Uni/Sea Trip Report - 8/19 thru 8/23

Universal Trip Report – August 19-23, 2018

Welcome to my trip report. I love documenting these trips and then go back and re-read them a year or so later and see how much fun we had. It also is good in planning subsequent trips to document things you might not otherwise remember.

This trip was planned in the spring and consisted of myself, my oldest son who was age 10 and finally 54”. Also on the trip was my sister and her husband. I had decided to go to Universal only on this trip, as my son was dying to ride Hulk. We wanted to go last year, but he was too short, so he never got a chance to ride Dragon Challenge. He was last at Universal two years ago, but there had been some new rides that neither of us had ridden yet, so it was going to be a good trip.

We were all staying at Portofino Bay, which was our first time there. I had stayed with my wife on a couples trip to Royal Pacific two years ago and always wanted to stay at PB. My son and I would be driving from North Carolina, while my sister and her husband were flying in from Dallas.

Day 1 – 8/19
Travel day was here. I woke up at 3 am and showered and got my son up and we were on the road by 3:22 am. We didn’t forget my son’s shoes this time, so that was great. The drive was great. We made amazing time. Had we gone straight to PB, we would have made it door-to-door in 7:42. We only stopped once for gas and to use the bathroom. I’ve got my son trained pretty well for these types of trips.

The only drawback was we ended up getting to the airport to pick up my sister about an hour earlier than planned. Her flight was set to land at 12:42 and we were at the airport by 11:20. So, we parked the car, grabbed some lunch and did some browsing in the gift shops. If you’re going to be stuck in an airport to kill time, MCO is a good one for that!

Their flight was a few minutes early, so we grabbed their bags and headed to the hotel. Unfortunately, we were there early and our rooms weren’t ready. We checked our bags and headed to CityWalk. My sister had worn jeans on the plane in case it was cold (which it was), but didn’t want to bother digging through her bags to find shorts to change into to go to the parks. They hadn’t had lunch, so CityWalk seemed like a good option.

We went to NBC Grill or whatever it’s called and grabbed something to eat. By 3:15 we both had received texts that our rooms were ready. We finished eating and hopped on a boat back to the hotel. We got our bags and got to our rooms and got settled. We were both in the East Wing, so we were relatively close to each other, although on different floors.

We met by Starbucks at 4:30ish to hop on the boat. We decided to head to IOA first, as my son was dying to ride Hulk. We started off with two rides on it, but one of them took a little longer as the ride was stopped after someone threw up on the ride. They emptied the cars and one of the Team Members who was trained in biohazardous materials had to come clean that seat. They then sent that car through the ride without anyone on it. That delay cost us about 10-15 minutes, but with Express Passes, it was one of the few waits the entire trip.

After riding Hulk twice, we rolled through Spiderman, Kong and then rode Forbidden Journey twice. After Forbidden Journey, my son wanted a pretzel, so we grabbed one and headed to the Hogwarts Express. The sky was looking ominous as we headed to the train. It was nice entering the train from Hogsmeade, as you could see over the wall into the area where they are building the new coaster, so that was an interesting sight.

By the time we got to Kings Cross Station, it was raining pretty good and everyone was huddled in the station. Being adventurous, I decided to lead a charge to Diagon Alley and get to Gringotts. We walked in a little soggy but no worse for the wear. We ended up riding it three times in a row, with mad dashes from the gift shop back to the entrance each time.

The park was clearing out and the rain was not letting up, so the lines were almost non-existent. We then figured three times was enough. It was about 8:15, so we decided to head home for the night. As we were leaving, we stopped by Fast & Furious and caught that.

It was okay. My son thought it was very loud. We all agreed that Kong and F&F are both rides you have to do once, but are not something you have to re-ride over and over again.

When we came out of F&F, it was probably about 8:35 or so and we noticed people gathering for the Cinematic Spectacular. We asked a Team Member about it and they said it would go on, but the weather may mean that some of the pyro effects wouldn’t occur. We decided to bail and headed to Vivo for dinner. My sister, son and I ate there three years ago on our first trip to Universal and liked it a lot, so decided to go again. It was again pretty dang good.

After that, we got a boat back to PB and I think we were in bed by 10:30. It was a long day, but we accomplished a fair amount in what was really only about 3.5 hours in the parks.

Day 2 – 8/20

This morning, we decided to take advantage of the early morning hours, but didn’t feel the need to be the first ones to the park. We met downstairs at 7:45 and got to the boat and realized there were so many that we were unlikely to get on the next one. My son wanted to walk, so it was cool enough that we agreed. We kept track and it was possible that we would have beaten the next boat to the park anyway, so well worth the walk.

The lines to get into the park was a little backed up, but not awful. As we were walking to Diagon Alley, we noticed Mummy already open and very few folks going in, so we decided to ride that. That is one of my favorites at Universal. I like the effects and the coaster is fun in the dark. I just wish some of the stops weren’t so jarring.

Next, we headed to Diagon Alley and rode Gringotts. My biggest complaint about this ride is the photo opportunity. We skipped it every time, but it is still annoying to me. Gringotts is a cool ride, but I wish the coaster part was longer. After riding it 5-6 times on this trip, I did get bored of it, whereas I could ride Forbidden Journey all day.

We strolled through some shops and started getting ideas for shirts for my wife and 5 yr old at home. Didn’t buy anything yet, but had some ideas. We went to MIB and killed some aliens. Then, we hit Simpsons before getting some Icees. The relaxing nature of Universal allowed us to sit and drink our Icees without feeling like we needed to rush to the next ride. Once done, we walked over to ET only to find that it was down. We then headed to Transformers and rode that.

The one polarizing ride on the trip was Rip Ride Rockit. When I came with my wife two years ago, she said it was super rough and told me that my 10 year old was not allowed to ride it. My brother-in-law also said he wasn’t riding it, so my sister and I took the plunge. I had printed off the secret song codes, but left it in my room. I wanted to ride to one of the Muppets songs. I remembered they were in the 900s, but couldn’t remember the exact number, so I picked 904, which was actually “Night on Bald Mountain” by Modest Mussorgsk. Actually was not a bad selection. I think my sister selected Motley Crue.

We were in the first row of the first car. It didn’t seem very rough this time and I liked it quite a bit. Tried to talk my son into riding it, but he wasn’t sure. Plus, I also wasn’t sure if I would let him, for fear of getting in trouble when I got home, as he can’t keep a secret.

We were starting to get hungry, but weren’t sure where to eat. We started walking aimlessly and saw Fallon and rode that. The ride is nice. Not my favorite, but a good diversion with the pre-shows and such. Great gift shop! I don’t watch the show religiously, but like a lot of their skits and stuff they do. Saw a few shirts for later in the trip.

We then ate at Richter Burger. Not a bad theme park burger, but nothing too exciting. After lunch, we headed to Hogwarts Express and rode Flight of Hippogriff and Forbidden Journey. Got stuck on FJ for about 90 seconds right in front of a screen. Had a chance to look around. The technology of that ride always amazes me with the Kuka arms. Would love to do a behind-the-scenes tour of that ride.

Next up, we decided to cool off with Jurassic Park River Adventure. We headed toward the front gate and rode Hulk before exiting around 1:30 or so. We grabbed a boat back to PB and my son, sister and I hit the pool while her husband napped.

The pool was nice and I liked the waterslide, although my son didn’t think it was fast enough. We were not hitting Volcano Bay this trip, as I didn’t want to mess with that park yet. Maybe in another year or so.

After our break, we went back to CityWalk and had Voodoo Doughnuts. I got The Loop and my son got Texas. I was commenting to my sister about the reasonable prices until I got my bill and realized that my son had ordered the one $10 doughnut on the menu. She got some raspberry filled one that I wish I had gotten. Mine was good, but I love raspberries.

At this point, it was right in the heat of the day about 4:30 or so. We went to IOA and decided to go through Seuss land. We rode Cat in the Hat and Seuss Trolley to stay cool. I had said that on this trip I wanted to do some of the shows or things I hadn’t done. So, we decided to do Poisedon. Although the final scene was sort of lame, I loved the water effects and liked how cool it was in there.

With Sindbad closing soon, I really wonder if Poisedon is next and those two areas make room for more Harry Potter stuff.

After Poisedon, we rode Forbidden Journey again. I was starting to notice a knot on my back from that ride. There is a spot in the benches where it curves and creates a small ridge that was hitting my spine. I’m rather lean, so I guess I just don’t have much padding on my spine. It wasn’t painful, but more annoying.

We then hopped on Hogwarts and headed back to Studios and rode Mummy and Despicable Me. We swung by Fallon so I could get some t-shirts. I got my 5 yr old a Hashtag the Panda shirt and my wife a “Tight Pants” shirt. It was too late to have them sent back to the hotel, so had to carry them the rest of the night. By this time, it was starting to get dark, so we decided to scope out a place to watch Cinematic Spectacular and get a snack.

I loved it. Very unique. Reminds of the Bellagio water shows in Vegas coupled with Disney projection mapping. Would definitely see it again on a subsequent trip. Once the show was over, though, the madhouse ensued. We got out of the park and tried Toothsome, but the wait was 30-45 minutes. The boat lines were stacked, so we grabbed a rickshaw back to PB.

I was worried that they wouldn’t be able to take four of us on one, but our “driver” said we were lighter than the 2 people he had just taken to there. When we arrived, unbeknownst to either of us, my sister and I each gave the guy a $20 bill, so that was probably a good ride for him.

We then headed to Sal’s Market and got a pizza. It was a damn good pizza! We were back in the room and lights out by 11 pm.

Day 3 – 8/21

We again met downstairs at 7:45 and walked to Early Entry. Similar morning, with Mummy, Gringotts and MIB to start the day. My brother-in-law had another snack and we headed to ET, only to find that it would open at 10 am. It was about 9:40, so we decided to wait it out. Again, at Disney, I would have felt that we were wasting 20 minutes sitting there, but it was pretty relaxing to just sit and chill.

Next, we went back to Diagon Alley for one of our “musts” of the trip, which was Florean Fortescue ice cream. My favorite is a scoop of the Peanut Butter Strawberry and one of the Apple Crumb.

After ice cream, we hopped on Hogwarts, as I had promised my son we would ride Dr. Doom’s Fearfall today. We walked to that and rode it. That launch up is exhilarating, but man is that a short ride!

We then left the park and headed to Toothsome for lunch. I didn’t see anything about their health inspection issues until we got back. Would it have changed our minds, not sure. It was good, but even though it was lunch and not very crowded, it seemed to take quite some time for our food to come out.

We headed back to PB for a small break before a trip to Disney Springs, as we had 4:45 reservations at The Void.

Wow! The Void was awesome. My only regret is not immediately paying the money to do it again. The only thing I didn’t like is that I wish you could get your score. I opted out of the emails, but apparently you get a score emailed to you if you opt in, but no one told us that until after the experience.

It was really amazing. And seeing my son as a 4’6” Stormtrooper was frickin’ hilarious. It was funny to see what looked like a midget Stormtrooper. We probably could have communicated better but it was amazing. I cannot say enough about it!

We then walked around and did some shopping before eating at The Boathouse. This was the best meal of the trip. I had the swordfish steak that had some rice and andouille sausage and crawfish tails. Great meal. I can see why they are one of the top grossing restaurants in the country. Our server was great, food was great, came out quick, etc.

By the time we were leaving, it was starting to sprinkle, so we decided to leave. However, as we headed back to the garage, the bottom dropped on us. We stopped in Trophy Room, which is a Michael Jordan store of exclusive shoes and apparel. Ended up buying my son some exclusive Air Jordans they had on sale for $42 because the entire shipment they received was nothing but size 6.5s. They are a bit too big, but for that price, we couldn’t pass it up, so he can grow into them.

We got done there and it was still pouring, so we stopped at Under Armour and got him some “back to school” clothes there. Still pouring, so we made one last dash to the elevators. By this time, it was about 7:30 or so. We drove back to PB in the rain and called it a night. We hung out at PB and my sister got a glass of wine and just chatted until bedtime while it continued to sprinkle outside.

Day 4 – 8/22

We decided to sleep in a bit and not worry about Early Entry today. We met downstairs at 8:30 and headed to IOA. The line to get into the park was quite long once we arrived, so that was a bit of a pain. Once in the park, though, we rolled through some rides. We rode Hulk twice, Dr Doom, Spiderman, Ripsaw Falls, stopped for a pretzel, then my son and I rode Pteranodan Flyers (the longest wait of the trip), then Forbidden Journey.

We hopped on the Hogwarts Express and rode Mummy and Rip Ride Rockit (got “Movin’ Right Along” this time). We were in the second car of RRR and it definitely felt rougher than the front. We then had lunch at Bumbleman Taco and my son got a burger from Krusty Burger. It looked like the rain was coming again, so we headed back to PB and just lounged in the room.

Around 4:30, we surfaced and met at Sal’s Market and had another pizza there. We decided to head back to the parks around 6:45, as I wanted to see the castle lights. We went to Studios first and rode Mummy, MIB (I finally won with 260k points) and rode Hogwarts before doing Forbidden Journey.

By this time, it was about 8:30, so we decided to watch the show. We went into the line for Hippogriff and sort of hid in there and watched the lights without a bunch of people in our grill. A bit of an obstructed view and all the people screaming on the coaster, but definitely worth it as a viewing space. The first show was over about 8:43, so we decided we would try to end the trip on Hulk at night. (We wanted to ride RRR at night, but never got a chance). We made it just in time and finished on the same ride we started on.

After that, we knew the boats would be backed up so we went to Menche’s for frozen yogurt and I ducked into Voodoo Doughnuts for a shirt for myself and my wife (“The Magic is in the Hole”). There was a huge line to get in, but they let me bypass it since I was only buying merchandise.

We walked back to PB and said our goodbyes that night. Originally, we were going to take them to the airport before driving back, but we called an audible and decided to go to Seaworld. They were going to take a cab to the airport so we could get to Seaworld for rope drop.

Day 5 – 8/23

We got up and were out the door by about 8:05 Thursday morning. We got to Seaworld by 8:25 or so. They hadn’t even started letting cars into the parking lot yet. We had purchased our tickets online on Wednesday and upgraded to the QuickQueue. They online tickets were discounted $20 per ticket and QQ was only $28, so QQ was really only $8 per person. Did we need it, maybe not, but it definitely didn’t hurt.

It was a bit annoying that we had to use the paper QQ we printed at the hotel. I would have thought you would have some sort of card or something, so we just folded ours to be small enough to scan easily.

Once we got in the park, we went over to the rope where they would drop it for Manta. Once the rope was dropped, we were the first ones through the QQ line and got the first row. They actually sent the first coaster off with only my son and me on it. That was pretty cool. Manta was pretty thrilling. I’ve never been on a coaster where you are lying face down like that. And the one loop is the opposite of most loops where you are upside down at the low point of the loop rather than the high point.

We rode Manta three times to start off: once in the front, once in the back and once in the middle. The back is definitely faster, but it seemed rougher, sort of like RRR.

After that, we started to walk to Mako, but someone was coming back who said it wouldn’t open until 10. We then headed to Kraken and proceeded to ride it three times, again going front, back and middle. I liked it, but not as much as Manta.

It was still only about 9:45 and we had been on 6 rides! We next did the Journey to Atlantis. Didn’t get very wet at all, but it was a different water ride, with one section that was more like a coaster. Very cool.

At this point, we looked at the show times and saw that the Dolphin show was at 10:30 am. We grabbed some Dippin’ Dots and went in and caught the show, which was pretty cool. I was worried my son would be bored after being at Universal all week, but he liked it and thought it was pretty cool.
Next, we headed Mako and rode it three times. That ride was FAST! Very cool. Again, did it in the front, back and middle to get the full effect. It was now about 11:25 or so, with the One Ocean show with the killer whales at 12:30 pm. Frankly, I was surprised to see that they still had a show like that, as I thought all of the Blackfin stuff had stopped these shows.

We decided to grab an early lunch and then hit the show. Initially, my son wanted to sit in the Soak Zone, but it was in the sun, so we moved to higher ground. Glad we did. The dolphins don’t make much of a splash, but the whales were annihilating the first 5-8 rows. Both of these shows were pretty amazing. The size of the orcas and the nimbleness with which they move in the water is pretty incredible.

By this time, it was about 12:55. We rode Manta two more times and left. As we were walking out, we found a father and son heading into the park and gave them our QQ passes to use. There was no biometrics to verify who it belonged to, and at half the rides they didn’t even bother to use the scanner. The dude working the QQ line at Mako basically just waved us by and didn’t even look at the cards.

We stopped at a gas station and were on the road by 1:30. The ride back wasn’t as smooth as the ride to Orlando, as we got stuck in traffic by downtown Orlando and again in Jacksonville. Door-to-door was about 8:35. We pulled into our driveway at 10:05 pm.

Random Thoughts

Didn’t take a phone into the park on ANY of these days. That is something that you could never get away with at Disney and it was fantastic. Able to totally decompress, engage more with son and sister without looking at my phone every 5 minutes, got through security easier, no lockers at Hulk and RRR, etc. That is probably my most favorite thing about Universal. I hope it stays like that when the next park opens in hopefully a few years or less.

Lots of signs at PB not to feed the birds. My son was about to feed the ducks when I pointed to the sign. “But daddy, that says don’t feed the birds. These are ducks!” We don’t call him Captain Clueless for nothing.

Where do they find all of these workers? It is amazing how many people it takes to run these operations and how many of them appear to be college aged.

We loved Portofino Bay. Would definitely stay there again, but would likely try Hard Rock for the closer proximity to the parks, as the boats certainly jam up at night when it’s time to go home.

We purchased 4 day park-to-park tickets, only because they were barely more expensive than 2 days. Did we need 4 days? Probably not. Three was probably enough, but with the weather we had, it would have sucked to have gotten rained out some, as it rained every day we were there, and Tuesday’s lasted a few hours and was pretty heavy.

The projection mapping on the castle was impressive in terms of how difficult it must be to design that for that building, but the actual show was underwhelming.

I think Universal has the best cast member costumes of all the parks. Disney needs to up their game in that department. Some of the Disney cast member costumes are sad compared to the cool looking ones like at Harry Potter or Transformers. SeaWorld’s cast members are the worst, though. It doesn’t even look like they tried, as most just have on a Seaworld polo or dri-fit t-shirt.

The next trip is likely to take my 5 yr old next fall when he will be almost 7 and go just the two of us to WDW for 4-5 nights. The 10 yr old has been on three Orlando trips without his brother and one with the whole family. It’s the little guy’s turn to go without big brother. The question will be if he can grow 3.5 inches in a year so he can ride Rock’n’Roller Coaster?


Great report. You achieved a lot. Thank you for sharing.

I enjoyed your trip report, sounds like an excellent few days.


Sounds like you had a great time!! Thanks for sharing!

Agreed! This is my favorite ride ever, anywhere. On my last trip, which actually overlapped with yours a bit, we wrote it 10 times. At the end of the 10th ride, DS13 turned to me and said he had finally figured out how all of it worked. I would love to be able to see it run in the light.