Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Universal Studios Orlando

As a treat to myself, I took a mini-break a few weeks ago, which included a trip to Discovery Cove, a night seeing saw Chris Cornell at the Hard Rock Live, and a few days stay at the Universal Orlando Resort. It was a sensationally great time. 

I choose to stay at the Universal Orlando Resort because I have always had great experiences there, and I love the Universal amusement parks. While it felt a bit expensive when I initially booked the trip, I never regretted the choice once I was there. The benefits, such as early entry into the parks, free express passes, and the ease of getting back to your hotel, were both a welcome convenience and a great value.

 Loews Royal Pacific Hotel

While I’ve stayed onsite before, this was the first time that I’ve stayed at the Loews Royal Pacific Resort. Happily, it was the least expensive and has also become my favorite. The hotel has a South Pacific theme, and it was the perfect combination of beautiful and relaxing that I needed. Specifically, I enjoyed walking the grounds to check out all of the interesting statues around. Likewise, my room was spacious, well-decorated, and extremely comfortable. I spent my time hitting the parks pretty hard, so it was nice to have reliable boat service, which I never waited more than a few minutes for, and a super comfortable room to relax in.

Veggie Fare (Aka the Food Situation)

The combination of travel and food for me are always difficult because I am a vegetarian, which greatly limits just about any restaurant menu. I was pleasantly surprised to find options everywhere in the resort. Also, the food prices in the parks and at the hotel were also fairly reasonable.

The following were my favorites:
  • Three Broomsticks: I am addicted to Butterbeer. Even writing this, I long for it. It was the highlight of Wizarding World of Harry Potter for me, so every day, I’d go to Three Broomsticks, buy a butterbeer, and find a shady place to relax and people watch. 
  • Emeril's Tchoup Chop: I wanted to try the Cilantro-Cashew Pesto Marinated Tofu, but my stomach was a wreck after a bad lunch at the Hard Rock (gross and so expensive!). My waiter helped me put together a combo of a Tchoup Chop Salad and an order of veggie rice. It was perfect, but I plan on getting back to try the tofu. 
  • Boulangrie: In Universal Studios, I was in desperate need for some nutrient packed food. I ordered a Health Sandwich, which they made special for me with a croissant, lettuce, avocado, tomato, sprouts, and cheese. It came with fruit and I got a lovely sweet cake. It was definitely one of my favorite meals. 
  • Bob Marley’s: My last day, I hit the parks hard. Around 6, it started to rain, so I went over to Bob Marley’s. I ordered the veggie patties (ahem, devoured). In the process, I learned that Marley was also a vegetarian, which makes sense why they had excellent veggie eats. 

Wizarding World of Harry Potter

My first order of business was to get to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It was definitely a powerful,  feeling walking into Hogsmeade. I'm a big fan of the books, so it is magical to have something so special in a book made real. The place was completely packed, but everyone was so excited that it actually played into the great energy in the place.

I rode Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey first. I went in the single rider line, which meant that I missed most of the castle, but only had to wait a few minutes. My eyes hadn't completely adjusted to the dark and I had missed all of the set up for the ride story, so I was a little confused about what was happening on the ride. The following morning,  I took advantage of my early entrance to the park and was able to take a leisurely stroll through Hogwarts castle. The amount of attention given to the details was beautiful to me, and I was almost sorry that I didn't ride the first time with the whole experience. Specifically, I loved Dumbledore’s office and Hermoine's snow. The more I rode, the better I liked the ride.  However, as a single rider, I always got the last seat where the terrifying dementor attacks you.

Overall, I love Butterbeer, the Hippogriff was fun, the Dragon Challenge queue is the longest line in the world, Ollivanders was sweet and fun, Chocolate frogs are overrated, and I wish that I had tried the Pumpkin Juice.

Island of Adventure

I have always enjoyed Islands of Adventure, and this time I wanted to experience all of the rides.

Spiderman, as always, was one of my favorites, and the updated HD version was really nice. The ride and the story line go well together. During the ride, you never wonder what is going on and are able to get lost in the fun of it all. Plus, I just really enjoy Spiderman. 

This trip, Dr Doom’s Fearfall was my favorite ride. I love the shocking, giggle-inducing feeling of being shot upwards and then that groovy weightless feeling. I finally tried Storm Force and was amused at how fast some of the younger kids could get themselves spinning. I passed, fearing that my anti-up-chuck control might not be up to par with 8-year-olds.

The Hulk coaster always gives me a headache, so I avoided it this trip. Truthfully, while it does give me a headache, but I had this terrible bout of freaking out about heart attacks on roller coasters while I was there and I kept imagining The Hulk.  The last day, I decided to go anyway, but the minute I walked on to the platform, the coaster had some sort of problem and had to be shut down for a few minutes. I took it as a sign.

The Water Rides

Desipite having visited the park multiple times, I hadn't ever ridden any of the water rides. It is so miserable to be soaking wet at a park, so one morning, I wore old clothes and set out for the water rides.

I rode River Adventure (Jurrasic Park) first. I’m sure that with a ride full of people it is fairly silly and fun. I was on the ride completely alone and it was mildly terrifying. Less because of the ride and more because I felt very far away and alone and animatronic dinosaurs were popping out in the dark at me. Also, at the final hill, a group of foreign tourists was watching when I got my final soakingl, which was a bit embarrassing. The ride was really fun though. 

Bluto’s Barges was also a blast. However, some schmuck and his girlfriend were on the boat and he kept taunting her every time a drop of water touched her. I didn’t want him to get drenched, I wanted a random fist to come out of the waterfalls and pound him. 

Finally, Dudley Do Right’s Ripsaw Falls was amazing and my favorite. It has a funny story and the ride has an amazing amount of drops for a water ride. 
By the time I was done, I had pools of water dripping off of me as I trudged my way back to the hotel, but it was still a super fun morning.

Universal Studios

As a whole, Universal Studios is my preferred park. Walking around the park is an experience in itself. Universal has put an amazing level of detail into every building and turn in the park. It feels magical, like walking through a old time, working movie studio, which is what I’ve always appreciated.

As for the rides, here’s my rundown:

The Revenge of the Mummy ride is definitely my favorite at the park. I love classic roller coasters (aka without the crazy hills and million loops), and the combination of the coaster with the the story of the ride is interesting, funny, and well designed. It is definitely thrilling and fun.

I tried the Rip Ride Rocket for the first time this trip. Going up the first hill was the most terrifying part for me. I hadn’t paid much attention to the angle, but it was scary. I liked listening to Beastie Boy’s Sabotage, but the ride was too jarring for me, and it beat my head to smithereens.

Shrek 4-D is always fun. The audience is always extremely engaged, which makes it more entertaining. Plus, who doesn’t love Shrek and Donkey’s banter?

I spent my final day at Universal studios, so when I rode E.T. Adventure, my foot and leg had pretty much hobbled me and I was exhausted, so I might have teared up a bit. So what. E.T. rules. Pfft.

The Simpsons Ride was the last ride that I rode on the first day. I was completely dehydrated and exhausted. The ride was funny, and I love how they decorated the outside of the building. However, Back to the Future has always been one of my favorite movies and my favorite rides, so I really missed it. During the ride, I could remember exactly what was happening in the old BttF ride and I really wished for Marty, Biff, and Doc instead. It probably doesn't help that I'm not much of a Simpsons fan either.

Men in Black: You get to shoot stuff with a laser and you spin around really fast… what else could you ask for?

By the time I made it to Disaster, I was sure that someone was going to have to carry me back to my hotel. So, when I balked at standing through the different areas before the ride, the attendant suggested I could just ride the ride, which I did. I got to hang out alone on the subway system, which again was a bit weird but also sort of cool.

I definitely had a fun, yet relaxing vacation at the Universal Orlando resort. Everything was top notch and I look forward to being able to visit again.

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