Our plan for Thursday was to go to Universal Studios. However, when we got up, the plan looked like it might be a problem. Tara's knee had started bothering her during the night. Finally we decided that we could go, and would consider renting an "Electric Convenience Vehicle" for her if it was too bad. I also decided that it would be worth the extra $7.00 to valet park the car (actually $10.00 when the tip was included) since it would probably save some walking.
We left the hotel and got to the park about opening time. After getting inside, we decided to wait on getting "Express Pass" tickets that would give us one visit to key rides without having to wait in the regular line until Friday. Instead we would concentrate on rides without long lines and on shows. From there we quickly made our way to the Jimmy Neutron ride -- a motion simulator in a large theater-like room. Derrick was acting fearful about the rides again, but Jimmy Neutron, a favorite show of his, won over and he enjoyed the ride. (For the rest of the week I kept telling us that he only liked motion simulator rides). After the ride, we visited the Nick themed gift shop -- the ride and the shop are all that remains of the Nick Studios at Universal -- but Tara could not find what she was looking for there.
Derrick visits Bikini Bottom
We next worked our way across the park to the Men in Black ride. Our route seemed at bit odd as we went from Hollywood, through Manhattan, San Francisco, and Amity Maine before reaching Queens -- All without leaving Orlando, of course. We got to the Men in Black ride and stowed the stuff we couldn't take on in a free locker. While waiting in the still short line, Derrick made a friend with another kid about his age. When we got inside, Derrick and his new, temporary, friend, his mother and Tara got into one car -- where there would have been room for me if we hadn't had a miscommunication -- and I went into another. This ride was also fun. In addition to being a mild inside roller coaster (it isn't entirely flat), riders have to shoot lasers at "alien" targets. Other than the fact that I scored, I don't know if I actually hit any of the aliens I was shooting at.
After the Men in Black, we worked our way around the other side of the lagoon in the middle of the park (a feature shared with Islands of Adventure, Epcot and the Animal Kingdom) back to Manhattan where we watched the Blues Brother's show. This was well done, with fairly talented musicians, including a very good Alto Sax player. After the show, we got a picture of Derrick with the Blues Mobile, and I got a sneak peek at the tech booth -- located across the street in a normally closed doorway.
Derrick checking out the Blues Mobile
We spent the rest of the day watching shows. We caught the animal actor's show, missing the last act due to equipment malfunction. This show was different from the one in California, since it featured different animals, but did share a few common jokes. We also saw the show featuring Betelgeuse and some of the classic Universal monsters singing rock songs, which was a bit more adult and suggestive than we expected. We called it a day fairly early.
Overall, the Universal Studios in Florida is probably the least interesting of the parks we've visited in the last year. In California, I would rate Universal as more attractive than Disneyland, but the Florida park is just rides and shows, and many of them are getting a bit dated.
On Friday we decided to use valet parking again. We got to the Universal area early, and stopped in a surf shop to look around before the park opened. I got a picture of Derrick posing on a surf board mounted for that purpose outside the shop -- I had him stand in a shallow "back stance" to get his feet right and Tara got his hands posed for a pretty good picture.
At Islands of Adventure, we did get the Express Passes, which paid later in the day as the crowds were the worse than we'd encountered on any previous day. We worked our way around the park, stopping first so that Tara could ride The Hulk roller coaster. Derrick was too short, which gave me an excuse to wimp out on the high speed inverted coaster. While Tara was on the coaster, Derrick rode the Storm Force Acceletron -- the kind of spinning ride that would have left me motion sick for sure.
From there we worked our way into the Toon Lagoon area of the park. I was impressed that they featured not only recent comic strip characters -- and a few animation characters -- but some classics that haven't been seen in years such as Little Nemo which was last published, I believe, in the 1930s. One painting featured the Family Circus, with Billy missing. A dotted line ran from that painting around the park for a ways, ending up with Billy in a painting featuring Mark Trail, saying something like "Dad told me to be sure to mark trail." Tara and I both groaned at that one, but didn't even try explaining it to Derrick.
In the Toon Lagoon area we road the Dudley Doright themed log flume ride. This wasn't bad, until the very end where there are squinters that can be shot at the riders. Someone triggered them (for $0.25, to boot) and absolutely soaked me. Tara and Derrick got their share also. I ended up working back to a gift shop in the Gasoline Alley Garage where I spent way to much on a towel so that we could dry off.
From the Toon Lagoon, we worked our way into Jurassic Park. There we rode the River Adventure -- our only repeated ride between last summer and this trip. We ended up in the front of the boat, and since we were still wet, Tara and I covered Derrick with our bodies so that he didn't get quite as wet as he might have.
Next we worked our way to The Lost Continent -- which actually blends two themes with a midlevel fantasy theme near the Jurassic Park since and a Greek Mythology theme at the other end. Tara rode one of the Dulling Dragons, while Derrick and I waited and ate oranges.
Next we went into the Poseidon's Fury, perhaps the most disappointing activity on the trip. This is basically a show, but has a very long wait -- even with an express pass -- and then makes you walk between three areas where you have to stand and try to see what is going on. The effects are fairly impressive, but they were not worth the wait -- or the strain of dealing with a kid who needs to go to the bathroom.
We then went to the Sinbad (the Greek Hero, not the modern comic) stunt show, which was a lot of fun, even if Tara and I got caught off guard by an obvious setup for a pun involving the sidekick named Kabob.
We then got lunch at Seuss Landing -- the part of the park modeled after the writings of Dr. Seuss. While we were there, Derrick and I rode the "Cara-Seussal" and Tara and Derrick decided that the line was too long for the "Red Fish, Blue Fish" ride
We then worked our way back past the entrance to the Marvel area where we rode the Spider Man ride. This is a combination of a 3-D movie, a roller coaster and a motion simulator ride, and is very well done and pretty exciting.
After that, we left, stopping briefly at the shop near the entrance that carries discontinued souvenirs. Just before we were about to leave, the sky opened up and it started pouring. On our way back to the car, we walked past were they were taping the Ellen show, and heard her commenting on how it was hot the day before and was now pouring, while she tried to dry herself off. Obviously she was caught in the same downpour while working her way to the open air set.
On Saturday the Animal Kingdom opened an hour earlier than other days, or any of the other parks we'd been to. We also had used up the breakfast food we had the day before. So we got up earlier, and stopped at a Waffle House just past the freeway entrance. After breakfast, we got to the park just after it opened, and made our way quickly to the Safari ride near the back.
One glitch was that we had to rent a stroller to carry the Zuca Tara had with here to sit on (and hold our hats, towel and water bottles). None of the other Disney parks had complained, but they were worried it would be a tripping hazard. This wasn't too big a deal -- even though I later saw someone dragging a wheeled backpack without being questioned.
This ride takes you on the back of a converted truck through the enclosures holding many of the African animals. We were able to get fairly close to the animals. We were able to see the cheetahs and lions fairly well, as well as many of the heard animals. There is one bit in the middle where this turns back into a theme park ride, but it doesn't distract too much.
After that, we went to the Lion King show, which was very well done, and a lot of fun. We then worked our way to the Asia part of the park, where we got tickets to ride Expedition Everest later in the day. Next we went to see the bird show. After that Derrick and I took the walking tour of the Asian animals, where we saw fruit bats and tigers, among others.
We then took the train to a back part of the park, but didn't spend long since there was too much walking for Tara and not enough for Derrick or I to see. We got back just in time for me to grab a bowl of fruit before heading back to Expedition Everest.
Expedition Everest is a roller coaster set on a train up Mount Everest. However, the Yeti has torn up the tracks and you end up rolling backward through a bunch of caves trying to escape, before finally making a forward escape past one of the, if not the, largest audio animatronic figure in Disney World.
Before riding, Derrick had another bout of not wanting to ride, but we managed to get him on and he enjoyed himself. After getting off we got fast pass reservations for the nearby river ride, and then returned to the Africa section for lunch in the one restaurant with indoor seating.
After lunch, some shopping, and a rush to avoid getting trapped by the parade, we made it over to the river ride with about 10 minutes before our reservations became active. Once we could, we went to get on the ride. Derrick had seen the loading and unloading area when we were on the jungle walk, and thought that this would be a nice gentle float on a river, and I didn't try too hard to convince him otherwise before we got on.
We boarded our boat, with Derrick and I sharing a seat and Tara sitting nearly across from us. For most of the trip, Derrick and I were on the downhill side of the raft, so we got much wetter than Tara did -- and she was the one really wanting to get wet to cool off. We did, however, avoid getting as soaked as we had on Friday.
Our flight from Orlando to Chicago was scheduled to leave at 5:20am on Sunday. Our first leg was un US Airways to Charlotte, and then on United (actually United Express operated by Mesa) to Chicago. Following the current advise, we got up early on Sunday morning and drove to the airport to arrive before 3:20. When we got there the only thing that appeared to be open was the Avis counter (and they seemed to be dealing with the last arrivals from Saturday). After I turned in the car, I found Tara and Derrick waiting in line to check in. We waited there until about 4:00 when they finally opened the line. Once we got to the front, we could not check in yet again. The agent was able to get Tara and Derrick boarding passes all the way to Chicago, but could not issue mine beyond Charlotte. We took our boarding passes and went to security -- which didn't open until 4:30 or later. We did manage to make our flight -- the first flight out of Orlando that morning.
In Charlotte we rushed to the United gate, where the agent was unable to get me a boarding pass. I rushed back to a US Airways gate, had no joy there, and finally returned to the United gate, and gave them the new ticket number which was able to produce a boarding pass.
We then boarded the plane, got Tara and Derrick seats together, while I sat in his exit row seat. We pulled away from the gate on time and then sat. Due to weather and other factors, we could not get a landing slot at O'Hare, so we could not take off. We sat, and sat, and sat on the ramp at Charlotte. Eventually, we had to go back to the gate because we had used up the reserve fuel and needed to top off before we could leave for Chicago.
After topping of, we managed to get a landing slot, and took off. We got to Chicago with no further incident. I cannot say much more about either flight, since I was either asleep or very drowsy for most of both flights.
At O'Hare we retrieved or luggage and called for our ride. We were then informed that someone had canceled our return trip -- we are sure some other trip was canceled, but ours was the one that got deleted. So we had to wait for the company to find a car and send it to O'Hare. Just after we had given up and called for a Taxi, the company called and gave us a car. We canceled the Taxi and met the van which took us home.
We got home, had some lunch and Derrick went to bed. Tara and I were pretty lazy most of the day. Oddly enough, we spent much of the afternoon and evening watching shows on Disney World on the Travel Channel
Looking back, I'm still looking forward to returning. However, if we go back, we'll probably pass on doing anything at Universal (unless they put in something new and spectacular). We may also stay at the "House of Mouse" and only worry about getting a car to go elsewhere -- probably Sea World and or the Kennedy Space Center. We may also try harder to get other family members or friends to join us -- both for more people to share the fun with, and perhaps more people to share the room with.