Monday, September 26, 2016

Universally Awesome! April 2016 Trip Report, Day 3: Smorgasbord Day! Part 1

To see the first part of the previous day, please click HERE.

I never go to bed at 9:30, and now I know why…

…for starters, my brain simply never shuts down, and I have to get myself good and tired before going to bed.  I had some school stuff on my mind, but I was able to eventually fall into a restless sleep, even though the bed was great.  Around 1:30, I was woken up to the sound of boys’ arguing over how much of the bed each one was taking.  I put a quick end to it but then couldn’t fall back asleep.  I spent the next 2 hours or so doing school work and crawled back in bed around 4 am…and, of course, was back up at 6:00.

This is going to be a greeeeeaaaaaaat day.

We were going to start the day with a tour of one of the other Loews resorts on-site: the Royal Pacific resort!  With Islands of Adventure opening at 8 that morning and the restaurant we were going to dine at opening at 7:00, it was going to be a tight fit on the schedule, but I thought we could to it.  At 6:45, we headed out and grabbed a quick water pic:

We then headed down to the lobby and successfully were able to get another privilege of staying at a higher-end Loews resort: the free on-site town car service!  We walked up, grabbed a ticket, and were at Royal Pacific in just a few minutes…for nothing more than the gratuity we gave to our driver.

We were just a couple of minutes behind my internal preferred schedule, so all we had to do was rush to the restaurant and get in quicklhhhheeeeeeyyyyyyyyywaitaminute!!!

This place is BEAUTIFUL!!!!!

It evoked essences of Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort.

I could easily see us staying here!

We found Islands restaurant, and I was pleasantly surprised to see only a 3- to 4-minute wait to get seated.

Sheri and I immediately commented about longing for the 100% kona coffee in a pressed pot from the Kona Café.  I know that it’s not fair to compare the two restaurants (or the two resorts, for that matter), because they’re not the same; however, I think it is hard not to.  Royal Pacific looks to be an absolutely amazing choice for many people who want a taste of South Pacific theming!

I got the closest thing I could find to my beloved Tonga Toast…the Tahitian French Toast a L’Orange.  Sheri opted for the Hawaiian pancakes.  The boys, seeing unlimited food, ran to the buffet.

Our entrees were good – just different from what our palates were expecting.  Again, it’s really hard to NOT compare this place to Kona Café down the road.  They are different restaurants with different experiences and different entrees.  Sheri’s pancakes had a LOT of coconut, which I liked.  The orange flavor of my French toast was good – just different.

We all got a kick out of the condiments…

I really wish I would have suggested that we stay to look around some more, because this truly is an amazing-looking resort!  We had a park to get to, though, so we paid and said our goodbyes to Royal Pacific for this trip and made our way out to the boat launch.  We got a good view of the construction of the Loews Sapphire Falls resort on our ride over to City Walk.

We arrived into Islands of Adventure around 8:10…not a bad time at all, considering we left our room at Portofino Bay less than an hour and a half before.  We got through the turnstiles and found the park to be nice and quiet once we got through the Port of Entry.

We headed left and made our way towards Hogsmeade when we saw a walk-on queue for Spiderman.  We threw the touring plan out the window for a few minutes and hopped in line for this one.

LIKED IT!!!  Loved the Stan Lee cameo, too.  It has its roots in the same format as several of the other attractions (3D glasses, vehicle that careens to different screens, etc.).  Perhaps having a break from similar attractions helped, because I felt completely fine after this one.

We continued on through Toon Lagoon...

...and past Skull Island, listening futilely for a “SOFT OPENING!” announcement (I was about a month or so early) and continued through Jurassic Park to the other entrance into Hogsmeade.  It seemed a little disjointed, with a little bit of whiplash as we transitioned into the new area.   I think that a counter-clockwise touring of this park works better, purely in terms of theming.

We immediately headed to Dragon Challenge and remembered our Express Pass cards this time.  With Sheri with us, we opted for the red coaster and LOVED it!!!  We were still feeling okay and contemplated hopping back in line for the blue coaster again, but we decided to spread things out and do it tomorrow.  We then took our time to do a little touring of Hogsmeade.

After we were done touring Hogsmeade, we headed towards the Lost Continent to check that area out some more.  The fountain wasn’t active, and we weren’t close to a show time for Poseidon’s Fury…okay….we made an executive decision to skip Seuss Landing since we had already walked through it the previous day and still had Potter on our minds.  We turned around and made a beeline for the Forbidden Journey.  The line moved relatively quickly through the greenhouse and into the castle, but we got stuck in Dumbedore’s office for a while and then again for quite a while in the holding room where Harry, Ron, and Hermione talk to the queue (I think we got snowed on 4-5 times).  Finally, we got going again, and, within a couple of minutes of the bottleneck, we were making our way to our seats.  I stopped my TouringPlans timer and did a quick submit…37 minutes on the wait.  I remembered to take my Crocs off before getting in, and I placed them behind me as I sat down.  A Team Member noticed my lack of shoes, and I pointed behind me with a smile.  The approving nod told me that what I did was pretty common.

We got going, and I was looking forward to seeing a lot that I missed the first time we rode it.  As the attraction started, I definitely was thinking that Forbidden Journey was my favorite attraction at Universal…

…and then it became the Forbidden Journey through Hell.

We soared through the first couple of scenes, and the ride was even more awesome than the first time we rode it!  We made it into the Quidditch field and were rocking and rolling, yawing and pitching…and then….

We stopped.

We were all leaning forward in our seats, resting on the restraints.  Sheri was the only one that had her sandals on still, and I was sure that, with the position we were in, she was going to lose them.  I made a joke about one of the beaters knocking the sandals back to her.  We were all in good spirits…No worries – we thought we were going to be back on our way in a minute or two.

…five minutes later, the lights came on, and we got to see the attraction’s guts.

We passed the time having fun with the acoustics of the screen that we were dangling over; one of us could whisper, and the person on the far end could hear it as clear as a bell.  I looked around to see if there were other ride vehicles nearby, and I was able to see a couple of the other Kuka Arms frozen in time.  Luckily, the people in those arms were more upright or slightly leaning back.  I was fully expecting our very first evac as the time ticked away, and I listened for voices behind and below us.  I was also a little concerned about Sheri getting a little claustrophobic, but she endured it with no real lasting damage.

After about 20-25 minutes, we felt the Arm start to move, and, as we transitioned to the next screen, the lights popped off, and the movie and audio kicked back on.  Being stationary in that forward/down position messed all of us up a little bit in terms of balance, and the quick movement back into the attraction had us all feeling a bit wonky.  The on-board pic is definitely worth a thousand words LOL!!!

We made it back to the unloading platform, and we all nearly kissed the ground as we got off of what we feared would be our deathbeds.

It happens – with the technology that goes into that attraction, it’s surprising that it doesn’t happen more often.  We weren’t mad; just a little bummed at the experience.  Universal had a number of Team Members at the exit to greet the guests getting off of the attraction.  As they apologized for what happened, they offered us front of the line access to any attraction.  We thanked them (they seemed appreciative that we did that – my guess is that a number of folks laid into them, though they had nothing to do with the attraction going down) and meandered our way outside.
I was fully expecting to have problems getting our stuff out of the locker, as it had been much, much, MUCH more than the anticipated time that we were supposed to be done with the ride.  The locker opened with no issues at all, though; they have downtime taken into account for the locker timer programming.  Kudos to the tech folks for that!


Monday, August 22, 2016

Universally Awesome! April 2016 Trip Report, Day 2: Wizards and Simpsons and Bilge Rats (Oh My!), Part 7

Need to see Part 6?  HERE IT IS!

At around 6:30, we made our way back to the boat launch, and, just as we arrived, it started sprinkling a little.  After the security check, we grabbed a seat under an awning.

The best part of the Mushfam:

Sheri and I:

The boat arrived, and we were on our way!  I hopped on the Cowfish app and tried again.  I knew I was in range, so I checked in…or, at least, I tried to check in.  Though I had created an account, something was messed up with the app and wouldn’t let me get in.  I expected a wait of 45-60 minutes, and the rain was coming down pretty hard now.  Grrrrrrr.

We docked at City Walk, and we walked at a brisk pace up to Cowfish when the lightning started.  The other three went inside while I put my name in and explained that I wasn’t able to get the app to work; our host said that it almost never works for their Orlando site.  I let it slide when he said it was only going to be 10-15 minutes before we would be seated.  Actually, it was only about 5 minutes before we made our way up to the top floor next to the windows overlooking Islands; the boys hadn’t even gotten their digital fish customized yet (I’ll let you figure that one out).  It was a deluge outside, and City Walk was rapidly becoming deserted.

Our server presented us with menus, and we put in our drink order.  The boys got milkshakes, while Sheri got a Blue Moon and I ordered a Dogfish Head IPA.  We also put in an appetizer order of crab Rangoon dip.

The dip had a panko crust on top, and the wonton chips were drizzled with a sweet chili sauce.  Great start to the meal!!

For the entrée, Eric ordered the Dynamic Duo, which was a burger topped with braised short rib meat.  Sheri, Aaron, and I each got Bento Boxes.  All came with mini burgers, sweet potato fries, edamame, and Thai cucumbers.  Sheri opted for the ½ firecracker roll (tempura shrimp and crab (kani) wrapped up and topped with salmon and yellowtail, which is then topped with two roes (Masago and Tobiko), spicy mayo, and scallions. 

Aaron and I went the Nigiri route: tuna, salmon, and shrimp for me, and Aaron opted for two salmon and one shrimp).

It was good…definitely a bit odd eating a burger with sushi, but it worked!  It was definitely a bit pricey, but, given the uniqueness, and, coupled with beverages and an appetizer in a theme park, I think it’s in-line with expectations.  I had heard of spotty service, but we did not find this to be an issue at all.

If you do decide to eat here, do yourself a favor and hit the restroom.  I nearly died laughing at the audio that was in there.  The best way to describe it is to think of what a “redneck-to-Japanese (or Korean)” audio book would be like!

We were happy to see the rain had subsided by the time we were done eating.  I wanted to do a little bit of research and suggested we take the boat to the Hard Rock Hotel and then walk to Portofino Bay.  The other three just wanted to get back and get off their feet, so we split up and glared at each other in different boat queues.  I made it to the Hard Rock and was able to wave to them as they went by on their way to Portofino.  I hopped onto the grounds of the Hard Rock and started looking around…

When I went around to the front and upstairs to the main entrance, I heard Prince’s I Would Die 4 U …keep in mind that the day was April 22nd, and the artist passed away the previous morning.  This one hit me a little bit, considering I live in 70s-80s music.  I still remember getting so much grief from my friends on the school bus when I thought Nikki started to “cry” instead of “grind”, and I fully expect it to be brought up again at our next high school class reunion (yes, I'm still holding a grudge to Andrea, Debbie, Jill, Aaron, Alan, Crystal, Jeni, Tim, Tracy, Doug, Aaron, and Harold LOL).  Prince’s music was a huge impact on me, and, no matter what people thought of his lyrics and videos, the guy had more musical talent than pretty much anyone I've heard of.  He played everything, sang everything, and produced everything.  Every song was so different yet so well-done.  Hearing one of his song - that song - made me pause for a moment while walking along the corridors of the Hard Rock Hotel.  I don’t think there was any intent in the song (it was probably just in the queue of the music), but man, any other song would have been preferred.

Pictures around the Hard Rock:

I think this would be a good hotel for people like me without the younger kids.  Those who want to take a trip down memory lane from the Classic Rock and 80s-90s eras will find a lot to look at.  I think that a lot of it would be lost on the under-30 crowd.  With the restaurants located throughout the country, it’s not an entirely unique experience.  Still, it’s a cool place, and it’s one that I could see myself staying at.

Cool Guitar Fountain at the Entrance

When I started my way down the path towards Portofino Bay, I heard the fireworks starting for the nighttime show at Studios.  Every couple of minutes, another barrage could be heard as the night-time sky lit up for a brief instant.


Sheri and I texted a bit as I made my way past the boat launch.

I seeeeee yyoooouuuuuuuuuuuuu, Wiiiiiifffeeeeyyyyy!  (center of the picture)

Before going to the room, I stopped by the front desk and asked if they by any chance had a toothbrush for a tween that forgot to pack one.  They said it happens ALL THE TIME and gave me a free one.  When I made it back to the room, I threw the toothbrush at Eric who finally got the grime out of his mouth properly.  It was around 9:30, and we were all in bed, though I should have graded some papers.

It was a fantastic first day in the parks!  We couldn’t wait to see what the next day brought!!

Friday, August 5, 2016

Universally Awesome! April 2016 Trip Report, Day 2: Wizards and Simpsons and Bilge Rats (Oh My!), Part 6

You can read the previous installment HERE.

We exited and found Sheri right where we found her (I figured she would have grabbed a beer somewhere).  She was back up to about 75% on the I-might-not-barf factor, so we waved goodbye to Hogsmeade for the day and headed into our next Island…The Lost Continent.  Within a few steps, I heard the Mystic Fountain going, so I steered the boys to our left so that we could see it.  Again, I won’t spoil this one; just look for it and hope that it’s up and running.  It’s kind of a cute effect.

I looked to see when Poseidon’s Fury’s next show was, and we weren’t anywhere close to the start time, so we decided to make our way over to Toon Lagoon; the problem was we were clueless and didn’t think of heading back into Hogsmeade to find the second exit.  We continued on towards Seuss Landing, stopping first for a drink break.  Again, the camera settings were messed up, so no pics of this cool area.  Just do a search on "Seuss Landing Universal Orlando"'s impressive!  Those with younger kids will love this area!  I seriously think that younger kids could spend 1.5-2-5 hours easily in this area without getting bored.

We continued through the Port of Entry and into Marvel Superhero Island.  We walked under the newly-renovated Hulk Coaster (it was still down, though…bummer) and into an interestingly-themed area.  The music raised my heart rate by about 40 beats per minute, and I felt the urge to scale the outside of a building and try to save someone; in other words, the theming was pretty decent here. We continued past Spiderman (that’s in tomorrow’s plan) and meandered into Toon Lagoon.

Upon entering this land, I immediately had a wave of nostalgia hit me.  The references are all grossly outdated, but the over-45 crowd (and me) would probably remember all the characters.  I read the comic strips in the newspaper religiously when I was 5-6 years old, and the memories came flooding back.  Tumbleweeds, Dagwood, Hi and Lois, Bullwinkle, Hagar, Snuffy Smith, Mother Goose/Grimm, Beetle Bailey, Popeye…even ones I wasn’t a huge fan of (Prince Valiant, Cathy, Heathcliff)…all had at least a minor nod in the area.  I think that most people would just walk on by, and the theming is most likely lost on the majority of the population of visitors.  I agree that it isn’t a cohesive theme, but I have to admit that I enjoyed the trip down memory lane a little.  Another often-overlooked set of theming elements is water, and Toon Lagoon does a really good job with that!  There were some really neat fountains and other water elements scattered throughout.

Speaking of water…that was the main reason we were here.  During the planning phase of this trip, I talked to the rest of the Mushfam about doing some water rides where we had the potential to get absolutely soaked.  The travel planner in me thought about the timing and came up with what I thought might not be a bad idea: Save the water attractions for the afternoon at the hottest part of the day, which, coincidentally, was also just before we were to head back to our resort.  They readily agreed to give it a shot, so we set ourselves up for our first one: Popeye and Bluto’s Bilge Rat Barges.  We heard about the potential soaking factor, so we sought out some lockers, which Universal conveniently put nearby…oh, but they weren’t free, like before.  This could be a big money-maker for them.  We rented a locker for 90 minutes ($4) and used our Express Pass to hop in line for Bilge Rat Barges.

I’m not going to pull any punches…this one kicked Kali River Rapid’s ass!

There was a lot of laughing and a TON of water on our ride!  At every corner, something was spraying/dropping/roaring at you to get you wet.  On another nearby attraction, Me Ship, The Olive, kids (and adults) were taking great pleasure in utilizing the water cannons to help further drench those of us on the barges.  It was the perfect attraction at the perfect time.  This one got exuberant thumbs-up from everyone, and Express Pass had us on the attraction in less than 2 minutes!

One of the more interesting things that you’ll see upon exiting Bilge Rat Barges are human dryers located throughout the area.  Yes, folks, if you ever wondered what it was like to be an article of clothing in your dryer at home, this machine gives that to you!  You enter $5 and hop into the machine.  A Team Member closes the door after ensuring you have the arm/knee pads and helmet securely fastened.  Then you go on a tumble cycle for about 4 minutes while hot air blasts you from all directions.  Please note that there is a $25 clean up fee for anyone who throws up in the dryer.

…..waiting to see how many people actually believe me on this…..

In all seriousness, they do have human dryers – just without the tumbling aspect.  We decided to bypass these because we had two more water attractions to take part in.  Before leaving the area, we did a bathroom break.  Then we got turned around trying to make it over to Jurassic Park.  We contemplated heading into Me Ship, The Olive to blast unsuspecting guests in a rolling form of payback, but, with the clock running on our locker, we skipped it and ultimately found our way out of the labyrinth.  As we crossed the bridge, we got our first view of Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls….oh yeah…that one looked fun!  That was going to be after Jurassic Park River Adventure, though.  The posted wait time was 35 minutes.  Express Pass to the rescue!!!!  6 minutes later, we were on and floating!

I knew when the drop was coming…nobody else did.  I didn’t tell them where it was, though I got a glare from Wifey during the climb up #muahahaha.

Sheri claims that she never screams on the rides…

A picture is worth 1,000 words….

She just about blew out a vocal cord on that one.  The families in the three rows in front of us turned back to A) laugh at her screaming and B) make sure there wasn’t an actual murder that occurred in the last row.  Yeah, we liked this one!

We stopped by the PhotoConnect to get the on-ride photo added, and, after a puzzled look and a few keystrokes, the Team Member asked us if we knew we had an inactive card.


She added the photo, but she was unsure if we would be able to access them.

Wait…did she just say that we may have lost all of our pictures from the day?

I made a mental note to head to guest services before we left to see what could be done.  My guess was that something got messed up when we got the free photos and the new card for being the 1st Family.  There was nothing we could do about it until we got to the Port of Entry, so we made the trek back to Ripsaw Falls.

Before getting in line, I made sure I could fit into the “log”, since I had read in the Unofficial Guide that it can be a tight(ish) fit.  No worries…we just had to make sure we followed the directions on how to get in and not look like too big of fools.  We hopped into the Express Pass (after I reported the posted time to TouringPlans) and turned a 45-minute wait into a 5-minute wait #LovingtheExpressPass.  Everyone compares this one to Splash Mountain a few miles south of Universal, and it makes sense, as they are both flume rides.  Theming-wise, Splash Mountain wins, hands-down.  Ripsaw Falls, though, seems faster with the smaller logs, and that drop at the end…WOW!!!  Of course, there are more water cannons on the bridge that you go under at the end of the last hill, and someone timed it perfectly to hit me as I went by.  I gave the guy a thumbs-up for the effort.

Eric liked Ripsaw a lot more than Splash.  Aaron, slowly becoming a prominent travel critic, told me, “If you’re looking for more of a story line, Splash is better; if you want more of a thrill, go with Ripsaw Falls.” Sheri (again, claiming not to scream) LOVED the drop and thought it was wilder than the drop at Splash.  I wish I could have gotten the on-ride photo of this one to see how much Sheri didn’t scream, but the line was pretty long, and we weren’t sure it would even matter if our PhotoConnect was messed up.

After Bilge Rat Barges, River Adventure, and Ripsaw Falls, we were drowned rats. We found ourselves a rather hidden bathroom next to the Comic Strip Café and grabbed a seat for a minute.  Sheri noticed a MagicBand on the ground nearby and asked Aaron to turn it in to the Café.  I joked that they’d probably incinerate it in the oven.

Drowned Rats...and this is about 20 minutes AFTER our last water ride

While I waited for the rest of the Mushfam, I hopped on my agency email and answered a couple of clients’ questions.  Once all were back, we made our way to our locker, where we saw someone futilely attempting to access her locker.  It looked like she went over her paid time, and the system was requesting more money before opening the locker up.  She let us into the area after a couple more tries, and we were able to open ours up.  Since I had access to my wallet, I was going to help her get her locker open, but she left to get someone to help.  Oh well…we had good intentions.

We made our way towards the Port of Entry; as we did, I took notice that this is actually a well-themed area.  We found our way into Guest Services and talked to someone in the PhotoConnect area.  After explaining our situation, a couple of folks worked on the card for a minute or two and got EVERYTHING on the one card and linked up to our account.  One of them noticed our 1st Family buttons and asked if we got our proclamation yet.


They looked at the 1st Family proclamation for Islands that day and then realized that we were the Studios’ guests of honor.  We had no idea that they had one of these for us.  I thanked them and offered to kiss them (which they politely and quickly refused), and we headed out of Islands.  We grabbed a requisite Lighthouse pic…

…and finally realized that the camera had been on the wrong setting for a while (to which Sheri threatened me with castration had it been like that the entire day).


We walked by the construction site of the new Wonka-ish Chocolate Factory and over to Studios so I could check in on the proclamation and the pic from the 1st family opening.  The rest stayed outside of the gates while I entered and made an immediate right into Guest Services.  It was nice and quiet, so it only took a few minutes.  Of course, since I gave my 1st Family button to Eric, I didn’t have one on.  When I mentioned that we were the ones selected, he immediately took a look at my chest.  I laughed and explained what happened…then I told him that we couldn’t make up our last name, nor would we be able to guess the last name of the 1st Family in a million years.  I told him our last name, and he chuckled as he gave a “yep!  We had fun with that name!”  I asked him if they put “Mushroom” on it by accident., and I think I could have persuaded him to do a second one with that name on it.

He then showed the pictures taken by PhotoConnect at the opening and, of course, selected the one where we were all to look excited….remember that discussion?

Here’s the picture of all of us "looking excited".

Of course, that’s the one used for the free picture.

He had a cruel sense of humor…I loved it!

I thanked him for his help and headed out to show the Mushfam the loot.  Before I showed them the picture, though, I made sure that I reminded them that the photographer asked all of us to look excited.

It took Sheri a good four minutes to get herself off of the ground from laughing so hard.

We made our way over to City Walk and were on the boat back to Portofino Bay in no time flat.  We headed to our room and started the prep phase for supper…being drowned rats, we all had to get showers and a new change of clothes.  Tonight’s meal involved us getting back to City Walk and hitting Cowfish.  I hopped on the app and tried to do an early check-in, but we were about 10 feet out of range (it actually said we were close enough a couple of times to try checking in, but, as soon as I tried, it said we were too far away).  I decided to wait until we were on the boat heading back and were floating closer to the restaurant.

(Continued HERE)

Monday, July 18, 2016

Universally Awesome! April 2016 Trip Report, Day 2: Wizards and Simpsons and Bilge Rats (Oh My!), Part 5

The previous installment can be viewed HERE.

We said our goodbyes to Springfield and took the bridge over towards the London area.  Before we entered Kings Cross Station, though, I steered the boys towards the red phone booth.  There’s a little experience in there if they dialed in the number for the Ministry of Magic.  My plan was flawless…well…except for one small issue.

The boys didn’t know how to use a rotary phone.

My hair grayed entirely on the spot there, and I had a feeling that, back at home, hooligans were about to get on my lawn.

I got in and showed them how to dial it, and they got to hear the little spiel.

Well, THAT backfired.

We entered Kings Cross Station and used our tickets for entry into Islands of Adventure (yes, folks…you need a park-to-park ticket to ride the Hogwarts Express).  We saw that the posted wait time was 15 minutes; I started timing the wait for Touringplans at 12:57.  I won’t spoil too much, but they carried the Diagon Alley theming into this area superbly!  The Platform 9 ¾ wall effect was really cool!

We crossed over, and there it was…the Hogwarts Express!!!

When we walked on, I stopped the timer…20 minutes on the nose.  We shared our cabin with another family that had a boy that was maybe 5-6 years old.  He made several comments about the “beautiful wall” outside our window, and that instantly became a running joke with our family for the rest of the trip.

The ride over to Islands of Adventure was quick, but, considering it’s also a people eater for both parks, it was expected.  Aside from a rather blech voice substitute for Hermione, it was a really neat attraction!

We made it to Hogsmeade Station, and we stepped off into Islands of Adventure for the very first time!

We turned and saw….the Hogwarts Express!  It’s a carryover from before Diagon Alley opened; it has remained a very popular photo spot.

The first stop was the bathroom.  Sheri just HAD to pick the one near a window that had mandrakes screaming incessantly.

I immediately decided that I liked Diagon Alley better.

All joking aside, Hogsmeade Village is also breath-taking!  I accidentally moved the setting on our DSLR camera from “Auto” to a manual setting, a lot of our pictures in this area didn’t turn out too well.  What made it worse was that I failed to swap the white balance setting on the manual shots (it was on the "Tungsten" setting, which, when slightly overexposed, introduced a LOT of blue into the picture).

We immediately made our way to the queue line for Forbidden Journey.  I started the timer as we entered the queue and then entered the locker area to stow everything for our encounter with our first Kuka Arm (more on that on Saturday’s report).  There were so many different areas of this queue area that it was slightly overwhelming (in a good way).  Upon entering Hogwarts Castle, we couldn’t help but get a little excited.  Exiting the castle and entering the Greenhouse area was a bit rough, though I snapped a pic with my phone while going through the switchbacks.  Once we got back into the castle, the theming hit us full-force, with trinkets from the books/movies all throughout.

Taken from the switchbacks in the Greenhouse section of the queue...great use of forced perspective

The portrait gallery was probably my favorite, though I have to admit that, when situated nearby the portrait guarding the entry to the Gryffindor area (with the opera singer), we got a surprise.  The guy behind us was trying to remember the password from the first movie to open the door to enter the common room...

Go ahead and try to remember it...I'll wait...

I gave it to him (“Caput Draconis”…I’m a geek…sue me).  He jokingly said it, and, whether it was supposed to be or just damn good timing on our part, the portrait started talking!!!

We got to the loading area, and it had a Haunted Mansion feel to it.  I had planned on taking my shoes off, but I got a late start getting into my seat, and I left my Crocs on.

With our first ride on this attraction, I voted Forbidden Journey as better than Escape from Gringott’s.  I knew that I’d have to ride each of them again to get a better feel for them to make a final determination, but I really liked Forbidden Journey!  The moves that they could emulate with the Kuka Arm (for Disney World fans, think of the Sum of All Thrills on steroids) had your turning in completely unexpected ways.  Since I had my Crocs on, I was cognizant of all the movement and did everything in my power to not lose them on the attraction.  Couple that with my not expecting some of the movements, and I was slightly blech at the end.  I knew that that meant for Wifey though – she was just about down for the count!

Yeah, yeah...I look bored, but I'm really enjoying it!  I love the expressions of the other three!

We left Hogwarts and continued on our journey through The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  Up next?  Dragon Challenge!  Sheri just plopped down in some shade and told us to go on.  Woohoo…no locker needed!  We ran to the entrance…

…and were told that we had to have everything out of our pockets…EVERYTHING!

We ran back to Sheri and gave up our phones, wallets, and loose change.  We also handed our lanyards to her.  I started to take my shirt and shorts off, but everyone (and I do mean everyone) told me to put them back on.  The boys and I entered the queue entrance and started walking.  After about 2 counties, we made it to a metal detector.  We then saw a place for Express Pass holders to go…and, of course, our passes were in our lanyards…back with Sheri...2 counties away...


7,932 steps later, we found ourselves at the point where we had to pick red or blue for the coaster.  I heard that red was better, so I decided that blue was this day’s selection; that way Sheri could experience red tomorrow.  The actual wait was minimal…it was just the walk that took forever.  When it was time to load, we all took our shoes off and sat on them #footfreedom!

We all loved it!!!  Aaron has definitely gotten over any lingering fears of coasters, considering he was trying to convince me to let him get back in line.  Eric, the adrenaline junkie, also chimed in to help lobby on his behalf, but I told him we needed to check on their mother.

(I neglected to tell them that I was feeling old and was also a bit wonky)

(continued HERE)