Universal parks - January 2007 trip notes (excerpted from combined Walt Disney World trip notes)
Since I never wrote a proper trip report (yes, there are a billion pictures that we took), here are the notes that I wrote down pretty much each day of our trip.
Thursday, January 11 - Universal/Islands of Adventure day
Having already been to all four Disney parks, we had decided to spend two days at the Universal parks. We were figuring on spending the first day at Universal and the second day at Islands of Adventure. We retrieved our pre-purchased tickets and walking through the main entrance and down the streets, the place was fairly empty. Many of the shops and dining locations weren't open, and there weren't a lot of other people walking around. Our first stop was the E.T. ride, which has been gone from the California park for some time but is still in Orlando. It was a nice little ride, though I recall that the queue in California was a bit more elaborate. The ride itself also seemed slightly less psychedelic than I recalled. Next, we headed to the Men in Black ride. We were a bit surprised that you had to put all of your belongings in lockers before you could ride. There was literally no one else near us, so as we walked through the extensive queue (extensive, unused indoor queues would turn out to be a recurring theme for the day), we took the time to look at all the details along the way. By the time we got to the loading station, there were actually a few people behind us. The ride itself was ok, but I was not happy that they didn't really tell you where you needed to shoot the monsters. We shot at them in random locations and apparently would hit them periodically, but it would have been nice if there had been some indication of where you're supposed to shoot them. I also didn't care for the several times that the spinning got fairly intense.
We then went on the Earthquake attraction, which is pretty much a cut-out of that particular section of the tram ride in California (Orlando doesn't offer the tram ride since there's no working studio adjacent), where you're in a subway station when a huge earthquake hits. We also went on the Jaws ride, which has you in a boat as a shark menaces you as you go around the island. You get fairly wet (getting wet on lots of attractions, even when you don't really expect it, would be another recurring theme for the day), and I didn't care for the mangled shark that you see at the end. We looked at the Twister attraction, but since that also apparently involves water, and while we were in the gift shop, the husband saw some people exiting who were fairly wet, we decided to skip that. We also wandered by the television preview station, where you sign up, and they showed each of us promotional trailers for two upcoming shows, and you answer a series of questions about them. The entire process took about 20 minutes, and you get $10 each for your services, so that was a nice way to offset the $11 parking per day.
Right before lunch, we decided to go on Revenge of the Mummy. We had been on the California version of the ride, which we thought was pretty lame, and friends had told us that the Orlando version was much better. Again, you had to put away your belongings in a locker before you could ride. The queue was very nicely themed, and the ride itself was fun, and yes, definitely tons better than the California version. I loved the roiling fire (yes, real fire, not the stupid fake light fire in the California version) on the ceiling, and it was a nice ride. I liked the fake ending, but the ride part after that was much shorter than I expected.
We had lunch at Finnegan's, the Irish pub in the New York area, and we enjoyed that very much. We then decided to see Terminator 2-3D since we had enjoyed the show in the California park. The water aspect of that show seemed much longer, and it actually went on for longer than the story would dictate. We weren't interested in doing the other rides and attractions in the park, either because we'd already done them in California and didn't care to do them again or because we weren't interested at all, so at 2:30pm, we decided to just head over to Islands of Adventure.
We started off on the Dr. Seuss ride, which was pleasant, but I think it would have been a lot more fun if they didn't feel the need to add in the unnecessary quick spins that threw you against the side of the vehicle. I also think that kids would have enjoyed the ride more without that aspect - I can't remember if there was a height requirement.
We then rode the little overhead train that runs along the top of Seussland, and that was fun, and you got to learn the lesson of the Sneeches as well.
We looked at Dueling Dragons for a while, but they had a problem with the blue train, which sat on the track for some time, and which they apparently had to evacuate, so we decided to save that for the following day. We rode the Flying Unicorn ride, which was cute and along the lines of Gadgets Go Coaster. We also did Poseidon's Fury, which was a walk-through attraction which pits Poseidon against his mortal enemy. The projections on water were reminiscent of Fantasmic, and there was a cool part where you walk under this tunnel of shooting water, but yes, you get wet. Not an attraction I'd do again though.
One section of the park is called Jurassic Park, themed after the film, and we rather enjoyed that section. It's as if you had entered that theme park itself. We skipped the water adventure, which seemed to be pretty much the same as the ride in California. They had a Discovery Center modeled after the one in the movie, and it looked great. We went inside, and we watched a dinosaur hatch (that was actually pretty cool), played with the DNA sequencing stuff and there's also a section called Beasaurus where you can look through the eyes and control the head motion of a few different dinosaurs, including a T-Rex. The only thing missing and that we thought it really needed was the "when dinosaurs ruled the earth" banner across the top of the dome inside.
It was getting towards the 6pm closing time, so we headed toward the exit. On the way, there was a Spiderman ride, which I opted out of, but which the husband went on. He said it was a kind of 3D movie dark ride simulator, and he really enjoyed it. Oh, and there's a part where you get wet. For our last ride, we went on Hulk, where we again had to put our belongings away. Since the ride goes upside down a few times, it at least made sense that they didn't want you to have anything in the ride vehicle, but it still puzzled us why the other rides which didn't go upside down had that requirement as well. We really enjoyed the Hulk, and even though there were several upside down sections, it didn't make me as dizzy as coasters like that sometime can.
We walked around Citywalk a little bit to figure out where to have dinner the following night. We stopped into Emeril's, which is the kind of restaurant we like for finer dining, and the menu looked really good. We tried to make a reservation for Friday night, but the only availability left was for either a very early or very late dinner, so we passed. I wasn't that disappointed because in the time we were there, there was definite attitude that we were dressed in theme park wear (we were both in t-shirts and jeans). There was no dress code for the restaurant (other than no sleeveless shirts for men and boys), and we saw other people seated in the restaurant dressed similarly to us, so I definitely didn't care for the attitude. We figured we'd just decide the next day when dinnertime came around.
Even though we had originally planned on two full days at Universal/IOA, we knew we wouldn't be able to spend another full day there, so we figured on doing something else the following morning and then heading back to the Universal resort later in the day. It really takes going to a non-Disney park to appreciate how good Disney is at what they do. One of the things that I happen to hate at other parks is how aggressive some of the various employees can be. Walking from the parking structure to the parks and before you get to bag check, there are several stations where you can apply for what looks to be a Universal-associated credit card (like Disney visa). One particular woman came up to us, and when we declined, she followed us for a while, trying to talk us into it, and she was rather pushy. Another man also wouldn't simply take no for an answer. While we were in IOA, there were a number of kiosks for some kind of travel club (presumably something like Disney's vacation club), and again, they were very aggressive with passers-by, trying to make you feel guilty and/or stupid for not stopping to listen to them. In a section of Universal, there were people taking surveys for what later appeared to be Burger King since they eventually asked you how often you ordered Burger King fries. I agreed to take the survey while we had stopped for a pastry for breakfast, and the man who was asking me was standing quite a bit away from where we were seated, and with the loud ambient music, it was a bit hard to hear him, so I had to ask him to repeat himself several times. Having the start of your day or having your day interrupted by very rude, overbearing salespeople is definitely not something that adds to your enjoyment of the park.
We then headed off to Downtown Disney. Parking was a bit hard to find, but after that was done, we had to decide where to have dinner. We wandered over to the Portobello Yacht Club, and their menu looked good, so we stepped in. Luckily, even without a reservation, it was only about a 5 minute wait. I knew I'd enjoy the restaurant because even though it was also a fine dining establishment, they didn't treat us any differently because of what we were wearing. We both enjoyed the minestrone soup, and I had a terrific ahi tuna cooked as little as possible while the husband enjoyed the veal, and we also split a side of asparagus, though we both passed on dessert. Definitely somewhere we'd go back to and recommend. We then spent quite a bit of time walking through the various Disney stores, including World of Disney, Once Upon a Toy, Pooh Corner, Disney Tails, The Art of Disney and other places. Luckily, we got out of there with only buying a few items. There were a few other stores we had wanted to visit, but it was late enough that they would either be closed or would be closing shortly, and they were on the other side of Downtown Disney. We had thought about making a visit to Pleasure Island, but by that time, it was already a bit late and we were already quite tired, so we decided to head back to our hotel.
Interestingly enough, on our way back to the car, we were approached by a Disney employee who asked if we wouldn't mind taking her survey. The survey actually took about 5 or 10 minutes, but she was incredibly polite and helpful the entire time, a decidedly different experience than we'd had at the Universal parks.
Friday, January 12 - random things day
Today, we're spending some time at our resort, and the husband wants to rent a watercraft to tool around in the river. Later this afternoon, we'll head back to Islands of Adventure. We might stop in for a second ride on Revenge of the Mummy at Universal. We may also catch the Sinbad Stunt Show at IOA. We do plan to do Dueling Dragons, and he'll go on Spiderman again so I can go on it this time as well. And, I'll hopefully be up for another run on Hulk. After that, it'll be dinner somewhere in Citywalk.
On Saturday, we'll be park hopping between the Magic Kingdom and Epcot, with dinner at Le Cellier. Sunday, we're not sure what we're doing in the morning, but we'll need to leave for the airport in the afternoon to catch our flight home.
The husband had wanted to rent a sailboat at our resort today, but with the small size of the craft and my complete and utter inexperience, we decided to rent a two-person sea raycer instead. We drove around the lake (not river) at the CBR for about an hour, and that was a lot of fun, and the weather was perfect for it. We then headed back to Islands of Adventure, got there around 3:30, and rode Dueling Dragons. You're given a choice of the red dragon (fire) or the blue dragon (ice), so I of course picked the red dragon. It's a suspended coaster, and it was ok, but I liked Hulk a lot better. We then wandered around the Jurassic Park Discovery Center for a while again and then we rode the Spiderman ride. It really is a fairly spectacular ride, and the effects are really cool, especially when you're levitated and then when you're about to come crashing to the ground. The effect of traveling in the air was enough that I had to close my eyes through parts of it because it was making me dizzy. We only had about 35 minutes left before both parks closed, so we decided to skip a second ride on Hulk and went back to Universal instead to ride Revenge of the Mummy again. When we got in line at about 5:45, the posted wait time was 40 minutes. It ended up taking about 25 minutes, and it was another fun ride. The park was closed at that point, so we headed out in search of dinner. We decided on Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville, which neither of us had been to before. We had a good dinner there, and the place had a fun atmosphere, though it was a bit loud. We then wandered around Citywalk for a bit, but there aren't nearly as many stores there as there are in Citywalk at Universal City. This was one of the nights we came back to the resort fairly early in the evening.
For the full Walt Disney World trip notes report, click here.
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