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Thread: Starting Summer Vacation with a Bang .

  1. #26
    Day 7 - Universal Studios - AM

    Note to the Planners among you - many things can be delegated. Perhaps, the responsibility to set the alarm on days when early entry is critical should not.

    With only one day at Universal, we stayed on site specifically to take advantage of the hour long early entry for guests at Universal hotels. Somehow, whether by genuine mistake or "accidentally on purpose", DH set his alarm 50 minutes later than he was supposed to. The late wake-up began what felt like a domino effect that impacted our day.

    We dashed around madly, at the same time getting dressed, wolfing breakfast, packing, and finding a trolley to clear out the room. We dropped our luggage at bell services and then scrambled to get onto the next bus to the park. Spent precious 10 minutes at guest services trying to get disability access sorted (which really, I should have taken care of the evening before but somehow I did not remember to take the park entry tickets with me when I spoke with guest services then) but the line - which would have been empty had we arrived at time originally intended - was long. I gave up and we joined the crowd funnelling past security checking for hotel residence. By the time we got to the very back of the park where Gringotts ride is located, there was a long line already. We were directed to first place our backpack in the storage lockers. Theses are free for the little ones (can fit a couple of phones, keys, smallish purses) but had a fee for the ones large enough for a backpack. With that precious hour of early entry evaporating, we decided to do rider swap rather than take the time to search though everyone's money to see if we had the correct combination.

    The queue for Gringotts is fantastic. You really feel like you are in a bank staffed by judgmental goblins who are trying to get their work done while being distracted by an irritating stream of intruders. Then you go down into the subterranean levels, really like some some kind of catacombs. DD opted to remain in the waiting room with DH as she was worried about intensity of the ride, so DS and I rode the first round. It was great, and within managable levels intensity-wise, so when we got off I encouraged DD to ride with DH. She allowed herself to be persuaded, so we rode again (as staff allowed our party to remain together). I liked how the ride shows why the dragon is perched on top of the tower when you tour Diagon Alley.

    Off of Gringotts, DS wanted to rush to Transformers, his single most anticipated ride of the whole trip. So we did. With hindsight, we should have taken some minutes for the fam to tour Diagon Alley during morning light and low crowds while I went to Guest Services on that side of the park to arrange access pass. But at the time, we thought it was early enough that Transformers should have been a walk-on. Big mistake. It now not only ate 45 minutes at precious start of day just in line, without counting actual ride time, but this queue was head and shoulders the most difficult waiting space of our whole trip. The queue explains the necessary backstory to understand what will happen on the ride, so in theory it is a useful part of the whole experience and does give you something to look at/listen to while waiting. But in practice, even as a non-sensory-challenged person, I found it hard to deal with the constant barrage of input. It is loud, there are spinning red lights, and the atmosphere intentionally conveys panic as the concept is that the planet is under attack and the riders are the last line of defence going into battle with the transformers. It would be OK if one were just taking a few minutes to walk through. But 45 minutes felt like a constant assault and left me feeling tense and with a headache even before I got on the ride, which was creative and thrilling but also more of the same as in the queue, but intensified. So for me, this was one and done, but DS loved the ride, so I guess it was worthwhile.

    He did, though, need a bit of time to "re-set", outside of any ride, and not in the sun (which by this time, mid-morning, was already verging on maximum scorch). He and DH browsed the Transformer shop and went to get in line to meet Optimus Prime while DD and I headed to guest services. On the way we stopped for pic with the penguins of Madagascar (awesome interaction) and in Springfield at Lardlad for one of the dinner-plate sized pink glazed donuts with Sprinkles DD desperately wanted to memorialize on her social media. They come boxed, and in her eagerness to open it up for that series of pix, she somehow managed to drop it. As she bent down to pick it up to throw away, a duck who had apparently been patrolling under the nearby outdoor umbrella seating dashed over and snatched it out of her grasp, and ran away with the prize. Who knew ducks like donuts? Who knows how many generations of Orlando ducks are now raised on pink glaze and sprinkles?? The Lardlad staff were very nice and gave her another one. She barely ate one-fifth. For the curious: it tastes like an average donut, and was not fresh-made. I think they are made off-site and frozen. Ours was still not quite fully thawed when we got it.

    We rejoined our men and rode Shrek (all liked it), then stepped into the Today Newscafe for a snack and air conditioning. It was very recently renovated, and we really liked it. Fresh, tasty, quickly-served sandwiches, heavenly AC, friendly and efficient staff. Highly recommend.

    We got in line to meet Shrek and Fiona but got out again before speaking with them because the sun was unbearable. Got a time for Minions, which was an hour out. We walked over to Race in New York, which has its own sort-of-fastpass system. You draw a ticket for the time to return to the queue. We walked around, looking at stores and entertainers, and then went into Jimmy Fallon line. The pre-ride area is the most comfortable of all that we experienced, with inside seating, some consoles with a video game, and a live a cappella group. Really nice. The ride was fine, but I was definitely starting to feel the cumulative effect of all those immersive simulation experiences and optical effects. By the time we got out and headed back to Minions, we were all feeling kind of fried. The attendant allowed us into the line 15 minutes sooner than our designated time, and the wait in that line was about 20 minutes. We enjoyed the Gru family portraits and wall art crayoned on by the girls while we waited. Then on to the Minion ride (for which I had to close my eyes multiple times). Kids liked it. Danced a bit with the minions at ride exit and got in line for pictures with them. Then out of the park and back to the hotel for a much-needed break.

    It may say something that at the Disney parks, I stayed all day without difficulty, but at Universal I felt utterly spent by 1:30 - even though we woke up an hour later than we did on Disney days. In fairness, this had also felt like the hottest day so far, and perhaps, if we had done the parks in reverse order (with Epcot last) I might have felt the same way on the Epcot day. But somehow, I suspect not. I think this was a testament to the intensity of the Universal simulation rides. This is both a good thing (since you really, really feel them, and I doubt that many people get off them and say "Is that all?" which is something I did say about a number of Disney rides) and depending on your personal perspective a negative thing - since there are only so many someone like me can go through before total overload.
    Last edited by Monica; 08-15-2019 at 01:49 PM.

  2. #27
    Senior Member nolarookie's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2011
    Sorry you didn’t enjoy Universal. I kind of love it since it’s smaller and much easier to plan than Disneyworld—although if you’re lacking express passes and miss their early opening I can see how you’d feel behind the 8 ball all day.

  3. #28
    Quote Originally Posted by nolarookie View Post
    Sorry you didn’t enjoy Universal. I kind of love it since it’s smaller and much easier to plan than Disneyworld—although if you’re lacking express passes and miss their early opening I can see how you’d feel behind the 8 ball all day.
    Hi Nola.

    It's not that I don't like Universal. It's that it felt like I would need two days to complete - enjoyably - the amount of activities I can manage in 1 at Disney. Also, with hindsight, we should have tried to intersperse rides with shows.

  4. #29
    Senior Member nolarookie's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2011
    Yeah I agree, if you want to do both parks there I’d say it’s a three day event if you’re hustling.

  5. #30
    Day 7 - Universal Studios - PM

    We took the bus back to Surfside Endless Summer and more or less collapsed in the cool of the lobby, waiting for our Turo host to drop off the car.

    Turo, for those who may not be familiar, is an awesome service I only recently discovered as I tried to research rental cars for this part of our trip. Turo is kind of like Airbnb for cars. People make their personal vehicles available short-term, and clients who "occupy" them pay a daily fee to the car owner, plus a small connection fee to Turo and as well as for insurance. It was significantly lower cost than traditional rental companies, and we chose a vehicle that had the option of being delivered to our hotel and could be dropped off at the airport (as opposed to having to be picked up and dropped off at the owner's residence). Our host (shout-out to Brennan Duk of the 2019 Toyota Corolla, who was an excellent, flexible, collaborative host) texted us that he would be a bit late and offered in apology to assume responsibility for topping up the tank prior to our own drop-off. So I put on my bathing suit and went out to the pool.

    Brennan eventually arrived, and we piled into the car for the very brief drive over to our last hotel, the Drury Inn. This is an older property which came highly recommended in terms of location, spacious rooms, and included breakfast. Staff at this property one and all turned out to be very friendly, and outgoingly helpful. We had a suite with two large rooms, two TVs, and a sort of butler's pantry area that was very handy for food prep and storage. I was only allowed to enjoy the luxurious amount of space for a short time as DD had discovered there was a Chik Fil A across the road. There are very few of these north of the border (any?) and she could not rest until she had tried it for herself. So back out in the broiling sun we marched. Got the kids some different things to sample, and they enjoyed it while I had a very refreshing power nap.

    This hotel chain offers something called Kickback in the later afternoon/early evening which I had pictured as something similar to the small plates offered on weekday evenings at Homewood Suites. This was the same concept, but perhaps a cut or two lower in quality to the level offered at Homewood (or at least, the ones where we have stayed). The Italian side of our family, for example, would wish to smack someone here upside the head for daring to apply the word "pasta" to the noodle-shaped but definitely not pasta-label worthy objects on offer here a few nights.

    Still, the salad was always plentiful and fresh, there were baked potatoes every evening if one didn't trust the "pasta" situation, and the kids liked the daily offer of hot dogs and nachos with cheese sauce. DH and I made use of the unexpectedly huge and amazingly excellent prepared foods area at Whole Foods across the street, on the opposite corner of Chick Fil A (which was kind of a funny juxtaposition). And the next time we return to Orlando, for sure my kids will want to stay here again for the single reason that free popcorn is available in the lobby in the afternoons and evenings.

    We happened to overhear the very useful bit of information that after 6:00 pm, parking at the Universal lot is free. So we hopped back in the car and returned to the park. The kids went on the Simpson ride together as DH and I enjoyed a pretty twilight in Springfield. Then we all headed over to Diagon Alley in hopes of being amazed.

    And we were. What an astonishing piece of immersive theming. I think it is even better than Hogsmeade village on the other side. We wandered the shops and squares and bought chocolate frogs and ate ice cream in flavous you can't find outside of Potterworld and got pleasantly creeped out by Knockturn Alley and marvelled whenever someone with an interactive wand succeeded in making a bit of magic work. Sadly, the dragon never once breathed fire while we were there (we were told he doesn't like wet or overly humid weather) but he was massively impressive nonetheless. One of the very best bits though was outside Diagon Alley, and seemed to be sadly overlooked by the majority of visitors. The Knight bus, with conductor and shrunken head passenger, turned out to be even more hilarious than the monster of Monsters Inc or Crush at Epcot. We had a fantastic conversation with them, and listened to two others with other visitors who took the time to stop awhile rather than taking a single photo and then dashing on to the Hogwarts Express or whereever. Highly, highly recommend chatting with this comic duo on any visit to Universal. We didn't have park to park tickets so we couldn't ride the train, but I had hoped we could at least look at it. Nope.

    Closing time was fast approaching so we slowly moved on, regretful that we hadn't stayed longer in Diagon Alley in the morning. We arrived at Fast & Furious and to our surprise DD did not seem reluctant to give it a try. So we all went on with very little wait and didn't try too hard to understand the logic of the pre-ride backstory the characters were trying to convey (the best way to deal with a bunch of gangsters is by getting on a party bus? Really?). The ride was fun in a doesn't-really-make-sense way, but I guess the same could be said of every ride we had been on that day. No one but me was interested in The Mummy as we walked by, so we let that be and headed towards the exit.

    Drove back to hotel and enjoyed anticipatory bliss of knowing we could wake up whenever we wanted the next morning.

    Ride Impressions:
    Motion Sickness/Claustrophobia: Gringotts was not as bad as I feared it would be, certainly easier to deal with than the ride on "broomsticks" out of the castle in the sister park (that one incapacitated me, I had to be literally pulled out of the vehicle by elder DS and sat in the rider swap room with my eyes closed and non-speaking for close to half and hour ). In Transformers the queue was difficult, and the ride was manageable with a few moments of closing eyes. Race through New York and Minions same. Shrek was OK. Had heard that Simpsons ride is not good for either of these conditions, so I didn't even try. Though it is in the other park, in case it is helpful I will share that I had some bad moments at Poseidon's Adventure (or whatever its called) - not during the ride, but in the queue. We waited for what seemed a long time, the ceiling was low, there were MANY people, and the heat made it stuffy. By the time the line moved to let us into the pre-ride area I was hyperventilating and feeling dizzy. Just FYI.

    ASD: Having learned from previous park days, we kept DS in the middle of our family group in queues. He knew kind of what to expect from Gringotts, Transformers and Fast & Furious rides, so he did fine with them. it was the mid-day heat and crowds rather than the rides that made him less verbal and more frowny as the day wore on. But he managed to deal with everything that came his way without complaint.

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