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Old 04-09-2012, 09:37 PM   #1
ratfam
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Our Spring Break Trip to Universal

Hi everybody. We (me, DH, DD16 and DS13) took our first trip to Universal for part of our spring break, the week before Easter. I got so much information and help with my planning on these boards that I hoped posting about our experiences would be helpful to others. I'm afraid that posting pictures far exceeds my technological capabilities, but I will share our experiences, along with my editorial comments along the way. Let me know if you have any questions!

Day One, Friday March 30:

This was our arrival day. Since the Universal hotels were so expensive and we weren't planning to visit the parks this day I decided to save some money and booked a night at the Quality Inn at Universal. Right before we left I had a change of heart, DH was underslept from work pressure, it sounded like friends may be coming to meet us on Saturday which would have prevented us from settling into our room until late, and given how much the trip was costing I decided it was a drop in ghe bucket, so I called Hard Rock but they did not have availability for our room so we stuck with the Quality Inn. It was fine for one night but I would not recommend it for any longer--the place wasn't as clean as I would have liked and the bathroom just plain smelled. Also, our room wasn't ready until an hour after check-in time, no explanation or apology offered. Finally, I had not asked about the shuttle service to Universal, turns out there were only a few scheduled runs in the morning and at the end of the day. They did have a decent small pool that we used while waiting for our room to be ready, then we checked in and grabbed a cab to CityWalk.

Our plan for the evening was to pick up our four day park-to-park tickets (we had ordered online, hadn't originally been planning four days in the parks but the incremental cost over the three days we had intended was so negligible we decided to go for it) and then have dinner at Bubba Gump, DS' request. Picking up the tickets the night before was a tip I got here, and it was a great one. We waited only a few minutes at 5pm on Friday night and the next morning when we arrived at the parks the lines at the ticket booths were huge.

Tickets acquired, we went to Bubba Gump, at just after 5 they still had immediate seating available. DS had wanted to see the movie Forrest Gump recently and then was obsessed with going to Bubba Gump. DH and I went in with pretty low expectations but we all enjoyed the evening. The place was cute, DS got a kick of the movie playing on the TV's and the atmosphere was very fun. We had a great cajun shrimp appetizer that the server recommended and calamari at DD's request since she doesn't eat shrimp. DS had a mixed seafood meal called something like the bucket of boat trash and he ate every bit. DH had mahi mahi I believe and DD and I both had a salad with fruit, I think blue cheese, and mine had shrimp, hers chicken. The food was all fresh and well prepared. For dessert we shared key lime pie and I believe a cookie sundae (or I should say three of us shared the key lime pie and fought DS for a bite of the cookie sundae; as an aside DS is a pretty skinny kid with a generally inconsistent appetite but he managed to pack away massive amounts of food during this trip, so you will see a recurring theme). Sure it is touristy but it was a good time. I would recommend seeing the movie first, the trivia questions were fun and pretty basic, DS got them all, and it make "run forrest run" and "stop forrest stop" more meaningful!

After dinner we spent some time in CityWalk, browsing in the Universal store, but overall we didn't feel that there were as many places for looking as in Downtown Disney. We were all beat anyway, having gotten up at 4am for our flight, so it was back to the hotel where we finished the part of Goblet of Fire we hadn't made it through on the plane and all went to bed early, excited for the next day at Universal!
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Old 04-09-2012, 09:57 PM   #2
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Day Two, Saturday March 31, part one--Hard Rock Hotel

Knowing that we would have the Express Passes and weren't planning to try for Harry Potter, and that we wanted to make it through the Mardi Gras parade at night, we decided to sleep in a bit and got going around 8. The Quality Inn offered a complimentary breakfast, there weren't as many choices as you often get at these types of hotels, there were two types of cereal, some bread for toast, and hard boiled eggs. They did have biscuits and gravy that DH ate and waffle makers but they had a huge line, there were some apples and later on they replenished the bananas. It was enough to get us through the morning. Then we checked out and grabbed a cab over to the Hard Rock Hotel!

Since we were going right before Easter I figured that as long a we could swing the cost it would make a huge difference in our trip to stay onsite and have the Express Passes. I went for the Hard Rock over RPR because I thought DD and DS would be at ages where they would get a kick out of it, the pool sounded awesome and they had a deluxe room with two queen beds and a sofa bed (DD and DS are the worst co-sleepers in the world, they both sleep sideways and we knew no one would get any sleep if we had to bunk the boys and the girls, so decided the extra money was better than miserable kids (rationalization of extra expenditures will be anther repeated theme). I pity their future significant others). I guess here is as good as anywhere to share my general thoughts about the Hard Rock. The hotel is really beautiful, nice and clean and the bathrooms didn't smell! The staff was lovely, and the room was spacious and comfortable, great beds, fancy bedding, loved the Keurig. In addition to the benefits of the Express Passes, it was really great to be able to walk everywhere--we took a water taxi once and otherwise walked everywhere, there were tons of rickshaws but I wouldn't have been comfortable using them, the idea just felt weird to me for some reason. DD and DS got a huge kick out of the decor. While we were checking in they were just going from display to display in the lobby with their mouths hanging open, so the place is definitely great for teens.

Now the negatives. We were very underwhelmed by the pool. It was incredibly jammed--virtually impossible to find a lounge chair, the water was really a little too warm to be comfortable (the weather was in the high 80's to low 90's when we were there), I never heard the music underwater. It was really more of a wading pool--I don't think that it was deeper than 3.5 to 4 feet at any place, and it was pretty much people just standing around. Also, while I don't consider us to be particularly straight laced, there was a much wilder crowd than we are used to on vacation--a lot of drinking at the pool, constant loud music, somewhat risque pool games. It wasn't anything horrible, but when we left at the end of our stay and headed to Beach Club Villas, our usual WDW haunt since it is our DVC "home", we suddenly felt so much more relaxed and realized that the pace of the Hard Rock was just more than we were used to, the music ws a lot of fun, but the constant pulsing beat apparently made the place less relaxing for us. The only other negative was, of course, the cost, but the Express Passes were worth it in my opinion.

We didn't eat at The Kitchen, but we grabbed cereal and fruit at Emack and Bolio's and they also had amazing ice cream which we had a few times.

Overall we enjoyed our stay at the Hard Rock and it was great for the kids, but if we ever went back I think I would try one of the other two resorts.
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Old 04-09-2012, 11:05 PM   #3
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Day Two, Saturday March 31, part two--IOA/US

After checking in to the Hard Rock Hotel, getting our room keys and leaving the bags with bell services, we headed over to IOS (we let the kids choose where to start). We arrived around 10:30, headed to the left to go counterclockwise as I had seen suggested, and hit the Express Pass line for the Hulk. Wow--starts out fast and never stops! Probably just as well we didn't really have time to get a good look at it before we rode, but we all enjoyed. From there to Spiderman--loved this, and again virtually no wait with Express. Unlike at Disney, knowing there weren't an overwhelming number of things to see and that the Express Pass was working so well, we took our time, checking out the Marvel and comics areas and letting the kids go into the gift shops. We tried to hit the noon Sinbad show but it was cancelled so we did Poseidon--cheesy but worth doing once. Our friends' plans changed and they weren't going to be able to meet us, so we decided to have some lunch, hit all three water rides then return to the hotel to get settled into our room (we had received a text that it was ready) and change into dry clothes.

For lunch we hit Thunder Falls (I think that is what it was called). The food was really good--DD and DS had rotisserie chicken wraps (came with fries), I had a rotisserie chicken salad and DH had the turkey leg meal (came with corn and I believe fries). We also got some fruit cups. Everything was fresh and it was nice to have some healthier options (at least for those of us that didn't eat turkey legs). However, it took forever. The operation was terribly inefficient. They only had one of their two lines open until we were almost to the front of the line (despite the fact that there was a large line) and then everything backed up at the one cash register. Slow and inefficient counter service was another recurring theme, this is something that Disney seems to do much better.

After lunch we hit the Jurassic Park welcome center, then did the ride with very little wait--fun, and mildly wet. From there we headed back to ripsaw falls. Comparable to Splash Mountain, this was also fun and was DD's favorite ride even though she had never heard of Dudley Do Right. Now we were wetter and it was starting to drizzle. By the time we got to Bilge Rat Barges the ridewas closed, due to lightning in the area. We were already wet so we figured a little rain wouldn't hurt us while we walked back to the hotel. Well, then the skies opened up and it started to pour like it was the end of days. We were walking through flowing water that was running over our shoes--our tennis shoes unfortunately, our only pairs. We looked like we had been swimming in our clothes by the time we got back to the Hard Rock. Another Hard Rock downfall--with no balcony or outside access from the room, there was nowhere to get our things to dry. Our shoes were soaked and our clothes camp until we got to WDW and were able to do laundry and set the shoes out in the sun to dry. Got into our room, showered and put on dry clothes and rested for a bit, by which time the weather had cleared.

We headed out to US for the evening. On the way in hit Shrek, we all enjoyed the movie and recently saw the musical when it came through town so we all enjoyed this a lot. Then over to Finnigan's where I had made a 7pm reservation through OpenTable but it turns out that wasn't needed, it was half empty. The food was surprisingly good, I had a chicken pie, DS had shepherds' pie, DD had an Irish cobb salad and DH had the beef stew. Some of the entrees came with veggies, always a plus, and they served a really good Irish soda bread with apple butter. DH also had a black and tan. We would give Finnigan's a thumbs up.

After dinner headed to Mummym, again no real wait with the Express Pass and we all loved the ride. One of the ride workers was really getting into it, he had dark circles around his eyes with makeup and was scaring people as they were in line and waiting to move on the ride. Another common theme--the Universal employees were very friendly and fun. After Mummy we walked through the French Quarter set up for Mardi Gras and found a spot nearby to watch the Mardi Gras parade. Glad we had a chance to do this (although DH thought it was overrated), the music was great and we caught tons of beads. When the parade ended it was around 9:30 and we dedcided to make the most of our last half hour until the 10pm park closing. We hit Mummy again, then headed over to Simpsons, took some pics and rode. Now we all find the Simpsons to be very clever and we were really looking forward to the ride after all we had heard, but unfortunately none of us enjoyed it. We felt like everything on the screen was moving by so fast that we never even had a chance to focus on anything, and we all felt a little queasy. No one had any interest in ever doing this ride again. It was 9:55 and the park was almost empty but we saw MIB in the distance, ran over and the employees were letting people on for one final run. This was a fun way to end the evening! We walked back to the hotel and collapsed into bed.
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Old 04-10-2012, 10:36 PM   #4
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Day 3, Sunday April 1--US, Hard Rock pool, IOA

Since the crowds were lighter than we expected and the Express Pass was so great, and since we were planning our early Harry Potter morning for Monday, we slept in again and probably got to US around 10:30. Crowded but still not as bad as I was expecting given that it was the week before Easter. While the kids preferred IOA I really liked US, probably because I like walking around Disney Hollywood Studios and US had a similar feel to me. We spent some time exploring the main drag, looking into the shops, etc., hit Shrek again, then the Horror Makeup Show. This definitely led up to the hype--it was very funny, as well as interesting, and we all enjoyed it. From there we headed to Terminator. Again, we all enjoyed. The kids have not seen the Terminator movies but the pre-show really gave enough background that it was easy to understand. The show itself was really impressive, the way they combined the film and live action and the special effects. After that it was lunchtime. DD wanted to check out Monsters Cafe, which would definitely have been fun, a bit of a Sci Fi Dine In type of vibe to me, but unfortunately no one was interested in the food choices. We wanted to fit in lunch before the Blues Brothers show so we headed back to DH's request, Mel's. Nothing great but adequate. I had a veggie burger and fries, DH had a regular burger and fries, and we both had "milkshakes" (really more like Wendy's frosties). The kids had grilled chicken salads--sometimes I wonder if they are really mine--although DS had a root beer float. It was a cute place and DS enjoyed looking at the American Graffiti cars outside. It took forever to order and get the food, though--very inefficient system and DH just felt like everyone was moving in slow motion, something he doesn't feel as WDW. Despite the slow service (it was counter service) we made it to Blues Brothers in plenty of time. Very enjoyable show, we all danced around and sang along and DS had a lot of fun even though he had not seen the movie. It was only 15 or 20 minutes but I would recommend it.

It was hot and sunny so we decided to hit the Hard Rock pool. Per my earlier comments unfortunately this was not our favorite--staying at Beach Club Villas we have really been spoiled by Stormalong Bay and for us this just didn't hold up. Also, they wouldn't let DS use the pool balls he had brought along. However, we were able to purchase a beach ball--they are full service at the Hard Rock, at the shop at the pool they blew up the balls for you and even offered a sharpie so that you could write your name on the ball, to distinguish it from the 50 other identical balls. Appreciated that, and even if it wasn't our favorite pool it was still a pleasant few hours.

We went back to the room and cleaned up because we had a 7:30 reservation at Mythos I had made through Open Table. I was glad to have made a reservation, when we arrived a bit before 7:30 there were many parties waiting and they told us it would be 15 or 20 minutes, but it was less. The decor was very cool and we were all glad that we went, but unfortunately not everyone loved their meals. They served a great rosemary bread and we started with salads or soup, all of which were really good. The entrees were a mixed bag. DS had a fish with plantains, he liked it. DH had the risotto special, which involved pork, bacon, blueberries and I think blue cheese, it sounded great to me except that I don't eat pork, he seemed to like it well enough. DD ordered the pad thai, the overall verdict was that it was really bland, but we do have a lot of ethnic restaurants where we live so she is probably used to something a little more authentic (she said that she was still really glad we went, she just thought she had ordered badly). I had the pasta special, shrimp and asparagus in a creamy mushroom sauce. It was ok but not particularly memorable. For dessert we ordered one of the special dessert, I think it was banana chocolate bread pudding or something like that, the kids literally had a spoon battle over it, it tasted somewhat like a lava cake and it was great. We thought that the prices were reasonable, and while we were concerned about the service because our server was dealing with a fussy 8 top next to us, he ended up being very attentive. Overall we are glad that we went to Mythos but I think that if we were ever back I would try lunch (I know that the menu is the same, but the menu felt more like a lunch menu to me, which makes sense given that I think it is only open for dinner at very busy times with extended hours).


Since I had read that Harry Potter tended to empty out the last hour before park closing we planned to go from 9 to 10pm. We figured that even if it was crowded it would be nice to look at with all the lights on at night. Well, the place was practically empty. We couldn't believe it! We were able to get pics with the Hogwarts Express and conductor and throughout the area, we were able to get into the stores and look at everything with no trouble at all, and it was beautiful to see at night. We checked and Forbidden Journey was showing a wait time of 30 minutes, we queued up and were riding in under 15--things were moving so fast that DS couldn't even get all of the pics he wanted, but I promised him we would be back. We all loved the tour through Hogwarts castle, they did such an amazing job and it was especially great to have the kids pointing out everything that they knew from the books and movies. However, even though we had all taken dramamine we left the ride feeling slightly woozy. Like with the Simpsons, we felt like we were being jerked from thing to thing so quickly that we didn't really have time to take anything in. From there over to Dragon Challenge, didn't even need the Express Pass, you could literally run through the queue and jump right on. We rode the Hungarian Horntail, I think. It was a great coaster, but after that and Forbidden Journey we were done being bounced about for the evening. We wandered a bit more, considered getting a Butterbeer but the cart was closing up, and we walked back to the Hard Rock really excited about all we had managed to do and how amazed we were by the whole Harry Potter area.
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Old 04-10-2012, 10:57 PM   #5
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Day 4, Monday April 2--part 1, early entry to Harry Potter

Well, our plan had always been to do the early entry this morning for Harry Potter. Unfortunately, since we were unexpectedly able to do so much the night before, DD decided that she would rather sleep in, and DH was more than happy to stay back with her. DS and I were undeterred. We set the alarm for 6, scarfed down some cereal and milk that we bought the night before at Emack and Bolio and kept in the ice bucket overnight (E&B doesn't open until 6:30), grabbed some tea from the Keurig (a really great touch) and we were out the door at 6:30. It was so funny being out without the sun even up and seeing so many people converging from the hotels on the parks. We arrived at 6:45 and they had clearly been letting people in for a little while. We made it back to Harry Potter just before seven. There was a sizable queue for Ollivander's, our planned first stop, and a huge line extending from Hogwarts. Turned out that even though they had let people in, nothing was open and running until 7. As it turns out the Ollivander's line was shorter the night before, but live and learn. We waited for about 25 minutes, during which time DS ran all around taking the pictures he had missed the night before. There was a set of twins, 10 years old or so, behind us with their grandparents and we chatted with them a bit. The boy was dressed in a Harry Potter outfit. At around 7:15 a costumed employee came out from Ollivander's in character and described the experience, making clear that although 27 people were let in at a time, only one would actually take part in the wand ceremony. The boy behind us asked a lot of questions about that and whether you could keep coming until you were picked and we joked with the grandparents that we could tell what they were going to be doing the rest of the day. When we got to the front of the line the prior group cut off right before us. From what I had read I knew that we were in a good spot to be picked, but so was the family behind us and I figured that the costumed kid would be the one, which I had no problem with, and DS hadn't really expressed any expectation that he would be chosen, he just wanted to see the show. However, as soon as the door closed, the shop keeper was approaching DS, asking his name and which was his wand hand! I was so excited. Unfortunately I wasn't able to wrestle the camera away from him until about halfway through when the shopkeeper turned around to look for another wand (he said that he didn't want to "break character"), but I got some good shots. It was short but a lot of fun, and afterwards he was just beaming. They took him through a different exit than where I went, and when I caught up with him he said "I think I found my souvenir". Our family rule is that each child can pick one souvenir on our annual spring break trip, so that was fine with me. He said he hadn't planned to get a wand, but that being the one chosen for the wand ceremony made it very special. It was a neat wand that "chose" him, and the Ollivander's box is also another cool part of the souvenir.

We purchased the wand and arranged for it to be sent to the front of the park and then DS spent quite a while looking through the shop at all of the character's wands and the other items. Things were getting more crowded but he was still able to do what he wanted at a relatively leisurely pace. When he was done, we headed over to Forbidden Journey, where the posted wait at just before 8am was 70 minutes. We decided to wait and I would say that we made it through this time in about 30 minutes. The odd thing was that the line moved really slowly through the greenhouse, but once we got inside Hogwarts, where there were interesting things to look at, the line started to fly, so DS was able to get more pictures than the night before but I still would have liked more time to look at everything. Rode again and decided that was going to be enough for me on that ride. Afterwards we used the Express Pass at Flight of the Hippogriff, cute ride with a good bit of speed for a family coaster, and then for Dragon Challenge where we rode the other coaster--Chinese Fireball? We actually stayed in the regular line a little while after the Express split off because DS wanted to get a picture of the Triwizard cup, then we popped back to the Express Pass line. At this point I told DS that mom needed a rest. DS was very happy, having had the chance to do everything he wanted in Harry Potter, in some cases twice, and DH texted to say that he and DD had arrived at the park. We met them up front where they grabbed a Cinnabon, DS and I grabbed a blueberry muffin and fruit cup from the bakery and we split them all (they were all great, and based on what we were paying for cereal and fruit at the Hard Rock the $5.99 "grab and go" breakfast at the bakery, consisting of a muffin or danish, very large fruit cup and coffee, tea or juice, was a good deal). Feeling a little less wobbly, we were off to explore the rest of IOA!
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Old 04-11-2012, 01:41 PM   #6
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Thanks for writing in such detail. I've been hanging on every word!
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Old 04-11-2012, 06:48 PM   #7
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I can;t wait to read more.
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Old 04-12-2012, 01:39 PM   #8
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Enjoying your TR so far! Looking forward to the next update
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Old 04-12-2012, 03:06 PM   #9
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Thank you so much for the details! Can't wait to read more.
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Old 04-12-2012, 09:22 PM   #10
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Hey everyone, glad that the trip report is helpful! Had to work last night but now I am going to finish it up!

Day Four, Monday April 2, part 2--IOS and Three Broomsticks

After our morning treats we were ready to check out Seuss Landing (since so far all we had done was run through it on the way to other islands). Crowds were definitely heavier than over the weekend, but Seuss Landing was not too crowded. The entire are is absolutely adorable (my kids agreed even though they are teenagers). There were really no waits with the Express Pass here, we rode Cat in the Hat, the Caroseussel (probably spelled that wrong) and the Trolley and got a lot of great pictures. DD especially loved the Trolley, maybe because they had a Dr. Seuss video when they were young with the story of the Star Belly Sneetches. These rides are fun for anyone who has any familiarity with Dr. Seuss, regardless of their age. Then we ended up wandering into a store which had lots of books, not only Dr. Seus but other kids classics like Go Dog Go, Are You My Mother, etc. The kids started pulling all of their old favorites off the shelves and sat down and started reading them. Even DH got into the act remembering his favorite parts of the books we used to read when the kids were young. We ended up being there for almost half an hour, and it was really sweet. One of the very nice things about not doing the commando touring needed at WDW was being relaxed enough to take the time for things like this.

After we finished Seuss Landing we headed over for the noon show of Sinbad, which fortunately was not cancelled. Before going in we watched the magic fountain, which was essentially soaking a bunch of kids by squirting water whenever they came close. We were saving getting wet for later in the day, so we watched and laughed from a safe distance. The Sinbad show was corny but enjoyable. If you like Indiana Jones, which both my kids do, you will probably like it despite the fact that it is somewhat goofy.

After the show it was time for lunch. We hadn't made it to Three Broomsticks so I suggested we check it out. The rest of the family thought I was crazy at 12:30 pm, prime lunchtime, and frankly I figured that they wouldn't even be letting people in to Wizarding World but we were so close it was worth a shot. Well, they were not stopping people, we were able to walk right in to Wizarding World and it was actually less crowded than it had been at 9:30 in the morning (still a lot of people around, though). We went to Three Broomsticks, there was a short queue outside and a TM who was letting groups in a few at the time, and right before you went in he handed out laminated copies of the menu for you to take a look at before going in. Once inside you were ushered into a line which went by an actual display of all of the different dishes, and when you got to the end of that line you were directed to one of several cash registers to order (notwithstanding the fact that we had seen a menu and walked by visuals of all the options, the family in front of us still had no idea what they were going to order when they got to the front, DH was not happy). Then, you wait at a particular counter for them to call your number. When you have your food the TMs help you find a table. It may sound a little complex but it was actually incredibly well-organied and efficient and the lines moved very well. It was actually a much better experience than Thunder Canyon and Mel's, by far. So definitely don't think that you can't go to Three Broomsticks at a meal time.

The food was actually really good. The kids both had cornish pasties, it was thre small ones on a plate with a side salad. They looked great, but unfortunately I don't eat beef so I went with the fish and chips, as did DH. The kids both enjoyed theirs, and the fish and chips were really good--with such mass produced food I was expecting soggy fish but it was good and crispy as were the fries. They also had malt vinegar, which we love. A family next to us was having the big family feast and it looked very good. To drink we figured we needed the full experience, so we ordered one frozen butterbeer, one regular butterbeer and one pumpkin juice to drink. DS liked the pumpkin juice, I thought it was ok, DH and DD were not fans. It was a bit like a spiced cider, not that pumpkiny. I think that it might have been better for me if it were warm, or at least not served on ice (they do sell bottles of pumpkin juice in Wizarding World but this was like a fountain beverage served in a cup over ice). We all liked the butterbeer at first, I think that we all preferred the frozen over the regular. However, we weren't even able to finish the two, we just all got the point where we couldn't drink any more. Also, I found that I had a weird taste in my mouth the rest of the afternoon until I brushed my teeth. I haven't seen anyone report on that so it probably was not related.

The kids were awed by Three Broomsticks, they said it looked just like in the movies and there were all kinds of cool touches. It is definitely a must do, and fortunately has good food too!
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Old 04-12-2012, 09:52 PM   #11
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Day Four, Monday April 2, part three--more IOS and Citywalk

After our great lunch we were ready for a few more rides. First, Spiderman again. Posted wait time was about 2 hours and while we were in the queue they were making announcements that the wait may be longer than posted. We waited about 15 minutes in the Express Pass line. I think that this was my favorite ride, I really thought it was impressive. Then, we were ready to hit the water rides again. First, Ripsaw Falls, which DD said was her favorite ride. The lines did not seem to be moving well and we waited at least 20 minutes in the Express Pass ride, but it is a great ride, reminds me a of wetter Splash Mountain. DD decided to go back to the hotel, the other three of us hit Jurassic Park again (as with Ripsaw Falls about a 2 hour posted wait, we waited about 10 or 15 minutes in the Express Pass line but they have an incredibly bad system where the single rider and Express lines weren't clearly distinguished, then the TM would call for Express and a bunch of people from the back of the line would run forward and under the ropes and jump ahead of the line. But I digress, it wasn't the end of the world). Then we tried the Popeye Barges ride, which had been closed due to thunder the last time we tried. This is just like Kali River Rapids with a few Popeyes, Olive Oyls, etc. Just ok for me but DS loves these rides, also we had a fun time joking with the people we were riding with which made it more enjoyable.

We decided it was time to head back to the hotel, but on the way out we walked by a theater for a show that was supposed to start of extreme sports--BMX and skateboards on a half pipe, stunt bikes, motorcycles in a cage, etc. There was some guy who the show was named for who had video bits (there was also a live emcee), I am sure that he was well known if you keep up on extreme sports. I am not sure where this show came from because it wasn't really on the map and I don't think that it had been listed with the showtimes when we were in the park the other day. For me it was just ok, but DH and DS predictably thought it was great, and it was only 15 or 20 minutes long so not too bad even if you didn't love it.

Back to Hard Rock then, since we hadn't been so enthralled with the pool we decided that we would just snooze in the room for a bit. We had an Opentable reservation at Margaritaville for 7:30, but everyone was hungry. I wasn't able to change the reservation online but we figured we would head over when we were ready and take our chances. With a lot of begging by the kids I agreed that we could take the water taxi, which we hadn't done yet, because the days of walking in sandals while waiting for our sneakers to dry were taking their roll on our legs, plus the water taxi stopped right in front of Margaritaville. We arrived around 6:30 and probably waited 15 minutes or so. We are not parrot heads and had not been to a Margaitaville before, but it just sounded fun and I wanted to give it a try. We all had a great time, I would definitely recommend it for a fun family meal (there were a lot of families there when we were, I have no idea what it is like later on). I had a frozen regular margarita, it wasn't necessarily anything special but it was good. DH had a frozen strawberry margarita which he liked, and the kids had virgin strawberry margaritas which was a treat. After reading here about the nachos, and given that we were pretty hungry, we ordered them to start out. They were really great, we aren't frequent nachos eaters out but thought they were the best we had in ages. Tons of tortilla chips, on the top there was melted "real" cheese, with tomato, jala*****, guacamole, sour cream, can't remember what else, and further down there was the liquid nacho cheese. The chili was beef and the server said they can't put it on only part of the nachos they bring it on the side. It was literally a huge bowl of chili. We plowed through these, the server was impressed. For dinner I had coconut shrimp, they were really good, crispy and served with veggies which were good and and mashed potatoes, good but I only ate a bite or two after all the nachos. DD had a steak that I think came with mash and veggies and she really enjoyed it. DS had fish tacos which came with beans and rice, he packed it all away. DH ordered jambalaya I think, he said it was good but he barely ate any of it after putting away most of the chili and more than his fair share of the nachos. They show videos, mostly from Jimmy Buffet concerts, on video screens, the kids thought the fans at concerts were hilarious and how want to be parrot heads themselves. They also have girls on--of course--stilts going around and making balloon animals. DD declined, but DS got a parrot head hat that he actually wore for most of the rest of the evening. It was a great time.

DS had seen the new mini golf course the night we arrived and had been begging to go. It was ridiculously expensive, something like $15 per person for 18 holes, but DH just took a deep breath and muttered his vacation mantra (this is our vacation, I am creating family memories) and coughed up his credit card. There are two courses, one based I guess on horror movies and one on sci fi movies. The girl working the desk recommended the horror movie course, which was fun and had cool music but DS had some buyers' remorse because he thought that some of the sci fi holes looked cool. Nevertheless, it turned out to be a great time, and I would recommend it if you are looking to do something together but don't want to go back to the parks.

After we finished golf we asked if anyone wanted to go back to Wizarding World or to try Rip Ride Rockit but the kids were tired and had no interest. We headed back to Hard Rock and got ice cream at Emack and Bolio's--they have great flavors. Then off to bed.
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Old 04-12-2012, 10:09 PM   #12
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Day five, Tuesday April 3--US and farewells

This morning DH had a 7am call for work, I offered to take the kids back to early entry for Wizarding World but they said they had already done all they wanted there and in IOS, so happily we all slept in--a lot. He peeked in around 8:30 but we were all still out, so he treated himself to the breakfast buffet at the Kitchen while he waited for us to wake up. He said that the food was really good and he felt it was a reasonable price for all that was offered (I think it was about $20). We woke up around 9:30 and got dressed and packed, checked out just before the 11am deadline and grabbed some cereal and fruit at Emack and Bolio's (got funny looks from the people who were coming in from the pool for lunch and ice cream). Then it was off to US to finish up. We started with, of course, the Mummy--DS' favorite ride. Then we saw Twister. The kids haven't seen the movie but there was a pre-movie that talked about what it involved and the special effects. The actual twister was kind of cool, kids were impressed. From there we headed to the Animal Actors show. Our family are suckers for animals. It was very cute and we all enjoyed it. From there, over to ET. Definitely a bit dated, but a must do because I have such a soft spot for the movie. Then off to Disaster. This was really a lot of fun. As with Terminator, we were very impressed by the way that they combined the film and real people, and the kids think that Christopher Walken is a hoot and like that he appeared. Another one that I recommend.

At this point the only thing that we hadn't really done was the Beetlejuice show, but no one felt strongly enough to stay around for it. It was around 2:30 and we were hungry. Despite my obsessive planning I didn't have a lunch reservation--I had originally scheduled one at Finnigan's but replaced Lombard's with this for Finnigan's on Saturday night when the family rebelled against two seafood dinners in a row and I wasn't smart enough to reschedule Lombard's for today. Everyone liked the Lombard's menu so we went in thinking it was 2:30, no one else would be waiting. Ha ha, there was a half hour wait, and the place was not particularly cool, so no one wanted to stay. I had said no Hard Rock Cafe because I actually work across the street from one so it is no great shakes to me, but we didn't have any other ideas so we headed there. The place was extremely cool--much more so, and much more to see than at a regular Hard Rock. However, we did not have good lunch karma that day. We had to wait quite a while for a table, and then waited a really long time for our food. So long that the manager came out to apologize, said that she couldn't really offer any explanation she was just sorry and offered us dessert. I appreciate honesty as well as dessert, and we were all pretty mellow since we were tired and didn't have anything planned anyhow, so we just went with it. DH and DS had burgers, DD had a sandwich and I had a salad. All were just fine, I was actually impressed that the shrimp on my salad were perfectly cooked and nice, I was not expecting that really. We shared two hot fudge brownies for dessert, which were yummy (but I never met one I didn't like).

Then it was time to collect our luggage and bid a fond farewell to the Hard Rock. Luckily no one was too sad, we were headed for a few relaxing days at Beach Club Villas!
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Old 04-12-2012, 10:28 PM   #13
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Conclusions--

We had a lot of fun at Universal. I think that this was the perfect time to go. While I am sure that there would have been things that the kids enjoyed if we had gone earlier, any time prior to now I don't think the kids (DS in particular) would have been so game for all of the roller coasters. We love WDW, but I have to say that it was nice to be experiencing things that were completely new. I think it would have been a much more frustrating experience if we weren't staying onsite, so I definitely recommend it if you can swing it in any way, even if just for one night. The parks could easily be done in less time than we took, so a one night stay on site with two days Express Pass could easily suffice and would make a big difference if you were visiting at a busy time. The weekend was manageable but Monday and Tuesday were very crowded and most of the headliners had 2 hour waits. There were also long lines at the carts where they sold the Express Passes--hard to believe that people would pay $80 or so on top of the admission they had already paid, but I guess that otherwise you would really not get in many rides during peak time. Plus the Hard Rock was really lovely and luxurious with very good service. DD was a bit sorry that we didn't do RRR but she knew that it was her choice not to go back Monday night, and she didn't want to wait in the on hour line Tuesday morning or get up early for a better chance. Otherwise we did everything we wanted and then some. While Citywalk didn't have as much shopping as Downtown Disney we really liked the restaurant selection (too bad they didn't have a full ice cream parlor there!). From what I had read I was concerned that the TM's wouldn't be as friendly as those at WDW, but we did not find that to be the case.

It was a great few days. At the same time, when we left we didn't have the usual departure depression we have leaving WDW and when we left no one was saying they couldn't wait to return. So, we had a lot of fun at the perfect ages for our kids, but I don't see us returning--not a bad thing, just we are happy and satisfied with what we did and that is enough.

Again, I am very grateful for the help I got here, l am happy to answer questions that anyone may have! Thanks for reading.
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Old 04-17-2012, 08:36 AM   #14
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Thanks for the report! We are headed to Universal for the first time this June - it is nice to see your perspective on it. We are die-hard Disney fanatics, but can't wait to try Universal!

Glad you had a great trip!
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Check out my trip report: Magical & Not So Magical Moments - The Top Ten Things We Learned
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