Last weekend, we went on a quick trip to the Universal Orlando Resort to celebrate my birthday. But why didn’t we visit Disney instead? Well, we're kind of tired of going to WDW (I've been visiting a couple of times every year since I was born), plus we already got our Disney fix this year after our great trip to the Disneyland Resort. It had been so long since we had visited Universal, and we were dying to check out what their parks had to offer as well as their holiday celebrations, the Macys parade at Universal Studios Florida and Grinchmas at Universal's Islands of Adventure. Yes, it would be difficult to leave Central Florida without stopping at the Disney parks for a bit, but we resisted the temptation and stuck with Universal.
Our trip began at 5:00 AM. We all woke up, quickly got our things into the car, and begun our four hour drive from Miami to Orlando. The trip didn't seem as long as previous trips and we stopped at the rest stop half way in the Port St. Lucie area to have breakfast at Burger King. As we got closer, signs would point out that we are almost there.
Nothing to look at but orange groves, farms, fields of nothingness, and cows on our four hour drive to Orlando... 21 miles to go till we get to Universal!
We're not good at finding our way around the Orlando area, and it was very difficult to find our hotel. At one point we ended up inside Disney World, then somewhere far off on I-4...then we made a wrong turn and entered the Universal parking garage, but we finally found our hotel which was across the street from the Universal resort, the Fairfield Inn by Marriott. It was clean, simple, and had free internet and breakfast- just what we needed.
We can see the rooftops of the Lowes/Universal Portofino Bay Hotel from the room! The "WDW Top 7 Must See's" with the infamous Stacey played in our hotel, which is strange since this is a non-Disney hotel that isn't even in the Disney area. Maybe Disney is trying to draw guests away from the Universal area?
It was around 11-12 in the afternoon after we had arrived and checked in, so we quickly hurried to the parks because we had bought a 1 day/2 park ticket, and the parks were closing at 7 PM! This was a big inconvenience, at Disney World the parks would have been open till at least 10 PM or midnight on a Saturday during the busy holiday season.
The Universal Orlando Resort is beautifully laid out (it looks even better than the Disneyland Resort). You park your car in the parking garage, then walk through the moving sidewalks until you reach Universal City Walk which will lead you to the two parks, Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure. We decided to start off with Universal Studios, since it had been a long time since we visited.
After entering the park, we made our way down to the New York area to see Shrek 4D. It was a great movie, but it could have been themed better, and there weren’t much laugh-out-loud moments as in the Shrek movies (I liked PhillharMagic better). After exiting Shrek 4D, we made our way to the Twister attraction (which was also strangely in the New York themed area of the park). Twisters in New York?
We are magically transported to the town of Wakita, where the Twister movie takes place...
I loved this attraction since it actually shows you how the special effects of a movie are done. It was so exciting to see the twister roll by and everything was done well. It actually felt like we were right there in the action and not just in some fake movie soundstage (although when the cow flew by it looked obviously fake). After Twister, we made our way to Revenge of the Mummy, the park's newest attraction that has been receiving great reviews. Thank god that even though it was a Saturday, both parks weren’t too busy and we didn’t wait for an attraction any longer than 20 minutes (The park was not busy to the point where the characters were strangely standing alone with nobody approaching them). This attraction is also strangely in the New York area of the park, but they explain this strange placement by placing the attraction in the New York Museum of Antiques (The real reason behind this is that Mummy replaced the former Kongfrontation attraction and they didn’t want to waste more money on building a new show building) I loved Revenge of the Mummy, although it was kind of short, it’s the perfect combination of a dark ride and high speed roller coaster, with lots of cool special effects. Afterwards, we got a table at the Irish pub across the street and I decided to go on a quick ride on the mummy again while waiting for the food to arrive since there was no line. Although Universal's New York area is a bit off, having a Twister and Mummy attraction, I like it better than Disney-Hollywood Studio's Streets of America area since it's not all a bunch of fake fronts and facades.
The park was decked out for the holidays with a Christmas tree and decorations on the New York buildings. We then made our way to the San Francisco area of the park. I loved this area; it’s small and simple but nicely themed. Wouldn't it be great if DCA had something like this? They even have the Fisherman's Wharf here. Unfortunately, an attraction that I've been dying to go on, Earthquake was closed during our visit even though the website said it would re-open that day. They are busy refurbishing it to turn it in to "Disaster... A major motion picture attraction starring you!" After making our way through San Francisco, we entered Amity, a New England fishing village from the JAWS movies. The JAWS attraction here is old, but still good. We got a really good skipper that was acting out her role well, although our boat was filled with a bunch of unenthusiastic guests that weren't playing along with her, haha. Uh oh...Jaws! I love how this picture came out.
The Fear Factor Live show was about to begin, but we had no time to see it since we were pressed for time and had another theme park to see, so we made our way to the World Expo area where we went on Men in Black: Alien Attack, a Buzz Lightyear-like interactive shooting attraction, although this ride is amazing and definitely better than Buzz! Afterwards, we passed by the old Back to the Future: The Ride show building where the new The Simpson’s ride was under construction.
In preparation for the opening of The Simpson’s, a Kwik-E-Mart opened.
Unfortunately, we had to completely bypass the Kid Zone area of the park and the E.T. Adventure dark ride as well as the Macy's Christmas parade that was about to begin because we still needed time to visit Islands of Adventure, so we made our way into the Hollywood area where we stopped by the bakery and took a quick look at Lucy: A tribute before leaving Universal Studios for Islands of Adventure, the park right next door.
As we walked over to IOA, we caught a quick glance of the Sharp Aquos Theatre (Formerly Universal Studios Florida's Nickelodeon Studios) where the new Blue Man Group show was playing… + "The biggest Hard Rock Cafe in the world"....
& we're here! "The adventure begins" at Universal's Islands of Adventure park... After passing through the Port of Entry, we made our way to Seuss’ Landing to see Grinchmas. The whole Seuss' Landing area was decked out in "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" decorations and events, such as the How The Grinch Stole Christmas show, the Grinch meet & greet going on (we skipped it, line was way too long), and the Who's of Whoville who were out and about getting ready for the holidays...
It was all great! The Who's were out and about, meeting and interacting with guests as they walked through Seuss's Landing... This is Whootie Who and his other Who friend.... they were preparing for the holidays and talking to us about the Grinch.
After checking out Grinchmas we visited the next "Island," The Lost Continent, my favorite of all the themed islands in the park. Mythos, one of the best theme park restaurants in the world. The theming here is amazing! We decided to see the Poseidon’s Fury attraction, which was fun as always.
Afterwards, we skipped the Dueling Dragons coaster and went on to enter Jurassic Park. We also noticed the construction walls that were put up around the area in between Jurassic Park and The Lost Continent where land was being cleared for the all new "Wizarding World of Harry Potter" land. Hogwarts Castle and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter will rise behind these walls in late '09.....
Our next stop was my favorite ride in the park, the Jurassic Park River Adventure. All the different dinosaur audio-animatronics, the great theming, the big T-Rex at the end and the big drop make this ride so awesome. After riding we exited Jurassic Park and entered Toon Lagoon, home to the wettest rides in the park. It wasn't too hot that day, but it wasn’t too cold either...so I decided to ride Dudley Do Rights Rip Saw Falls (big mistake!), where you get soaked to the bone unlike Splash Mountain where you are just splashed a bit. After entering our log and the ride being well underway, I realized how completely wet you get on this ride after remembering a previous experience on it, and decided to take my socks off and place them in my pocket to make sure that they wouldn’t get too wet. I also took off my glasses and put them in my pocket before going down the big drop... and the ride was finally over… We were extremely soaked and I quickly ran off the ride vehicle and up the ramp to exit ...but wait... where are my glasses? I reached into my pocket and they were nowhere to be found, so I quickly ran back down to the unloading area and told the Universal crew member what had happened. She let the other crew members at the loading area of the ride know, and I made my way into the loading area via the baby swap entrance to see if they had found it. Boats and boats would go by, they would check, and my glasses were nowhere to be found. I have very bad vision and can’t see well without them, so this sucked for me. They finally told me to check Lost and Found at Guest Services at the end of the day to see if they had found it, so I was forced to walk around the park for the rest of the day not seeing much, but I made the best of it...
The sun was going down and the day was almost over as we made our way to our last stop at Islands of Adventure, Marvel Superhero Island, where we went on The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman attraction, my second favorite ride. This attraction is great and combines a motion-simulator type ride vehicle with live sets, special effects, and 3D...it’s all great and like no other attraction ever. Disney is using similar technology for the Midway/Toy Story Mania at DCA and the studios. After exiting Spiderman, it was nighttime and I wanted to end the day by going on the Incredible Hulk coaster. Even though I couldn’t see much, the coaster was fun, thrilling, and dried my wet clothes off from the soaking I got on Rip Saw Falls earlier while providing me with great aerial views of the entire Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios parks as they lit up at night. We decided to end the day by making a stop at Seuss' Landing once again to take a look at Grinchmas at night. Unfortunately, the Grinch was no longer doing meet and greets but we found the next best thing- a cardboard cut out of the Grinch to take pictures with! The whole Grinchmas area looked even better at night all lit up... Unfortunately, another let down of the Universal parks is that they don’t have any big nighttime shows to end the day (although Universal Studios has Universal 360- A cinesphere spectacular, which was not showing during our visit), mostly due to the fact that there is a residential neighborhood directly behind the parks, so we decided to end the day by riding The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Ride, a people mover type ride that takes you on a tour of Seuss's Landing and provides excellent views of the surrounding areas of the park.
Nice view of the whole Seuss' Landing area from the trolley ride...
After exiting, we went to meet back up with my step dad to exit the park and go into CityWalk since the park was closing, and he was nowhere to be found! He was gone from where we left him, and we searched for him everywhere in Seuss' Landing, but we had no luck in finding him. We finally gave up and decided to leave Seuss Landing into the Port of Entry area to check out if he was there.. but he wasn't. At this point my mom was frantic and going mad, but I wasn't too worried. He's a big adult, he can take care of himself and is probably waiting for us somewhere. As my mom was going crazy looking for him, I decided to take a few pictures here and there and stop by Guest Services to see if they had found my glasses.
Guest Services was such a mess! I overheard a woman complaining to a manager that her daughter was terrified and hyperventilating after her safety harness had come off while riding the Incredible Hulk coaster after the big zero-to-sixty miles per hour launch. Scary! I didn't want to wait in line so I just left my contact information in the lost and found just in case they find my glasses and left. After exiting, my mom was still going crazy looking for my step dad, and we eventually decided to exit the park. Alas, there he was just outside of the park gates sitting on a bench waiting for us. The Adventure Lives On Islands of Adventure's iconic lighthouse at the entrance
At this point everyone was dead tired since we had been up since 5 AM and walked through 2 theme parks, but we gathered the little energy we had and made our way into Universal City Walk to have dinner at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville. The wait was an hour and a half, so I found a bench inside next to my brother and in a few minutes I was dead asleep! I woke up to find a nice employee who was willing to sit our family at an available table outside right away after seeing how tired we were. There was a private party going on with a musician playing Jimmy Buffet tunes on his guitar on the outside patio that overlooked the waterway outside IOA where ferries passed by transporting guests to the Universal resort hotels. It was very relaxing and a cool way to end the day. I had a “Cheeseburger in Paradise” and they even sung happy birthday and gave us a complimentary strawberry shortcake. We then exited CityWalk and passed through the moving sidewalks into the parking structure where we drove off to our hotel across the street and crashed on our beds.
The next morning, we woke up to a wonderful complimentary breakfast at our hotel. Later on we decided to check out The Florida Mall, an Orlando area mall where my mom did some shopping and we had lunch at California Pizza Kitchen. Our trip seemed to be over by now and we were just about to head home… but we couldn’t resist the temptation and decided to make a quick stop at WDW to hang out in Downtown Disney for a while! Here we are at Walt Disney World, “Where Dreams Come True”… Downtown Disney was decorated for the holidays with this Christmas tree set up in front of the giant Fulton’s Crab House boat/restaurant. We decided to pass by the Marketplace and make our way thru Pleasure Island which was deserted.
The new T-Rex restaurant from the makers of the Rainforest Café is under construction next to McDonalds. This restaurant would have been so much better if they were to build it in the Dinoland USA section of AK!
Over at the Downtown Disney West Side, things looked the same as usual, and we decided to stop by Bongos for some coffee before heading back.
When we reached the Marketplace, we had a hot fudge brownie Sunday at Ghirardelli’s …It was so good! (event though it was a bit chilly out that day).
I took a few quick pictures of the area before our trip ended and we left on our long drive down to Miami… Small displays have been set up next to the World of Disney store, paying homage to other cultural and religions holiday celebrations other than Christmas, such as Ramadan and Hanukkah.
In conclusion, I really enjoyed myself at the Universal Orlando Resort theme parks and I think that if you’re the kind of person that makes the annual pilgrimage to Walt Disney World without seeing anything else in the Central FL area like us, you should definitely give Universal a try because their parks are just as good as Disney’s, and most of the time less crowded and even less expensive since they always have great deals on admission tickets.
[NOTE: I still have to add more pictures!]