Lebeau Family Trip Report 2018: Universal Orlando

lebeau

Mouseketeer
Joined
Apr 2, 2008
Thanks I appreciate that:thumbsup2

I have heard about the indoor skydiving but haven't done it. It sounds like something part of my family would like. I was hooked on trying it till you mentioned the wind in the face a little to long. My daughter and I would not like that. It is something I would let the guys try on a trip or when we move there in the next year or so....

I am not sure if you saw my trip report but I put quite a bit of pics on the club level https://www.disboards.com/threads/another-great-trip-to-report-yay-june-july-2018.3693961/page-3#post-59597508 If you get a chance and want to check it out before next Spring please do. If you have any questions on it just ask.

We drove down this year so we had a car. We usually fly and have Tony pick us up. I thought we might use the car more but nope! If I fly again I won't rent a car agree it is so much easier to stay on site to eat.

Congrats on the weight loss!!

Looking forward to the rest!
I will definitely check out your TR. Thanks for the link!
 

angryduck71

DIS Veteran
Joined
Dec 9, 2010
We have an iFly in my hometown (Kansas City) -- my son did it (as part of a summer camp) and said it went by so fast and he was scared at the beginning that he doesn't even really remember it. I keep thinking about trying it, but not sure it's worth the money... sounds like from your experience and his, I may pass. Still enjoying your report!
 

lebeau

Mouseketeer
Joined
Apr 2, 2008
We have an iFly in my hometown (Kansas City) -- my son did it (as part of a summer camp) and said it went by so fast and he was scared at the beginning that he doesn't even really remember it. I keep thinking about trying it, but not sure it's worth the money... sounds like from your experience and his, I may pass. Still enjoying your report!
The family deal was $300 which came with 5 videos and lasted about an hour. As a one-time deal, I felt like it was worth the money. Your mileage will vary. I'm not much of a thrill junkie so for me, I kind of checked out. After about 30 seconds I went, so this is it huh? Okay that's enough. Mindy on the other hand would have gone as often as they let her.
 
  • lebeau

    Mouseketeer
    Joined
    Apr 2, 2008

    After indoor sky-diving and an afternoon dip in the pool, we spent some time hanging around Portofino Bay. The girls got gelato at the Gelateria and I bought a Captain America coffee mug that was on clearance at the gift shop. We hadn’t been to the parks at all yet and that suited Mindy and Kara fine. They were enjoying the break, but Josie and I were getting a little restless. I checked the showtimes for the Horror Make-Up Show I had been wanting to see and realized that I could make it to the park in time for the last show. So Josie and I hopped a water taxi for a little daddy-daughter time.


    As we approached the dock, another family told us the boats were closed due to storms. I asked Josie if she wanted to risk walking to the parks or if we should head back. She definitely didn’t want to spend the night in the hotel, so we headed to the walking trail. But after only a few steps, I noticed the security guys taking down the sign for severe weather. I asked if the boats were running again and he confirmed that they were. So we did the lazy thing and waited for the next water taxi to arrive. It didn’t take long at all. We ended up at the front gates with plenty of time to spare before the show started.


    Since we had some time to kill, we decided to explore some of the shops. Josie was still on the hunt for the perfect souvenir. We wandered into a store that turned out to be a comic shop. The store had lots of nerdy collectibles that you wouldn’t find in every other gift shop which is something I appreciate about Universal. You will find a lot of the same stuff across all the stores, but there are also unique items just about everywhere. I’m not a shopper by nature, but if I am going to shop I want to have a variety of items to choose from. Since the Terminator 2 show closed last year, there was a lot of Terminator merchandise on hand here. There was also a strong DC Comics presence here since the comic shop at Islands of Adventure is Marvel themed.

    While we were in the shop, one of the street performers was putting on a bit of a show. The taxi cab driver who usually greets guests as they come into the park was hanging out at the cash register. He was trying to get the cashier to sell him the store’s air conditioner for his cab. I was half-listening to his act while we were shopping. It was amusing, but not something you had to give your full attention to.

    The Simpsons were doing meet and greets outside the store, but Josie wasn’t interested. She loves the show, but I guess she’s too old for meet and greets now. She says they are creepy. Oh well.


    We had enough time to squeeze in a ride before the show. Absolutely no one was excited about revisiting E.T. with me this year. But Josie said she’s go along for the ride, so we headed that way. I wanted to check out Spongebob Store Pants because we had never actually stepped inside the place and I heard it was pretty cool.


    If you’re a Spongebob fan or have one in your family, the store is worth a look. It’s not terribly big, but they have all the Spongebob merchandise you could ask for and they managed to make the inside look a lot like Bikini Bottom including a walk-through replica of Spongebob’s pineapple home.


    Gary the Snail is hanging out at home while Spongebob, Patrick and Squidward meet with guests at the entrance. Naturally, Josie wanted no part of that action, but she was loving the store. Spongebob was a favorite cartoon when she was little. It was one of the few shows she would watch that Mindy and I didn’t mind watching with her. She hasn’t been into Spongebob for some time, but the store brought out some nostalgia for her childhood favorite. It’s quite interesting to see a thirteen year old experience nostalgia. I think it was a new thing for her.


    There were lots of candidates here for Josie’s souvenir money, but since we were just getting started she decided to hold off buying anything. We would be back in the park again before we went home. So she was going to keep looking around before buying anything.


    Once we were done, we got in line for E.T. I have never waited more than five minutes for this attraction, but this time it was probably every bit of that. Daffy has complained previously that the process of getting the Intergalactic Passport that allows E.T. to say your name at the end of the ride can create bottlenecks. That happened on a very small scale here. Without that process, everyone would have just walked on but instead we all had to check in before queuing up for the ride. As inconveniences go, it’s a minor one but I am not sure the effect is worth the hassle.


    The E.T. Adventure was as mind-blowingly awesome as we knew it would be. Okay, the last half on E.T.’s home planet is just plain weird. But the bike ride through the sky is worth it if the line isn’t too long. And hey, I feel a bit of nostalgia for E.T. even if I don’t especially want to revisit the movie any time soon. Universal could use more rides like this one with practical effects instead of flat screens. So I’ll make a point of visiting E.T. as long as Spielberg makes them keep it open.

    Josie was less impressed, but she didn’t mind indulging her dad on this one.


    It was time for us to head over the Horror Make-Up Show. Except our path was blocked by the Superstar Parade. We had seen individual floats come out several times during our trip, but this was the full-blown parade.


    Fortunately the parade is relatively short and it doesn’t shut down foot traffic. I never minded seeing the floats out because we could take in the show from a distance as we made our way to wherever it was we were heading at the time. I think at some point or another, we saw all the floats, so I’m not sure there is any reason for us to go out of our way to watch the parade from start to finish. But if we wanted to, there doesn’t seem to be a need to stake out a viewing spot an hour in advance. As you can see, the crowd watching from the sidelines is modest.


    Universal isn’t known for great theme park shows. In fact, many of their in-park shows have a reputation for being pretty lousy. The one exception is the Horror Make-Up Show. I had been reading for years that this was the one can’t-miss, must-see show in the parks. So I was looking forward to checking it out. From what I had read, the show was more funny than scary, so I was confident Josie would be fine despite the fake blood.


    The lobby area houses a museum-style exhibit full of movie props. They aren’t all strictly speaking horror movies, but the raptor from Jurassic Park certainly qualifies as a creature effect. I could have spent a little more time checking out the displays, but the show was getting ready to start soon so we went in and found our seats.


    Josie didn’t want to sit too close because she was worried about being picked as a volunteer. I told her that the volunteers were already selected before the show started, but we sat back some anyway because I knew the front rows might get wet. The show is fast and breezy with some fun audience interaction. The performers know which jokes will land and which ones will induce groans. To my surprise, when it was over, Josie said she wanted to see it again. We decided we would bring Mindy and Kara to see it if we had time before the trip was over.


    We checked in with the girls back at the hotel to see what they were up to. Mindy made “room service” out of the groceries we bought earlier in the day and they were watching Coco on Netflix. (Pro-tip: Pack a streaming device. Hotels have limited TV selections. Our Amazon Firestick was a life saver during our rainy 2017 vacation.) The room came with some posh bathrobes which Kara enjoyed lounging in. I would have been going crazy doing something I could just as easily have done at home, but Mindy and Kara were enjoying a relaxing night in. I definitely appreciate that Universal can accommodate both approaches to vacationing.


    Since it was close by and had no wait whatsoever, we decided to hop on Transformers. It’s a loud, chaotic ride that doesn’t really appeal to either of us all that much despite the obvious similarities to Spider-Man which is one of our favorites. I’m sure some of that comes down to my affection for Marvel superheroes compared to my apathy for Transformers. But also, I feel like Spider-Man is just better executed. Transformers just whips you from one confusing scene to another. Both rides feature ridiculous, nonsensical story lines, but I feel like Spider-Man flows better. With Transformers, we were really just adding to our ride count.


    We had another box to check off before we took a break for dinner. Despite the negative reviews I had read, I felt obligated to check out Universal’s latest addition: Fast & Furious Supercharged. I am not going to hold you in suspense. Fast & Furious is a lousy ride. It easily gets my vote for the worst ride at Universal and I think it’s in the running for worst ride in all of Orlando. It’s really bad and a complete waste of a popular action franchise. I am not personally a fan of the Fast & Furious movies. I have never sat through more than a few minutes of one, but the appeal is pretty simple. Fast cars and big, elaborate action set pieces. So it’s puzzling that Universal chose to set this attraction on a slow-moving bus with a plotline that involves going to a house party.


    Like Race Through New York, Fast & Furious uses a virtual queue system. That means guests reserve a return time to come back and wait in a theoretically short line to ride the attraction. In practice, we typically end up waiting around 15-20 minutes to ride Race Through New York even with the use of Express Pass. The only benefit of EP with the virtual queue is that you can bypass setting up a return window and just get right in line. However, on the Jimmy Fallon ride, your wait time is spent in an air-conditioned lounge with live entertainment, places to sit down and interactive video games for the kids. That’s not the case here.

    Instead, Fast & Furious employs a traditional winding queue filled with good old-fashioned switchbacks that try to hide the length of the line in front of you. The first part of the line goes through a highly themed garage featuring cars from the movies. I can imagine fans of the franchise thinking this is really cool stuff. Even I picked up on a lot of little details referencing characters from the movie including tributes to the late Paul Walker. That’s pretty cool stuff.


    Unfortunately, you don’t spend a lot of time in the highly themed part of the queue. Before long, guests endure not one but two full preshows in which actors explain the ride’s plot and interact with video clips featuring the characters from the movies. We keep being told how lucky we are to be invited to a house party held by the Fast & Furious characters, but the whole thing is interrupted by an FBI raid and a bad guy who is looking for a witness in our group. As the bad guy approaches, we are all slowly evacuating the building and being boarded on gaudy party buses. I actually felt bad for the actors in the preshow. They were trying to hype up the guests, but no one was having it.


    Unfortunately, it’s downhill from here. After the pre-shows, the line winds through a series of unthemed concrete hallways and switchbacks. As you can see from the picture above, these rooms are packed full of hot, sweaty people. It was exceptionally unpleasant not to mention claustrophobic. Express Pass was no help here. We were stuck in this line for roughly a half an hour with everybody else. That’s not a mistake I will be making again.

    What about the ride, you ask? Universal basically ported this over from the tram ride in Hollywood. That means they imposed on themselves all of the limitations that come with a tram ride for no real reason other than cutting costs. Instead of featuring the franchise’s trademark fast cars, guests are loaded on a ride vehicle very much like the ones in Kong: Skull Island. Unlike that attraction, the video here is not in 3-D. The ride bounces you around in your seat while a two-dimensional movie plays around you. The acting wouldn’t pass the low bar of an actual Fast & Furious movie and the CGI is some of the least convincing you will find in any theme park attraction.

    In short, Fast & Furious is a massive misstep for Universal and a tremendous waste of resources. I hope they will take steps to remedy the situation, but I can’t think of much they can do when the ride itself is so fundamentally flawed. My best suggestion would be to tear it down and start over. The most positive thing I can say about it is that guests stuck in those switchbacks won’t be waiting in line in attractions I actually want to ride.


    We decided to cleanse the palate with a ride on a family favorite, Men in Black. We knew Mindy and Kara would want to ride this one tomorrow, so we figured we would get in a little practice before hand.


    This is just a fun ride that almost anyone can enjoy. It’s better executed than E.T., but similar in that it uses physical sets and practical effects. Universal could use more rides like this one. As you can see from the picture, Josie and I were taking our alien-blasting pretty seriously.


    Josie was getting hungry so we decided to stop somewhere for a bite. She wanted to try the chicken and waffles sandwich at Fast Food Blvd, so we headed over to Springfield. Since we were there, we decided to give The Simpsons Ride another shot before we ate dinner. Having survived Sideshow Bob’s roller coaster sabotage once again, we went to Cletus’ Chicken Shack which was just about empty.


    At lunchtime, this place can be a bit chaotic. But after six o’clock, there were lots of empty tables and no lines for any of the counters. It was a terrific change from the hustle and bustle we were used to.


    Here it is, folks. The most expensive item on the menu at Cletus’, the chicken and waffle sandwich. There’s nothing fancy about it. It’s a standard fried chicken sandwich served on a toasted frozen waffle instead of a bun. In addition to lettuce and tomato, there is a maple mayo which we got on the side. The mayo is very runny and can make the sandwich difficult to eat, so it’s nice to be able to control the application. I would even consider using it as a dipping sauce as opposed to spreading it on the sandwich.


    When we visited earlier in the week, Josie wanted tater tots but settled for curly fries because she didn’t want to go through another line. Now she had her tots and the sandwich she wanted to try. This is a big thing for her. She’s a picky eater and she doesn’t try new things very often. She ended up loving the chicken and waffle sandwich, but it was too big for her to finish so we shared. It’s an expensive fast food meal, but not bad when you can split it.


    As we finished our dinner, the sun was going down. There was one final item on our ambitious agenda for the night. We wanted to try to catch the projection show at Hogwarts castle in Islands of Adventure. That would mean hopping a ride on the Hogwarts Express before the studios closed at 8:00. I figured we had just enough time to squeeze in a ride on Escape From Gringott’s before we had to head to the train.


    Apparently no one was in Springfield because everyone was in Diagon Alley. I imagine a lot of folks had the same idea of hopping over to Islands of Adventure which was open for another two hours. That or people just wanted to end their stay in the Harry Potter themed land. As you can see, it was packed.


    The line was longer than I was expecting to the point that I began to wonder if we would be able to make the train in time. I wasn’t sure if they would continue letting guests on board the Hogwarts Express after 8:00 since Islands of Adventure remained open until 10:00. At least the queue for Gringotts is interesting throughout. Part of the hold-up seemed to be related to technical issues. When we got to the load area, they had to unboard a train and switch the riders to a different track. That made Josie nervous about our safety. I told her it was probably related to the effects not working properly but she’s pretty sure I am wrong about that even now.


    Fortunately, we had enough time after Gringotts to make it to the train before the park closed. By the time we got to Hogsmeade, the nighttime show was already in progress.


    There isn’t much of a story to the show. It’s basically just Harry Potter-themed images projected onto the castle with the iconic soundtrack from the movies and some pyrotechnics worked in. The sorting hat narrates with a section devoted to each of the different houses.


    Since the show runs several times per night, you don’t have to fight crowds to see it. We turned the corner after exiting the train station and had a passable view of the finale. If we had wanted to see the entire thing from start to finish, we could have waited 20 minutes until it started again, but we were both running out of gas and had a long walk to the front of the park.

    We checked in again with the girls back home. They asked if we could bring them back some cotton candy. Then Mindy said she would actually prefer popcorn if they had it. I wasn’t sure we were going to be able to find either one because most of the food stands had closed for the night. We eventually found cotton candy at a gift shop and a popcorn stand was still open by the front of the park. I bought a refillable souvenir popcorn bucket in case Mindy wanted more at some point in this trip or future trips, but when it came time to pack to go home an executive decision was made that there wasn’t room for the bucket in our suitcase. Ooops.

    By the time Josie and I got back to the hotel room, we were exhausted. But it had been worth it.

    Next: KidZone and Aliens
     

    pattyw

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Feb 7, 2008
    Wow!! You guys did a lot!! My boys absolutely loved Sponge Bob!! They enjoyed the meet and greet as adults! :thumbsup2

    We love the Horror Make up show! It's really a hidden gem! You can easily just walk right by without noticing it!

    Your girls are just beaming in all of your pictures!:)
     

    schumigirl

    It's a bit of a roodie doodie word for lady parts
    Joined
    May 15, 2007
    Love the update today!

    Horror Make up Show is the best show Universal do.......so much fun. And agree with you about F&F.......worst ride thy have done........

    Loving your pictures!!!
     

    macraven

    Proud Redhead
    Moderator
    Joined
    Apr 21, 2003
    There is no wasting of time when lebeau is on a mission to hit the parks with daughter!

    You covered a lot that day.


    Glad you were able to do the Horror Make Up Show.
    I find it to be a real hoot.
     
  • lebeau

    Mouseketeer
    Joined
    Apr 2, 2008
    Wow!! You guys did a lot!! My boys absolutely loved Sponge Bob!! They enjoyed the meet and greet as adults! :thumbsup2

    We love the Horror Make up show! It's really a hidden gem! You can easily just walk right by without noticing it!

    Your girls are just beaming in all of your pictures!:)
    The Make-Up Show is a bit hidden. After years of hearing about how great it was, I had to seek it out. Unless you know it's there, it blends in with the facades.

    We ended up spending a good chunk of time in Spongebob Storepants as you will see. As shops go, it's very nice.

    Love the update today!

    Horror Make up Show is the best show Universal do.......so much fun. And agree with you about F&F.......worst ride thy have done........

    Loving your pictures!!!
    Glad you liked it. One of the things I like about Universal is that it is easy for us to split up. Josie and I would get bored sitting around the hotel all day, but Mindy and Kara get worn out trying to keep up with us at the parks. Universal can easily accommodate both approaches to vacation. You can do this at Disney, obviously, but it involves crowded buses that you usually have to wait 20 minutes or more to board.

    F&F is just a dismal miss. I would be disappointed if I had any kind of expectations, but fortunately I knew what we were in for.

    There is no wasting of time when lebeau is on a mission to hit the parks with daughter!

    You covered a lot that day.


    Glad you were able to do the Horror Make Up Show.
    I find it to be a real hoot.
    LOL. To me, this is taking it easy! We watched a show and had a leisurely dinner. We even window shopped! Mindy accuses me of being an Orlando Commando. Based on reactions to today's update, she may be on to something.

    I will say, EP helps a lot. Other than F&F and Gringotts, nothing had a wait.
     

    jeanelle

    Mouseketeer
    Joined
    Jan 25, 2005
    Where was the comic book shop that had the DC stuff in it? I am a huge Marvel fan but my husband is a DC guy all the way. I would love to take him into that shop!
     

    lebeau

    Mouseketeer
    Joined
    Apr 2, 2008
    Where was the comic book shop that had the DC stuff in it? I am a huge Marvel fan but my husband is a DC guy all the way. I would love to take him into that shop!
    It is near where T2 used to be. It's not marked at all. We had no idea what we were walking into until we got inside. Here's a video I found on YouTube to help you identify it.


    I have been a DC guy all my life. Lately, the movies have made me more of a Marvel fan, but I still feel the DC love.
     
  • lebeau

    Mouseketeer
    Joined
    Apr 2, 2008

    We were down to the last few days of our Universal Orlando vacation. Our final day would be dedicated to travel, so we were down to two days in the parks. We had spent the week touring at a leisurely pace, but we had managed to cross off most of the items on our must-do lists. There were still a few things we wanted to do before our trip ended, so I made up a mental list and prioritized it for the time we had remaining. I had spent more time in the parks than anybody else, so my list was mostly done. But Mindy and the girls still had a few things they wanted to squeeze in before we left. But they weren’t in any big hurry to get around to doing them.


    Josie and I were recovering from a late night in which we crossed from Universal Studios to Islands of Adventure. Mindy wanted to do some souvenir shopping and lunch at CityWalk. I was down for whatever, but Kara didn’t feel like perusing the stores. As much as she liked Cowfish, she decided she would rather hang out at the hotel. So I stayed back at the room with her while Mindy and Josie went to CityWalk.

    Whenever we go on vacation, Mindy likes to buy things for family members back home. It’s a tradition I don’t fully understand. Why do people want souvenirs from places they haven’t visited or trips they didn’t go on? I’m not sure, but I know these little gifts are reciprocated so I don’t question it. While I generally don’t like hanging around the hotel when I could be doing something I can’t do at home, I didn’t mind missing out on shopping. Although I might have felt differently if I had known that Mindy and Josie were going to venture into the parks without me.


    This picture references an event from Josie’s first-ever trip to Disney World. She was a toddler, not quite two years old. We had lunch at the McDonald’s in Animal Kingdom back when the fast food chain had a presence in the parks. Josie wanted a Happy Meal and since we were in Dinoland, it came with a little Dinosaur toy. I’m not sure why, because this is not the sort of thing Mindy usually does, but she made the toy roar and scared her half to death. Josie started crying and the only way I could get her to stop was to pretend to scare Mindy with the dinosaur. If Mindy wants to know why Josie won’t ride Jurassic Park with her, it may stem from the resulting childhood trauma. So here’s Josie more than 10 years later wearing a blue Marge Simpson wig and crying at a stuffed dinosaur.


    I am not sure what exactly lured the two of them into the parks. It may have been that they wanted to visit the bakery. Many confections were consumed over the course of the week. This time, they sampled a red velvet cupcake and a chocolate-covered Rice Krispie treat. Some of the Rice Krispie treat made it back to the hotel room but the cupcake must have been eaten on the spot because I never saw it in person.


    Outside the bakery, they ran into Olive Oyl and Lucile Ball. Olive asked them if any of the cupcakes inside contained spinach and posed for a picture.


    The Spongebob parade float was out, so they stopped to take that in.


    Before they left the park, they stopped by Men in Black for a little training. We were planning to ride together as a family later today and I think Mindy wanted to brush up on her alien-zapping skills before things got competitive.


    Afterwards, they had lunch at Cowfish. Mindy had her favorite, Burgerooshi. She has eaten at Cowfish four times now and has yet to order anything else. Josie had a bento box filled with all her favorites. Mindy saved me a few bites of her lunch which is a massive sacrifice on her part. It was totally unnecessary. We still had a lot of leftover food in the hotel room, but it was a nice gesture. Before they returned, they stopped by Burger King and picked up some lunch for Kara.

    In the afternoon, we hung out around Portofino Bay. I haven’t done a very good job of documenting all the time we spent using the hotel amenities. Most afternoons, when the parks were hot and crowded, the girls and I went to the pool. I believe on this particular afternoon, Mindy might have taken them to the game room as well. Overall, we really enjoyed Portofino Bay. The theming was exotic and immersive enough that you felt almost like you were really in a fishing village in Italy. Despite the ornate decorations and marble columns, the hotel wasn’t stuffy at all. There aren’t a bunch of kids running around like you typically find at the Value resorts in Orlando, but it’s not like you couldn’t let your kids be kids either.

    The one complaint we had about the hotel was housekeeping. You never knew from one day to the next when the housekeeper was going to show up, but it seemed like it was often at the least convenient time. If we slept in, they showed up early. If we went to the parks, they came by when we returned. But that can be attributed to bad luck. I wouldn’t bring it up if that was the only issue. Unfortunately, for a hotel as nice as Portofino Bay is, the housekeeping was really lackluster. They made the beds, emptied the trash and replaced the toiletries, but that was it. There was no attempt to straighten up beyond the bare minimum. The impression that I got was that they were severely under-staffed because there was always a cart in the hallway and they never seemed to finish their work.

    I have another minor complaint, but we’ll get to that in the next installment. For the most part, we loved staying at Portofino Bay and look forward to staying there again.

    Before we left the hotel, we ran through everyone’s remaining to-dos to see which park we should visit first. Mindy’s top pick was Rip Ride Rocket. Last year, she kept saying how much she wanted to ride it but we never got around to it because of all the bad weather. So we wanted to make sure she got her chance this year. After hearing Josie talk about the Horror Make-Up Show, both Mindy and Kara wanted to check it out. And while most of us had ridden Men In Black, Kara still hadn’t had a chance. Based on those three things, Universal Studios had the edge over Islands of Adventure.


    When we arrived at the entrance, a stranger stopped us and asked if we planned to eat dinner in the park tonight. We said that we were planning to and she gave us an unusued meal plan card. They were leaving and didn’t want it to go to waste. Score!

    We wasted no time getting Mindy on her ride. Unfortunately for her, the kids didn’t want to ride it so she was going to have to ride it alone. It’s not ideal, but sometimes you just have to be okay riding by yourself. The truth is, on a roller coaster, it doesn’t matter all that much who is seated next to you. It’s not like you’re going to be interacting with them at all. The real reason to have a ride companion is to keep you company while you’re waiting in line. but thanks to Express Pass, that wasn’t going to be an issue.

    While Mindy rode, the kids and I waited in the shadiest spot I could find in front of the nearby stage. After Mindy had left, I realized I had underestimated how hot it still was. Even in the shade, we were still sweating. Kara complained that we should have waited in the Monsters Cafe and she was right. Thankfully, we didn’t have to wait long. Mindy was back about ten minutes later. She said Rip Ride Rocket lived up to her expectations.


    Then we made our way over to the Horror Make-Up Show. Kara wasn’t sure about the scary props in the lobby, but I assured her the show was nothing like that. It was more funny than scary. It was interesting seeing the show a second time with two different performers. The first time we watched the show, it seemed to be heavily improvised. But I was surprised how many of the seemingly off-the-cuff jokes were actually scripted because here were two completely different guys saying mostly the same things. It was still fun seeing how these performers put their own spin on the material. Mindy and Kara enjoyed the show as much as Josie and I did. So against all odds, the Horror Make-Up Show was a family hit.


    Both of the girls had recently had birthdays and as a result, they each had some birthday money they wanted to use to buy a souvenir. Throughout the trip that had each been searching for the perfect purchase, but neither of them had settled on anything yet. Josie wanted to go back to Spongebob Storepants to give it a second look. And Kara wanted to check it out after Josie had talked it up.


    Spongebob, Patrick and Squidward were doing meet and greets at the entrance to the store. I couldn’t get Josie to pose for a picture with any of them because she was sticking to her ban on non-“face” characters. But Kara was willing to visit with Patrick.


    How can you not love this guy? He’s comically stupid and his thick appendages make him like a giant stuffed animal.


    As expected, the girls liked exploring the store with its Bikini Bottom decorations. They eventually settled on a little trinket. They each bought one of those slippery water-filled tubes. You know the kind where if you squeeze it, it can slip out of your hands? These had Spongebob on them and they were filled with little plastic jellyfish. I doubt the kids have played with them since we’ve been back, but they were quite enamored of them at the store.


    Kara is not much of a rider, but she had enjoyed the Woody Woodpecker Nuthouse Coaster in the KidZone last year. Mindy had taken her on it while Josie and I rode the Mummy, so I had never really spent any time in KidZone aside from the E.T. Adventure. Rumors have been swirling that KidZone was on the chopping block although it appears that those plans have changed for now. I figured now was as good a time as any to check out KidZone before it disappears.

    The Nuthouse Coaster is a zippy kiddie ride. If you don’t have little ones, there’s no reason to make an effort to experience it. But Kara and the other little kids were clearly enjoying the heck out of it. The coaster provides just the right level of thrills for a coaster novice to enjoy. There is a light Woody Woodpecker theme including audio of the cartoon character’s signature laugh, but I doubt most of the kids on the ride had any idea who Woody Woodpecker was.


    After the ride, Mindy and Kara needed a potty break so Josie and I waited for them in the Barney area. It was late enough that there were no more shows or appearances by the big purple dinosaur (the only dino that Josie isn’t afraid of apparently). While we were waiting, she goofed around by doing her best impersonation of the Barney fountain.


    Since it was hot, I didn’t hate the idea of visiting Curious George Goes To Town. This play area includes a lot of water features that can get you soaked. The front section is a town right out of a story book except with mounted water guns and one of those big buckets that dumps gallons of water on unsuspecting parents. The kids were intrigued despite the fact that the target demographic was clearly preschoolers.


    The story involves the circus being in town and all of the animals have escaped. Somehow, that chaos that ensues leads to everyone getting wet. Mindy was more than happy to set up camp on a bench while I took the kids in to explore.


    It’s actually easy to stay dry in Curious George once you have figured out how things work. In the center of “town” you are open to assault from kids above. But unless you’re just not paying attention, it’s pretty easy to evade the spray from the water canons.


    More often than not, parents were letting kids hit them. I didn’t want to walk out of there drenched, but I didn’t mind a little moisture in the hot sun.


    Behind the water play area is The Ball Factory. Based on the name, I was expecting a massive ball pit, but that’s not what it was. There are two levels for kids to run around with little foam balls everywhere. There are green bags kids can use to collect the balls and then they can load them into air canons or pneumatic tubes and watch them shoot up or down. They also had vacuums to suck up the balls or devices that shot enough air to keep the ball suspended.


    We ended up spending a lot more time in the Curious George playground than I ever would have imagined given that my kids at 9 and 13. What can I say? Sometimes kids need to burn off a little energy. It may be a minor attraction, but Curious George still entertains a lot of kids. Heck, I had fun in there. I would definitely recommend that any family with young kids should check out the KidZone while they still can.


    Having worked up an appetite, we headed to Springfield for dinner. Josie wanted another chicken and waffle sandwich. As had been the case the night before, Fast Food Blvd was nearly empty at dinner time. It’s a much more relaxing experience than the lunch rush. Personally, I would have liked a little more variety in my meals this trip, but once the girls find something they like they tend to stick with it. Josie is already planning her next chicken and waffle sandwich for next year.


    After dinner, the girls stopped for a potty break, so I decided to use one of the self-service photo kiosks to take a picture with the DeLorean from Back to the Future. I had picked up the annual passholder photo package while it was on sale, but even at the discounted price I didn’t think we had gotten much use out of it. These self-serve kiosks offer some fun photo opportunities, but they don’ t always work. Our picture at the one in Jurassic Park didn’t turn out.


    When the girls returned, Kara wanted to pose with the time machine too. But some dude had planted himself in front of the car. Despite the fact we were trying to take a picture, he wasn’t budging.


    This was the best we could do. Hey, buddy! Say hi to all the readers!


    To finish off the night, we went on a marathon run on Men in Black. We’re not big on rerides, but Men in Black is a ride everyone enjoys. As you can see, they weren’t filling ride vehicles so we were able to get on one ride after another. Part of the appeal was competition. Mindy is typically a better shot than I am, but I think I know a few more tricks to keep me in the game.


    Eventually we figured out where the ride photos were taken and we started making goofy faces just for fun. I was trying to do an action pose here, but it looks like I am taking a call on an old-fashioned rotary phone. This might be why I am not an action movie star.I don’t remember how many times we rode Men in Black, but it was a lot.


    As we were leaving the park, Kara really wanted to stop to take some pictures with the shark from Jaws. This kid has a real talent for memorable photo ops. Whenever she poses, she attracts a crowd of people who crack up at her antics. I think that’s part of the appeal for her.


    Where most people would just stand in front of the shark, Kara puts on a show.


    As we made our way to the park entrance, we made a quick stop in the Minions store. The kids had bought themselves some souvenirs earlier, but we offered to buy them something else if they would ride Jurassic Park with Mindy. They had some ideas about what they wanted, but felt the need to explore their options. While we were in there, I noticed that the Dance Party room was empty and there was no line at all to meet with a minion. I asked Kara if she wanted to do a quick meet and greet. It turns out that Minion Mayhem unloaded a crowd of people into the room almost immediately afterwards, so we got lucky on the timing here.


    The sun was going down fast. By the time the water taxi took us back to the resort, it was dark. We had promised the girls we would stop by the Gelateria for a nighttime snack, but by the time we got there it was closed. Instead, we went to Sal’s. They didn’t have ice cream, but there were some prepackaged dessert options. Josie got a big, fudgy brownie and I think Kara got a caprese salad. That might sound like a strange “dessert” for a nine-year old, but she loved it. The caprese got her over her initial disappointment over the lack of gelato so she decided to top it off with one of those big brownies.

    All in all, it was a fun day. Light on rides, but big on hanging out. We got to explore some parts of Universal that were new to us and we checked off most of what was left on our to-do list. The only big item left was Jurassic Park and that was going to take some convincing.

    Next: The Last Day
     

    schumigirl

    It's a bit of a roodie doodie word for lady parts
    Joined
    May 15, 2007
    I want that cupcake!!!!

    And I don’t really like them........but how good does that look!!!

    Glad Mindy enjoyed RRR.......love it!!! And excellent on the kindness of a stranger with the meal plan........

    Your pictures are so lovely as always, I love how you fill your day!!! And your family always looks so happy......so nice to see them.........
     

    macraven

    Proud Redhead
    Moderator
    Joined
    Apr 21, 2003
    Your girls look like they have fun no matter where they are in the parks.
    The Jaws pictures with your girls are so darn cute!
     

    bobbie68

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Aug 14, 2009
    Hi enjoying the rest of your report! It was interesting seeing the kids area in the studios. The chicken and waffle is a nice little twist. How fun that your kids like to do action funny poses. I am lucky if I can get my older teen to pose for anything. LOL!!

    It was nice that you got to spend time with your daughter while the other two stayed at the resort. Planning on getting some practice on MIB was a good idea. We have the teens earn their own money for souvenirs however, I always give them $25.00 to spend on what they want. I will usually buy our matching family Potter t-shirts.

    Look forward to the last day!
     

    lebeau

    Mouseketeer
    Joined
    Apr 2, 2008

    Our week at Universal was drawing to an end. Our final day would be spent traveling home, so this was the last day we would spend visiting the parks. We had already done most of what we had set out to do, but there were a few additional experiences we wanted to squeeze in before we headed home. Mostly, they centered around signature snacks, the Jurassic Park River Adventure and bribes to get the kids to agree to ride the dinosaur-themed boat ride. Before we left, we would accomplish most of our to-do list.


    I spent the months before our trip preparing the kids to be a little more adventurous this time around. Kara and I watched several ride videos and in the comfort of our living room she was quite brave. To her credit, she did agree to ride Revenge of the Mummy earlier in the trip. But once we were there in person, she balked at pretty much any ride that was more than six feet tall. When she backed out of Flight of the Hippogriff, I figured she would take some convincing to ride Jurassic Park.

    Josie has ridden plenty of rides that were bigger than the River Adventure. Her objection was that she doesn’t like dinosaurs. She was quite consistent in adhering to her anti-Jurassic Park policy. In her braver moments, she allowed for the possibility of riding The Hulk with me, but never the River Adventure. So I knew I had an uphill battle where Josie was concerned.

    Mindy had never been on Jurassic Park and it was a high priority for her, but she didn’t want to ride alone. Ideally, we would all ride as a family but that didn’t seem likely. If even one of the children sat out, I was going to have to wait with them. We could do a child swap if one of the kids was interested in riding twice, but the main thing was to make sure Mindy got a ride in before we left.

    To that end, we reached a bargain with the kids. They could each pick out one large souvenir from the gift shop in exchange for riding Jurassic Park. The night before, the kids examined several gift shops and this morning they had made up their minds. All we had to do was go pick out the items. But there was a trick. The items the kids wanted were sold at Universal Studios and Jurassic Park is in Islands of Adventure. We were going to have to visit both parks.


    We started off in Universal Studios because Josie’s top priority was to get a Big Pink donut before the trip ended. That meant a certain amount of trust on Mindy’s part. We were going to have to buy the kids their souvenirs before they fulfilled their part of the agreement. We had bribed the kids to ride rides before, but previously we had always held off the rewards until the end of the day. Mindy was confident the kids would hold up their end, but I wasn’t so sure.

    On our way to Lard Lad Donuts in Springfield, we passed the Mystery Machine. Scooby and the gang, weren’t present, but Kara took the opportunity for a photo-op. She had bystanders cracking up when she walked right up to the door and tried to climb in. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) the van was locked.


    As far as Josie is concerned, a trip to Universal is not complete until you have had a Big Pink. Last year, we ate several of these. They sell them in the gift shops, but those aren’t always as fresh as the ones you get in the parks. As theme park breakfasts go, the Big Pink is a pretty good deal. It’s $5 and it can feed the whole family. They get you on the milk, but we had picked up some bottles at the grocery and brought them along with us.


    The kids have a tendency to divide everything up. If one of them likes something, then the other one doesn’t like it at all. Kara likes donuts, but for whatever reason she always turns her nose up at the Big Pink. She was a little mopey about the idea of going to Lard Lad until she heard they had soft serve ice cream. A cone for breakfast really isn’t any worse for you than a big, sugary donut, right? It was our final full day of vacation, so donuts and ice cream for breakfast I guess.

    Mindy wanted a maple-bacon donut, but unfortunately they didn’t have any this morning. Instead, I got her a bavarian cream which she liked well enough. We all helped out with the Big Pink. Even Kara tried a bit in between licks of ice cream. She liked it, but I guarantee next time we go she will insist on getting ice cream instead. With everyone pitching in, we finished off most of the donut, but Josie likes to save a little for the birds that are always begging guests for whatever scraps they can get.


    Sugared up, we made our way to our first shopping stop. Josie had spent the last few days indulging her newly rekindled love of Spongebob, so she wanted something from Spongebob Storepants.


    On our way, we past the mock-up of the Hollywood sign and another photo opportunity.


    While Josie was choosing between Spongebob and Patrick, Kara explored the recreation of Bikini Bottom.


    Last year, Josie and I took pictures at the ET Adventure during our daddy-daughter day, but Mindy and Kara had missed out. I suggested we could all ride E.T. together, but there were no takers on that offer. But Kara was willing to stop by the gift shop and pose for the pictures she missed out on last year. Josie didn’t feel like climbing back on the bike this year.


    We all got our pictures with E.T. in the toy closet. The family photo is at the top of the trip report. We also got one with just the kids. I’m still trying to get my value out of the photo package I bought. Hopefully with the pictures we take on the next trip, it will prove to be worth the expense.


    Since we were back in KidZone, the girls wanted to spend some more time at the Curious George Goes to Town playground. It was already shaping up to be a hot day, so the splash zone didn’t sound like a terrible idea.


    Just what everyone wants from a Universal Studios trip report, right? An in-depth look at Curious George! Look at it this way. There are lots of places you can go to read about all the hidden features at Diagon Alley. But KidZone and Curious George tend to get overlooked even at sites that devote a lot of coverage to Universal. Here’s a look at what you might be missing!


    Despite the constant splashing, it’s actually pretty easy to stay dry at Curious George if that is your goal. Most of the spouts are back behind the town facade and they are not hard to spot if you are paying attention. If you push a button or pull a string, you are going to activate something. Just make sure there isn’t a nozzle pointing at you before you do it.


    The buckets at the top of the buildings dump a lot of water, but most of it just spills off the roof. You would have to go out of you way to get splashed by it.


    I stood in the center of town and let the kids take shots at me. If I stepped to the side even a little bit, they would have missed me completely. But as you can see, they had fun trying to soak their dad.


    For Kara’s souvenir, we were headed to the back of the park. While we were there, we took a few more rides on Men in Black. Yesterday, Mindy had been the lead scorer pretty consistently. But I had been goofing around with funny photos and using multiple guns since we had the ride vehicles to ourselves. Today, I got serious about blasting aliens. I am sure the competition will continue into next year’s trip.


    As we entered Diagon Alley, it was starting to rain. First it was a light drizzle, but the raindrops got large and fat in a hurry. By the time we got to The Magical Menagerie, it was a full-on Florida downpour. I expected the small store to be packed with people avoiding the rain, but it turns out it wasn’t bad at all inside. We took our time waiting out the rain before making our purchase.

    Kara wanted a Pygmy Puff. They come in a variety of sizes for any budget, but since Mom and Dad were paying Kara had her eye on one of the big ones. In exchange for a promise to ride Jurassic Park, we agreed to shell out for the largest purple puffball on the shelves. No way a kid would renege on that, right?

    The guy behind the counter was very entertaining. He played up the idea that we were adopting a living pet and made sure we were aware of all the responsibilities associated with taking care of a pygmy puff. When he asked if we would feed it, I inquired as to what they ate. He then ran through a long list of the kinds of grade school kids find funny. I remember boogers and ear wax were among the foods of choice. Left to their own devices, the clerk assured me, pygmy puffs would forage for themselves. Perfect! Because I haven’t fed the thing once since we got home.


    As you can see, the kids were quite happy with their purchases. Now all they had to do was earn them.


    The rain stopped as suddenly as it had started, but the sky was still overcast and we had what we had come for. On the way out of the park, we passed the Bluesmobile on its way to the stage. I hollered out to Jake and Elwood as they drove by. I still haven’t seen the show from start to finish, but I can save that experience for next year.

    We had been pretty lucky with rain this trip after having had really bad weather last summer. There had been a couple of times when we just missed having the water taxis shut down due to storms, but we had never had to resort to taking a shuttle. Today, that luck ran out. It started raining again, so rather than walk back to Portofino Bay, we hiked through the parking garage and took a shuttle. It really wasn’t bad. We were covered from the rain for the entire walk and the shuttle was waiting for us when we arrived. Obviously, the water taxis are the preferred mode of transportation, but the bus experience was still a lot better than what we were accustomed to at Disney World.


    By the time we got back to the resort, the rain had already stopped. So I took the kids for one last swim in the pool. As I said preciously, this is my favorite swimming pool of all the hotels I have stayed at in Orlando. Looking forward to next year’s trip, we may very well stay at Portofino Bay again. If we do, it will have a lot to do with the pool. I talked with the kids about staying at the Hard Rock next year to complete the trilogy of deluxe hotels, but when I read about how shallow the pool was there, that was kind of a deal breaker.


    Despite having had ice cream for breakfast, the kids wanted to stop into the Gelataria one last time before the end of our trip.


    There’s a dozen flavors to choose from and all of the ones I sampled were good. The kids were very fond of the lemon which was both tart and sweet. I asked for a sample of the peanut butter and it was also very tasty.

    As we were eating our gelato, I started checking park hours on my phone. Islands of Adventure had been staying open until 10:00 most nights, but tonight it closed at 8:00. It was already pretty late in the afternoon, so we had to get going if we were going to have enough time to do everything we wanted to do.


    When we got to the park, we had a decision to make. We could go right to Jurassic Park or we could take the long way around through Seuss Landing. Since the kids were dragging their feet on riding the River Adventure, I thought it might be a good idea to build some confidence on the kids’ rides. Besides, we hadn’t spent any time in Seuss Landing this year and we mostly just walked through it last summer. The one time we had ridden attractions in Seuess Landing, it was at the end of a long day touring both parks and we were all dead on our feet. So I figured, why not revisit it?

    Our first ride was The Cat in the Hat. It’s a perfectly serviceable dark ride that would feel right at home in Fantasyland. Universal being Universal, they added quite a lot of spinning, but other than that Cat is pretty standard. I wouldn’t go out of my way to ride it again, but the kids enjoyed it.


    Then I rode Red Fish, Blue Fish with the girls. Mindy doesn’t do spinner rides. Most of the fish seat two guests at a time, but there are a couple of extra wide ones that accommodate three people.


    This ride is flanked by fish who spit water at guests. The kids always conspire to get daddy wet, but it never works out that way.


    As we marched through the area, we took some time to explore. A lot of detail went into Seuss Landing and the vibrant colors pack a lot of kid appeal.


    A lot of the rides, like the High in the Sky Trolley, offer different perspectives on the land. I appreciate the fact that there are lots of sights to see in every direction.


    You’re not going to find fast rides with big drops in Seuss Landing. But even if the low-thrill kiddie rides don’t appeal to you, the land is still worth exploring. We spent over an hour and I still feel like I could go back for more.


    We decided to take a ride on the High in the Sky Trolley as our last stop before Jurassic Park. It was a nice, relaxing ride but the kids were still nervous about what was to come.


    Fortunately, our ride on the River Adventure was postponed when the trolley let us out near the newest addition to Seuss Landing, Honk Honkers. We could smell the cotton candy as soon as we exited the ride. Honk Honkers is a small shop that sells gigantic cones of cotton candy with the option of mix-ins like M&M’s or crushed up Oreo cookies. The price is actually not bad at all for theme park snacks. It was cheaper than the pre-bagged cotton candy I had bought the other night. But the problem is that the process is a slow one.

    As you can see, there are only two candy-making stations and each cone took about 8-10 minutes depending on whether or not the guest ordered toppings. There were only a few people waiting in line ahead of us, but it took around 20 minutes to get our cotton candy. All the while, daylight was wasting. We thought about skipping Honk Honkers when we realized how long it would take, but Kara really wanted to try it out. I offered to stay with the kids and let Mindy ride Jurassic Park solo, but she didn’t want to do that.

    Eventually, when it became obvious we weren’t going to have enough time to wait for the cotton candy and ride Jurassic Park together, Josie offered to go ride it with her mom. But it wasn’t a genuine offer. I was standing in line at the time, so I didn’t witness it firsthand but apparently it was pretty obvious Josie was only offering out of a sense of obligation. Mindy decided to let the kids off the hook as far as Jurassic Park was concerned, but she wasn’t too happy about it.


    Since we were no longer racing the clock, we took our time enjoying the massive mounds of spun sugar. If you have the time and cotton candy appeals to you, Honk Honkers is worth doing at least once just for the Instagram factor. It makes for a heck of a picture.

    By the time we finished, we decided it was time to start heading to the front of the park. The River Adventure would have to wait until next year. We still had time to squeeze in one more ride on our way out so we decided to end our vacation at Marvel Superhero Island.


    Mindy’s consolation ride was Doctor Doom’s Fearfall. Her favorite attraction at Disney World is the Tower of Terror, so the freefall ride appealed to her. Going in, she knew that Universal’s take on the freefall experience was nowhere near as elaborate as the Twilight Zone Tower, but she enjoyed Dr. Doom for what it was.


    While Mindy was being dropped by Reed Richards’ arch enemy, I took the kids for one final ride with Spider-Man. I think they enjoyed the ride even more than usual because the alternative would have involved dinosaurs and a large drop. Spider-Man was a piece of cake.

    When we met up outside of Dr. Doom, Mindy was still a little miffed that the kids had backed out of their deal. But the fact we are going back next year took some of the sting out of missing out on the ride. We’ve got another week to fill, so hopefully the kids will be ready to face some dinosaurs by then.

    After all our snacking, we hadn’t stopped for dinner. But by the time we left Islands of Adventure, everyone was ready for some real food. We stopped by the Toothsome Chocolate Factory to check on the wait for a table. We were quoted an hour wait, but when I told them we were staying at Portofino Bay they told us we could have a table in fifteen minutes thanks to the priority seating perk. That would have been fine, but the sky was clouding up and Josie was getting worried about another storm rolling in. She decided she would rather eat back at the hotel.

    So we grabbed a water taxi and decided we would have our final meal of the trip at one of the hotel restaurants. I was leaning towards the mid-priced option, Mama Della’s. It was more than I wanted to spend, but I had read good things and it was the last night of our trip so I figured I would indulge. But it turns out, Mama Della was packed. The rain had a lot of guests eating at the hotel and there would be an hour wait if we wanted a table.


    We could have gone to Sal’s again, but we wanted to try something new. So we went to Trattoria del Porto. The restaurant had been a hit when we went there for breakfast even if I found the price a little high. I had read reviews that tempered my expectations for dinner, and it turns out those reviews were pretty accurate. On the upside, we could sit pretty much anywhere we wanted. Most of the guests were sitting outside, but after touring the parks we were ready for some air conditioning. Aside from one long table populated by convention guests, Trattoria del Porto was deserted.

    The waiter talked up the restaurant’s pasta buffet, Pasta Cucina. I thought about giving it a try, but the $30 price tag was more than I wanted to spend. As I said previously, I have been exercising portion control of late and I fill up pretty quickly as a result. So buffets don’t appeal to me all that much beyond the variety they offer. And a pasta buffet is limited to, well, pasta. I haven’t had a plate of pasta all year, so I’m sure I’d be full after a single serving and at $30 that didn’t sound like a great value. I did go over to check it out before I made up my mind.

    There was supposed to be a chef at the station to prepare your choice of pasta dishes, but when I walked up to the buffet, no one was there. Eventually, the chef did come out to tend to the sauces, but she didn’t seem overly eager to wait on anyone. I decided I would take my chances with the burger. Even that was $20 and it was just okay. If it had been better or cheaper, I might recommend Trattoria del Porto, but the best thing I can say about my meal there was that it was convenient. Next time, we’ll just go to Sal’s.

    Which brings me to the second complaint I have about Portofino Bay. The food options are limited. Sal’s is great and it’s nice to have snack options like the Gelataria and Starbucks. The bars served some decent food, but if you want a table service meal it’s going to cost you. Dining at a theme park hotel is always on the pricey side, but I wish Portofino Bay had a few more dining options priced a little more reasonably. There’s a reason all of the Disney hotels have food courts. One more restaurant priced similarly to Sal’s but with non-Italian options would go a long way.

    So the final meal of the trip was a bit lackluster. But all in all, we were very happy with the hotel. Mindy and the kids decided that this was among our best vacations and we’re all looking forward to going back next year. The promise of taking another trip on the same annual pass almost makes it feel as if the trip never really ended. Instead, we’re just taking an extended break before going back for round two.
     

    lebeau

    Mouseketeer
    Joined
    Apr 2, 2008
    I want that cupcake!!!!

    And I don’t really like them........but how good does that look!!!

    Glad Mindy enjoyed RRR.......love it!!! And excellent on the kindness of a stranger with the meal plan........

    Your pictures are so lovely as always, I love how you fill your day!!! And your family always looks so happy......so nice to see them.........
    Apparently the baked goods were purchased on the down low this year since I wasn't partaking. I was not privy to the trips to the bakery, so I can't weigh in on this particular cupcake. I do know that last year, Mindy bought a Minions cupcake based on a picture I showed her from one of your trip reports. I sampled that one and it was a bit on the dry side. Not fatally flawed, but definitely in need of milk to wash it down.

    I may need to squeeze in a ride on RRR next year. I haven't tried it myself yet. I don't think the kids will be ready for it yet, so it would have to be a single rider situation. I do look forward to the day when the kids will ride all the big rides with us!

    It was very nice of the stranger to gift us with a free meal. We were able to redeem it for Josie's chicken and waffle sandwich which is the most expensive item on the menu. Much appreciated!

    Your pictures are the gold standard for any Universal trip report. I'm just snapping away with the camera on my phone. I take a lot of pictures knowing some won't turn out. It's my way of taking notes. Months later when I am trying to write the trip report, I can look at the pictures and piece together what we did and in what order.

    With these long stays (by American standards) I am always concerned we will run out of things to do. We're not big on the re-rides, so it would be pretty easy to get bored. But that never happens. The kids are happy just to continue exploring. I was reading your most recent trip reports and realized there are STILL areas we haven't given their due. I had no idea there was a little playground by Popeye for example. We'll need to check that out next Spring.

    We have a good time at Universal. I think that comes across. It definitely helps that we don't have to push ourselves to the point of exhaustion. A leisurely pace keeps smiles on faces.

    Your girls look like they have fun no matter where they are in the parks.
    The Jaws pictures with your girls are so darn cute!
    Kara was the lookout for Bruce for days. She had gotten positive feedback from onlookers last year and that just fueled her desire to take more pictures this time around.

    There were moments when the kids weren't grinning ear to ear. There were even some tears shed over Jurassic Park. Kara in particular was afraid to ride but didn't want to let her mom down. Her favorite activities do not typically include rides.

    Hi enjoying the rest of your report! It was interesting seeing the kids area in the studios. The chicken and waffle is a nice little twist. How fun that your kids like to do action funny poses. I am lucky if I can get my older teen to pose for anything. LOL!!

    It was nice that you got to spend time with your daughter while the other two stayed at the resort. Planning on getting some practice on MIB was a good idea. We have the teens earn their own money for souvenirs however, I always give them $25.00 to spend on what they want. I will usually buy our matching family Potter t-shirts.

    Look forward to the last day!
    Thanks for the kind words. You won't have to wait long to read about the last day. Because I just posted it! ;)
     

    schumigirl

    It's a bit of a roodie doodie word for lady parts
    Joined
    May 15, 2007

    Our week at Universal was drawing to an end. Our final day would be spent traveling home, so this was the last day we would spend visiting the parks. We had already done most of what we had set out to do, but there were a few additional experiences we wanted to squeeze in before we headed home. Mostly, they centered around signature snacks, the Jurassic Park River Adventure and bribes to get the kids to agree to ride the dinosaur-themed boat ride. Before we left, we would accomplish most of our to-do list.


    I spent the months before our trip preparing the kids to be a little more adventurous this time around. Kara and I watched several ride videos and in the comfort of our living room she was quite brave. To her credit, she did agree to ride Revenge of the Mummy earlier in the trip. But once we were there in person, she balked at pretty much any ride that was more than six feet tall. When she backed out of Flight of the Hippogriff, I figured she would take some convincing to ride Jurassic Park.

    Josie has ridden plenty of rides that were bigger than the River Adventure. Her objection was that she doesn’t like dinosaurs. She was quite consistent in adhering to her anti-Jurassic Park policy. In her braver moments, she allowed for the possibility of riding The Hulk with me, but never the River Adventure. So I knew I had an uphill battle where Josie was concerned.

    Mindy had never been on Jurassic Park and it was a high priority for her, but she didn’t want to ride alone. Ideally, we would all ride as a family but that didn’t seem likely. If even one of the children sat out, I was going to have to wait with them. We could do a child swap if one of the kids was interested in riding twice, but the main thing was to make sure Mindy got a ride in before we left.

    To that end, we reached a bargain with the kids. They could each pick out one large souvenir from the gift shop in exchange for riding Jurassic Park. The night before, the kids examined several gift shops and this morning they had made up their minds. All we had to do was go pick out the items. But there was a trick. The items the kids wanted were sold at Universal Studios and Jurassic Park is in Islands of Adventure. We were going to have to visit both parks.


    We started off in Universal Studios because Josie’s top priority was to get a Big Pink donut before the trip ended. That meant a certain amount of trust on Mindy’s part. We were going to have to buy the kids their souvenirs before they fulfilled their part of the agreement. We had bribed the kids to ride rides before, but previously we had always held off the rewards until the end of the day. Mindy was confident the kids would hold up their end, but I wasn’t so sure.

    On our way to Lard Lad Donuts in Springfield, we passed the Mystery Machine. Scooby and the gang, weren’t present, but Kara took the opportunity for a photo-op. She had bystanders cracking up when she walked right up to the door and tried to climb in. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) the van was locked.


    As far as Josie is concerned, a trip to Universal is not complete until you have had a Big Pink. Last year, we ate several of these. They sell them in the gift shops, but those aren’t always as fresh as the ones you get in the parks. As theme park breakfasts go, the Big Pink is a pretty good deal. It’s $5 and it can feed the whole family. They get you on the milk, but we had picked up some bottles at the grocery and brought them along with us.


    The kids have a tendency to divide everything up. If one of them likes something, then the other one doesn’t like it at all. Kara likes donuts, but for whatever reason she always turns her nose up at the Big Pink. She was a little mopey about the idea of going to Lard Lad until she heard they had soft serve ice cream. A cone for breakfast really isn’t any worse for you than a big, sugary donut, right? It was our final full day of vacation, so donuts and ice cream for breakfast I guess.

    Mindy wanted a maple-bacon donut, but unfortunately they didn’t have any this morning. Instead, I got her a bavarian cream which she liked well enough. We all helped out with the Big Pink. Even Kara tried a bit in between licks of ice cream. She liked it, but I guarantee next time we go she will insist on getting ice cream instead. With everyone pitching in, we finished off most of the donut, but Josie likes to save a little for the birds that are always begging guests for whatever scraps they can get.


    Sugared up, we made our way to our first shopping stop. Josie had spent the last few days indulging her newly rekindled love of Spongebob, so she wanted something from Spongebob Storepants.


    On our way, we past the mock-up of the Hollywood sign and another photo opportunity.


    While Josie was choosing between Spongebob and Patrick, Kara explored the recreation of Bikini Bottom.


    Last year, Josie and I took pictures at the ET Adventure during our daddy-daughter day, but Mindy and Kara had missed out. I suggested we could all ride E.T. together, but there were no takers on that offer. But Kara was willing to stop by the gift shop and pose for the pictures she missed out on last year. Josie didn’t feel like climbing back on the bike this year.


    We all got our pictures with E.T. in the toy closet. The family photo is at the top of the trip report. We also got one with just the kids. I’m still trying to get my value out of the photo package I bought. Hopefully with the pictures we take on the next trip, it will prove to be worth the expense.


    Since we were back in KidZone, the girls wanted to spend some more time at the Curious George Goes to Town playground. It was already shaping up to be a hot day, so the splash zone didn’t sound like a terrible idea.


    Just what everyone wants from a Universal Studios trip report, right? An in-depth look at Curious George! Look at it this way. There are lots of places you can go to read about all the hidden features at Diagon Alley. But KidZone and Curious George tend to get overlooked even at sites that devote a lot of coverage to Universal. Here’s a look at what you might be missing!


    Despite the constant splashing, it’s actually pretty easy to stay dry at Curious George if that is your goal. Most of the spouts are back behind the town facade and they are not hard to spot if you are paying attention. If you push a button or pull a string, you are going to activate something. Just make sure there isn’t a nozzle pointing at you before you do it.


    The buckets at the top of the buildings dump a lot of water, but most of it just spills off the roof. You would have to go out of you way to get splashed by it.


    I stood in the center of town and let the kids take shots at me. If I stepped to the side even a little bit, they would have missed me completely. But as you can see, they had fun trying to soak their dad.


    For Kara’s souvenir, we were headed to the back of the park. While we were there, we took a few more rides on Men in Black. Yesterday, Mindy had been the lead scorer pretty consistently. But I had been goofing around with funny photos and using multiple guns since we had the ride vehicles to ourselves. Today, I got serious about blasting aliens. I am sure the competition will continue into next year’s trip.


    As we entered Diagon Alley, it was starting to rain. First it was a light drizzle, but the raindrops got large and fat in a hurry. By the time we got to The Magical Menagerie, it was a full-on Florida downpour. I expected the small store to be packed with people avoiding the rain, but it turns out it wasn’t bad at all inside. We took our time waiting out the rain before making our purchase.

    Kara wanted a Pygmy Puff. They come in a variety of sizes for any budget, but since Mom and Dad were paying Kara had her eye on one of the big ones. In exchange for a promise to ride Jurassic Park, we agreed to shell out for the largest purple puffball on the shelves. No way a kid would renege on that, right?

    The guy behind the counter was very entertaining. He played up the idea that we were adopting a living pet and made sure we were aware of all the responsibilities associated with taking care of a pygmy puff. When he asked if we would feed it, I inquired as to what they ate. He then ran through a long list of the kinds of grade school kids find funny. I remember boogers and ear wax were among the foods of choice. Left to their own devices, the clerk assured me, pygmy puffs would forage for themselves. Perfect! Because I haven’t fed the thing once since we got home.


    As you can see, the kids were quite happy with their purchases. Now all they had to do was earn them.


    The rain stopped as suddenly as it had started, but the sky was still overcast and we had what we had come for. On the way out of the park, we passed the Bluesmobile on its way to the stage. I hollered out to Jake and Elwood as they drove by. I still haven’t seen the show from start to finish, but I can save that experience for next year.

    We had been pretty lucky with rain this trip after having had really bad weather last summer. There had been a couple of times when we just missed having the water taxis shut down due to storms, but we had never had to resort to taking a shuttle. Today, that luck ran out. It started raining again, so rather than walk back to Portofino Bay, we hiked through the parking garage and took a shuttle. It really wasn’t bad. We were covered from the rain for the entire walk and the shuttle was waiting for us when we arrived. Obviously, the water taxis are the preferred mode of transportation, but the bus experience was still a lot better than what we were accustomed to at Disney World.


    By the time we got back to the resort, the rain had already stopped. So I took the kids for one last swim in the pool. As I said preciously, this is my favorite swimming pool of all the hotels I have stayed at in Orlando. Looking forward to next year’s trip, we may very well stay at Portofino Bay again. If we do, it will have a lot to do with the pool. I talked with the kids about staying at the Hard Rock next year to complete the trilogy of deluxe hotels, but when I read about how shallow the pool was there, that was kind of a deal breaker.


    Despite having had ice cream for breakfast, the kids wanted to stop into the Gelataria one last time before the end of our trip.


    There’s a dozen flavors to choose from and all of the ones I sampled were good. The kids were very fond of the lemon which was both tart and sweet. I asked for a sample of the peanut butter and it was also very tasty.

    As we were eating our gelato, I started checking park hours on my phone. Islands of Adventure had been staying open until 10:00 most nights, but tonight it closed at 8:00. It was already pretty late in the afternoon, so we had to get going if we were going to have enough time to do everything we wanted to do.


    When we got to the park, we had a decision to make. We could go right to Jurassic Park or we could take the long way around through Seuss Landing. Since the kids were dragging their feet on riding the River Adventure, I thought it might be a good idea to build some confidence on the kids’ rides. Besides, we hadn’t spent any time in Seuss Landing this year and we mostly just walked through it last summer. The one time we had ridden attractions in Seuess Landing, it was at the end of a long day touring both parks and we were all dead on our feet. So I figured, why not revisit it?

    Our first ride was The Cat in the Hat. It’s a perfectly serviceable dark ride that would feel right at home in Fantasyland. Universal being Universal, they added quite a lot of spinning, but other than that Cat is pretty standard. I wouldn’t go out of my way to ride it again, but the kids enjoyed it.


    Then I rode Red Fish, Blue Fish with the girls. Mindy doesn’t do spinner rides. Most of the fish seat two guests at a time, but there are a couple of extra wide ones that accommodate three people.


    This ride is flanked by fish who spit water at guests. The kids always conspire to get daddy wet, but it never works out that way.


    As we marched through the area, we took some time to explore. A lot of detail went into Seuss Landing and the vibrant colors pack a lot of kid appeal.


    A lot of the rides, like the High in the Sky Trolley, offer different perspectives on the land. I appreciate the fact that there are lots of sights to see in every direction.


    You’re not going to find fast rides with big drops in Seuss Landing. But even if the low-thrill kiddie rides don’t appeal to you, the land is still worth exploring. We spent over an hour and I still feel like I could go back for more.


    We decided to take a ride on the High in the Sky Trolley as our last stop before Jurassic Park. It was a nice, relaxing ride but the kids were still nervous about what was to come.


    Fortunately, our ride on the River Adventure was postponed when the trolley let us out near the newest addition to Seuss Landing, Honk Honkers. We could smell the cotton candy as soon as we exited the ride. Honk Honkers is a small shop that sells gigantic cones of cotton candy with the option of mix-ins like M&M’s or crushed up Oreo cookies. The price is actually not bad at all for theme park snacks. It was cheaper than the pre-bagged cotton candy I had bought the other night. But the problem is that the process is a slow one.

    As you can see, there are only two candy-making stations and each cone took about 8-10 minutes depending on whether or not the guest ordered toppings. There were only a few people waiting in line ahead of us, but it took around 20 minutes to get our cotton candy. All the while, daylight was wasting. We thought about skipping Honk Honkers when we realized how long it would take, but Kara really wanted to try it out. I offered to stay with the kids and let Mindy ride Jurassic Park solo, but she didn’t want to do that.

    Eventually, when it became obvious we weren’t going to have enough time to wait for the cotton candy and ride Jurassic Park together, Josie offered to go ride it with her mom. But it wasn’t a genuine offer. I was standing in line at the time, so I didn’t witness it firsthand but apparently it was pretty obvious Josie was only offering out of a sense of obligation. Mindy decided to let the kids off the hook as far as Jurassic Park was concerned, but she wasn’t too happy about it.


    Since we were no longer racing the clock, we took our time enjoying the massive mounds of spun sugar. If you have the time and cotton candy appeals to you, Honk Honkers is worth doing at least once just for the Instagram factor. It makes for a heck of a picture.

    By the time we finished, we decided it was time to start heading to the front of the park. The River Adventure would have to wait until next year. We still had time to squeeze in one more ride on our way out so we decided to end our vacation at Marvel Superhero Island.


    Mindy’s consolation ride was Doctor Doom’s Fearfall. Her favorite attraction at Disney World is the Tower of Terror, so the freefall ride appealed to her. Going in, she knew that Universal’s take on the freefall experience was nowhere near as elaborate as the Twilight Zone Tower, but she enjoyed Dr. Doom for what it was.


    While Mindy was being dropped by Reed Richards’ arch enemy, I took the kids for one final ride with Spider-Man. I think they enjoyed the ride even more than usual because the alternative would have involved dinosaurs and a large drop. Spider-Man was a piece of cake.

    When we met up outside of Dr. Doom, Mindy was still a little miffed that the kids had backed out of their deal. But the fact we are going back next year took some of the sting out of missing out on the ride. We’ve got another week to fill, so hopefully the kids will be ready to face some dinosaurs by then.

    After all our snacking, we hadn’t stopped for dinner. But by the time we left Islands of Adventure, everyone was ready for some real food. We stopped by the Toothsome Chocolate Factory to check on the wait for a table. We were quoted an hour wait, but when I told them we were staying at Portofino Bay they told us we could have a table in fifteen minutes thanks to the priority seating perk. That would have been fine, but the sky was clouding up and Josie was getting worried about another storm rolling in. She decided she would rather eat back at the hotel.

    So we grabbed a water taxi and decided we would have our final meal of the trip at one of the hotel restaurants. I was leaning towards the mid-priced option, Mama Della’s. It was more than I wanted to spend, but I had read good things and it was the last night of our trip so I figured I would indulge. But it turns out, Mama Della was packed. The rain had a lot of guests eating at the hotel and there would be an hour wait if we wanted a table.


    We could have gone to Sal’s again, but we wanted to try something new. So we went to Trattoria del Porto. The restaurant had been a hit when we went there for breakfast even if I found the price a little high. I had read reviews that tempered my expectations for dinner, and it turns out those reviews were pretty accurate. On the upside, we could sit pretty much anywhere we wanted. Most of the guests were sitting outside, but after touring the parks we were ready for some air conditioning. Aside from one long table populated by convention guests, Trattoria del Porto was deserted.

    The waiter talked up the restaurant’s pasta buffet, Pasta Cucina. I thought about giving it a try, but the $30 price tag was more than I wanted to spend. As I said previously, I have been exercising portion control of late and I fill up pretty quickly as a result. So buffets don’t appeal to me all that much beyond the variety they offer. And a pasta buffet is limited to, well, pasta. I haven’t had a plate of pasta all year, so I’m sure I’d be full after a single serving and at $30 that didn’t sound like a great value. I did go over to check it out before I made up my mind.

    There was supposed to be a chef at the station to prepare your choice of pasta dishes, but when I walked up to the buffet, no one was there. Eventually, the chef did come out to tend to the sauces, but she didn’t seem overly eager to wait on anyone. I decided I would take my chances with the burger. Even that was $20 and it was just okay. If it had been better or cheaper, I might recommend Trattoria del Porto, but the best thing I can say about my meal there was that it was convenient. Next time, we’ll just go to Sal’s.

    Which brings me to the second complaint I have about Portofino Bay. The food options are limited. Sal’s is great and it’s nice to have snack options like the Gelataria and Starbucks. The bars served some decent food, but if you want a table service meal it’s going to cost you. Dining at a theme park hotel is always on the pricey side, but I wish Portofino Bay had a few more dining options priced a little more reasonably. There’s a reason all of the Disney hotels have food courts. One more restaurant priced similarly to Sal’s but with non-Italian options would go a long way.

    So the final meal of the trip was a bit lackluster. But all in all, we were very happy with the hotel. Mindy and the kids decided that this was among our best vacations and we’re all looking forward to going back next year. The promise of taking another trip on the same annual pass almost makes it feel as if the trip never really ended. Instead, we’re just taking an extended break before going back for round two.
    Loved reading about your day!! You always do so much in your day!

    Fabulous pictures full of colour and smiles!! Love the Pygmy puff..........it is so cute!!

    And cotton candy is on my to do list.......it looks fab in a picture and I hope they really enjoyed it........didn’t realise it took so long........but worth it I bet!

    I agree with you about PB. We love Sals but the other two places were a big disappointment to us......we have some allergies and they said they couldn’t make the meals without certain ingredients as they were already made up!!! Never went back. Very mediocre.

    So happy to hear you’ll be back next year.........
     

    schumigirl

    It's a bit of a roodie doodie word for lady parts
    Joined
    May 15, 2007
    Apparently the baked goods were purchased on the down low this year since I wasn't partaking. I was not privy to the trips to the bakery, so I can't weigh in on this particular cupcake. I do know that last year, Mindy bought a Minions cupcake based on a picture I showed her from one of your trip reports. I sampled that one and it was a bit on the dry side. Not fatally flawed, but definitely in need of milk to wash it down.

    I may need to squeeze in a ride on RRR next year. I haven't tried it myself yet. I don't think the kids will be ready for it yet, so it would have to be a single rider situation. I do look forward to the day when the kids will ride all the big rides with us!

    It was very nice of the stranger to gift us with a free meal. We were able to redeem it for Josie's chicken and waffle sandwich which is the most expensive item on the menu. Much appreciated!

    Your pictures are the gold standard for any Universal trip report. I'm just snapping away with the camera on my phone. I take a lot of pictures knowing some won't turn out. It's my way of taking notes. Months later when I am trying to write the trip report, I can look at the pictures and piece together what we did and in what order.

    With these long stays (by American standards) I am always concerned we will run out of things to do. We're not big on the re-rides, so it would be pretty easy to get bored. But that never happens. The kids are happy just to continue exploring. I was reading your most recent trip reports and realized there are STILL areas we haven't given their due. I had no idea there was a little playground by Popeye for example. We'll need to check that out next Spring.

    We have a good time at Universal. I think that comes across. It definitely helps that we don't have to push ourselves to the point of exhaustion. A leisurely pace keeps smiles on faces.
    Don’t sell yourself short, your pictures are excellent! But I’ll take the compliment.......well, for Tom as he takes most of the pictures.......:D

    Oh you have to try RRR.......even single rider is fun........and glad Mindy enjoyed the minion muffin!

    I’m with you on not getting bored.........and yes, we still discover stuff we had never seen before, that little area of Popeye is just one........and yes, the fact you and your family do stay longer means you can explore all these areas without impacting ride time.........and yes, a leisurely pace is our mantra ::yes::

    The happiness is shining from your kids.......and mum and dad too!!!
     

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