Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Bradshaws Take on Fabulous Florida! (cont.)

Ready for adventure!
On Day 2 at Universal Studios, we were again up and at 'em for early park entry. After breakfast at Bayliner Diner, we hopped the shuttle and got to the park gates before the line got very long. On the way in (and to Diagon Alley), we noticed that Despicable Me Minion Mayhem was already open. We stopped for a no-wait ride. It was so cute! It's more of a 3-D show with moving theatre seats and some additional effects than a ride, but we loved it!

After enjoying this ride, we made our way to Diagon Alley, where we caught a no-wait performance of the wand-choosing ceremony at Ollivander's. Then, we went into the wand shop and let Clay pick out an interactive wand. Ollivander's sells two types of wands - non-interactive ($25) and interactive ($50). The interactive wands can be used to make magic within the parks. Clay picked out one similar to Dumbledore's wand from the movies, and we were off to make magic! This is so fun! The wands come with maps to where you can cast spells in both Harry Potter parks. Over the course of that day and the next, we worked every spell marked. Clay made feathers levitate, opened up boxes full of chocolate frogs in shop windows, and had big fun exploring the dark corners of Knockturn Alley. (At one spell station, an eye appears in a door when you cast your spell. If you then try to OPEN the door, a blast of air shoots out at you! A fun surprise!)

After doing a good bit of magic, we realized the rest of the park was opening up. We backtracked to Revenge of the Mummy, checked our wand in a free locker, and rode it twice, back to back, with no wait. This ended up being one of my favorite rides in the park! So old school and fun! Fire on the ceiling, mummies that jump out at you, and plenty of spills and chills! While we were in the area, we also rode Transformers: The Ride-3D with almost no wait. I really liked this one. It's more in the vein of Escape from Gringotts in that it combines some motion, 3-D, and other effects to create a full experience.

Watching a baby raptor hatch at the Jurassic
Discovery Center.
We decided to take the Hogwarts Express again to the other park. This time, there was almost no wait (YAY!), so we were quickly on our way. Also, because there was no line this time, we got the chance to film and take pictures of ourselves "disappearing" into Platform 9 3/4. This is a really cool effect!

Once we got to Islands of Adventure (the other park), we practiced our magic a bit. We next checked out the Jurassic Park Discovery Center, where we heard all about how they care for their baby triceratops, explored what fossils lie beneath the rock wall, looked through the eyes (and roared through the vocal chords) of dinos, and watched a baby raptor hatching.

Hubs and I needed to sit a spell, so we let Clay loose in Camp Jurassic. He LOVED this place, but came out dripping wet!! It was about 11 a.m., so we grabbed lunch al fresco (and in the sunshine) at Thunder Falls Terrace (OUT of the splash zone). I'd heard that this place was really yummy and served real food. It didn't disappoint! We had delicious ribs, chicken, corn on the cob, and salad.

Ok, so maybe we got a *little* wet in
Camp Jurassic . . . 
Clay was still pretty damp, so we took him to one of the people dryers near Ripsaw Falls to dry him out. (I didn't want wet socks and shoes leading to blistered and painful feet.) Full of good food and nice and dry, we popped back over to Hogsmeade to catch the Hogwarts frog choir performance and walked out of the park through Seuss Landing, riding the Caro-Seuss-el and snapping goofy pictures. We were pretty pooped that night, so we didn't return to the park. We stayed in, had lunch at Bayliner Diner, and walked around the resort.

On our last day at Universal, we started by riding Gringotts again, with almost no wait! (Now that we had our wand, we had to check it in one of the free lockers. Just know that you can't take the wand on some of the more fast-paced rides.) Once we'd done that, we explored Diagon Alley and bit more and then backtracked to the front of the park to ride Shrek 4-D. (This one was really fun! Similar to the Despicable Me Minion Mayhem attraction.) While Clay and I did that, hubs rode Rip Ride Rockit twice, with no wait. (Clay was *just* tall enough for this one, but it looked too scary for him. So, we went to Shrek while hubs got in the very short single rider line.)

After that, we crode The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman Ride in 3-D! We hadn't spent much time in the Marvel Super Hero Island part of the park, and Clay loved this ride. Very similar to the Transformers ride - some motion, video, and special effects to create the illusion that you're fighting bad guys all around the city. The wait time, too, was really cute and entertaining, as you wind through the newspaper offices and get your assignment from J.J. Jameson.

Lunching at Three Broomsticks!
The whole time we'd been at Universal, we'd been trying to ride Skull Island: Reign of Kong. But there was always a 60-90 minute wait. A quick check of the app showed the wait time at 25 minutes, so we went over and got in line. The line moved really quickly, and we were very close to the end of it when the line just stopped moving. A voice came over the loudspeaker that the ride was having a malfunction. (Sad face.) They shut it down, giving all of us express passes to come back when it opened later in the day. It never did, so we missed this one. (Shoot.)

By this time, we were getting hungry for lunch. We popped over to Three Broomsticks for fish and chips, cottage pies, chicken tenders, and butterbeers. Afterwards, I sneaked into Honeydukes and bought Christmas candies! They will deliver purchases to your on-property hotel or hold them for you at the front of the park so you don't have to lug them around all day.

Then, we chatted a bit with the Mystic Fountain and headed in to The Eighth Voyage of Sinbad Stunt Show, which features live action stunts, fire and water effects, and really corny comedy. (The more groan-worthy the jokes, the better Clay likes them! I'm rolling my eyes, and Clay is typically laughing like a mad man! Heh.) This was a fun way to cool our heels for a bit. The stunts are cool to see, and you get a little wet if you sit in the splash zone! (Note: Poseidon's Fury, another show, was closed for renovations during our visit. Visiting any park during off or shoulder season usually means that some rides/attractions will be closed for maintenance or repairs. The trade-off is lower prices and less crowds.)

Taking aim at Bilge Rat Barges riders from The Olive
We explored Seuss Landing, where we rode Cat in the Hat and the Seuss Trolley. (These rides are for the smaller set. But Clay loved Dr. Seuss when he was little, and I am trying to hang onto his baby years! Don't judge me!)

Still going strong, we popped back to the super hero side of the park. Brian wanted to ride The Incredible Hulk Coaster. While he did that, Clay and I rode Storm Force Accelatron twice (no waits at all!) and got pics with Wolverine!!  Then, we met back up and explored the nearby play area  Me Ship, The Olive, gleefully spraying folks riding on Popeye and Bluto's Bilge Rat Barges ride with those handy water cannons!

Winding down for the day, we stopped by Reign of Kong again to see if was re-opened. No dice. So, we used our express passes to ride Forbidden Journey again, and then took the Hogwarts Express BACK to Diagon Alley. (We hadn't done this so far, and I recommend it! The show is different each way, so you get a new experience!) Back on the other side of the park, we walked out slowly, saying goodbye to Universal!
Wolverine!!

As we were leaving, we noticed that the E.T. Adventure ride had no wait time! We walked right in, and I'm so glad we did. I LOVED this ride. You sit on old-school bikes, and tears nearly sprang to my eyes when we rode out over the city all lit up at night, crossing the moon along with Elliot and E.T. (This made me think of the Peter Pan ride at Disney World. A very powerful illusion.) This story was one from my generation, and the ride hit me right where I live.

To sum up our adventure in Universal Studios, I'd say that the Harry Potter parts of each park are both wonderful, especially when you can experience them at low-crowd times. Other favorites included Revenge of the Mummy and Ripsaw Falls. Looking back, I don't know if staying on property was worth it for us on this trip, because (as I mentioned before) the WHOLE PARK doesn't really open early. Perhaps if we'd stayed at one of the pricier properties (which include express passes), this would have been a more valuable benefit. (But, Lord, it does rankle to pay extra for an express pass at Universal when Disney provides fast passes for popular rides for FREE, letting you maximize your time in the park. When I compare Universal to Disney in this regard, there's no contest. Disney has come up with a better way to control crowd flow in its parks. Which is genius, really, because the time you spend standing in line isn't revenue-generating time. You aren't browsing the gift shop or getting an ice cream or otherwise spending any dollars. It's smart for the park to minimize your wait time as a customer.)

That night, after dinner at Bayliner Diner, it was sitting around the fire pit and taking a dip in the sauna before packing up for the next part of our adventure - Daytona Beach!

More to come . . .

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