Universal Orlando has officially entered the crowded Mini Golf scene in Orlando. Hollywood Drive-In Mini Golf is made up of two 18 hole golf courses. They are located underneath the walkways at the entrance to Universal City Walk. Let’s take a look at how these courses play and stack up against the local competition.
First off, the themeing is brilliant on the surface but has a few misses as you go around the course. Honestly, the themeing blows away any other course in Orlando and most any I’ve ever played (and I’ve played my share around the nation), but I expected another level of interaction at a Universal Studios course. This doesn’t bring down the overall enjoyment of the courses but does keep it from exploding out of the stratosphere. Both courses offer a better visual experience than you will find anywhere Orlando. The themeing and layout beat out both Winter/Summerland and Fantasia Gardens over at Disney. The challenge however lays just below the Mouse’s Fantasia course. Compared to your non-theme park greens, Universal’s have an added touch of flair that can’t be matched. That being said, there are other courses around that feature more intricate hole layouts in terms of needing to plan your shot a little more carefully. At Universal’s courses, you can just just kind of slap the ball around the obstacles and know you will land in a decent spot. The holes are also massive. I’ve never seen cups so big on a mini golf course. And there are no tricky inclines near the cups… the holes practically swallow any ball hit in the vicinity.
The price is a bit steep, especially if you have to pay the $15 to park at City Walk. Adults are $13.99 and Children (3-9) are $11.99. If you would like to pay up front to play both 18 hole courses, it will cost $24.49/$20.99. You can also choose to play another 18 holes after you finish a course. The rate is discounted to $10.49 for Adults and $8.99 per child. Paying this way saves one penny per player as opposed to prepaying up front for both (in case you were wondering). The prices place Universal’s greens as the most expensive in O-Town. Even Annual Passholders do not get a fantastic rate. APs are can play for 10% off. This is a sharp difference from Disney’s %50 discount extended to their APs.
The first course I played is The Haunting of Ghostly Greens… which is themed toward ghost movies. The first few holes are fantastic. You have a bumpy green where you hit past tombstones, over body bumps and around feet stuck out of the ground.
There is also a well designed hole that features a coffin you can hit the ball up, into and through. The coffin lid sits off to the side where you can see a stake was driven through it. Then the back end of the hole has red carpet depicting a pool of blood dripping from the coffin.
Speaking of the carpet, Universal made great use of different colors and patterns throughout both courses. They also made great use of lighting.
On this spiderweb hole, the web is shadowed onto the green. I’d have to say both these courses are better played at night. The place is open until 2am, so you have plenty of moonlit hours. The night allows for all the lighting effects and LEDs to really shine.
In reference to the lack of interactivity, I just thought there could be more moving parts or effects instead of the stationary elements such as ghosts and trees and spiders. In terms of difficulty, I’d say the Ghost course was fairly low on the difficulty scale. That’s not a bad thing, it was still a lot of fun. And there were some new twists like these belts hanging from the haunted trees you had hit the ball through.
But overall, the high risk routes didn’t yield high reward and hitting around obstacles, or taking “the long way”, didn’t seem to have an adverse effect on your score.
I don’t know how to truly rate some of the hit it though obstacles such as the snake or tree branch. If I’m being honest, they seemed flawed a bit in design. You have to find the exact rate of speed to hit the ball through. A hair too slow and the ball comes rolling back. A hair too fast and the ball bounces up and hits the ceiling… and comes rolling right back. I also saw numerous balls get stuck where cast members had to come over to get them out. It adds a difficulty level on the higher reward route, but I’d have to think it’s more a design flaw than anything. Historically, it has never been so hard to hit the ball through such obstacles.
The 18th hole tries to bit just a little too intricate. You hit your ball in a hole in the wall and your ball is taken up through a pipeline. Doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to it as neither of the two holes the ball can come out yield great results. It seems a lot to do about nothing, but could be fun to watch for kids.
The Sci-fi Alien course is my favorite of the two. It has more immersive themeing, fun jokes and great scenes. There is a great story line played throughout each course, and much of it is told on the hole markers… the wonderfully themed hole markers I must add.
One of the first holes on the Alien course is themed to crop circles. Different color pieces of carpet are used with a scare crow and corn all around.
The course continues around City Walk taking you to a farm, and alien landing spot and the best part of all, Area 51.
An incredibly themed part of this course, Area 51 has a giant robot shooting apart a building with lasers and many aliens within.
This alien course is a little more difficult because many of the holes feature multiple platforms. There is also a hole that features the optical illusion of your ball defying gravity after you hit it under a TV set. Another hole takes you inside a UFO, then an interactive element where a player must hit a button that opens the “air lock” and allows you to exit out the back.
One of the best effects was a simple lighting effect on one of the greens. The circles of light projected onto the ground wobbled and moved so when you looked down to hit your ball, you were completely disoriented. I was about a foot wide of the hole because of this.
The 18th hole was what I wanted to see more of on this course. An interactive element that added immensely to the overall enjoyment. The hole was on the outer edge of a rotating turntable. So you were aiming at a moving target. And once you hit your ball upon the turntable, you had to step onto it and were spinning right along with the hole!
Don’t worry, there is an emergency stop button on the wall if the you can not handle the spinning.
Overall, I had a ton of fun playing Universal Orlando’s new mini golf course. As you can tell, I’d choose the Alien side every time, but they both offer their share of fun. I’m probably being too harsh on them, but I just hopped for an additional level of interactivity. Some more moving parts and flash. That being said, there is plenty of eye candy to entertain guests while waiting for their turn to hit. Also, I’d be remiss not to mention the music. There is plenty of themed music around both courses. For instance you may hear Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” on the ghost course while on the Alien side you would hear tunes like Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon.” There is replayability for sure. Some holes are straightforward and all about the theme, but there are plenty that will take a few shots to master the angles and grab that elusive hole-in-one or set up an easy deuce. I do nitpick just to let you know what you are in for, but these are two truly enjoyable courses that anyone into mini golf, would be remiss not to give both these courses a spin on your next trip to Universal Orlando. For an extensive picture album of these courses, check out my previous article here.