Saturday, July 31, 2010

A Final Day at Universal Studios Florida

Universal Studios Florida, where you can ride the movies. What fun!

It's been a good three days, and here we are at the end of our days here. Day four. Islands of Adventure calls once more, and we take our second day there. For anyone planning on checking out Universal, four days really is required. You could try to rush through it in two, one for each park, and that's more than doable if you have the X-Press (skip the lines) pass, but otherwise, take four – relax, enjoy it. With the hours lost each day to the wrestling, we couldn't have done it in any less time. Also – the price of a one day ticket is something silly like 107.00 now, due to Harry Potter. A four day pass? That's only 135.00 – it just makes sense.

Speaking of Harry Potter – as we walked in, there were guards yelling that those wishing to see the Wizarding World would need to walk around through Jurassic Park. This was only a little confusing as the main entrance, where you walk into town passing the train, gaining the unbelievable view of the town, as you look down main street, with the castle over head, is through Seuss Landing.

Was this to try and control the flow of people? Or had the train exploded causing that section to be blocked off? Maybe a child projectile vomited everywhere? Who could say. All I knew is that meant everyone would be wandering the park away from Seuss Landing, allowing us a chance to get in there and ride the rides without having to wait in long lines.

Now, I knew the area would be somewhat empty, but I didn't expect the ghost town that I came across. There were no lines. None – you just walked up, and got right on. Which was great, because these rides? They're interesting, but I would not have found them as lovely if I stood for half an hour to gain the experience.

The Cat in the Hat is the only ride you need to do here. Strapping yourself into the cart, you are taken through a mixed up wonderland telling the entire tale from the much beloved book. The entire text comes to life, with the recreated home being intruded upon by The Cat, and his two Things. The poor goldfish is as tormented as others, and the children narrate the tale.

The cutesy nature, and constant rhyming may create the “It's a Small World” effect for some – a strong desire to destroy everything in sight – but for most, this is as close to a book come alive as you'll ever find.

By the end of the ride, I found myself questioning who was really at fault – as a child, you blame the cat, perhaps – then as you grow, you blame the children for allowing him in and not listening to the fish, but then you reach a stage where it becomes obvious that this large, in charge, cat with blue haired alien beasts busted his way into the home. There was nothing the children could have done to stop him. Then one needs to ask themselves what type of parent leaves children unattended for extended periods of time? If this cat – who seemed to enjoy cleaning up after breaking things – could get in, what other sort of people could make their way into the house, gaining access to the youngsters? Clearly this is a cautionary tale for adults more than anything.

This is why I can't enjoy any more. University, you ruined me.

Next up in Seuss land was One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. You jumped into either a red, blue, single, or double fish. Then the rhyme was played over the speakers telling you to go up or down depending on the fish you were in. If you did as you were told, huzzah – you stayed dry. Should you have gone against the rhyme, you would be squirted with water. Avoiding is easy – getting wet? That takes real work. I disobeyed as best I could, only managing a small sprinkle. The jets always seemed to turn off just before I was to hit them.

If there is a second ride in Seuss land that you must take it is the Trolley. The Seuss Trolley is a train that makes its way over head through the entire Seuss land. The line, were you to wait in it – as I said, we just walked right on – tells the story of the Sneeches. On board, you wind through the fantastical town and have various sights pointed out to you. Each building here has significance, and there are all sorts of hidden references to other texts that you would have most likely missed, lest to take this ride. It also pointed out Sneech Beach, where they lounged in the water fishing.

Once more, told entirely in rhyme, this narrated tour of Seuss Landing is well worth the experience. And while the signs may tell you no photography, don't worry – if those two crazy moms in front of you keep snapping away at their darlingest dearest, you'll probably be fine too.

Off the train we headed back to one of the sights we'd seen from above – If I Ran the Zoo.

We grabbed some Moose Juice and Goose Juice on route. These Oosey Juices? Purple slushie.

In “The Zoo” you have to crawl through holes, and make your way behind little mazes, fulfilling certain requirements like pumping a lever, turning on a faucet, or tickling toes to make monsters pop up for your amusement. There is also a small children's water park hidden back here.

More of a play area than a ride, there are no lines – you just need to wander in and experience more of the wondrous world of Dr. Seuss.

From Seuss we explored the Lost Continent, which was more or less just a temple you walked through, watching pyro effects, and laughing at a guide's jokes. There was also a fountain here with a camera in its mouth, so it could talk to you if you threw a coin in. Finally there was a stunt show – but that was forty five minutes away. We would check out Harry Potter's world before coming back for that.

We headed towards Potter Land, determined to see why we couldn't enter from this direction. When we got to the gate, the entire opening had been boarded up. No one was going in or out. Had something terrible happened during the last two days? Walking around, we made our way into Jurassic Park to go through the other entrance. Here the land was open, and we started to make our way inside.

“What are you doing?” a guard asked.
“Isn't this the way to Potter Land?”
“Yeah – but you gotta line up for it!”

Line up for it? Really? You have to line up to enter an area, and then line up again to ride a ride? You have got to be kidding! There was no line on Sunday. People who line up have to enter through this gate, which is more of a back door, than down the awe inspiring main strip?

There was anger and rage bubbling to the surface. I wanted to see it again, but I wasn't going to wait in line. As I made my way to the Jurassic Park river ride, once more, I noticed the line snaked back the entire distance. It must have been a three hour wait just to get in! No wonder there were no lines for anything – everyone really was in this terrible terrible monstrosity.

Instead of an hour, we waited only twenty minutes to board the river cruise, and once more we made our way through Jurassic Park, still awed by the great drop at the end. I can't explain how much I loved this ride. Had I experienced it in my youth, I think I don't think I could have loved it any more than I do now. Timeless joy.

We rushed back to the Lost Continent and grabbed seats for the Sindbad stunt show... it wasn't s great, and we'll leave it at that. Where most of the shows are well worth going to in these parks, this one? It can be skipped free of regrets.

With Harry Potter cut off, we walked back around the park to the main gate. There funnel cake was to be found. The biggest, most gigantic, ice cream, whipped cream, strawberry, sugar, chocolate sauced funnel cake I'd ever seen. All for the low low price of six fifty. Most parks had raised the prices on these to near double, but here was a delicious treat at a price I could get behind. Shared, it was filling. For one to eat the whole thing? That would be a challenge. And as much as I loved it, it wasn't me who could be seen licking the plate clean at the end.

From the tasty treat we entered, once more, in Marvel Superhero Island. We skipped the Hulk coaster first time through. We would not skip it again. For the first time today we found ourselves in a real line. Forty minutes we waited. At the thirty five minute mark we had to choose if we'd carry on, or wait in the first row line. We'd come this far – we might as well wait for the front row. It's one thing to ride along, it's another to have a perfect view of everything coming up, watching the hill in front of you give way to twists and turns, and spins.

Taking four people per row, waiting for the front only left us two coasters back from where we would have been. Those extra two minutes were well worth it, for the view as we plunged into a tunnel of mist, before rolling up an over the entire park. Roller coasters – what fun, and delight they can be! Now if only I could get that repeating “I am Bruce Banner, blah blah blah” video out of my head that they had set to repeat in the line. Dr. Doom's Leopold, it was not.

Time had passed by this point. We looked around shops, we wandered through areas, and we ate a pizza lunch down in Toon Lagoon. We also climbed up and explored the Olive – Popeye's ship, with three levels of interactive play. The best part were the canons on the side, which could be fired at the people riding a raft ride down below. They would look up, wondering why they were wet all of a sudden, only to see us shooting down at them. There was also one boy who seemed far too old to be so excited, screaming like a pirate, giving us all orders. It would have been weird were it not so funny. It's good to see teenagers who have not fallen into the, “must act cool all the time,” phase. Although, unlike many of the others his age, he didn't have a bikini-clad girl hanging off of him. There may be some correlation there. Still – fun's fun.

By the time we were back in Jurassic Park, the line for Harry Potter seemed shorter – actually the farther we walked, we realized that it no longer existed at all. In the area we walked – suckers, waiting hours. There's the secret, if there's a line, enjoy the rest of the park, come back later.

The problem with limiting the people inside is that you will make them feel like if they leave they'll never get back in, which will prevent them from leaving, which will prevent others from entering, which will create the line that makes people think they'll never get back in – open it up and all's well. In an area where you need to line up to enter restaurants and shops, why not just let people walk around as they will?

The main entrance, with the fantastic view was also accessible now that the line was gone.

First things first, we made our way to the Hippogriff ride. It was the only one we skipped before, as it was childish, but I wanted to see the line. The lines here are so fantastic, they can be better than the rides at times. This line took us past Hagred's cottage, and the care of magical creatures class. There was also a baby Hippogriff that needed to be bowed to in order to gain its respect.

The lines in this area were still long, and we were looking at a forty five minute wait for a coaster that I didn't really care to ride all that much. Still, when the sky got grey thirty minutes in, I didn't want to lose the opportunity. By thirty five minutes there was rain and lightening. It was still a ways off though. I wondered how long it would be until the ride was shut down. Forty minutes, and the lightening was close – as shocked as I was they were still operating it, I wanted to get on. Finally we sat on board, and screamed and hollered (the only on our ride to do so) as it slowly banked corners, and returned to the station. The train following our was the last to leave the station. The ride was shut down. Had we taken a minute or two more to get in line we would have missed out on the opportunity.

With the day stretching on, aware that we had to return to Port Charlotte this night, we started to finish up. Still, we could not leave until we had ridden the Harry Potter ride once more. The line up was said to be seventy five minutes, ninety if you needed lockers. I quickly left the line, went around to the store, and accessed the lockers from another side, skipping that whole line. Now we just had seventy five minutes. Entering the single riders line we cut that down to twenty. Twenty is a good amount of time to wait. When you can't see the rider beside you the singles line is a perfect option.

I was with a family that included a young girl who screamed and shrieked with every dementor an spider. It was a great experience to hear how the ride was meant to be experienced. I also found myself looking at how the ride worked (the simulator dome screen moves with your cart during those sections.) Also, parts that were broken the first time – the Willow, and the Hermione videos – were up and running.

It was far better the second time as you could look around, and fully experience it, rather than just being amazed by the fact that it exists.

With that checked off we started to leave – but couldn't. Not before going to Olivander's wand shop. This required a fifty minute wait to get in. Inside Olivander choose two people to test the wands and see if they were right. Ladders were moved, bells were rung, an lights shone from above. It was a cute little piece of magic that brought the world to life – next up was the wand shop proper, full of people willing to pay thirty dollars for their own wand. The best part of them? The authentic Olivander's box they come in.

Here you could also pay one hundred dollars to buy your child robes. It's shocking how many wee ones I saw walking around in them. Cosplay is alive and well, and fully funded, here.

Out of one shop, and into another. Having learned that Chocolate Frogs do come with trading cards, Katherine had to have one. With her new prize secured she was ready to go – but could we really leave without eating a meal at the Hog's Head, or Three Broomsticks? No – we could not. Just to see inside the two establishments, and explore their detailed interior makes it all worth while.

Then it was time to go. The hours were passing by, but as we passed the Caro-Seuss-el we knew we had to ride it, experiencing every attraction in that zone.

NOW we were good to leave.

As I passed in and out of sleep, Katherine made the two and a half hour drive home. Finally pulling up, there was a mysterious car in our driveway. No one had told us to expect this. But this time we parked lower down the drive way, and wrote a note reading, “We're still here – can you please pull out around us, on the grass. Also – as your car is blocking the garbage, can you take that down to the road for us as well? If you need us to move the car, bang and ring on the door. Thanks.”

Hopefully this would allow me to sleep in a little later tomorrow.

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