Friday, September 16, 2016

50 for 50: 6 -- Universal Orlando with Cousin Kim

I've been to Universal Orlando twice, which may make you wonder (a) why I put it on my Fifty for Fifty list and (b) what the hell I'm going to write about.

The answer to (a) is that it genuinely makes me happy.  Lord knows, I've been a Disneyland fan since, well, let's say about 1975.  But Universal Orlando raised the fucking bar.  After seeing what they did with the Harry Potter world -- recreating it, rather than just making nods toward it -- you get the very strong feeling that Disney better up its game with Star Wars land, because this just blows Disney the hell away.  I love this park.  

The answer to (b) is that, although Cousin Kim actually lives here in Florida, and has been to Universal, she has never actually been to the Harry Potter lands here.  Which left me in the really fun position of introducing her to this stuff and watching her be gobsmacked by it.

We got a late start, which turned out to be OK, because the parks are really slow this weekend AND we're staying in an on-site hotel, which means free Express Passes, which means virtually no waiting on most rides.  We started with the new King Kong Skull Island ride, about which all we really have to say is "disappointing."  It was one of those 3D ride-interacts-with-the-screen type of things, but not particularly well-executed.  Indeed, later in the day, we rode the Spider-Man ride, which we both agreed was a better use of the tech, even though it was a much older ride.

Then it was off to the Hogwarts/Hogsmeade [NB:  Google's spell check is not triggered by "Hogwarts," but it thinks "Hogsmeade" isn't a word] world -- also known as the FIRST Harry Potter park (Diagon Alley being the second).  Kim was amazed when we saw the first snow-covered shops, before we turned the corner to see Hogwarts castle from the bridge -- I'd sort of forgotten how awe-inspiring it is when you first see it and feel like you're actually THERE.

We rode the rides there really quickly.  (The Dragon Challenge was a 5 minute wait.  Flight of the Hippogriff was 45 minutes.  I'm just going to leave that right there, for anyone who knows what those two rides are.  On the plus side, we used the Express Pass for Hippogriff, so really only had no wait at all.  But we mock-yelled "Weeee!" on the whole thing, which made it entertaining.)  We looked in the shops -- more of a scouting mission than an actual shopping trip.  When I mentioned that you can get "sorted" on the Pottermore website, Kim decided that she didn't want to buy any Hogwarts stuff until she knew what House she was in.  I told her I got sorted into Slytherin (like all good mathematicians), and she mocked me about this for the rest of the day.  (Kept suggesting I'd want to buy stuff in the Dark Arts shop, or assuming I spoke Parseltongue.  I had to defend the honor of my House.)

We then rode stuff in the rest of the Islands of Adventure park.  (Not sure what was improved about the Hulk coaster, but it was enjoyable.)  And, yes, after we rode the Spider-Man ride, we pretty much turned to each other and said, "That was better than King Kong."

Halloween Horror Nights are going on now -- we're not participating, but it means they close the Universal Studios park early (while Islands of Adventure remains open late).  Having pretty much finished Islands of Adventure by 3:30, we took the Hogwarts Express over to Universal Studios to spend an hour in Diagon Alley.

I built this up for Kim -- because it is fucking amazing and she was impressed enough with Hogwarts that I knew I wouldn't-- I COULDN'T oversell it.  Diagon Alley is just stunning.  Hogsmeade is a bunch of individual one-story shops; Diagon Alley has multi-story buildings -- and they DO STUFF.  (At one point, Kim shouts, "Did you see that?!"  And I deadpan, "Oh, yeah, it breathes fire.  Did I forget to mention that?")  Outrageous.  We rode the one ride there (Escape From Gringotts) which we want to ride again tomorrow, and planned out some shopping, too, although Kim was still adamant about getting sorted first.

Got kicked out of the park around 4:45 (while thousands of people were pouring in for the privilege of getting the crap scared out of them) and had dinner (thanks, Kim!) at this new stupidly-named restaurant which has chocolate EVERYTHING and a steampunk theme.  (The bread.  The bread was chocolate.  With a salted caramel butter.  O.M.G.)

At which time, Kim's wonky knee was acting up, as was my foot-injury-caused-by-idiocy, so we called it a night and came back to the hotel.

Kim cranked up Pottermore and got sorted.  

Into Slytherin.


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