Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Magic of Muggles and Vulcans: Orlando, Part I

We had a fantastic trip to Florida, even better than I had dreamed it could be.

We flew JetBlue to get there, and its a great airline. Lots of legroom, and everyone gets their own tv. It only has 30 stations, but apparently it plays iCarly on an endless loop. So, um, thanks JetBlue for making that Alex's favorite new tv show.

First on our trip was a visit to Cape Canaveral, and the area known as the Space Coast. We stayed at the Holiday Inn in Titusville, a new, clean, inexpensive hotel that served our needs well.

The Kennedy Space Center was definitely worth the visit, although I would note for any future travelers that one day is definitely enough to do everything.

Carl was all excited about seeing the launch sites, and he got a little giddy when he first saw this really large building from about twenty miles away. Its called the V.A.B., or Vehicle Assembly building, and its where they actually assemble the large space craft. It was the largest building in the world at the time it was constructed, in 1965. You can see it in some of the photos above.

We also sprung for the two hour Discovery Tour, which you needed to do if you wanted to visit the launch sites. Carl found this tour much more interesting than the rest of us.

Also of note of our NASA visit is that there was a Star Trek exhibit going on. Much like the Star Wars exhibits we've visited at Houston's Johnson Space Center the past two summers, the Star Trek exhibit included props from the show, play areas for the kids, and a live action show of sorts. The live action show was probably the highlight of our trip, as Alex was one of only two lucky kids picked from the audience to help out on the stage.

There might be more to blog about from our Space Center trip, but I'll leave that for Carl to do since this was really his day. My day comes up next. :)

Sadly, the rain kept us from spending any time at the beach while we were here. But we weren't sorry about this for too long because next up we were on to Universal's Islands of Adventure, and our stay at their onsite hotel, the Royal Pacific.

Having done my research, I had learned that Universal offers amazing perks for people who stay onsite - unlimited, express rides for every ride but one, as well as early admission for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. And as much as I might attempt to delude myself and others that there were a multitude of reasons why we needed to go to Islands of Adventure (Superheroes! Seuss! Jurassic Park dinosaurs!), I can be honest now that we've been, there was really only one reason I simply *had* to go to Universal, and its initials are H.P.

I'm a big Harry Potter fan. My love for Harry Potter even eclipses my love for Twilight. I've wanted to go to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter more than any other place on earth. But I'm not the only one who feels this way, and while this section of IOA has been open for over a year already, its very popular. So popular that they limit the number of people who can even go into this section of the theme park. The wait times for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (for which my express pass was not valid) are easily in the 2-3 hour range most days. Early admission - even if it was at seven in the morning - was absolutely needed. No way was I going to get Team Danger to wait in line that long with me.

So I sprung for one night at the Royal Pacific hotel. It was expensive, but I have to say, it was worth every penny.  It had a fantastic pool, a water playscape, faux beaches, and other fun places for kids.

It even had its own restaurant with a surprise visit from Homer Simpson.

Its definitely a tremendous value. Many of the lines we saw were 45-75 minute waits. The most we waited with our express pass was 10 minutes, and it was often much, much less. I actually started to feel guilty when Alex, Ryan and I would ride on the Flight of the Hippogriff over and over (eight times!) and bypass the same people waiting in the line over and over. The wait for that ride was 60 minutes, but we rode it 8 times in about 30 minutes. Its a smaller roller coaster in Harry Potter world, but it was the only ride the boys could stomach.

The day started with a series of rather spectacular disasters. Disaster #1: We couldn't quite make our seven a.m. admittance, as this necessitated a 5:30 a.m. wake-up for me to get myself ready, get boys ready, and pack, let alone get Carl up and ready. ;) But we did make it by 7:15, and by the time we got through baggage check and park admittance and walked to the other end of the park where HP world is located, we were in line for the Forbidden Journey ride by 7:40 a.m.

Success #1: I had been worried all summer about the FJ ride, because they have a minimum height requirement of 48 inches to ride. Most Disney rides are at 44 inches, but it was questionable if Ryan would make the 48 inches. Happily, he did. :) And Alex made the 54 inches, the other magical number for the really grown-up rides we didn't even try. Go upside down three times? No, thank you.

Alas, here we were, 7:40 in the morning, excited, but out of breath from our rapid hike with the masses all headed in the same direction, and it was really disgustingly humid. I've forgotten what humidity is like, and how much I hate it. But I had a nice chance to recall it while we waited. And waited. And waited. Without moving. Soon the boys are complaining. Carl is complaining. Wondering what exactly is "early admission." Does it just get you into the park, but are the rides not open? How could my careful, extensive research have failed to notice this important tidbit? Disaster #2 of the morning.

I leave Carl in line and go with the boys to check out the wait for Ollivander's Wand Shop. Only the best wizards shop at Ollivander's, and while this is not a ride, its an attraction that only admits twenty people every ten minutes, so its in high demand. And only one of those twenty people gets picked for the wand experience. But oh, how I wanted to be able to do this.

Alas, the wait for Ollivanders, at 7:50 in the morning, was already at 90 minutes. Wasn't going to happen. Even I'm not that foolish a muggle. Disaster #3 of the morning.

At this point, there were an awful lot of people milling around Wizarding World. The line for FJ streteched out of HP and into the Jurassic Park section, and then wrapped back around again. I finally found someone official looking, and it turns out that the reason the line wasn't moving was that the ride was broken. Disaster #2.5 (since my research was correct - we could have ridden the ride  - if it wasn't BROKEN). I was close to distraught at this point. The very idea that I could go to all this effort, all this expense, all the way to Orlando, to experience Hogsmeade and enter into Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to ride the Forbidden Journey ride, only for it to not work was a bit more than I could handle. My eyes which had first been wet with tears of joy at actually walking into Hogsmeade quickly turned into tears of frustration. I was hot, humid, and everyone with me was unhappy and somehow blaming me for these failures.

Happily, it soon turned around. Someone must have used one of their wands, because magically the line started to move at this time. And boy, did it move! Within minutes we had made our way into Hogwarts, and we went through the most amazing queue (check out this amazing youtube video). It was almost as great as the ride itself (and it was air-conditioned. Mostly). We walked past Potions, and Books, and the Sorting Hat. We wandered in and out of the Greenhouse, where there were some Mandrakes (well spotted, Alex). The paintings moved and talked. The Fat Lady was there (with Dawn French's voice and imagery), as were several of the ghosts. We headed into Dumbledore's Study, where his holographic image spoke to us about the task we were about to face. We went into the Gryffindor Common Room, where Harry, Herminone and Ron's holographic images spoke to us, and snow started to fall. And yes, my eyes were getting misty again in all the right kind of ways. And then suddenly, we are there! It only took about 20 minutes once the line was moving. There is a moving conveyor belt and we are told to hop on. It all happens so fast, I hardly knew what was going on. But Carl and I were on the ends, and the boys were in the middle, and suddenly, we were off and flying. They have these large restraints that come down over your head, and you can't see the person sitting next to you. All you see is the images that are part of your ride. I loved every wonderful minute of the ride. It was such a dream come true, and it was so amazingly done. Dragons come at you and breathe fire, and all of a sudden, you are warmed up about 30 degrees. How could this not end up being the best day ever?

And then the ride ends, and I'm so happy and ready to go ride again, and I turn to Alex and Ryan and Carl as we are ushered off the conveyor belt, and I'm not the only one with tears in my eyes. Turns out both boys were terrified. Carl suffers from motion sickness, and the throwing of us left and right and up and down (we were riding a simulated runaway broomstick) was more than he could take. I really wish I had spent the $20 to buy the picture they snap of you while you are on the ride, because the one of us was hysterical. I have a look of pure glee and joy on my face. Carl has a look of malaise. Ryan looks terrified. And Alex's eyes were closed.

Just like that, my happiness spirals downward. I saw my second (let alone third... sniff) ride chances vanish faster than Harry Potter can conjure his patronus. I knew a surefire way to get the boys happy again, though. I had planned to buy them each a wand as a special souvenir later in the day, and so we stopped at the wand kiosk (as Ollivanders was out of the question). They had their choice of wands, and while Alex was tempted to buy Voldemort's, we left two official Harry Potter wands richer (or poorer, as the case may be).

The rain soon started to fall, but that didn't stop us from starting to enjoy Wizarding World, now that we had our wands to protect us. The Flight of the Hippogriff ride, a mild roller coaster that takes you past Hagrid's Hut and a statue of Buckbeat, was a blast. There were also concerts put on by the Toad's Choir (seen in HP3) and a performance by Beauxbatons and Durmstrang students (seen in HP4), visits to Wonko's joke shop and to Honeydukes, the greatest candy shop ever. There was Pumpkin Juice and Frozen, foamy butterbeer to drink. And there was the Conductor for the Hogwarts Express! But best of all for me was just walking around Hogsmeade. Despite the masses of muggles, with the HP music playing throughout the streets, I felt simply, well, magical.

But wait! There were other parts of Islands of Adventure to explore. I have to say that Universal definitely gets things right. We headed into Jurassic Park next, and the music changed. No more Harry Potter... now it was time for John Williams' theme music to play. I'm not a huge Jurassic Park fan, and the kids haven't seen any of the movies, but the dinosaurs were all quite well done. There were some fun rides, and a great playscape for the kids. They played here while Carl went back to the hotel to check us out. We didn't want to waste precious early morning time checking out, so he had offered to do this for us later on. Unfortunately, this was when a massive thunderstorm arrived, and it rained on and off for the rest of the day.

We then headed to Marvel's Superhero Island, home of Spiderman, Hulk Smash (as Ryan calls the Hulk), Iron Man, Wolverine and the X-Men, and last but not least, Alex's hero, Captain America. I rode Storm's X-Force teacup spinning ride once with the boys, and then sat out the next five spins. Then we all headed to the Spiderman ride. Whoa... this one was serious. I still don't get how the kids thought this was okay, while HP and FJ wasn't in their book. This had the same kind of technology - spinning and jostling you through the movie in 4-D effects. But this one actually had you wearing 3-D glasses. Green Goblin actually sets you on fire (with heat and what seems like real fire coming at you), and as Ryan put it, he was coming right at Ryan. We all felt that way due to the glasses, but try explaining that to a five year old. Its hard to describe, but it was uber cool and this video someone else shot comes close.

The superheroes were supposed to come out hourly for a meet and greet, and the boys were all excited about this. What cooler character could there be than Cap? Spidey? Hulk Smash? However, the supers can't come out in the rain, or so we were told hourly, so we never did meet any of them. We did score a quick hug from Green Goblin. Apparently he isn't afraid of a little rain!

There were other fun parts of the park - notably the Popeye water barge ride and the Popeye ship playground (the second playground of the day), and then there were some amazing live action shows. Sinbad was the boys favorite - There was Adventure! Fire! Intrigue! Fire! Romance! Fire! Bad guys! Fire! Genies! Fire! And did I mention there was Fire!

After a return to HP Wizarding World for a bit - I needed Butterbeer and the boys needed the Buckbeat ride some more - we ended up in Seussville. Its a section designed for the smaller kids, but I adored it.

You can eat Green Eggs in Ham.
In a box, and with a fox.
On a train, or in a plane.
You can ride in one fish, or two fish.
A red fish, or a blue fish.
The Cat in the Hat takes you on a wild ride with Thing 1 and Thing 2.
And the Sneetches have quite a bit to answer for, too.

Carl and Alex were a bit non-plussed with Seussville, but it was perfect for Ryan and I. And there was a playground (#3 for the day) that was pretty awesome. The boys played there for over an hour -in the rain - while we waited in hopes the rain would stop by 5pm for the last potential superhero visit.

When all was said and done, we loved Islands of Adventure. Some of us for different reasons than the others. ;) When we go back to Orlando, we'll definitely have to return to IOA, and probably add on a day for Universal Studios theme park as well. Especially now that the Minions have arrived next door. Ryan's favorite souvenir of the entire trip was his stuffed Minion.

Just imagine how big his smile will be when he gets to be with a real, live Minion.

1 comment:

  1. Great post! It looks like you guys had a marvelous trip, I love the pictures. Universal is definitely one of the most Fun Places for Kids to be kids! I'm planning on taking my children this summer.



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