Monday, November 20, 2017

Disney 2016, Day 5 – One Little Spark, of Minion-speration

November 8, 2016

On this day, Grandma and Kim broke their “never leave Disney Property” resolve much like I had on our last trip
with piles of guilt washing over the anticipation of new things.  Grandma wanted to leave her Disney birthday button behind, but her grandchildren would have none of that, insuring her a day of Universal Birthday greetings.

I had set up everything way ahead of time.  Mom and I each had copies of the tickets and I had arranged transportation.

As usual, we chose the “get there an hour before the park opens” bus instead of the “get there an hour after the park opens” bus.  You’d think they’d have set up an “average” bus.

When I arranged this transportation, I was assured that there would be no problem accommodating the nine of us in the full sized bus capable of accepting payment by credit card which was predestined to arrive at the POP Century that morning.

In an early indication of the rest of the day, a cash only mini bus looking for five people showed up at the red carpet.  Following a normal bit of panic and complaining we were on our way to Universal.

My Ghost Rider shirt was a huge hit with the Universal workers at security, and everywhere else throughout the day.  Imagine what would have happened if we reached Marvel land?

The day began as we passed through the zombie apocalypse level abandoned Universal City Walk following our early arrival, and went to the entrance of Universal Studios proper. The decision was based on none of us having seen that Harry Potterland before, and also a website that showed graphs of wait times that turned out to be far less than useless.

We were happy to find the park was open early!

Then we were sad to find out only the first fifty yards were open early, unless you fulfilled the bizarre, convoluted and extra charge based requirements to use Universal’s “Extra Slightly Less Magical” hours.  We poked around a couple of stores and waited to be allowed in.

Given the proximity to the entrance, and the promise of a line that would expand enormously throughout the day, we walked directly into the Minion ride.

Universal needs some serious refining work on their warning signs.

Rosa looked at the precautions for movement and decided she couldn’t handle the ride.

It was a 3D movie with benches that shifted a little.  Not to mention that the front benches didn’t move at all.

It was cute, maintained Minion humor, and the intro had a banana scented fart gun to homage the old King Kong ride.  Still, none of the kids demanded a reride after meeting the Minion in the exit area.

I have to assume that was a Universal crew member punishment, but for a less severe infraction than Baymax was.

Rosa said she was meeting us over by the newer of the two Harry Potterlands, Diagon Alley.  At first I was frustrated in feeling I had failed as the Where Will We Go Next Guy since both the map and her directions were not bringing it into view.

When we reached the Night Bus, and its engaging driver and nifty talking shrunken head, I realized what was going on. 

Diagon Alley was hidden from the Muggle World by Kings Cross Station almost completely by an interestingly arranged wall that one could “walk through.”

The Harry Potterland architecture does reach Disney levels of awesome sometimes.

Good old J.K.!

The awesomeness expanded as we passed through the wall and found ourselves staring down a perfect representation of the shopping boulevard of wizard-dom, complete with a massive dragon staring us down from atop Gringott's.

What followed was probably the greatest pile of miscommunication in the history of the Florida theme parks.

The dragon breathed fire, (Awesome) and Rosa was determined to get a picture of it the next time (Also Awesome).  However, we had no idea how often it breathed. (Considerably Less Awesome.)

Instant and previous web searches and Universal cast queries netted us a set of possibilities ranging from, “every ten minutes” to “hardly ever.”   Rosa had taken up her photography point of view around the same time we noticed the Escape from Gringott’s line was negligible.  This was far shorter than anything I saw on the Universal Wait Times Graphs website. (A website destined to cause us insane amounts of trouble all day long.)

Most of the local evidence was skewed towards the “hardly ever” side, and we convinced Rosa to abandon her post to get on the line with us…completely forgetting that we had to detour through a TARDIS locker maze to leave all of our belongings behind. While scanning our prints to get a locker, we heard the dragon breathe.

The other area of deep confusion came from my not realizing Rosa changed her mind about trying this ride, and Rosa not realizing this wasn’t the same ride that we went on last time in Harry Potterland, which in a staggering reversal from most thrill rides, she enjoyed and I got sick.

The warning sign, which read the same as the Minion Movie, was no help.

She thought she could take photos with the Super Deluxe Magic Camera on line because I wasn’t going on the ride, but it wasn’t that ride- meaning the Super Deluxe Magic Camera needed to go into a locker well below its station and status.  The line was cool, but far less impressive than the Forbidden Journey line.

Based on all the research done before, the ride was not a roller coaster, but a motion simulator that moved on tracks creating the illusion of one. 

That’s great and all, and mostly true. But what the online reviews left out was there were dark parts between the very cool giant 3D screens that allow the ride to interact with heroes and villains of the story.

The dark parts adhered very strongly to Universal’s need to spin and shake guests for no dang reason in order to appeal to the teen crowd.  This knocked the snot out of Rosa’s back, preventing her from trying some of the more moderate thrillish rides later in the day, and insured I didn’t utter a peep when she went back out to (successfully)  stalk the dragon when we took the kids on a second tour through Gringott’s.

Because the line bumped up a bit, we all went through the single rider entrance, prompting and ad-libbed chorus of the “Stranger Time” song by the kids. (A parody of the “Sister Time” song for Elena of Avalor.)

The wand shop had no wait, which should have additionally tipped me off that my “Universal Wait Time Graph” review was worthless.  The atmosphere and fun of the show remained authentic and cool.  Kim bought her kids wands (since Aurora was fully decked out in Hogwarts robes anyway) which had an added feature since our last trip.

Instead of having little animatronic items in the various windows and storefronts that moved on their own, they were all now activated by the wands…in theory.  There was a heavily complex requirement for each spell location. Based on my observations, along with the hand motions illustrated near each item, dances, flailing, and usually a bit of foot stomping was needed. In the worst cases, a Universal Official Wizard would hide nearby with their own wand and activate the item before the children had an aneurism.

The kids played with their wands a while in Diagon Alley and the hidden yet enormous around the corner area of Knockturn Alley.


Dave had always been a huge Simpson’s fan and was hoping to at least see that section of the park, if not partake in any of the standard travelling fair type rides there, since he was rapidly learning his ride tolerance had dropped significantly.

That section was conveniently placed directly between the Harry Potter area we were in, and the E.T. ride which was:
1) Based on Rosa’s favorite movie.
2) Remembered fondly by Kim from a California trip.
3) Researched by me with that useless graph to never have more than a five minute wait.

After a bit more wanding, there should have been plenty of time to hit ET, return to Diagon Alley, and catch the Hogwarts Express (which the graph also said never had over a five minute wait) over to the original Harry Potterland to eat lunch at a decent and correct time in the confirmed to be awesome Three Broomsticks.

Dave had fun stopping for photos as we passed through Springfield, and then the fun quotient dropped considerably as we reached the thirty five minute long, boring and featureless line of ET.

On the positive side, which kept me from being lynched by those who trusted me as the Where Will We Go Next Guy, the ride was in much better shape than the mess I remembered from California.  It was just as weird, but the kids all liked it, so yay!

Rosa and Anabelle got pictures on the ET bike, which nicely added more references to her favorite film in our home.  We still haven’t watched it even though I bought it for her before we got married, because they don’t want to cry.

Women apparently have a definition of “favorite” that is different from men.

Hunger, exhaustion and crankiness was starting to gnaw on everyone, I guided us back through Springfield, pausing for Dave to get his souvenir.  Hey, he put up with all of our obsessions all week…he more than earned it.

We reached the “always five minute wait” of the Hogwarts Express, and worked our way through a painfully compressed packed mass of humanity in an underground maze for around three quarters of an hour.  The density also prevented us from seeing any of our own group do the disappear through the wall trick at platform 9 ¾.

Dear Universal Wait Times Graph website…you suck.

I know we could have eaten in New Harry Potterland, as the menus were similar.   However, by that point I was deeply concerned about getting lynched and wanted to insure lunch was in a place we had verified the quality of.

The ride over with the multiple appearances of characters from the films showing up in the windows and shadows in the door did not disappoint. 
Neither did the Three Broomsticks.  This new mass of humanity in the restaurant queued through much faster than it looked like it would and we were shortly all sitting around a giant table in the antler festooned dining hall, chowing down on a double order of the Chicken and Rib filled “Great Feast,” which more than adequately lived up to both of its names.

Aurora and Veronica wandered Hogsmeade with their wands, activating various items. Morgan did the same, even though his wand was of the non-electronic variety.  Those “hidden helpers” Universal provided were excessively helpful.

With her wand home, and made of solid wood (minus the Unicorn hair, of course) Anabelle decided this was a good time to break her resistance to upside down roller coasters.  The Triwizard Tournament based Dragon Challenge was a heck of a way to do that.  Kim, she and I started on the orange side of the twin, inverted coaster.

As per usual, she was terrified at first, until the spins, drops and corkscrews began, and she began yelling it was the most awesome ride ever. 


Not counting the brief pause where she yelled, “I taste chicken!”


It was then time for us to experience the crown jewel of both Harry Potterlands, the line for the Forbidden Journey.

One of the Durmstrang guys stomped his staff at Aurora as they passed on our way to the castle, delaying the crown jewel a moment while she jumped out of her skin. 

The walk through Hogwarts was an amazing experience for those of us who had seen it before, and for the first timers as well.

The ride was a bit more variable.

Rosa had to sit it out due to soreness left over from the inadequately labeled Gringott’s ride.

I went with Anabelle and found it as unpleasant as the last time. I can handle all the high speed coastering you can throw at me, but don’t pull me sideways and make it look like I’m going forward.

Dave’s newly discovered motion sickness reared up as well.  The girls loved it, monsters and all, and performed an “adult swap” in the waiting room before running on again.


We didn’t spend much time in the crowded due to floorplan design gift shop, because we had an appointment.

It was Hippogriff party time!!! 

The four kids ran through a few times, as we were working our way toward “venting time.”  Anabelle and Aurora had enough, so Kim took Veronica and Morgan on for a last run.

Aurora had built up the nerve to want to join her cousin on the Dragon Challenge.  This would have been a fantastic time for all if Universal warning signs didn’t continue to be useless. 

The sign, which made no distinction between the “wiggle your butt during a movie” Minion experience and the “looping and twisting hanging coaster from hell” Dragon experience, also made no indication that the intensities of the blue and orange Dragons were vastly different.

The extra g-forces and rattling was unpleasant for us, but glued Aurora’s chin to her chest and put her off thrill rides for a while.  Kim calmed her down while Anabelle and I hit the orange one again as a mental cleansing.  Re-riding the blue one would have been a much more digestively connected cleansing.

We collected our belongings from the “Please Don’t Let Your Pocket Crap Become a Lethal Projectile” memorial locker station, and hurried to catch up to the rest of the gang in Seussland.  Given our less than stellar reviews of the location on our last visit, I expected my Where Will We Go Next Guy duty to be getting us to Marvelland for the end of the day.

I had failed to reckon with “venting time.”  All the kids, including Anabelle, who asked if we could skip Seussland several times before the trip, excitedly ran on the Cat in the Hat, the Carrousel, the One Fish Two Fish squirting ride, and the Seuss Trolley multiple times.

The Cat in the Hat was adjusted to spin less, and the Trolley had a new route that, instead of passing through the Circus Cafeteria, went over a drowned Sneetch.

However, it wasn’t these changes that made the rides more appealing. It was simply the end of the day need for the kids to decompress by running, cheering and being together.

And even I have to admit, that’s cooler and more important than superheroes.  YAY!

The decompressing reached a fever pitch when the kids, and Auntie Kim, started to notice the “Keep arms and legs inside the ride” pictograph could be interpreted as a little limb waving dance. They kept telling each other, “Don’t do this.” *odd little right arm and leg waving dance* Naturally when they found a ride without that sign, they all did “this” throughout the ride.

During the beginning of the Seuss themed venting, I called for the bus to take us home. Once the kids had reached tired enough to leave, but not quite collapse, we started herding them towards the City Walk.

They used some of their last reserved energy for a brief run through the laminar flow fountain before we did some shopping in the big store.

Merchandising can be very confusing.  A version of the iconic Jaws poster with the shark attacking Hello Kitty had my daughter and I both going, “Whaaaaaaaaaaa?” for an extended time.

Out at the depot, we spotted a dancing bus driver.  Alas, he was not ours.

Although at the levels of exhaustion they had hit, the mass of giggling on the way back to the POP meant Aurora and Anabelle declared ours, “The funnest bus ride ever.”

I’m not sure if the other guests on the drive with us would agree with the constant stream of whale noises from Anabelle and Aurora, and Veronica putting a cover over her face and saying “woo. I’m a ghost,”…but they were laughing the whole time as well, so it’s a possibility.

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