And I'm Back! Sorry this update has taken so long. School is back in full swing for me, so I’m trying to get back into my routines. Needless to say, my energy is zapped in the evenings. Thanks to those who are still reading this. I will say that my details for Universal will not be what they were for WDW. We didn’t eat like we did while at WDW. Universal does have a dining plan and there are some positives that I will discuss.
On with the show…
We slept in, so got a late start. We started the morning with a Starbucks (imagine that). There’s a location inside the Doubletree, so it made it convenient to just charge it to the room. We decided that walking to Universal was just too far considering we were going on day 6 in a theme park. Both Lyft and Uber are in Orlando. We haven’t ever used either of the car services, but have friends that Uber all over Houston and one that drives for them. However, Lyft is not in Houston yet. So, we decided to give it a try. The app is pretty easy to use and I like the fact that I could tip the driver from the app and didn’t to have cash. The ride from the Doubletree to the guest drop-off for Universal was about 5 minutes and we paid $8 including tip and I was perfectly fine with that. It saved time and money considering how expensive it is to park at Universal.
Once we got to Citywalk, it was already 11am and we knew we needed to eat. We are huge Jimmy Buffett fans! Hello fellow Parrotheads if you are reading this! We saw him back in early June on his annual tour stop in Houston and we are faithful listeners to his SiriusXM channel, Margaritaville, so we had to make a stop at Margaritaville to grab lunch and to see J.D. Spradlin in action. We ordered the club sandwich to split. It came out quick and was good. Plenty big enough to share for us. Our timing was great because J.D. was on-air and we got to see the Volcano “erupt.” It’s really just a waterfall, but it’s still kinda cool. It’s funny to sit in there and watch people to see who’s a true Parrothead and who are the ones that just know “Margaritaville” and “Cheeseburger.” It’s the same way at his concerts, though. Anyway, once we finished lunch we headed to Guest Services at Islands of Adventure to get our tickets activated and get their version of DAS. We bought the tickets earlier in the trip at Shades of Green, so just like WDW military tickets, they have to be activated. It took 45 minutes in line at GS. Needless to say by this point in the trip, we were not happy campers about standing in line that long, but it is what it is. Once we got to the window, the GS rep., was very accommodating. There wasn’t an argument this time over my wife’s need for the Attraction Assistance Pass as they call it. Maybe it’s because we said up front that it was needed due to anxiety and PTSD from combat or maybe it’s because they aren’t as strict about it as WDW. I don’t know. I do know that it’s easier to “game” the system at Universal when it comes to return times because they don’t have an electronic method of tracking it. They give you a card that has a barcode on one side and spaces on the back for a team member to write your return time down. The process is the same, though. You go to the team member at the entrance to the ride you want and ask them for a return time. They write it on the back of your card. You return to the express pass entrance when it's time. They scan the barcode on the card like it’s an express pass and you go on in.
Once we got into IoA, we headed to Hulk to get a return time. The Team Member didn’t have a pen, so they just sent on in right then. We had to jump over to the lockers and put up our bag since weren’t expecting to get on immediately. If you’ve never been to Universal, you are not allowed to take your bags &/or electronics any rollercoaster. They even go as far as making you pass through metal detectors before getting on the ride. With that being said, you have to put your stuff into lockers if you don’t have a non-rider to hold it. The lockers are free for the first hour and then charge you something like $4 an hour, I think. We didn’t leave it long enough to worry about the charges. Anyway, the lockers at Hulk are different than the others in both IoA and UOR. These required you to scan your ticket, so don’t put your ticket into the locker. We only had to wait in line maybe 15 minutes to ride. The queue was pretty cool. You can tell it’s an older ride, but it was full immersive. You enter the “facility” and see the way people get exposed to the radio activity. The ride itself is one of my favorites. It’s a very smooth coaster with an electromagnetic propulsion (at least that’s what it felt like to me compared to other coasters I rode that used it a la Rockin’ Rollercoaster) and lots of twists, inversions, corkscrews, and loops. Hulk is much smoother than Rockin’ Rollercoaster. After Hulk we headed to Spiderman. With the AAS card at Universal, if the wait time is less than 20 minutes, they send you on without the need of a return time. Spiderman was less than 20, so we walked right in. The wait time in queue was less than 10 minutes. The ride was cool. It’s a 3D dark ride. I can’t think of a WDW ride to compare it to. The only thing I can think of is the Gringotts Harry Potter ride and if you haven’t been to Universal, my comparison will be lost on you.
After Spiderman, we headed over to Hogsmeade. We walked past all the water rides, but decided we didn’t want to spend the afternoon soaking wet. The 3 water rides at IoA get you soaked! We are both huge Harry Potter fans, so we love this ride. (Proud to be Ravenclaws! The “sorting hat” on Pottermore sorted both of us into Ravenclaw.) We are both amazed at how immersive the Harry Potter areas are. You truly feel like you are on the set of the movies. When we went in March, all we did were the Harry Potter areas and we didn’t get to see it all in one day. Even if you aren’t a HP fan, you can appreciate the level of detail put into these areas.
We both love the Dragon Challenge coasters in Hogsmeade and are very sad to see them go, so we were really glad to get to ride them one last time. The wait time for it was less than 20 at the time, so we walked up the exit to the “disability” entrance, aka the back door, to where the exits split for both coasters. The team member asked to see the pass and then asked which one we wanted to ride. We said both, so she suggested the blue one first. After we rode blue, we exited and got on red. It was really quick. No queue at all. We literally walked through a door and stood to the side until the team member who was counting off and directing people to the loading lines saw us. She immediately put us into a loading line. When we were at Universal back in March, my wife really struggled with her anxiety due to the queues. This pass really saved us.
After Dragon Challenge, we went over and got a return time for Forbidden Journey. It was an hour wait, so we headed to Three Broomsticks for some food. We made the mistake in March of ordering the pasties there. They were flavorless and disappointing. We saw others eating the roasted chicken, so we knew when we were back that we would go with the chicken and that’s what we ordered. It did not disappoint. The meal comes with a half of a roasted chicken, roasted corn on the cob, and roasted red potatoes. It was a hearty meal, but it wasn’t so heavy that it was too much for July heat. I highly recommend it if you are going to eat at Three Broomsticks. We decided to go ahead and get the Universal Quick Service Dining Plan with this meal. The plan is similar to QSDP, but you don’t have to buy it ahead of time nor do you have to have it for everyday you are there. Also, you don’t have to be a resort guest to get it either. You can buy it from any of the participating restaurants in either IoA or UOR. The plan includes an entree and non-alcoholic beverage as well as an additional snack credit and n/a beverage credit to be used later. All for the price of $22.99 plus tax. Our meal without the plan was $12.99 for the entree plus $3.49 for the drink. So, it would have been $16.48 plus tax. Therefore, for $6.51 more, we got a snack credit and a drink credit for later. Since they don’t have magic bands, they put your credits on a plastic card. What’s nice and different from WDW is that if you don’t use your credits, they don’t expire at the end of your trip. You can return within the year (I think… not sure if it’s calendar year or within 365 days) and use your unused credits. We ended up using our’s so it didn’t matter. I think in total we probably saved a dollar or two. We used our beverage credit on a bottle of powerade that was $3.99 and our snack credit on popcorn that I know was at least $3.00.
We headed back to Forbidden Journey for our return time and only had to wait in queue maybe 10 minutes. After we got off FJ, we headed to Hogwart’s Express to go to UOR. Even though Diagon Alley only has one ride, it is flipping amazing! When you turn the corner through the Tube entrance, you are “in” the movie. We usually end up watching Deathly Hallows when it’s on Freeform, every time it’s on Freeform. Which it tends to be at least once a month. It was on last weekend and we both are still amazed at how accurate Gringott’s Bank at UOR is compared to the movie. It’s freaky how accurate it is. Like to the point that you almost want to ask the animatronic trolls for their autographs! LOL Once we got into Diagon Alley, we got a return time for Gringott’s and it started to rain. We left Diagon Alley and this is when we got our snack. We found an entrance to one of the “buildings” in San Francisco to escape the rain and eat our snack. We waited out the shower and then headed back in Diagon Alley. We waited in line maybe 20 minutes for the ride once we entered the queue. We chatted up the family in front of us. They were British and the little girl who was 7 hadn’t seen many of the movies because Voldemort’s face freaked her out. I was worried about her on the ride because he’s in it. They were in the row in front of us, so we could watch her reactions. It was great. It did scare her a bit, but in the end she loved the ride and wanted to go on it again.
We were starting to get tired, but we wanted to ride the Rip Ride Rockit coaster, so we headed up there to get a return time. This was another case of the team member not having a pen, so they sent us on in. This a good coaster. Completely vertical ascent and descent, aka straight up and straight down! What’s really cool is that on your safety bar is a little menu where you get to pick your ride music. I think I chose “Bad Girls” by Donna Summer. I really didn’t have time to look at all my options before it was “take-off” time. After we got off, we headed out of the park and back to the hotel via Lyft.
One thing I did notice about both IoA and UOR compared to WDW is the amount of stairs. There are lots more you have to climb at IoA and UOR to get to the loading areas of the rides. If mobility is an issue for you, you can ask to use the elevator with the AAS. We didn’t use it on every ride, but for Rockit, she needed it. At that point in the day/evening, her knees were spent.
After we got back to the hotel, we needed dinner. We were over “tourist” food by this point. We were spoiled with the DDP and really didn’t want to spend the money at Citywalk. I know there are some really good options, but the budget was starting to cry a bit by this point. We opted for some Chic-Fil-A. We ended up at the one on Lake Buena Vista after riding around trying to find something that sounded good. We were tired and when I’m tired, I struggle with food decisions. Anyway, we get inside and it’s like the World Showcase was there eating… no, seriously. There were two tables of CMs from Germany, still in their lederhosen and fraulein dresses. A couple of CMs from China still in their costumes at another table and 3 CMs from the UK in line in front of us. It was hilarious.When we left, we saw 3 girls from Japan still in costume walking down the sidewalk. The World Showcase Cast Members must live in the apartments there on Lake Buena Vista behind the outlet mall.
We headed back to our hotel to get ready for our last day in the parks. Day nine brings us to day two of IoA and UOR.
I guess I wrote more about Universal than I expected to. Thanks for reading!