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Trip Report The "We Enjoyed Universal More" Trip Report

Discussion in 'WDW Trip Reports' started by ExtinctJenn, May 11, 2017.

  1. ExtinctJenn

    ExtinctJenn Well-Known Member

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    Let me just start by saying that the title of this report has me just as surprised as you. In fact, as I said multiple times to my husband on the ride home, I am almost a little ashamed by it. But, the long and short of it is, Universal far exceeded our expectations. For a brief summary of what lead to this trip, and what we had planned, take a quick stop over at the pre-trip report here. Now... on with the show!

    Day 1 - Drive & Check-In To All Star Music
    Somehow, despite never really having succeeded with this in the past, we managed to keep this trip a secret from our son right up until the moment we were ready to walk out the door. Keeping to our typical Monday morning schedule, I woke Aaron at 5:50am to get him ready for school. I got him dressed, got his breakfast, and he sat down at his computer (as he usually does) to play some games before it was time to head out. At 6:30, when I would typically tell him it was time to shut down and leave, I instead said "Oh! Before we go, I found this super cool video on YouTube that you need to see!" As he shutdown his laptop, I quickly made the video I had uploaded as hidden, public, and handed him the iPad to click play. Here's what he saw:



    Here's his reaction:



    And with that... we were on our way! We jumped into the car (which of course we had already packed the night before) and headed out at exactly the time I wanted to be pulling out of the driveway (6:35).

    The drive went incredibly well. With Aaron's diagnosis, I really didn't know what to expect this time. The last trip was like living in one of those typical family vacation skits where the kid asks every 5-minutes if you are there yet, despite there being 7-hours left to the trip. Couple that knowledge with the fact that we were taking my husband's Camaro, which had just been outfitted with a new, loud, exhaust system that has a lovely drone at high speeds, I was prepared for the worst 8 hour drive of my life. Turns out, I made two very smart decisions in prepping for this trip...
    1. Purchasing a pair of active noise cancelling headphones that did an amazing job of making the sound of the car disappear.
    2. Setting up a hotspot on my phone for Aaron's iPad to connect to.
    Those two things made it so the first "are we there yet?" didn't come until we were about 2-hours out and, 5-minutes later he saw the "Welcome to Florida" sign and was appeased enough to not ask again.

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    We completed online check-in, providing all the required information to be able to skip the lobby, in the hopes that when we arrived our room would be ready and we could head there after our long drive. About 10-minutes after we hit Orlando, the text came in that our room was ready and we could do just that. Such an awesome change to the check-in system!

    This is where things start to go a bit downhill as far as our Disney experience is concerned. Now, those of you that know me know that Disney is my life. I tend to be one of those annoying people that finds the positive in everything Disney is doing or has done, and have forever said that if you think anything is better than a Disney vacation, you aren't a true fan. I apologize in advance to you that are like me in that way because frankly, this part of our week was so very very "meh."

    All Star Music
    First thought upon driving to the parking area for our building...

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    Now, I had done my very very best to book this trip in a way that purposely avoided this sort of thing but, upon arriving to our parking lot and finding it had been completely blocked off to allow for masses of buses filled with teenage cheerleaders, I immediately knew I had failed.

    Making things worse, as we arrived, the sky had become ominously dark and sure enough, as soon as we began to unpack the car and prepare for what was quite a long walk to our room (because the closest lot was blocked), it started to drizzle. We knew we had to make this happen fast!

    As we made the trek from our car to the location of our room, we quickly realized we had been placed quite literally as far from the lobby as one could possibly be. We were in building 5, on the back end facing nothing but a swamp with signs saying to watch for gators/snakes. Given I knew that was fully on me (because I chose the resort and room type), I tried not to think about how much that would suck after a long day when my feet were tired and instead focused on how quiet it would be (right?).

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    Just as we got everything inside the room, the skies opened up and it began to pour. We spent a few minutes unpacking, donned our ponchos and prepared to make the walk to the food court to pick up our mugs and enjoy a little snack.

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    Literally, our only plans for this day were to chill out, and then head to Boma for dinner. The rain definitely helped to make sure we stuck to that. A little after 6:00, we piled into the car and headed toward Animal Kingdom Lodge. It was here that we immediately realized Boma is a much better deal when you have the regular Dining Plan. Stupidly, it hadn't dawned on me to look into just how much it was per person, especially with Aaron now being an adult as far as Disney is concerned. After tax and tip this meal came to $177 for the three of us, and that was with Aaron barely eating (a theme we dealt with throughout the trip - which came with a fair amount of irony given at home we can't get the kid to stop eating). Anyway, here is what my first trip to the buffet looked like:

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    The food was definitely good, but I don't know that it is something we'll do again. It wasn't quite as impressive as I had built it up to be in my head and, after that bill, I can't say it was worth it.

    After Boma we headed back to our room. It wasn't until we got there that I realized I had made a big mistake in booking at a value resort... or at least, this one specifically. We hadn't stayed at an All Star resort in years. It was so long ago that Aaron was tiny and thus sharing a bed with him wasn't a problem. When I made the reservations, I somehow had forgotten just how tiny the beds were. I'm positive they aren't Queen sized... they must be Full? Either way, the size of the bed, coupled with the fact that the beds are in HORRIBLE shape (can feel/hear the springs, there are huge divots, very little actual padding left, etc.)... Bill and I didn't get much sleep our three nights at ASMu.

    (Day 2 to Follow)
     
    Last edited: May 11, 2017
  2. JamieLee18

    JamieLee18 Active Member

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    Awwww, I love the video you made and your son's reaction! Looking forward to hearing more about Universal, I haven't been there since Harry Potter opened.
     
  3. ExtinctJenn

    ExtinctJenn Well-Known Member Original Poster

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    Day 2 - Magic Kingdom (and more that we didn't expect!)
    The weather forecast for our first day in the parks was certainly foreboding. Not only was there a lot of rain in our future, but also thunderstorms, making it so there was a rather high potential for rides closing. Still, we packed up our ponchos into the new nifty little cinch sack I had gotten (filled with some snacks from the florists department) and off we went!

    Now, our plans for this day were ultimately just inclusive of the Magic Kingdom. We had made some FP+ selections ahead of time but the idea was we'd just get in whatever we could, taking a break or two to head back to the hotel and swim and let Aaron decompress, but honestly we didn't think we'd be park hopping much at all. As seems to always be the case, however, plans definitely can and will change!

    I wasn't quite sure what to expect with the new security checkpoints at the T&TC but, we found them to be quick and easy and had no problems with them at all. In fact, they were almost too easy in the fact that now, instead of everyone going through the metal detectors, people are, I guess, randomly selected to be. Seems like that is the opposite of what they were trying to accomplish in adding them but, I disgress.... we hopped into a monorail line, jumped on red, and off we went to the Magic Kingdom!

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    Note the clouds in that second picture there... The weather forecast was definitely not wrong. It rained off and on pretty much all day but, only once did this really effect us.

    We hopped on Space Mountain to start the day (without Bill - he's not a coaster guy) and walked right on. Granted, we used our FP+ reservation but really, didn't have to. In fact, the side for standby probably had a slightly shorter wait once in the loading area to be honest. Still, it was an awesome way to start our Disney parks days. Aaron and I love Space Mountain (despite the fact that he looks terrified here lol).

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    After Space Mountain we hit the TTA, then headed over to Adventureland for our Pirates FP+ reservation. We had some time to kill so we grabbed a couple citris swirls and, since the rain had stopped, sat outside people watching as we ate them. Once it was our time, we headed in and into what was ultimately a queue. I'll say this, it's a good thing you don't have to pay for FP at Disney parks else, I'd be really ticked off with the amount of times we ended up waiting 15-20 minutes. Not really complaining as the standby would be longer obviously but, slowly, a FP is become only a "slightly faster pass." :)

    After Pirates we jumped into line for Big Thunder. It was drizzling but the ride was still going and, the wait was only 20-minutes so why not? We made our way through the queue, watching the rain getting harder but the ride kept running so we weren't concerned. We had just made it to the ramps that take you down to the loading area when they made an announcement that they were stopping operations due to lightning in the area. Note, I didn't see said lightning but I am sure it was there as I heard some thunder that I eventually realized was not coming from the ride. We were going to wait it out but, Aaron started to have a rough go of it (not unexpectedly) and unfortunately, had to leave the line.

    Now, I had been trying to get breakfast or lunch reservations at Be Our Guest since the day I booked the trip in March. I would try once or twice a week, and fail, but never stopped trying. On a whim, as we were on our drive down on Monday, I pulled up the app and checked. A ton of breakfast and lunch reservations had opened. Looking back, I'm thinking maybe they don't open those until last minute?! It seems odd that out of nowhere, the day before suddenly there were a bunch of openings. Maybe people cancelled and we were lucky but, I doubt that. :D Anyway, we had grabbed a lunch reservation and, after leaving Big Thunder, it was close enough that we were comfortable we could take a leisurely walk toward the restaurant and get there without being so early that they wouldn't check us in. We were right! We checked in and, as we were waiting outside on the bridge, it once again started to pour. We didn't have our ponchos on but, really didn't care. I got a rather huge laugh out of the gigantic groups of people huddling under the umbrellas that line the bridge though. It only lasted maybe 2-minutes but, as long as Bill and Aaron didn't care, neither did I!

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    I had the braised pork, Bill had the roast beef sandwich and Aaron had the turkey sandwich. We then shared a master's cupcake and a lemon raspberry cream puff for dessert. All around, it was all yummy and still my favorite QS at the Magic Kingdom for sure! Plus, the skies had apparently opened up again while we were eating and drenched the world so it was nice to have had some time to avoid that. It also worked out nicely that I happened to bring some ziplock bags into the park because neither of my boys finished their meal and, we were able to take it back out with us via zippie!

    After lunch we headed back into Tomorrowland. We grabbed another ride on the TTA, hit Carousel of Progress (where all the effects were working - YAY!) and then decided, based on Aaron getting a little irritable, that a break was in order. We headed out, boarded a monorail, and went back to the T&TC to grab our car. On the way out, I just have to say that I was completely taken with the new hub. We had run through it pretty quickly in the morning but took our time leaving and, I am just so happy with what they did. The amount of space they created while still having it look just so pretty, is really quite impressive. Last time we were at the MK there were walls and equipment everywhere so it was truly impressive to finally see in person!

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    We headed back to the hotel, Bill had some quiet time (he and Aaron can be like oil and vinegar at times so it is important for both of them to have this time away) and Aaron hit the pool.

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    Pardon me while I have a little bit of a rant here. On one of our visits to the pool it was filled with cheerleaders practicing their routines. I don't mean just little hops around in the pool. I mean full on, lifts into the air, throwing the girl who spins and then lands type practicing. I found myself staring at the lifeguard on duty (there is only one at a time at the piano pool) because he wasn't looking anywhere but at these cheerleaders. He wasn't ensuring the safety of the people in the pool, he was just watching a show. In fact, at one point when a girl went to get on someone's shoulders, he finally spoke, telling them (I kid you not) "Look, you're not supposed to be doing that in the pool but, you're entertaining me so I'm allowing it. Just be aware that in a few minutes when another guard comes on duty, you've got to stop." SAY WHAT DUDE?!? It was everything in my power not to go and report the kid to someone but, I was trying to follow a rule I had set for myself that I wouldn't give a crap what other people were doing on this trip. If people were breaking the rules, that was for someone else to handle, not me. But man was I irritated with that kid!

    Anyway...

    There was one thing that Bill made it very clear he wanted to do on this trip. The last two trips we had taken, Aaron had backed out of watching Wishes at the end of the day. It may have been a sensory thing, it may have been that by the time it was time for Wishes, he was exhausted... I don't know. But, Bill pulled Aaron aside earlier in the day and told him we would be going back to the Magic Kingdom for Wishes that night, and Aaron agreed. While at the pool, Aaron and I decided to slightly switch up our plans and, instead of going right back to the Magic Kingdom, we would instead hop over to Epcot, spend some time there, grab a QS dinner and then hop back to MK for Wishes. Bill wasn't thrilled because, and he did call it, he knew Aaron would back out of Wishes again. But... off to Epcot we went!

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    We hit up SSE (twice), Nemo, Living with the Land and Figment. All in all, it was pretty darn dead at Epcot that day, likely because of the rain. But, it was a nice way to spend the afternoon. Still, not surprisingly, it had been a very busy day after years of not spending full days on our feet like this, and Aaron wanted to end the evening rather than go back to MK for Wishes. We agreed, Bill obviously upset, but figured we had one more day to try again. I pulled Aaron aside and told him if we didn't go back for Wishes the next day, he wasn't going to Legoland. I usually don't threaten with things like that but, I was very very serious that we'd skip the park entirely if he didn't accommodate his father's ONE request.

    (Day 3 to follow)
     
  4. littleroo

    littleroo Well-Known Member

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    I am in! I got teary eyed watching your video. Too sweet!!
     
  5. ExtinctJenn

    ExtinctJenn Well-Known Member Original Poster

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    Day 3 - Epcot & Magic Kingdom
    This day ended up going completely differently than we had originally planned. We made two major decisions the night before. One, was to go into Epcot later in the day, rather than close to rope drop, to give us the ability to sleep in and let Aaron start his morning a little more slowly. Instead of a 9:15 Test Track FP to start the day, we had a 12:55. The second change we made, at my suggestion, was to book the Fireworks Dessert Party at the Magic Kingdom. While it was certainly another $180 we hadn't intended to drop, we figured this would allow Aaron a little bit more "room" so as to not to become overwhelmed during Wishes, as well as give us all a nice little sugar rush with yummy desserts ahead of it starting. I'll get to more on whether or not those plans worked here in a bit... ;)

    First plan of the day? Back to Epcot for Test Track (a ride all three of us love). We arrived early enough that we had some time to kill. Now... Let's note here that spending had already gotten out of control and it was only full day 2. This was making Bill quite upset but, I had gone into this trip fully planning on building up some debt on a credit card. Sometimes, the best way to keep Aaron from becoming a huge handful, is to allow him some retail therapy. Don't get me wrong, we said "no" a lot and, we had issues as a result but, we moved on. Still, there was a huge elephant we couldn't ignore at Epcot... Mouse Gears... our favorite shop on property (all three of us). So, we headed in and this was one of the few times that Bill and I actually spent some money on ourselves.

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    Then it was finally time for Test Track! As if a pattern was brewing, we had just gotten through the vehicle design stations when the ride shut down due to "technical difficulties" (or so they announced). I wasn't sure how this was going to go. Aaron was really excited to get on one of his favorite rides and, we had already been through so much of the queue that there wasn't really a way to back out at this point if he lost it. He did get really impatient for a bit, and I think we came very close to there being a problem but, he maintained control and after about a 10-minute delay, we were moving to the loading area again.

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    After Test Track the plan was to hit Mission Space but, Aaron had decided he wasn't up for it. Though we had decided early on, based on the low crowds, that we weren't going to take advantage of the Disability Pass unless we absolutely had to, we had run into a bit of a problem. Aaron desperately wanted to ride the new Frozen ride in Norway and, there hadn't been a FP available for it in months. I tried every day to book one but they were flat out gone and, neither day we were at Epcot was the wait ever below 75 minutes. There is absolutely no way Aaron would be able to wait in that sort of queue. Especially, a queue like this one that is quite dark and often loud. His sensory sensitivity would go bonkers and we'd have a full on meltdown to deal with. So, given we only had a few hours on Disney parks property left, we gave into it and went ahead and added the pass to his band. We headed back to Norway, got a return time of 65 minutes, and decided to get some QS lunch back in World Showcase.

    Now, please note that for whatever reason, about a year ago or so, Aaron suddenly became obsessed with Chinese culture. He fell in love with Chinese Dragon dancing and a whole handful of things. So, he had also mentioned how he wanted to pick up a marionette from China if we ever went to Epcot again (back before this trip was a thing). He remembered the ones they had, and the way that some of the folks from the pavilion were playing with them, and desperately wanted one of the large ones (we had gotten him a tiny one on the last trip). So, once his brain caught up with where we were, that was his next destination. Again, spending had been out of control at this point and we had already told him "no more" but, I had made the mistake of promising he could get one if we "ever went again" so, there was no backing out of this (just as he couldn't back out of Wishes).



    After we became the proud owners of this odd creature that Aaron decided was named "Neuron," we made our way into Lotus Blossom for a QS lunch. Let me just say... best Orange Chicken I have ever had. YUMMMMMMM!

    Then, it was finally time for us to check out the new Frozen ride! Let me just say, this was SO much better than I expected. I expected to be so lost in remembering Maelstrom that I'd be unimpressed but, it was seriously so well done. The animatronics were awesome. The only exception was, Marshmallow's frost breath wasn't working. I only know that, however, because Bill had watched a video of the ride and told me the effect was supposed to be there and wasn't.

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    After Frozen, Aaron's feet were hurting and, despite being a short day, we decided to head out and back to the resort for a bit. We pulled up the app and grabbed a FP for the Haunted Mansion (a ride we HAD to do but hadn't yet), as well as one for Buzz that would take place immediately following Wishes (so we had something to do while crowds dispersed). We spent just an hour or so at the resort and then, decided it was time to get back to the Magic Kingdom.

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    Aaron had been watching videos of the old Merlin show at the carousel for some time and insisted we find the sword so he could try. He knew it was locked and I explained the show was a thing of the past but, he still wanted to check it out.

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    On our way to Tomorrowland we lucked out and caught a walk-on for Goofy's Barnstormer (or whatever it is called now lol) while Bill went and had a smoke break. This was awesome because it kept a huge smile on Aaron's face and kept us moving forward... closer to Tomorrowland for our plans for the night.

    We had booked the newest addition to the dessert party in that we chose the seating in the plaza garden instead of the terrace. This was for two reasons. One, it was slightly cheaper. Two, there weren't any terrace reservations available. So, we arrived at our designated time (7:45) and proceeded to enjoy our desserts. SO FAR SO GOOD! Aaron hadn't backed out!

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    Let me just say... while the desserts really haven't changed all that much from the last two times we've done this... I am SO glad we chose the garden viewing area! What a huge difference this made! Firstly, Aaron was able to walk around, stretch out and be comfortable. He didn't feel overwhelmed by the crowds and wasn't stuck to an uncomfortable chair. Secondly, the view from here was amazing! Unlike the terrace view where, ultimately, unless you luck out and get one of the tables at the edge, you aren't seeing everything very well (partially because of the people and partially because of the ceiling), we had a straight on perfect unobstructed view that was amazing!

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    I was incredibly smart and brought along the headphones (discussed on day 1) as well as Aaron's iPad. Again, thinking ahead made all the difference. Until the show started, Aaron loved wandering around with "Neuron" and just generally taking in the plaza garden area. Once it started, he got a little uncomfortable but, he found a patch of grass to lie down, put on his headphones, pulled out the iPad and watched cartoons. We even caught him looking up and watching the fireworks a few times which made this moment even better. We all knew this was the last time we'd see Wishes together so, having made the last minute decision to do the party, and having this area to enjoy it all in, made it incredibly emotional. I was crying through the entire show and even now, am tearing up remembering it. Ultimately, what we were all convinced was going to go horribly wrong... or not happen at all because Aaron would back out... ended up being a fantastic family moment together.

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    Once Wishes was over, we waited a few minutes for some of the crowds to disperse. There were EMH until midnight though so, many of the crowds moved back into the lands. Still, we had our FP for Buzz and, a few minutes before it was time, we headed over to catch it. I mentioned earlier that it seemed we kept running into issues with our FP rides and again, the line here was NUTS! Even with a FP we were still met with a huge line. Still, it was obvious they were trying very hard to empty the FP queue as we moved very very quickly.

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    Fully expecting Aaron to say he was tired and wanted to leave after Buzz, we were pleasantly surprised when he asked to do a night ride on the TTA instead. We jumped on, enjoyed our trip (especially with our eyes having adjusted to the dark). Then, surprising us again, Aaron asked to do one last thing before we left for the night... the speedway! We jumped in what was ultimately a short line and, he surprised me again saying he wanted to drive! That was huge! He had NEVER driven on the speedway. I was so very very happy and he absolutely loved it!

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    And with that, our days in the Disney parks were over! We headed out, finding the "express" monorail to be absolutely insane and decided to use our little bit of knowledge in how to avoid that by grabbing the resort monorail instead. We were quickly back to the T&TC and on our way back to the resort. Then, in a complete twist of irony we realized we had eaten dessert but no dinner so, before bed, Aaron ate the leftover sandwich we had saved from the day before (see, go ziplock bags!) and then passed out. We were soon to follow. All in all, despite spending way more money than I would've liked to... our days at the Disney parks were a success!
     
    Last edited: May 11, 2017
  6. ExtinctJenn

    ExtinctJenn Well-Known Member Original Poster

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    Day 4 - Legoland
    Knowing we could get into Legoland early, as we were resort guests (even if we hadn't checked in yet), we packed up the car and left All Star Music around 8:30 to make the roughly 50-minute drive to Winter Haven. We parked and made our way to the gate at 9:50. Let me just say before I go any further... what a HUGE difference from the typical Disney experience. There was a line of maybe 30 people waiting to enter the park for "rope drop." Can you imagine? Anyway... we found the spot we could enter as resort guests and made our way into Legoland for the very first time!

    General thoughts: This park is definitely geared toward young kids. There are even rides that you can't ride if you are over 13. None of that mattered, however, as Aaron loved it all! He couldn't get enough. He wanted to do everything he could and he absolutely had a blast! This was definitely made even better by the fact that we didn't wait in a single line (everything was walk-on).

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    Hands down, the best ride on the Legoland property (Ninjago). A great "Space Ranger Spin" style ride but one that you work up a sweat on.

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    A little explanation as to why this photo is a thing... not only was this Lego Mustang absolutely amazing but, I drive a Mustang so I was completely in love. I didn't want to leave this thing!

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    Note, this was the only attraction we had any sort of wait for. Honestly, it was a fairly long one when compared to the fact that every other ride was a walk-on but, Aaron did ok with it. He had just about backed out when suddenly it was his turn and he loved it!

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    A little story about this ride (Chima) and what happened to us on it...
    This is a water ride. There aren't any waterfalls or things on the ride itself that will get you wet. You get wet because of the people on the ride, and the people along the ride's border, that are armed with long range water guns. Now, ordinarily, you'd move through the attraction fairly quickly so really, while you can get pretty wet, because we had no one on the boats in front of or behind us, we logically shouldn't have been wet at all. Logically. That is until the ride broke down with us floating, incredibly slowly (because the jets were turned off) directly in front of a spot where people can stand outside the ride and shoot you. There was this adult couple who took the opportunity very seriously and DRENCHED us. All 3 of us came off this ride soaked through to our undies. It was hilarious and horrible at the same time. We were so glad when the ride finally started moving again, though.

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  7. ExtinctJenn

    ExtinctJenn Well-Known Member Original Poster

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    Legoland Continued...
    This day went by very quickly. We had done everything there was to do (that we wanted to do really) by 2:00. We were absolutely soaked so, despite check-in not being until 4:00, we decided to try to see if there was any chance our room was ready. Being a 2-minute walk from the entrance, we headed over to the resort lobby to try. Unfortunately, we were told rooms are never available before 3:00 and to come back then. So, we headed back into the park, still soaking wet, grabbed some pizza for lunch and waited. At 3:00 we went back and sure enough our room was ready.

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    Now... let me just say... this hotel is absolutely incredible! If you are planning a trip to Legoland, do yourself a favor and book a stay at this hotel. Hands down, the rooms were the best themed I have ever seen (even over staying at Art of Animation). The resort itself is a ton of fun. The elevators are discotheques (yes really), the rooms have a locked box that kids can find the combination to and get a bunch of goodies, there are legos to play with everywhere, the pool was fun (but very salty)... seriously... the hotel was the best part of the Legoland piece of our trip!

    We booked the "Adventure" themed room and, I had decided to spend the extra money to get what is called the "Premium" room which has a bit more theming. It was seriously fantastic.

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    Our view:

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    Bricks Restaurant - Dinner Buffet not too badly priced. Breakfast buffet included in stay!!

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    While eating dinner, the Adventure Lego guy started peaking in through the windows. Aaron saw this and started to interact with him. It was so great the way they played through the window. After we finished eating, he ran outside to see him again.

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    Hotel parking... absolutely brilliant. Not only do these provide shade but they are solar panels!!

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    For anyone who remembers Cypress Gardens, the amusement park that Legoland is built on (some of it remains to visit), this may bring back huge memories. As you leave the property, you pass this old riverboat run aground. It is the Cypress Belle, the riverboat that used to take you on a tour of the property back in the day. Somewhere, in a very old photo album, I have a shot of my grandparents on this!

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  8. bee

    bee Well-Known Member

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    Um...ok...I don't have kids...and I'm not into legos (and wasn't really as a kid either)...but Legoland looks SO. COOL. based on your report and photos.

    Thanks for sharing your honest thoughts on the Disney part of the trip too, good and bad. I'm glad you got to have your last family Wishes experience!

    Have you tried Boma breakfast? It's a much better deal in my opinion ($25ish, with AP/TiW/Disney Visa discounts available) than dinner and, while it still has a lot of interesting choices, it's probably "safer" for picky eaters. We liked our dinner there and are glad we tried it but would pick breakfast over dinner any time.

    I'm enjoying your report and can't wait to read the rest!
     
  9. Jedi-Joe

    Jedi-Joe New Member

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    I understand your issue with staying at the AS resorts when there are cheerleading competitions going on at WWoS. Happened to us a few years back. Beds were not that bad back then, can't say for now, and yes they are full/double in Value, and Queen/King in Moderate and Deluxe. I am interested to see what you have to report about the rest of your trip including your experience as compared to all the resorts/parks.
     
  10. ExtinctJenn

    ExtinctJenn Well-Known Member Original Poster

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    Day 5 - Cabana Bay Check-In & Universal Studios
    This day started out exactly as planned, and quickly took an extreme left turn. We left the Legoland hotel at 8:15 to make our roughly hour-long trip to Universal. At 8:45, as we arrived at I-4, we came to a complete stop. What should've taken only another 15-20 minutes to drive took another 90 due to a huge wreck, so bad that special crews were called in to clean up after the vehicles involved were long gone. We finally arrived at Cabana Bay around 10:30. Now, there is a very positive spin here. Unlike Legoland, and even typical check-in experiences at Disney resorts, despite check-in time not being until 4:00pm, we were allowed to check in upon arrival. This was a fantastic arrival experience that I did not see coming, and, after being stuck in our car going 5mph for as long as we were, a desperately needed positive! The folks at the check-in counter were amazing, answering so many questions I had on how everything worked, given we'd never been to Universal (well, I had but it was in '93 so I might as well have never been). We were up in our room unpacking by 10:50 and, prepping our stuff to catch the bus from the hotel to the parks.

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    Our view from the room (looking toward the two theme parks):

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    Of the three resorts we stayed in, Cabana Bay was by far the most comfortable. Even though Legoland's rooms were absolutely amazingly themed, and the bed for us parents was an awesome King size, it was generally a relatively cramped room (no much space other than the beds) and, the big King bed wasn't the best as far as comfort was concerned. Way better than ASMu for sure, but generally a lumpy uneven bed. The beds at Cabana Bay, however, were the sort you kind of sink into when you lie down. The huge floor-to-ceiling window made the room feel very tall and let in a ton of natural light which I just love. Additionally, the room and the hallways in particular smelled amazing! Every time we came off the elevator it was like walking into a brand new hotel. The carpets in the halls were kept spotless and cleaned with a carpet cleaner every morning. The theming is actually perfect as well but, in a different sort of way than Legoland obviously. Cabana Bay is themed to invoke memories/thoughts of 50s/60s family beach vacations. It even has an actual sand beach at the pool.

    I only had two complaints about the hotel. The first is the fact that unlike Disney and Legoland, the hotels are owned and operated by an outside company (Lowes Hotels), not Universal. As a result, despite having obvious partnerships with them to sell the merchandise etc., the Universal dining plan is not accepted at the hotel. The second complaint, and this was a big one that I shared in a survey I was asked to take after our stay, was the sheer amount of drunks in the pool/lazy river area at just 2:00pm. Sure, it isn't a "kidcentric" hotel but, it is one thing to have the bar open that early and another thing entirely to provide spill proof cups that literally everyone is floating around sipping from. We tried to enjoy a trip around the lazy river (which you have to buy/bring your own tubes to btw) but literally, couldn't float 2 feet without hitting an obnoxious drunk who was either cussing up a storm or yelling to speak to the person directly in front of them, etc. Needless to say, we didn't spend much time in the pool area. Other than that... I absolutely loved this resort!!

    NOW... onto the fun!!

    As I mentioned earlier, I haven't been to Universal in so long that I might as well have never been so, all three of us were very excited for this part of the trip! It took a few minutes to sort of orient ourselves to how the entry process works, how to find our way to the parks, etc. but once we figured it all out, it quickly became second nature. Our first stop was the studios. The biggest reason for this was, as I mentioned earlier, Bill is not a huge coaster guy. My general understanding of IoA was that was the majority of rides and I wanted this first day to be fun for all of us.

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    The skies lead us to believe we'd be getting soaked on this day but, other than a thunder storm that came in our sleep, the worst weather experience we had was wind. It was an unbelievably windy day that got worse as the day went on. More on that later, though. Our first stop was the Minion ride. Aaron was unbelievably excited for this one and, while we knew the wait was going to be a bit long (40-minutes I believe it was), we thought making it the first thing we did would make that not such a huge deal. Ultimately, we were right. He loved what was shown on the screens in the queue (despite them repeating) and honestly, I think the knowledge he was about to do something he had only seen videos about overshadowed his impatience.

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    Let me take a brief pause here to share something that was a recurring theme during our days at Universal. Before this trip, I had read so much about how Universal is just screen ride after screen ride, simulator after simulator. I thus had extremely low expectations on the quality of these rides. I imagined things like Star Tours where, every ride would be us loading into a large box on hydraulics and bouncing around. I am frankly so very happy I was wrong and further, absolutely blown away by what Universal has accomplished with these attractions. They put every screen/sim ride Disney has done to date to shame. As the trip went on, I found myself feeling actual guilt from how impressed I was with everything we did.

    Now, that being said, starting off the trip with the Minion ride was absolutely the best choice, as was the next move we made which was heading to the new Fallon ride. Both are absolutely awesome sim/screen rides but, both don't even touch what some of the others have to offer.

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    Let me just say, I absolutely loved the Fallon attraction itself. I am a huge fan of the show so it was something I was really looking forward to but (there is always a but right?), I definitely recommend reading the opinion I shared here for more on the specific experience we had and the pros/cons of the attraction.

    After Fallon we had hoped to jump onto Transformers but, the line was a bit too long to force Aaron to go through after his success waiting for Minions and Fallon so, we skipped it. Note, we again had a goal of not taking advantage of the disability pass for however long we could. We don't want Aaron to ever think his disability is in some way to get to do things others cannot so it was important we try to do what a "normal" person would for as long as possible.

    In looking at the map, discussing what we should check out next, Aaron begged us to stop into SpongeBob Storepants. Given even I had seen videos of this store, and very much wanted to check it out, I immediately agreed.

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    Visiting this store turned out to be a great idea. Not only did Aaron get a gigantic Krabby Patty that ended up being a huge deal the next day (wait for it...) but we found the absolute perfect "universal equivalent" of a Grumpy shirt for Bill.

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  11. ExtinctJenn

    ExtinctJenn Well-Known Member Original Poster

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    Day 5 Continued...
    After visiting Bikini Bottom came a very emotional moment for me. Going backwards for a second, as I mentioned, my first/only visit to Universal was just a few years after it had opened. The property that exists today is so unbelievably different than what I experienced and virtually none of what I remembered existed anymore. There was one single exception to that. One attraction has remained unchanged... E.T. Adventure.

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    Full disclosure, I started shaking when I realized this was still here. As the doors opened following the preshow, I instantly remembered the moment I provided my name to the folks at the kiosks back in the early 90s. As we entered the queue, and that smell hit me (there is this smell throughout that forest queue that I've never experienced elsewhere) and I am telling you, I began to cry. As we arrived at the load area and I saw the bikes, I couldn't stop smiling. As we were seated in the front row and I realized the little E.T. head was in the basket in front of me, waiting to pop up and make us fly, the tears came stronger. As we flew through the attraction, I looked over at Aaron sitting next to me, wide eyed, huge smile, taking everything on the green planet in and there was no longer any hiding my emotions. As we arrived at the end, and E.T. said each of our names, I was a blubbering idiot. There was just something so strong about that memory, and experiencing something that I had honestly forgotten in the deep recesses of my brain with my family, that was unbelievably intense. I am SO happy the attraction is still there and, even though I am so very sure it won't be for long, I am so grateful I got to experience it one more time with them.

    After I regained my composure, we grabbed the map and realized we were close to Springfield. Before arriving at the Studios I had researched what had happened to the Back to the Future ride and learned that the Simpsons ride had essentially just been a retheme of the exact experience so, it was a must. Aaron, on the other hand, had learned about the head-sized donuts you could get and thus wanted to stop and pick one up. So... off to Springfield we went...

    But wait... who is that guy in the white lab coat with the white hair looking very confused and lost? Wandering the streets ahead of Springfield as if he was supposed to be doing something but wasn't quite sure what. Wait... is that? HOLY CRAP IT'S DOC!!

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    This guy was absolutely amazing. He was flawless in his impersonation and never broke character. He explained that some guy from the future had told him to run, he ran but now wasn't quite sure what to do. When we caught up to him another person had walked up and immediately started taking selfies with him and he, all the while in character, acted like he was completely confused by the desire to take his photo. We stood and talked to him for quite some time and honestly, it was such a great experience.

    Then it was onto Springfield...

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    After the three of us polished off that donut (yep...), Aaron and I jumped onto the alien ride (I can't remember the name now of course) and then off to the Krusty attraction that lived in what I remembered as Back to the Future. Now, I should explain that I was trying desperately to describe how this attraction worked (when it was BttF) to Bill just days before our trip. He couldn't get past the idea that we were lifted up into the space, multiple cars attached to essentially long poles. I was SO thrilled to find the attraction was quite literally exactly the same as I remembered. Forgetting for a second the obvious Simpsons overlay and film (and the fact that it is now a single projection where, when I did BttF it was multiple having to be stitched together), the experience is exactly the same. The vehicle load area, the rooms for each car, the unbelievable shaking of the preshow room while the attraction is going outside the door to your right. I remembered the feeling completely. And... just like with BttF... I came off feeling like I was going to hurl so... it was appropriate.

    Next up, an attraction that completely surprised me. Ironically, I expected the MIB ride to be a simulator so, when we came to the queue and found we had to use a locker for our stuff, I was completely confused. What a fantastic ride this was! I absolutely loved this! The queue was nothing short of awesome. As a huge fan of the first Men in Black, seeing MIB brought to life, including the twins, was incredible. Loved loved loved this ride.

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    As a side note, this is another thing Universal does right in my opinion... the offering of a free locker to use for your things on those rides where it isn't safe to bring lose items. There's a roller coaster at our local amusement park that doesn't allow anything to be brought in line and you have to pay for a $2 locker as a result (that is only good for an hour so you better hope the line isn't long). Having a locker system that synchronizes the locker time with the wait time for the ride, and making it free, is genius! Way to go Universal!

    After MIB (around 4:30ish), we decided it was time to call it a day. The parks were closing early (6:00) for a grad night thing so, we beat the crowds and headed back to Cabana Bay.

    At this point, the wind was really howling. Aaron begged for some pool time so, we obliged, but while sitting at the pool, umbrellas were shaking, backs of chairs folding up, tubes and towels were blowing around everywhere. It was unbelievably strong and made it very cold while sitting in shorts and a tank top. How he was able to stay in the pool as long as he did is beyond me but, he had a blast.

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    That night, after Aaron had fallen asleep, Bill and I decided to do something we've never done. Once he's out, Aaron does not wake up. Not for a thunderstorm, not for a tornado, not if you tipped the bed upside down. So, we said f'it and went down to the Swizzle Lounge and got a couple of drinks. We walked back outside, sat on a bench and just talked while we enjoyed them. Then, we went back up to the room and completely passed out. All in all, a great day!
     
  12. LeighM

    LeighM Well-Known Member

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    Finally caught up on your report! I totally remember Cypress Gardens...well not so much the details of it except for pretty flowers. It was a memory my Grandma and Mom always looked back on fondly. And I can't remember whether the mermaids were there or at the other Central Florida attraction. Either way, I left that trip wanting to be a mermaid when I grew up LOL.
     
  13. ExtinctJenn

    ExtinctJenn Well-Known Member Original Poster

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    Day 6 - Character Breakfast & Universal Park Hopping
    Let's start with a lesson learned... when they say that the parks open early to resort guests, that's a teeny tiny bit misleading. Islands of Adventure opens early to resort guests. There are attractions at the studios that do as well but, you have to have taken the train from IoA to get to them. So, to that end, we prepped early to head over to the studios and got in line at the gate around 8:30. Aaron was a bit impatient realizing what was going on but, we made it through. In a great move on Universal's part, however, they opened the gates at about 8:50. Now, because we had missed Transformers the day before, and had breakfast reservations at 9:15, our goal was to run over to Transformers, get in the queue so when the ride opened at 9:00 with the rest of the park, we could ride it and get to breakfast. Little did we know, again "Go Universal!", when they open the gates a little early, they open the rides too. In otherwords, at 8:53 (lol) we were already prepping to board Transformers.

    Now... earlier in this report I mentioned how impressed we were with Minions and Fallon, our only two Universal sim/screen rides ridden at that point. Let me just say... I had NO idea what we were in for on Transformers. I mean, are you kidding me? How can anyone complain that Universal is all sim/screen rides? Have you ridden these rides? Holy crap Transformers blew my mind! I didn't know that sort of thing was possible in the way they did it and, as we visited other attractions like it, we continued to become more and more blown away by the tech behind these attractions. To me, a simulator is what we all know as Star Tours. A box that simulates movement, synchronized to something shown on a screen. These are full on rides, with tons of practical effects in addition to the 3D and, I'm sorry, I still (4 days after day 7 which I haven't even gotten to yet) can't stop thinking about how incredible they were. If you are reading this and have never been, don't let the posts about how it is nothing but sims discourage you from going. I'll hop off my soap box now (for a little bit at least).

    Next up... breakfast at Cafe Labamba (character breakfast)! This was something I decided to do on a whim while booking the trip and I cannot be happier that I did. First, the food on the buffet is absolutely yummy. There aren't a ton of choices but, of the choices there are, the food is all really well prepared. Second, and this is a big one for me after years of Table Service restaurants at Disney and seeing those "suggested" amounts on the receipt... the servers cannot except tips. We were all ready to hand cash to the guy but he made it very clear he couldn't accept it. Further, when we asked if we could slip it to him unofficially, he said someone got fired for doing that. Yet still, given all that, the guy was one of the best servers I've ever had on a buffet. He kept our drinks full, he engaged in conversation with us, he helped us think through our plans for the day, he told us little tips to help us pick the right things to do, he was simply fantastic.

    And then... there were the characters. I mentioned earlier that Aaron got a gigantic Krabby Patty the day before. Well, he happened to bring it with him to breakfast and it was the hit of the day. Every single character pointed it out, attempted to steal it, fought over it, or did some other thing to make it (and thus Aaron) the star of the show. I don't know that I've ever seen full-suited Disney characters interact as much as these folks did with our entire table. I had a smile on my face the entire time and was laughing so hard I was in tears for the vast majority. OH! And the pictures they take of you and the characters... INCLUDED IN THE COST OF THE BUFFET.

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  14. ExtinctJenn

    ExtinctJenn Well-Known Member Original Poster

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    Day 6 Continued...
    I just want to stop for a moment and explain why I took this next photo. I started thinking about what the studios used to be as I stood waiting for Aaron to come out of the rest room. I was staring over toward these buildings, remembering the backlot that used to be here and the Nickelodeon studios (now the Blue Man Group theater) etc. There was so much to this place that is now gone that I wish Aaron could've experienced and I felt a bit emotional about it. Frankly, as I hadn't been keeping up with the changes at the Studios, I think I believed when MGM shut down its production, and then subsequently the backlot tour was reduced and residential street demolished, and now the entire backlot being gone, that I at least still had the Studios to give him that glimpse into Hollywood. I knew a lot of it was gone but, I didn't realize just how much until this trip. This photo to me tells a story. The production areas, the old backlot (now gone to make way for IoA obviously), the studios, now not just behind walls but, with a thrill ride zooming by in front of it, catching your attention. It feels like this photo just says a lot on its own and I felt a little twinge of sadness as I took it.

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    But now onto the fun stuff right??

    Next on our agenda, after breakfast, was to trek back into Potterland (yes I know that's not what it is called but it is what I will continue to call it just as people call Pandora Avatarland lol), grab the Hogwarts Express and head over to IoA.

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    Now... let me take a moment here to say I am not a Potterhead. My mother is a huge one (read all the books, has seen all the movies) and she visited Potterland a couple years ago, not being able to stop talking about how amazing it was. Aaron hasn't seen a single movie, hasn't read a single book. His exposure to Harry Potter is a cape that someone gave him (that I had forgotten about until we got back ironically) that he turns inside out to use for other dress up play. I share all that to say... all that is about to change and it is simply because of these two lands at Universal. From the moment we got into this train queue, Aaron was sucked in. I've never seen him absorb the concept of something so quickly. 2-minutes into the train ride, he was a future Potterhead, whether I was to have anything to do with it or not.

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    Initially, our plan was to arrive at IoA, leave Potterland and head around to the other areas. That completely changed after this train ride. Suddenly, Aaron needed to be Harry. He had to have a wand, one of the interactive ones, and it HAD to be Harry's wand. It didn't matter there were an unbelievable amount of beautiful wands to chose from, it had to be Harry's. But first, he had to fight a dragon so... 10 minute wait on the sign beckoning, we ran through the (absolutely amazing) queue and hopped on the red dragon track. WHAT A GREAT RIDE!! But... now it was time to make his dream a reality. So, off to Ollivanders we went and, one Harry Potter interactive wand later, I had a Wizard for a son.

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    Finally, after about 30-minutes of walking around to all the magic windows he could find to interact with (and had gotten pretty good at), we were able to pull him away and into Jurassic Park.

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    Me: "Oh hey look, the wait time for the river adventure is only 5 minutes (walk on), let's do it!"
    Bill: "Yeah!! (he loves JP) But you know what, just in case you get a little wet, lets get one of these lockers."
    A little wet...
    A little.... wet....
    So first of all, my first impression of this ride was "Oh cool, it is like the Jurassic Park version of the Jungle Cruise." Then I started to realize we were relatively high up from where we had boarded based on the couple "ups" we had made without a drop. What I did not realize was we were indeed high up... very high up... and that coming down would be in the form of a single drop. I also didn't realize just how wet said drop would get you, when you are in the very last row of the boat.

    That. Drop. Though.

    Pretty sure if I hadn't used the bathroom right before we rode that I would've peed myself. That is one heck of a freakin' drop! Oh and, we are now the proud owners of a JP towel as we were so wet we didn't see any hope of drying without something to help (and I refuse to pay for those dryers they have around the water rides).

    After JP, our hope was to hop on the new Kong attraction but, unfortunately, the wait was just too long (45-minutes) so, we headed into the cartoon area where Aaron played a bit on Olive and Bill had a smoke break. Let me just say, again "Go Universal" for putting an area that kids can play in within viewing distance of the smoking area. Making it so Aaron and I didn't have to find a place to sit away from the cloud was awesome.

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    After this break, we headed into the Seuss area where I proceeded to repeat over and over again "this is so well done!" Seriously, it is just Dr. Seuss but the land makes you feel like you've been plopped into the pages of one of the books. First stop, the Cat in the Hat ride.

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    Next, some food (that Aaron didn't eat - again, ongoing theme)

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    And then, onto the train ride that Aaron had fallen in love with as he watched it circle us at lunch. Notice the wand?

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    At this point we decided it was time for a break so we decided to catch Hogwarts back to the Studios. As we waited for the train, my mother (the Potterhead) told me about a place that I just had to take Aaron... Knockturn Alley. She said based on his new obsession with the theme, he would absolutely love it. We waited close to 45-minutes for the train ride back, hit up Knockturn Alley and let him work his magic for a bit, and then headed out.

    It was during this break that we ran into the obnoxious drunks at the pool so, the break was short lived. Just a few hours later we were back at IoA to finish off our night. Now, let me say that at this point, it was a Saturday evening and the parks were getting packed. We pulled up the app to look at wait times and quickly realized that we were going to be in trouble. Everything had a wait time of 30-minutes or longer (much longer in some cases) and Aaron was already tired and irritable from his frustrations at the pool. So, it was at this point (after pretty much 2-full days on Universal property) that we decided to give in and get their version of the disability pass. Ironically, we had to wait in a long line at guest services and as we did, he sort of started to prove that we were right in deciding to do it.

    As we entered (our first time through the front gate of IoA), we stopped at Spiderman and rode that. Almost as equally impressed with it as we were Transformers, given they are such similar rides. We all absolutely loved it. We then made the trek back to the Kong attraction to get our return time (60-minutes). While we waited for our time to come back up, we ran over to Potterland where Aaron played around a bit more.
     
  15. ExtinctJenn

    ExtinctJenn Well-Known Member Original Poster

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    I have more to share but unfortunately, as I was typing that last sentence, I received a call with some very bad news. I will be away awhile but will finish out the report for that day, as well as the next (last) day soon!
     
  16. MySmallWorldof4

    MySmallWorldof4 Well-Known Member

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    Oh gosh. Hope things are okay.
     
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  17. PacNWTigger

    PacNWTigger Well-Known Member

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    Sending well wishes for you. I hope that you're able to let us know things are okay soon.
     
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  18. LeighM

    LeighM Well-Known Member

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    Oh no! Hope things get better soon.
     
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  19. DisneyBound2017

    DisneyBound2017 Well-Known Member

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    As much as I hate to admit this,.... you're making me rethink my future plans for Disney World. We were thinking of taking the kid back when she was 8-10 but now I think Universal would be more fun at that age. I never looked into it, so I didn't realize they had a Jurassic Park area!!
     
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  20. Minnesota disney fan

    Minnesota disney fan Well-Known Member

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    thanks for your wonderful reports. We absolutely loved stayingat Universal this past February, and loved HP land especially. MIB is another favorite. I feel like you do about Universal.
    Hope that you are doing okay and sorry about the bad news. take care:)
     
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