Monday, February 3, 2020

Universal Studios Orlando, 2019!

Last November our family went to Universal Studios Orlando for a vacation that we had planned for nearly a year.  If you will recall, in that time I had a herniated disc that, had it not healed enough, there was no way I could have managed the vacation.  But with surgery and physical therapy I was feeling good to go...and then literally a week before we were to check in to our hotel in Orlando, I had a grand mal seizure with bonus concussion.  So while it probably wasn't the best thing to do in terms of recovering from such a bad concussion, the plane tickets were non-refundable and by god after such a bad year I reallllllly wanted to go have some fun.  So we went, and we did have fun - how could we not, at our happiest place on earth?
It was like seeing a welcome home sign when we pulled up to this.

We flew into North Carolina on Thanksgiving day, which gave me a few days to recover, before waking up super early on Sunday morning to drive to Orlando.  Having grown up in California, I know from a lot of past experience that you can drive from one end of California to the other in a day - but you're still in the same state.  To go though four states in that same time frame was pretty cool - it felt like we were making good progress.  We arrived, checked into our favorite hotel, the Cabana Bay, where we'd requested a view of Volcano Bay.  The last time we were there we had the same view but they were completing building it; in fact, we saw the Waturi Beach wave pool go from empty to filled in one day!

Because we knew that Florida was going to have an unusually cold week, we went to Volcano Bay right away, figuring it might be the warmest day we'd get there.  Turns out it was, although that didn't stop us from going again later in the week.  Before I go any further, I should tell you that we bought annual passes for all three parks (Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, and Volcano Bay) so we could go as often as we liked.  I should also tell you that I am much more of a "flop in a tube and gently go round the lazy river" person than a water ride adventurer, but again, after the hell that was most of 2019, I figured I'd try some out:
First ride - hair was still dry.
This part was crazy and I was hanging on for dear life!  Sam looks totally chill though.
My daredevils.

 This was on the next warmest day...which was pretty cold.  Jeff and the kadults went to go on some rides while I took a much-needed concussion nap at the hotel; then I walked over to Volcano Bay which was right outside the gate of our hotel tower.  Yes it was in the middle of the week and yes it was chilly but I was still surprised to be the ONLY PERSON there at the time to go through security.  I met up with them and went on the Fearless River, which is like a lazy river only faster.  They provide a life jacket to wear (instead of a tube); it wasn't my favorite.  Again, I'm a tube/lazy river person.  But at least I tried it.  The water was heated which was great, but the air was cold, so a couple of hours was all I could take.  Next time we go I'm sure we'll spend more time at Volcano Bay - this was one instance where I was glad we had the annual pass, so we know we can go back when it's warmer.
 I can't believe Allie wasn't holding on during this ride - she's crazy.

The rest of the time was spent at both parks - with the pass, you can take the Hogwarts Express train from one park to the other, or you can go in through the entrance, which seems so muggle-like when compared to taking the train. 
Sam going through Platform 3/4 while Allie watches in amazement.

We were all super excited to ride the new Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure.  Instead of taking a picture during the ride, they do a video instead:
This is in slo-mo, but we were flying by, believe me.

Our verdict for this ride?  Five stars.  We LOVED it.  It was done so well, it was so exciting to ride, and one time when we all thought we were going to be crushed to death by the next set of riders I thought "well, it isn't the worst way to go" - THAT'S how good it is.  There is a motorcycle and a sidecar to ride on and I will say, the motorcycle gives a different (better?) experience than the sidecar, but even that is great.  The ride does this thing where it goes up and somehow switches tracks and slides back and then, in total darkness, does a vertical drop of 17 feet, pauses, and then starts zooming around the track again.  I think it was our third time on this ride when we did the drop and pause...but did not start moving again.  Those of us who had previously ridden on it knew something was wrong, and someone (I later learned it was Jeff) yelled PUSH THE PURPLE BUTTON which was funny because you could hear everyone clicking it but of course it didn't do anything because it's just a prop.  Just when I was coming to peace with being crushed to death, we started moving again, whew!  But that would have been one hell of a funeral story, right?
We walked past Hagrid's hut on the way to the ride entrance.  And where else is it totally normal to stand in line with people wearing Hogwart's robes?  Side note:  it was so cold that week that we all considered buying robes because we could have actually worn them without overheating.  But they were over $100, plus there was no magical tailor on site and my robes (yes I tried them on) would have needed to be hemmed, so in the end, we didn't buy any.  If I ever have a grandchild, that kid is getting robes.
Our traditional Butterbeer picture with the Bowman sign behind us.
Once cannot live by liquid Butterbeer alone - Butterbeer ice cream is also a must.
The new tins for the Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans were very appealing and we each bought one.  Mine is now filled with regular Jelly Belly beans because I took a chance with the Every Flavour Beans and end up with earwax or cayenne pepper flavor one too many times for my liking.
We always took a picture before the Gringotts ride, and Sam has a crazy face in each and every one.
Hogwarts Castle at night.  They had a holiday light show which was so fun to watch; this is part of the Yule Ball scene.

Because we stayed for the nighttime show, we got to walk through the park after it was closed.  It was really nice to see everything lit up, with hardly any people around:
Krustyland from across the water.
This pictures makes all of us laugh - Marge Simpson was bonding with Allie over their blue hair!
We found Homer and Marge, but where were the kids?
Bart was on a camping adventure across the park.  Lisa and Maggie must have been inside the camper, har.

While my back did really well with the rides I went on, I was careful to choose the ones that didn't throw me around too violently.  I rated this one highly on the herniated disc/concussion easy scale:
Kang and Kodos' Twirl 'n' Hurl.
Allie and I - have I mentioned how unusually cold it was?  Handknit wool hats helped keep us warm!
Jeff was bowing down to the ride attendant...or else showing that the safety bar was lowered down.  Sam was too cool for school and pretended he didn't know the goofy man sitting next to him.

Before we arrived at Universal Studios, I made everyone promise to go on what used to be the worst ride there with me - the E.T. ride.  It may have been good back when it opened in 1990, but it has not held up over the last 30 years.  Still, I wanted to go on it for funsies, and the deal was sealed when my room key had a picture of E.T. on it:
It's a sign - you must go on the ride!  Also, I can't help but see my dilated pupils and worn expression when I look at this picture, taken one week after the seizure.  I was a little wiped out here but determined to enjoy our vacation.
The ride was as boring as we remembered, but afterward you could take a picture in the closet with E.T. so of course Allie and I had to do that.

So, what has replaced E.T. as the worst ride at Universal Studios?  It's one of their newer rides:  Fast & Furious.  Had we spent any amount of time waiting in line for it I would be calling it Boring & Furious because the thought of wasting time to go on that ride would have irritated all of us to no end.  We got off the ride and looked at each other and said "what the hell was that?!"  It was awful.  Now I will say that the actual set you walked through to get to the ride was interesting, especially if you're into cars:
This was the best part of the ride...and we were in line.

The story leading up to the ride is super cheesy, and the ride?  Is a bus.  But not even a fast bus.  It's like your Grandma is driving (well, not mine, she had a lead foot) leisurely throughout the city.  We were shocked at how awful the ride was, especially considering it was so new and hello, technology has improved in the thirty years since the E.T. ride was made.  So unless you're a rabid superfan of the movie franchise, I'd skip it.  Heck, I'd probably skip it if you ARE a superfan...this will make you doubt your life choices.

More ride pictures (we always purchase the picture package with our annual pass so we get all the pictures for free):
Love this one...and again, there's Allie the daredevil along with too-cool Sam.
Just sibling stuff...Allie strangling Sam.
Shooting lasers at aliens - by our scores you can tell who grew up with video games and who grew up with Atari's pong...

I think it's pretty obvious that we love going to Universal Studios Orlando as a family; we're already planning our next trip, which hopefully will happen before summer begins!


  1. Looks like such a fun trip! All the times we've been to WDW, I've never been to Universal! I feel like perhaps I deprived my boys of something special!

    1. You should go as adults - they'd probably love it!

  2. Looks like you had a fun trip. As a native Orlando person I would say you have about a month maybe two before the humidity comes back in full force. Right now is the perfect time to visit theme parks here not usually too cold and not to hot yet.

    1. I can handle humidity because we have it here - what I prefer to avoid are the throngs of crowds, which is why we try to be strategic when we plan our trips there.

  3. I am so glad you were able to go and still have a good time! I hope the lines at the parks were shorter due to the cold!

    That is too bad about the F&F ride. It does sound boring AF.

    I really need to start reading Harry Potter so I understand all the references! I plan to read the first book this year! :)

    1. I hope you love the HP books - the first one is the most "kid" type book but the rest get really involved, FAST.

  4. Looks like a wonderful time and love the pictures

  5. Every time you do pictures of Universal, it makes me want to go there instead of Disney - but then we keep going to Disney LOL! It's really sad when the queue is more exciting than the actual ride. What were they thinking?

  6. I remember that ET ride.

    Haven't been in years like 15. The kids are grown. Would be fun to go as adults.

    1. You should go, and go on that ET ride again. It's funny to compare it to the more contemporary rides.


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