Lebeau Family Trip Report 2018: Universal Orlando

Discussion in 'Universal Studios Trip Reports' started by lebeau, Aug 13, 2018.

  1. lebeau

    lebeau Mouseketeer

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    Lebeau Family Trip Report 2018: Universal Orlando Resort Part 1
    It’s that time of year again. The Lebeaus have recently returned from what has become a quasi-annual pilgrimage to the theme park capital of the world, Orlando. This year’s trip was essentially a do-over of last year’s vacation at Universal which was plagued with bad weather, injuries and illness. Despite a run of bad luck, Mindy and the kids enjoyed our time at Universal and wanted to give it another shot. I wasn’t necessarily expecting to make a return trip so soon, but after finding a really good deal on Universal’s flagship hotel, we decided to go back for more.

    If you are reading this, there’s a pretty good chance you know the clan. But I will go ahead and introduce new readers to the members of my family and bring regular readers up to speed on what’s been going on since last year. You guys know me. I’m your friendly blogger Lebeau. Prior to this trip I had been busy with work and family stuff so I was really looking forward to getting away for a while.
    My wife, Mindy, goes through this pretty much annually. In the winter, she gets the urge to travel to warmer climates. This usually means Florida partially because Mindy’s claustrophobia makes traveling long distances challenging. Every year, she sets her sites on a Spring Break get-away and every year we balk at the price tag. So this year, we decided to take an early summer trip again with an eye towards a Spring Break trip next year.
    Josie is our oldest daughter. Both of the kids have Spring birthdays. This year, Josie became a teenager. Time definitely flies which is one of the reasons these kinds of family trips are important. For her birthday, Josie wanted a puppy. I reluctantly agreed on a couple of conditions. One, this had to be the last family pet as we already have two dogs. And two, we wouldn’t look for a new dog until after we returned from vacation. While Josie was excited for our trip, she was even more excited about getting a puppy. If she could have skipped the whole thing and gotten the dog right away, I’m pretty sure she would have.

    Kara is our youngest and she recently turned nine years old. She’s honestly not much for theme park rides. Kara and Mindy enjoy the parks up to a point, but I have learned over the years that they need to be able to spend time in the hotel enjoying the amenities. Kara was looking forward to the motion simulator rides like Minion Mayhem and Race Through New York as well as the wave pool at Volcano Bay. She was also pretty excited about that puppy.

    The challenge that we face with family vacations is that our family’s interests are split in half. Mindy and Kara prefer a much more relaxing trip whereas Josie and I get bored with hanging around a hotel no matter how nice it may be. What appeals to us about Universal is the ease with which we can get from the hotel to the attractions and back. We were able to get back to the hotel for a dip in the pool during the hottest hours of the day. Other times when Mindy and Kara needed a break from the parks, Josie and I could go off on our own with relative ease.

    Our travel day was pretty mundane. In the past, I have picked early morning flights into Orlando in order to allow for some park time in the afternoon or evening. But this year, I decided on an afternoon flight. This allowed for a more leisurely approach to the always-stressful arrival day. We were also renting a car for the week which is not something we typically do on theme park vacations. While it was nice to have the freedom to come and go as we pleased, I don’t think we used the car enough to justify the expense. So this was probably a one-time experiment.
    The decision to rent a car lead to the first snafu of our trip. Mindy was looking forward to driving a nice, new car whereas I am not a car guy and all and frankly she’s a better driver than I am. So, it was a foregone conclusion that Mindy would drive us from the airport to the hotel. I started getting directions from Google Maps, but Mindy wanted to use an app called Waze instead. Since I didn’t have Waze on my phone, Mindy entered the information herself and long story short we ended up driving about a half hour out of our way. What should have been a twenty minute drive ended up taking almost an hour instead.

    It was an oopsie, but it really wasn’t that big of a deal. The kids were napping in the backseat and Kara slept through most of the drive. I really should have noticed before I did. I knew from previous trips that the drive in is filled with billboards advertising Orlando attractions. The absence of those billboards was my first tip that we weren’t going in the right direction but I didn’t want to be a backseat driver so I didn’t speak up right away. After what seemed like too much time in the car, I pulled up Google Maps and realized we were 40 minutes away from the hotel.
    Mindy was upset with herself over the mistake, but there was nothing to do but turn around. It really wasn’t a big deal. We got to the hotel a little later than expected and everyone was pretty worn out. Maybe even a bit crabby. I had planned to take the kids to the pool if the weather allowed, but it was raining lightly when we arrived. All anyone wanted to do was unpack and grab a bite to eat.

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    As I mentioned in the introduction, one of the reasons that this particular trip came together was that I was able to get a really good deal on a room at Loews Portofino Bay Hotel. It included a discount on parking which is part of the reason we rented the car. For the price, I was expecting the worst room in the hotel with a view of the parking lot. But we were pleasantly surprised with a bay view room on the first floor. I really couldn’t believe our luck. The room was close to everything and a door opened to the bay which in addition to being beautiful was also the hub of all activity.

    The first order of business was getting the kids something to eat. It was past the kids’ usual dinner time and they were low on energy from the flight and drive in. With the light rain, no one wanted to venture into CityWalk, so we were limited to the restaurants in the hotel. The best option to my mind was Sal’s Market Deli, a quick service restaurant serving Italian food. I had read about their yummy brick-fired pizzas before the trip. The only problem was, Kara didn’t want pizza.

    Kara gets moody when she’s hungry. She can reach a point where she is impossible to please. We were in danger of that happening. So I pulled up the menu for Sal’s and reviewed the non-pizza options. The menu is admittedly limited and Kara wasn’t overly excited by what they offered. Aside from pizzas, the menu included salads and sandwiches. Josie wanted a meatball sub, but Kara said the ones she knew from school were “gross”. So I pulled up Yelp to show her some pictures of the food. The picture of the meatball sub included homemade chips which did not appeal to Kara at all. I checked the menu and saw that she could substitute french fries for the chips and that turned things around. Her mood brightened at the prospect of a familiar side dish.

    Once everyone knew what they wanted, I walked down to the restaurant. I had read that you could place an order from the comfort of your room and they would call you back when your food was ready, but I kind of wanted to explore. The girls had no such desire, so the plan was for me to bring the food back to the room. Sal’s was a very short walk from our room and the food was ready a few minutes after I placed the order. So it all worked out nicely.

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    By the time I got back to the room, Mindy had finished unpacking most of the bags and the girls were settling in. Their moods brightened at the prospect of a hot meal which smelled fantastic. Mindy had her eye on a margherita pizza. If you have read previous trip reports, you may know that she gravitates towards fresh tomato, mozzarella and basil. The crust was thin and cracker-like. If you like a crispy crust, Sal’s is your kind of pizza.
    A large pie is $18.00 which isn’t bad at all for theme park prices. Louie’s inside the parks charges nearly $40 for whole pie and I guarantee you it is not as good as Sal’s. If the kids had not opted out of pizza, I could have fed the whole family for $20. Instead, the kids each ordered meatball subs which were ginormous.

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    I don’t think the picture conveys just how big the meatballs on this sandwich are. The girls could have split this order. The subs were a little hard to eat. The tomato sauce made the bread soggy at the bottom and if you weren’t careful the giant meatballs would rip through. For me, the meat to bread ratio was off, but the meatballs were delicious. They ended up deconstructing the sandwiches and eating the meatballs with a fork. The fries were the main attraction anyway.

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    As you can see, Sal’s got two thumbs up from the kids. They really liked that instead of ketchup packets they each got a small bottle of Heinz. Kara dipped her fries directly in the bottle. It’s the little things, I tell you.

    I didn’t order any food for myself. That was going to be a common practice this trip. The portions at Universal are huge and a lot of food ends up going to waste. So more often than not, I just ate whatever the girls didn’t finish. In this case, I helped out with the pizza and sampled the meatballs. There were still a couple of slices of pizza left over which I ate cold for breakfast later in the trip. I had read that Portofino Bay did not include a complimentary refrigerator. In years past, there was an expensive mini-bar instead. I am happy to report that our room included a fridge.

    After dinner, we settled in and got to bed. We didn’t have any solid plans for the first full day of our trip beyond that we would go to the parks weather permitting. But I figured I would let everyone sleep in so we didn’t set an alarm. I’m an early riser anyway, so I figured I would get up and try not to disturb anyone. Sure enough, I woke up around seven and the rest of the family was sound asleep. So I decided to hop on a boat to CityWalk and see what I could do about breakfast.

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    Prior to the trip, we were all looking forward to trying out the newest addition to CityWalk, Voodoo Donuts. Several years ago, I had seen the original location in Portland covered on both the Travel Channel and Food Network. I made a mental note to check them out if I ever found myself out that way. Since then, the bakery has been expanding including a location at Universal Hollywood. So I suppose it was just a matter of time before they set up shop at the Orlando Resort.

    After the new shop was announced, I showed the girls pictures of the donuts and followed the progress of the building. We were all pleased once it was confirmed that Voodoo Donuts would be open for business during our stay. I had read that long lines were common, so I warned the girls that might be an issue. No matter how good the donuts might be, I didn’t want to wait in line for an hour. Since everyone else was still asleep and I had time on my hands, I figured I would hop a water taxi over to CityWalk and check out the situation.

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    I didn’t have a set plan when I boarded the boat. There were too many variables. I didn’t know how long it would take to get donuts and I couldn’t when the girls would wake up. I left them a note telling them I had gone for dounts and to call me. If the girls were up before I got donuts, I figured they could meet me there. I would at least have a place in line if it was long. If there wasn’t much of a line or the girls slept in late, I would bring donuts back to the room.

    As it turns out, I ended up bringing a big pink box of donuts back to the room. The water taxi was waiting for me at the dock on both ends of my trip so I didn’t waste any time waiting for transportation. The line for donuts was outside the store, but it moved quickly. I only waited about ten minutes before it was my turn to order.

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    In the center of the shop is a big wheel which turns slowly displaying all of the donuts. The line winds around the spinning wheel giving customers a chance to check out the goods while they wait. Given the variety of donuts offered, this is an extremely good idea. Even though I had been looking at the menu for months before the trip, I wasn’t sure what to get when I reached the front of the line.
    Josie had decided before we left that she needed to try the signature voodoo doll donut. It’s a jelly donut shaped like a voodoo doll with a pretzel rod you can use to poke it. Theoretically, the oozing jelly represents blood although unless you squeeze the pastry the jelly will likely stay within the donut. I ordered a couple of these in order to prevent any fights.

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    Mindy wanted the bacon maple bar. She typically seeks out this sweet and salty flavor profile when we can find it locally. The varieties offered by our local bakeries are good, but they tend to use bacon crumbles instead of actual strips of bacon. It’s just not the same. As you can see from the picture above, the Voodoo Donuts version features two thick, crisp pieces of salty meat. It’s a bit hard to eat but it really packs a flavor wallop.
    I wasn’t sure what to get for Kara, so I filled out the rest of the box with a sampling of donuts I thought might appeal to her. I had read that the Memphis Mafia was a must try and it lived up to its reputation. The fritter is roughly the size of a hubcap and its topped with bananas, peanut butter and chocolate. Without hesitation, I can call it the best donut I have ever tasted. I wish I had one now.

    My other selections included Dirt (topped with crushed Oreo cookies), ODB (same as Dirt but with a peanut butter drizzle), Grape Ape (with “grape dust”), Little Pink ( a small version of the Simpsons donut offered in the parks), Portland Cream (a cream-filled donut with a smiley face), the 8 Mile (a cake donut covered in M&M’s) and the Neapolitan (a chocolate cake donut with strawberry dust and marshmallows).

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    The donuts were huge. They were more expensive than I am used to paying for donuts, but with our annual pass discount I think I paid around $35 for a dozen. It’s not something I would do every day, but as a vacation treat I felt like it was worth it. We cut the donuts up so everyone could sample them and they ended up lasting us a few days. Any time someone wanted something sweet, we could dig into the pink box. After a few days of snacking, there were still donuts left but we threw them out. Now that we know what we like, I would make a smaller more targeted order in the future.

    The only disappointment for me was the Neapolitan. For one, I prefer yeast donuts to the cake variety. The 8-Mile was covered in so much candy, the base donut was a non-factor but the Neapolitan’s toppings didn’t have the same wow factor. The strawberry dust was overpowered by the chocolate donut and the marshmallows didn’t have any flavor at all. So what you were left with was a pretty standard chocolate cake donut. The purple dust on the Grape Ape, on the other hand, was packed with flavor. If a donut that tastes like grape soda appeals to you, it’s worth checking out.

    As a peanut butter fan, the Memphis Mafia and the ODB were my favorites. The kids really liked the voodoo dolls. Part of the appeal was the fun of poking them. But they also liked the thick, fudgey frosting and the raspberry jelly. Ultimately, it’s a jelly donut but if you like chocolate and raspberries it’s the best darn jelly donut around.

    By this point, I had been in Orlando for roughly 12 hours without visiting a theme park. That needed to be rectified. As the girls got ready, I polled them to try to figure out which park to visit first. Everything they expressed an interest in riding was in Universal Studios, so we decided to start our day there and see what happened. Last year, our days were cut short by frequent thunderstorms and it had rained steadily on our arrival day so we were very mindful of the weather. The forecast for this week wasn’t promising.

    Beyond picking a park to visit, we didn’t have much of a plan. In terms of efficient touring, we were doing a lot of things “wrong”. First of all we didn’t take advantage of Early Park Admission. Then we went so far as to sleep in. We had given up the early morning hours when lines would be the shortest. I was counting on Express Pass to compensate for our “mistakes”.

    The first ride the girls wanted to experience was Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem. This is a popular attraction right in the front of the park, so lines can get very long. If I were giving someone advice on touring the park properly, I would tell them to skip Minion Mayhem early in the morning and come back later. But part of the reason we were staying on property at a deluxe resort that included EP was so we wouldn’t have to worry about that sort of thing. So we queued up with everybody else despite the fact the EP line was a little on the long side.

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    We ended up waiting around 15 minutes for our chance to be turned into minions. That’s a pretty long wait for EP, but we were still riding high on first day excitement not to mention the sugar rush from our donut breakfast. It was hot in the outside portions of the queue, but there were fans set up that kept it from being unbearable. I did feel bad for the people who were going to be standing in line for forty minutes or more.

    Minion Mayhem is a fun motion simulator with an enjoyable preshow. It’s something we can all ride together without pushing anyone out of their comfort zone. There were minions out in the dance party room without much of a line so I asked the kids if they wanted to see them. Last year, Kara was on a mission to hug a minion. But this time, she said she was okay having done in last year so we went ahead and exited through the gift shop.

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    Our next stop was Race Through New York also known as The Jimmy Fallon ride. This motion simulator is not a favorite of the fan community, but last year Kara picked it as her favorite ride over even Minion Mayhem. I think a big part of the appeal for her is the virtual queue which has guests hanging out in a lobby as opposed to a traditional line. The waiting area has various forms of entertainment including some Tonight Show themed video games. The games are less sophisticated than the apps you probably have installed on your phone but they are installed on large tables which makes them more appealing to kids.

    The last time we visited, Race Through New York was brand new and it seemed like they were still working out some of the operational issues with the waiting area. Guests didn’t seem to understand the concept and the flow was chaotic with logjams building up around the stage area. This year, there was a team member directing guests to various areas in the lobby. It seemed to improve the general flow of traffic at the cost of allowing guests to explore the entertainment as they see fit.

    As soon as we got upstairs, we were instructed to enter the stage area where the Ragtime Gals were about to start their show. We never saw the live show last year. Both times, the performance started after we had moved out of the lobby. So it was nice to finally see the show in person instead of on monitors down the hall. The actual wait time for the ride was shorter as well which suggests to me that the operations have become more efficient since last year.

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    Next up was Revenge of the Mummy. This was one of Josie’s favorite attractions last year, but Mindy and Kara had yet to experience it. I showed Kara some ride videos to gauge whether or not she could handle the dark ride-coaster hybrid. With encouragement from Josie, she decided she would give it a try. I also had some concerns about the darkness triggering Mindy’s claustrophobia, but The Mummy is a relatively short ride so I figured even if they hated it, it would be over soon.

    I quickly stowed our bags in the free lockers nearby and we headed into the EP queue. Once again, the EP line was a little longer than I was used to and I worried a bit that this was how the trip was going to be. Maybe it was just that busy. Our wait was still less than ten minutes, so it was very manageable.

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    When I posted our ride photo on Facebook, all of our friends and family thought Kara was crying. She’s clutching Mindy’s hand for dear life, but she’s actually laughing and screaming. I know it sure doesn’t look like Kara was enjoying herself, but she said she liked it and would ride again. I asked again weeks later as I was preparing this trip report and she confirmed she was having fun. So, there you go. Josie was a lot less impressed this time around. I think she had built the ride up in her head and it failed to live up to her expectations this year. It probably didn’t help that the fire effects were turned off. The rumor I heard was that this was related to nearby construction.

    It was definitely hot and the kids were getting hungry for something more substantial than donuts. Kara wanted a proper lunch but she wasn’t entirely certain what she was in the mood for. I ran through a few nearby options, but ultimately our indecisiveness lead us to the conclusion that Fast Food Blvd was our best bet due to the variety of the food court. We always seem to end up eating there. I had intended to mix things up a little more on this trip, but it was what the kids wanted so we started walking that way.

    As we passed Transformers, I realized that something was missing. I had forgotten to retrieve our bag from the lockers by The Mummy. Since my pants had the most pockets, I was generally in charge of keeping track of everyone’s passes, devices, etc. Just about every ten minutes or so, I would do a mental check to make sure I had everything I was supposed to be carrying. This was a rare misstep on my part, but it was easily remedied. We still had another hour or so before we would be charged for the locker. I told the girls to go on ahead to Springfield and I would catch up with them after retrieving our bag.

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    That’s essentially what happened. I ran back to The Mummy and got our stuff while the girls continued on their way. When I caught up with them, they were getting ready to place their orders at Krusty Burger. The place was packed, but Mindy commented that they were directing traffic more efficiently than they have in the past. Sometimes, the food court can be a bit chaotic. Kara had decided she wanted a burger so that lead them to queue up in that line. Josie wanted tater tots, but those were served in the next line over at Cletus’ Chicken Shack. I asked if she wanted me to jump in that line, but she said curly fries were fine.

    I got Kara the Krusty Burger meal with sauce on the side in case she didn’t like it. Mindy and Josie just wanted fries so I got two side orders. I suspected one would be more than enough and it turns out I was right. But I didn’t want to hear complaints about having to share food. I was still pretty full from our donut breakfast, so I just got a diet drink and grazed on the massive piles of curly fries. Since we had a side order of sauce, I dipped some of my fries in that. It was not unlike a Bloomin’ Onion from Outback. Our meal was expensive for what it was, but the girls were refueled and happy.

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    We milled around Springfield a bit trying to decide what to do next. Josie and I hopped on The Simpsons Ride, but Kara and Mindy opted out of that one. As motion simulators go, the Simpsons is one of the rougher ones at Universal. It didn’t take us long to survive our encounter with Sideshow Bob. While we were riding, Kara listened to phone messages outside of the Quick*E*Mart.

    The weather forecast called for thunderstorms and the sky was beginning to cloud over so we thought about heading back to the hotel. Last year had been exceptionally rainy and we were a bit gun shy about having the water taxis shut down due to storms. We started to head back towards the front of the park. If we saw something we wanted to do, we would stop. But the primary objective was to avoid getting caught in the rain.

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    As we were crossing a bridge, we spotted Doc Brown from Back to the Future. He was walking over to the Delorean in Springfield where he typically holds meet and greets. As it so happens, I ran into the wacky inventor at this exact spot almost exactly one year ago. When I pointed this out to him, he asked if he was wearing the same outfit. I confirmed that to be the case and he said that for us a year had passed but for him it had only been seconds. Doc spent a lot of time talking to us and we promised to meet up again next year in this same spot. As character interactions go, this was a memorable encounter.

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    The Monster Make-Up Show was getting ready to start and I considered stopping to catch it. We had never seen it before, but it’s the one show in Universal that draws unanimous praise. I thought there was a chance we might ride out the coming storm during the show, but ultimately we decided not to risk it. It was the first day of a week-long stay, so we would have ample opportunities to catch the show later.

    On our way to the front of the park, we came across the Despicable Me parade float. The entire parade ran at 5:00 every day, but individual floats seemed to be out on a nearly constant rotation. They were fun and don’t disrupt traffic like a full parade does. This is pretty typical of Universal’s approach. Less spectacle, but also a lot less hassle than at that other place. We also ran into Lucile Ball and Betty Boop before we exited the park. I didn’t bother taking pictures because they were quick interactions but I am sure we could have posed with them if we had wanted to stop.

    By the time we got to the water taxis, the skies were getting pretty dark. We were glad we hadn’t taken any chances with the weather and enjoyed a pleasant cruise back to the hotel.

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    When we got back, we explored Portofino Bay a little. The pool was shut down due to rain, but we checked out the location. The girls also made note of the nearby arcade. I personally hate going to the arcade, but Mindy and the girls had fun at the one in Royal Pacific last year. It’s kind of a game we play that they make secret plans to go without telling me what they are doing. Everyone knows I know what they are up to, but we all pretend it’s some kind of secret.

    Sure enough, a storm settled in. It wasn’t anywhere near as bad as the thunderstorms we were dealing with last year. If we wanted to, we could have gone back to the parks or gone to CityWalk for dinner, but Kara was more interested in ordering room service. She really had her mind set on chicken wings. I looked at some menus and realized I could pick up chicken wings at the lobby bar and bring them back to the room rather than pay extra for them to be delivered. So Josie and I went to the Bar American to get some food.

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    The bar was nicer than I was expecting and it was basically empty this early in the evening. The bartender was exceptionally nice and very accommodating about our to-go order. I got two orders of wings. One for Kara and one for Mindy. They ended up being huge so once again we had lots of leftovers. I ate what I could, but stored at least half an order of wings in the fridge. Josie got a grilled chicken and brie sandwich without the cheese. It had a cranberry compote which would have complimented the brie nicely I am sure, but Josie’s not big on cheese.

    After dinner, we settled in and called it a night. It had been a relatively light day, but we were pacing ourselves. We had an entire week, so there was no reason to wear ourselves out on the first day. The plan for tomorrow was to get up early and beat the crowds to Volcano Bay.

    Next: Volcano Bay
     
  2. schumigirl

    schumigirl It's a bit of a roodie doodie word for lady parts

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    Lovely to see you back posting!!!!

    Fabulous update...…..you all did really well and managed to do a lot...…..

    Mindy did well with her claustrophobia!!! I admire what she manages to do...….and I`m with her on the maple bacon bar!!!!! Love it...….

    You got some lovely pictures there......enjoyed reading your first update......will look for more!!!
     
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  4. lebeau

    lebeau Mouseketeer

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    It's funny what triggers the claustrophobia and what doesn't. The Mummy was fine but Spaceship Earth caused a near panic attack. You've got me wondering is she has been faking the whole time to get out going to Disney World?!? ;)

    The maple bacon bar was quite good. We enjoyed just about everything we sampled at Voodoo Donuts. I look forward to another visit next time.
     
  5. angryduck71

    angryduck71 DIS Veteran

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    My mom has claustrophobia and I thought she was going to die at the submarine ride at Disneyland years ago!
    I spent a work week in Portland last year -- and I gained 15 pounds in one week because my hotel was just down the street from Voodoo -- I think I gained at least 5 reading your post!!! :)
     
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  6. lebeau

    lebeau Mouseketeer

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    I actually dropped quite a few pounds prior to this year's trip. I'll be lighter still be next year's vacation, I hope. As a result, my appetite wasn't what it used to be. As the trip report progresses you will see I very rarely ordered anything for myself. Mostly, I ate off the girls' plates. But I wasn't going to pass up on Voodoo Donuts. I had waited for years to try them. I did put on around five pounds while we were there, but it was worth it. Probably won't have another donut until next year... ;)
     
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  7. angryduck71

    angryduck71 DIS Veteran

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    That’s awesome! I’ve lost 25 pounds since that Portland trip! I probabaly won’t be back until 2020, so hopefully will be down another 15-20 by then! And then i’ll Have a donut (or a dozen!)
     
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  8. pattyw

    pattyw DIS Veteran

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    Following along!
    Sounds like a fun trip so far! I love the Mummy picture of your family as well as the one with Doc!:) Back to the Future is a favorite of our family! Miss the ride!
     
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  9. macraven

    macraven Proud Redhead Moderator

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    So glad you are doing another trip report

    I enjoyed your last reports you have shared with us

    I can see you look thinner in the pictures!
    Congrats on your weight loss

    Waiting for more of your trip report
     
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  10. lebeau

    lebeau Mouseketeer

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    I never got to experience BttF:TR in person. I wish I had gotten the chance. I was a huge fan of the movie as was any kid my age in 1985. I gotta say, this year's interaction with Doc was one of my favorite meet and greet experiences at any park.

    Thanks for the kind words. We will not speak of the pictures from last year's trip! *shudder* That was part of the incentive for changing some habits. I'm still not where I want to be, but I am less embarrassed by this year's photos. Next year, I hope to be looking a lot less squatty.

    More to come...
     
  11. macraven

    macraven Proud Redhead Moderator

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    You look great in the pictures!

    Perfect the way you are in the trip pics
     
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  12. pattyw

    pattyw DIS Veteran

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    It was a rough ride, but we loved it!!
    We got to meet Doc a few years ago. My son, a HUGE BttF fan, was thrilled and was beaming as he met Doc. And he was 22 at the time!! The characters are fun to interact with at any age!!:)
     
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  13. lebeau

    lebeau Mouseketeer

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    Lebeau Family Trip Report 2018: Universal Orlando Resort Part 2

    The plan for our second full day of our Universal Orlando vacation was to get up early and visit the new water park, Volcano Bay. Last summer, when the park was newly opened, Kara and I spent a day there but Mindy and Josie were not able to make it. So this year, we wanted everyone to get in on the tropically themed fun. Kara was especially excited. Volcano Bay was her favorite part of last year’s vacation and she was looking forward to sharing her expertise with her sister and her mother. We’re not exactly a water park kind of family. The kids don’t especially like the big slides which are the main attraction. But Volcano Bay isn’t exactly a typical water park. Everyone was looking forward to the change of pace it offers.

    The weather forecast for the day was fairly grim. Storms were expected to roll in around 2:00. Mindy also had a cousin who lives in Florida who wanted to meet up with us right around that time. We spent some time trying to figure out how we were going to work our schedule around all of this. The plan for this trip was minimal planning. We wanted to take advantage of the ability to be spontaneous rather than scheduling every detail of every day. But we had a few things we needed to sort out. Since visiting the water park was a high priority for the girls, I wanted to make sure we crossed it off the list early in the trip. If we loved it enough to want to spend another day there, we would have that option later in the week.

    If you are staying at one of the on-site hotels, early admission to Volcano Bay is a perk you should definitely take advantage of. The park has been more popular than even Universal anticipated and it frequently hits capacity during the summer months. During those early hours, you can enjoy a lot of attractions which will have hour-long waits later in the day. So even though we weren’t setting alarms most of the week, everyone agreed to get up a little early this morning. Ideally, that would mean we could finish up our visit before the afternoon storms that were expected to roll in.

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    The morning went very much according to plan. Unlike the dry parks, there is no water taxi to Volcano Bay so we had to take a shuttle from our hotel. The bus stop is right out front of the lobby. When we arrived, a shuttle was already waiting but it turns out it was for CityWalk rather than the water park. Not five minutes later, another bus pulled up for us to board. We shared a bus route with the Hard Rock Hotel, but even with that stop we still arrived at Volcano Bay in less than ten minutes. I thought we were running a little behind, but we actually arrived at the park entrance with time to spare before opening.

    We were each given our Tapu Tapu wearable devices as we entered the gates. Mindy and I helped the girls secure them to their wrists as tightly as possible. Last year, mine was briefly knocked from my wrist in the wave pool. The bands have been redesigned since then with a second strap that makes them less likely to come loose. Then we picked out some loungers with maximum protection from the sun, reapplied sunscreen, etc. All that was left to do was to pick out a locker.

    One area in which I think Volcano Bay still needs some improvement is with signage. A lot of landmarks in the park look very similar and they all have Polynesian names that are hard for most tourists to keep straight. As a result, I found myself constantly stopping and asking employees for directions. Even though I had a sense of where the lockers were located, I asked a nearby employee just to be sure. She suggested that I should not use the lockers that were nearby. Instead, I should go around to the other side of the park where most of the rides were located.

    This is probably good advice for most guests, but I quickly wished I had not followed it. We weren’t going to spend a lot of time in the River Village where the big slides are located and we weren’t going to retrieve items from our locker all that often. I really would have been better off just stowing our stuff as close to the park entrance as possible, but the employee who gave me this advice didn’t know that. Complicating matters, the walkway that would have taken me directly to the River Village I had been directed to was closed to guests during early park admission. I have no idea if this is a regular thing or not, but it meant I had to go pretty far out of my way to set up our locker.

    I ended up circling the park which was not unpleasant. It’s a beautiful park to walk around but also an easy place to get lost. We would circle the park multiple times over the course of the day. At one point, I stopped to inquire about the availability of private cabanas. I had called before the trip and been quoted a price around $600 is I remember correctly. This morning, they had one available for $450. I was told it was the last cabana available which may or may not have been true. I suspect it was available at a lower price due to a last-minute cancellation, but that was still more money than I wanted to spend.

    When I returned to the loungers, the girls were already enjoying the wave pool. There was no doubt in my mind we would be spending a lot of time in the wave pool during the day. Mindy and the kids really enjoy hanging out in wave pools. It was Kara’s favorite thing about the park last year. But you can enjoy the wave pool at any time. Even when the park is crowded, there is never a wait for the wave pool. So I waved to the girls for them to join me which was met with some resistance. I explained that we should use this time to experience whatever slides we wanted to ride while there were no waits and that our first stop should be the Krakatau Water Coaster, the park’s signature attraction. Everyone played along, but Mindy glared at me and muttered a sarcastic comment about being run around the park all day.

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    After a bit of searching and asking for directions, we found the water coaster. As expected, there was no wait whatsoever. Last year, when the park was still figuring out some of the operational issues, you could still encounter a twenty-minute wait even if the attraction was listed as “ride now”, but this time we more or less walked on. Kara wanted to sit up front, but the ride attendant told Josie she should take the front spot. As you can tell from the picture above, we let Kara have her way but it took some effort to convince Josie it was okay to bend the rules on this one.

    Everyone enjoyed the ride. It’s fast, zippy and takes you through the coaster which is fun. The ride photo was automatically added to my account because my ticket was linked to my Tapu Tapu. The girls’ accounts apparently weren’t linked as their pictures did not show up in the account. I would imagine there is a way to set things up so you get pictures for everyone, however the timing on the cameras is such that a lot of the pictures on the faster slides just showed empty tubes. So, I’m not sure it’s worth the trouble of figuring it out unless you are going to hit a lot of individual slides and want all the pictures.

    After the Krakatau, we wandered the area looking for slides that we could ride together before the lines got long. But Kara thought most of the slides looked too intimidating, so we didn’t end up riding very many of them. Mindy and Josie rode one slide together and Josie and I did some kind of racer. As I said before, the names of the attractions are hard for me to keep straight so I’m not sure which slides we rode. I will say the one I was on ended with a face full of water that made my contacts fit funny for about ten minutes. It gave me pause for thought because is my contacts came loose I would be blind for the rest of the day and that didn’t sound like a lot of fun. It didn’t matter though because we weren’t going to spend a lot of time riding slides.

    We wanted to check out the Fearless River. The park has a regular lazy river and a souped-up version that adds strong currents and waves into the mix. Unfortunately, it was closed every time we passed the entrance. Just as we were getting ready to head back to the wave pool, I noticed that people were in the Fearless River, so we doubled back to check it out. The sign out front seemed to indicate that life jackets were optional, but life guards were indicating that they were mandatory. As strong as the currents were, I think they ought to be mandatory if they are not. That sign should be updated to reflect the policy although I am not certain the policy on life jackets is consistent. That’s probably because up until recently you had the option of using inner tubes instead of life jackets. But it may also be because the Fearless River isn’t always the same experience. When we came back to it later in the day, the intensity of the attraction had been drastically reduced. No idea why that would be the case, but it was undeniably different.

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    We had a difficult time finding a life jacket that fit Kara properly. Our first time around the river, the one she was wearing was clearly too big which ended up with her bobbing on the waves more than she should have. But the river was so much fun we wanted to continue riding, so we got out and tried to find a better fit. We never did find one that was perfect, but we got close enough. At full strength, the Fearless River combines the best elements of a traditional lazy river with the wave pool – the girls’ favorite two water park experiences. Even with the life jacket on, I spent some time underwater when a particular big wave would crest right on top of me. I don’t know how many cycles we went around, but it was a lot.

    Unfortunately, the strength of the current pulled Kara’s Tapu Tapu from her wrist on what was supposed to be our final lap. I got to the exit to see Mindy consoling Kara who was worried there would be negative consequences for losing the device. Josie and I decided to go around one more time to see if we could retrieve it. They are pretty large and I assumed they would float (I was wrong about that). So Josie and I went around looking for the brown band. Towards the end of the river, Josie actually found it. She was able to step on it to pin it to the bottom of the pool, but she couldn’t pick it up. She called to me and I attempted to reach her, but just before I did a big wave knocked her over and the device came loose.

    I decided to try it again now that I knew the device would be at the bottom of the pool rather than floating around at the top. Somewhat miraculously, I spotted the Tapu Tapu almost immediately on our second attempt. I was able to scoop the device up using my feet. After that, Josie and I were free to enjoy the rest of our ride. At the exit, I held up the retrieved device triumphantly and everyone breathed a sigh of relief. When we returned to the Fearless River later that day, I saw four more brown Tapu Tapus laid out next to the life jackets so apparently we were not the only ones to lose one.

    By this point, Kara was hungry for lunch. Since we had put most of our belongings in a locker and the Tapu Tapus do not tell time, I have no idea what time it was, but it must have been early because most of the restaurants were still closed. In our haste to get to the bus on time, breakfast consisted of leftover donuts, milk or granola bars we had packed. I’m not sure Kara ate much before we left so I am not surprised she got hungry before what most people would consider to be lunchtime. We passed a snack stand with a limited menu, so we decided to grab something to tide the girls over until Kara could get the foot-long hot dog she had her heart set on.

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    Mindy and Josie each got a hot pretzel. Josie got hers with a cup of fake cheese which ended up being mostly discarded. Kara ordered a churro. Because it was hot, we all got drinks. Josie wanted a bottled water which she barely drank. Mindy wanted a Coke Zero Sugar which is her life’s blood. If you poke her, I’m pretty sure soda will spurt out. Kara wanted a blue raspberry Icee. I saw that this stand had some of the more unusual flavors, so I got myself a banana Icee as well. I’m not a big Icee drinker. If I have one a year, that’s a lot. But I have to admit, in the heat, that banana Icee hit the spot. I got all the drinks in souvenir cups figuring we would like get refills at some point during the trip but as it turns out we never did. We’ll have to bring them back next year for my annual banana Icee.

    After snacks, we reapplied sunscreen. Kara has very sensitive skin and she had a bad reaction to the stick Mindy had packed so we had to wash that off and rub on lotion instead. I finished off whatever snacks were going to go to waste. Then we spent some time hanging out in the wave pool. Eventually, we decided to go explore the inside of the volcano. When Kara and I had visited last year, the inside wasn’t open yet so she was really excited to go in and talk to Vol.

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    Vol is a tiki with a projected face that interacts with guests inside the volcano. On the way to meet him (sometimes Vol is female, but ours was male), we passed several effects which could be activated using the Tapu Tapu wrist bands. There were some water spouts that didn’t appear to be working, but we made lights sparkle on the walls in various designs. When we got to Vol, he started asking us questions and Kara spoke for the group. Once he got some information from us such as where we were from, he integrated it into the stories he told us.

    Mostly, Vol shares the background story behind the park’s island theme. It’s about a tribe of travelers called the Waturi (Joe Vs. the Volanoreference?) who followed a golden fish from one island to another collecting elements of their culture before settling on Volcano Bay and building a paradise that feels very much like a water park. As the story progresses, Vol’s face is replaced by animation. There are fountains and lighting effects as well. Afterwards, Vol played a game with us in which we were supposed to capture the golden fish. The fountains would fire off randomly with one of them lit up with a golden light. They moved too fast to catch the gold fountain at first. When the game was over, the gold light stayed on until we successfully captured the fish.

    [​IMG]
    You can stay and interact with Vol as long as you like. Since no one else was there, we probably spent around 20 minutes playing games and listening to stories. It was very funny every time Vol said Kara’s name or the name of our home state in his island accent and Kara loved the attention. This experience isn’t going to be a must do for everyone, but it sure is nice for families with kids who are looking for something to do in between slides.

    For the rest of our stay at Volcano Bay, we bounced around between the lazy river, the fearless river (which had gotten a lot lazier since this morning) and the wave pool. Once the restaurants were open for lunch, Kara got her foot-long hot dog. She won’t actually eat hot dogs at home. Just about a year ago, she found out they were pork and decided she didn’t want to eat piggies. For the most part, she hasn’t eaten them since. But last year when we were looking for something to eat at Volcano Bay, I told her the hot dogs were all beef. I actually had no idea if that was true or not, but it was the most convenient food offering at the time so I went with it. She enjoyed her hot dog so much that she wanted another one this year.

    The hot dog came with chips. Mindy got one too. Josie ordered the gourmet mac and cheese which was more of a cream sauce than a cheddar-based dish. There’s an option to get it with shrimp which I am sure compliments the sauce very well, but Josie doesn’t like shrimp at all. I didn’t order anything partially because I wasn’t that hungry and partially because there was always food left over that I didn’t want to go to waste. This started a bit of a vicious cycle in which the girls would order extra food so they could make sure there was something left for me to eat. Mindy says she left me a few bites of hot dog even though she was really hungry enough to finish it all which sort of defeats the entire purpose of me not placing an order for myself in the first place.

    Not long after lunch, we decided to head back to the hotel. It turns out the storm that had been predicted blew over instead, but we were beginning to feel the effects of having been out in the Florida sun and we were ready for a break. When I went to retrieve our stuff from the locker, I ended up practically circling the parks looking for the right location. This is when I was really wishing I hadn’t taken that employee’s well-intended advice first thing in the morning. There was a bus waiting for us when we left which was nice. We ended up waiting on the bus for ten or fifteen minutes before we pulled away, but we were able to sit down and it was air-conditioned so I wasn’t complaining.

    When we got back to the hotel, I took a nap. This is very unlike me, but water parks really take it out of me. Last year, I practically went into a coma after our day at Volcano Bay. Today, it was just a short nap. Mindy and Kara were pretty badly burned. Poor Kara was getting redder by the minute. She spent the rest of the day in bed with Mindy rubbing aloe on her. After I got up from my nap, I was feeling energized. The storm had blown over and the weather was terrific, so I was ready to go back to the parks and ride some rides. But no one else was feeling it, so I decided to do the only sensible thing under the circumstances. Solo trip! I told Mindy to go ahead and order room service if they wanted which pretty much sealed the deal. Kara in particular had been waiting for the opportunity to order up some room service.

    I left the girls’ passes and room keys behind in case they decided to join me, but I knew that was highly unlikely. Since I didn’t need to keep track of any wands or phones or any of the other things I am frequently asked to carry, I put everything I needed in my lanyard and headed out to the water taxi. All I had on me was my pass, my room key (which doubled as my Express Pass) and a credit card in case I got hungry and wanted to get something to eat (although I figured I would likely wait and eat the leftovers from whatever the girls got from room service). I set out to Islands of Adventure to ride everything I wasn’t sure the girls would agree to ride with me.

    [​IMG]
    My primary objective was to ride the Hulk. This was my fourth trip to Universal in ten years and yet for one reason or another, I kept missing my opportunity to ride Islands of Adventure’s signature roller coaster. Last summer, Josie had promised to ride it with me but backed out at the last minute. I had considered a quick solo outing then, but I came down with a cold and didn’t quite feel up to it. So this year, I wasn’t taking any chances. The bad weather forecast seemed to have scared some people from coming to the parks which made it a perfect evening to knock out all of the big rides on my must-do list.

    After nearly a decade of missed chances, the Hulk was worth the wait. It’s thrilling from start to finish. The ride starts with a launch and from there it is a series of loops and tunnels. I will admit to feeling a touch of motion sickness towards the end. Next time, I will probably take some Dramamine before I ride. It wasn’t a rough ride. Universal rebuilt the Hulk from the ground up recently with completely new track. There’s also a goofy new preshow involving an experiment that turns tourists into green rage monsters and some audio effects of the Hulk rampaging. It’s easily one of the best coasters in central Florida.

    They don’t allow you to bring anything on the Hulk for safety reasons so I had to store my phone in a nearby locker. That meant no pictures from inside which is a shame because there are a few neat things in the queue I would love to show you. One was a plaque with the names of famous Hulk writers and artists as military personnel. But I totally get why Universal has to take these kinds of precautions and I appreciate that they do. I have been on coasters before where kids were taking selfies and I was just praying they didn’t lose their grip on their phone.

    After the ride, I took the picture above with the statue up front. That, ladies and gentlemen, was my first ever attempt at a selfie. I’m not sure I’m cut out for social media. I texted the picture to Mindy and the girls to let them know everything was going according to plan. As expected, they had ordered up room service. I let Josie know she was off the hook for riding the Hulk. After having ridden it myself, I had to admit it might be too intense for her.

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    The next attraction I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss was the Jurassic Park River Adventure. I experienced this ride once before on my first visit, but I was a bit disappointed that time out. I wanted a chance to reevaluate the attraction now that I had more realistic expectations. Also, I wanted to reassess the scare factor. Mindy wanted the kids to ride with her and I wanted to make sure it wasn’t too scary. My recollection was that aside from the drop, Jurassic Park was a pretty tame ride. And the kids had experienced similar drops on Splash Mountain and Dudley Do-Right so I didn’t think it would be a problem. But I didn’t want to push them to ride something they would hate either.

    Before I boarded my riverboat, I checked out the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man because you can’t go through Marvel Super Hero Island without riding Spidey’s attraction. I also hit up Skull Island which is an attraction a lot of fans find underwhelming but I liked it well enough when I rode it for the first time last year. The second time around it was a little less impressive, but I still think it’s a worthwhile attraction. I’d visit Kong any time the line wasn’t too long. Thanks to Express Pass, everything was a walk-on tonight.

    There weren’t a lot of people on Jurassic Park when I rode which was nice since I was traveling solo. I got a row all to myself and was seated a couple of rows back from the only other guests on the boat. With more reasonable expectations, I found I enjoyed the River Adventure much more than I did the first time around. The T-Rex at the drop is still one of the best endings to any attraction in Orlando.

    Later, I told the kids I thought they could handle the ride but I wasn’t going to make them ride it since I had already crossed it off my list.
    By this point, there wasn’t a lot of daylight left. The park closed relatively early. The Universal Studios side was open an hour later, so I considered hopping on the Hogwarts Express and extending my night over there. I was still on the fence about whether or not to continue when I queued up for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. This was another attraction the kids wouldn’t commit to riding, so I decided to check that box solo. As it turns out, I probably should have skipped this journey.

    As I said before, everything I needed was in my lanyard. When they lowered the restraints, it struck my lanyard in such a way that the pocket inverted. It was between my chest and the restraint. I worried it might not be safe, so I made an adjustment just before the ride started. I remember thinking I should put it in my pocket, but I didn’t. I should have followed that instinct because about a third of the way into the ride, I saw a flash in the darkness. I realized that was the plastic sleeve holding my pass, room key and credit card falling into the great unknown below our dangling feet. I quickly grabbed at my chest to verify whether or not I still had my documents. All that was there was a decorative Captain America.

    After I exited the ride, I stopped to tell a ride operator what had happened. They took down my name and phone number and assured me they would call if they found it. I will save you any suspense on the matter. They never found it. I checked the lost and found at the front of the park a few times over the remainder of our stay and it never did turn up. It wasn’t a big deal. Guest services immediately replaced my annual pass and room key. The only inconvenience was having to report my card lost and I had a different card I could use during the trip. Still, I wish I had put the darn thing in my pocket when I thought to do so.

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    That pretty much made up my mind to head back to the hotel. It also answered the question of what I would do for dinner. I had no way to pay for any food in the parks, so I would have to wait until I got back to the room to eat. There was still a lot of food left over from the girls’ room service order since Kara wasn’t feeling 100% after her fun in the sun. Josie had ordered some chicken fingers which she devoured. But there was still most of a serving of spaghetti and meatballs waiting for me. (Josie took the picture above while I was gone. I’m not quite sure why she left some of the dishes covered.) They also ordered some brownies which were rich and fudgy. The brownies were served with strawberries, chocolate sauce and an entire ramekin fill of rainbow sprinkles. I am pretty sure the food came from the same kitchen as Mama Delia’s restaurant. Even cold, it was really good.

    I went to bed slightly irritated with myself for having done something foolish and hopeful that Kara would bounce back after a good night’s sleep. We had no idea what we were doing tomorrow, but I hoped it would be fun.

    Next: Superheroes and dinosaurs
     
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  14. lebeau

    lebeau Mouseketeer

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    Apr 2, 2008
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    Agreed. My kids mostly humor me with character interactions these days. I think I enjoy them more than they do.
     
  15. schumigirl

    schumigirl It's a bit of a roodie doodie word for lady parts

    Joined:
    May 15, 2007
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    14,655
    Fabulous day at VB!!!

    What a shame you lost the cards though!!!! Yep, you`ll kick yourself for that...….but these things happen. Glad it was sorted easily though.

    Hulk gets me at the latter stages too.....it`s a whole lot smoother than before the refurb but yep, by the end I can feel it at times...….3 times max in a row for us now. We used to be able to do it 7 or 8 times years ago.

    We`re terrible at selfies too...….lol...…..Tom loves Doc Brown too...….he is one of the few choices we have to get a picture of every year especially when Kyle was younger...….always a tradition!!! I think kids do humour us at times with meets...…..but the character interactions are phenomenal at Universal!!!

    Hope Kara was ok...…..
     
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  16. lebeau

    lebeau Mouseketeer

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    We're not what you would call water park people, but VB is a nice break from the parks. You can go in for the big thrilling slides or just take it easy and relax there. That's what we use it for.

    When I dropped my cards, I was kicking myself pretty hard. Right before it happened, I thought about making a change to the way I was carrying them and then dismissed the idea as worrying too much. Ooops. Should have listened to my instincts on that one, but fortunately it was easily rectified. And everyone I dealt with at Universal handled the situation very well. I wasn't worried, but if I had been they would have put me at ease.

    I think my phone had a selfie setting that would have pulled out beyond my brow, but I wasn't going to try to figure it out. I thought they attempt was funny enough to get the job done.

    Doc's lots of fun and we keep running into him for some reason! I'm a huge Captain America fan, so he's a must. The one character I have yet to see who I will be on the hunt for next year is Beetlejuice. The kids think he's scary though so that will probably just be me.

    The sun doesn't like Kara. She burns so easily. After a good night's rest, lots of water and some aloe, she bounced back the next day. But it seems like no matter what we do, we can never put enough sunscreen on the kid. Next year, we're going to dunk her in the stuff.
     
  17. macraven

    macraven Proud Redhead Moderator

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    89,192
    I hope losing the cards, especially the cc, was something you were able to put out of your mind after you were back in the room.
    Good thing you had another CC with you in case of an emergency did happen.
    (I always stick my lanyard fown the front of my top when I do that ride.)

    Replacing room keys and pass can always be replaced in less than a minute.

    But, sounds like you enjoyed your solo time doing the rides up to then.

    Too late to tell you this but you can always buy items in the parks and have it charged back to your room.


    Good looking first selfie!!
     
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  18. lebeau

    lebeau Mouseketeer

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    I didn't worry over the lost credit card much. I had faith that if the card was recovered by a team member, it would be turned in to the lost and found. And I didn't figure anyone else would find it in the great abyss of Forbidden Journey. At the end of the day, I would just dispute any fraudulent charges, but that didn't turn out to be an issue. Mostly I just felt stupid for having done something I knew was a mistake.

    The solo time was definitely fun for me. EP really helps with that. I wouldn't have wanted to have spent a lot of time waiting in line by myself. If I hadn't gone out and rode some of the rides by myself, I would have missed them. So I was glad I took the opportunity.

    I thought about charging some food to my room, but I was going to need to get my room key replaced first. That was done at the front of the park, so I was already most of the way home by then. I knew there were leftovers waiting in the room. If I had been starving, I would have stopped but like I said before my appetite isn't what it used to be. I hate letting food go to waste, so it just made sense to wait until I got back to the room. Even then, I couldn't finish everything. The spaghetti dish was huge!

    You're absolutely correct about the ease with which the room key and pass were replaced. They even offered to replace the plastic envelope that dropped off my lanyard. It was all very quick and easy. If you ever find yourself dropping your documents in Hogwarts, fear not. It's not a big deal.
     
  19. macraven

    macraven Proud Redhead Moderator

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    That was nice they offered to replace the plastic envelope/pouch too.

    I'm looking forward in what you say next about your vacation!

    Your girls have such big smiles in the picutes.


    And you, in the selfie, can't see your smile.......jk
     
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  20. robl45

    robl45 DIS Veteran

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    Sep 7, 2014
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    You are lucky, I wanted to meet the Doc and never saw him the whole trip. Did run into a number of other characters, but missed all the Marvel ones too.
     
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  21. ckmiles

    ckmiles Mouseketeer

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    Dec 17, 2008
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    Enjoying your trip report! (Ok I admit I clicked the link to your blog and binged on the entire report already) but Ill keep reading here too!
     
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