Clearwater Aquarium / Universal-IOA trip July 30-31
August 3, 2017
The mother and I got up early on Sunday to catch our flight to Tampa for our week in Florida. We had no issues with the flights or our layover for once, which was quite a shocker considering some of the past issues I've dealt with this summer.
Anyways, I'm not going to get into the aquarium too much other than to say we were pretty disappointed. We knew what we were getting into, but it really was just a huge tourist trap. Ricky (who played Rufus the bird) in the movie was in the corner of his enclosure and barely moved. We got to see Hope and Winter both working with the trainers, but there were so many people it was really uncomfortable. We hung out for a bit and then got back in the rental to head for our condo in Kissimmee. Here are some pictures I took at the aquarium.
Now, one MAJOR issue nearly arose prior to the aquarium. I had placed by camera bag inside my suitcase so that I didn't have to pay to check two bags. Well going from the cold air in the sky quickly to the extreme humidity on the ground caused the INSIDE of my lenses to fog up with condensation. Luckily, they eventually dried out (although I'm still concerned about mold growth in the future, but we'll see).
We drove the hour or so to our condo in Kissimmee and relaxed the rest of the night before Universal the next day.
We headed over to Universal just before opening. Shoutout to one of my former baseball players, Isaiah Thompson, who had two complementary tickets left over from his internship there this summer and was able to give them to us.
I had not been to Universal (or Florida at all) since the year before Diagon Alley was built. Now, I'm a huge Harry Potter fan (I took 3rd place with two friends of mine in a state Potter trivia tournament last year even). So immediately, I wanted to go get my first ride on Escape from Gringotts. We got over there, stowed our belongings in a large locker and then got in line. The wait was about 40 minutes or so, which was fine by us. We had a wonderful family from Houston in front of us that we chatted with and that helped pass the time quickly. Now, once you've wound through the queues and into the main lobby of Gringotts, you get to see the animatronic goblins, which are extremely well done. I thought they were supposed to interact with guests like I've seen on videos, but that really didn't happen. They mostly just look up and down and around. The main goblin at the front occasionally speaks as well. I took some pictures of the goblins (and one of my mother) and tagged the whole album as "goblins" on Facebook. She hit me in the arm for it, but it was worth it. Eventually, we got up to the ride vehicles and boarded. Now, I had heard that the attraction itself was great and being a rollercoaster enthusiast and Harry Potter freak, I thought it would blow me away. It really didn't. While I thought the ride was very well done and very cool, it did not live up to the hype for me. I HIGHLY prefer Forbidden Journey.
After Escape from Gringotts, we got our butterbeers, wandered around Diagon Alley for a bit to look at some shops and take some pictures and then headed out to the main part of the park to get in some rides. The last time my mom was there, she had my 4 year old niece in tow, so she missed a lot of the great rides there. We walked over to Hollywood Rip Ride Rock It and I tried to find a locker big enough for my camera bag, which is pretty massive. Since they didn't have any, the worker I asked offered to let me put it one of the handicapped lockers on the platform, so we went up the elevator with him and locked up our stuff. At that point he said, we'll just let you board from here rather than going back down and waiting in the 45 minute line. That was really cool of him. If I had caught his name, I would have emailed them praising him (without saying exactly what he did since it is KIND OF shady to those that did have to wait in line). I chose "Rollin'" as my song, because I didn't have time to look up the hidden track list. My mom played "Livin' in Fast Forward". I've ridden HRRR a few times now and I always feel like its a really cool concept and is very underrated. I also was really impressed with how quickly they were dispatching trains. I know they are always good at it, with the moving floor and all, but they were cooking. As soon as we finished riding and grabbed our stuff, the skies opened up for a bit. This would be a continuing theme all day.
We went over to Jimmy Fallon: Race for New York, since it was new since I had last been there. Now, for those that don't know. If you have an Express pass, you can immediately enter. If you do not, you get what is basically a fastpass from a set of machines just down the sidewalk and that gives you a time frame to come back. The virtual line passes we got were only set for 15 minutes ahead, so we went into the Fallon store and another store across the way before coming back. After entering, you are given a small card with a certain color on it (we had green). When you go upstairs, they put you into what is basically a big room with tons of tvs showing clips from the show. Every few minutes, the NBC peacock comes on the screen and shows a certain color. People with those color cards and then admitted into the ride area. You watch a quick pre-show and then enter a decent sized auditorium for the ride. Now, most motion simulator rides make me feel light headed but this one did not. It was a cool mix of comedy, medium thrills and a good story line. It wasn't a THRILL ride as you might think of one, but it was definitely well-done and a cool ride.
When we came out of Fallon, it was really pouring. We threw on our ponchos (good thing we decided to bring them) and then decided to walk over somewhere for food. I wound my way around where I knew there was a good restaurant and finally found the Italian place I was looking for. I had pizza and salad and mom had a meatball sub and salad and we both were impressed with the food. It was definitely better than typical theme park food.
By the time we were done eating, the rain had stopped for the most part, so we walked over to Men in Black and the Simpsons to check the times and take some pictures. The app was way off on the times, so we didn't ride either, but we got a lot of great pics before walking around the corner to Woody Woodpecker's Nuthouse Coaster. It was a credit I completely forgot about, so I decided to quickly ride it. It was actually decently fast for a kiddie/family coaster and was pretty fun. I can't wait until I'm down here again with my (soon-to-be-enthusiast) 3-year old nephew, so I can take him on it.
We decided after this, due to heavy weight times on most stuff in the park, to take the Hogwarts Express over to IOA. Now, I had already seen the storyline for the train over and whatnot, but I was slightly disappointed. I wish they had something like the flying Ford Anglia come outside the window or the train compartment get cold briefly when the dementors show up, etc. I know its a short ride, but those would have been cool details to add. That said, there was an English family walking alongside of us when we first arrived and I overheard them talking about how Kings Cross Station was spot on to the real thing, so that was a plus.
When we arrived in Hogsmeade, I wanted to take my mom on Forbidden Journey, since she had never ridden it and since its basically my favorite non-coaster attraction among everything I've ever been on. The locker setup for FJ is an absolute mess. There's barely anywhere to move and half the time, the majority of the lockers are filled and you can't even find one. On top of that, the area isn't well ventilated and was outrageously hot. After we eventually got lockers for our stuff, we waited about 40 minutes or so, which goes pretty fast due to the awesome theming within the castle itself. The talking pictures and the sorting hat are two of my favorite parts. My favorite parts are the parts where you dive on the brooms/benches down into the Quidditch pitch and over and under obstacles. I'll never forget the dragon scaring the crap out of me the first time either.
After FJ, I finally wanted to get my credits on Dragon Challenge, knowing they are going away forever. By this point, it was POURING. We moved our stuff over into the other locker bay and walked the long walk up to the trains. I was worried while we were in line that it might shut down due to rain, but it remained open. It took us about 20 minutes to get up to board and at the split, we chose Hungarian Horntail (blue). As soon as we boarded, you could see that it was raining even HARDER now. I regretted not bringing the ponchos, but we rode in the pouring rain and I will say this. I'm really sad they are taking them out. I get that the replacement ride will probably be awesome, but the layouts are so unique for B&M inverts and I didn't find the transitions rough at all. I don't typically enjoy inverts but I loved HH. When we got off, we decided to skip Chinese Fireball for now, knowing we would be back at some point later in the week. We also skipped Flight of the Hippogriff, which had a posted wait time of 40 minutes, but I'm pretty sure was shut down.
After HH, we decided to get out of Hogsmeade, which was overrun with people trying to stay out of the rain anywhere they could. We walked over towards Jurassic Park and found shelter near the edge of the restaurant there. We waited about 25 minutes to see if the rain would calm down (it didn't) before deciding to head back to the condo for dinner. Knowing we would be back later in the week to get my missing credits and so I could take my mom on a few of the other rides she still wants to ride made that an easier decision. Nothing we could do about the rain, but we weren't going to let it put a damper on our week.