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)