- Apr 2, 2008
The girls were taking a break from the parks halfway through our Spring Break trip. I took the opportunity for a solo tour of Islands of Adventure. On my own, I was able to slow down and enjoy the detailed theming. It was a beautiful day and the Spring Break crowds were out in force. Rides were less of a priority than exploration, but I did have a couple of attractions I wanted to squeeze in.
The only attraction left on my must-do list was Popeye. I thought about taking the plunge and riding it myself, but I didn’t want to get that wet. Tentatively, we were planning to ride as a family one on of the last days of the trip when the weather was expected to be warmer.
I wasn’t going to ride Popey’s barges today, but I thought I would take some time to explore Sweet Haven. The area around the ride is practically a land with Toon Lagoon. It’s really remarkable that this much effort was put into a relatively obscure cartoon character.
Islands of Adventure has a couple of fast food locations that are rarely if ever open. Wimpy’s is one such establishment. It’s a shame, but the location is a somewhat remote. I don’t imagine all that many soaking wet customers feel like sitting down to a burger.
I walked around the Popeye area partially to see what we were in for. I had heard that it was more or less impossible to stay dry on this ride. That was quickly confirmed as I saw rafts passing under what amounts to a waterfall. Partially, I wanted to confirm that this was a ride the kids would enjoy. No huge drops or anything like that.
The rafts circle around Popeye’s ship, The Olive. Guests can actually board Popeye’s boat which contains a modest play area for kids and some nice themeing.
Inside the boat is a color-coded piano on which even a musical novice can plink out Popeye’s theme song.
You would think a lifelong sailor like Popeye would take better care of his ship. The Olive has a massive hole in its side. Hardly seems sea worthy. The guests lined up along the side are manning water cannons with which to spray the riders below.
I knew I would be back before the end of the trip so I decided to move on. I figured I would make my way to the back of the park and take the Hogwart’s Express over to Universal Studios where I was supposed to meet the girls for lunch.
From Toon Lagoon, I entered Skull Island. Kong is a ride I like well enough, but I won’t wait in a long line for it. The girls aren’t huge fans which makes it a perfect candidate for a solo experience. Unfortunately, the line for Kong is almost always longer than the ride warrants and that was the case today. I scoped out the EP line and it was all the way back to the end of the queue. I figured it would be a half hour even with Express Pass, so I moved on.
We had already spent some time in Jurassic Park and Kara was keen to come back and check out Camp Jurassic, so I pushed right on through to Hogemeade. As expected, the Wizarding World was even more crowded than the rest of the park. This had been the case every time we poked our heads into a Harry Potter-themed land during Spring Break.
Last Train to Potterville
The line for Forbidden Journey was intimidating, but I decided to take a chance on single rider anyway. The entrance was extremely chaotic with the new locker system. There was no clear flow of traffic and the team members seemed a bit overwhelmed directing guests to and from the new lockers.
I asked where the single rider line was and a team member told me it split off inside the queue. So I entered the Express Pass line and then jumped into single rider closer to the boarding zone. I’m not sure if that was how it was supposed to work or not, but I ended up waiting about 10 minutes to ride.
Last year, my lanyard popped off while I was riding Forbidden Journey which is how I lost my annual pass. So this year, I tucked all my documents into my pocket before I pulled down the safety bar on the ride vehicle. And then I kept a hand over my pocket just to be sure nothing slipped out.
I believe this was my first time experiencing Forbidden Journey since the ride was upgraded with a higher quality projection system. I’m not sure I would have noticed if I wasn’t the kind of guy who follows this sort of thing, but the overall quality of the ride was terrific. Last year I was distracted by the fact I had lost the contents of my wallet so I was glad I got to enjoy Forbidden Journey again this year.
It was just past noon and I was supposed to meet the girls in the Studios park for lunch, so I headed over to the Hogwarts Express. On my way, I checked out construction on the new Hagrid ride. It was coming along nicely, but soft openings were still a ways off. There was no chance we were going to experience this attraction before we left.
Express Pass was a lifesaver when it came time to take the train to Diagon Alley. The standby queue was full, but I practically walked on. One relaxing train ride later and I was in Diagon Alley. The place was absolutely packed, but I was getting hungry.
I thought about stopping in the Leaky Cauldron for lunch. Fish and chips were starting to sound really good and I was starting to think the girls were going to be a no-show on lunch. Just as I was beginning to seriously consider eating alone, I got a text that the girls were entering the park.
They wanted to eat at Fast Food Blvd again. I’ll admit, that wouldn’t have been my first choice. I was quickly burning out on the Simpsons food court, but Josie wanted another chicken and waffles sandwich. So I told the girls I would meet them there.
Another Lunch in Springfield
It was quarter to one and I was hoping that the lunch rush would be dying down. No such luck. The crowds were here in full force and the place was a madhouse. There was a 20 minute wait just to wait in the individual lines before lining up a third time to pay at a register. I hate dealing with this sort of thing.
I went ahead and got in line and told the girls to text me their orders. Kara and Mindy weren’t sure what they wanted, so I sent them pictures of the menus. I saw them enter the food court while I was still in the first of three lines. They texted that they were going to get a table because there weren’t many available.
By this point, I was pretty close to the front of the first line and I would be able to order soon. But Josie wanted a sandwich from Cletus’ Chicken Shack, Mindy and Kara wanted Krusty Burgers and I was looking at the fish and chips. That would mean waiting in three separate lines to order food. Ultimately, I decided to throw a Hail Mary pass in the form of using the Mobile Order feature on the Universal app.
This proved to be a fantastic idea. I highly recommend placing a mobile order any time you face a lunchtime rush. The app lets you customize your food and it’s much more clear than the intentionally deceptive menus which try to push you into buying a combo with a milkshake.
Less than five minutes after I hit the “Prepare Food” button, the entire order was ready for pick-up at a central line. It was so much faster and more efficient than waiting in the queues. The only downside was that we weren’t able to make use of our annual passholder discount for this meal. But that trade-off was well worth it.
The girls enjoyed their meals. They had eaten these sandwiches several times before, so there were no surprises. My fish fillets were gigantic, but there was entirely too much batter for my tastes. I ended up peeling off about half the breading, but the fish was tasty and there was still enough food for me to fill up on.
I substituted grapes for french fries because I wanted to eat something fresh. Those were the tastiest grapes I have ever eaten in my life. I’m guessing that’s a function of how much junk food I had eaten so far this week.
By the time we finished lunch, it was approaching 2:00. We had plans to meet some of Mindy’s friends for dinner tonight. Larry and Janelle are Florida residents who live about an hour’s drive away from Orlando. They have stopped down to visit us during our last several trips.
Last year, we brought them back to check out Portofino Bay. Larry was very impressed with the resort. So much so, that he wanted to go back. So the plan was for all of to grab dinner at Sal’s. The thing is, Portofino Bay charges an arm and a leg for parking if you’re not staying at the hotel. Even if you are a hotel guest, it’s still pretty pricey to park in the lot. So we were going to meet them at City Walk.
City Walk stops charging for parking at 6:00. So I figured we could meet Mindy’s friends around 6:30. That left us with about four and a half hours to kill. We could go back to the hotel, but that would mean coming back to City Walk and then back to the hotel again. It was a lot of back and forth for nothing. At least that’s how I saw it. To me, we were better served hanging out until 6:30.
In the KidZone
Josie didn’t love my plan. Despite having eaten one of her favorite meals for lunch, she was getting a bit crabby. No matter what I suggested we do, she didn’t like it.
We ended up going back to E.T. The primary selling point was giving fake names for the extraterrestrial to call out at the end of the ride. This time, we were Kim, Kanye, Saint and North. I’m pretty sure I saw the girl roll her eyes when I told her my name was Kanye. I didn’t hear E.T. call me Jeezy, so I’m not sure she actually entered it.
We timed our ride with ET so that we would be nearby when the next Animal Actors show started. Josie strongly disapproved despite having enjoyed the show previously. She had adopted a firm “I don’t rewatch shows” stance that wasn’t serving us well. I was confident that her mood would improve once the cute critters showed up on stage, but until then I was doing my best to prod her out of her funk.
Meanwhile, Mindy was following some commotion in the front rows. I was too busy with Josie to pay much attention, but there was a family of little people seated up front. Nothing strange about that, but Mindy said these people were being treated like royalty. There were people running all over bringing them drinks and snacks. Whoever they were, they were getting the VIP treatment. If I had looked, I would have recognized them from Portofino Bay.
Sure enough, Josie lit up as soon as the animals started doing their tricks. Never underestimate the power of cuteness. Especially where teenage girls are concerned.
The show ends with the opportunity to pet some of the animal performers. The dog closest to us was a big Saint Bernard. Josie really wanted to pet this dog, but there was a family in front of us that would not move along. Mindy was getting ready to give them a piece of her mind or maybe a knuckle sandwich. But fortunately, our kids were able to squeeze in to see the big dog before it was too late.
The show ended at 4:00 leaving us two and a half hours left to fill. But 4:00 was also significant because that was when the Mardi Gras booths opened up. It was time for us to cross another item off our list.
Next: New Orleans, New York and Italy