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.
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!