Orlando Day 2 – Universal (I Love The Rain)

December 18, 2010 at 10:38 pm | Posted in Travel, Travelogues | Leave a comment

It was raining hard in the morning.  We got a bit of a late start at about 9:30 and got to the park around 10.  As we were waiting in Citywalk for people to go to the bathroom I could see as I anticipated 80% of the crowd was heading to Islands of Adventure (IOA) and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  This seemed odd to me as most all the rides in IOA except Harry Potters Forbidden journey are outside and it was pouring!  Whereas at the Studios side most of the rides were inside. But being the impatient Americans we are, everyone MUST go to Harry Potter right away (think of all the parents circuming to their nagging kids.)

One thing I was surprised with was how big the Citywalk area was.   So we get to Curse of the Mummy at around 10:30 and there was only 5-10 min wait max.  Kids liked it so much we rode it twice.  Second time there was more like a 15  min wait. I think some of the people that initially went to IOA were realizing they made an unwise choice as the rain continued to pour and started to flock to Studios for shelter. Quite a good ride.  Sort of a combination of an abbreviated Indiana Jones/Dinosaur type ride combined with a short Space Mountain-type indoor roller coaster action.  A very unique ride.  Nothing I’ve rode quite like it.  Great theming.

By the time we were done riding it twice, it was just after 11 so we decided to try to beat the peak lunch crowd at The Three Broomsticks over in Potter-ville.  It was quite a walk over there and didn’t get to Three Broomsticks until about 11:45.  It was crowded but they have the flow of that place managed pretty well and we had virtually no wait to get a table.  We were disappointed that due to ‘trademark’ reasons, they couldn’t serve the Butterbeer without the cream topping which has ‘traces’ of dairy although milk is not a listed ingredient.  Jordan decided not to take a chance.  The drink tastes like a very sweet butterscotch/cream soda.  I couldn’t finish it.  Lunch for 2 Adults and 2 Kids ran us about $50 which is about what I expected here.  They basically had Chicken, Ribs, and Fish & Chips.  Food was decent but nothing to write home about.  I didn’t like the ribs very much.  Chicken was good as was Fish & Chips.

After lunch we decided to try Forbidden Journey, and were super surprised twice – first that the sign said the wait was only 20 min, then again when it turned out to essentially be a 5 min wait time, practically just walk on.  The walk-thru the castle to the ride itself takes 5-10 min alone and is interesting.  Lisa did just the walk through when we road it a second time. (Note that constantly having to stow stuff in the lockers was a pain so I would recommend using the lockers at the park entrance or not bringing bags.  Many of the rides (including Mummy) required you to stow things in a locker.)  The Forbidden Journey ride lived up to the hype the first time we rode it.  It is best not to go into detail and give it away for those that haven’t ridden it.  It was not quite as impressive the second time when you know what to expect but amazing nevertheless.  One thing I found curious was that the resolution on the screens seemed a little lower than I would have expected or maybe the focus was off or something.  At first I thought maybe my eyes were having trouble following the fast paced action but after the second ride I confirmed the screen image did NOT look very high-def to me but considering the size of the screen, it is still pretty good. I think the image could be higher resolution though.  My guess  is it was not filmed in IMAX.  It might be 1080 digital though as you are so close to it and it is a large projection.  Still a fantastic ride though demonstrating the current cutting edge of amusement park rides.  But it is not a ride that I personally would want to ride over and over and over again.  Twice in a day felt just right.

We road the kiddy coast (Hipogriff) next to it since there was only a 10-min wait.  Sort of a waste of time for our group but the theming was done very well.  I was impressed all the wood work, even the railing posts were real wood and not plastic molds made to look like wood.

We were also pleasantly surprised that despite past reports, none of the shops, except Olivanders, had a line.  So we walked right into Honey Dukes.  This shop and the adjoining Toy/Magic shop (or whatever it was) were not impressive in the least (to me).  It is almost like the shops were sort of an afterthought.  I do realize Olivanders is somewhat of an ‘attraction’ but think people are nuts to wait in line there when only one kid is picked from the group to be chosen by a wand.

The highlight of the day (other than Forbidden Journey having almost no wait) was Dragon Challenge.  I’m a bit of a roller coaster enthusiast and this is the best coaster I’ve ridden in the past half dozen years.  There was no wait at all, just walk right on.  So the second time we waited 10 min to ride in the first row.  Rode the faster orange side both times.  Incredibly smooth. The most G forces I’ve experienced on a coaster.  Downright scary at times when it seemed like we were going to collide with the other coaster! A superb coaster.  You know it is good when you have a little trouble walking after you get off.

Overall I thought the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a bit overrated.  But that is an Adult’s perspective (even being a kid at heart though.)  There is such a huge following of the Potter series I can see how it is insanely popular.  I saw 20-something walking around wearing Potter costumes.  The castle is very impressive, larger than I thought it would be but in my opinion at the expense of have to make Hogsmead smaller than I would have made it.

Next we did Cat in the Hat just for fun and because there wasn’t a line and I almost got whiplash not expecting that first spin!   We then headed over to the Marvel side.  Had a 10-min wait for Spider Man.  This ride was like Mummy in that there is nothing else like it I’ve ridden before but the ride struck me as being ‘old technology’  Not something worth waiting for to ride more than once in my opinion.  Hulk was a great coaster (only a 10 min wait), but I’d give the Dragon Challenge the (slight) edge over Hulk.

The rest of the group did Poseidon’s Fury but I passed and Lisa and I went and had a beer at the bar on the water by the plane.  I warned people they would get went and it turned out they were the laughing stock of the ride wearing their ponchos when you don’t get wet at all.  We joked it must be a “local’s secret” to setup the tourists and bluff that the ride gets you wet (or maybe they just ‘turned it down’ that wet cold day.)

There’s a TON of stuff to do at Universal.  We didn’t have time to go back to Studios side and do Men In Black and a few of the other better ones over there.  We will explore more on a half day before we return home.

Another note is that if you get there early I think the preferred parking is a waste of money as is the Valet parking.  The moving sidewalks and escalators get you between the parking garage and the park pretty quickly.

I was impressed with my first visit to Universal Orlando.  The quality and cleanliness of their parks is the closest to the Disney level that I’ve seen with a non-Disney park, (just taken them a while to get to catch up), but they still lack some of the superb creations on the level of a Pirates of the Caribbean or Haunted Mansion with the exception of  Harry Potter’s Forbidden Journey.  I think a Potter and/or Universal enthusiast could easily argue Forbidden Journey could be on track to be a classic like Pirates and HM.  Time will tell.

I research and plan things to a tee and have to admit I was totally on the fence as whether to try to do Hulk and Spiderman in the morning the move to Studios or do Studios first then Hulk and Spiderman after lunch.  I couldn’t get any definitive advice from ‘Universal Veterans’ to help make up my mind.  The most common advice was to do Potter first thing in the morning but I wasn’t convinced that was wise because that was what everyone else was doing due to impatience whether they were careful planners or not.  However after standing at the beginning of City walk where you go straight for IOA and right for Studios and watching the traffic pattern for a good ten minutes, even in the pouring down rain, 7-8 out of 10 people were going straight to the park (IOA) with all the outside rides (and Potter.)  So in my opinion, the wisest itinerary is to do Studios shortly after opening (Mummy, MIB, Rip Ride Rocket – the main three) followed by Hulk and Spiderman.  If you get there early enough I think you can do those main five rides and still avoid the peak lunch hour crowd for lunch, then check the lines at Potter Forbidden Journey right after lunch.  If they are long, do some lesser rides or take a nice long afternoon break and do Potter during the last hour or two the park is open when all the impatient kids have burnt our and left for the day.  Patience is the key.

My theory as to why the Potter lines were so short in the early afternoon on a Saturday is a) the rain – Universal is the type of park that the locals buy season passes to.  If you have a season pass and you wake up in the morning (maybe after partying Friday night too) are you going to go to the park when it is pouring down rain?  No.  b) If you have small children and have to push a stroller around, do you want to do it in the pouring rain?  No.  c) If you have small children and chanced that the rain would stop and it didn’t, are you going to sit their in the downpour listening to your complaining kids that they are wet all morning? No  d) The crazy tourists that DID go to Potter early in the morning, by late morning to early afternoon have already satisfied their impatient children and are now satisfying their hunger – so they are eating lunch from about 11:45 – 1:00 PM then moving on to other rides in the park.  So starting at noon, there is a lull in the lines in my estimation until about 1:30 when everyone is done eating lunch, IF, it is a slow day at the park such as a rainy one.  Now if it is a nice day and/or a busy part of the season, I would not expect you will get short lines around lunch like we did when it was raining.  But it is worth checking, especially if you can’t return to the park during the last two hours.

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