Day 8: Universal Studios

Ugggh. It’s been like 7 weeks since we got back. I’ve taken an entire new trip to Disney, and I still haven’t finished this Trip Report yet? Gah. Okay. Let’s get this done.

We woke up super early again and got a quick breakfast at Pop, then went outside to wait for our Mears transportation again. They’re actually pretty punctual, which is a good thing. We arrived at Universal Orlando about half an hour before official park opening. The plan was to go do the Harry Potter attraction once more before moving over to the Universal Studios park.

We were prepared to repeat the previous UO day’s wait in the absurd line to get into Harry Potterland. But this time as we approached the separation of the Resort guests from the regular guests, the employee directing people was telling “Passholders, Resort guests, and VIP holders” to go to the right, into the early entry line. Say what now? You may remember from our previous Universal day, I explicitly asked the guy if VIP tickets granted us the early entry and was explicitly told no. So I went to this guy, showed him my tickets, and explicitly asked him if they granted us early entry. He said “Yup, right this way sir!”, and pointed us to the early entry side of the rope. Well okay then.

So we start walking over to Harry Potterland. At two separate points along the way are additional employees checking people’s credentials again. The first one waves us by no problem. The second guy starts to, and then says “Wait hang on!”. He goes on to tell us that our tickets don’t grant us early entry, and that we need to go back around and wait for park opening. I tell him that two separate coworkers of his disagreed and told us to go on. He hems and haws, while I’m like “I’m not trying to pull something on you here, buddy!”. Eventually he obviously decides that while he doesn’t think we’re supposed to be here, he doesn’t want to deal with it, and to go on. The third employee, at the entrance to the land itself, waves us on no problem. I would be SUPER happy if Universal could get their act together with this and have a little staff meeting to get everyone on the same page.

Anyway, we get over to the attraction and walk through the queue. This time around, I tell Amanda that I don’t care what the bossy employees say – I want to see the full presentation in both the Harry/Ron/Hermione and Dumbledore rooms. And sure enough, they’re screaming at us to move along and hurry up again. We ignored her, and politely stood to the side of the queue, allowing everyone to go on ahead of and past us while we watched the whole video sequence. They are both very well done, and deserve to be watched. If you’re a HP fan, I strongly suggest you do as we did and get your money’s worth by watching the full experience – ignore the pushy employees yelling at you to move along.

The ride itself was as great as the last two times we rode it, and I continue to highly recommend it if you’re an HP fan and have the time and money to afford a trip down I4 on your next WDW trip. Exiting the attraction, we thought about trying the Ollivander’s shop/show. We got into the outdoor line, which was winding every which way so that we couldn’t see where the other end was. Eventually we found an employee and asked for an estimate of how long the line was. “About an hour and a half.”. Uhm, say what? Yeah no. Sorry, there is no attraction worth that, certainly not a little tiny show-in-a-shop attraction. So we got out of line, grabbed a couple frozen butterbeers, and made our way out of Harry Potterland.

On our way back to the port of entry, we walked through the Dr. Seuss land, and decided to do the Cat in the Hat attraction, as we’d skipped it on our actual IoA day. It was cute, roughly on the level of the Fantasyland rides in the Magic Kingdom (Winnie the Pooh comes to mind). Nothing mind blowing or justifying a trip to Universal, to be sure. But not offensively boring or lame either.

So we continued out of the Islands of Adventure and over to Universal Studios. First up was the Rip Ride Rocket. We ignored the plentiful warnings to store our belongings in a locker, and stuffed both of our stuffs into my shorts pockets. Thankfully, nothing fell out. This is a pretty cool coaster. You go up the first hill in a 90° vertical climb, so that you’re lying flat on your back. Plus you get to choose your own soundtrack before lift off, which is a nice touch. And of course, you can tell that Universal knows it’s the best attraction in the park, because it’s the only one without an Express line. Otherwise, we probably would have done it several more times.

From here out, we basically followed the Touring Plan in the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World precisely up through lunch, for all the rides. Revenge of the Mummy was very good, although there were a couple hard-stops that I felt were needlessly painful and sudden. And that fire in one of the rooms is HOT as hell. Really not appreciated on such a hot day outside. But overall very very good. Thumbs up.

Next was the Simpsons Ride. Finally a ride based on something that Amanda’s actually familiar with! This was… interesting. First, the queue seemed to have a lot of stopping points and was not well organized. We were kept in a series of holding queues without any employee there for long periods of time, with very little indication of what it was we were actually waiting for. Eventually we were directed into a small room whose only content was the ride vehicle, which it turns out was a motion simulator. I thought the attraction itself was very well done, but my stomach didn’t appreciate all the jostling. Crap, am I getting older? Sigh. I also found the ride vehicle to be hot and stuffy, as though the air conditioning didn’t work. I don’t know if that’s accurate, or it was another symptom of my stomach being unhappy.

The E.T. Adventure is up next. Basically no one here, as several “bicycles” in our group were left unfilled as the attraction took off. The area where you have to pick up a “boarding pass” and then give your name to the employee seemed like it could have been done better or more efficiently. The ride itself was decent enough, although it took a sharp left turn into the Weird once we got to E.T.’s planet. Was that based on anything from the movie, or was it the sole creation of this attraction? Very VERY weird. And all that oddness and inefficiency at the beginning just so E.T. can say “Thank you Paul” at the end? Yeah there’s gotta be a better way to do that.

Men in Black was up next. This is Buzz Lightyear on steroids. I wish there had been more practice time, or that I went often enough to figure out what scores the higher points and learn any tips or tricks (much as I have for Buzz and Toy Story Mania). If I was an Orlando native, I think this would quickly become one of my favorite attractions.

Next was Jaws. Wow. For such an iconic and classic attraction, this is insanely lame. Like, really really badly lame. Like, worse than Crackaxel Canyon on the Backlot Tour lame. 100% thumbs down. I’d rather do Jurassic Park again than this. Yuck.

Disaster! comes next. I wasn’t entirely sure what I should expect, and if I’d realized it was a show rather than a ride, my expectations would have been properly set and I would have enjoyed it much more. As it was, the guy playing our Assistant Director was kind of disturbingly good at playing a geeky awkward young man. I’m not sure if that’s a compliment or not. And the technology that had him interacting with a hologram of Christopher Walken was surprisingly well done. The final scenes of the subway were okay, but not great. I couldn’t make myself pretend to have the reactions we were supposed to, so the final video we were shown didn’t look too good with the non-reactions of the crowd.

Twister was next on the Touring Plan. I didn’t enjoy the movie, and didn’t enjoy the attraction either. You stand there, and wind blows, and cows on cable wires are pulled across the scene, and stuff falls. Then the stage you’re standing on drops a couple inches. Yawn. Next, please?

The only things left on our Touring Plan we care about are Shrek 4D and Terminator 2 3D. Throughout the park, we’d seen placards advertising a taping of Family Feud going on. Realizing we were going to be finished with our touring plan well before the day was over, we stopped at the customer relation desk and picked up two tickets. (I told Amanda that if anyone asked, she was 16. No one asked.) We were told when to return and where to meet and that was that.

We went and did Shrek 4D before having lunch. It was okay. A decent 3D movie to be sure. And the pre-show was pretty good. But the moving theater chairs were just pointless. They did absolutely nothing to add to the experience or make us feel like we were in the movie with the characters. On the contrary, they were distracting and removed me from the fantasy. If I ever return, I’ll choose the non-moving seats.

We decided to try getting some lunch at Finnegans, a table-service restaurant/bar in the park. We walked in and looked around for a hostess. Finding none, I asked a random waitress if we could just sit anywhere. She replied a little snotilly that we have to go talk to the hostess – and pointed to the other end of the restaurant, where there’s another entrance. Okay then. You know, a simple sign saying “hey, there’s another entrance over there – please see the hostess over there” would have avoided this problem. ANYway, we were seated within 5 minutes and had a decent meal. I tried the buffalo wings and Shephards pie. No complaints here. It was also good to sit in a relaxed air-conditioned environment for a while.

After lunch, we got in line for the Family Feud taping. They finally let us into the backstage area, where we had to go through a metal detector and then stand in line some more. A lot more. About 30 or 45 minutes more. Outside, in the heat. Ugh. FINALLY we were let in to the studio, which was significantly smaller than I expected. I mean, thinking about the show on TV, I guess there’s no need for a larger theater, but really I don’t think it was more than 100 people total. Steve Harvey is the new host for this coming season. There was a warm up comedian guy trying to get us into an excited mood, and to make sure we knew our job during the taping – applaud for correct answers, give a sympathy “awww” followed by good-wishes applause for wrong answers. And whatever you do, DO NOT play along. Don’t shout, don’t guess, don’t even WHISPER an answer.

We were there for two separate tapings, and it was a good time. Definitely something we hadn’t been planning on doing, but I’m glad we did. Steve Harvey talked to the audience for a while during commercial breaks, and some of the stuff he said both during the breaks and during the show (which will be edited out from the broadcast, as it was decidedly not G rated) was hilarious. We were told our episodes were like the 10th and 11th of the season, so I’ve been periodically checking my TiVo to see if the new season has started yet. Doesn’t look like it.

After our Family Feud tapings, we went over to Terminator 2: 3D. I did my best to give Amanda a brief overview of the entire Terminator series (basically instructing her to watch the first two and ignore the second two, though). The pre-show was okay, but the holding pen was very very blah. There could/should have been more to do in there before the pre-show started. Then into the theater itself – VERY good. One of the best 3D/interactive shows I’ve seen. Indeed, I think that Terminator 2: 3D is a better sequel to Terminator 2 than Terminator 3 is. (Okay, so that’s not setting the bar very high, but still). I think the transitions between the 3D and the live-action portions were very well done, and it was nice to see the original John Connor again. Okay, so the Arnold-Terminator reappearing with “I said I’d be back” makes absolutely no sense from a continuity standpoint, but let’s ignore that. It was still exceedingly well done.

We next re-did the Mummy and Men in Black attractions, both of which we both enjoyed. None of the other live shows (Animal Actors, fear factor, Beetlejuice’s Rock & Roll Graveyard Revue, Universal Horror Makeup) appealed to us in any way, so we called it a day. We called Mears to reschedule our pickup time, and then went to Citywalk to find dinner. We settled on the NASCAR-themed bar/restaurant, which was decent, but nothing special. No problems with the Mears pickup this time around, except that our driver was kinda sketchy. He kept telling us stories about how much he loved ribs, and had been kicked out of all you can eat rib buffets, to the point where I was getting sick to my stomach. Yeesh. There are some things you can enjoy without being overly proud of, you know?

Back to the hotel, we got packed up and ready for checkout tomorrow morning. I told Amanda that the day would be entirely up to her, and she didn’t have to make up her mind just yet. I’ll reveal her decision when I finish off this Trip Report with Day 9. 🙂

The good: Really enjoyed some US attractions (Mummy, MiB, T2:3D, Rip Ride Rocket)
The bad: Found others really lame/boring (Jaws, Disaster, Twister)
The magical: uhm, nothing really – I guess maybe the unexpected Family Feud taping?

Thanks for reading. I’ll post a Day 9 and final thoughts soon.

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