Saturday, June 22, 2013

Day 3 - Universal!


We raced through a quick breakfast of yogurt and mochas from a coffee stand and made it just in the nick of time to our shuttle. Shades of Green has a small shuttle, requiring reservations 1 day in advance, that costs about $10/person. It's the cheapest way of getting from here to there, and it was nice to not have to drive during any part of our vacation.  (I'm notorious for losing my rental car in parking lots!)

We raced through their downtown area, lined with shops, eateries, and concert venues, and straight to the front gate where we activated our tickets. S was free (thanks to a generous military promotion going on) and I got a discount. Our first destination was mapped out - Islands of Adventure and Harry Potter! I was really interested in the 'Sinbad' style entry way, with its towering lighthouse, tropical themed shops, and small carts for food and drinks. I was later disappointed to discover that the themeing didn't carry over into the food and drink offered. We rushed through and followed the crowd to the highly anticipated Harry Potter area.

The 'on vacation' beard'
Sadly, I got motion sick on the first attraction we rode (the ride inside Hogwart's), so that really put a damper on my day. Rides that S enjoyed, just about made me hurl, but we did have a few rides in common that we really enjoyed. Read on!

As for the Harry Potter area, the ride itself felt as if it was unfinished or already out of date. While there were a few genuinely creepy moments, I can easily say the best part of the ride was the entertainment in while you were in line. On the upside, as curvy as I am, I was concerned I wouldn't be able to ride. They have pretty strict dimensions for riders and bottom heavy riders like me don't fit in well. I'm happy to report, I fit in just fine.

Yeah... you never get to get this close to the dragon. Boo hiss.
Hopefully they'll update The attraction for the California version! The atmosphere of the town and school were pretty cool, though it was odd to see snow on the rooftops in the middle of an 80+ degree day. One of the cool little attractions in the area was a small choir (complete with puppet toads, just like in the movies). It was great fun to listen to them while S rode the roller coaster. (I opted not to ride since, we were nearing the front of the line before someone told us we had to go all the way back to the entrance to stow our backpack...)  Here are some of our photos from Hogwarts!


The one really annoying thing about Universal is that you can't take your bag on any ride. Actually, that's not the annoying part. The annoying part is that it's rarely posted that you need to check your bag at a locker before entering the line and most employees don't bother to tell you when you enter...So there we were, nearly at the front of the line, when an employee says, "Oh, you'll have to go back through the line to the begining and check your bag at the locker and get back in line to ride." Ugh. By this time I was a little motion sick anyway, and supremely annoyed, so I opted to explore the town of Hogsmead rather than make S get BACK in line and start over...Yes, the lockers are free for about the duration of the line, which is nice, but the hassle of waiting in line and then waiting again with the mass of people that just exited the ride to gain access to your locker... it's just a pain and a waste of valuable vacation time.

Anyway, in my exploration, I stumbled across a drink called Pumpkin Juice! Sounds delicious, right? I snatch up a bottle of it right away. It was already a hot and humid Florida day, so it sounded like just the right treat to share when S got off the roller coaster.


 It was so sweet, we only had about 2 sips each and then had to throw it away. I was pretty disappointed. It sounded so refreshing! If anything, I expected it to be watery! Not Sweet! Pumpkin and apple juice... but it might as well have been concentrate from both juices. It was sickly sweet (which didn't help my stomach issues at all). After that experience, we skipped on the infamous ButterBeer all together. The line was REALLY long and the drinks were expensive. I'd already heard rumors that it was incredibly sweet - and already wasted  $7 on a drink that we threw away - so we moved on to explore other areas of the park instead.

 On to...

This was probably the best themed area of Islands of Adventure, next to Harry Potter. It reminded me a bit of pieces of Disney Animal Kingdom. We were both really looking forward to this ride. This time, we figured we should check our bag first, just because we knew you got really wet on this one!

 It turned out to be great fun, and we got on it in the nick of time! One common complaint about Universal is that the rides break down on a regular basis. Upon riding the shuttle home, we heard from our fellow passengers that nearly every attraction we enjoyed broke down as soon as we go off of it! Crazy!

Second Row - 2 seats on the right
We got wet and had a really fun time. At night time, this ride would be genuinely spooky, I'm sure!

After a great ride, we sought out some healthy food!  We found it fairly easily, which was a nice surprise! Eating in a room that was themed after the Visitor's Center in Jurassic Park. We shared a ribs and chicken patter, with baked plantain chips. The chips were incredibly bland, but the rest of the meal was good.

The view from the Visitor's Center is of the observation platform for the big drop on the Jurassic Park ride. Check out that splash!

The Hulk

We hopped in a (long) line to ride The Hulk next. It was a great ride, and, though the line say 45 minutes, it was well over an hour and a half. What made the line more annoying was that the 15 screens placed around the attractions que area all played the same, 5 minute cartoon loop over and over and over.... you get the picture. I suspect THIS is why they sell beer in the park - because it keeps the general population sedate in the Florida heat. The ride was fun, but not worth the line, and the hassle of getting our bag from the locker afterwards...
In strolling through the "comic book" themed area of Islands of Adventure, we were able to run into a few costumed characters. The Green Goblin was the most memorable. Unlike Disney's costumed characters, this fellow was allowed to talk (and spook) little kids. It must have made being in a mask and slim fitting costume more fun.

At that point we walked over into the other park (Universal Studios - the park which rushed Disney MGM Studios into opening earlier than expected). We were already dragging a little bit. This park was lovely to walk around. I think I could have had fun just strolling around and soaking in the hollywood-that-we-all-hope-wished-actually-existed atmosphere. We got to check out Terminator 3D (which was fun, but dated), The Simpsons (fun, but I was so nauseated, and the motion simulator was in a stifflingly muggy room that smelled like baby burps - so not helpful to the nausea thing...) and Men in Black.
Men in Black Attraction
The easy hands-down favorite attraction of the day was The Amazing Spiderman. They really took some notes from Disney and did everything right on this one. The que area was immersive. It felt like we'd just walked into the offices of the Daily Bugle! Instead of going for a 'realism' effect (like Harry Potter's area and Jurassic Park), designers fully embraced the comic book feel. We're pretty lucky we got on it! We heard later that it broke down for the rest of the day.

In line for The Amazing Spider Man
On the way out of the park, we ended up getting a drink from a cart that was about to close. Turned out, he had some hot dogs he was going to throw away too, so we ended up getting a free bite on the way out to share as well.  (After all, they were just going to throw it away anyway.)

We returned to meet our shuttle and headed back to Shades of Green before the sun had set. The shuttle ride proved very enlightening. Our fellow passengers complained of closed attractions, long lines, and the inconsistent bag checking policies as well. Oddly enough, our of the seven other passengers, only one was planning on returning.

We spent the evening at arcade area in Shades of Green playing some air hockey and getting some R&R. S caught up with a few friends about the latest and greatest Playstation strides (PS4 was announced on this day) and I got in a quick work out.

With that day behind us, the next day lead to a new hotel and a very wet adventure!