simpsons Ride is largely based on the same technology and ride concept as Back to the Future, except instead of hurtling through time with Doc Brown, riders are in Krustyland with the Simpsons family, trying to escape the sabotage efforts of Sideshow Bob. With the addition of 3-D effects and, it must be said, some rather cheesy computer animation, the motion effects of the Back to the Future ride are amplified, and the comedy factor is considerably improved.
The preschool and elementary set will find plenty worthy of their attention in the KidZone area, although those without young ones will likely only be drawn here by E. T. Adventure, which puts riders on a bicycle “flight” through the world of the movie and onward to E. T.’s home planet, which is apparently populated solely by babies.
Nearby, Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster is a quick, unchallenging coaster with only two mild drops. Other kid-centric attractions here are A Day in the Park with Barney (which can be used to threaten your recalcitrant teenager) and two playgrounds: Curious George Goes to Town and Fievel’s Playland.
Beyond the standard array of popcorn stands and hamburger slingers, dining options at Universal Studios are quite limited. Nonetheless, Finnegan’s Bar & Grill (New York, lunch and dinner daily, main courses from $11) has Irish fare and a warm atmosphere that’s surprisingly conducive to leisurely liquid lunches. It’s even got daily happy-hour specials.
Nearby, Lombard’s Seafood Grille (San Francisco/Amity, lunch and dinner daily, main courses from $11) is another decent spot for a sit-down meal, with excellent fish and seafood platters.
For a great selection of breakfast pastries, Beverly Hills Boulangerie (Hollywood, open all day) is very close to the park entrance and provides the calories and caffeine you’ll need to prepare for the day; they also serve sandwiches and desserts throughout the day.