12 park days with no actual rope drops: a delightful first and possibly only trip

Our first 5 park days were at Universal but since there isn’t a trip report category there I’m putting this here.

Cast of characters:
Me: 44, optimizer, enjoys planning things, Ravenclaw
DH: 47, likes more improvisational vacations, sorted to Hufflepuff by the website but I think he’s more a Slythindor
DS11: 11, obviously, thrill-seeking, sweetly fierce, maybe Slytherin maybe Griffindor
DS7: 7, not into major scary rides and prone to motion sickness but likes doing what his brother does mostly, fiercely sweet, also wants to be Slytherin (I have my doubts)

We all live in Toronto, but used to live in Vancouver. We’re all Star Wars and Marvel fans and I thought the kids and I were all Harry Potter fans but it turns out DS11 thinks it’s kind of played out. DS11 went through a major Cinderella phase around age 3 and both kids liked Frozen and Moana when they came out but started hating them when people wouldn’t stop singing the songs so this was a no-princess trip in the planning and, with one show exception, in the execution.

My initial planning also had us rope dropping or doing a pre-park open breakfast every morning. We kept 2 breakfasts but never actually rope dropped a park or a ride, though we did come close a few times.

Background – skip until the next bolded bit unless you care: DH and I both made family trips to Disneyland and Universal Studios as kids, and then once in 2000 on our first roadtrip together. We’re not hardcore theme park people but we’re not hardcore anti-theme park people either, and we felt like once both kids had good walking stamina we would consider a Disney trip. A few years ago when I heard about the Star Wars land they’d started building I thought we should wait for that but DH thought it would make more sense to go before it opens.

So back in January when we were talking about summer plans I pointed out that Batuu was probably opening at Walt Disney World in the fall so did we want to head to Orlando? Last December we drove to New York for a long weekend for DS11’s birthday weekend and the kids had done great with the ~12 hour (because of a wrong turn onto the New Jersey Turnpike) drive home so DH suggested we do it as a road trip and I could figure out the dates.

The last 2 weeks of August looked good from a crowds perspective since most US schools are already back in session then, and I thought we could take our time on the way down, visit friends in Washington DC and maybe spend a couple of nights in Savannah (which I’ve wanted to visit since watching Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil), and then have 8 or so nights in Orlando before a 2-3 day drive home. Disney had their Free Dining offer so in early February we booked 5 nights at All-Star Music and then 3 nights at Royal Pacific Resort for less than the cost of 2 days of Express Pass for the 4 of us. I started doing a bit of Disney research and booked some restaurant reservations 180 days before the start of our stay.

Then some time in March Disney announced that Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge would open August 29th in Orlando. My first reaction was “whew, we’ll avoid the madness because we move over to Universal on August 27th.” That reaction stayed in place until some time in May, after Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opened at Disneyland and, from reports, it was actually very sane and looked really cool. And then it continued to sound very sane in June. Plus Universal had a 5 days-for-the-price-of 2 ticket deal so if we dropped Washington DC and Savannah we could spend 5 more days in Orlando, going to Universal first and then Disney. Universal also announced their August Annual Passholder appreciation days, which included a free (if you have an annual pass) after-hours party August 18th at Universal Studios Florida. I already had an annual pass for the hotel discount but we started to think that sounded fun too.

So we discussed it as a family and everyone wanted to go to the Star Wars opening on August 29th if we could. I spent a couple of days spreadsheeting, figuring out what to do about our hotel reservations and dining plans and blahblahblah. I like planning trips but the number of spreadsheets and the level of advanced planning Disney in particular seemed to demand was a bit stressful.

I had enough Bonvoy points to book 3 nights at the Swan and adding on 2 more days of Disney tickets was only about $100 for the 4 of us. The Universal hotel was more expensive for the earlier nights as there was no annual pass discount, but I could get the discount at one of their other resorts and by staying at the cheaper hotel for 2 nights and the more expensive for the next 2 we’d still get 3 days of express passes (you get them on both check-in and check-out days).

After all the juggling this was the hotel plan::
August 16-18 Driving to Orlando, booking en route
August 18-20 Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort
August 20-22 Universal’s Royal Pacific Resort (express pass included)
August 22-27 Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort (with the dining plan)
August 27-30 Disney’s Swan
August 30-Sept 1 Driving back to Toronto, booking en route

In July I didn’t manage to get tickets on eventbrite when they first released them, but then a week before we left managed to get 3 before they sold out again. I called Universal and changed DH and the kids’ tickets to seasonal annual passes for an extra $25 each, and kept refreshing the eventbrite site whenever I thought of it to try to get that 4th ticket.

Also in July, while the kids and I were in BC visiting family, DH thought he’d take up running and get in better shape for all the walking we’d be doing. The first week of Couch to 5K was fine, and then he injured his knees. He had a physio session before we left that helped a bit and got some knee braces but we were a bit worried how the walking would go.

Ok, enough background.
Day 1: Friday August 16
We got off to a later start than hoped for because of my packing procrastination process, but we were out of the house before 9 and across the border by 11am. We stopped for US cash in Grimsby and just before that I snagged our 4th Passholder appreciation party ticket which felt super lucky. The Tim Hortons by the bank was under construction inside and the drive thru line was long so we kept driving to St Catherines, stopping for gas/Doritos and vitamin water/lottery ticket (the kids were horrified at the lotto ticket waste of money and talked me into the vitamin water with an economic argument) and finally breakfast from Tim Hortons. By the time we got to the border we’d already seen a bunch of state license plates.

The drive was largely uneventful, we stopped for lunch at Meeder’s in Ripley NY, figured out a hotel to aim for using booking dot com and TripAdvisor, got slowed down outside Pittsburgh because of a big accident, stopped for gas and Wendy’s somewhere in northern West Virginia and got to the Microtel Inn & Suites by Wyndham in Beckley WV around 9:20pm. The pull out sofa bed was pretty bad – narrow, with a thin and lumpy mattress. As we were about to read I said to DS7 “it’s not the most comfortable mattress ever” and he clarified “it’s the least comfortable”.

Day 2 Saturday August 17
DS7 will tell you that he got practically no sleep that night, but he slept longer that morning than the rest of us. This was a day of lots of driving – we got on the road around 9 after giving DS7 a bit of time to wake up and eating the free hotel breakfast and checking all the license plates in the hotel parking lot to see if there were any new states.

Two tunnels through mountains. Lunch was at a Smashburger in North (I think) Carolina; outside was very hot and humid. We nearly got overpriced gas ($2.99 vs $2.35 a gallon) due to gasbuddy, but also avoided it because of gasbuddy – I checked my visa online when I started writing this about 4 days later and the hold for 50 US of overpriced gas we pre-approved but didn’t pump was finally gone. I drove for a bit in the afternoon while DH tried to nap (I am generally a much better passenger than he is). There was heavy rain off and on through SC, GA but by the time we got to FL it had stopped.

We picked up the kids’ Fortnite swim gear I’d preordered at the Target in Jacksonville and were at the Ponce Hotel St Augustine about half an hour later. We unpacked the car and then started walking somewhere for dinner but managed to convince DS11 to try the hotel restaurant, De Leon. The Colombian food was excellent. The waiter made us up a table in the breakfast area since the restaurant was full, next to a family from Savannah and their friend. They travel to Orlando for dinner sometimes, and DH ended up trying the margarita because of their rec. I highly recommend the restaurant if you don’t have picky eaters, and DS11’s nuggets and fries were fine if you do. We went straight to bed after dinner, around 9:30.

Day 3 Sunday August 18

DS7 slept later than the rest of us again, but we were at breakfast off the lobby by around 9 and on the road around 10. The breakfast was decent but not as impressive as dinner – the kids mostly had froot loops.

We didn’t drive by the fountain of youth on our way out of St Augustine, alas. Uneventful drive with one pit stop and we arrived at Cabana Bay Beach Resort around noon. DH dropped me off to check in while he parked and the kids joined me after I’d been in line for 5 min or so. The guy behind me in line was also from Toronto – they’d left at 5am Saturday and had made it to southern Georgia in 16 hours and decided to sleep there instead of pushing through to Orlando since their hotel was booked to start Sunday. Unlike ours, their car was all packed the night before.

I really liked the Cabana Bay midcentury modern ambiance (the photo above is from when I checked out Tuesday and the lobby was largely empty – almost every seat was filled and there was a lot more luggage around mid-day Sunday). At the front of the line Jason from New Jersey was helping with flow and asked about the drive as he was planning to drive home the next weekend with friends. Our check in guy Eric was helpful but our room wasn’t ready yet so he set us up with temporary hotel keys for garage and building access. After moving the car to the garage and a brief photo session with the vintage cars in front of the hotel, we hopped a Minion bus to the park around 12:45.

When we got up the escalator to the bag check/metal detectors I asked a security guy which way to go – he explained, and we quickly walked through CityWalk (with a pause for DS11 at the Funko Pop cart) to the Universal Studios Florida side. This was where the passholder party would be until midnight, after the park closed to everyone else at 8pm. Once we were off the shaded City Walk conveyer belt and in the sun it was hooooot.

We asked the passholder party people about process so first went through the big arch to redeem our passes. After a brief wait in the wrong (guest services) line we got to the right one, waited a few minutes while the kids got antsy and argument-prone with each other – they were not just hangry but hswhangry where the extra h and sw are for hot and sweaty. It took a while for our UK-origin team member Sandy to make DH and the kids’ passes because when I called to switch them from tickets to annual passes, Jessica, who helped me on the phone, hadn’t indicated which bar code would be the child one (DS11 counts as an adult for theme parks). After trying various combos Sandy told us to try scanning the ones she’d made at the thumb print gate and come back and hover at her window if it didn’t work. So that’s what we did – DH went first and got asked for ID because his was the child pass. We explained the mix-up and said we’d be back after visiting Sandy again. Sandy reissued DH and DS7’s passes on the right cards this time and we headed back to scan/fingerprint in.

Then we went out and back to the outer entry to get our wristbands for the party (it was very twisty turny queue to follow with multiple check points but there were very few people in it so it was pretty fast), then we went in to get our photopass lanyards and cards. By the time that was set up it was past 2pm, the kids were totally melting from the heat and wanted to go to the hotel but I hadn’t received the room ready text (later I discovered I’d received an email instead right around that time saying our room was ready). I checked the Universal app and the Jimmy Fallon ride was only a 10 min wait so we said we’d try that one. We basically walked on, waited maybe 3 minutes in the greenroom area, and into the ride.


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I’d been a bit concerned about DS7’s motion sickness with the virtual/screen type rides but it turns out his issue is with real motion. Phew! The ride story was ludicrous but I was amused and it was fun. DH said later he was a bit queasy but he powered through.

We saw the Blues Brothers in their car and maybe 45 seconds of them arriving and starting to sing but DS11 and especially DS7 had no interest at all in staying in the heat to watch. Then we went to Transformers which had a 20min wait but steadily moving queue and buttons to push and AC and dim light so the wait was fine and we all enjoyed it. This was my first attempt to time a queue – I started the timer and then totally forgot to start it until we were out and onto the next thing.


And then we posed with Bumblebee. I can’t remember what music he played. Maybe We Are Family?

By then it was close to 4, so we headed back to the hotel after a brief pause to grab a churro with chocolate sauce and a pretzel without cheese sauce. The shuttle bus for Cabana Bay and Aventura wasn’t in the same place as its drop-off and DS7 and I ended up running madly ahead after a TM pointed us in the right direction but we got on. It was standing room only but a nice woman offered the kids her seat.

I got our room number 5534 and room keys updated in the lobby, we loaded the necessary bags on a trolley in the parking lot, and headed to the room to chillax for an hour or so. The pool looked great but busy (and blurry in the photo I took.)

By around 6 we were back at CityWalk and got in right away without reservations at Vivo Italian Kitchen. While waiting for food we played around with panorama photos of each other.



I ordered the Chateau Miraval rose to see what Angelina and Brad’s wine was like. I liked it. My branzino and DH’s squid ink pasta were excellent – we ended up asking for extra bread at the end to mop up the sauces. We skipped dessert and were done right around 7pm, with a brief detour back to our table for me when I realized at the exit I’d left the backpack under my chair.

After dinner we headed back to USF and, stopping for a few photos and a visit with the Knight Bus driver along the way, made our way to Diagon Alley.


(timestamp is wrong on this one)

I loved the unmarked passageway to sneak in to Diagon Alley, and how the whole area smelled like chamomile and maybe a bit of magic. It was dusk and the dragon was looking impressive against the sky above Gringott’s Bank – we tried to take a selfie at the right angle with no luck, so some stranger offered to take one for us and didn’t include the dragon at all. So then we tried again.


Ollivander’s had basically no wait, so we went in. A funny girl around 10 or 11 with deadpan responses was picked and we all enjoyed the show. The kids wanted to try again until they got picked. The next one we were the first or second group in. A girl around 8 or 9 was picked and she seemed super thrilled. There were different spells and effects and it was fun though not quite as novel as the first time through. As we exited DS7 was a bit despairing but he and DS11 wanted to try again.

This time we had to wait a few minutes longer and ended up in a different room with a different Ollivander. DS7 says they were the only kids but I’m not sure. He came over and asked DS11’s name, and then asked DS7’s name, and had them both come up. It was super awesome and they decided they needed to buy both wands, of course. I’d told them beforehand we’d buy one and that wouldn’t come out of their souvenir budget and they agreed to each pay half the cost of the second. (The best bit is around 2:30 in the video)

Then we did spells (lighting up the window of lights and making the umbrella rain were the faves) and checked out Knockturn Alley for 20 or 30 minutes, and waited without success to see the dragon blow fire, taking many atmospheric photos of it while waiting. We’d heard it twice during the trips through Ollivanders but I’m amused that we never actually saw it, that night or any of the next 4 days.

The party had started around the time we finished at Ollivander’s and people without wristbands were gently guided to the exit. But there were still lots of people. And it was sticky humid, as you can see from some of my pictures. Gringotts had a 25 or 30 minute wait. The line for butterbeer at the drink place was long and the Leaky Cauldron looked busy, and DS11 and DH were both feeling headachey and crowd-overwhelmed so we left Diagon Alley after briefly checking out Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes and taking a few more dragon pictures.

We headed for Men in Black, stuck our stuff in the free lockers (3 of them because of the wands), and waited about 20min for that ride. The guy next to me scored around 400k, I got almost to 200k. He said even if you know the targets it’s hard with the spinning to get the max score – he hasn’t yet managed it.

Simpsons ride was next and felt like a longish wait but I enjoyed the ride. I’d do it again with no wait and if I wasn’t feeling queasy from anything. DS11 now thinks it might be worth checking out the show because the ride was funny. We saw a pig walking down the street, I think for a special party-specific Animal Actors on Location meet and greet, but we walked on by and instead took photos with Chief Wiggum in front of Lard Lad Donuts.

We found a spot on the grass along the water to watch the fireworks around 10, but then found out the show didn’t start until 10:30 so decided not to wait. DS11 and DH rode Rip Ride Rockit while DS7 and I sat by the DJ stage and watched Shrek and Fiona dancing (DS7 said I could dance if I wanted to, but not with him). Then the Trolls were dancing too and DS7 wanted to Avada Kedavra them.


Once we were all back together the fireworks were starting. DH had a headache from Rip Ride Rockit. If there’d been a shorter wait DS11 would have wanted to ride again as he wanted to choose different music tracks.

I thought there’d be less walking for DH’s knees if we took the boat to Sapphire Falls and then crossed the street, instead of walking all the way through City Walk to the shuttle bus area. I was probably wrong. First we waited for the boat. Then we had to walk through Sapphire Falls and up a 2 story circular staircase, then through the front grounds and across the street with no pedestrian crossing/signals. But we got back to Cabana Bay and the boat and Sapphire Falls were pretty.


Then, just after we’d crossed the street, DS11’s lanyard fell and he dropped his cards. He found his room key but couldn’t find his annual pass. We searched the area – I crossed back to the Sapphire Falls side to see if it had dropped there – and after a few minutes DS7 found it white side up on a white stop line. On subsequent days the kids didn’t wear lanyards and DH and I carried all 4 room keys in one lanyard and all 4 park passes in a zippered pocket, and a photo card each.

We got back to the room by 11:30 and crashed after taking a few shots out the window. DS11 said his favourite part of the day was “when we didn’t go to the fireworks. There was a lot of the day when we weren’t going to the fireworks.” DS7’s favourite was when he and DS11 got picked together, and doing spells.

Aug 18 Summary:
Universal Studios Florida crowd level according to Touring Plans: 3/10
Rides: 5 (8 if the 3 times through Ollivanders count, more if you count spells cast, 4 if you count none of these and don’t count the coaster DS7 and I didn’t ride – metrics mean nothing without a data dictionary)
Character interactions: 3 (2 if you count the shrunken head and the Knight Bus driver separately)
Entered park: around 1:30pm
Photo pass photos: 11
Photos taken on my phone: 96
Photos taken on DH’s phone: 91
Steps according to my phone: 16,967

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Do you think our US friends will understand the tragedy? :grinning:

Looking forward to your report (just started reading).

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Ok. Glad you’re chronicling this.
I like a good long trip that includes driving. And I saw some of your posting while you were there. What seems daunting is all the moving around. Was that easy? Did you have a system? Maybe it’s better because you never fully unpack? We pretty much take over when we get to a location.

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I had a system – that was part of why packing took so long but also I am terrible about taking forever to pack, generally – but it evolved. We had 1 big suitcase and 3 roll-on ones and a big duffle bag. One roll-on was for toiletries, pyjamas, swim gear and extra underwear/socks, and then the others were for clothes by hotel so only 2 suitcases went into each hotel room: 1 was for Cabana Bay & RPR, 1 was for the Swan and after, and the big suitcase was for Caribbean Beach. And I had each day’s shirts and sometimes shorts/underwear grouped in packing cubes within the suitcases. Clothes for the drive down/back were also in their own bag but those got washed in Orlando.

The switch to Royal Pacific Resort after 2 nights at Cabana Bay wasn’t so bad, but if we hadn’t been switching to the longer stay after the 2 nights at RPR everyone would have been very cranky.

Initially hats had been in a bag that got turned into our park backpack, for the days we used one, so they ended up with their own bag that got hauled in. We had a cooler with mostly drinks (vitamin water and sodas) that came in to each hotel that we probably could have skipped – we still had some of the sodas in it when we got home. So moving in/out of each hotel was a bit of a slog but not awful. Cabana Bay had bell service-type luggage carts right by the parking garage you could use as needed, and at CBR we parked near our building. At the Swan and RPR DH just pulled up in front, we unloaded the necessary bags, and either shlepped them ourselves (Swan) or used Bell Services (RPR).

I would have happily stayed at Cabana Bay for 4 nights instead but having Express Pass for 3 days and definitely worth it in the heat/humidity. I couldn’t justify RPR for 4 nights (especially since by the time I was shuffling dates the price had jumped significantly from when I initially booked 3 nights), and it turned out we liked Cabana Bay as a hotel a lot more. And the split CBR/Swan was good. If I had enough Bonvoy points or got a good rate I’d just stay at the Swan next time – the dining plan was good for a first trip but I wouldn’t get it again if we go back, and I just generally like Sheraton hotels. If we win the lottery and go back I want to stay at AKL though.

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Monday August 19 Day 4

DS7 was excited to check out license plates in the Cabana Bay parkade on our way to breakfast --we’d seen 39 of the states by then. It was after 10:30am when we headed out for breakfast at Hash House A Go Go. This is the first time we’ve valet parked for breakfast anywhere and the restaurant smelled a bit swampy initially (DS7 wanted to leave, and if the car hadn’t been valet parked we might have considered it) but the food was good. DH and I both got hashes (mine was very vegetable-focused, his had more meat) and DS11 had quesadillas. DS7’s waffle was hunormous, as DS11 used to say.

After breakfast we went to the nearby outlet mall, arriving around noon. The Disney Character Warehouse had a 5 minute queue outside to enter, and a 20 minute queue inside to get to the checkout so as soon as we got in DH joined the queue while the kids and I looked around hunter gatherer-style with DH as home base. There were RC droids for $5 (we got one for the kids and one as a thanks-for-watering-our-plants gift for the kids’ friends) and trading pins for $2 and a couple of shirts for DH and $3 pink ears for me that I never ended up wearing. DH took the bags back to the car while the kids and I found a bathroom, and then we looked without success for running shoes for him. Instead he ended up with shorts and two shirts and I got a shirt, a purse and earrings for very cheap, and a further 15% off with the coupon he got from initially buying just the shorts.

Back at the hotel around 2:30pm we got into swim clothes and headed for the pool. The sky was a bit ominous but the pool area was busy and there were no clean towels at any of the stations for the first 20min or so. We bought two floaties for the kids and DH relaxed on the loungers we’d claimed while I swam the lazy river several times with the kids. Then DH joined them in the lazy river while I went back to the room for his phone and earphones and some vitamin waters. When I got back I found towels and took a few photos and then did the river twice more with DS11 while DS7 lounged with DH.

We then headed over to the pool courtyard on the other side of the main building. It started to rain just as we got there and the pool was moderately busy so DS11 wasn’t interested – he and DH headed back to the room with all our stuff. DS7 and I went on the waterslide twice and swam briefly before grabbing our shoes and coverups and heading back for showers/baths and taking a photo of the closed pool area before heading to the parks.

It was raining hard at 4:45pm as we waited the 5 minutes for the bus but this time it was a comfy long distance coach-style shuttle bus instead of the other city transit-type shuttle buses. I enjoyed the cushy seats and read to DS7 as we shuttled. Security was quick and we went to USF first. Our real destination was Islands of Adventure but DS11 wanted to take the Hogwarts Express to get there. We hadn’t checked the app until we got close to Kings Cross station – the Hogwarts Express had a 55 minute wait so we said forget that. Everyone needed food as people were getting hangry. I suggested the Leaky Cauldron but DS11 still felt sensorily flooded by Diagon Alley and DH wanted to sit down and have a waiter come to us, so we went to Finnegan’s in the New York area instead. My throat was feeling scratchy and I briefly worried about a cold before deciding I’d just walk/sweat it out. On the plus side, the persistent stye/chalazions I’d had since Easter were responding more to the hot humid Florida air than they had to all the warm compresses I’d put on them and were subsiding a bit. I’ll spare you the selfie that helped me figure that out.

Based on my photos we sat down just before 6pm. Our server brought the wrong drinks for the kids and the wrong bill to the next table but steered DH right in the roast pork. I enjoyed my pistachio-crusted salmon salad. DS11 shocked me by ordering steamed broccoli and grapes with his chicken tenders instead of fries. He wasn’t really eating the broccoli but only reluctantly shared a bit with DS7, and then accidentally dropped the biggest piece on the floor. Alas.

Rip Ride Rockit was closed for weather when we were done eating around 6:45pm. But the Hogwarts Express now had a posted 15 minute wait and was basically just a walk through the queue. I liked the props and the train ride/show.

We had the wands with us but there were a lot of people in Hogsmeade doing spells so after a bathroom break (and hearing Moaning Myrtle in the loo), we put the wands in a locker and queued up for Forbidden Journey. It had a posted 20 minute wait, which was about right and basically a quick walk through the outdoor queue and a slower walk through the castle. The kids and I loved the inside of the castle and even DH enjoyed it. DS7 and I loved the ride. It made DH and DS11 queasy and was a one and done for them. DS7 and I thought we’d ride it some time without them while they did coasters some other time but that didn’t end up happening.

From there, we stopped at the butter beer cart for a frozen and a cold butterbeer. DH and DS11 preferred the cold, DS7 and I preferred the frozen, but we all found it a bit too sweet. We ended up mixing them once they were half done and that was best. I’d forgotten about my scratchy throat as we shared our paper straws and then I worried I was passing on whatever virus was simmering inside me so I ended up drinking most of it, but no one else objected.

After photos on the bridge with Hogwarts, we walked through the Jurassic Park and played for maybe 5 minutes at the playground. Pteranadon Flyers had a 45 or 50 min wait so no.

The Jurassic Park water ride was closed but Kong: Skull Island was a walk-on so we walked on and enjoyed it. By now it was dusk which probably enhanced the creepiness, especially of the skulls in the queue area. We walked out through Toon Lagoon and the Marvel area, admiring all the lights and getting excited for having express pass the next day. But everyone was done for today – instead of racing us outside the moving sidewalks as they usually do, the kids sat/crouched as we headed for the shuttle bus area. We were on the bus back to the hotel by 8:45pm and asleep soon after.

Summary:
Universal Studios Florida crowd level according to Touring Plans: 6/10
Islands of Adventure crowd level according to Touring Plans: 6/10
Rides: 3 (plus lots of lazy river, 2 water slide runs for DS7 and me, and time at the Jurassic Park playground)
Character interactions: 0
Entered park: around 5pm
Photo pass photos: 14
Photos taken on my phone: 47
Photos taken on DH’s phone: 61
Steps according to my phone: 12,725

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I just remembered my title is a horrid, horrid lie. We rope dropped the raptor encounter on our penultimate Universal day. Perhaps I can keep my Liner card.

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Genuinely LOL’d this. Your trip report may be my favorite of the summer so far. Looking forward to more!

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Ha, him wanting to Avada Kedavra the trolls felt like a parenting fail to me but also confirmation that we’d done enough for one night. Thank you for the encouragement, I’ll continue to ramble on!

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I am loving this report! And this pic is amazing!! Though I can’t believe you never saw the dragon breath fire :joy:

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Not seeing it breathe fire was totally ridiculous. We stood there for at least 15 minutes, maybe more, and DH and I both filmed a few minutes of uneventful video. :joy: But we heard it at least twice and I’m happy with that.

ETA: when I stay still, my Pixel phone does great night shots. I was really happy with that one.

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It’s usually about every 10 minutes.

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Great report so far, I’m enjoying following along.

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Tuesday August 20 Day 5

In the morning we packed up – I ran down to the pool area and swapped our two pool donuts for boxed versions – and checked out. The TV checkout option wasn’t working so I ran down to the lobby, taking some pictures of the hotel on my way. I like how even the toiletries fit the colour scheme and theme.

We were in the car by about 10 for the short drive over to Royal Pacific Resort. Then, following confusing signs, I navigated us into the employee parking lot but a very nice Universal employee in a golf cart, Jesus, told us 1) they wouldn’t ticket or two but 2) where the right place to park was.

I did our pre-check in to get our Express Passes and had a nice chat with the woman at the desk, who’s actually in the management program but shuffling through various roles for her first few months. I’d asked her if she was used to the weather since her name tag said she was from Florida and she said yes but she wasn’t a fan of the hot/humid. She’d previously been a cast member at Disney and then worked on a small boat cruise line, but discovered that on the small boats she gets very seasick which makes it hard to be a good cruise director. Her boyfriend is a cast member and got to work at Galaxy’s Edge during the cast member previews but she hadn’t seen it yet.

By 11am we were headed for the boat to CityWalk, with a brief pause for a photo of the wood carvings along the staircase, and by 11:30 the kids and I had our “breakfast” from Voodoo Donuts.


We headed to IOA and the Spiderman Ride, which with Express Pass was a near walk-on at 11:45am. I think I’d tried timing a ride again the day before and failed to actually start the timer, and briefly considered timing the Express Pass waits in the Lines app but never actually did so. Note that this is our earliest park entry of the trip so far – back when we were initially planning 5 Disney days and 2 Universal ones, I thought we’d do seven days in a row of 8am starts. Ahahahaha <— me laughing at myself. #badliner

We then did Dr Doom’s Fearfall, which DS7 was just tall enough to ride and which totally terrified me. The whoosh up was worse than the drop. Once I’d had my microsecond of weightlessness at the top – and reached over to hold DS7’s arm (DH and I were on the outside seats of the row of 4) so that I truly knew he wouldn’t fly out – it was actually fun and I liked the brief view from up there. I was super proud of DS7 for riding and relieved he sort of enjoyed it, since he’s the least thrill-seeking in the family, but it was one-and-done for all of us.

Then we went over to Hulk and asked a team member how rider swap worked (this was the only ride we used it on at Universal, and it was nice not to bother with lockers) – he directed DS7 and me and all belongings except for DH’s lanyard to the waiting room up the elevator near the ride exit. We waited maybe 5 minutes before seeing DH and DS11 loaded on the ride, and then once they got off DS11 and I lined up to ride together. As we were waiting DS11 was reassuring me, telling me it wasn’t that bad. Then he said “I’m just trying to make you feel better. You’ll be horrified. I mean terrified.”

But I actually loved it. The first time we went upside down (which was my first time going upside down on a ride ever) I was briefly horrified and then I just enjoyed the heck out of the whole ride. It was so fast and smooth and the loops and turns and dips all felt perfectly timed. You can’t tell how much I liked it from my ride photo, oh well.


By this time it was about 12:30pm – DH was quite hungry and we figured the kids needed a bit more substance than the donuts. The line up at the hot dog/drink stand was looong so I popped into Captain America Diner, which was quiet, and flagged DH and the kids over from the outdoor hot dog line. The kids and I admired the ceiling while DH ordered some food for him and the kids – I was mostly doing fluids since my nose was plugged and nothing had much taste. He gave me a sip of his vanilla shake before we remembered my germs so that was my lunch. The day was off to a very nutritious start.

When we were back outside a bit before 1pm the superheroes had gathered and were doing meet and greets. DS11 didn’t want to get into the very short Wolverine queue so he took photos of DH, DS7 & me with Wolverine. Wolverine noticed DS7 and my Blue Jays hats and said “We the North!” so we bonded over our Canadian roots. He asked if we’d heard of something called TimBits (mini donut balls from Tim Hortons, for the uninitiated) and I said “of course” and he asked if we’d brought any with us. I said sadly no, and he surmised that DS7 had eaten them all on the way.

DS11 was adamant that Captain America (who was in the shade on the other side of the street with longer lines none of us wanted to join) had too dark of a suit and he was very disappointed in the costuming department that they didn’t go for a brighter blue fabric. I maintained it was just because he was in the shade. We agreed to disagree.

We took a few pictures with the captions in Toon Lagoon and then we went to Bilge-Rat Barges. This was probably the only real “failure” of my choice to throw out the touring plans I’d initially developed when we switched from 2 days at Universal to 5. In those touring plans I’d put the 3 water rides in Islands of Adventure after lunch and before an afternoon break, and based on reading how soaked you get I’d planned to do things counter-clockwise around the lagoon, going from Jurassic Park River Adventure to Dudley Do Right’s Ripsaw Falls to Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges. I’d also planned for us to be wearing sandals for all of those.

Instead, we went to the wettest ride first and we were wearing runners. As we were boarding the barge a couple of English women were getting off, totally drenched, and laughingly reassuring us that it really wasn’t that wet a ride. We put our backpack and hats (except DH’s) in the plastic-covered area in the centre and DH was bragging to the other people on the barge (a poncho-covered British dad and his ponchoed teen kids and another two people) that he wouldn’t be getting wet because he was wearing a hat.

This might be my favourite ride in Orlando or maybe the world. It basically cheats to get you wet by sending you under 2 or 3 waterfalls on top of the splashes from the barge tossing around the course and people getting to shoot water at you from the Popeye boat play area (which we never ended up exploring). We all got soaked, and DH got the most soaked despite his hat. I laughed for the whole 5 or 6 minutes.

Then, since we were already sopping wet, we went to Dudley Do Right’s Ripsaw Falls, which was ok but the express line probably took at least 15 minutes and the ride was kind of long and the photo didn’t work (they put a credit for an extra print on our account to say sorry) and DS7 didn’t like it much even though he usually likes log flume rides.

It was now around 2pm and we went to the Jurassic Park wet ride. The family in front of us in the Express line (also British) took a look at us and asked if we’d been on it before. I laughed and said no, we were doing the water rides backwards. They were doing them the right way and were wearing sandals. I applauded their planning skillz. DS7 was expressing worry after Ripsaw Falls that this ride was going to be too intense with him so the dad in front of us (in the bright yellow in the photo) was telling him you went through a corkscrew and upside down at least once. DS7 told DH he’d have to pay him $20 per flip.

Despite his expression on the photo, DS7 loved it. DS11 found the raptors and other dinosaurs after the point when everything goes wrong and you go into the restricted area very scary, so that look on his face is a grimace not a smile.

To make it up to him, I agreed to go on Rip Ride Rockit when we headed back to USF. We took the Hogwarts Express over, waiting for the train in front of a New York couple whose second flight on their way back from St Thomas had been rescheduled for the next day so they decided to spend the day at Universal. They’d waited an hour and a half for Hagrid’s and loved it. There was some mixup about the cabin assignments once we were boarding the Hogwarts Express so they got bumped to a different one by another family who seemed pretty uptight. I liked the window show on the ride back to London slightly better than the ride to Hogsmeade – it has the Weasley twins, and maybe I just prefer heading into London than leaving it, even when it’s theoretical. The last part makes me nostalgic for all the times I took the Heathrow Express or the tube back into London when I was living there and in Bristol, even though I never saw the Knight Bus ducking in and out of buildings.

As we walked out of Kings Cross. I asked if anyone was up for Gringotts or wanted to ride Men in Black again and got resounding nos. We were walking by San Francisco so decided to check out the Fast and Furious ride despite all the poor reviews. The team member in one of the briefing rooms (I think she was supposed to be their tech person?) was drily hilarious in her response to the video briefings and had great timing and was probably the best part of the ride for me. The kids weren’t impressed by the ride, DH and I thought it was ok but kind of a waste of the team member’s talent and all the work that had obviously gone into making the ride. And I’m glad that with Express Pass we had a very short wait.

I think this is when we first visited the Amex lounge near the Shrek gift shop, enjoying the free water and chips and granola bars and the bathroom and the comfy chairs and just chilling away from sun and humidity for 10 or 15 minutes. After that we hopped in the express queue for Shrek 4D just as people were heading into the theatre – it was fun but I think by this point we were getting tired of screen-centric experiences.

DS11 and I then left all our stuff with DH and DS7, who took selfies while we rode Rip Ride Rockit. We accessed the secret menu and both picked Led Zeppelin’s The Immigrant Song as our ride soundtrack. We didn’t buy the ride video but the bit captured of the 90 degree climb up to the first drop showed me mouthing “omgomgomg” except not the letters. I quickly switched to "ah-ah-aaaaaah-ah"ing and singing along. I like the music part but I had a major headache afterwards and didn’t like how jerky the ride was. DS11 didn’t find it too rough (he said his technique for roller coasters if he feels weird is to breathe like he’s sucking through a straw) and had been trying to convince DS7 (who was tall enough) to ride with him. I told DS11 afterwards DS7 would definitely hate it and I wouldn’t let him ride even if he wanted to – he’s tall enough but I think it would be way too rough a ride for him. If DS7 were tall enough for Hulk I’d let him ride that one.

DS7 wanted to go back to the hotel and swim but instead we had an early dinner at NBC Sports Bar & Grill in City Walk. My fish tacos and DH’s ribs looked great in the light coming in through the window. DH’s bloody mary had many garnishes and a pepperoni straw. The kids’ nuggets and fries and mac-n-cheese and fries were less photogenic but they had fun playing coin hockey while we waited for the food.

We took the boat back to the hotel and finally got our room assignment and got bell services to help transfer our luggage from the car. We gave the kids the option of swimming or having some screen time – DS11 immediately chose screens, DS7 was tempted by the pool but ultimately chose screens too. I did two loads of laundry starting around 5:30pm, one warm and one cold. I included the runners with the cold wash so they would dry out a bit in the spin cycle and not smell so bad. I also bought overpriced throat lozenges and Airborne and a Nyquil-equivalent (Delsym?) from the gift shop as I was feeling worse than I had earlier in the day.

The laundry room had 3 washers and 3 dryers but one was out of service – I just needed 1 dryer and as I was getting unloading it around 6:30 pm there were 3 people with washer loads waiting for a dryer. I felt bad for them but happy about our timing! I made everyone drink a water-and-Airborne cocktail before bed in hopes of keeping everyone else sniffle-free, and took the not-Nyquil and slept ok.

Summary:

Universal Studios Florida crowd level according to Touring Plans: 7/10
Islands of Adventure crowd level according to Touring Plans: 6/10 (hooraaaay, fast passes)
Rides: 11 (I’m counting each ride on Hulk plus Rip Ride Rockit, so this is DS11’s total)
Character interactions: 1
Entered park: ~11:30am
Photo pass photos: 12
Photos taken on my phone: 41
Photos taken on DH’s phone: 45
Steps according to my phone: 11,462 (my phone was charging while I was doing laundry and getting cold medicine, also during the pool float swap)

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I did this with DD8 on ToT last year. :joy: Glad to know I’m not the only one with that impulse.

Those fish tacos look delicious!

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They were good! I didn’t realize until I was writing this up that they were my first “real” food of the day vs. donut, shake, granola bar, fries… the kids and I might have had protein bars as we were packing up at Cabana Bay, but still.

And I’m glad to not be the only one either. For ToT I think he was holding on to my arm like a security blanket so I didn’t have to grab his.

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Wednesday August 21 Day 6

An actual early-rising morning! By the time we left the room it was maybe 8:30am but this felt like winning. Our room was in the wing of the hotel farthest from the boat dock so I suggested we walk instead. But then the directions the concierge gave us for the walking path were confusing so we walked in circles a bit and DH grumbled about his knees. We got to the little security check point from the walking path (if you take the boat you go through the metal detector before lining up to board) and were on the bridge to Islands of Adventure getting photos by 9am. 9am was the official opening time but since the actual gates open before that there was barely any line at the gates where you tap your pass/tickets and scan your thumb.

We headed to the Dr Seuss area. The Hagrid’s coaster rope drop group had already passed through so we just enjoyed the Seussian ambiance and lack of crowds. We walked on to the Cat in the Hat ride and the High in the Sky Trolley ride. The kids voted strongly against the carousel and didn’t want to bother with One Fish Two Fish, but didn’t complain much about the other two kiddie rides.


We walked through the Lost Continent area (you can see me imitating the mountain above) and on to Jurassic Park, where there was a 5 minute wait for the Pterandon Flyers. The kids did that (DS7’s the only one short enough to ride and he can only take one taller person with him per ride) while DH and I walked around the playground area. The kids got off and said the ride is slow and not nearly as fun as it looks from below so instead of riding again (still 5 or 10 minute posted wait) they stomped around on the dinosaur prints that trigger dinosaur sounds for a bit.


We were all getting hungry by 9:45 but nothing nearby was open (we’d talked about grabbing voodoo donuts again and had foolishly skipped it) so we went and got in line for the raptor encounter which opens at 10am. This was our only rope drop of the trip! There were maybe 4 groups ahead of us, so shortly after 10am we were being horrified and terrified by Blue, the very convincing raptor. The raptor attendant took video with one of our phones while the Universal photographer took the official photos on their camera and our other phone, which gave us a lot of documentation. The photographer accused me of having a Florida education when I wasn’t pushing DS11 towards the middle/closer to the raptor as he was instructing me.

This is around the time that Google Photos decide it was time to start making then-and-now collages and it cracks me up that the algorithm thinks the Eiffel Tower and Blue the Raptor are basically the same. And that me holding DS11 away from being eaten is like DH stopping DS7-then-1 from climbing on a picnic bench in Hawaii… or maybe it’s the triangular roof structure.

We went into the Jurassic Park Discovery Centre to see if the food place there was open yet. It wasn’t, but downstairs there was lots of fun interactive science centre-y things to do so I scanned eggs to determine their contents and the kids scanned the rock wall area for fossils. And then we all watched dinosaur eggs hatching. DS11 got to name a very convincing baby raptor – he named it Rap and got a certificate.

By now we were very very hungry so we walked over to the Hogsmeade area after taking a dabbing photo at the Jurassic Park auto-camera, and went to the Three Broomsticks. They had the lunch menu up but let us order breakfast – I had porridge, DH had the traditional English breakfast, and the kids had kids’ breakfast meals (pancakes and bacon, I think) with Pumpkin Juice, which they discovered was not on their tastebud team. I didn’t love it but my sinuses were still off and any fluids were good fluids – I drank it and they had water and some of my mint tea.

I think after this is when we rode the Flight of the Hippogriff ride. I know we rode it with Express Pass and I remember enjoying it in an easy-kiddie-coaster way but we didn’t take any photos so I have no timestamps to help me figure out when it happened. Anyway, if the ride itself were a bit longer I’d want to ride it again.

We went back to the Lost Continent area and the kids talked to the Mystic Fountain, Gardilou. And then we decided to check out Poseidon’s Fury, a walk-through attraction/performance. I’m not sure how much time Express Pass saved here – they held everyone for the start of the show and we got to go in first behind another family with a toddler and Express Pass, but then everyone just ended up in the same room anyway. Chatting with the family in front of us got them talking about the Hagrid’s ride – they’d loved it, it was their favourite ride and worth the no-Express-Pass-line wait as long as their toddler napped in his stroller for part of the wait. DS11 and DS7 got more interested in maybe waiting however long for it. I’d checked the queue a few times that morning and it had consistently been over 200 minutes.

After the Poseidon show (which was fun, especially if you’re into Greek mythology-- we are) Hagrid’s was now showing a 120 minute wait, and I knew from the forum (thank you especially to @dunegirl and @missoverexcited and the Hagrid opening times tracking thread) that mid-day often had shorter waits, that posted wait times were usually longer than actual waits, and that we weren’t likely to see a shorter posted wait. The kids said they wanted to wait even if it was 2 hours so we got in the queue right at noon. After walking for 6 min we were at the inside part of the queue, a very cool decrepit/abandoned-seeming cathedral.

We were moving slowly but steadily until we got to the last room before loading at about 12:45. There were various announcements by Hermione and other British voices about a “delay in today’s lesson” and after 10 minutes or so most people sat down. The kids were a bit impatient during the slow-moving part of the queue, but not excessively, and then they were somewhat frustrated during the closure though DS11 took it more in stride than DS7.

I started reading to him from one of our library books (thank goodness for the Libby app). After about 35 minutes we heard an announcement say “Good news” and everyone cheered and clapped. Back on our feet, we were again moving slowly, and then we were loading.

The kids rated the ride 10/10 and DS7 gave the wait 0/10. This is another ride he’d been nervous about – there’d a backwards bit, there’s a drop in the dark, and you go very fast (I felt like my earrings might fly off! but it felt smooth, not jerky, even with the drop) – but after some strong persuasion by DS11 he agreed to not just ride it but to ride with DS11 instead of me or DH. DS7 and I both took the side car, which is apparently a slightly mellower ride, but it was still intense. And intensely fun. DH thought the ride was great too but isn’t a Harry Potter fan so he ranks it after Hulk. As a ride I might too but the story elements of Hagrid’s are so good. I loved all the animals you get to see.

We were back at the lockers picking up our stuff by 1:30pm. I think we had one wand with us that day but didn’t end up using it. We took the Hogwarts Express back to London/USF, and went to the ET ride. DH and I loved it, the kids thought it was a bit boring, and then we got an excellent family photo with ET in the closet.




After a shot with the DeLorean from Back to the Future, we saw the beginning of the afternoon parade but kept walking because hot, humid Florida. DS7 wanted to wait to meet Megatron but DS11 couldn’t handle the idea. DS7 agreed to a further away photo and we went to the Amex lounge for more chips, granola bars, and (most importantly) water, chairs, and air-con.

Despicable Me had a short Express wait so we did that next. Another screen-based ride but at least it’s not 3d anymore and it was fun. We were going to get a photo with a minion at the end but one of the kids had a desperate bathroom need so we went back to the Amex lounge again (closest bathroom). When we got back the minion was taking a break so we said oh well. By this point I was questioning the 4 character meals we had scheduled once we got to Walt Disney World.

We were ready for a break so we exited out to CityWalk and decided on dinner at Big Fire because s’mores. My sense of smell was still mostly gone so the brook trout with “fire grilled” vegetables was somewhat wasted on me but what I could taste was good. DH liked his burger, and the kids ate enough of their kids meals to get DIY s’mores for desert. It was a sticky – and delicious – mess.

The kids were fueled with sugar and it wasn’t quite 6pm: we were ready for more rides. We went back to Hulk, DH and then I rode with DS11. I love this ride, and wish we’d ridden it at night.


We met and posed with Spiderman. I told him we really liked his ride. He said he was biased but thought it was one of the best. DS11 told him that Hulk was a strong contender too.

Then we posed with various things in Toon Lagoon and did Bilge Rat barges again and had the barge to ourselves. On the first time through DS7 didn’t get very wet so he asked if we could do it again. We asked the ride attendant if we could stay on and there weren’t many people waiting so he said sure – he was going to load another family in too but it didn’t happen quickly enough so we had it to ourselves again. This time we were all soaked by the end of it (DH and I were wearing sandals and we told the kids to keep their feet up under the centre dry area as much as possible), and since DS7 had ridden Hagrid’s with him DS11 agreed we could ride the Jurassic Park ride one more time. So we took a few waterlogged photos and called it a day. We were going to walk back but DH talked to one of the pedicab guys so we rode in style instead. I hung all the wet clothes up and then we all slept.

Summary:
Universal Studios Florida crowd level according to Touring Plans: 5/10
Islands of Adventure crowd level according to Touring Plans: 5/10
Rides: 14 (I’m counting Poseidon’s Fury and the Hippogriff coaster)
Character interactions: 3 (ET and the baby raptor don’t count, the fountain does)
Entered park: basically 9am
Photo pass photos: 50! (after deleting a few ET bike photos of random strangers)
Photos taken on my phone: 78
Photos taken on DH’s phone: 128
Steps according to my phone: 17,032

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I can’t believe all the places you got photopass pics, where were they when we were there?! I got 50 in 3 days, mainly ride pics.

There were a lot at the raptor encounter and each time we got photos near the entrance they took several shots, just the kids, just us, etc. We also got some underneath the hulk coaster and on the bridge with Hogwarts in the background. Also I might have accidentally counted 5 google photo-created photos in the total, so the daily total might only be 45.

There were none near the entrance, none at Hulk when we were there. We did get 6 on the bridge, the rest were ride pics. We didn’t do the raptor encounter or any meet and greets to be fair.

I don’t think there were photographers at other meet and greets other than the raptor, Spiderman, and maybe the minion at the ride exit – we only did Wolverine of roaming meet&greets and he didn’t have a photographer.

There usually seemed to be 1 in City Walk near each park entrance and then one or 2 inside the park entrances but they rarely had people waiting for them so we had to look for them. I wonder if they weren’t there when you were there or just not obvious. I’m sure my kids would have been happy if they’d been there for you instead of us!

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