Universal and more trip report - August 8-14

smwisc

Active member
Well, I've been back at work for a week, and not surprisingly my trip report writing has suffered as a result. I don't know if anyone is reading this other than my SIL, but I'm going to try to finish it up for my own records if nothing else! And Shutterfly is 50% off so I need to get cracking on photobooks too . . .

 

smwisc

Active member
Day 8, Part 2: IOA/US

Sunday, 8/13/17

Back at the hotel, we had some lunch and got ready to swim. However, as we headed down to the pool, we could see from the windows that there was no one in there, and there were people coming back to the elevators in swimsuits. They had closed the pool because there were storms approaching, and based on the radar it seemed unlikely to open anytime soon. As it happened, the storm split just as it got to us and there was barely even any rain. This was really the only time on our trip that the weather affected our plans at all - we were very lucky.

So DH and the kids hung out in the room on their electronic devices, and I decided to do a load of laundry - I was going to have to do one at some point and had planned on the next day, but we had enough clothes that I could do it a day early.

I also started trying to make dinner reservations, which I should have done earlier. I may have taken the "you don't need as much planning at Universal" thing a little too seriously, as I hadn't made any dinner reservations in advance. Most of what I read was that they were easy to get, or the restaurant didn't take them at all. I wanted to go to Cowfish, but when I called, they didn't have any reservations for that night or the following. I ended up with reservations at Margaritaville for the following night (which was one of the places I wanted), and Confisco Grill for that night (not on my list). I probably should have just taken our chances with a walk-up at Cowfish - we ate early, and in all likelihood we would not have had much of a wait. But at that point I just wanted the assurance of a reservation.

We went back to the park at around 4, taking the walking path since we were starting at IOA. We went to Poseidon's Fury, which is . . . odd. DS12 is a big Percy Jackson fan (series of novels with Greek mythology connections), and he really enjoyed it. And the theming of the whole Lost Continent area is pretty cool





After that, it was already time for dinner, so back to the front of the park for Confisco Grill. It was fine. I had the pad thai, which seemed overly saucy for pad thai. DH had fajitas, DS12 a burger, DD9 and DS4 had either chicken fingers or pizza, and everyone was happy.

Then we headed over to Universal Studios. The ability to go back and forth between the parks so easily does make touring easier. The goal here was to knock off some more rides that we hadn't done in our first two days, now that we had express pass.
- Everyone except me rode Despicable Me (I passed due to motion sickness concerns)
- We all saw Shrek (cute 4D movie show)
- Everyone except me rode Transformers

While I waited for them, I wandered through the New York and San Francisco areas of the park and up into Diagon Alley. It's much easier to really appreciate the theming of the various areas when not trying to keep track of four other people.


We left the park somewhere around 8 or 8:30, since we were planning another early morning the next day for Volcano Bay. We took the water taxi back to the hotel.






 

smwisc

Active member
Monday, 8/14/17

Day 9, Part 1: Volcano Bay

I set the alarm for 6 AM (yawn), and we managed to all get ready and leave the room before 7. Caught the shuttle bus to VB and arrived at around 7:15. This was a good time to arrive - the line in front of us wasn't too long, and we weren't there so early that we were waiting an excessive amount of time.

This time we (well, I) had a better plan. We brought less stuff with us to the park, and were able to get a set of chairs right on the main beach first thing. Then I left everyone else to play in the wave pool and went to get a locker.

While I was gone, DH saw that the lines were short and told DS12 andDD9 to
“that slide there”, next to the wave pool, which turned out to be Ko’okori - free fall drop slide that builds waits very quickly. When I got back, I decided to go that too and then meet up with the kids, since he said they had just left. The slide was awesome - I had a bit of wait, being about 10 people back in line by the time I made it to the top of the (many, many) stairs, but by the time I got back off the wait was 40 minutes. Unfortunately, back at the wave pool, I discovered that the kids hadn’t gone on ride because they walked past the entrance. They never did get on it - the wait was up to 2 hours by the time we left the park.

The big kids and I then went on Krakatow, the "aqua coaster", which was still "ride now". Ride now doesn't necessarily mean no wait, but it means you get in line right away without tapping in, and the wait seems to be usually under 15 minutes. We all loved this ride.

Then we went on Maku, one of the raft rides, also ride now and also fun. Lines were starting to develop, so we tapped in for Ohno (one of the drop slides), which I think was posted at 35 minutes.

I figured it was time for a parent swap, so DH could do some of the big slides, so we headed off to find DH and DS4 and found them on the lazy river. DH and I swapped bands and I gave him instructions for how to get to Ohno and do a slide along the way that was still ride now.

DS4 and I stayed in the lazy river for a long time, went briefly to Runnamukka where he did one slide, and then back to our chairs for a break and into the wave pool. The others found us there, having done Ohno and the lazy river (while looking for us). For some reason they didn't do any other slides, although they could have, but everyone seemed happy. We left at around 10:45, taking some pictures at the selfie station on the way out.







Overall, this day didn't change my initial assessment of VB. It's a beautiful park with many fun attractions, and with some planning and strategy you can get a lot done and have some time to relax. In my very early planning I had envisioned it as more relaxed than a usual theme park, which isn't necessarily the case - you can't just show up in the middle of the day and expect to get a lot done. With early entry, we could have actually done more if we wanted (or rather, if I had been directing all of it instead of DH). I haven't been to any of the other Orlando water parks, so I can't make a comparison, but I would definitely go back if I were going on another Universal vacation.



 

ChristineOH

Active member
I'm still reading along! ;-) I did a trip report, but still haven't done a photo book from our June trip. And I never did either from our June 2015 trip. Oh well.

Sounds like a lot of fun! We are planning to do Universal in June 2018. We'll have to think about whether we attempt to do Volcano Bay. We aren't huge into water parks.
 

blambo22

New member
I am reading also! Love your report!

Also, FYI, friends of ours went to Cowfish in July and they said they didn't like it.
 

smwisc

Active member
I'm still reading along! ;-) I did a trip report, but still haven't done a photo book from our June trip. And I never did either from our June 2015 trip. Oh well.

Sounds like a lot of fun! We are planning to do Universal in June 2018. We'll have to think about whether we attempt to do Volcano Bay. We aren't huge into water parks.
I try to get my vacation photo books done relatively soon after the trip, partly so that my kids (especially when younger) can re-live it, which seems to reinforce the memories. Mind you, I'm a good 4+ years beyond on all of my other photobooks and scrapbooks - I don't have a single thing done for DS4!

I don't think Volcano Bay is a "must do" if you're not that into waterparks, but it's pretty easy to combine partial days there with time in the other parks. Ticket prices would be a big factor for me on future trips.
 

nolarookie

Well-known member
How was Vista Cay? Was it a long drive to Universal? We thinking about going in February and like to stay somewhere that easy to get to both WDW and US.
 

smwisc

Active member
Vista Cay was wonderful. The layout of both the building and the unit (3br condo) was very similar to Windsor Hills, if you're familiar with their condos. There are two sections to the complex, the main one and a second one that I think was built later. The second section is over a block and has its own pool, which I don't think is quite as big. We were in the main section.

It was a super-easy drive to Universal - just about 10 minutes straight shot up Universal Blvd to the main parking garage. We didn't go to Disney, so I don't know how close it is, but I think the materials in the condo said about 15 minutes. There is a Walgreens that is almost part of the complex, and a Publix right across the street. The pool is maybe a little bigger, but there's no water slide. There's a bar at the pool, although we didn't buy any drinks.

We paid $961 total, including all taxes and fees, for 6 nights in a 3br condo August 7-13 (booked through homeaway). That's more than we've paid at WH, although those trips were later in August so that might be part of the difference. Since this was a non-Disney trip for us, I wanted to be as close as we could get to Universal, and I didn't want Disney decor! :)
 

jillyb

unsure of the release date for the dumbo anniversa
We just got back last Sunday from a trip to Seaworld (2 days), 1 day at the Magic Kingdom, and 1 day a Discovery Cove. Two days after being back at work this is exactly how I felt!

We have yet to do Universal. DD15 is getting to where she's not as interested in going to WDW so we may do Universal in a couple of years.
 

smwisc

Active member
We just got back last Sunday from a trip to Seaworld (2 days), 1 day at the Magic Kingdom, and 1 day a Discovery Cove. Two days after being back at work this is exactly how I felt!

We have yet to do Universal. DD15 is getting to where she's not as interested in going to WDW so we may do Universal in a couple of years.
I hope you do a trip report! I was thinking about combining Discovery Cove and Seaworld with this trip, then I decided it would be too much. I'm confident that was the right decision for us for this trip, but I still want to do Discovery Cove. I'm toying with the idea of a Discovery Cove/Seaworld/Aquatica/beach trip in a couple of years.
 

smwisc

Active member
Day 9, Part 2: IOA/US/IOA

Monday, 8/14/17

So the day before, when the storm ruled out our hotel swimming, DD9 was by far the most disappointed. Despite this being a fairly long trip with some flexibility in scheduling, at this point we really didn't have another "block" of time that I wanted to devote to swimming in the hotel pool. But, since she really wanted to, I thought well, we could just stop by the hotel pool on our way back from VB the next morning. It seems a little silly to go straight from a waterpark to a hotel pool, but when I suggested it to her she was happy.

So I left off this report leaving VB at around 10:45. We took the shuttle back to RPR. DS12 and DS4 didn't want to swim at the hotel, and I had to make time to run back to Vista Cay to pick up my glasses that I'd left in the bathroom of the condo (they were very accommodating on this, by the way). So DH and DD9 stopped at the pool while the rest of us went back to the room to shower/bathe and eat lunch. DS12 got DS4 down for a nap, and I headed out to pick up my glasses. DH and DD9 got back to the room while I was gone and showered/ate lunch themselves.

We left the room again at around 2, which was actually a little ahead of what I expected. We had a dinner reservation at Margaritaville at 5:30. Other than that, my goal was to knock off most of the rides that we hadn't done yet, while moving in a relatively efficient and leisurely manner, and stay out as late as everyone was still going strong (up until 9 PM park close, that is). Oh, and have dessert. :RpS_flapper:



We took the walking path to IOA and headed counterclockwise to the Suess Landing area. DH and DS4 had been here, but the rest of us had not yet (except to walk through once, I think). We rode Cat in the Hat, which is a very fun and cute dark ride - similar to Winnie the Pooh or Peter Pan. DS4 loved it. We skipped all of the other little kid rides in Suess Landing.

We walked through the Lost Continent area again, took some pictures we hadn't had time for the previous day, and chatted with the Mystic Fountain. DD9 succeeded in getting sprayed, so she was happy.

Then to Hogsmeade and on to the Hogwarts Express. It's worth going both ways, as the story is different. We disembarked in Diagon Alley and went back to the Leaky Cauldron, for dessert this time! We ordered one butterbeer potted creme, one chocolate potted creme, one sticky toffee pudding, and 2 frozen butterbeers, all to share. All were delicious, although surprisingly the kids weren't all that keen on the frozen butterbeer. I liked it better than the regular, myself, and ended up drinking at least one full one by myself.

Next up was Escape from Gringotts. This has a 42" height limit, and DS4 was in his superhero tennis shoes, so he could ride. The queue for this one takes rather a long time, even with express pass, but there's a lot to look at. When we got up to the loading area, they directed the five of us into a car without checking DS4's height, but then after we were all already in the car, they pulled him and DH out to check. In the meantime, the team member running the single rider line saw empty spaces and put someone in our row, so that when DH and DS4 came back, there wasn't room for them. Rather than pull the single rider out, they took DH and DS4 across the way to the car on the other side. We assumed they would be on the ride directly after us, but it turned out that they got shuffled back and forth several times, then on a car that was stopped for a few minutes due to technical difficulties of some sort. So we waited for them quite a while at the end, wondering what on earth had happened. And since DH's cell phone was in the locker, I couldn't call or text him. Anyway, the ride was awesome and we all found each other eventually.

By this time we needed to start heading back to CityWalk for dinner at Margaritaville (Diagon Alley is at the far end of the park). We ran into the parade coming back, and proceeded to engage in a rather strange combination of racing it to make sure we didn't get stuck entirely, and stopping to watch parts of it. I therefore didn't really get the full effect, but I know it involved Sponge Bob and the minions, and DS4 in particular enjoyed it.





Margaritaville was fun and the food was good. I got a margarita flight, with three very fruity margarita samplers (berry, watermelon, and mango) and one lime. It was yummy, although I really prefer classic lime margaritas - it would be nice if they had a sampler of those, with the various tequilas they use. I had yummy fish tacos (a favorite of mine, and hard to find good ones), DH and DS12 had burgers, and DS4 and DD9 had some typically boring children's menu item that they love. DD9 also got a balloon unicorn hat from the stilt walkers.





After dinner, we headed back in to IOA. First stop was the Jurassic River Adventure, which is a wet ride. We told the kids last chance on this one, because DH and I didn't want to get wet the next day, when we'd be starting our ride home after leaving the park.

Next we started heading towards Ripsaw Falls, which DS12 and DD9 wanted to ride again. On the way we passed under the Pteranadon Flyers ride, and DS4 pointed up and said he wanted to ride that again. Now, this was probably the first time DS4 had specifically said he wanted to ride something. As the third child with a nearly 5 year age gap, the kid spends much of his life along for the ride, and is remarkably good-natured about it almost all of the time. So of course I agreed to take him, while the others went on up to Ripsaw Falls.

It was posted at 20 minutes, and does not take Express. If you'll recall, this is the one that requires one rider to be below 56" - the capacity is so low (3 2-person cars) it would never work otherwise. So the wait ended up being 40 minutes, not 20. For an 80-second ride. But DS4 was cheerful throughout. Since he'd been on it before, he was a pro, and spent most of the time telling me how it worked. The ride does have a really nice view of the park - Kong at dusk was especially impressive. Definitely one of those not-worth-it-but-worth-it-anyway experiences.

By the time we met up with the others, it was probably 8:30 or so, leaving time for a couple of rides before park close. DH, DS12, and DD9 rode Doctor Doom and then Hulk. DS4 again enjoyed watching the Hulk ride overhead and listening to the roar. He was becoming quite an expert on when it went over, and around, and then over there, and then back around . . . In retrospect, I should have tried Hulk myself - DH said it was very smooth, and traditional roller coasters are actually much easier on my motion sickness than motion simulators or anything spinning. Oh well, maybe next time. As we waited for them to disembark, I amused myself watching people run at full speed off the ride in hopes of getting in line one more time before park close at 9.



We left the park shortly after 9, tired but happy, and walked back to the hotel.



 

jillyb

unsure of the release date for the dumbo anniversa
I hope you do a trip report! I was thinking about combining Discovery Cove and Seaworld with this trip, then I decided it would be too much. I'm confident that was the right decision for us for this trip, but I still want to do Discovery Cove. I'm toying with the idea of a Discovery Cove/Seaworld/Aquatica/beach trip in a couple of years.
I've been debating on whether to do one or not lol. I may do a general type report. I'll let you know if I do!
 

smwisc

Active member
Day 10: US, IOA, and heading home

Tuesday, 8/15/17

Today was our last day in the parks . . . :RpS_crying: :RpS_thumbdn: :Cry:

We needed to check out of RPR, which meant more packing. We didn't try to make early entry this day, both because of the late night the night before and because for what we wanted to do, it made more sense to start at US, and IOA was the only park with early entry. So I didn't set an alarm clock, but since everyone wakes up early anyway, we managed to wake up, get everyone ready, get everything packed and with bell services, leave at around 8:45, and catch a water taxi to US just in time to arrive right at 9 AM open. Perfect. :RpS_thumbup:




Today's goal was to do the last couple of rides that we hadn't done yet (of those we wanted to do), eat lunch at the Three Broomsticks, and re-ride favorites.

First up was Rip Ride Rockit for DH, DS12, and DD9. They all liked it, although the kids said it banged their head around, and DS12 had a bit of a headache. While they were in there, DS4 and I looked for souvenirs in the Minions store, and when the others met up with us we got a picture of the kids with the Minions at the ride exit (which feeds into the store, naturally).



Then we went on Race Through New York with Jimmy Fallon again (DS12's request). I had booked a return time but didn't need it, as they were just waving people through. We were in the front row this time, which was pretty cool.

Then we crossed the park over to the Simpsons area to ride the Simpsons (everyone except me - motion sickness, and I"m not much of a Simpsons fan). DH and DS4 had ridden it already but the big kids hadn't.



Then Men in Black, which is a shooter game ride similar to TSMM or Buzz. DS4 loved it, and as we were walking out wanted to ride it again, so we did.



Then back to Diagon Alley (for the last time - sniff, sniff). DD9 and I rode Gringotts again - for some reason DS12 didn't want to, and the three of them wandered around (I presume). Then we took the Hogwarts Express one last time over to Hogsmeade for lunch at the Three Broomsticks. Similar menu to Leaky Cauldron, but fewer of the more traditional British options and a more typical kids menu.



Slight diversion ahead: DH and I both got the Cornish pasties (which come with a side salad). I would not recommend. They tasted okay, but the meal consisted of three tiny little pasties (more like pierogi or dumplings). We come from Wisconsin, and we have family in the Upper Peninsula (UP) of Michigan - both areas settled by immigrants from Cornwall - and Cornish pasties here are a meal that fits in your hand (or sometimes both hands). The story is that they were developed by miners (or miner's wives, I suppose) to take into the mines for lunch. Certainly not delicate little pastries. Anyhow.

After lunch, DH and DD9 rode Dragon Challenge again (DS12 again didn't want to for some reason). Then DS12, DD9, and I rode the Forbidden Journey again. Going through it with express pass was a much different experience - it was so fast that I actually would have liked to linger more to look at things (and in retrospect, I should have, and just let people pass us).

Meanwhile, DH and DS4 rode the Cat in the Hat again (for the third time, I think). We planned to meet up again at Spiderman. The big kids and I took our time walking through the Toon Lagoon area taking pictures.









Then everyone except me rode Spiderman again. DH and DD9 rode Hulk one last time, while the boys and I went to get our photo pass pictures. We met up again to all get final souvenirs [I forgot to mention those earlier - I'll include in another post] and headed out. Back to RPR to get the van and hit the road - goodbye Universal Resort! Hope to see you again!
 

smwisc

Active member
Day 10, 11, and 12: Driving Home

This part is pretty boring. Not a lot to report except that we apparently drive fast, lol!

I think we left the park at around 3:30 and were on the road by 4. While I drove, DH started looking for a hotel a few hours out, and found a Best Western in Ashburn, GA. By complete coincidence, it is the exact same motel we stayed at on our way home from Disney two years earlier. It's cheap and has a pretty good breakfast - that's about all I have to say about that. We also stopped for dinner at a Waffle House somewhere. Hard to say where, as we were still in "Waffle House at every exit" territory.

The next day (Wednesday, 8/13) we drove, and drove, and drove. No problems with traffic in either Atlanta (driving through mid-morning) or Nashville (who knows when). We briefly toyed with the idea of driving all the way home, but it would have been close to midnight. We stopped for dinner at a BBQ place in Mt. Vernon, IL, and for the night at a nice new Lexington Inn in Effingham, IL. A heavy rain storm came up as we were leaving dinner, so we were glad to be stopping for the night. We even let the kids swim in the pool - last hurrah for vacation!

That put us less than 5 hours from home, so the next day we left the hotel around 8 and arrived home around 1 (with two very brief stops, I believe).

My favorite part of most trip reports is the random final thoughts, so I'll post some of those over the next few days as I have time and as they occur to me. Thanks for reading along!

 
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