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Old 08-27-2012, 01:48 PM   #1
Join Date: Aug 1999
Location: Forest Hills, NY
Posts: 291

Trip Report 8/21-8/25

We just returned from our first ever trip to US/IOA. We are myself, 51, DH 54, DS 21, and DD 16. We have been to Disney several times, but never to Universal. We originally wanted to go to both Disney and Universal, but due to schools schedules, we only had a few days for vacation. We figured that Universal would fit the bill because we would have time to see and do everything we wanted at a leisurely pace. We didn't realize just how leisurely we could take things. After several 8 day trips to Disney and never having time for anything but the parks and Downtown Disney, we were surprised by how little there really is to do at Universal.

We arrived at Royal Pacific resort at about 11 a.m. Tuesday morning. our rooms were not ready, but we were told we would be called no later than 4 pm to notify us of our room assignments. We had booked connecting rooms. Off to US we went, expecting my cell phone to ring at any time. Our arrival at the park did not start well because there were long lines for tickets. I had ordered tickets on-line in advance and figured I would just have to go to the will call kiosk to obtain our tickets. Unfortunately, none of the machines were working. So we had no choice but to wait in line in the heat with everyone else. Half an hour later, a credit card only line opened up and we were able to get our tickets there, saving at least another hours wait. When we finally got into the park, we were hungry and headed to Finnegan's for lunch. Everyone enjoyed their food their, particularly the Irish soda bread, which is something my kids have never had before. We spent a couple of hours touring the park and by 4 pm, althoug I still hadn't gotten a call about our rooms, we headed back to the hotel.
There was a long check in line and I did not feel like standing on it to find out if our rooms were ready. I went to the Luggage Service desk and was told they were not yet ready. By now it was 4:45 and DH was not happy, esp. since we had been up since 5 am and everyone just wanted to collapse. DH asked to see a manager and about 10 minuted later we w=found ourselves upgraded to water view rooms and had a voucher for free drinks at Jake's Americain Bar. Since DS just turned 21 a few days before our trip, he was very happy.

This is getting longer than I expected, so I will continue later or tomorrow.
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Old 08-28-2012, 07:16 AM   #2
Join Date: Mar 2012
Posts: 76

Sorry to hear about your problems but glad they upgraded your room for you!

Looking forward to hearing more!
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Old 08-28-2012, 08:29 AM   #3
Join Date: Aug 1999
Location: Forest Hills, NY
Posts: 291

We got to our room, but didn't have much time to relax. I had booked the Wantinlan Luau for our first night and registration was already beginning. I will say though that our rooms were bigger than I expected and beautifully furnished. We had a King room and the kids shared a double Queen. Our room had a small table with 2 chairs and a large chair with a hassock. It was a great place to read. The kids room just had the table and chairs since there was less space due to the 2 beds, but their room looked larger than ours.

The food at the luau was good, esp. for a buffet, but I don't think it was worth the cost, at least not for us. DS was exhausted because he had gone to bed at 3 am the night before, getting only 2 hours sleep. He left after eating and didn't see any of the show. DH and DD lasted a little longer, but not much. I saw most of the show, but left when they started to have people come up on stage to have a try a hula dancing. The show was enjoyable, but not enough to justify the $260 that it cost for the 4 of us.
DS was disappointed that the Mai Tais had very little alcohol in them. I usually get tipsy after a few sips and even though I was tired, I felt no effect from the alcohol at all. DD was disappointed that they didn't have a virgin version of the Mai Tais. I felt that there should have been a price differential for those under 21 since they can't drink. Charging the same price for someone drinking lemonade versus someone drinking unlimited Mai Tais, beer, or wine just seems wrong.

Time to start working. More later.
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Old 08-28-2012, 01:04 PM   #4
Join Date: Aug 1999
Location: Forest Hills, NY
Posts: 291

Day 2 I woke everyone up early. The plan was to have breakfast and arrive at IOA by 8 am for early entry. We had booked the "bed and breakfast rate" at the hotel so breakfast was included every morning. I am a big breakfast lover and we are all big eaters. The buffet did not disappoint, at least for most of us. DS is a picky eater and does not eat most breakfast foods. The only protein that he will eat is corned beef hash, which was neither on the buffet or the regular menu, so his breakfast for 4 days straight was nothing but carbs, bagels, danish, muffins. He didn't seem to care, but I did. Other than that, the food was good, made-to-order omelets, plus waffles, pancakes, potatoes, oatmeal, sausage, and bacon. As well as yogurt parfaits, lots of fresh fruit, smoked salmon, and cold cereals. The only thing I missed, besides the corned beef hash, was French toast. I could have ordered it from the menu, but like I said, I am a big breakfast eater, so the buffet suited me better.

We took the water taxi to CityWalk and headed to IOA. Since we now had our tickets, we were able to walk right past the long lines of people waiting to purchase their tickets. One thing I noticed that is different from Disney, is that security into the parks is very lax. Your bag is checked either getting onto the water taxi or at a checkpoint prior to entering CityWalk. It was a very cursory check and I could have easily been concealing a weapon underneath the stuff I was carrying.

Of course we headed straight to WWOHP, where DS and DH discovered they could not fit in the test seats. DS had wanted to go to Universal specifically for WWOHP, but he was satisfied with being able to do the walk through. He is not really big on rides, which is why we have avoided Universal for so long.
DD and I loved the ride and we were glad for early entry. We returned to this part of the park later in the day and it was so crowded you could barely walk around.

Back to work. More later.

Last edited by lorik; 08-30-2012 at 08:48 AM.
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Old 08-31-2012, 12:30 PM   #5
Join Date: Aug 1999
Location: Forest Hills, NY
Posts: 291

I've been having trouble posting from work. My computer signs me out before I have completed my post. I will try to finish the report from home this weekend.
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Old 09-03-2012, 09:40 AM   #6
Join Date: Aug 1999
Location: Forest Hills, NY
Posts: 291

Iím ready to finish this trip report, but in a different format. Instead of reporting day by day, I will comment by category. Some of the commentary may be a repeat of what has already been said, but there will be lots of new stuff too. I will admit, there will be a lot of comparisons to Disney throughout the report.
Hotel: The Royal Pacific Resort is one of the most beautiful hotels we have ever stayed at, but it is not without flaws. There was about a 15 minute wait to check in at about 11 am. Only 2 people at the counter was not enough. Apparently there is not enough housekeeping staff either, because our rooms were not ready by 4 pm as promised. When we returned from our 1st journey to the parks at 4:30, the check in line was even longer, and our rooms were still not ready. DH asked to speak with the manager, and about 15 minutes later we got our rooms, which had been upgraded to pool view, from standard view. It seems as if this hotel has a lot of people who only stay for 1 or 2 nights in order to take advantage of Express Pass. This means a more thorough cleaning of the rooms is needed more often than at other resort hotels where stays are often for a week or more. I would expect that a hotel of this caliber would have adequate staff to ensure room availability when promised. In fact, this was the first time I have ever checked in to a hotel, no matter how early check in, when my room was not ready.
There were other minor details that were annoying, but nothing that ruined our enjoyment of the hotel. The laundry room change machine was not working. You could use a credit card to start the machine, but still needed quarters to purchase detergent. It would have been nice if the room key could have been used for both of these transactions. Our plan was to do laundry while using the pool and we didnít want to bring our credit cards. The change machine was broken, so we had no choice but to go to the front desk to get quarters. The machines worked fine, except that the dryer kept returning the quarters, so we needed a credit card to start it. This would have meant returning to the room, but another person in the room offered to use her credit card for me. I will say that the dryers here worked much better than those at the Disney hotels I have stayed at.
The hotel pool was lovely, but too shallow. I donít understand why so many hotels have pools that are only 4 feet deep. I have seen shallow pools that donít have lifeguards, but here there were 3 on duty all the time. There were games in the afternoon, but they would have been better in deeper water. For example, it is hard to have a ďbig splashĒ contest when you are only jumping into 3 Ĺ feet of water. The contest was cut short by thunder, but I donít think they would have had any adult participants. They had 1 round for girls and one for boys. The next rounds planned were for men and women. I canít imagine an adult trying to jump into that pool. I was pleasantly surprised though by some of the amenities offered, however. There was free sunscreen available where the towels were and machines dispensing ice water. They could have easily eliminated these items in order to sell them. I didnít try any of the food or drink items from the Bula Bar and Grill, but they looked very tempting.
Our rooms were very spacious. We had a connecting King and double Queen in Tower 1. I expected smaller rooms and canít imagine how large the rooms are at the other 2 on-site hotels, as RPR has the smallest rooms. We chose RPR because it was the least expensive. Since we needed 2 rooms, I wasnít willing to spend more for more floor space. Iím glad I didnít.
Parks: We had planned to spend 1 Ĺ days each at US and IOA. Despite reading these boards, I didnít realize just how small these parks are and how few rides there really are. We ended up going to US 3 times and IOA twice, which was way more than we needed to. We just had nothing else to do with our time. We are used to needing every waking moment to see everything in the parks when we go to Disney, and we usually stay there for 8 days, rather than the 5 we were here. We had planned for 2 half days and 1 full day at each park. I thought it was nice that we had time to relax at the pool and get to Wet Ďn Wild as well. We have never had time for a Disney water park. No one else was thrilled with this though. We also had time to play mini golf and to see a movie.
We, or at least I, went on most every ride. DS and DH are ride chickens, so they never had any intentions of going on the big coasters. DD is usually the thrill ride lover, but she found her head bouncing around too much and she was getting too dizzy to want to go on everything. However, she did go on Rip Ride Rocket with me and she enjoyed it. I loved it too, except I couldnít get my choice of music to play. The wait for it in the afternoon was surprisingly short, only 30 minutes, and that was for those without Express Pass. We had gone to US after our return from Wet Ďn Wild, with the intention of returning the next day for early entry. Since there was so little wait for the ride, we decided to sleep in the next day. Our biggest disappointment with the rides, besides that there were so few of them, was that there were too many simulator rides. It seemed like a cheap way to have more coasters. The Simpson ride was our favorite, but even that lost its appeal on the second go around. Also annoying were the lockers. The space for them was way too small. I canít imagine what it would the crowds and the wait time would be when the parks are busier. Luckily, since DH skipped most of the big rides, he was willing to hold the bag I was carrying. I much prefer the way Disney does things, by having a place for your bags on the ride. Again, it seemed like a cheaper way to do things; like they skimped on building the ride seats. Also, at Disney DH never had a problem fitting into the seats, and he is about 30 lbs lighter than when we went to Disney. As people go, he is not really that big these days. Iím sure there are many people who are disappointed that they canít ride.
We went on 2 of the 3 water rides, Jurassic Park River Adventure and the Bilge Rat Barges; both were disappointing. We barely got wet on Jurassic Park and we got thoroughly soaked on the Barges. Even though we were soaked, it wasnít a particularly fun ride. In fact it was pretty calm. I was expecting something more along the lines of Kali River Rapids at Animal Kingdom. If there wasnít water being sprayed or dumped on us, we wouldnít have gotten wet at all. The ride itself did not have the thrill to it that Kali River Rapids does. We used the body blowers after this ride, but they really didnít help much. Luckily it was a hot day, so we dried in about an hour.
The most disappointing attraction was the last one we did. Poseidonís Fury was a complete waste of time. After a 30 minute wait, we finally got in to a room where our ďtour guideĒ talked a bit. Then we walked into another room, where he talked some more. Then we walked to a 3rd room, where the action was, but by this time, all we wanted to do was get out of there. It was rather pointless and boring. If there is one attraction that you are going to skip, this would definitely be it.

We started to see the Beetlejuice Graveyard Revue, but it was cut short by a thunderstorm. I understand that they cannot do the special effects during a storm, but I donít understand why they built the covering so that much of the audience gets wet if it rains. We were warned before the show started that we should move as close to the center as possible, as we would otherwise get wet if it rained. Again, it seemed like they took the cheaper way out when building. Anyway, we saw about 5 minutes of the show when the thunder started. I thought it was cute, but nothing worth trying to see again. The rest of the family enjoyed it, but they were willing to return either.
We did enjoy the Horror Make Up Show and the Blues Brothers. We never got to the Eight Voyage of Sinbad because the timing was never right. As far as the Cinematic Spectacular, again I was not impressed. It was difficult to see the films on the water screens and the fireworks were barely worth mentioning. Spectacular is definitely a misnomer. I felt it was a disappointing closing to the park. Disney gets it right with their parades, Wishes, and IllumiNations. We all also felt that the parks closed way too early. Eight oíclock, especially for parks that are more appropriate for older kids, is not right. We have enjoyed Extra Magic Hours at Disney until midnight, and I know that at peak times they are open even later. At night there is no other option other than CityWalk.

CityWalk: I felt that this area had too much focus on the club scene and not enough shops. The few stores that were there could have been found in most malls. Iím not sure who goes to all the clubs. The restaurants were fairly empty. I donít see all those clubs being filled every night.
Anyway, since the parks closed so early, we spent our evenings at CityWalk. One night we played mini-golf. There are 2 courses. One is sci-fi themed, the other horror-themed. They are supposed to be themed after B movies. We played the Horror-themed course. You are given the option of paying a lesser fee if you pay for both courses, rather than paying for them separately. You donít have to play both on the same day. We chose to pay for only one course and take our chances that we wouldnít want to return. We were right. The course was rather lame. We have played much more challenging and fun mini-golf courses. But it was a good way to pass our evening as a family.
We also went to the movies there. The theater was big and the seats comfortable, but it was empty. There were maybe 6 other people in the theater besides us seeing a new release. It was the first time in many years that we have gone to the movies together as a family, and the movie was good, so we were happy. Ticket prices were also much lower than we are used to in NYC, so that was good too.

Restaurants: We like to eat, so food always plays a big part in our vacation plans. Iíve already discussed lunch at Finnegans, the Luau, as well as our breakfast at the hotel, so I wonít repeat that information.
Lunch each day at the parks was at a sit-down restaurant. Since we had plenty of time, we saw no need to have a rushed fast-food counter service lunch. We ate at each sit-down restaurant in the parks.
The food at Mythos was pretty good, although I donít think it deserves the title ďbest theme park food.Ē I had the fish tacos, which were good, but I have had better. The restaurant was not too crowded when we arrived so we only had a 5 minute wait. Our table afforded us a view of the waiting area and we could see that the wait time was getting longer as we saw the same people waiting there for quite some time. We did not make any reservations for lunch as we didnít want to be on a schedule during the day, but I could see how reservations could be needed for this place.
The best food of our vacation was at Lombardís Landing in US. Even though DS and DH do not each much seafood, there were enough other choices on the menu to keep them happy. DS had the San Francisco stir-fry, which he enjoyed. I had the grilled salmon salad, which was excellent. I canít recall the otherís choices, but by the end of the trip, everyone still agreed that they liked the food here best.
We also agreed that the worst meal of the trip was at Confiscoís. The restaurant was fairly empty and never got filled the entire time we were there. For a starter, we ordered the nachos, which our server told us would be right out. They came about 20 minutes later and were cold. We eat out a lot and are not in the habit of sending food back, but we did here, as well as at another restaurant, which I will get to soon. Within 2 minutes the manager came out with another of order of nachos, explaining that only some of the food is served hot. I certainly understand that the guacamole and sour cream do not come hot, but the nachos themselves were cold. And why did it take only 2 minutes for the new order when the first took 20? I think the first order was sitting out quite a while before it got to our table. The hot nachos were not much better than the cold ones. I have never eaten nachos that had a cheese sauce on them, rather than shredded cheese. The rest of the meal was not much better. DD ordered the pizza. As she said, any restaurant that advertises that it serves ďwood fired pizzaĒ should not serve frozen pizza. I am positive her pizza came out of a box. It looked and tasted like bad frozen pizza. I donít recall what I ordered, but it wasnít anything memorable. I would never set foot in this restaurant again. DS met up with a friend the day we went here so he was lucky enough to miss out on this lunch. He ended up eating the only counter-service meal of our trip at the Fire Eaterís Grill. He had the gyro, which he said was pretty good. Coming from someone who eats a lot of gyro in NYC, that is a high compliment. I wish we had eaten there too.
We did not eat at Three Broomsticks. DS looked at the menu but did not see anything he wanted, thus the gyro. We did try the Butterbeer and the kids had the pumpkin juice, which we got from the carts in WWOHP. The pumpkin juice was not so great, but we all loved the Butterbeer. We liked the frozen version the best. We had it both days that we went to IOA. Beware, the lines at the carts get really long.
We did not plan on eating lunch at Wet Ďn Wild, but the weather so was nice that we stayed longer than we thought we would. We discovered an all you can eat BBQ that was pretty good. If we had stayed the rest of the day, we would have gotten our moneyís worth as we could have gone back for an early dinner. But just for lunch it probably wasnít worth it. However, you can go back just to get soda throughout the day. In the heat, that alone can be worth the $17.99 price. There were hamburgers, hot dogs, ribs, and pork, as well as potato salad, baked beans, and corn on the cob. The food was decent for what it was.
Dinner was also a sit-down meal. Other than the luau, our dinners were at CityWalk. Our first meal there was at Margaritaville. The nachos there lived up to their reputation and were a food highlight of our trip. The rest of the food was pretty good too, as was the service. We also ate at the Churasscuria and Pastamore. You really need a big appetite for the Churasscuria. Although we are big eaters, several days of overeating before we got to this restaurant did not make the expense of it worth it. The resStuarant was almost empty. In fact there were only 4 other diners besides us. This led to the servers constantly bringing us food. At one point they were lined up waiting to serve us. This made it fairly uncomfortable and we could not properly enjoy the food. The meat was all delicious, but we did not eat enough of it to justify the $37 price tag. I donít know how long this place will be able to survive if the number of diners here was typical.
Pastamore wins the prize for the worst CityWalk restaurant, and maybe even one of the worst non-theme park restaurants we have ever been to in our lives. The service, food and cleanliness all fell short. DD was not too hungry, so she ordered a Ĺ portion of the eggplant parmigiana. Her portion was larger than anyone elseís. DS ordered the chicken parmigiana, which the waiter forgot to place the order for. When it finally came, it had about Ĺ the amount of pasta that DDís dinner had, and not much chicken. He had also ordered the Italian wedding soup, which was nothing but broth with a couple of meatballs. DDís eggplant came out cold. She returned it, something she had always refused to do in the past, and it came back hot but dry. It also came back with a hair in it, which unfortunately, she did not see until she was almost done with it. If she wasnít hungry at the start of the meal, she certainly wasnít hungry at the end. The restaurant itself also looked pretty dingy. All I can say is, DO NOT EAT HERE.
A couple of times we had dessert at TCBY. The dessert menus at the restaurants were not very appealing. We also had dessert one evening at Pastamore Market, which was much better than the restaurant.
In general, I would have to say the Universal is not the place to go if you want good food.

Well, thatís it. If you have any questions, feel free to ask.
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