Monday, July 09, 2012

Vacation 2012: We're off to see the wizard...

Day 5: Orlando (Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios)

With only two days budgeted for Universal Orlando, we had to decide where to begin: at Universal Studios or at Islands of Adventure, home to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Anticipating massive crowds at Harry's (and knowing we would love all things HP), we decided we should visit that park first so we could come back the next day if we needed more time there.

That turned out to be an excellent plan. Besides, I of A opens earlier, and we knew it'd be easier to get up at the crack of dawn on our first day of touring the parks and not when we are uber-tired.

We did just what the guidebook said: Arrived at the gate an hour before opening and made a beeline for Hogwarts as soon as we got through the turnstiles. And as promised, we were able to walk past all the twisty-turny queue ropes and walk right into Hogwarts for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.

Waiting in line is a huge part of the experience. Before riding, you walk through Hogwarts, seeing all kinds of cool props.

I never thought I would wish for a longer wait! Truly, there's so much to see in there, but the line moved a little too quickly for us to take it all in.

Hall of portraits (and yes, some talked and moved!)

So unbelievably cool to see Harry, Ron and Hermione
greeting us! On a return visit, Hermione cast a spell
that made it snow on us. Absolutely magical!
We expected Forbidden Journey to be a good ride, and it definitely is, but it's also a marvel of technology. It's incredible how the ride meshes motion, film and other effects to make you feel like you're riding a broom all over, around and through Hogwarts.

After our first ride, we all agreed that we had better get another turn before moving on. Our second time through the line took a little longer, but it was still worth it. Next we took on Dragon Challenge, a suspended coaster. (By the way, I left my "real" camera at home for this first day at IofA, which saved us tons of time. Having everything in pockets meant we didn't have to use ride lockers, and the locker banks were pretty chaotic.)

With three rides under our belt, we were ready to see the rest of the park, but first, we had some business in Hogsmeade.

The frog choir



Butterbeer: Surprisingly delicious!

Walking into the village = instant goosebumps.

It was tempting to spend more time in the Wizarding World, but we knew we needed to see more of the park before lines got to be too long.

This Seuss sign made us feel a little closer to home.
Scenes from Marvel Super Hero Island:

One of our longer waits of the day was for the 3-D Spider-Man ride. Fortunately, the queue took us through the offices of the Daily Bugle, and TVs kept us updated with Spidey's escapades. It's amazing how quickly time passes when you're entertained while you wait!

Desks in the Bugle newsroom

Sorry, but not even a COMIC version of a newspaper office
would ever use comic sans on a nameplate!

I may have to post these in our journalism lab at school.

Even the trophy case was entertaining!

Ready for action!
As for the ride itself: another big WOW from us! The 3-D effects were incredible (still blows my mind that we can watch a 3-D movie without our eyes crossing), and feeling the heat from explosions made the experience pretty intense.

A comic store in Super Hero Island?
But of course!

Awesome coaster

The 0 to 60 start straight into a corkscrew
is an adrenaline junkie's dream.

The amazingly themed Toon Lagoon:

We ate lunch here and had fun reading
the speech bubbles on the walls.

After riding all of our "must-do's" (Popeye and Bluto's Bilge Rat Barges, Jurassic Park, Dr. Doom's Fearfall), we slowed the pace down and saw a few shows:

The Eighth Voyage of Sindbad Stunt Show

Poseidon's Fury
By mid-afternoon, we were ready for a break. Thanks to our super-close LaQuinta, we were willing to leave the park for an afternoon rest. After a filling but cheap meal made up of items from Wendy's dollar menu(!), Brett, Katie and I were ready to go back to the parks. Ryan stayed in the room to catch up on his correspondence.

For our evening, we decided to go ahead and check out the Universal Studios side of things.

Of course we were drawn to the monsters.

Even if we hadn't already planned to eat there
the next day, the signage would've won us over!


We also made a note to try out the Rip Ride Rockit at our earliest convenience. That's quite the first drop!

Since we knew we'd be back the next day, we didn't want to do too much without Ryan. Still, we managed to hit up a couple of attractions:

Twister: Aftermath

Revenge of the Mummy
We also rode Men in Black, a great shoot-the-alien, Buzz Lightyear-type ride. Lots of fun! Unlike Buzz or Scooby or other similar rides, we weren't just competing with those in our car. Another car on a parallel track was also trying to zap the bad guys.

We tried to get into the Simpsons Ride, but technical difficulties sent us on our way. That was probably for the best, though, because it was fun to experience that one for the first time with our boy.

Cool landscape

The Universal Cinespectacular, featuring movie clips
projected on water screens

Before leaving, we took in all the lights:

What a great day! 

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