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  1. #1

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    englanddg's Magical Mystery Tour (and Trip Report)!

    This is being posted 2 weeks late...I was there from August 8 - August 22.

    I wrote it daily and posted it on another forum as I visited "The World" for my 2012 trip. I'm doing this partially to share my trip with others, and partially to archive my posts. I'm also going to merge my Pre-Trip Report, which was 2 posts, below.

    I will post daily, and I hope you all enjoy it!

    Pre-trip

    Ok, I'm setting this thread up for my trip report. I plan to brain dump daily. I hope you all don't find it too long winded, as I'm apt to over explain (we all know this). Anyhow, I'm gonna steal a stat thing from someone else's Trip Report that I liked.

    Magic Moments - 0
    Pics Taken - 0
    Vid for Projects Taken - 0
    Discomforts (bug bites/etc) - 0
    Unexpected Surprises - 0
    Peeves - 0

    Ok, well, I posted a Laundry vid in another Thread, that worked out, and I considered making it a whole series. But now that I'm pretty much done packing, I think it's easier and faster to post what I do pack for a 2 week stay. So, lets tear apart some luggage!

    Disney Packing (Still Working) - YouTube

    Day T minus 1 (Part 1)
    Pre-Trip

    Magic Moments - 0
    Pics Taken - 89
    Vid for Projects Taken - 6
    Discomforts (bug bites/etc) - 1
    Unexpected Surprises - 1
    Peeves - 0

    Breakfast - Cereal
    Lunch - Spicy V8 and half a Tomato and Grilled Cheese Sandwich
    Dinner - McDonalds
    Snacks - None

    ________________________________

    Ok, so this is going to be a 2 part post. The first, as promised, is a look through my luggage! The second I will do tomorrow on our flight to Orlando. I have a very early flight (6:55a), so I don't have time to really formulate today's post in it's entirety the way I'd like to. So, 2 posts!

    First, on to the luggage! Keep in mind I packed for a 15 day trip for one adult and one child. Here's the checklist I used. Pictures will come tomorrow when I'm on the plane.

    Oh, and let me add a note about Zip Locks. I use them. A lot. A whole lot. They protect items, they keep your bag well organized, and they maximize luggage space. I even bring extra ziplocks on the trip, for packing for the trip home.

    I take 3 major bags with me. My Day Pack (which I use at the parks as well), my Electronics Bag / Briefcase, and my Primary Luggage (which is a standard sized TSA approved carry on).

    Day Pack for the Parks("Purse" Carry on for TSA)

    [ ] First Aid Kit
    6 Gelcap Asprin, 2 Anti-Gas Chews, 2 Alka Seltzer packets, 2 Pepto Bismol pills, 1 Bacatracin Mist (anti-bacterial/pain), 15 standard size Band Aids (Barbie) packed in a small box (in this case a Johnson and Johnson first aid kit, but I've replaced all of the original contents).

    [ ] Friction powered flashlight
    It's always useful to have battery-less options when you need some light.

    [ ] Child's Poncho and Rain Jacket (in vacuum sealed zip lock)

    [ ] Brita filter water bottle
    First trip with this, but after a bout with dehydration in late May that sent me to the clinic, I'm paranoid about water intake. I'm not as young as I used to be, and I take dehydration and diet far more seriously now.

    [ ] Portable Power Pack by Energizer
    Great for recharging my phone and carmeras while walking around at the park.

    [ ] Small Notepad and pen
    Jotting notes quickly, or playing paper games like tic tac toe, hangman and squares with the kid while in a line

    [ ] Antibacterial Baby Wipes in a Travel Size
    Perfect for cleaning dirty hand and face after eating a Mickey Ice Cream, among other uses!

    [ ] Antibacterial Hand Solution

    [ ] Caribener attached to upper loop for holding hats, bags, etc.

    [ ] Sony DSC-WX50 Still/Video Camera
    My first year with this Camera. So far I'm very happy, well worth the money. I keep it in the external cel phone pocket on the bag, or in my pocket.

    [ ] Extra pair of contacts and Contact Friendly Eyedrops

    [ ] 2 Wisps and 1 pack of Sugarless Gum
    Wisps are portable 1 use only tooth brushes

    [ ] 2 Glad Snack Size Ziplocks
    1 for pin backers, 1 for change / pressed pennies. I empty the penny bag nightly into a larger bag, and restock the change.

    Electronics Bag ("Overhead" Carry on for TSA)

    [ ] Laptop, folding mouse, and headphones
    For work. Even when I'm at the parks, I work at least 1 - 2 hours a day, as my job doesn't allow me to be completely disconnected.

    [ ] iPad
    General entertainment, books, games, etc.

    [ ] High Adventure Durable Camera
    Another first time this year item. I'm excited to take video at the Water Parks and Pools, including underwater shots! In the past I've used that terrible Kodak "underwater" camera you can buy at the parks. It's better then nothing, but this year I'm looking forward to some fantastic shots!

    [ ] Chargers for all of the items listed above
    I also pack 1 extra charger for the cel phone, and 1 extra battery for HD photo/video camera. I'll leave the extra battery charging at the hotel, and swap daily.


    [ ] 8" x 11" Leather Portfolio and Office Supplies
    With pen, about 30 sheets of blank paper, printouts of all pertainent flight / hotel / ticket / reservation information organized in order of the trip, plus business cards and extra pens / pencils.


    Primary Luggage (Checked)

    [ ] Toiletries Bag
    Toothbrush, Toothpaste, Deodorant, 1 can Shaving Cream, Razor stub with 3 new blades, Nail Clippers, Fine Tip Tweezers, 30 Q-tips in a snack sized ziplock, 5 pairs of extra contacts with daily solution and contact holder (my contacts are 90 day wear, but I don't want to run out), spare prescription glasses and non-prescription sunglasses, and snack sized zip locks or travel sized bottles of daily and spare medications (28 gel coated aspirin, 15 vitamins, 4 alka seltzer packets, 12 Pepto Bismol tabs)

    [ ] 2 Packing Sized Ziplock Bags of Clothes (rolled per outfit)
    3 Standard Day outfits (shirt, underwear, socks, shorts), 1 "Classy" outfit (Golf shorts, polo, etc...I look like a Golf Pro in it...this is what I'll wear to Jiko or California Grille), 1 Swim outfit (suit + tshirt), 4 sleep outfits (shirts, shorts, underwear), 2 pairs spare underwear / socks (for fluff). My fifth outfit is what I wear on the plane, 2 baseball caps.

    [ ] 1 can Heavy Starch
    I iron our daily clothes while the kid is in the nightly / morning bath/shower.

    [ ] 5 bottles of spare Hand Sanitizer
    For when I run out in my Day Pack

    [ ] 1TB USB Hard Disk for Picture / Video Archival
    Packed between my clothes for padding

    [ ] 15 packs of Gum
    Disney doesn't sell Gum on property. I'm an ex-smoker, and Gum in my crutch.

    [ ] 30 Wisps
    Mentioned before, these are one use toothbrushes. I will use them to replenish my Day Pack. I probably won't use them all, but when you need them they are a god send.

    [ ] Laundry Kit
    Video link describing this is in this thread - Packing advice

    [ ] Birkenstocks and Water Shoes (I wear my Keens on the plane)

    [ ] Bags of Snacks
    Trail mix, etc.

    Allright, this last item is a bit adult, but I do recommend it if you are so inclined.

    [ ] Bacardi Rum

    This year I packed 2 plastic 750 ml bottles of Bacardi. I'm a fan of getting a Pina Colada at the end of the day from the Hotel Bar, and I'm going to use these to spike them. Far cheaper then buying liqueur at the hotel!

    I'm going to have to cut this short here, as I need to get to sleep for our early flight. Part 2 and I'll post the promised luggage and other photos tomorrow, as well as the rest of T minus 1!

    I promise, the rest of my posts will probably not be this long, but this time it was a list, and honestly, this took less time then making a well edited video describing it all like I did with the Laundry vid!

    See you all tomorrow!
    1982 - Contemporary (1 week), 1987 - Visit (2 weeks, offsite), 1988 - Visit (1 week, offsite), 1989 - Visit (3 weeks, offsite), 1990 - Visit (5 weeks, offsite), 1991 - Visit (6 weeks, offsite), 1992 - Visit (6 weeks, offsite)
    1993 - Visit (6 weeks, offsite), 1994 - Visit (6 weeks, offsite), 1995 - Visit (6 weeks, offsite)
    __________________
    2010 - Carribean Beach (2 weeks), 2011 - Carribean Beach (2 weeks), 2012 - Pop Century (2 weeks...upcoming)

  2. #2

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    Re: englanddg's Magical Mystery Tour (and Trip Report)!

    Day T minus 1 (Part 2)
    Pre-Trip

    Magic Moments - 0
    Pics Taken - 89
    Vid for Projects Taken - 6
    Discomforts (bug bites/etc) - 1 (escalator)
    Unexpected Surprises - 1 (Enterprise rocks!)
    Peeves - 0

    Breakfast - Cereal
    Lunch - Spicy V8 and half a Tomato and Grilled Cheese Sandwich
    Dinner - McDonalds
    Snacks - None

    ____________________________________

    I don't own a car, but when the munchkin comes to visit I rent one. I arranged to return the rental at 5:30p, and the agency (Enterprise) said they would give us a lift to the MARTA Subway station. From there we could make our way to the Atlanta Airport, where we would snag a hotel room for the night, since our flight was early.

    Alas, when I showed up, they said their driver was out, and they couldn't do it. However, they had proactively called over to another Enterprise office a few miles away, and that office had said yes!

    Happily, I drove over to the other office, but when we arrived, I was informed that they, too, couldn't give us a lift, even though the station is less then 3 miles away. I got a sinking feeling that this was going to turn into a farce of mis-communication and poor customer service, but to my pleasant surprise, the manager of the office had already called the airport location and arranged that I could drop the car off there, and furthermore, the $70 airport drop off fee would be waived.

    This was completely unexpected! I was thrilled to be able to take my time to travel to the Airport, as my only pressure had been the 6pm closing time of the Enterprise offices in my area. We stopped back by the house and double checked for left last minute items, and then got some McDonald's to eat on the trip to the Airport.

    Once there, returning the car was uneventful, and everyone was extremely helpful and polite. They were aware of my situation already, and were expecting me down to the check-in guy in the parking lot. This sort of service just reinforced why I enjoy using Enterprise for my rentals (as opposed to Hertz, which I've had several issues with over the years).

    We hopped on the tram to our hotel (Marriot Springwood Suites at ATL Airport), and our first accident of the trip happened. My kid wanted to tackle the escalator on her own with her baggage. I thought nothing of it, as she's done it many times, and never had an issue.

    However, this time she didn't have her bag completely on one step, and when the first step raised, the bag tipped back and sent her falling head first down the escalator. I freaked out, dropped my bag and grabbed her, and after a quick check for blood, indentations, etc (specifically back and head). There were none, outside of some scratches and scrapes, so I rode with her to the top. Once there and calmed down, she stood in silent embarrassment as I ran back down the escalator to collect her luggage and mine. They were stuck in a loop on the middle of the escalator, going up a few feet when the teeth caught, then sliding back down. Both sets of luggage are now permanently scratched, and part of the reason why my last post was a packing list was that I unpacked and repacked all our bags last night to check for damage because of this ordeal.

    After patching her up and kissing her boo boos (and soothing her bruised ego), we arrived at the Springhill Suites. Check-in was painless, in fact it was pleasant. The staff was extremely polite, and even jovial. I ran into several staff members, and to sum it up, it's probably one of the best staffed hotels in terms of friendliness and proactive interactivity that I've run into in a long time (even Disney). I enjoyed the staff so much that I have jotted on my notes to write a letter to the hotel to praise them. They oriented me to the hotel, asked me about my stay not in a shallow way, but to find out if I needed a wake up call, which they then scheduled proactively during checkin, etc. They even remembered my name when I came down later to purchase some sodas for the evening. 5 star experience at a 3 star price!

    The rooms are small, but well furnished, and since they use pocket style sliding doors, they feel much larger then they are. Pics are attached.

    The rack rate for the room is a bit steep (~$250 a night), but if you ever need to squat at the ATL Airport overnight, and can get a good advance rate, I highly recommend it.

    One interesting thing is that this hotel is "Green Certified". I wasn't sure what that meant until I got to the room. First, everything is turned off when you get in. I don't mean the maid turns them off either! The power in the room is actually turned off. The only light you have is in the entry of the room. On the wall, there is a pocket, where you put one of your room keys. Once you put it in, within about 20 - 30 seconds, all your electricity starts working. Once you pull it out, it takes about 5 minutes before your electricity cuts off.

    It's weird, but also neat (as a "green" idea). However, I just took it as another reason to request 2 room keys at check in! I don't want my stuff to shut off simply because I went to dinner!

    As far as perks, the hotel is very clean and well maintained. The decor is wonderful. They have a heated indoor pool and a small but functional exercise room. They also have a flight display board in the hotel lobby, which is nice to check flight statuses in the morning before you leave. Internet and WiFi are free.

    My only pet peeve is a trend that I've seen lately in hotels (not enough to make my peeves count above, but I really don't like it). Hotels seem to be migrating to a model where create "shops" in the lobby instead of putting vending machines on the floors.

    Whilst I love the shops, I *despise* not having vending machines on the same floor I'm staying on, especially if it's a large hotel.

    Other then that, the hotel was wonderful, and I went to bed happy, comfortable and anticipating the next day!


    ---------- Post added 08-30-2012 at 07:53 PM ----------

    Day 1
    Ordeals, Orlando and Overpriced (er...I mean Universal)

    Magic Moments - 0
    Pics Taken - 72
    Vid for Projects Taken - 12
    Discomforts (bug bites/etc) - 1 (emotional, a missed flight)
    Unexpected Surprises - 2 (AirTran, Quick Transportation Taxi Services)
    Peeves - 2 (Cards and more Cards, Delta)

    Breakfast - Great free breakfast at the hotel! Fresh waffles, great eggs, etc!
    Lunch - None
    Dinner - Room Service (meh)
    Snacks - 2 Ice Creams, 1 Popcorn, 1 Soda
    ____________________________________

    Ever had a day that was planned out went perfectly wrong because you didn't adhere to the plan? That was my day today.

    We had a flight at 6:55a. While I had a wake up call at 4a, and it did wake me up, my sleepy brain figured I could nap for another 30 minutes. Unfortunantly, in dreamland, 30 minutes = 2 hours.

    When I finally woke, it was 6a. With a kid in tow, there was no way I'd be able to make a 6:55a flight. So, I called Delta. They said "No worries", and for a small fee, they booked me on the 7:55 flight.

    Happy, my kid and I made our way to the airport, only to find out at the check-in kiosk that it was "too late" to check bags for the 7:55 flight. I wanted to check our luggage, so I called back Delta, and they informed me that there were no open seats until the 3:05 flight, and to get on that flight I couldn't call back until 12:05p. Who knew so many people flew to Orlando on a Weds?

    So, we went back to the hotel, and they let us hang out all morning. Even though checkout was at 11a, they didn't bug us at all, and at 12:03 on the dot I called the Delta number.

    By 12:10, I had an Agent on the phone, and was told that all the flights to Orlando for the day were booked full, but I still could do Standby (which is what I asked in the first place), and I needed to go BACK to the airport.

    Once I got to the airport, I waited for 40 minutes in Delta's "Kiosk Service Line", only to be told that indeed, they had no flights that day that I could standby on.

    I know this was all my fault, but I was upset strictly because Delta didn't just say "no, we can't do it". AirTran could have had me in at 10a (I called them as a backup)...anyhow, after all this I went to them.

    They got me on a last minute flight to Orlando. I've flown with them many times before, but default with Delta, as they are based out of Atlanta. AirTran didn't cut their prices (so it was an expense I'd rather not have paid), but it wasn't unreasonable either. They did, however, listen to my situation, and took special care of us from that point on. They even gave the kid a goodie bag and some wings for her Minnie Mouse doll.

    So, 6 hours off schedule, we arrived in Orlando.

    I want to take a moment to talk about my arranged transportation to the Leows Pacific through Quick-Transportation. They were FANTASTIC. My driver called me in the morning, and seemed genuinely interested in my plight. When we arrived later in the day, she was prompt, and extremely helpful, including tips on how to "do" Universal, and what we should expect from our visit and the hotel. 5 star experience! Not at all what I expected from a taxi service! I tipped her extra for this, and for working around my complications.

    So, having lost most of our first day, we checked in, and I was sent off down the hall from the front desk to pick up my tickets and my "resort benefits".

    The hotel is beautiful, but isn't what I would term "comfortable". It makes me feel like I'm in Vegas. I'm staying at the Leows Royal Pacific, which is obviously the Universal version of Disney's Polynesian, down to a Luau spot (that they aren't using at all during this week, and seems to be reserved for "large groups" and "conventions").

    So, on to Universal. First, I hate how they handle tickets and benefits. I miss the "key to the world". You would think that a smaller property would have more luck about integrating systems, but it seems this is not the case.

    Cards...so many cards.

    I have the dining plan, complimentary Citywalk access, "park hopper" and free "Express Pass" since I'm staying on site. Each one is it's own card.

    In fact, it gets worse. Each day I have a different card to present for the "dining plan". The 3 day ticket is a separate card. And the express pass is it's own card, which doesn't come with your resort check in or your ticket check in, and you have to obtain separately. Granted all of this is convenient to the check in desk, but it's a lot of work, whereas at Disney it's all in one.

    As a result, for 2 people, each day I have to carry 1 card for the ticket, 1 card for the dining plan, 1 card for the express pass PER PERSON. This is just silly.

    To make matters worse, all the cards are printed on water soluble cardboard (outside of the room keys). So, if you are doing a wet ride, be sure they are in a ziplock or something similar.

    The hotel is pretty (pictures attached), but feels very "Vegas"...and while I'm not upset with it, I don't think it's worth the rate. That being said, it has a lot of amenities, including 4 restaurants, a day care center, an arcade, an exercise room, and a large pool with a special kids area. Internet is either 9.95 a day, or 24 bucks for 3 days. This includes wired and wi-fi, but if you sign up on one and not the other, you will need to call the helpdesk to get both to work.

    It's a 10 - 15 minute walk to the parks from the hotel, and there is no complimentary transportation outside of the Water Taxi. The Water Taxi is ok, but it runs on a 20 - 30 minute schedule, and closes when it rains.

    For the walkway, there is a rickshaw service that is a lot of fun. You can set the rate, and I've taken to 5 bucks a ride and will use that for the rest of our trip. The drivers are polite, and it's a ton of fun to wiz along the pathway.

    Seeing as how we came in late, we decided to go to Islands of Adventure (the kid really wanted to do "River Adventure". Since it had rained around 5p (go figure, it's Orlando in August!), the parks had mostly cleared out, and we had a very fun experience. This is a new park for both of us. We did all of the Jurrasic Park area today, as well as most of Harry Potter, and we had a blast. The parks are nice, but they feel very small compared to Disney Parks, but it was still fun. We also had enough time to walk the entire park, and we made notes for tomorrow. We are gonna start with Seuss Landing.

    The River Adventure was ok, but I wouldn't care to do it again. However, the Pteridactyl ride was a ton of fun, and their themed playground is far better then anything found at Disney (closest analog is the "Honey I Shrunk the Kids" playground at DHS...but, unlike that playground, I had a ton of fun at theirs. We crawled around it for nearly an hour exploring.

    The Harry Potter ride is AMAZING! It is intense and scary though, and my kid at 7 nearly 8, who loves Harry Potter, doesn't want to do it again. If you do it, they have lockers near the entrance. No bags are allowed, but the lockers are free for the duration of your ride. The locker system is really neat. It takes your fingerprint, assigns you a locker, and then uses your fingerprint and locker number to "unlock" the locker at the end of the ride. It's a very well programmed system, and as an IT guy, I loved it.

    So, those of you looking to do the ride, don't skip by the lockers. You will not be allowed to bring a backpack or purse, etc. on the ride. Plus, with how the ride runs, you won't want to.

    Also, the ride is not at all what I expected, and I'll say it really gives Disney a run for their money in terms of experience. If Sourin' and Peter Pan had a child, it would be Harry Potter.

    Since we already had a long day, we decided to head back to the hotel early rather then checking out Citywalk after the park closed. After she fell asleep, I walked the hotel, and it's quite lively. Still, nothing I'm interested in, but they have their own "night life"...and the whole park and hotel is far more "adult" then Disney is. For dinner, we did room service.

    Only advice I have here is...don't. It's grossly overpriced, and the food is mediocre.

    A few other notes about Universal, from what I've experienced so far. Bring extra money...Universal charges here and there for EVERYTHING. Bring cash...as not all of their stuff is card friendly. It's also far more "tip friendly" then Disney, once you get offsite, so make sure you account for that as well. For example, the Rickshaws are "tip only"...I set a rate of 5 bucks a ride, but it's up to you.

    So...on to tomorrow!
    1982 - Contemporary (1 week), 1987 - Visit (2 weeks, offsite), 1988 - Visit (1 week, offsite), 1989 - Visit (3 weeks, offsite), 1990 - Visit (5 weeks, offsite), 1991 - Visit (6 weeks, offsite), 1992 - Visit (6 weeks, offsite)
    1993 - Visit (6 weeks, offsite), 1994 - Visit (6 weeks, offsite), 1995 - Visit (6 weeks, offsite)
    __________________
    2010 - Carribean Beach (2 weeks), 2011 - Carribean Beach (2 weeks), 2012 - Pop Century (2 weeks...upcoming)

  3. #3

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    Re: englanddg's Magical Mystery Tour (and Trip Report)!

    great trip report so far, too bad about the flight I've done the same thing before it not fun. looking forward to more.

  4. #4

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    Re: englanddg's Magical Mystery Tour (and Trip Report)!

    Day 2
    Finished IoA, First Magic Moments, Blue Men!

    Magic Moments - 5 (4 Cast Members, 1 Special Experience)
    Pics Taken - 41 (slow day!)
    Vid for Projects Taken - 9
    Discomforts (bug bites/etc) - 1 (Bad Storm)
    Unexpected Surprises - 0
    Peeves - 1 (Water Taxi)

    Breakfast - None
    Lunch - Split a Dagwood Sandwich and some Chips (Dagwoods)
    Dinner - Cheeseburger and Fried Chicken (Circus McGurkus)
    Late Dinner - Turkey Club (Room Service)
    Snacks - 1 Popcorn, 2 packs of candy, 2 Sodas
    ____________________________________

    After an eventful day yesterday, we decided last night to sleep in this morning, so we didn't wake until around 9a, and we took our time getting ready. We didn't get to the park until close to 10:30a.

    Our plan was to finish up IoA and head over to Universal if we had time, or meander around Citywalk and eat dinner at one of the restaurants (I was planning Jimmy Buffet or Emerils, both of which I am interested in).

    Again, the Water Taxi wasn't running (in two days, I've only seen that thing running once) So, we hoofed it. We cut through the hotel pool area, which shaves off ~800 feet. The total walk is under a half mile. I know this seems minuscule, but with a 7 year old in tow, every foot counts! Of course, on the park she'll walk 20 times that and not bat an eye...but, that's beside the point.

    Near the end of the hotel property, we ran into a Rickshaw unloading, and grabbed it. Whilst you can be fairly sure that there will be a Rickshaw for the trip home, it's rare to catch them at the hotel, as they don't stay there after dropping people off. $5 bucks and a wonderful conversation with our "driver" later, we arrived at the bridge to IoA.

    This time I was more prepared with our cards, and already had our meal cards, express pass card, and tickets ready. I left the cards I didn't need back at the hotel.

    I also noticed people in the park today wearing lanyards with the ziplock "card holders". At Disney, I've often thought about doing this, but never really needed to due to the "key to the world". I would HIGHLY recommend picking these up for Universal.

    We already completed Harry Potter and Jurassic Park, so we decided to start the day with Toon Lagoon. We stopped on our way to refill our Popcorn bin for 89 cents so we'd have something to snack on!

    Universal sells 3 types of refillable "collectible" items all over the park. There are two types of cups. One is refillable pretty much anywhere on the park (7.99) and refills are 95 cents, the other one is tied to the meal plan (8.99) and refills are free, however it's refillable only at the 7 meal plan restaurants. Both are only valid on the day of purchase. I'm sure a lot of people ignore this policy, and I have no idea how Universal would try and enforce it...straw color maybe?

    I do not recommend these. First, the price of a large drink is 2.99, and it's a LARGE drink (48 oz I think). So, it would take 3 large sodas to beat the cost of one refillable cup. I just don't drink that much soda in a day.

    Second, the cups themselves do not seal. This means you can't lay them sideways in the lockers, and you can't put them in your backpack unless it has a bottle holder on the outside. Hpw do I know this? I leaked soda all over the inside of my backpack with mine yesterday. I didn't even bring it back to the park today. :P

    It also doesn't have a hook or a handle, so you can't dangle it. I prefer not to carry something around all day in my hands, even if it saves me a few bucks. If I had a stroller or something, perhaps I could make this work.

    If the cups were refillable forever (or at least for the length of your stay), I would feel differently.

    They also sell refillable tubs of popcorn for 4.99, which are not limited to the day, and are good for your entire visit. You can refill them for 89 cents. The tub works at both parks.

    I HIGHLY recommend this tub, even if you don't go with kids. For the price, you won't find a better / cheaper park snack. The tub comes with a sealing lid and a handle that can easily be attached to a backpack. Kid getting restless in line? Here, have some popcorn. Also, the popcorn itself is pretty good!

    So, popcorn refreshed, we grabbed a bottled soda to share, and headed off for Toon Lagoon. Slowing down and taking in all the details of the area is a lot of fun. Universal really packed a lot of characters and references into that area of the park. We rode Ripsaw Falls (which is now my kid's favorite ride), and Bluto's Barge, as well as exploring the area. One neat thing they have are "People Dryers". I'd never pay 5 bucks for one, but we happened across one that someone had paid for and left, and it was a fun experience. It doesn't get you dry at all...but it is fun. Think of it like a giant hair dryer.

    There is a reason why this part of the park is named "Toon Lagoon"...you are gonna get soaked. Not wet...you get wet on the Jurassic River Adventure and Splash Mountain. Here, you will get SOAKED to the undies! I knew this in advance, thanks to Winkster's trip report, and we had dressed accordingly for the day in lighter clothes and shoes that would dry off quickly.

    The Orlando heat in the summer will quickly make you damp within a half hour or less, and touch dry within an hour or two. Also, it really helps cool you off during the day. Kids getting cranky from the heat? Check out one of these rides!

    I'm gonna break again here to discuss another "perk" that I purchased that I rate as the single best thing I bought for this trip so far. The Express Pass. It comes with my hotel reservation, but you can purchase them all over the Parks, and Universal literally plugs them every 200 feet or so.

    Get one.

    Here's a short breakdown of how much time it saved us. Ripsaw we rode 5 times, and whilst the normal line was 45 - 60 mins pretty much all day, we never waited more then 15. Spiderman and Cat in the Hat we did twice, and literally walked on both times, when the wait was 40+. The kid got her wits up and wanted to try Harry Potter again, and we walked on when the wait was 60 minutes. This story carried throughout the day.

    I actually felt bad for the people in the normal line, as we walked by them and onto the ride. If you don't stay at a Universal Resort, you can add this to your ticket for 20 - 35 dollars per day (depending on if you get a single park or multi-park pass).

    After a few hours in Toon Lagoon, and a Dagwood Sandwich we split for lunch (it was a pretty good sandwich!), we went over to Marvel Land (not sure what they call it), and did Spiderman twice. The kid is too short for Hulk or Dr. Doom.

    We stopped by Captain America's restaurant to try and grab a quick meal (I was still peckish), but they only served pizza and spaghetti, and I really wanted a cheeseburger. Next to the restaurant is an Arcade.

    For $10 bucks, it was a fun half hour. We ended up with 307 tickets, and she got a lot of little goodies from their prize cabinet (the one she loved the best were the bubbles).

    A magic moment (first of the trip) happened here too. Spiderman does a character meet and greet, and his entrance to the park is in the back of the arcade. My kid and I were racing motorcycles, and I was focused on the game. My kid wizzed by me, and I said, still not looking over, "How did you pass me?" She responded, "Spiderman did it!"...

    I thought she had lost her mind, and I looked over and yep, there he was helping her out! He looked at me, gave me a thumbs up and said "Hey, I'm just helping out a lady in distress!", patted my kid on the head, waved at both of us and went on to his meet and greet. I wish I had that on tape!

    After a quick refill of the popcorn bucket, which tided my stomach over, we headed over to Seuss Landing. This is a great part of IoA, and by far my favorite area (yes, even over Harry Potter). The level of detail they went into is fantastic, and it's worth walking the whole thing just to catch all the details, like the Sneech Beach, and the Zax still standing, foot to foot, face to face! (the Zax is my kid's favorite bedtime story, cause I do voices, one based on Walter Matheau, the other based on Sean Connery...so imagine the two of them having a fight, and you can imagine our "bedtime" story).

    My kid and I headed to the back first, and got some Moose Juice and Goose Juice, and shared them and compared them. We both decided that Geese have better taste (though both were good). Then we did all the rides. Cat and the Hat is memorable, but I think the Sneeches ride is my favorite. They also have a very well done tribute to the Lorax. The carousel is ok, it's a carousel. There is a fantastic playground near the Green Eggs and Ham eatery. My kid loves it, and one of our "magic moments" happened here. A Cast Member (named Erin) really loves her job monitoring the "water" part of the playground, and she spent her whole shift, from what I observed, engaging and playing with the kids. She was having so much fun, it made me have fun watching her!

    I love to see Cast Members that envelope you in the charm of the attraction, and she did a fantastic job! Also, this playground is worth going through with the kid, as there are a lot of clever things inside (like crawling through the cave!).

    By now, I really needed something substantial to eat. So we headed over to Circus McGurkus, and used our "Dining Plan" for the first time. The food here was edible...that's the best I can say. I'd liken it to Disney Quick Service at it's worst.

    If you have the Dining Plan (which I am increasingly thinking is not worth it), you are given a card for each day, one for each member of your party. Kids are limited to the kids menu, which closely resembles the adult menu with smaller portions. Once you turn in your card at your first restaurant, they give you a bracelet (like a bar) that you have to wear all day. From this point forward, you are allowed to eat at any participating restaurant as much as you want all day.

    However, they don't let you do that in one walk-through. So, for example, if you want to have a chicken salad AND a burger, you have to go through the line twice. What a mess! Also, the plan does NOT include drinks (which is where they push the refillable cup).

    In my experience so far, dining is something I think that Disney has down that Universal still needs to refine.

    After a passable meal, we headed off to the last section of the park we had not done. Poseiden's Fury and Sinbad! Unfortunantly, we didn't get to do either, as I broke a cardinal "parental" rule, and didn't do a bathroom break after eating! Halfway into the line at Poseidon, the kid "had to go!"...and off we went!

    I asked a local cast member where the closest restrooms were, and she said Seuss Landing. After that, we walked over to Sinabd to find out the last show was at 6p. We had just missed it. However, there is a talking fountain there which is tons of fun (sortof like Crush at Disney armed with a Water Gun!), and a Magic Show that we didn't do, but I wish we had. If you visit, be sure to check them out!

    Then came the rain. Because I'm a dummy, I had left our ponchos out of my daypack. Rain doesn't bother me at all, and I find it amusing how it freaks people who will pay hundred of dollars to go on a water ride to "get soaked", but will run for shelter when it rains. However, the kid doesn't feel the same way.

    We made our way, ducking between covers, to Harry Potter, where she waited under a canopy, and I obtained butterbeer. Can't leave IoA without having one, right?

    It's a unique taste. It's not cream soda, but it's similar. It's spicy and sweet. Sortof like mixing sprite and ginger ale, with a dash of pepsi. I know that doesn't sound tasty, but it really wasn't bad at all, and I finished my cup. They also top it with a cinnamon whipped cream that is delicious, and you will be using your finger to get every last bit out of the rim of the cup!

    We walked the Three Broomsticks (something that was closed the last night), and rode the ride, and said goodbye to IoA...time to head back to the hotel to get ready for Blue Man Group!

    A walk and a quick Rickshaw ride (5 bucks) later, and we were in our room. She decided she didn't want to change clothes, but I took a shower and changed into a different outfit. Feeling refreshed, we headed back to Citywalk.

    Unfortunantly, Orlando weather in August had a different plan for us. A storm had passed by earlier, and while it wasn't raining, the Water Taxi was still closed. This is turning into a regular thing on my trip. The water taxi sign (which, they could have put at the walkway, instead of us walking down there to find out it was closed) did say there was a shuttle we could take, but it wasn't raining, so I decided we should walk.

    Not wanting to do the walk at a 7 year old's pace, I plopped her on my shoulders and we did it in a record 10 minutes! We made it all the way to Jimmy Buffet's, and I had just set her down for the final stretch, and the sky opened up on us. This wasn't a happy summer drizzle either. Lighting, thunder and all things rain poured down on us, and before we'd crossed the bridge, we were both soaked and rushing for cover. The Blue Man venue is past the Hard rock, and by then you'd think both of us had jumped headfirst into a pool in our clothes.

    Attitude wise, my kid was done, and I ended up carrying her the rest of the way to the show. Here comes magic moment #3. About 100 feet from the venue, a cast member working the kiosk noticed us walking up, and she rushed out with an umbrella, and walked us to the venue, talking the whole time with my kid about how cool the show was and how much we were going to enjoy it. Talk about a mood saver!

    Unfortunantly, I didn't catch her name, but she literally saved the evening for us (well, not me, but the kid was grumpy by now and really just wanted to go back to the hotel and a warm bed).

    So, Blue Man Group, I don't want to say too much, but...if you've never seen them, do it. If you do Disney, and have time to do something off site...do it. I rate it higher then La Nouba.

    I'm already a huge fan of theirs, and have seen them several times (though not this exact show/group). As before, they did not disappoint. We were front row, center, and here is magic moment #4...we interacted repeatedly with the Blue Men, and my daughter even got the painting they make during this scene:

    Blue man group shadow/paint drumming, pvc ii - YouTube

    After the show, they all "signed" it (they don't really sign anything, rather they put hand prints or finger smudges), but if you do the show, be sure to hang out afterwards, the band and the blue men all come out for pictures/autographs, etc.

    Now for Magic Moment #5. I had thought that the storm would have passed after the show, but it hadn't. In fact, it had gotten worse. Now, I had a well spirited, but tired 7 year old and a wonderful painting to transport...and I'd left our rain gear at the hotel.

    Again, Cast Members to the rescue! First, a Blue Man Cast Member "snuck" us a poncho (apparently, you are allowed to take them with you, but if you don't, they can't hand them out), which I used to wrap the painting, and we made it as far as the Universal Shop outside of the venue, which sold Ponchos.

    I purchased two, and they let me use their scotch tape to wrap our painting up in the poncho the Blue Man Group Cast Member gave us, so it wouldn't get destroyed on our very wet walk back to the hotel.

    Also, we got sprayed 3 times straight on with twinkie stuff during the show, and we were both sticky and messy. For those of you who have seen the show, you know EXACTLY what I'm talking about. It was in our hair, all over our skin, on our clothes and shoes. It is mushed banana, so if you want to simulate the feeling, buy a dozen of them, mush them to a pulp in your bathtub, then roll around it it. Let it dry for an hour, and see how you feel. :P

    The other Cast Member working the shop was chatting with my daughter about the show, and the twinkies came up. She volunteered to take my daughter into the bathroom and help her get cleaned up. I was already planning on doing this, but was waiting for the crowd to thin out so we'd have the bathroom mostly to ourselves, but since the Cast Member volunteered, and my child seemed to be responding well, I let them go. About 20 minutes later they emerged from the ladies restroom, and the kid was all cheered up for the walk home.

    By far, those two Cast Members are worth their weight in gold. I will be passing this on to Universal, and I wish I had grabbed their names. That was poor foresight on my part.

    Now happy, clean and with ponchos on, we had a pleasant walk back to the hotel. We chatted about the show, yodeled under the bridges (there's an echo there), and discussed our plans for tomorrow. Once back in the room, the kid took a quick bath (had to get out the rest of the "twinkies", and then promptly passed out. I was hungry, so I ordered some (still overpriced) room service, as everything else was closed. I had a turkey club, and it was overpriced, but good.

    Anyhow, that's Day 2. Further updates tomorrow!

    ---------- Post added 08-31-2012 at 08:59 PM ----------

    Quote Originally Posted by goofy donald View Post
    great trip report so far, too bad about the flight I've done the same thing before it not fun. looking forward to more.
    Yeah, it was frustrating. Next time, snooze alarm!
    1982 - Contemporary (1 week), 1987 - Visit (2 weeks, offsite), 1988 - Visit (1 week, offsite), 1989 - Visit (3 weeks, offsite), 1990 - Visit (5 weeks, offsite), 1991 - Visit (6 weeks, offsite), 1992 - Visit (6 weeks, offsite)
    1993 - Visit (6 weeks, offsite), 1994 - Visit (6 weeks, offsite), 1995 - Visit (6 weeks, offsite)
    __________________
    2010 - Carribean Beach (2 weeks), 2011 - Carribean Beach (2 weeks), 2012 - Pop Century (2 weeks...upcoming)

  5. #5

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    Re: englanddg's Magical Mystery Tour (and Trip Report)!

    Day 3
    Water Taxis, Universal Park, and Final Thoughts!

    Magic Moments - 0
    Pics Taken - 96
    Vid for Projects Taken - 6
    Discomforts (bug bites/etc) - 1 (Heat)
    Unexpected Surprises - 0
    Peeves - 1 (Large Groups)

    Breakfast - Coffee (me) and 2 Orange Juice (Kid)
    Early Lunch - 2 Corn Dogs
    Late Lunch - Split a Turkey Leg
    Dinner - Spiced Rubbed Beef Tenderloin w/ Baby Veggies, Sweet Onion Potato Gratin and a Plum Wine Syrup, Surfer's Grilled Fish Wrap (Grilled Mahi, Broccoli, Corn, Carrots, Tomatoes, Ranch/Yogurt dipping sauce) w/ fries (Room Service)
    Snacks - 1 Cotton Candy, 2 Popcorn, 3 Sodas
    ____________________________________

    We leave tomorrow for Disney, and as I pack up I find myself wishing I'd given us a few extra days here. I hadn't been to Universal since 2004, and I don't remember much from my last trip (it was just one day, the day after the UGA / Perdue Orange Bowl game). I have lots of memories from the early to mid 90s of the park, and it has changed a LOT since then. For example, a few years ago I converted to digital a VHS tape my Grandfather and I made from when Star Trek was still there...I was a 13 (I think) year old doing my best Kirk impression, and my Grandfather was "Spock", hamming it up. One day I need to upload that to youtube. It's campy...but it really brings back memories.

    Also, people talk a lot about "Lost Disney", but I NEVER see a "Lost Universal" thread. I really miss the Alfred Hitchcock experience. I learned that "The Birds" was originally intended to be a 3-D movie, but the fad had faded about halfway through production. However, most of the original 3-D footage had survived, and they showed it to you in the ride, and to date it is still the most harrowing 3-D experience I can remember, even though it was even at that time decades old. I'm a huge fan of Hitchcock, and loved that "ride"...it's long gone (I think it was replaced with T-2 3-D).

    I must admit, I walked into this part of the trip with low expectations, and a bit of a Disney Snob. I must say that Universal not only pleasantly surprised me, but completely reversed my attitude. I was expecting a three star experience at a five star price, and I was completely mistaken.

    I have a few gripes and a few suggestions for Universal which would help the experience, but both the kid and I are actually sad that this is our last night. And to me, that means we had fun!

    I'll finish my post with a quick summary of the trip, but for now, let me run through our experience today while it's still fresh on the membrane!

    Since yesterday was both an eventful and late night for both of us, I decided another low pressure day was in order to keep both of our attitudes in prime condition. I woke up about 8a, and went for a quick walk around the property while sipping some coffee. I went out in my my tattered Umbros (I was at one point a FIFA certified ref, and don't do that anymore...though I always consider getting back into it, though I'd have to recertify...my sleep clothes are generally old work shorts), unshaven face, and bed head. I'm sure I got a few odd looks from some of the more bourgeois guests, but I'm not the sort of person who really cares. It's not like I went and hung out in the lobby or by one of the restaurants!

    When I got back to the room, I brewed another cup of coffee, sat in on a conference call, checked in with my team, and answered work e-mails.

    They have a Keurig single cup in the room, with free pods of Emerils coffee in caf and decaf, as well as green and black tea. The Emerils coffee blend is pretty good. Right now I'm sipping on the black tea, and it's ok. I'd still rather steep my own in my ball at home, but it tastes better then a Lipton bag I think.

    After that, I woke the kid up, and she started her morning routine (wash face, take vitamin, get dressed, put away dirty clothes, make bed, etc...all this takes her about a half hour). While she did that I checked my TD post from last night and did minor edits for typos, etc (there are still quite a few in there, but I'm not in the mood to clean it up right now).

    While I was editing, we chatted about what she wanted to do first today. I was pushing for a loop around the park, working from right and ignoring the early rides (Despicable Me and Shrek). She agreed.

    After stopping by the hotel gift shop to buy some orange juice to tide us over until we got to the park, we headed towards our daily walk. The weather was clear, so we decided to check on the water taxi, rather then taking our Pool shortcut and hoping on a Rickshaw. Lo and behold, it was running AND just pulling up as we arrived! 5 minutes later we were cruising along the lake, and my kid was explaining to me how the water isn't supposed to be green, and she was concerned that all the fish would die.

    After a pleasant ride, we departed for Universal Studios. We took a few minutes to capture some "dancing" footage for my video project in front of the Universal Ball (I've done a lot of these dancing vids so far, just haven't mentioned them in my post outside of the summary), and then entered the park. It was a bit after 11a.

    At this point, our plans immediately changed! She saw Despicable Me, and couldn't think of anything else. The wait was 50 minutes, but Express Pass to the rescue! 10 minutes later we were in the secondary staging for the ride about to get on and she informed me that she needed to relieve herself and couldn't hold it (doh!). We walked through the theater, and after handling her business, went back to the ride. Now, the Express Lane was wrapped outside of the queue and down the side of the building (tour group), so we decided to go on Shrek.

    Shrek, is lots of fun! Our host for the Secondary Queue did a small stand up routine that was very much in line with the comic style of Shrek, and really got me in the mood to do the ride (which isn't really a ride, but a "4-d" style theater show). As far as Shrek is concerned, I enjoyed the first movie intensly, but not the sequels as much (outside of the Puss and Boots character). I found the later movies were running out of gags, and fell back onto bathroom humor too much. I was very happy to see the ride followed the original movie story line and style of humor.

    After that we went over to Rip Roarin', cause the kid really wanted to go. I already knew she was too short, but saw no reason to burst her bubble. Part of the rite of passage of growing up is getting tall enough to do "that ride", right? This year, she's finally tall enough for Rockin' Roller Coaster, and I can't wait until she finds out. I have pictures of her at the measuring post at 5 and 6. Can't wait to take this years picture and do the ride with her!

    After taking a picture at their measuring post, and hanging out for a bit to watch the ride and let her reset her disappointment, we wandered off into New York. We got on Twister, and at first I didn't remember the ride, but once I got to the final spot it came back to me. The kid, however, was freaked from the secondary queue, and during the final show she was muttering the whole time "let me out, let me out, let me out". I tried to calm her down by joking about the flying cow squirting her with milk, and while this obtained a giggle, it didn't ease her much. This reaction would become a recurring theme today. The ride upset her so much, I bought her some cotton candy at the end to help her nurse her fright and reset her mood, and we reversed course and headed off to calmer waters (that end of the park has a lot of intense experience rides, like Disaster and Revenge of the Mummy).

    As we were walking, we ran into the Spongebob show, and she danced with the parade for a bit. To my surprise, she didn't want to take a picture with Patrick or Spongebob, but she loved the fish and their roller skates.

    Then we headed off towards E.T. Today was hot, really hot. I felt it, but I can control my temper. My 7 year old, however, is still learning, and after her freak out on Twister, she wasn't ready for another ride, so we stopped at Feivel's Playground, and she had a blast. It got better when we discovered that there is a "hidden ride" in the playground that is a tube based water slide. The ride is very short, but I sent her on it by herself, and waited at the bottom. This is the first ride she has ever done by herself. I later did it 3 times with her, but the first time I had assumed that it was a kids only ride, so she did it on her own. As a neat feature, Universal has a large screen TV tied into a camera up in the waiting area, so you can watch your kid get on the ride from the base of the ride. This was very helpful, as I wasn't sure how she would react. She behaved like the young lady I hope she is, and came out of the ride screaming with joy, and ranting excitedly about doing it again.

    As I said, we did it 3 more times, and she quite professionally informed me that "this ride isn't just for children, but for parents too" and that I "was missing out on the best ride of the day"...

    Once she discovered that my added 210 lbs made us ride up on the walls and actually jump at the end, she wouldn't stop asking me to go with her. We did it 3 times total, and whilst the ride is short, it is fun.

    At this point, we went off to Woody Woodpecker's roller coaster, and did that 4 times. It's a fun little ride, akin to Goofy's Barnstormer. After that we decided that we couldn't put off solid food any longer, and we filled our popcorn bucket, and got two Corn Dogs. They were ok...not the best Corn Dog I've ever had. The batter was heat lamp baked off of the dog, and the dog seemed more like a brat then an all beef kosher. Another disappointment for me was that they didn't have mustard! Still, it cut the edge off our hunger, and we went off to Curious George.

    We spent nearly 2 hours here. It's a fantastic little area, and my kid had a blast. It is broken into 3 parts. 1 is a small playground / water feature area clearly geared for toddlers. The middle section is an intense water park style experience (no slides, but LOTS of water), and at the back is the "ball factory", which is whimsical and tons of fun. We both enjoyed it thoroughly, though I burned out before she did, she didn't mind. I broke up our mutual playing by with intervals where I let her wander the area on her own, and I hung out near the entrance in the shade and caught up on some work. Every now and then she'd run over to me to eat some popcorn and get a swig of soda.

    After 2 hours, I saw our last day window closing, so I literally had to drag her out of Curious George. Well, not literally, but she was not a happy camper!

    Now, I should mention, my kid doesn't throw fits, and she doesn't whine. When she's unhappy, she gets very quiet. And, while she'll comply with your requests, the only verbal acknowledgement you'll get is "Yes, sir" and "No, sir". I am happy she's not one of "those kids" who freaks out, but in some ways her silent treatment is just as annoying. It just bothers me alone, and not other families that are around us.

    We headed off to E.T., and she enjoyed the ride, but her mood still hadn't reset yet, so we did the Animal Show, which she enjoyed, but was upset she "wasn't picked". We headed off for Simpsons, which was ok. It was obviously a skin of Back to the Future, and they did a great job at it, but I didn't like Back to the Future either because you could see the edges of the wrap around screen, which destroyed the effect for me, so while it was fun, it's a try it and move on ride for me.

    It had started to rain, but this time I was totally ready, ponchos in the bag. We suited up in the Simpsons exit, and discussed where to go next. I wanted to go to MIB after that, and keep working our way around the park, but the kid was dead set on Despicable Me. I explained that she'd love MIB, and it was like Toy Story Mania, she'd get to shoot aliens, and that we'd have to trek all the way back across the park in the rain, but she didn't care. So, off to Despicable Me (who says I wear the pants in this relationship?!?).

    I must say, I'm glad we did! There was almost no wait in the Express Line, and I'm not familiar with the franchise, but my kid is, and she took great pleasure in explaining it all to me. The ride (rather, movie) is fun, and the production/story is fantastic. We did it twice, and I got her a "Ray Gun". We then proceeded into New York to try the other side of the park and work our way around to MIB. She shot up the Twister ride with her Raygun (I'm shrinking things I don't like, was her comment)

    Halfway into the Mummy queue, she decided that it was too intense, and rather then force her, we left. A general note for this ride, head straight to the lockers before the ride...like Harry Potter, no bags are allowed.

    We went and grabbed a turkey leg (which was a serious backtrack, but no biggie...I figured walking around was a good thing at this point), and wandered through the shops and checked out the restaurants along the way. We checked out Disaster, but I've never liked that ride much, and the kid was restless, so I decided to skip it.

    Originally I had wanted to have a full dinner at Lombarde's Seafood Grille, as I've been craving a good seafood meal for the past 2 days. I did have the room service version of fish and chips on Weds night, and it was...not fish and chips. It was flour fried fish with french fries. You are supposed to have it in fish strips, not the whole dang filet! And it's supposed to be batter fried, not flour fried! Anyhow...after reviewing their menu, I decided against it, and I was honestly surprised how little seafood they offered.

    So, we made our way over to MIB. This was another express pass walk on for us, and we did it 4 times. It quickly became my kids favorite. It was nearly 8p at this point, and I had a decision. We could stay for the evening fireworks, or head back to the hotel and have an easy night. I ran it by the kid, and she opted for the latter. I decided to agree. We stopped at Quickie Mart so I could pick up a 3 eyed fish for my dad (he works in a nuclear power plant, and I thought it would make a fun office addition for him), and some Duff Beer...er...energy drink.

    We did Despicable Me one more time, and said goodbye to Universal.

    After filming some of our dancing videos in front of the Universal Ball, we caught the Water Taxi (just in time) and she chatted with her mother on the phone during the ride home, repeating how much she didn't want to leave. After stopping by the hotel gift shop to pick up some drinks for dinner, I ordered room service, and she took her bath, while I repacked our bags to get ready for tomorrow. Room service arrived, and we ate and watched some ninja show on Nick. She liked her Fish Taco, but didn't finish it. Rather she picked out the fish and veg, and dipped them in the sauce. She also ate about 1/4 of my steak however! By 9:30p, she was in the bed and knocked out.

    I had one general peeve today that I didn't have at IoA...tour groups. The park was not crowded at all today, but they were all over (mostly south american, I think). I'm sure it's a cultural misunderstanding, but they were extremely rude. They cut lines, were totally out of control in the lines (wrestling and just generally acting wild), and while I didn't have to spend much time around them due to the fact we both had express passes, I'm glad I wasn't stuck next to them in a line for an extended period. The most frustrating thing was how they would mob the express pass area, not paying any attention to who was there first for pass check, and even blocking the normal line entrance generally. Oh well, it was a short lived peeve, but I kept running into them!

    So, in summery, I have many things I really liked about our few days at Universal, and a few things I didn't like. I think if they streamlined the following, it would make it a better experience:

    1) Unify the dining plan / room keys / express pass system
    2) Go into more detail about how the Water Taxi / Shuttle System works. I had to discover all of this on my own
    3) Get rid of cash only vending options on the parks (there are only a few left, but it's annoying, even if I don't plan on using them)
    4) Make the refillable drink bottle water tight (or at least not an easy leak), and extend it over the whole trip
    5) Offer more and better Quick Service options. All of the QS restaurants basically serve one of a few different dishes, and all are presented exactly the same. You basically get a grilled half chicken, spaghetti and meatballs, fried chicken, or a hamburger / cheeseburger. All of which are mediocre at best. (granted, I only tried the cheeseburger and the fried chicken, but I wasn't inclined to go out of my way to try the others based on their appearance)

    I was impressed with Universal, and I now understand those who are raving fans. As I stated at the beginning of the post, I went into these few days a bit of a Disney Snob, expecting to be disappointed, and I was not.

    One thing I would note about Universal...the whole experience is clearly geared towards an older audience. There were several rides my 7 year old was not interested in, couldn't do, or flat out refused to do. Bear this in mind when you plan your trips. I think the perfect age for it would be when she is 10 or so. That being said, we still had a blast!

    I'd highly recommend it to families looking for a few days of something different, and while you can do each park in 1 day pretty easily (especially with an express pass), there is no reason to. If we do this again, I'm going to give it 5 days instead of 3. Just like Disney, there are a lot of details and fun things to do. Not as much as Disney, by far, but they are still there, and it's a ton of fun!

    Welp, tomorrow it's off to the World!
    1982 - Contemporary (1 week), 1987 - Visit (2 weeks, offsite), 1988 - Visit (1 week, offsite), 1989 - Visit (3 weeks, offsite), 1990 - Visit (5 weeks, offsite), 1991 - Visit (6 weeks, offsite), 1992 - Visit (6 weeks, offsite)
    1993 - Visit (6 weeks, offsite), 1994 - Visit (6 weeks, offsite), 1995 - Visit (6 weeks, offsite)
    __________________
    2010 - Carribean Beach (2 weeks), 2011 - Carribean Beach (2 weeks), 2012 - Pop Century (2 weeks...upcoming)

  6. #6

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    Re: englanddg's Magical Mystery Tour (and Trip Report)!

    Day 4 (Part 1)
    Goodbye Leows and Hello Pop, Royal Treatment at the Royal Table, and How to Watch Two Fireworks Shows in one Night

    Magic Moments - 1
    Pics Taken - 72
    Vid for Projects Taken - 8
    Discomforts (bug bites/etc) - 0
    Unexpected Surprises - 2 (Fireworks and Pop itself)
    Peeves - 0

    Breakfast - Coffee (me), Orange Juice, Milk and a banana (Kid)
    Lunch/Snack - 2 Apples and a split a blueberry muffin I had picked up with breakfast
    Dinner - Rock Shrimp Cocktail, Grilled Swordfish and Espresso Cheesecake (me), Grapes and Cheese, Beef Tenderloin and Decorate your own Ice Cream (kid) (Cinderella's Royal Table)
    Snacks - Resort Drink Cups
    ____________________________________

    The day has arrived, and it's time to say our final goodbye to the Leows and head off to "The World". We had a scheduled pick up at 9a with Quick Transportation to take us back to the Orlando Airport, where we would catch the Magical Express to Pop Century.

    I had packed the night before, and only had to put together our toiletries from getting ready in the morning. I woke up at 7a (6:30a wake up call WITH the alarm/snooze set for 7a as well this time!), did a final room check for forgotten items, and ran down and got us some breakfast munchies to snack on. At 8a, I woke the kid, and let her get ready at her own pace while she watched Avatar on Nick.

    I enjoyed the Leows, with only a few gripes that I have mentioned before, and as our stay got longer, my comfort grew. They have a lot of things going on at the hotel, way to much to take in with just one 3 day visit. One example is their "Open Wok and Magic Show", which they do on Saturday nights. You get all you can eat stir fry, and then a magic show. Another is "Open Wok and Hula Night (which is Friday Nights).

    I was also hasty to judge room service. I used it all three nights, which was never my plan, but it sortof worked out and was convenient. Yes, there was sticker shock each time (there is an automatic 22% gratuity). I also didn't like that the porter every time insisted on entering my room beyond the entry way and "setting up" our table. Though, there may be a liability reason for that (one porter informed me he could get in serious trouble if he didn't do it).

    What added to the general frustration is that the hotel restaurants will not do "carry out" orders, except for one (the same one that does room service, and is located across the hotel from me). I had to walk by Emerils (he has another restaurant in this hotel) and a Sushi place every night on my way back from the park (even last night when I took the Water Taxi back), and I would have loved to sit down at the bar and share a shirley temple or something with the kid and take a really nice meal up to the room...but it's verbotten.

    Instead, I got decent food, for 30% more then I expected at even an inflated hotel rate. However, the food was good 2 nights out of 3, so perhaps Weds was just an off night for the kitchen.

    Quick Transportation was prompt, and again the driver was professional, courteous and organized. He dropped us off directly above the Magical Express check in area (after having to loop around the airport after dropping off two other families who were catching flights home), and gave us very clear directions on how to proceed. He helped me reassemble my luggage, and joked around well with the chiddler.

    I was already aware of where we were in the airport due to the frequency of my trips, but I knew he was going an extra mile, and I let him go through the whole spiel. I tipped him $5 for the drive (would have done $10, but it was the only cash I had on hand), thanked him, and we were on our way.

    I have never seen the Magical Express queues so empty! We literally walked up to check-in, and then also literally walked onto our bus. The bus took about 30 minutes to fill up. I covered the kid up in her Minnie throw blanket that I use for the airplane, and she settled on my lap and tried to take a nap.

    No go...she was too excited. Every year since she was 5 she has done this ride, and this is the first year I didn't suprise her at the gates of the Magical Express (in hindsight, I still sortof wish I had kept it a secret and let her figure it out on her own).

    Anyhow, she now knows exactly what is coming at the end of the ride! In fact, she knows it so well that this year we got a "water park" themed bus instead of the traditional Magical Express bus, and she thought I was telling her to get on the wrong bus. "Daddy, we are supposed to get on one of THOSE!"

    Anyhow, she couldn't doze off, so we powered up the iPad and played DragonBox+ together. For parents, I recommend this app. It's a math game that doesn't play like one, and teaches logic and reasoning skills. We adore it, and my kid is actually faster then me at times. We play the game by alternating levels and we give each other "3 hints" each if we see a solution that the controlling player doesn't (which sometimes turns into 4 - 20 hints, but who's counting?) Anyhow, it's a fun iPad app to check out.

    The bus finally filled and we were off! The driver was jovial, and had several good one liners that came off as genuinely funny without being forced (which is always hit or miss, in my experience), and the ride was a blast. Every year I've done the Express, I have one gripe only. I wish that instead of turning on the video so late, they'd do it earlier, and instead of a blank screen, they'd run cartoons as filler. They do it after the video, but not before, and there's a good portion of the ride where you are staring at a blank screen.

    After a nostalgic stop at Carribean (Pop shares this route), we arrived. We arrived around 10a. The arrival was more then I expected. Bell Services was out there with bubble guns, and they had literally laid out the red carpet for you. From the moment I stepped off the bus, the hotel took on a jovial feel, and for the first time on the trip, I felt like I was coming "home", even though the hotel was mostly new to me.

    I plopped the kid and the luggage down in front of the cartoon TV (great idea Disney!), and check-in is was mostly painless. I did let one woman who I had seen earlier ranting at her husband about how this was "the fourth time our room keys haven't worked" cut ahead of me, as I figured she needed more attention then I did at the moment.

    Once it was my turn, I'd done the online check-in before arriving, and true to Disney's promise, they had everything ready for me when I got there. A veteran, I didn't need the whole spiel, so I quickly informed the clerk that I was not a first time, or even irregular visitor, but I was new to Pop. He seemed a bit relieved by this, and then went about calling housekeeping to find out if a room was already available, or if we needed to go see bell services to drop off our bags until our scheduled room became available.

    Luck be my friend, there was a room ready! AND it was on the 4th floor, which I wanted anyway (I like being on the top floors of buildings, personal mental issue I'm sure, but <shrug>).

    New keys issued, we were off to our room. For those who haven't been, Pop has elevators, which is very nice. Carribean does not (though it's only 2 stories tall, not 4...there is probably a local building regulation that requires a certain number of elevators per floor...I know that building regs like this exist in Atlanta...anything 4 floors or taller with above a certain amount of habitable sq footage is required to have an ADA compliant elevator there, even residential homes. So, there's some random trivia for you!)

    The room is a touch smaller the CBR, but the layout is very similar. There were a few details that CBR had that Pop does not that immedietly stood out to me, outside of the obviously simpler decor and furniture.

    1) No real glasses, no coffee maker
    2) No Footstand with storage compartment next to the entertainment center
    3) Smaller table

    There are other obvious differences, but overall, nothing I found inconvenient or annoying, and in the back of my mind I was wondering why I spent extra money for CBR in the past.

    I paid the slightly higher rate to get a "preferred room", which basically means you are near the food court / shops / bus and have a view of the central pool. As luck would have it, I ended up with the very last room on the top floor closest to the laundry/etc. I am very pleased with the room, the view, and the location. The only disadvantage of this was the obvious temptation of the pool for the chiddler. It was all she could talk about, and while I went about setting up our room for our stay, she was out on the foyer looking down at the sparkling water and getting so excited you could see her anticipation from her body language alone.

    Getting the room ready was easy, since the layout was so similar to CBR, and I largely was able to keep the same system.

    I unpacked her clean clothes into middle drawer on the entertainment center, and mine into the top. The bottom drawer is reserved for souvanier storage. I emptied the nightstand of the obligatory phone book and Bible, which I deposited on back corner of the shelf above the hangers in the bathroom, as the nightstand will become my electronics center. I pulled the nightstand out about 3 inches from the wall, and balanced the clock and phone against it. I plugged in my power strip, and started to set up my my charging station. All items ended up with their own cables leading into the night stand drawer, with the exception of the phone which is granted the spot between the phone and the clock. The only other exception is the laptop, which at CBR I would set up at the night stand, but I felt it worked better on the table at Pop this year, and that's where I am now. This year I have far less electronics, as I now have a combined HD video/picture camera (I'll touch on that later), and that helped dramatically.

    I unsealed our laundry pack (re: video in the Packing Advice thread), and put all our dirty clothes from Universal (which I had isolated in the outer pockets on our luggage). After dropping a laundry sheet into the bottom of the bag, I filled them appropriately, hers and mine. There was no need to hang them, as my plan was to do laundry tonight (every 4 days, give or take), so I sat them by the front table, and moved on to our shoes. These I lined up in pairs below the window.

    Then I removed every piece of promotional/educational material (only after checking each one for something new or exciting) and put them on the shelf above the hangers on top of the phone book and Bible. The "Privacy Please" card I stuck on the front door, using the on door evacuation route hanger to hold it (easy access for the future, if I ever want to use it...but I enjoy room service, so I probably won't, unless one of us has an embarrassing situation that I don't want to share with a hotel maid...)

    From the hooks outside the bathroom, I hung bags. Working order, from the one closest to the bathroom to farthest, my day pack, my belt, my now empty electronics pack which is also my briefcase, and her pin collection bag.

    The "empty spots" on the entertainment center, inbetween the unused area below the TV and the drawers (which, CBR starting last year is a media connection portal with comparable empty spots to the right and left), I set up our daily staging. These are drop off points for our daily use items, like wallets, cards, tickets, change, etc... Basically, I use it as a catch all spot for things that need to be looked through or taken daily, and it's where we empty our pockets at the end of the day, and fill our pockets for the next day.

    Our trip luggage I stashed in the back of the "closet", with all associated zip locks and related packing items within. I was now tucked into the hotel for our extended visit, and ready to face the day.

    It was around 11a. I gathered the munchkin and asked her what she wanted to do next, as we really didn't have any plans outside of our normal traditional stop to get set up for pin trading, buy some ears, and head off for Magic Kingdom.

    She had different ideas. I'm going to leave you here, as I am off to collect our laundry. I'll be back and will finish in a second post before I go to bed.

    Day 4 (Part 2)
    ___________________________

    Ok, I just got back from one of the most farcical things I've seen in a long time. I was going to write how Pop is much more active at night (it is) then CBR was, and how, at this time of night I would rarely see another person. However, here, the party is still going, even though the pools are "shut down"!

    So, apparently, Disney does send security out to clear people at a certain hour (pool closed hours ago, so...this is quite delayed). In this case, it was a 60 something year old woman with an LED flashlight trying to tell a bunch of excited colombian kids (I ran into one of thier group leaders) to get out of the pool. They didn't understand her, and kept going. So, I watched her keep circling the pool, repeating "the pool is closed, please return to your rooms, for about 3 minutes, before I couldn't take it anymore and left for the laundry chuckling to myself.

    That poor lady is still out there trying to round up all the kids.

    Anyhow, back to my report. This part will be much shorter, as there isn't much left to say, and I'm ready for the sack.

    The kid, after 20 minutes of watching the "fun" down at the pool, decided she didn't want to go to the parks first, and breaking our tradition, we went to the pool. We spent 3 hours here. I should note, my kid doesn't know how to swim, and while she loves the water, she freaks out when it touches her face. I don't enjoy this attitude much, as I'm an adept swimmer, and I've struggled for years to get her over this phobia.

    This year, she was ready to really start learning. 2 hours later, after working on her floating (jellyfish and back float), and her leg work (standard teaching method of holding onto the edge of the pool while kicking to learn how to keep your legs flexible but straight), she was swimming about 20 - 30 feet on her own into the 4 foot section of the pool to my waiting arms.

    My magic moment today was seeing her awkwardly doggy paddle while telling herself "don't panic, don't panic!" to keep herself motivated, as she set her own free swim goals to get to me. She won't understand this until she gets much older, but it reminded me of teaching her how to walk all over again.

    The pool at Pop is a whole lot of fun, and they do activities for the pool visitors throughout the day. We played bingo, for example (which, to our mutual but minor disappointment, we lost at every time). This is a far cry from CBR, which has a grander pool setup, but lacks interactivity (they do have it, but it's very rare).

    Also, Pop blasts hits from the 80s and 90s...who could ask for more?

    But, as much as we were having a good time, I had to cut it short as we had a 4:25 ADR for Royal Table.

    I had pushed us out of the pool a bit early for both of us to get refreshed with a shower and change of clothes, so we agreed to walk through AoA (in her eyes after walking it the "cool hotel!") to catch our bus to Magic Kingdom.

    I posted some of the pics I took at the AoA forum here: A of A

    Overall, AoA is impressive, and obviously a step up from Pop. That being said, as a party of two, I think Pop is perfect for our needs, and I see nothing there that interests me, outside of the eye candy. However, the kid loved the pools, as they have a lot more detail and water features, which is to be expected given their relative age.

    Architecturally, the food court and main lobby smack of Pop (as they should, as it was supposed to be a Pop extension in the first place, and any Pop goer will feel quite at home over there. The food court does have some interesting options, and I'm glad that Disney did that, as I plan to check out the AoA food court more during my visit. The Pop food court is very similar to CBR in terms of offerings.

    So, a short bus ride later where she fell asleep on my lap, and I nearly dozed off, we were at Magic Kingdom. I picked up my 2 day tickets at Will Call, where I noticed a family sporting what seems to be a trend this year...knock off "Thing" t-shirts. If you are not familiar, Universal sells Thing 1, Thing 2, Thing 3, Thing 4 and any other Thing they can imagine you'd want at their resort, all of which are a tie in to Thing 1 and Thing 2 from Cat and the Hat.

    They are fun T-shirts, and I got one for my kid (Thing 1), and a sundress/shirt for her half-sister (Thing 2, age 3), as well as a t-shirt for my ex that says "Mother of all Things" as souvaniers from Universal.

    And, when anything goes "fun" at the parks, the parody artists go wild. So, off site of Universal and Disney, you can get T-Shirts that are far more...racy...

    For example, the family in front of me, which was a group of about 20 all with these shirts, had Drunk 1 and Drunk 2, as well as Bi**h 1 and Bi**h 2, S*xy 4, and Spoiled 1 and Spoiled 4 (never figured that out), etc...the list goes on.

    I never figured out the logic behind why they chose these shirts. If I was a 30 something year old man or woman, I wouldn't care to wear a shirt that said B**ch 1, even if I was one.

    But, to each their own. Once they were done Jerry Springering the staff, I picked up my will call 2 day tickets, and moved forward to our dinner.

    The kid was dog tired after 3 hours of swimming, and I knew it, and my plan was we'd do the dinner and get out, but once she saw the castle, she knew she was here. I teared up a bit too, once I see the Castle and see Main Street, it all gets very real.

    She quite literally ran to it, and was stopped by a show, which, caused us to take a detour (by Sleepy Hollow) to get to our dinner, and the mere fact she guided me through it, including the detour route, made me realize...she's as much a Disneyphile as I am!

    I need to summarize and go get the rest of our laundry.

    The park is pretty much the same as before, and as always magical. We did Small World, and Prince Charming's Carousel today, and did some dancing vids along the way. She really wanted to do the movie at Pop's central pool tonight, so we skipped her favorite rides (Splash M and Space M) by her own choice, and by the time we had gotten back to Pop, she was asleep.

    I carried her to the room, and laid her in bed, and she's still knocked out. Tomorrow, we have breakfast at Tuskers, but I don't think we are going to do the whole day at Animal Kingdom, as I planned.

    She's quite excited to find out if she's finally tall enough for Rockin' Roller Coaster...she's only been waiting for 2 years!

    (she is, I think, based on web details from Disney...but only the bar will tell!)

    Anyhow, goodnight all, and I'll be posting tomorrow night unless all goes haywire with my internet (I have issues with the "free wifi...I'll get into why in detail tomorrow)....
    1982 - Contemporary (1 week), 1987 - Visit (2 weeks, offsite), 1988 - Visit (1 week, offsite), 1989 - Visit (3 weeks, offsite), 1990 - Visit (5 weeks, offsite), 1991 - Visit (6 weeks, offsite), 1992 - Visit (6 weeks, offsite)
    1993 - Visit (6 weeks, offsite), 1994 - Visit (6 weeks, offsite), 1995 - Visit (6 weeks, offsite)
    __________________
    2010 - Carribean Beach (2 weeks), 2011 - Carribean Beach (2 weeks), 2012 - Pop Century (2 weeks...upcoming)

  7. #7

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    Atlanta, GA, USA
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    Re: englanddg's Magical Mystery Tour (and Trip Report)!

    Day 5
    Sadistic Waffles, Singin' in the (Water Park) Rain, and I see a little silhouetto of a man. Scaramouch!

    Magic Moments - 1
    Pics Taken - 96
    Vid for Projects Taken - 12
    Discomforts (bug bites/etc) - 0
    Unexpected Surprises - 1 (Winter Summerland)
    Peeves - 3 (Rude Bus Drivers, Disney Wifi, Vending Machines)

    Breakfast - A Mickey Waffle, OJ, Milk and Coffee (Pop)
    Lunch - Cobb Salad, Pan-seared Coriander-dusted Grouper, Haricot Verts, Goat Cheese and Watermelon Salad with a Balsamic Reduction and Fennel Oil, Grapefruit Cake (me) Salad, Fish and Chips, Make-your-own Ice Cream (her) (Brown Derby)
    Dinner - BLT Soup, Reuban, Chocolate Milkshake (me) Fruit Salad, Chicken Nuggets and Fries, Vanilla Ice Cream (her)
    Snacks - 1 OJ, 4 sodas, 1 popcorn, 1 frozen lemonade

    Dinner Credits left - 50
    Snack Credits left - 35
    ____________________________________

    After a late night last night, we both slept in today. I didn't wake until nearly 10a, and it was certainly a coffee morning. My body was sore, and I had the beginnings of a sunburn on my upper back. Certainly not painful, but noticeable, and I would certainly need to be sure to use sunscreen today as my skin healed, or it could easily get worse. It seems years of computer work has taken it's toll on my sun tolorance!

    I went down to the hotel cafeteria and picked up a kids Mickey Waffles with bacon, and a Bounty Platter. I filled my mug and my kid's mug with coffee (both for me!), and headed back to the room. When I got back, the kid was already awake and had found some cartoons to watch.

    I cleared off the small table, and moved it over to her bed so we could eat together. We shared everything, and it was mediocre, as anyone who has had a hotel breakfast at Disney would expect. Not bad, but not good...very cafeteria.

    My kid tucked into her waffle first, and she has a peculiar and habit of how to eat them that goes back to an early breakfast on our first trip in 2010. We had woken early that day after doing 1am EM, and she was just grumping around. Nothing would get her out of the funk, so I was trying to get her excited about her waffles. So, I decided...to mutilate Mickey. I cut off one of his waffle ears and did my best Mickey impression of him screaming "noooo, not my ears, my beautiful ears", or something like that. Then I munched an ear. This got her giggling, and she ate the other ear. His chin and nose later, she was fully into the gag and her mood restored.

    Fast forward to 2012, and she STILL eats her waffles this way, doing the voice herself. Who says you shouldn't play with your food, even if it is a bit sadistic?

    We ate leisurely and around 11:30 we decided to head off to to Hollywood Studios, and were there by noon. Listening to the bus announcements, I found out that Extra Magic hours at Hollywood Studios were going to be until 1a, instead of the 12a that I had programmed into my calendar. Neat!

    We grabbed a fast pass for Star Tours, and headed off to the Backstage Tour, stopping for about a half hour for her to play on the Honey I Shrunk the Kids playground (note to parents, unless you WANT to do this, steer your kids around it. When they see it, they will not stop talking about it). It was ok. I remember loving it as a kid, and it is really well done, but after playing at the playgrounds at Universal, I felt underwhelmed. The kid, obviously, does not share this feeling.

    The Backstage Tour was ok. I've seen Disaster Canyon so many times that it doesn't impress me anymore, and I miss the extensive pre-show (I rode the bee twice as a kid, and was also picked for the "rainy boat" scene once). In fact, the only highlight of the trip for me is Walt Disney's plane that he used to survey the "Florida Project". The kid thought it was ok. She had a front row seat this time for Disaster Canyon, and was right in front of the Tanker when it blew up. She shrieked with pleasure at the heat, and talked about it the rest of the ride.

    We went off for our reservation at Brown Derby, and showed up a bit early. They were not busy at all, and quickly had us seated. Oddly, we sat in the same booth we had in 2010 and 2011. They had a walkaround "Chef" character with a french accent that was hilarious, and great at ad-lib. I've never seen this character before, and it makes me wonder if they are trying to drum up business, because as a regular visitor with no dining plan, there really is no reason to see the Brown Derby.

    He had a pie with pi on it, and that was his opening joke. The kid didn't get it, and I made the comment that she would understand it later, and he worked off me and asked her how old she was. "7, nearly 8", she said, and he quipped, "Oh, well, you will get this joke in about 3.14 years!" I nearly choked on the bread I was nibbling! As I'll be eating at Brown Derby again on Friday, I decided to skip my normal choices and try new things this time.

    Our server was fantastic! He was obviously enjoying his day, and formed a great relationship with my kid. I had the Cobb Salad, which was my first time trying it, but as it's a signature dish, I felt it was time to give it a try. The reason it's a signature dish is that the Cobb Salad was invented at the real Brown Derby in the late 30's. The story is that the owner, Mr. Cobb, hadn't eaten all day and near closing threw together a salad using leftovers from the days cooking along with some fresh bacon. He liked the salad so much, that he put it on the menu, and the rest is history! You can get the recipe for the Cobb Salad as you exit the restaurant. It's in a wall pocket near the exit, and is printed on cards shaped like a little brown derby.

    It...was ok. It was extremely well produced by the kitchen, so I can't really complain about that, but the combination of flavours wasn't something that I really liked. I will not be doing it again. I want to stress that this shouldn't turn anyone else off to it, as it was prepared very well, and I did enjoy it, but not enough to finish it. The portion is pretty large too. If I could have shared it with someone, it would have been perfect.

    I love fish, and we were planning the waterpark later, so I wanted a "light" lunch. I make coriander crusted fish at home a lot. I grind up the seeds in my mortar and pestle. I generally use flounder, as it's my favorite fish. I'm not fond of grouper, as I find it generally flavorless, and so I wanted to try it to see if I could get some seasoning tips. I wasted my time. The fish was bland. The balsamic / watermelon base was fantastic though, and I ate all of that, but still left pieces of fish on the plate. As with many dishes, if you combine all the elements in one bite, you get a proper taste, but this dish wasn't like that. The salad dramatically overpowered the fish, and frankly they could have just served me the salad alone, and I would have been happy. They could have left the grouper in the pan for all I cared. :P

    The grapefruit cake is another Brown Derby signature dish, so I decided to give it a shot. One word. Don't. I love grapefruit (and drink it daily at home). But this cake was no good at all, even though the presentation was fantastic.

    During our meal, nature called for me, and I left the kid for a few minutes while I handled my business. When I came back, she and the waiter had an inside joke. He had served what I assume was some brandy or a wine test to another table, and had used a "tiny glass". It was about a 3 oz wine glass, and my kid loved it.

    When I came back, she was joking with him about it, and I was completely outside of the loop. A few minutes later, he came back with coke in that same glass, and she pretended she was a "grown lady", while taking dainty sips from her glass. How fun!

    Tummies full, and Fantasmic Dinner Pass acquired, we moved on. I must say, I wasn't satisfied, but I was not disappointed either. Lunch was just meh, outside of the service. It started to rain, and ponchos in hand, I checked my phone for a weather map, and saw a storm was going to blow through for about an hour. We had planned to go to the water park, but we still had our fast passes for Star Tours, so we ran over and did that. It's great. I love the new version. We happened into the Star Tours Celebration V shutdown event in 2010, and it's a lasting memory for both of us (video of the event here - An overview of Disney's Last Tour to Endor for Star Wars Celebration V - YouTube). We saw several celebs that night, including George Lucas and Anthony Daniels, and we even rode Star Tours next to Jon Stewart (whom I didn't recognize at all in person, and he's quite short).

    I love what they've done with the ride, and I was really happy that we got Hoth as one of our options, as I hadn't seen that version when we rode last year, and Hoth is hands down my favorite part of all the movies.

    We went and watched Muppets again, and the rain started to subside, so we went to catch a bus for the water park. She wanted to go to Typhoon, but to get to Typhoon, you have to hotel hop. I wanted to go straight, so we flipped a coin, and Blizzard it was.

    So, gripe #1 of the day...we saw a driver change at HS (which I think this is where they do them, as I see it all the time here, and I know they alternate routes throughout the shift), and the new driver obviously wasn't happy to be at work. It wasn't anything she said, but you could tell with her body language and her tone of voice. She overheard me talking to the kid about how cool Blizzard was, and I was reminding her about it ("remember the water park where we rode on the ski lift really high in the air and you could see all the people as small as ants?") She snapped out of nowhere "Well, it's raining now, so that park is closed. I'll still drop you off, but they won't let you in!"

    This was very off-putting. I knew the park was closed, I am quite aware of the rain schedules, and I'd been checking my phone for weather maps, and knew that they'd be open in 30 mins to a half hour. The kid really wanted to do a water park, and if we had to wait for a bit and wander the grounds or even be turned away and head off to a hotel to explore for a bit before coming back, it was my choice, and I really didn't appreciate her uninvited intrusion into my conversation with my child.

    However, my kid seemed not to notice, and once on the bus, she took a nap on my lap as we headed on. By the time we got there, the rain had mostly stopped, and we trundled over to Winter Summerland to check it out before trying park entry. At drop off, the bus driver didn't even open the back door for us to exit, even though she knew this was our destination and the bus was mostly empty (3 families), and when we stood up to leave, she exclaimed for all to hear that "I told you the park was closed, and you won't even be able to get in. You can get off, but you won't be able to swim. You still want to get off?" I indicated I did, and we left. I hope she got over whatever had put her in such a bad mood later, because I found her attitude extremely uncomfortable.

    As she had said, the park was closed, though they would allow us entry, we just couldn't get on any rides. I asked the chiddler if she wanted to go in now, or check out the mini-golf. She chose the latter, so off to Winter Summerland. We've never explored this course, and it looked amazingly cool! 18 holes, 9 themed wintery, and 9 themed summary. I love the "twin castles" too. After walking the outside (they were closed too), we settled down near the entrance, and I must say that they handle rain downage very well! They had crayons and coloring pages for the kids, and my kid asked for Eeyore, and one of the cast members went back and looked up one for her to color. How fun! They also gave out free mini-candy canes, and while here we purchased a few snacks and decided to hang out until it reopened.

    About 30 minutes later, we were off on the course! My kid loves mini-golf, and it's a regular thing that both her mom and I do with her. I've been doing putt putts with her since she was 3 years old. She even has a real kid sized putter at home that she normally uses, and she is scary good. I don't know why it never occurred to me to do the courses at Disney, but after reading various trip reports to get ready for this trip, I decided to remedy that.

    So, my little Tigress Woods and I hit the links, and she decided to do the Winter side. The theme is a lot of fun, and by far our favorite hole was the castle (for the theme, not the complexity of the hole). She beat me by 4 strokes, though I may have thrown a few holes, no one could prove it. She did, however, give me a run for my money, and after a satisfying round, we headed off to Blizzard. She was excited to test out her new "swimming skills", and the first place she wanted to visit was the wave pool. This was a first, as on previous visits, she mostly wanted to do the lazy river.

    I love doing the water parks right after rain. First, most of the guests have departed, so the parks are not crowded at all. Second, while the water is less enjoyable, as it doesn't relieve your heat, the park is more enjoyable, as you don't have to wait in the heat!

    I must plug my other camera now. I got a Pentax Optio waterproof digital camera for this trip, and while I miss the Sony still (it's gonna turn up I hope), the Pentax was made for this sort of experience. We took all sorts of underwater shots (her and me making funny faces) as well as videos. I didn't have to worry about water or splashes, and at I'm very glad I got this camera.

    After renting a locker and depositing my day pack, our shoes, and her overclothes, we headed off to the pool! She adored the wave pool, and I regret teaching her how to wave surf, because it's all she wanted to do the rest of the day! Eventually, I was able to talk her into going on a few slides. Not all of the rides had completely opened yet, so we went on Double Dipper. She was just barely tall enough (funny how the extra half inch shoes add at the parks makes all the difference), and she was measured 4 times total. Once at the base, twice while in line, and then once again at the top. Disney lifeguards seemed to be on the lookout for short ones!

    But, she qualified by about a half inch, and wanted me to go first so I'd be there to help her out of the landing pool. I'm always a bit nervous about going first on these sorts of things with her, as I'm not sure if she will freak out and refuse to do the ride, and I don't want to inconvenience the other people waiting or the cast member with her emotional expression, but she's never freaked out, and so I did as she requested, and went first.

    The ride is awesome, with quite a few jumps. I am a contact wearer, and on the second jump, I got a splatter of water in my eye that sent the contact roaming, so I really can't tell you much about the last drop outside of that it was fast! Struggling with my eye, I followed the lifeguards instructions, and stumbled over to the exit and deposited my tube on the tube return.

    I hastened to listen for my kids distinctive scream...and didn't hear it. I began to worry that she had chickened out, but a few moments later that mix of thrill and joy hit my ears, and she popped out the bottom of the tube. She fared much better then I, and managed to stay on the tube all the way to the stairs, where I helped her out, and she deposited it for return.

    Deciding not to brave another trip on the now open Toboggan runs (I'm not sure if they upped the height on them, but those were her first intense slides in 2010...and now they require 48 inches)...

    We had seen a double tube ride while waiting for the Double Dipper, and she really wanted to do it, so we walked to the back of the park and got on board!

    Now, I really wanted some water slide footage for the videos I plan to make after our trip, so I filmed the whole trip down the slide. I must say this took away some of the enjoyment, but the footage turned out fantastic. One thing that will keep me from doing it all the way through again was the landing. We landed hard! And since I didn't have my weight balanced since I was holding the camera, the tube flipped. Totally my fault, but this sent the kid into 4 foot water quickly, and she freaked out. After grabbing her trying to tread water (we've talked about it, but I haven't taught her the arm/leg movements), I moved us off to the side and she did a jellyfish float while I collected my camera.

    I will collect more footage like this, but I will shut the camera off and connect it well before the end of the ride. I was embarrassed, and the kid was upset that water got up her nose.

    After this, she really wanted to do a tube on the wave pool to see how far we could get, so we grabbed the Lazy River and rode off into blissful relaxation. She and I both assumed the "tanning positions", and as usual, I kept her raft near using my foot tied to the curve.

    At the wave pool, it took us a few minutes to secure a tube, but once we did, she braved it all the way to the back where the big waves are. I hung off the side of the tube, and we floated wherever the waves took us (I did guide us out of the flux where the two wave producing areas meet, and you can easily get stuck). After reaching the 1 foot spot, we headed back out to float in again, and then gave our tube to a family who seemed to just be arriving, and went back to the lockers and a quick bathroom break. While she was finishing, I bought us a towel with the seagulls from Nemo on it, as a running joke for both of us is "mine, mine, mine"!

    On our way out, we passed the "lost children" section, where the kid hula hooped for a few minutes with the attendant who seemed thoroughly bored before we showed up, and they did a contest to see who could hula longest. This went on far longer then I expected, nearly 3 minutes, and my kid won (I'm sure the attendant made sure of that).

    Once on the bus, I covered her in our new towel, and we headed back to Hollywood Studios for our dinner reservation, and to see Fantasmic using our earlier obtained pass.

    Dinner was what I expected. The Dine-In Theater is one of my favorite venues, and I ordered old favorites, since my experience at new things at Brown Derby. The BLT soup was fantastic, but the Reuban was disappointing (too dry), I wish I'd done the burger instead, which has always been fantastic. For dessert I had a chocolate milkshake, which was good. I'd prefer the PBJ Milkshake from 50's, but I don't like the experience. Maybe one day they'll get it here.

    We watched the film all the way through the loop (about an hour), and then headed over to Fantasmic. We've only seen this once, and they've made a few changes since 2010. It's still a fantastic show. Not much to say here outside of...go see it!

    After Fantasmic, we went off to do other things as there were EM hours till 1am (which I confirmed with a CM upon exit, as I've never seen them do EM hours until 1am, it's always 12a...) But, the bus was right. Oh, one tip for those of you looking for a bathroom break after the show...don't use the first ones you see, the lines will be horrendous. Rather, wander towards the back of the park and use one of those bathrooms. We used the bathrooms to the right of American Idol, and found them desolate. Disney will card you for EM if you want to ride a ride, but they won't if you need to have some relief.

    For EM, we rode Star Wars, then walked New York and San Fran. You might think those doors are fake, but they are not. They are cast only, and some Cast Member had left one in San Fran open...and it happened to be the first one my kid had me try. While there was nothing to look at outside of the Muppet queue, she insisted that I try every door along the street, which was fun in it's own way.

    After this, we headed to Toy Story, which for some reason was closed, but according to CM's was "expected to open for EM hours"...the line was back to the Coke Spot, so, we skipped it. We did Tower of Terror, and Rockin' Roller Coaster, and then I again used a parental veto to say the night was over.

    At this point, the day hit me hard, and I wanted to go back to the hotel. On the bus ride home came a truly magical moment.

    As we pulled out of Hollywood Studios, they play music, and this time it was Bohemian Rhapsody. I started singing along (it's one of my favorite songs), and the guy next to me joined in, and before we were at Pop, about half the bus was singing "will not let you go!"

    This is what I love about Disney.

    Ok, to explain my two peeves that I didnt't touch on so far.

    Disney Wifi is hit or miss. It times out and wants you to agree to legal conditions that only work in IE, and I don't use IE, I use Chrome, so I have to log out, and log in again, and sometimes even that doesn't work, and the only thing I've found that will get me back online is an IP renewal. This is exactly what I experienced at CBR in 2010 when they had Wifi only, and I hate it.

    The vending machine on my floor doesn't like dollar bills...so I went to the third floor...That vending machine also doesn't like dollar bills...I just want a coke! So, I went to the second floor. THAT vending machine LOVES my dollar bills, but tells me that it's out of every product, then freezes up for a few minutes, then teases me by letting me input my choice, and then saying again it's sold out, even though I am staring at the product through the window. I just want a coke!

    So, 3 bucks lost to the third vending machine, I just go to the laundry area, where it finally works.

    Further updates tomorrow!
    1982 - Contemporary (1 week), 1987 - Visit (2 weeks, offsite), 1988 - Visit (1 week, offsite), 1989 - Visit (3 weeks, offsite), 1990 - Visit (5 weeks, offsite), 1991 - Visit (6 weeks, offsite), 1992 - Visit (6 weeks, offsite)
    1993 - Visit (6 weeks, offsite), 1994 - Visit (6 weeks, offsite), 1995 - Visit (6 weeks, offsite)
    __________________
    2010 - Carribean Beach (2 weeks), 2011 - Carribean Beach (2 weeks), 2012 - Pop Century (2 weeks...upcoming)

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