Everything Except Disney (But Also A Little Disney)

TMak

Earning My Ears
Joined
Apr 1, 2018
Hello! I've been lurking around the DIS for awhile and started posting (a little) in the last month or so. I leave on Monday for a Disneyland road trip with some girlfriends, so while I'm waiting, I figured I'd kill some time by posting my first trip report. A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I took a trip to LA and did...well, a lot of stuff, so here we go!

This is us. I'm a 30-something high school teacher (Tiffany) and he's a younger 30-something sports editor for our local paper (Ben). That's actually how we met: my students decided we were perfect for each other and started dropping suggestions, we started talking, and, as it turns out, they were right. We'll have been married for two years in October. We live in a small town in southern Oregon exactly 750 miles from Disneyland.

Over the course of the relationship, I've brought him to Disneyland three times. Two were trips with my high school leadership classes, so while we had a lot of fun, they weren't entirely relaxing, since taking care of 35ish high schoolers is a lot of work--even if they're the good kids! We also came down with my parents for a spring break trip a few years ago. He's originally from Texas, so while he enjoys Disney, it doesn't make his heart all aflutter quite the way it does mine. In December, we're taking a huge family trip (both of our families), so here's hoping the Christmas magic really seals the deal for him!

The Planning
In the meantime, however, he's (mildly) complained that every time we've come to LA, all we've done is Disneyland and he's never seen the rest of it. While I'd be fine to spend any SoCal time I've got in Disney, I agreed that he had a valid point and started planning an "everything but Disneyland" Southern California trip. With his work schedule, a trip that involved driving and still enabled us to see a lot wasn't really in the cards, so flying was really the only option, and in order to make transportation somewhat easy, I decided to stick generally to the Hollywood area.

We had to work in the timeframe between American Legion baseball and the start of high school football, so we decided on the last weekend in July, leaving on Thursday evening and coming back Tuesday morning.

For the last three years, I've helped chaperone a West Coast trip for a group of exchange students that's involved a WB tour and a day at Universal, so both of those went on the list of "must-dos." Ben's favorite sport is baseball and we have the goal of making it to a game in every major league stadium, so a Dodger game was also a necessity. All of those tickets were purchased in advance, and I figured we'd just play everything else by ear.

The only place I really feel like spending much money on hotels is Disneyland, so I booked a Motel 6 that had decent reviews in Hollywood and a Super 8 near LAX for our last night because of an early flight.

For Ben's birthday earlier in July, I bought him a new backpack and filled it with shirts I'd made for each day, snacks for the trip, and some other fun travel things. You'll see the shirts as we go along.

Day 1 - Thursday, July 26th
Our valley has been surrounded by forest fires for a couple of weeks now, so we were looking forward to getting away to cleaner air (yeah, the irony of that is not lost on me). My dad picked us up around 6 to head to the airport for our 8:00 Allegiant flight. Right as we got to the airport, I got an alert that the flight was delayed, but that's pretty typical--the plane we were flying on comes in from Vegas, and their weather often makes for delays this time of year. We were really just counting our blessings because another flight was cancelled and they had to try to find hotel rooms in the area that weren't full of a) firefighters or b) attendees of a major country music festival happening that weekend, so a minor delay was really no big deal!

We snagged spots at one of the charging kiosks, grabbed snacks (neither of us had time to eat dinner), and settled in to wait.


We only ended up delayed about an hour, so it really wasn't too bad. I had tried the trick of snagging Ben an aisle seat and me a window seat hoping no one would choose to sit between us, but no such luck. Originally, the plan was to just ask the stranger if he was interested in switching to the window seat so I could sit next to Ben, but I was also interested in seeing the numerous fires burning from the air, so I decided to just stick with the window seat. I didn't end up seeing much of the fires, but I snagged a nice sunset pic and a couple of fun shots coming into LA, so for an hour and a half flight, it wasn't the worst thing.




Upon arrival at LAX, we retrieved our checked bag and headed out to grab our first-ever Uber ride. I use an app that lets you buy gift cards with rewards you earn from grocery shopping, so I had loaded $100 onto the Uber app, plus the $15 credit you get from signing up, which made it a pretty cost-effective way to get around! Our first driver was by far the best, which was nice, since it was also our longest trip. We mentioned being a little hungry, so he swung us by the In N Out near the airport for a little midnight burger. He told us about his life moving all over the world and introduced us to a couple of new ways to order the food (we actually have an In N Out in our town, so it's not like we're unfamiliar, but I've never seen anyone order their fries practically uncooked before), then we loaded back up and headed to Hollywood. He told us about his experiences driving celebrities around (big fan of Michael Jordan; doesn't like LeBron James or Jada Pinkett Smith) and since there's not generally much traffic at midnight, we got to the hotel in a reasonable amount of time. Check in was smooth and we headed up to our fifth floor room to get settled in.

The hotel was pretty much what we were expecting, based on our knowledge of Motel 6 accommodations--a bit shabby but clean. We were pretty amused to find towels in the shape of swans on the bed:

Knowing we needed to be up early to head to Universal, we got into bed as quickly as possible, but it was still around 2 by the time Ben got to sleep, and I apparently still had some travel adrenaline running and didn't nod off until closer to 3--whoops!
 

TMak

Earning My Ears
Joined
Apr 1, 2018
Day 2 - Universal Studios
Annoyingly early, considering our late arrival time, we woke up, got ready, and headed out for a day of fun at Universal Studios. Knowing we wouidn't be able to get coffee in the parks for a bit, we walked about a block and a half down to what would become our regular morning stop--the Rise-N-Grind coffee shop. Living in the birthplace of the fastest-growing privately-owned coffee chain in the country (Dutch Bros), we're a little particular about our coffee, but this place wasn't bad. It was SUPER hipster-y, but they serve Stumptown coffee at less-than-Starbucks prices, so it worked. We called for an Uber, had coffee with Alex Trebek, and made it to Universal in about five minutes, judging from the timestamps on my pictures.


Since we purchased our tickets online, we (and several hundred of our closest friends) got to get into the Harry Potter area an hour before the park opened. We arrived on the far side of CityWalk around 7:30 and moseyed down toward the park, stopping at Voodoo Donuts and the Universal Globe for the obligatory photo ops.




We got in line to head in, taking note of the 91% humidity in the area--hooray, heat index! The early line experience at Universal is a tiny bit frustrating--they have lots of available spots to head through, but you don't actually know that unless you bypass the two main lines that everyone heads for (us included). We also had lots of people asking where the VIP lines were, and after being told they should use the regular lines, they just hopped in line ahead of us. Other than a little eye-rolling, we let it go, and shortly after 8, we headed down to the Wizarding World.


I am a serious HP fan (just finished my annual summer pilgrimage through all seven books), and unfortunately, the Wizarding World always leaves me a little underwhelmed. I was determined to let Ben experience it for himself, though, so I didn't say anything to that effect. First, we headed for The Forbidden Journey, stowed our backpacks, and made our way through Hogwarts. While I love seeing all the details, I sure wish it was juuuust a little brighter inside so that they could REALLY be seen. I get the air of mystery, but it's a little tough to make out some items. Ben's experience was a bit marred by the couple behind us, who kept bumping into him (especially in the wallet area) to the point that he wasn't sure if they were hitting on him or trying to pickpocket him! We made it through the ride without getting stopped upside down, so that was nice--the last two times I've ridden, that's been the case.

When we got off the ride, I asked Ben what he thought, and he had one word: "Dizzy." This was actually the least sick I've ever felt after the Forbidden Journey--the first year, it still had the 3D glasses and I nearly lost it and was a little bleah the rest of the day. The last two years, I've gotten stuck upside down for several minutes and, while it was nowhere near as bad as when they had the 3D glasses, I still felt a bit unsettled. This time, I was fine, but agreed with his succinct assessment!

We retrieved our belongings and headed for Flight of the Hippogriff, since it only had a 5 or 10 minute wait (which probably wouldn't be the case the rest of the day.


We squeezed in with our bags, snapped a quick selfie, bowed to Buckbeak, and swooped away.




As we pulled into the station about 30 seconds later, Ben turned to me and said, "Wait, what? That's it?!" I had to laugh, because that was pretty much my exact reaction the first time I rode. It's a fun little coaster and has some nice thrills, but it's just so dang short! It's certainly worth the five or ten minutes we spent waiting, but (spoiler alert) we did not join those waiting for 45 minutes to an hour as the day went on.

The general plan was to ride as much as we could before the lines got crazy and then wander around taking in the details once the rest of humanity showed up, so we headed down to the Studio Tour. We thought we'd miss the tram that was there, but as we got close to the line's last turn, they were asking for a party of 2 and we were first to raise our hands. We grabbed our glasses and were led to the very first car, which was an experience I've never had before!


Our tour guide had a very deep, rich voice and I'm sure he had lots of good information, but we didn't hear a lot of it because most of the people in our car had apparently been on the tour several times and talked pretty loudly the whole way through. I've been on a few times myself, but I still like hearing the stories each different tour guide tells. Alas, we weren't able to catch everything, but the tour was still fun.




When I was at Universal about a month ago with the exchange students, we didn't get to see quite a few elements of the tour, including the flash flood and the shark attack, because a movie was filming in the western area. This time, there were a few places that looked like someone was setting up to film, but nothing closed. I definitely learned that the right side of the tour busses gives you a much closer view of a lot of the action compared to the left side (which we were on this time), so I'll be hoping for the right from here on out!

Ben enjoyed the Studio Tour, but definitely preferred the practical parts of the tour as opposed to the 3D sections. It's always fun seeing familiar spots, and between the WB and Universal tours, we've been enjoying pointing out stuff we've been to in shows/movies we've watched since coming home!

After leaving the Studio Tour, we embarked on the looooooong trek down to the Lower Lot to check out The Mummy and Jurassic Park.


I'm not going to lie, I really enjoyed listening to Ben compare everything to Disneyland, since he's not quite as convinced as I am that it's the best theme park in the whole wide world! For example, he called The Mummy's queue a "poor man's Indy," which I certainly agree with! For the second time that day, he was confused by how short the ride was--it's a fun roller coaster and the backwards portion is pretty exciting, but it just doesn't last long. Since we waited less than five minutes to get on, it was totally worth it, but like Flight of the Hippogriff, just not something we would have wanted to wait hours for!

We left our stuff in the Mummy lockers and headed to Jurassic Park for our longest wait of the day. We passed the time playing "Heads Up," either amusing or disgusting those around us with our extensive knowledge of "Friends" trivia. I think we waited a little over half an hour, but once they got the misters going, it wasn't too uncomfortable.

When I went on Jurassic Park in June, we were absolutely DRENCHED before we even hit the big drop because of geysers that were going off early in the ride, so I was prepared to get soaked. Fortunately, they didn't seem to be running that particular effect (or the Jeep falling, which probably hasn't worked in years, but I still miss it). It's a fun ride, but I'm not mad that they're going to be updating it this winter.


We were going to ride Transformers next, but the line was already about an hour and we just weren't feeling it. By this time, it was around 11:30 and we were pretty much just running on coffee, so we decided to have some lunch. Originally, I was planning on doing lunch at the Samba Brazilian restaurant in CityWalk. I've experienced a similar restaurant in Portland and it was AWESOME, so I wanted to take Ben. Unfortunately, after reading a slew of horrible Yelp reviews, it became pretty obvious that it wouldn't be money well spent, so we decided to visit The Three Broomsticks instead.


I ordered the Sunday roast dinner, Ben got the grilled cheese sandwich and a Butterbeer, and we ordered the trifle to share. In what was becoming the theme of the day, the meal was a bit underwhelming. My roast was SUPER fatty, Ben's sandwich was pretty soggy, the Butterbeer tasted exactly like what we've had at Harry Potter events at other places (yeah, we're nerds like that), and the trifle was really kind of awful--a hard lump of chocolate on top and a weirdly gritty mousse below. I felt like the atmosphere was pretty accurate when compared to descriptions in the book, but Ben was a little disappointed it didn't feel more "Harry Potter-ish," since he's never read the books. We were more impressed by the Hog's Head next door--it had a little more magic to it.


We spent the next hour or so wandering around the shops and checking out the details of Hogsmeade. We didn't find anything we absolutely HAD to have (especially because the prices are a little high, in my opinion), but it was lots of fun to see all the little book and movie references around. Ben was a little bummed that you have to stand in line to get into Ollivander's--he'd like if there was a separate line for people who don't want a wand, but just want to check it out, which I don't think is the worst idea. We saw quite a few kids being coached on how to make the various effects work, but I don't know if it was an off day or what...none of them could accomplish any of the spells! I get that it's supposed to be a little tough, but I feel like if I paid the extra money for the dang wand, I'd want the effects to work!






A little parched, we decided to grab sodas from one of the counter service places in the area. We were handed cups and told to get our sodas "around the corner." We went around the corner and found...nothing. Okay, we found a seating area, but no drinks. We continued on and finally found the line for the million flavor Coke dispensers. I'm not really sure these are necessary. At a fast food restaurant (or really anywhere except a busy theme park), they're fine. Here, they're a trainwreck. It takes people forever to figure out their selections, half of them are trying to use cups that don't have any refills left (the machines have some kind of reader so they can tell if you've actually paid or not), there are a couple of machines but no clear lines, so there's a lot of cutting, and all told, we waited about 20 minutes to get sodas that we could have gotten in about 30 seconds had we just been given them by the cashier.

Cups in hand, we headed to the best thing Universal has to offer, in my opinion: the WaterWorld show. I mean, we all know the movie is terrible, but the show is awesome! Here's a photo dump:










After WaterWorld, we checked the app and found out that the lines for pretty much everything were in the hour range, and since it was a balmy 90 degrees, we decided to head to CityWalk to see what we could find out there. We both bought Dodgers hats and I got a shirt with a very shiny Dodgers logo--that's kind of my new thing, since I have a similarly obnoxious shirt from the Rangers stadium and plan to collect them in the future. Ben is a pretty serious hat connoisseur, so we spent a healthy amount of time in the air conditioned store, then continued on.

Now, even though we're from Oregon, we've never cared enough to wait in the crazy lines Voodoo Doughnut generally commands whenever we're in Portland, so our first experience was at the Voodoo in CityWalk. Ben got the traditional Voodoo doll and I got the bacon maple bar. Neither of us were terribly impressed. The texture was SUPER dense, Ben's didn't have much jelly in the center, and mine didn't have enough bacon to cut the insane sweetness of the maple, but hey, they're fun to look at!




After our donuts, we headed back into the park to catch the Animal Actors show. We wandered around the Simpsons area for awhile before the show. I'm not really a fan, so all the gags were lost on me, but Ben found lots of them highly amusing.


The Animal Actors show is always a fun time and by that point, our feet were a little tired, so it was a delightful way to relax for a bit.






After the show, we checked out Super Silly Fun Land and the rest of the areas of the park we hadn't seen yet. We watched the Kung Fu Panda movie and then, feeling pretty dang exhausted, headed back into CityWalk. We decided we'd have dinner and then see how we felt. On the one hand, I really wanted to stay for the nighttime lights on Hogwarts, but on the other hand, three hours of sleep.

After a SmashBurger (again, meh, but the tots were good), we decided to head back to the hotel. We missed a couple of rides (Transformers and the Simpsons), but both had super long lines all day and we just weren't feeling that for motion simulators. Next time, we'll do them first before the lines get crazy! We Ubered back to the hotel, showered, and settled in to watch "The Force Awakens" before getting to sleep before 10.

Overall, I enjoy going to Universal, but it just doesn't have enough rides/attractions to make it more than a one day park. Because there are so few, the lines are always pretty long for most of the rides, and I'm not willing to double the price of the ticket to get front of the line passes for each ride once! Before we went, Ben was thinking we should take part of one of our days in December to come up to Universal and I didn't argue, since I figured he could make a more informed decision after experiencing it for himself. Now, he's definitely convinced that it wouldn't be worth the extra expense of both tickets and transportation, especially since our 5 day Parkhoppers are already purchased. He's thinking maybe we should try Knott's, but we'll see how he feels closer to the actual trip.

Next up, the most fun day of the whole trip!
 

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