Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Universally Awesome! April 2016 Trip Report, Day 2: Wizards and Simpsons and Bilge Rats (Oh My!), Part 4

(Previous Installment Here)

We needed to do something that wasn’t as motion-sickness inducing as what we have done; the problem is that we’ve never experienced any of these attractions!  Next up in the touring plan was Transformers...

Is it me, or does it look like he's doing a move from Saturday Night Fever?

I love how the sun washes out most of the color on this one...cool effect!

 We decided to hop in line for that one, using the Express Pass.  First, though, was a quick set of pics from a PhotoConnect guy:

This one had a posted wait time of 30 minutes, and the Express Pass didn’t really save us any time.  My guess was that they had a temporary closure that backed the lines up.

I read so much about this one, regarding just how much goes on throughout the ride.  Having already experienced Gringott’s, I wondered if perhaps we did the best attraction first, which could leave the other attractions in its shadow.  This was without a doubt another adrenaline rush, and the boys loved it.  Sheri was a fan of this one too; however, I didn’t see much of a plot line in the sequence of scenes.  Maybe RRR (Rip Ride Rockit) had done me in…I’m not sure.  Yeah, there was a TON to see, but, after seeing Gringott’s earlier…this is something that I’ll have to remember for sequencing when it comes to working with clients on a touring plan.  I’d definitely recommend experiencing this before riding Escape from Gringott’s.

After this, we made our way towards the Mummy, though we just missed the Blues Brothers show.  We actually followed their car for a bit as it drove away.  The Mummy was another locker attraction, so we threw everything in there.  Sheri asked if it was all indoors or outdoors.  I replied that it was, in fact, all indoors.  We all decided to throw our sunglasses in the locker, and, soon after, we were heading towards the entrance…

…until we saw another PhotoConnect guy.

Of course, we were going to get pictures outside, and our sunglasses are all in a locker.

“Everybody say SQUIIIIIINTT!!”

Arms in the air again?  Okay….(?)

It was about this time that another PhotoConnect person snuck around and got our picture without us even knowing it.  This one was in our feed next:

Photo Purchased as Part of Package. No Permission Given by People in
Picture...We Don't Know Who the Hell They Are!

Can I say that Sheri and I look damn good for our age?!!!

Yes, folks, just like at Disney World, you may get a picture that isn't of you in your PhotoConnect list.  I liked his Marauder's Map shirt!

This attraction had a posted wait of 15 minutes; we were running a bit later than anticipated, but no worries…Express Pass to the rescue!  We entered the queue and walked to Kissimmee before making it to the loading platforms.

Oh yeah…Mush likey the Mummy attraction!  (Looks like the date stamp was off by a day...odd)

It’s hard to describe this one - maybe if you thought about what the rebellious offspring would be like if Expedition Everest and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train had a kid together and had Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye as a step-father.  It’s a dark ride, but it’s more than that.  It has a moderately intense coaster aspect to it, too.  Regardless, I loved the scenes and the technology incorporated.

After Mummy, we decided to punt on E.T. and head straight to Fast Food Boulev…hmmm…there seems to be a bunch of guys on pogo sticks and a drum-playing rabbit blocking our way.  We had stumbled upon a Hop-themed dance party.

Those pogo stick guys had guns for arms...not that Sheri noticed or anything.

We watched for a few minutes before heading back to Springfield for some lunch!

We made it to Fast Food Boulevard and entered via Krusty Burger; surprisingly, we were happy to see that we somehow weren’t in the middle of a huge rush of people.  Apparently, 11:50 am really isn’t a meal time here….(?).  The setup of Fast Food Boulevard is a food court with perfect Simpsons eateries.  There is Krusty Burger (where we entered).  Also inside is Cletus’ Chicken Shack, Luigi’s Pizza, the Frying Dutchman, Flaming Moe’s, and Lisa’s Teahouse (of Horror).  If I was going to die that afternoon, I wanted to die happy, so I had a Krusty Burger or a Clogger Burger on the mind; however, I wasn’t 100% sure what the secret sauce was, but I was guessing it was something like 1000 Island dressing.  I watched the menu screens change around a few times and finally settled on the well-reviewed Chicken and Waffle Sandwich (with a maple syrup mayo) and tater tots.  The other three also decided on something from Cletus’, so we only had one area to order from.  Sheri got the Thrilled to be Grilled Chicken Sandwich, while the boys got Chicken Thumbs (Eric) and Chicken Arms (Aaron).  Sheri and I decided to try out an infamous Duff draft, so I grabbed two of those at Flaming Moe's and went to pay.  The manager was running the register that we were at and saw our 1st Family pins (well...three of them, anyway...yeah, there was a joke there by her about me being part of the family).

She offered us a free cupcake as a reward.


We found a table and grabbed seats to start chowing down.  I got sent to go get napkins.  I then got sent to the cashier’s area for BBQ sauce that someone initially didn’t want.  Oh yeah, I got sent to go get ketchup.  Then I got sent to get more ketchup because I apparently didn’t get enough @#$^ ketchup the FIRST @#$@$^#$**& TIME!!!.

I was about to add an automatic 15% gratuity to the bill for my family.

The food quality?  Pretty darn good; I found the maple syrup mayo to be addicting!  While we ate, I took in all of the sights and sounds – yep…I had found my place in Universal Studios.  The short animated loop playing in the dining area was great!  We saw the manager that gave us the free cupcake talking to a guest, and, a few minutes later, we saw some workers taking a mostly-full trash bin out back.  Apparently, someone had accidentally dumped their mobile phone off their tray when they threw their stuff away, and they were all scouring through the trash to try finding it for her.  A first scouring found nothing, but they were heading back out of sight after giving the manager an update.

We can’t complain at all about the customer service here!

It was starting to get a little busier in there, so we wrapped up the eating and cleared our spot for the next guests.  I led us out of the dining area and into one place we had not yet visited…Moe’s Tavern.

We walked in, and I was transported into an animated series…it was 100% Moe’s.  I couldn’t have stopped smiling even if had wanted to.  As the boys walked in and approached the end of the bar where the famous red phone was sitting, I saw the bartender wink at me and move her hand ever so slightly.  I knew what was coming, and I was a bit jealous that the boys were going to get to experience it.


“Eric…pick it up and answer it!”

Even though he didn’t catch all of the phone call, he was laughing at it.  He hung up.


Aaron answered that one and busted up laughing.  I mouthed a quick “Thank you” to the bartender.

Seriously, I fell in love with this place, and Sheri knew that this wasn’t going to be our last visit to Moe’s.  The boys found a Love Tester machine in the front corner and immediately started ascertaining how to “win” it.  I explained what they needed to do, and Eric tried it out.  His level:

Uh huh…it must be broken.

Aaron hopped on and ended up with a Hubba Hubba rating.

They pushed Wifey up to it, and it immediately skyrocketed to Casanova.

I had a really bad feeling about this, but I stepped up and squeezed the hell out of that lever!!!

Cold Fish

The boys laughed a little harder than they should have.  Sheri just gave an approving nod.  I decided that the machine was broken and wrote it off.

I thanked the bartender and told her that we’d definitely be back before our vacation was over.  We exited and made our way over to the entrance to the Simpsons ride…it was still down.  That solidified it: we were coming back to Springfield another day.

Before we left, though, the boys wore me down, and we allowed them to try the carnival game where you had to swing a sledgehammer to ring the bell at the top.  For $5, we got three swings.  Sheri said “NO” even before I could ask if she wanted to do it.  The guy manning the game clicked on a button, and Aaron was up first.

89…not bad!

Eric was up next…he didn’t get a good swing, and he got just under 50.

With Aaron at 89, I had to put some effort into it to ensure that I wouldn’t be embarrassed.  I got a little momentum and brought the hammer down at about 90%.

My score: 91

Whew.  My ego remained intact for the time being.  I have to tip my hat to Aaron, though.  He gave it a pretty good swing, and the button that the guy pressed for him was “adult”…same level as me.


Friday, June 10, 2016

Universally Awesome! April 2016 Trip Report, Day 2: Wizards and Simpsons and Bilge Rats (Oh My!), Part 3

Just coming into the report?  The previous installment can be viewed HERE.

As we made our way through Woody Woodpecker’s Kidzone, we glanced around for just a bit.  E.T. was in our plan, but that one was expendable, if needed.  When we were nearing Hollywood Boulevard, I saw Bart and Lisa out and posing for pictures.  I became a kid and pulled my children over towards them so we could get a picture with them and our shirts.  We hopped in line, and the Team Member said that Bart and Lisa were about to head out, but that Homer was coming out.  Since I was wearing a T-shirt, I didn’t have anything to unbutton to show a little chest hair, so I just put out my bottom lip and showed her all of our shirts.  I turned on the charm…and pleaded with her to let us get pics with Bart and Lisa.  I pulled out a clean, crisp money amount with a certain Mr. George Washington on it.

Oh, all right!  I asked, and, when she glanced at the shirts, said she’d talk to them to see if they can do one more photo shoot.   Bart readily agreed, while Lisa simply shook her head and buried it in her hands.

Up next was Despicable Me’s Minion Mayhem.  Before we got there, though, we saw the newly-opened Hello Kitty store.

Yeah, you can guess my interest level with this store.

Over to Minion Mayhem…

The line was fairly long, and the posted time was 40 minutes.  As it’s the attraction closest to the entrance, I can see the reason for the long lines.  That meant it was time to flip over the lanyard and get that Express Pass working for us!  We were inside and queuing up in about 5 minutes, though we had a while before we got to the pre-show area.  During the wait, the Team Member running this area hit us with a lot of trivia from the theming in the room as well as from the movies.  While in there, I caught a glimpse of my friend and running teammate, Michelle Scribner-MacLean:

The second I saw this clip, I looked at Sheri and smiled.  She paused for a second and then smiled mouthed her name.  Michelle is one of the hosts of the very popular Mickey Miles and More Podcast (http://mickeymiles.podbean.com/ ), which a cool fusion of running and Disney.  I also know her as one of the co-captains of Team AllEars, a fundraising running team that participated in the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend events while raising money for the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer.  When the movie Despicable Me came out, the social media world pointed out a striking resemblance between Margo – the eldest girl to be adopted – and Michelle.  She even got into the fun by making Margo her profile picture on Facebook for a while.  I had to give her a call out here…BOOM BOOM POW!!

Minion Mayhem…even though Wifey was still a touch green from the 1-2 punch of Gringotts and Men in Black, she agreed with the rest of us that this was a really good attraction.  It’s a huge IMAX screen, and you’re seated in “gru”ps of four (man, that pun was bad, even by my standards…and I have no standards!).  The gags were great, and we all found ourselves laughing a lot throughout.  Eight thumbs-up from the Mushfam!

After that, I rolled the dice and attempted to steer us toward the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit.  We were definitely using the Express Pass on this one.  First, though, we had another locker stop, where, as I found out from researching, you seriously want NOTHING in your pockets.  Even though this coaster technically does not go all the way upside-down, there are so many turns/humps/etc, that it’s akin to holding someone by his/her ankles and shaking until everything falls out of his/her pockets.  We emptied our pockets, and I contemplated even putting my sunglasses in the locker, even though I intentionally wore cargo shorts with "closable" pockets for such a situation.  We closed the lockers and found ourselves going through metal detectors.  Yeah, they take the “nothing in your pockets” seriously here.  We made it through and hopped in the Express Pass line.   We still had around a 12-minute wait, but I was ready.  I had even researched the secret song codes that you can enter in the console to hear exactly what you wanted.  I had memorized 113 – Led Zepplin’s Immigrant Song!  Eric was going to ride with me, while Aaron was going to ride with Sheri, in front of us.  While we waited, we tucked our lanyards inside our shirts.

As we neared the loading area, my research must have failed me, because this was a very unique load!  Guests hop on a conveyor belt moving the same speed as the vehicle to get in.  Aaron ended up being off a row and was one row ahead of Sheri.  I threw Eric in the far seat, and I stumbled into my seat.  The Team Members threw the lap bar down, and I tried to get my senses to figure out what to do next.  Oh yeah…type in 113 for my song.

I looked down, and I had a blue screen of death on my console.

I also realized that I had my lanyards (inside my shirt but still around my neck) pinned under the lap bar, which had me situated in a somewhat “interesting” position.

Houston, we have a problem.

There was no time to complain or rearrange, because we were already turning vertical and heading STRAIGHT up the 90-degree lift to the top.

With no music blaring in my ear (the blue screen of death on the console just went away to a dark screen), I could easily make out my soon-to-be-ex-wife yelling, “Oh, man…UGH…Mushrush...I’M GOING TO........KILL YOU!!!” in the row ahead of (and now above) me.

I was able to extract the lanyards from the lap bar a couple of seconds from the top of the hill....just in time, too, because we crested the hill and shot down the other side…also at about 90 degrees.

I think I heard Sheri make the sound that Robert Plant makes at the beginning of Immigrant Song…I guess I didn’t need the code after all!

As we flipped over to ride on the outside of the top of the loop (so you’re not 100% inverted), the view was incredible!  We then flipped back to the inside of the loop on the way down and had a HUGE hill up to a braking section.

Sheri broke through the silence with another perfect Robert Plant (“AAAAAAEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHAAAHHH!!!!!!!!!!!”)


When we hit the treble clef portion of the track, my glasses shifted on my face, and I had to make a decision as I saw my life flashing before my eyes: Do I take off my glasses and hold them or just hold them to my face?

I turned to Eric and hollered at him to make sure his sunglasses were staying on.  He was all smiles and said they were good!  I wish I could have said the same thing, as, with each turn, I felt like mine were goners!  I kept one hand on my glasses and one hand on my lanyards (with my ring and pinky fingers feverishly trying to hold on to the lap bar) and continued on, wondering if A) Aaron had passed out two rows ahead of us; and B) Sheri would have enough strength to kill me after we got off the ride or would even have a voice after her fourth Immigrant Song scream.

As we came into the station, I think I started breathing again.  It was chaotic!  It was insane!!  It was definitely the best coaster that I had been on in years!  Had I not been so distracted by the lanyards and glasses, I’d be able to rank it with the likes of Top Thrills Dragster and Millennium Force.  We exited the vehicle, and I did the funky chicken with the conveyor belt thing again.  I fully expected Aaron to be in tears, Sheri to be barfing, and Eric to be running to get back into the line again.

Me: “WOOHOO…awesome!!!  Eric?”
Me: “Damn…that sucks…Not your fault at all.”  (evil grin) “How about you, WIFEY?”
Sheri: glares at me and doesn’t say a word as we walked to the video/picture viewing area.

With Aaron in a separate row, we couldn’t get all four of us in one single frame for a pic for the PhotoConnect.  We were able to find Aaron’s video on the ride, and we all got a good laugh at the look of terror on his face on some of the turns and negative-Gs.  We weren’t able to pull the rest of our videos, though, so we went up to a Team Member and asked if we could see one more.  She found Sheri’s video and played it for us.

I think that wiping tears away from laughter and trying not to fall to the ground was not the preferred reaction that I should have had when I saw the video.  She wasn’t a big fan of the ride, and she definitely wasn’t a fan of me contemplating purchasing her video to take home.

I gave Eric my pin so he could wear it around for the rest of the day and decided that I wanted to try this again; hopefully, we’d be able to get back on sometime on Sunday before we left.  I will admit, though, that I was a bit queasy, which was not like me.  Sheri was fifty shades of green, though, and needed a break.  We scrambled into the bathroom at the Classic Monster’s CafĂ©, which is just the place you want to be at when you’re trying not to throw up, complete with an electric chair prop to get your picture taken in.

Continued HERE

Monday, June 6, 2016

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

Missed the first part of this day?  Read it HERE.

We took a right near Shrek and a left at the water, where we continued around through New York and into San Francisco.

Man, I’ll admit that it’s weird saying these area names…it’s definitely not Disney World!

We kept the pace at a casual stroll, looking around and seeing everything for the first time.  The best way I can describe the theming is…well…”interesting!”  Disney goes to great pains to completely envelope you in a particular area of land.  As you cross lands, the music changes without you realizing it.  The lines of sight are set up in such a way that you really cannot see one area from another area, for the most part.  At first sight, most of Universal Studios, however, doesn’t utilize as much of the “dichotomization” between areas.  At one point, near the lake by Kings Cross Station, we could see Rip Ride Rockit, the Knight Bus, Springfield USA and Krusty the Clown’s head, San Francisco, and the Towers from the ’64 World’s Fair in front of Men in Black.  The music, especially in New York and San Francisco, was more standardized…classic rock and 80s music…which technically made sense as we were supposed to be in U.S. cities.

With the Disney theme parks, it’s very easy to suspend reality and envelope you into the story.  With the New York and San Francisco areas, though, as well as Production Central, I don’t think you’re swept away into a fantasy world.  Keep in mind, though, that this may be the very intent that they had when they built this area of the park.  Urban New York…San Francisco Wharf…we all know what they look like, and they capture it pretty well.  The rock music that you hear as you walk through these areas is probably reminiscent of what it sounded like in the mid ‘80s.  Production Central is a studio, and that’s exactly what you see…buildings used for production.

Notice that I said “most of Universal Studios” a couple of paragraphs ago.  There’s a specific reason for that wording…

As we walked through San Francisco, Kings Cross Station came into view.  I’m actually glad that we took our time walking around, seeing the sights.  We allowed the first wave of people to get ahead of us and into London.  There was nobody in front of us.  Having researched the Hell out of this trip, I knew exactly where the entrance was to Diagon Alley; the rest of the Mushfam, though, had no clue.

They saw this:

I just kind of stayed back for a second while they looked around.  Then I slowly made my way to a brick wall and smiled.  “This is the entrance?!” Sheri asked.  Remember, folks, muggles can’t see it.  On busier days, I’m sure the effect is ruined by the hordes of people walking in.  For us, though, the effect worked to perfection!

We entered the bricks…and our mouths dropped again.

What was I saying about Disney vs. Universal regarding the theming?

We just stopped and took it in for a full minute.  The music…the structures…everything…we were IN Diagon Alley.  For you Disney fans, the closest area I can compare this to would be Cars Land in Disney’s California Adventure (were Sheri and I also had a jawdrop moment when we first saw it).  Universal absolutely knocked it out of the park with this area…and we haven’t even been on an attraction yet!

I corralled us towards Escape from Gringott’s, where we stood under the dragon and just stared.  We were about to enter when a Team Member pointed us to the lockers.  Oh yeah…I read all about those, but my brain shut down with the theming.  To avoid loose items from flying out of pockets or off a head, Universal requires items not able to fit in a pocket to be stored in a small locker that is free for the anticipated amount of time to ride the attraction.  We headed over to the locker area and stepped up to one of the stations (each station has something like 40-50 lockers “tied” to it).  The touch-screen was fairly straightforward.  We selected our language and hit RENT on the screen.  There’s a quick biometric scan of a thumb (those who had problems either forgot which thumb they scanned or they squished their thumb down so hard that it had trouble recognizing the print), and then a little “click” could be heard nearby as the screen indicated the locker number.  A light also flashed on the locker to help you find it.  We threw our stuff in the locker and closed it, and I promptly forgot our locker number.  That’s what kids are for, though…Aaron remembered it.

With that step done, we entered the queue line for Gringotts.

Yep…another #thud.

I have to admit, though, that, once you get past the lobby of Gringotts, which is absolute perfection, the rest of the queue line is a bit anticlimactic until you get to the preshow room.  For those who listen to the Unofficial Universal Orlando podcast, they had a great debate on the best queue lines in Universal that I listened to after we got back from our trip (http://uuopodcast.libsyn.com/unofficial-universal-orlando-podcast-192-top-5-attraction-queues-at-universal-orlando-resort ).   The line was short, so we were only in the lobby for a few seconds, and I promised Sheri that I had this set up for an afternoon ride the next day to be able to enjoy the queue area.  I timed the wait for the stats folks at Touringplans, and the attraction went down soon after we made it past the lobby…..hmmm….we’re losing precious early entry touring time to see Diagon Alley, and Wifey won’t be happy with me!

After about a ten-minute delay, we started going again and made it into the pre-show, where we got to witness our first experience with the musion eyeliner foil technology.  While our mind was not 100% blown (we’ve had to pick up pieces of our brain several times today already, so was probably a good thing), it was still a pretty friggin’ awesome effect!  With the pre-show done (or so I thought), we headed to the elevators for the next pre-show entertainment.  The doors opened, and we started our descent down to the vault area.  I don’t know how far we actually went down, but the effect worked really well, with the actual movement of the elevator (not just down, either…it hitches and stops on occasion) and the view on the top of the room.

We exited out, grabbed our 3D glasses, and then took the stairs back up (?).  Yeah, it seemed a bit odd that we went down miles and miles just to go back up a little.  Honestly, I think the stairs are worth the effect of the elevators.

At the top of the steps was the loading area, which again was really cool.  I stopped the timer as we got on our ride vehicle…25 minutes!  This was going to be fun – we’ve done Disney so many times that I can tell you the exact second that Sheri will scream on Space Mountain (though she vehemently denies ever screaming on an attraction).  This was all new for us, though…

When we got off, we were nearly in shock.  Ho…..Lee….COW!!!  I am not exaggerating when I say that our heart rates were still elevated 15 minutes after riding it.  I’m not going to spoil it, but, for a first attraction…WOW!!!

We made it back to the lockers, where we found our station.  Language select… “REOPEN LOCKER”.  I polled Aaron for the locker number and typed it in.  One thumb scan and a click later, and we had our contents.  It was now around 8:40, so we didn’t have as much time to look around.  I promised Sheri that I had plenty of time the other days to explore the area.  We snuck around “back” and found the Hopping Pot.  That meant one thing.

4 Frozen Butterbeers, please!!!!!

We had heard sooooo much about this that we had no choice.  We would have all spontaneously combusted had we walked past there and not gotten butterbeer.  We all waited to taste them together.

Oh, man.  Our pancreases died a little bit from the surge of sugar, but it was soooooo worth it! It definitely wasn’t going to be our last butterbeers.

All too soon, we departed Diagon Alley and found our way next to the Knight Bus.

I love how Eric is double-fisting the butterbeer in the pic.

We timed it perfectly to see Kreacher…not going to spoil where to look…just look for him muahahaha.

According to our touring plan, we were to hit Men in Black at official park opening.  We hit the bathroom quickly and made our way to the entrance.  It was another locker attraction, so we dumped everything and hopped in line.  I wanted to time this one for Touringplans, but we got sent in via the Express Pass entrance without even showing our passes.  I found out later that this has an awesome queue for standby guests (argh).  The best way to describe this one is to think of Buzz Lightyear on crack cocaine.  It was absolutely WILD, and I loved it!  Sheri, however, was nearing the green stage from all the spinning and direction changes.

We exited, and Sheri kissed the ground while I grabbed the stuff from the locker.  We then headed over to Springfield U.S.A.  We entered the area, and I was in heaven…we were going to grab a quick breakfast at Lard Lad’s, but Sheri let me explore a bit first.  As we went past the Simpsons ride, I noticed that it was down and took note, since it was on the to-do list soon after breakfast.

I was going to get a couple of donuts for us to split.  You might be thinking that I’m a cheapskate for saying that; just look below.

The apple fritter was pretty tasty, too!

We did a little people-watching while we ate.  They did a really good job with this area; there are sight gags all over the place!

After another bathroom break (they actually had Do the Bartman playing in the restrooms!), we made our way back to the entrance to the Simpsons ride and found it still down.  Oh well…Kang and Kodos were calling us over (just Google it if you don’t know who they are).  We timed it for TouringPlans (2 minutes…we got in line just before the ride ended for the group currently on it).  With my warped sense of humor, I have to admit that I gave this one two thumbs up, even though it’s basically a Dumbo-type attraction.  The insults that are hurled at you as you go around are great, and, with the right Team Member, there can be some great inside Simpsons jokes heard.

I updated my Lines app with our current status on our plan, and headed out of Springfield, knowing full well that we also had lunch planned here in a little while.  Just after we left, we saw this:

Yep…had to get a pic!