I skipped writing a blog about the trip yesterday, as not much happened. We woke up in West Palm Beach because I had seen that there was a manatee lagoon there.
Bright and early on Tuesday morning, we showed up to the very nice building that Florida Power and Light built to highlight the manatees that like to swim around in the warm outflow water from their power plant. It’s a beautiful building – lots of glass, ambient light, and clean lines. The people were very accommodating too. The only thing was, there wasn’t a manatee in sight. It’s not a zoo, after all, with manatees in a cage. It’s just an area that they like to frequent. There was no frequenting going on Tuesday morning, though, so after walking around and learning about manatees for a while, we left.
We had some unexpected time on our hands, though, and a suitcase full of dirty clothes, so we found the nearest laundromat. This is how we spent the next several hours:
While we were watching the machines tumble our lives away, a tremendous thunderstorm broke over our heads. It provided entertainment for an hour, not to mention it washed the Silver Bullet for us. The thunderstorm cleared out and we had a decent drive north to Orlando.
We met a friend of ours, Knutty Gerry (the “K” is not silent) for dinner, then crashed, because we knew today was a big day. Knutty works for Universal Studios here in Orlando and was kind enough to gift us a day pass for both Universal Studios parks.
Theme parks and those sorts of attractions are not really my thing, but Dawn loves them, so we jumped at the chance. Trips around the entire country are not really her thing, either, but she’s happily doing that, so I figured I owed her. 🙂
I didn’t take our nice new Canon camera to Universal Studios, and I’m glad I didn’t – we both got very wet on several occasions, and I don’t think our camera would have stood it. So, any photos from the park came from my phone.
We started at Islands of Adventure, which is right next to Universal Studios, and is connected by the Hogwarts Express. Because, of course, Universal is where The Wizarding World of Harry Potter has been built.
Since we both love the Harry Potter books so much, let’s start there. The three primary rides associated with Harry Potter didn’t thrill us much. They were all very frantic, twisty, roller coaster-ish types of rides. However, there was a lot of The Wizarding World that we really liked. The Hogwarts Express, for instance. It could have just been a tram between parks, but instead they sit you inside compartments just like in the book, and scenes and characters from the books make appearances both inside and outside the train. We loved that.
Also, they got Diagon Alley just right. It’s rare for me to see something in the physical world that I’ve only read about and have it match my mental image perfectly, but it happened today. All the shops and pubs that were mentioned in the books were there – The Leaky Cauldron, Ollivander’s Wand Shop, Gringots, etc.
While we were enjoying walking through Diagon Alley, an alarm started going off, and they hustled everyone away from half of the street. That shut down the Gringott’s Ride and much of the rest of the attractions, so we left to explore other parts of the park.
Which brings me to a point – it’s difficult not to compare Universal Studios to one of the Disney Parks. To us, it felt like Universal Studios fell a bit short of the Disney standard. When we arrived, we saw that several rides were down for various reasons. Okay, that happens. Shortly after we arrived, another of the major rides, based on The Incredible Hulk, was shut down for the rest of the day. Then,while we were in line for the brand new King Kong attraction, they announced on two different occasions that it was “temporarily shut down.” Combined with Diagon Alley shutting down, that’s quite a few different things to go wrong in a single day.
None of that affected our ability to have a good time, though. When we did eventually get on the King Kong ride, it was well worth the wait. It was the most impressive combination of digital technology, 3D, and real world effects I’ve ever seen. We both loved that ride.
There were a number of more low-key attractions that we enjoyed, too. The Cat in the Hat was the first thing we rode, and like everything in the Dr. Seuss area, we thought it was perfect. But, I am a pretty big Dr. Seuss fan. I was sad to see that my favorite Seuss – The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins – was ignored. I think it could make a cool ride.
We also liked the ET ride, even though it was very relaxed and low-key. After a lot of the 3D/Rollercoaster/shake you ’til your fillings rattle type of rides, a gentle ride through ET’s home planet was just fine.
We got there when the park opened, and stayed until it closed, and in the end, that was just about right for us. If we went back again tomorrow, we’d probably end up just re-doing the things we liked from today again.
One other thing we noticed was that the ratio of commerce to rides was higher than we could remember at Disneyland. There were a lot of restaurants, drink stands, stores, souvenir stands, etc. In many cases, each ride had its own gift shop.
By the time we got back to our hotel, our feet were sore, our odometers showed 16,000 steps, and we were worn out. Tomorrow, we are back on the road, finally heading out of Florida.
Next stop, Georgia.
Cheers, and safe travels!