We’ll take a short moment away from the excitement that is Epcot merchandise updates to take a look at what’s going on at the evil empire, Universal Orlando Resort. One of these days I will get easyuniversal.com going and you won’t be forced into tarnishing the legacy of Walt Disney by subjecting yourself to this filth. Please forward all hate mail to firstname.lastname@example.org (but please no love letters, those should still be sent to email@example.com).
Despicable Me remains your top priority at Universal, even with the recent opening of the “much more popular” Transformers ride. Despicable Me is going to have longer waits than Transformers most of the day because of its position in the front of the park, its lousy capacity, and renewed popularity with Despicable Me 2 recently hitting theaters. And as we’ll see once night falls, waits don’t ease as closing time approaches. If you get in line at 9pm over the summer, you’re going to run into a 60 to 70 minute wait and miss Cinematic Spectacular or whatever Universal’s nighttime show is called these days.
Rip, Ride, Rockit is the other priority. Like Despicable Me and Transformers, it has an Express Pass entrance for those of you staying on property. Express Pass helps, but doesn’t bring wait times down to one or two minutes. You can very easily spend 30 minutes in line at Despicable Me with Express Pass. We spent just under 30 minutes at Transformers in the Express line last week. And about 20 minutes with Express at Rip Ride Rockit the next night.
Transformers sits in this ridiculous looking box in the middle of Universal Proper. The entrance is on the far side furthest away from the main entrance. When you enter Universal, you’ll see the entrance to Despicable Me immediately on your left. The entrance to Rockit is further up on your left. Keep walking straight and you’ll see Transformers on your right after passing Monsters Cafe.
Universal opens to guests staying at one of its three resorts (as well as those staying at a partner hotel with a Universal Vacation Package) at 8am through September 2nd. Only Despicable Me and Transformers will be running until 9am when the park officially opens. I would still head straight to Despicable Me if you’re interested in riding it because of its much lower capacity. Once you ride that, you’ll be able to get on and off Transformers two or three times before 9am. Islands of Adventure has a general 8am open through August 3rd, which means it opens at 7am for on-site guests and those with Universal Vacation Packages. Using Early Entry at Wizarding World makes more sense than Universal because Ollivanders and Forbidden Journey don’t offer Express Pass. Just note that you can expect to wait 10 to 25 minutes at Transformers and 15 to 30 minutes at Despicable Me even with Express Pass in the afternoon when it’s busy like it is during the summer.
Those are the three attractions you’ll run into with appreciable waits here in the evening. It’s 7pm on July 9th so we’re in the middle of the busy summer season. Twister has a 10 minute wait as it usually does.
Here we are looking toward the entrance from just past Twister. The bottom arrow pointing to Mummy should be pointing more directly down to the left. You get what you pay for.
Mummy, which is a fantastic ride, has a 15 minute wait thanks to a healthy capacity.
Transformers looks dumb from most angles, but this is probably the worst. It would work really well if it was in the corner of the park somewhere.
Transformers had been down earlier in the day, causing a 90 minute standby wait. The Express Pass line loops around outside to the left of the entrance. Single rider is also an option with waits that are typically a third of the posted standby wait.
It’s hard to capture the immense size of Diagon Alley in pictures as construction continues in the old Amity area.
Universal is building one of its Horror Nights’ houses in part of the Disaster queue so they’ve set up this “extended” queue out in front of the building. But you would walk right into the next show right now. I would hate to be at the end of the line when this sucker is full. Much like touring a Disney World theme park, taking an afternoon break when crowds and temperatures peak is an excellent idea, particularly during the busy summer.
I had been wanting to try Lombard’s Seafood Grille for some number of years, never having actually set foot in the building. This is one of Universal’s two in-park sit-down restaurants. Finnegan’s, a poor man’s Raglan Road, is the other.
With potentially no exceptions, making same-day reservations at Universal’s restaurants via OpenTable.com is easy. They have a nice “next available” button as well in case a certain time or day is unavailable (unlikely). I made reservations at the last possible time, 7:15pm, a few hours earlier in the day.
There was some amount of confusion over our reservation. While they had it in their system, they were sure it was for the Cinematic Spectacular Package, which is a fixed cost meal that includes (unnecessary) private viewing for the show. This was not the case. It ended up working out fine, other than the fact the menu they gave me didn’t have prices and they didn’t give us the “Fresh Catch” menu. We ended up waiting about ten minutes to be seated – no big deal.
Upon entering the restaurant, the smell of fish hits you like a brick wall. The brick wall pictured I guess. I’m not talking about a pleasant smell of raw fish, if there is such a thing. But like fish market yuckiness. We agreed it was pretty disgusting. I’m not sure if that smell is typical. Considering just about everything they serve is frozen and then fried, there’s really no reason for it.
The restaurant is on two floors. I’m not sure if they ever seat anyone upstairs – they weren’t on this particular evening. It’s pleasant enough with windows overlooking the lagoon.
The view from our table in the corner with an aquarium in the center.
The view from the table. You’d think with Harry Potter printing money that they would re-theme Lombard’s to something Potter-ish with the Alley right outside. As it stands, it’s going to be leaky cauldrons and sorcery and then BAM – “fresh” seafood.
By Disney standards, Lombard’s is basically free as far as table service restaurants go. Prices were inexpensive enough that by the time we sat down and started discussing the menu, I was already talking up a return visit. Spoiler: Chatter about a repeat visit stopped shortly after the entrees arrived. The menu does clearly label gluten free and vegetarian options, which is nice for those of us who avoid gluten free and vegetarian items. Several items also have a reduced portion size for light eaters. Though I’m not sure what you’d receive considering the full size ravioli entree.
The only reason I knew a Fresh menu existed was because I grabbed one to take a picture of while we waited. Someone can correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m not sure you have the option to order off this menu if you’re on the new Universal Dining Plan or the Cinematic Spectacular Package.
Kids’ menu. I guess they don’t want you to know how many calories are in that burger.
Being predominantly a Disney lifestyle blog, this website is concerned about two primary things – napkins and cinnamon roll availability. I’m happy to report that Lombard’s prints its own napkins and they’re a heavier weight than any paper napkin you’d receive at Disney World.
Freshly baked bread arrived not too long after we ordered. Unfortunately, it had an unpleasantly tough crust and was for the most part, flavorless.
But the butter did say Universal on it. That’s something.
Lisa ordered the $12.99 Bravo Ravioli – Tender ravioli filled with a blend of imported cheeses. Topped with Italy’s classic trio: marinara, pesto, and garlic cream sauces.
Despite being the “full portion,” it was not a tremendous amount of food. Quality seemed slightly higher than a microwavable Lean Cuisine with a bland sauce and gummy pasta. Even the raviolis were shaped like the ones you commonly see in the $2 frozen entree section at your local grocery store. Despite being inexpensive, it was almost without a doubt the lowest quality theme park table service entree I’ve run into at any of the area theme parks. On the other hand, compared to other quick service entrees, it wouldn’t fare all that terribly. The quality would be slightly better than what you’d receive at Tomorrowland Terrace or Pinocchio Village Haus for only a dollar or two more. So I guess the moral of the story is to lower expectations. Personally, I would rather pay the extra $5 and have a much better tasting meal at Tutto Italia.
Having eaten several substantial theme park meals in the preceding days, I wasn’t in the mood for one of Lombard’s Fresh Fried, Fried Food baskets and went with the San Francisco Stir-Fry – Teriyaki glazed grilled chicken, Crispy Asian vegetables, Lo Mein noodles, served with a shrimp and pork spring roll – $13.99.
Another Lean Cuisine quality meal that was almost certainly microwaved. The spring roll was greasy and limp with liquid oozing out of it (TMI sorry). The chicken had almost no teriyaki flavor. The lo mein noodles were also limp and lacked flavor. And it was a pretty small portion for the money. Yak & Yeti quick service at Animal Kingdom is better quality and less expensive.
Dinner was kind of a bust. While inexpensive, the food was decent quick service quality at best. And while quick service is typically…quick…we were stuck in the restaurant waiting for our food to come out while kids ran around the restaurant yelling. Service was efficient and friendly enough once we were seated, but we didn’t receive the correct menus. I’ll be back for the sake of a followup review, but I can’t recommend Lombard’s. CityWalk has much better restaurants and Finnegan’s and Mythos are also much better in-park restaurants.
Looking across the water at Springfield, we see Kang and Kodos’ Twirl ‘n’ Hurl nearly complete with Duff Gardens on the right.
Each of the twelve flying saucers seats three people. There are interactive elements at work as Kodos will talk to flyers and instruct them how to fly their saucers.
Another spot to grab a Duff and potentially a nearby taco.
It’s 8:30pm on July 9th with Universal closing at 10pm. The ET wait time sounds exaggerated – it’s usually a walk-on this time of night.
But you can see how Despicable Me and Rockit are the two attractions that still have long waits. Transformers isn’t listed here, but the standby wait was 90 minutes.
As you are probably aware, Men in Black is similar to Buzz Lightyear, only you have no control over the spinning of your car and each seats six people. The spinning is wilder, but shouldn’t upset anyone not extremely prone to motion sickness. Lisa beat me by approximately 400,000 points. I’m convinced she carries some sort of theme park laser blocking device on her body at all times. There’s no other explanation.
The wait for Simpsons was only as long as it took for the next pre-show to begin whether you were using Express or not. That turned out to be about 15 minutes. The whole experience took about 25 minutes. The most you could hope to subtract from that is around five minutes, for a minimum experience time around 20 minutes.
Growing up, Mother wouldn’t let me watch The Simpsons because I was very fragile. I don’t think there’s much here inappropriate for the younger set, but someone that actually has young kids might be able to weigh in better than me. It’s a fun ride, though the motion is more jarring than Star Tours in my opinion.
I mean what could go wrong.
My last post about Universal includes a much more detailed look at Springfield, including Moe’s, Duff beer, Krusty Burger, etc.
Crowds and waits at Fast Food Boulevard seem to fluctuate greatly depending on crowds and time of day (as you might expect). Universal decided it would be wise to open a large quick service eatery with two cash registers. So even 50 people interested in ordering can overload them.
Still no signs of aluminum bottles at Moe’s, which means your novelty beer is going to be poured into a plastic cup. As you’ve probably heard, Barney was removed just a day or two after Moe’s opened.
Universal team members will still run you off if you try to sit down without food.
The Cinematic Spectacular situation is pretty chill. Viewing is similar to IllumiNations at Epcot where the show takes place on a lagoon and guests fight for position for suitable viewing locations. Actually, there is not a whole lot of fighting as you look out at the scene 20 minutes before show time. People are casually sitting on the curb waiting for the show to start. A Cinematic Spectacular viewing package really isn’t necessary.
This area near the Transformers entrance looked to be a popular viewing spot with benches and cover.
The first time we used Express Pass at Transformers, it took about seven minutes in line with a 90 minute standby wait. This time, it took 25 minutes with a 75 minute standby wait.
Apparently the ride had been down for a couple hours earlier in the day, causing a rush of people at night when it reopened. I would expect a 20 minute wait to be the exception rather than the norm.
We returned the next evening, Wednesday July 10th, after hitting happy hour at Emeril’s and spending some time at Islands of Adventure. At the same time as the day before (about 9:35pm), there was nobody in the extended queue for Transformers and a 30 minute posted wait.
Crummy cell phone pictures. Using Express Pass would have taken about five minutes instead of the 25 minutes we experienced the night before thanks to the attraction not closing for an extended period of time.
But the scene at Despicable Me is the same – a 70 minute wait at 9:45pm. Without Express Pass, the only way to dodge that wait is by heading there immediately after opening.
And that 70 minute wait isn’t really exaggerated as the whole queue is full.
Islands of Adventure wasn’t much busier in the evening. By 7pm, you could pretty much walk on anything not named Spider-Man, Pteranodon Flyers, and Forbidden Journey. The Seuss Trolley is another that has a wait longer than you might expect due to an even lower capacity than Despicable Me.
Speaking of crummy phone pix, I’ll briefly discuss Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. As you approach the theme parks through CityWalk from the parking garage, Bubba Gump is the first restaurant you’ll see on the left. It’s directly across from the AMC Cineplex. Bubba Gump is a chain of restaurants themed to the company of the same name from Forrest Gump. There are about 42 Bubba Gumps internationally. Chances are that if you’re near a tourist trap, there’s a Bubba nearby.
Bad menu pictures:
That will at least give you an idea of the wide variety of items and price points. A cleaner, though slightly outdated menu, is available here. Entree pricing is bordering on reasonable with burgers and sandwiches in the $12 – $14 range and most entrees under $20.
We checked out Hard Rock Cafe first, but they quoted a 45 minute wait for a table and their bar was full. We put our names in at Bubba and they quoted a 20 minute wait. The bar was completely empty so we DEMANDED THAT THEY TAKE OUR NAME OFF THE LIST and headed over.
Focusing on bloggability, I ordered a 22oz “More Fun Size” Blood Orange Margarita – Sauza Blue Tequila, DeKuyper Blood Orange Liqueur, Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice, and sweet and sour. It’s worth noting that ordering the larger size does not make economical sense as the 18oz is $7.99 and the 22oz is $9.99. That makes the 18oz, 44.29 cents per ounce and the 22oz, 45.41 cents per ounce. I’m just saying. The presentation was a little strange. The drink is shaken in the plastic shaker with a ton of ice and then a little glass accompanies it. So you pour your drink from the shaker into the little glass three or four times before it’s gone. The drink was okay. Using cranberry juice in a margarita is a little odd, but it tempered the tequila flavor well enough. They should probably use blood orange juice, even if it’s more expensive. Otherwise this is probably a Cranberry Margarita. But nobody would order a cranberry margarita. That’s a ridiculous name.
Lisa ordered a non-bloggable Yuengling. Remember where to send hate mail.
She ordered the Shrimp Po’ Boy – Just like the ones in New Orleans… French Loaf stuffed with warm Popcorn Shrimp. Served with Fries – $13.29.
It was a sizable sandwich served with crispy, hot fries. The sandwich was a little dry and the bread was a little thick, but it was a decent enough sandwich with a bed of fried shrimp underneath the fresh lettuce and tomato. This would probably benefit from a zestier sauce or seasoning regimen. For the same money as the Lombard’s ravioli, it was certainly a higher quality, more filling meal.
I like a bit of variety, so I went with the Shrimper’s Heaven – Love Shrimp (YOU KNOW I DO!)? This one’s for you! Hand Breaded Coconut Shrimp, Chilly Shrimp, Fried Shrimp, and Japanese style Tempura Shrimp with Fries. And of course great Dippin’ Sauces like Tangy Asian, Cajun Marmalade, and Zesty Cocktail – $21.49. It included four each of the tempura shrimp and coconut shrimp and a handful of the peel-and-eat shrimp along with a cone full of fries. The shrimp were good, though they reminded me a lot of the shrimp you can buy at Costco or the grocery store and deep fry/bake in the comfort of your own home. And I consider peel-and-eat shrimp to be more of a nuisance than anything. First world problems. At least they aren’t slathered in sauce. I mean really. Is there anything worse than peel-and-eat shrimp covered in gunk? Is there anything worse? The Shrimper’s Heaven was serviceable and about what you would expect from fried shrimp – certainly nothing out of this world, but I’m not complaining either. One other minor complaint – the servings of sauce they give you are itty bitty. Your server would bring you more I’m sure, but it was difficult to try and flag down one of our bartenders that were constantly moving around making drinks for the rest of the restaurant.
Bubba Gump was good. Not great. It’s hard to rate service – our bartenders took care of us to the best of their ability, but were really too busy to do much other than deliver the food and ask if we wanted a second drink. You might want to wait a few extra minutes for a table. I’d return by choice long before Lombard’s, even if the entrees are a couple dollars more expensive.
We’ll return to Epcot to press onward to Italy.