Monday, December 13, 2010

Other Parks: Universal's Islands of Adventure - Day 1

We spent Monday and Tuesday at Universal's Islands of Adventure Theme Park. We had never been to these parks before, and our plan was to spend one day at IOA, and the other at Universal Studios. Well, the Studios will have to wait because we ended up hanging out at IOA both days.

The first day was sort of a wash-out. Literally. It poured rain in the afternoon (although the morning weather suggested that there was only a 10% chance of rain that day), and we were totally unprepared. We had brought umbrellas to Florida, but they were at the bottom of our luggage. So we got drenched. It is not very comfortable walking around in soaking wet clothing when there is very little sun, even when the temperature is in the 70's. (I'm not sure what the temperature actually was after the rain - it felt COLD to me in my soaking wet clothing.)

Most of this first day was spent in lines. We got there a bit later than we planned to, since we were still more or less on Chicago time, and of course Florida is an hour ahead of us. We had trouble waking up before 7:30 am their time (which of course would be 6:30 am at home), and once we got ready and drove there, it was probably somewhere between 10:30 am and 11 am their time.

Universal has those enormous parking decks, but they don't have the parking down like Disney does. I think there were four or five booths open, and then all of those cars were funnelling into basically one lane as we got to our parking level at the top of the deck. So that was sort of slow, after experiencing the parking at Disney, where everything just flows.

I was impressed with the system for moving guests from the decks to the CityWalk area. I thought their CityWalk (analogous to Downtown Disney) was very cool. Cool restaurants and stores and a really neat look. We located Emeril's and other restaurants, and headed toward the Islands of Adventure park. Entry was fairly easy; we had our tickets we had purchased at Costco, and everything went beautifully.

Once we got in, we were impressed by the level of theming in their version of "Main Street", which sets the tone beautifully for the rest of the park. I took a couple of photos with the iPhone, as you can see. Then we came to the end of the street, and had to choose right or left. A staffer was there pointing out where the lines for The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter started. Turns out that at this point in the day, one of the two entrances to the land is closed and you have to queue up to get into the land.

Anyway, we walked into Marvel Super Hero Island, thinking that maybe we could do a ride before lunch. The boys and I decided to do Doctor Doom's Fear Fall, which said it had a 20 minute wait. So we entered the queue (it was a well themed queue, sort of dark and interesting), and got to the end of the line. In about 20 minutes, we still had a long ways to go. I decided that we better not chance it because we might miss our lunch reservation at Mythos, so we left the line. I am not sure why we weren't moving; was the ride broken down, or were Express Pass people keeping this line from moving? Whatever, we left. I wasn't impressed with my first experience with a ride at IOA.

We decided to walk back into Toon Lagoon and Jurassic Park, where we figured we'd scope out the line for Harry Potter, and cross the bridge to the Lost Continent, where Mythos was located. Line number 2 was at this restaurant. Turns out that what we thought was a "reservation" was actually "priority seating", which means you get to wait a long time until you get seated. Our scheduled time was at 12:30 pm, but we weren't seated till close to 1:30 pm. The place is a really cool looking restaurant, and our service and food were both OK once we got seated. They were a little slow, offering as an excuse that the kitchen had gotten "slammed" by a couple of big parties at the same time.

After lunch we went to get in line for Harry Potter. First we got in a line to get a ticket to stand in the real line. Then we got into that rather long line and waited. And waited. I don't know what time we finally got in, but eventually we did make our way into the land. (We still have not gotten on a single ride!)

We got in line to go on Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. I'll be doing a post on this by itself later, I think. For now, let's just say that the queue is fantastic and the ride is even better. We didn't mind waiting the 45 minutes it took at that time.

When we got off, my wife had bought a butterbeer. Butterbeer is OUTSTANDING! Can I have more? I miss it, just thinking about it! Very tasty. She got in line to get more butterbeers and I was going to get the kids onto the Flight of the Hippogriff coaster. That's when the skies opened up. My kids got under an umbrella with a line attendant, but I got soaked, and so did my wife. There is no real shelter in Hogsmeade. So then we had to buy ponchos, and at least the ponchos kept us warm the rest of the day. The kids remained relatively dry at least. So then we drank our butterbeers and my wife got in line for Ollivander's Wand Shop, while I put the kids back on Flight of the Hippogriff. They said that they weren't all that impressed with this coaster. It was a very short ride and didn't have much to it, according to them. (I didn't ride it.)

We were silly enough to stand in line for Ollivander's for almost 2 hours. The first 1/3, my wife waited alone while I took the kids on the ride. Then we joined her. (Some might say we should not have done this, that it was sort of cheating, or cutting, but so many people did it that it didn't seem like cutting. You had to wait to get into every store in Potter Land. Crazy. Lines to get into stores!) Anyway, we almost decided to leave after about an hour and 20 minutes, but thought, hey we waited this long, let's see what's in here.

Honestly, it seemed to start moving faster as we got closer. What I think happened was that "Ollivander" started to rush through his show and move people in and out faster. We finally did get in, and it was a fun little show. My kids didn't get picked, but they enjoyed it anyway. And after waiting for almost 2 hours, you're darned right we bought the silly wands for them.

It was late, we were soaked still and the park was slowing down, so we decided to leave. We made our way out of the park through the Lost Continent and into Seuss Landing. My wife checked out the shops and we sat there, taking in the scenery.

What a cool looking land! Just like stepping into the pages of a Dr. Seuss book.

We exited the park, damp and tired, and stopped at Pastamore, having missed our reservation at Latin Quarter. Pastamore could seat us immediately, and so we had some Italian food there. Fun place, good food, nice kids' buffet!

That was Day One. All in all we went on 2 rides and saw the little wand show. The next day was better however. I'll try to get to a post summarizing that day later today or maybe tomorrow.


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