Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Universal Orlando Thanksgiving Trip!

Day 1: Wednesday Nov 26

Our travel day.

Left Denver in the wee hours of the morning and flew to Houston where we had our ceremonial Whataburger (in a completely different terminal then where our flight was leaving from but WORTH IT). Hung out in Houston for a few before boarding the flight to our final destination: Orlando! Arrived late afternoonish, took a shuttle from the airport to our hotel, The Cabana Bay Beach Resort. All retro themed and brand new.

We didn't want to go to the park just yet because we only had four days to use it (so Thurs - Sun) so we went to the City Walk, which is a strip between the entrance to Adventure Landing and Universal Studios, to use the free movie tickets Joe got from work. There's a free shuttle that runs every 15 minutes and takes us from our hotel to the parks so that was super awesome. We saw Horrible Bosses 2. It was pretty laugh out loud funny but the first is definitely better. Bonus: AMC Universal Cineplex 20 has a DDR machine which I haven't seen in any arcade in forever! We bumbled around a bit to see what they had. It was mostly restaurants and some shops so we headed back to our hotel.

Day 2: Thursday Nov 27 (or Thanksgiving)

First day in the park.

Since we stayed at an on site resort we got to go to Diagon Alley one hour before the park opened! So we got up at 5 am, showered, then boarded the shuttle to the park to make it to the gates that opened at 7 am! They had most of the park blocked off because it's only the Diagon Alley that's open early so they guided us to "London." The purple Knight Bus is hanging out in front of Leicester Square and right next to it is Grimmauld Place (complete with Kreature peeking out of the window of number 12). Through Leicester Square station the brick wall opens up to Diagon Alley (brick shifting sound effects and all) and you're greeting with the cheery Harry Potter music. The main reason people go to this part of the park early is to ride the Escape from Gringotts ride so the park people led us in that direction.

There's soooooooooooo much detail in Diagon Alley, it's crazy! Even the queue for the Gringotts ride has a lot of detail. There's always something to look at while you're waiting. Like they have the moving pictures that talk to you and they have little screens in newspapers that are laid out that play little videos of whatever the headline is. They even have shadows behind doors of Harry, Ron, and Hermione so it looks like they're walking by and stopping to chat with the goblins about going to Belletrix's vault! The ride itself was it's own separate not in the original movies mini movie kind of thing so that was pretty impressive too.

After the ride we wandered through Knockturn Alley and visited Borgin and Burkes. We had breakfast at the Leaky Cauldron where I had a traditional English breakfast while Joe had an American along with a hot cup of Butterbeer! The restaurant was just as detailed as the rest of Diagon Alley. I took a bunch of pictures and we wandered in and out of Madam Malkins, Quality Qudditch Supplies, Ollivander's, and Wesley's Wizard Weezy's. I wanted to buy EVERYTHING. At Ollivander's they sell "interactive wands" that correspond to different spots around Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade where you can do "magic." It was really cute seeing kids try to do all the spells at the special spots marked on a map they got with their interactive wands.

So we killed some time until the rest of the park opened which meant we could go to "King's Cross" to take the train to Hogsmeade! It's a real train on real rails but you don't get a real window to look outside (because that would be drab). Instead it's a little video that plays that shows you leaving London, going across the country, dementors try to stop the train, and then you arrive at Hogsmeade Station. The Hogsmeade part has been around for a while so it's not as elaborate as Diagon Alley but still full of fun little details. They have the Three Broomsticks, Dervish and Bangs, and Honeydukes. You walk through Hogmeade and Hogwarts (and the Forbidden Journey ride) is at the far end. Again, so much detail is blows your mind. 

They don't want you to bring anything with you on the ride (they provide free lockers all over the park, so cool) so I had to sneak my camera with me on one of the 4 times we rode the ride. I think it was my favorite. The queue for this ride took you through the dungeons, then the green houses, then you go back inside past the eagle the leads to Dumbledore's office, then you're IN Dumbly-dore's office with all the portraits of past headmasters sleeping, then you wander through the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom where there's a little video of Harry, Ron, and Hermione telling you they're going to sneak you out of class (the premise for the ride), then past the Fat Lady who's yelling at you and into the Gryffindor common room with more talking portraits. Then finally you walk past the Sorting Hat who's blabbing on about something and you get on the ride!

After that we went on what used to be the Dueling Dragons ride (a generic medieval double roller coaster that looks like dragons) but is now the Dragon Challenge from the Triwizard Tournament so it's so much cooler. The "dragons" you get to choose to ride are the Chinese Fireball and the Hungarian Horntail. Awesome, fast roller coaster that usually had a short wait so we rode it multiple times. There was also a smaller roller coaster called Flight of the Hippogriff that had a cool animatronic Buckbeak sitting in a nest at the beginning of the ride. 

Hogsmeade was starting to get crowded so we left the magical music to venture into Jurassic Park where the music changed appropriately. They had their cool Jurassic Park ride that ended with us escaping from the jaws of the mighty tyrannosaurus rex. It's a water ride so we were supposed to get soaked but the people in front of us all had ponchos that ballooned when we were going down and shielded us from everything. So that was hilarious.
Retarded brontosaurus
We wandered through Jurassic Park, they had dinos hiding in bushes and the "learning center" building from the movie with sweet mid 90's technology showing how dinosaurs are cloned and how perfectly safe it is. I wonder if they'll update all that after the new movie comes out.

Then we found ourselves in Toon Lagoon where theme was basically comics and cartoons ranging from Dudley Do-Right, to Blondie, to Roger Rabbit, etc. The Dudley Do-right Ripsaw Falls is a super fun water ride with a pretty steep drop that gets you soaked. Everything else around there was either kids rides or just restaurants.

Finally we arrived at Superhero Island where they have the Hulk ride, Spider-man ride, Dr. Doom Fearfall ride (only ok), and more shoppings. Loved loved loved the Hulk. Huge roller coaster, so much fun, rode it like 4 times. The Spider-man ride was also fun but mostly for the characters. Also looked very mid-90s. It was like the Gringotts and Hogwarts ride where you wear 3D glasses and it's a car that goes around a track that occasionally moves and spins around. 

After a while we just went back and forth between rides and looking at shops to kill time before our dinner reservation at the restaurant Mythos. We passed by the restaurant earlier in the day so we would know where it was later and the Poseidon's Fury show which was super dated but fun to watch anyway with all the water and fire. We ended up waiting an hour outside of Mythos because there wasn't anything nearby to do that wouldn't make us late for the reservation but it was nice out and nice to rest our feet after walking around all day. The restaurant was pretty nice, all decorated like we were in a cave. Our server was super nice but the food wasn't mind blowing. It probably helped that we got a bottle of wine with dinner. The park was closed when we finished dinner and we were super tired so we went back to our hotel!

Day 3: Friday Nov 28 (no Black Friday deals)

Our goal today was to conquer the Universal Studios park (since we stayed on the Adventure Landing side the day before). We didn't get to the park as early so everything was already kind of open. The Despicable Me Minions ride was right at the entrance so we decided to do that. It was super cute. We walked around to the MIB ride where you get to shoot aliens and that one was only ok. Then we went to Springfield and hopped on the Krustyland Simpsons ride. For some reason it was the only ride that made me nauseous but it was super fun anyway. They had Krustyland with all the carnival games, Kwik-E-Mart, Moe's, Krusty Burger, Duff Beer, and Bumblebee Man taco truck. We were there pretty early so none of the restaurants were open but we circled back around later to have lunch at Krusty Burger.

Went back through Diagon Alley again to take more pictures of all the little things I missed the day before. We rode a roller coaster called RockIt that's supposed to let you choose what music you want to hear when you ride the ride. The line was forever long and then when we finally got on the music didn't work! The ride was ok, you start by going straight up before it drops you on the other side so that was pretty cool. Then I think since the Transformers, Minions, and Shrek ride had too long of lines we rode the Revenge of the Mummy ride, which ended up being Joe's favorite and always had a short wait time so we'd run back to do it again and again. It was an indoor roller coaster like Runaway Mountain at Six Flags but with props and fire and smoke and projected images of the mummy trying to eat your soul.

Universal Studios had less rides and more shows so it was lots of waiting in long lines and then sitting for 10-30 mins for the show. The Shrek 3D was pretty lame with old style moving seats. I think we rode the Mummy ride a few more times before finally deciding to wait in the line for the Transformers ride (that was finally under 45 mins). It was a fun ride with cool 3D Optimus and Megatron fighting over the allspark. That was the end of our night. I think were were more tired because we spent more time just standing than walking around so our feet hurt more.

Day 4: Saturday Nov 29

Another lazy day where we didn't feel like getting out there early since we had basically been on everything the first two days. Today we spent mostly in Diagon Alley so I could look at things again and finally decide to buy some stuff, including my wand. It took me forever to decide because they have SO MANY. They have a shit ton of character wands and then they have the "Ollivander originals" which are all completely different than the character wands. Since all the Ollivander originals were interactive wands (and therefore more expensive) I settled with Cedric Diggory's wand. I liked that it was simple with a few embellishments and the weight was nice. Yeah. Each wand was shaped differently and weighed differently. So much detail.

I probably spent a good two hours just wandering around Diagon Alley just looking at stuff and debating how much I wanted to spend. Joe was nice enough to let me while he sat by the Museum of Muggle Curiosities which I felt was appropriate.

We ended up wandering back to Adventure Landing to see the Sinbad action show thingie which was super cheesy but fun. Sat in the "splash zone" right next to some prop stuff and I knew that's where the water was going to come from. I didn't realize it was going to be that much water and got totally soaked. We decided to dry off by wandering around Hogsmeade. We weren't in a hurry to get anywhere since we'd ridden everything already. Probably rode the Dragon Challenge again since the line was short and we had lunch at the Three Broomsticks, which was also connected to the Hog's Head where we actually ended up sitting. It's a full service bar with liquor and a animatronic hog's head behind the bar that occasionally snorted and grunted.

After that we'd ridden as much as we wanted and tried to get dinner at Margaritaville on the City Walk so we could play drunk putt putt later that night. Margariaville was super busy (hour wait at 8pm) so we wandered over to this place called Cowfish where they had burgers and sushi, and also burger inspired sushi but I said no. The wait was just as long for a table but the host said we could see if there were any spots at the bar that were free so we ended up sitting right at the bar. I just got a burger and a couple of drinks from the sassy bartender and we were buzzed enough to enjoy late night putt putt. There were two different courses, one haunted house based, the other alien abduction. We chose the alien abduction. The decorations were fun but the courses themselves were pretty simple. That was the end of that night.

Day 5: Sunday Nov 30 (last day of fun)

This day was mostly re-riding our favorite rides and not doing too much. We only spent half the day in the park, went back to our hotel to nap and watch football games, and then we were supposed to go back and watch the fireworks show they do every night. We didn't realize the park closed early on Sundays so we thought the fireworks show would be at 8pm when it was at 7pm. We got to the gate at 730 and they told us the park was closed so we went back to our hotel, ordered pizza and watched Walking Dead.

Day 6: Monday Dec 1 (back home)

Our traveling went pretty smoothly. Joe had arranged for the same shuttle to take us back to the airport. We had lots of time to kill before our 720pm hour flight to North Carolina. From there it was a short layover until our four hour flight back to Denver. There was a shitty kid who was on both our flights who Joe said just complained the whole time while the Dad said he was going to take the kid's Xbox and Christmas presents away.