After arriving in Orlando I picked up my minivan I headed to the resort, checked into my suite, got cleaned up, and headed to Universal Studios Orlando Resort. I picked up some food at Wawa on the way and after about 30 minutes I was heading into the parking garage. I took a photo of the parking row information and walked towards CityWalk.
Although they’re highly manufactured and I’m not exactly into that anymore, CityWalk does have a lot to offer. I quickly headed towards Islands of Adventure. It wasn’t raining at the moment, but it had been. The skies were still cloudy. I didn’t see much of a crowd being at the parks today and I’d never been to a Universal park that wasn’t pretty packed. I went over to the self service kiosk to redeem my ticket. I wish more parks had these, though I understand why not all parks outside of Orlando don’t invest.
It had been nearly a decade since I’d been to Islands of Adventure. I’ve always really liked the park. The last time I was here they were busy constructing The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The old HULK coaster was still running, as were the Dragons. I miss the Dragons. They gave an awesome ride and were visually stunning. But change is constant and Islands of Adventure has changed a lot in the last 9 years. My first stop was to the left of the Port of Entry. It’s a new credit for me because they replaced nearly all of the coaster as well as the trains. I liked the original, and I was excited to try the new one out.
Universal Studios Japan is another busy park where you must arrive before opening to get an Express Pass, otherwise it sells out and the lines can be outrageous. Since you can’t get the Pass online on any English website based in the US, it has to be purchased onsite.So after going to sleep early, we got up early and headed to Osaka once we checked out of Hotel Anteroom (I had accidentally booked one less night than we needed, but we decided just to Hotwire a room in Osaka). Osaka is a very convenient hour or so train ride from Kyoto.
We arrived a good hour before park opening. I’m actually fairly proud of the fact we were able to do this for all of the parks we needed to. After purchasing our tickets and choosing our express passes, we got in the massive line to go in. Thankfully the older lady selling us tickets was very accommodating with our lack of Japanese and helped us pick the correct Express Passes. Then just before 8:30, Woody Woodpecker and his girlfriend came out to greet everyone. Once the gates opened, everyone rushed into the park. Universal is another Japanese park with a covered ‘main street’. My first impression of the park and CityWalk were that they were definitely modeled after both of the US Universal parks, and that’s great.
At this park, you choose which type of Express Passes you want. You get 4 A level rides at timed slots, then get B level rides (You choose between 2 rides for the 3 slots) you can use at any time. This is a busy park with long lines, so we wanted to maximize our Express Passes and play it smart. Hollywood Dream, the park’s mini B&M Hyper, is running one of its 4 trains backwards and calling it Backdrop. We decided to hit it up first thing since it’s only one of the trains, and they were running 3 forward. The wait was between 20-30 minutes, not bad considering you were waiting for only one of the four trains.
I had planned this trip for months. I had never been to the west coast and didn’t think it was possible financially at this point in my life so I wasn’t planning on going to California. My original plan, then, was a trip to Florida in February. But one nite in an IM chat a friend had told me about Winter Coaster Solace at Knott’s Berry Farm and that I should go. At the time I was working 4 ten hour night shifts at a state run hospital and one good thing about my job was that I could get off work with ease. I started accruing leave from the first day I began working there. And since the West Virginia Dept. of Human Resources received a $1000 bonus at the end of the previous year year, I was more than on my way to a SoCal trip fund.
It took some convincing, but eventually I talked one of my friends into going with me. Jamaal had been to Frisco and Sacramento years before to visit his aunt as a teenager but now we were both adults. After months of planning, saving, and hard work on Monday and Tuesday nites Jamaal and I had our trip planned. It was rough at first; we had problems getting the airline tickets thru American Airlines and tickets for Maroon 5’s first concert on their Honda Civic tour.
The week leading up to our trip was very busy for both of us. There were a couple of last minute reservations to make and we almost missed getting our ultra cheap Disneyland Resort park hopper tickets. Saturday, the day before we left was going to be busy, as I had a previous engagement that afternoon and then work that nite. Sundays were always busy for me, and then we had to leave around 2 pm to drive 5 hours north to my Grandmother’s house, which wasn’t fun on so little sleep. I had only about 2 hours of sleep in 2 days. But once we arrived at my sisters I got my second wind.
We headed through town and to my Grandmothers house, where I visited with her for a bit, then used my brother’s computer to check in for our flights. Neither of us had flown in years, and this was our first time flying post-9/11.
Early twenty something experience (or lack there of) being what it is, we somehow decided it was cheaper and more convenient to fly from Dulles to L.A. We lived about 6 hours from Dulles but were able to sleep at my grandmother’s house the night before which was about 2 hours from Dulles. On Monday we woke up early, but later than we should have, rushed to get ready, and head the 2 or so hours to Dulles Airport. On of my best friends was working there at the time and was able to get free parking for the duration of the trip, another deciding factor to fly from Dulles instead of, say, Charlotte, a major hub that was closer to home.
We arrived at Dulles around 8 am for our 9 am flight. I knew that flying wasn’t as easy as it used to be, and had told Jamaal that we needed to be there about 2 hours prior to our flight, but he continued to make decisions that pushed our arrival at Dulles back. We arrived at our baggage check with about a minute before our flight’s cut off . After hurrying to check in and thru security, we were at the gate. We made it to our plane on time to board with seats near the back. I hadn’t flown in over 14 years and was excited for take off. I had almost forgotten how it felt. We would have had almost an hour early arrival, but the pilot had to slow down over the Rockies so as not to arrive too early.
I enjoyed flying again. We flew over the Appalachian Mountains, over the plains of the Midwest, then over the Rockies and Grand Canyon. Our in-flight movie was ‘The Incredibles’, which I had already seen and loved. I kept trying to sleep since I hadn’t slept much the night before, but it was futile. I hated Jamaal for being able to. Instead I took pics from the air, watched some of the movie, and tried to nap.
Not long before noon we arrived at our destination. The flight had been fairly turbulent, which I enjoy. After touching down we picked up our luggage and hopped a shuttle to Alamo to pick up our rental. Thankfully, the girl at the counter thought Jamaal was cute so she upgraded our car. Thankfully we picked unlimited mileage.
We asked for directions from Sepulveda Blvd. to Universal City for our first destination, Universal Studios Hollywood. The drive took about an hour, but it was, according to my friend Matthew, the long way around. Oh well. We were able to see some of LA and I caught a glimpse of the Hollywood sign, so that was cool. After arriving to Universal City we headed up the hill to park, changed our clothes, and headed CityWalk. I had a coupon for $15 off, so we picked up our tickets and went inside. I was more impressed with the park than I expected to be. We passed by the Van Helsing walk thru, which was only operating at certain times, and hadn’t opened yet, so I looked at our map and decided that we should head down the hill towards Mummy, our first coaster of 2005.
I’d never been to a park with so many escalators before. It was odd going down the mountain side to the lower level of the park but once down there we saw ‘Revenge of the Mummy’ and ‘Jurassic Park’ rides. Of course, we headed to Mummy first. The line was very short. The queue of Mummy was highly themed, with booby traps and a pre-show. We got into the loading station and rode next to the back of the car. Then it was into the themed section of the ride.
Revenge of the Mummy-You roll into the first themed section of the ride, round a corner where the Mummy talks to you before Imhotep, just above you, sends you launching into the first coaster section of the ride, with twists, turns, dips, and laterals. Then you come to a stop atop a hill in a chamber where scarab beetles attack, just as you’re launched backwards into another twisting & turning coaster section. You come to a stop yet again in a domed room with projectors and are spun around while the Mummy is defeated before a door opens and you roll back into the station. I do wish that it was a bit longer, but the ride was really good. This was my 95th credit.
Mummy was a lot of fun. I appreciated the free for an hour lockers located at the entrance even if we did leave our stuff in over an hour and ended up having to pay. Jamaal and I were both hungry so we went to the Jurassic Park Café for some grub. I wish we would have gotten the meal plan for the day. I had a large soft chocolate chip cookie, a grilled chicken sandwich with fries, and a peach Arbor Mist. We were close to Jurassic Park and I’d wanted to ride it for quite some time. It was nearly a walk on, so we hopped into the back seat of our boat.
Jurassic Park The Ride-The ride was very well themed. The only thing that didn’t seem to trigger on time was the falling Jeep. I was kind of amazed at the forced perspective as you get near the top of the lift. I guess because it was so dark inside I was fooled. The T-Rex animatronic was cool. We didn’t get very wet on the drop which was a good thing, even though the day was hot. All in all, I was not disappointed.
After taking a few more pictures we did the Backdraft effects show, which was also very neat. I jumped at the end when the ceiling came down. After Backdraft we once again got in the very short line for Mummy. During our time in the station house, I heard the ride ops say “Welcome to Superman: The Escape” which was kinda funny (if you’re a coaster geek and got the joke). The ride ops looked more like Pirates than whatever they were supposed to look like.
Our second ride on Mummy was just as fun. I liked the ride. After spending some time at the lower end of the park we headed back to the first level. We headed back up to the upper level of the park to try Van Helsing Fortress Dracula. I like dark rides, but…
Van Helsing Fortress Dracula-They should be slightly better than this. Don’t get me wrong, the actual theming was good. The rooms were filled with sets and effects, and there were people to scare you everywhere. The last huge guy did scare me a bit. But the attraction falls short. You know there is someone lurking around because there is a ‘guard’ standing around each scare actor. It could have been better if it was actually more ‘PG-13’ like advertised, instead of a neutered PG.
It was starting to get late and the park closed at 6pm so we had to make a decision on either watching the Waterworld show, which I really wanted to see, or the Studio Tour. It was an hour tour, but very worth it, and I’m glad we chose it.
Studio Tour-This was the best part of the park. The tour went thru many famous sets and even some scenes such as the subway disaster, a King Kong scene that I was really happy about since I didn’t get to ride Kongfrontation at the Florida park. There was a Mexican town with a flash flood and a Jaws scene that was fun to finally see in person, even if the Shark needed some work on the skin. One of the last scenes we went through was from the ‘War of the Worlds’ remake that had recently been added. Jamaal took pictures and filmed quite a bit. We both enjoyed the Back lot tour a lot.
I had wanted to ride both Terminator 3D and Shrek but didn’t have enough time. We did opt for Back to the Future: The ride instead.
Back to the Future The Ride-I had heard bad things about the ride, but it was still fun for a first time ride. The queue was nicely themed, the pre-show was funny, and the actual simulator was decent with the movement and fog, etc. A fun ride, but something I could skip the next time.
At this point the park was closing phone battery was starting to die. But we were making plans to hook up with my friend Matthew for dinner. I called Matthew to find out where he was, and then he called me kind of confused, because we were at different parts of the park and I wasn’t familiar with where we were in order for him to pick us up.
After finally meeting for the first time in person Matt drove us to Hollywood. We parked near the Kodak theater, walked in to look at the list of Oscar Best Picture winners, then walked down by the Chinese Theater which was beautiful, and then over by the El Capitan. I still didn’t get to see Janet Jackson’s star on the walk of fame, but we did see Michael’s and ate at Hamburger Hamlet across from the Chinese Theater.
Dinner with Matthew was very nice. The food was good, and though I’d have liked to spend more time hanging with him, we had to get some sleep. So we opted to call it a nite and headed to Anaheim to our motel. We talked to Tina and Bill on the phone to make plans for the next morning as we were all staying at the same place, then I fell asleep while watching 24. Disneyland Resort Part 1