What I Did On Summer Vacation
Okay, look, I know that all of you in Facebook land who care saw lots of pictures, but I still think a summary is in order here. For me if nobody else. I like to get it all in to a nice little package at the end.
In the interest of full disclosure there are a few things you should know up front:
- Ostensibly this was a trip to celebrate my father-in-laws 75th birthday
- I didn’t pick the time of year to go to Orlando. That happened due to other management
- Due to the timing it was actually closer to his 75.5th birthday
- Yes it was freaking hot. I know, I was there.
- While we are big Disney fans, the truth is we were much more excited about going to Harry Potter Land. Get over it. It was worth it.
- I highly recommend having a father-in-law who is retired military and can get awesome level guest passes for you. For about half the price of two day park hoppers for Universal and Disney we ended up with four day park hoppers for both. This gave us pretty much unlimited freedom while we were there.
Okay, so, we stayed at a Doubletree Resort which put us approximately ten minutes from Universal Orlando and twenty minutes from Disney World. In other words, the perfect spot. Weirdly the Doubletree Resort had things like an arcade, miniature golf course, people sized checkers and checker board, an outdoor pool table, and multiple pools, along with the other regular amenities. It was very strange. Our room was pretty much standard Doubletree fair, but no refrigerator. Called the front desk to deal with that because although not necessary I do prefer to keep my insulin refrigerated whenever I can. And of course it makes a good place to store extra snacks and water bottles.
Flight out wasn’t to bad even having to get up at 3am, but it was still late afternoon by the time we got there. We had just about enough time to get to the hotel, decompress briefly from the flight, and then meet up with family in the Universal City Walk for dinner.
So, if you don’t know, Universal Orlando is basically divided up in to four areas; The City Walk which is pretty much like Downtown Disney (lots of shops, restaurants, and a theater), Hollywood Studios where you’ll find a lot of their rides and attractions, Volcano Bay which is basically a giant water park, and Islands of Adventure which is more rides and attractions.
Most of the restaurants around there seem to be loud and themed-kitchy. In other words not my thing. But this is central to everyone and we’re there for all the adventuring to be had, so loud and themed-kitchy is the order of the day. We tried to go to Margaritaville, which I’ve been to one before and was very not impressed, but this one had a really long wait and none of us were in the mood for that. We ended up in a place called “Grill & Brew” which was basically a sports bar type place. Food was mostly adequate, service was terrible. I say “mostly adequate” because most of us got something edible but one of our party literally (yes, I do mean literally) got mashed potatoes that you could bounce your fork off of. When I say the service was terrible this is because when this unfortunate mashed potato situation was pointed out he got another order from the same batch. Words and discounts were had but I wouldn’t really recommend the place.
Anyway, if you want to do the whole Harry Potter Experience ( tm ), you will need to get a park hopper pass. This is because half of it is in Hollywood Studios (Kings Cross Station and Diagon Alley) and half of it is in Islands of Adventure (Hogsmead). The two are connected by The Hogwards Express but you can’t ride if you don’t have that park hopper.
We did. It’s worth it. Ride it both directions because different things happen going each way.
We started off in Hogsmead because most of the rides are there. The two competing “dragon” roller coasters, The Dragon Challenge, were totally awesome and if you do it right you can ride them one immediately after the other. We did. Got a little wozy by the time we got off the second one riding them in such rapid succession. It was good.
There is the Flight of The Hippogriff roller coaster that is basically a kids coaster but it’s got some moves and was fun.
Harry Potter and The Forbidden Journey was a pretty good ride but I had some trouble with it as it mixes live and video interactive elements and the video stuff tends to set me off a bit because I tend to see the off sync nature of the video versus your actual movements. But it was still really fun and worth the slight dizzy I get.
There are multiple Olivander’s Wand Shops as well as carts and other places you can buy wands. You can buy “interactive” wands or not. The “interactive” wands allow you to manipulate/activate little attractions all around the parks. Not unsurprisingly we got “interactive” wands and it wasn’t long before I was helping people figure out how to properly use them. I did start to wish I had brought my wand holster.
Riding the Hogwarts Express was a great way to get over to the other park. One of the cool things is that when you walk out of Kings Cross station it just dumps you into Hollywood Studios. You have to go looking for the way in to Diagon Alley. It’s not hard to find, but it’s not obvious either. If you aren’t looking for it you could walk right passed and you wouldn’t know.
That being said, we walked in and it was really amazing. As cool as Hogsmead was, this was more so. Because of the way it’s hidden and how you get in, you really do feel like you are walking in to a “hidden world”. The architecture is exactly as you would expect based on the movies but standing there makes a huge difference.
Of course we went into the Weasley’s joke shop. And you can get so pretty amusing stuff there. The Leaky Cauldron is there, and although we took a quick look in, we didn’t really stop for a bite there.
But the real stars of Diagon Alley are the Escape from Gringot’s ride, and Nocturn Alley. Escape from Gringot’s is another ride that combines live action and video action, but I actually found it much smoother and it didn’t set me off. It was an excellent ride and a lot of fun.
But Nocturn Alley…..
Oh my friends, Nocturn Alley….
Again, you have to go looking for it. You know it’s got to be there somewhere but if you aren’t looking you could miss it. We didn’t. And as immersive as walking in to Diagon Alley was, Nocturn Alley was more so. Standing there was the deepest I felt I could get in to actually being in the Harry Potter universe. It was amazing.
The next day we headed out to Kennedy Space Center for several hours. One could easily spend several days there but we just didn’t have the time. What we did have time for was to visit Shuttle Atlantis. Which we did, and which I cried over, and which I wrote about already. But I will say this much again here – the nation we were that could do those things is a nation I wish we would be again. Yes, we’ve grown and improved many things, but socially we’ve taking huge steps backwards since then and we won’t survive if that continues to be the case. Okay, enough of that.
Once we were done there we headed back to the Universal City Walk, ostensibly to meet up with the family, get dinner, and do some more rides. That only partially worked out. The rest of the family had already gotten in to Margaritaville (some are very determined). Laurie and I decided on Vivo, a nice Italian place. And I do mean nice. We sat down in a very quiet place, had a fabulous meal, discussed various things including our need for quiet meals when we are on trips like these as this is a part of our way to decompress or at least regroup before tackling anything else.
Once we were done we headed back out only to discover that the rest of the family was still at Margaritaville, but getting very annoyed because they couldn’t get out. No waiter, no bill, once bill arrived, complaints and coupons apparently. Such is the way of things, but through observation I am once again convinced that I don’t really have a need to ever go to another one. My one time long ago was enough.
An amusing incident while waiting – I was sitting on the edge of a fountain while Laurie was off doing something and as I sat there a very drunk guy of the “bro” persuasion sat down nearby. He was very definitely hammered. Eventually Laurie returned and shortly thereafter his girlfriend also showed up in a pretty drunk state.
I’m not sure what happened next exactly, but either he fell or he was pushed. In either case, he was hanging backwards in the fountain while his girlfriend was desperately trying to keep him from falling all the way in. I stepped up and helped fish him out.
Once the ten minutes that it was supposed to take the family to get out of their restaurant had turned to thirty Laurie and I stole the kids and headed back in to the Universal Hollywood Studios park.
Basically we hit three rides there. Spiderman, Hulk, and The Mummy.
Spiderman was mostly a 3D ride on a rail. And pretty good for it. I think the fact that it was on a rail is one of the reasons why it didn’t make me dizzy but I’ll have to think about that.
The Mummy was much like Indiana Jones in Disneyland, but obviously Mummy themed. And the Brenden Fraiser Mummy thank you. This one was also pretty damn good. Very enjoyable. Someone did decide to have a political statement though as somewhere along the few days we were there they had managed to get a red “Make America Great Again” hat on to one of the animatronic mummies. It wasn’t there the first time through for my sister-in-law, but it showed up later. And for all I know it’s still there.
But the real winner on this set of rides was definitely Hulk. Hoo-boy! This is one of those hanging coasters, lots of corkscrews and upside down outside loops. The really awesome thing though is that like many coasters it has that initial uphill climb but halfway through that turns into a magnetic launch system. So you’re slowly going “click-click-click” up the track and all of the sudden you go from that to “WHOOSH” as it shoots you out the end of a cannon! Which, by the way, ROARS like The Hulk.
We took the extra few minutes to ride the front car there just as we did with the dragons in Harry Potter Land. And Holy-Crap was that worth it! Definitely a kickass coaster!
Now this is just two days in and we still haven’t actually gotten to any of the Disney stuff yet. But now it’s time.
The next day we headed over to Disney Hollywood Studios. Think of this as roughly the same as California Adventure in Anaheim. Our goal here was to ride The Tower of Terror as we no longer have one here.
This is where things get interesting. We had been experiencing difficulties all along due to the fact that we have become so well versed in our Disney experience that doing these parks were confusing. Trying to figure out where this thing or that thing was involved a lot more work than usual.
But we found our way to the Tower relatively easily and it was great. More elaborate exterior, but the ride itself had some interesting differences, including a long horizontal portion through mirrored hallways and extra set dressing. But the same ride in the end and well worth the trip for us.
While there we saw The Beauty and The Beast live show which was fun, did Toy Story Mania and Muppet*Vision 3D. All of these were pretty much exactly the same as in California Adventure but things we love to hit so worth it. In general everything had a more elaborate exterior given that the parks in general have more space. Among other things this does make being in line more tolerable simply because more of the lines are INSIDE! More air conditioning! YAY!
We hit Tower of Terror a second time and then finished up with dinner at The Brown Derby. Basically contemporary American cuisine in a “Golden Age of Hollywood” setting. We had a great waiter from Jamaica named Jerry. Food was outstanding. I would definitely go back to that place again.
Last day – The Magic Kingdom!
So, this is Disneyland but bigger. I mean, exactly the same layout, but with more room. So, you go up Main Street, you have big circle in the center, you have all the lands laid out radially and in the same order. Now, those navigational instincts of ours were usable again. It was definitely a case of “well, it should be over there if they’ve stayed the same” and we were always pretty well on target.
A brief digression. Normally I don’t care about FastPasses. This is because I don’t like the hassle of running from place to place to try and get them at the beginning of the day. They’ve solved this problem via the DisneyWorld App. If you have an account, you can tie your tickets or Annual Pass to the account and you can then start reserving FastPasses directly on your phone. There are limitations, but they aren’t unreasonable ones and we definitely took advantage of this. If Disneyland adopts this (and I know that they are working on it) I will be much more likely to use them in the future.
Anyway, we scheduled FastPasses for ourselves at Space Mountain, Pirates, and The Haunted Mansion. These were the important ones for obvious reasons. Our passes for Space Mountain weren’t until late in the evening. The rest were early in the day. But we had enough time that we headed straight to Space Mountain and rode it first.
I have to say I was a tad disappointed.
The environment was great! But the ride didn’t have the same speed and kick as ours does. It was good, really. But when I get off of Space Mountain in Anaheim, I’m totally adrenalin rushed. It’s a kick in the chest. This one just didn’t have that same level of UMPH that I love so much.
Pirates and Haunted Mansion both were practically identical to ours and definitely fun for that! Haunted Mansion doesn’t have the Hat Box Ghost though. Not surprising, but we noticed it’s absence.
We also hit Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, The Tiki Room, and The Little Mermaid.
There were many other things we could have hit if we had more time. Clearly a return trip is in order, but that might be a while.
Finally we headed from there to Disney Springs. Think of this as Downtown Disney but not close enough to any parks to make it easily accessible. It’s Commerce Land. There are tons of shops, including the dress show that Laurie really wanted to go to that does Disney Themed retro style dresses. Next fancy dress up party people are going to see something interesting I think.
And our final meal with the family was at Morimoto’s Asia. Another good meal in a really good place. Very fancy.
There were plenty of pictures to be had as any of you who saw my Facebook feed knows. Some pretty spectacular stuff all the way around. And I came home with a fair number of treasures, mostly pins to add to my collection both from Disney and Harry Potter Land.
I’m sure I would like to return at some point, but I love my Disneyland. I’ll have to try the Harry Potter Land at Universal down here. I know it’s not as extensive but I’d like to see it for myself. That may become a part of the planning for the next Laurel/Apprentice trip going forward.
The thing that I love so much about being able to do all of this is that it does inspire my creativity. Looking at even the smallest details of places like this gives me a lot of ideas.
I wonder if I can write off the expenses as “research” for my business. Hmmm, where are those receipts.
Anyway, that’s what I did on my Summer Vacation.