Mar 7, 2014

Disney 2014: Day 4 (Universal Studios)

Tuesday was a big day for us, because it was our non-Disney day ... something we didn't do in 2010. We got up early and headed 17 miles out to Universal Studios!

This day was risky with a capital R. Why, you ask? Because we were really far away from our resort, and, therefore, really far away from our Pack-and-Play. Working without a net, errbody.

The main reason we'd planned a day at Universal to begin with was to take the boys to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. So as soon as we entered the park, we walked straight through to the back. Another gorgeous day, made-to-order by blog reader Travis.

Hogsmeade, the life-size replica of the street with all the shops where Harry and his friends buy wizard stuff, is pretty impressive. (Isn't that what it is? I think that's what it is. Details.)

As we entered, it appeared as though a Muggle in bright green skinny jeans was welcoming us in grand style. But I guess she was just some random tourist posing for someone else's camera.

Right inside the gate, the boys were just barely willing to have their picture taken with the Hogwart's Express Conductor.

I might have had to snarl something about a lifetime of amazing memories and starving children in Africa to get them to stand there and smile, but I believe I achieved my goal.

As it turned out, the only thing they were REALLY invested in experiencing in the Very Vast World of Harry Potter was Honeydukes. The candy shop.

If you'd like to know why, please allow me to show you approximately 14 reasons.

Oh, did I say 14? I meant 15. Because they each spent part of their money on a chocolate frog. (If you haven't read the books, chocolate frogs are a thing.)

Not hollow, these frogs, no sir. SOLID CHOCOLATE. The size of their entire hand.

You know what doesn't go well with solid milk chocolate? Butterbeer. You know what has never stopped my children? Solid evidence.

We tried the "regular" Butterbeer as opposed to frozen, but if we ever go back, I'd love to try the frozen option. Quite frankly, I expected Butterbeer to be outright disgusting, but I was pleasantly surprised. If someone had told me that it had a light butterscotch flavor, I would have prepared myself to be smitten. NO ONE TOLD ME.

We ate lunch at Three Broomsticks right there at Hogsmeade, and it was delicious. We enjoyed chicken legs, corn, potatoes and bread. It was a LOT of food.

If Hogsmeade and all of the many STUNNING varieties of humans that come with it aren't enough for you, Universal's version of Diagon Alley is coming this summer.

The crowds were pretty thick while we were there, but Amelia wanted to get out of the stroller and walk. More specifically, she wanted to get out and PUSH. (Please enjoy how she looks homeless, what with her two shades of pink to go along with her three-sizes-too-big red T-shirt. But that day we were counting 1-2-3-4 red T-shirts, and I'm telling you, it makes all the difference. RECOMMEND.)

We tried to let the kids go in all the shops they wanted to see, but I think they only ended up actually shopping in Honeydukes. They got in line at Ollivander's Wand shop, but there was a 35-minute wait just to get in the door. NOPE.

Once we finally made it past all the shops, we made it up to Hogwart's, which houses the Grand Cahuna of the HP-themed rides at Universal: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.

You wind through a long outdoor line, and then you enter a large door that takes you inside Hogwart's.

For the next, oh, 20 miles or so, you wind through Hogwarts' classrooms and corridors, which are meticulously decorated to look like the films' sets, as you inch closer and closer to the ride itself.

And then suddenly, you round a corner and get to board the ride. Your feet dangle below you, and if you've ever been to EPCOT and ridden Soarin', it's similar to that. Except it's kind of like Soarin' on crack. Or heroin. Or LSD. It's really well-done, but if you suffer from motion sickness, have inner-ear issues or get dizzy easily, I don't recommend it.

My favorite HP-themed ride at Universal was Dragon Challenge, which is an AWESOME roller coaster directly across the path from the Forbidden Journey. It's a red-and-blue coaster that has several upside-down and corkscrew loops, and I rode it with Nathaniel. I didn't want it to end! It was SO. MUCH. FUN. I would have ridden it five times if we'd had enough time.

Right next to that one is the Flight of the Hippogriff, which was much tamer but fun for all ages. I think everyone rode that one except for Mom and Amelia. First I rode it with the three boys.

Those on the ground looked for us every chance they got. Well, my dad appears to have been videoing Amelia. But everyone else was looking for us.

And may I take a moment to thank my lucky stars that this wasn't a roll of 35mm film in my camera? Because I had about 20 pictures that looked like this on it all of a sudden.

But luckily here we came, so there was something to take a picture of again.

I will say, at Universal there wasn't a heck of a lot that Amelia could do. That, coupled with the distance from the resort, was really kind of a risk we took. We thought there would be lots of stuff she could do in Seuss Landing, so after we finished up at Harry Potter, we walked back down there.

It's certainly very visually stimulating, if nothing else.


Amelia did try the carousel ... Grayson assisted her while Dad video'd, my sister photographed and Mom rode with Jake. IT TAKES A VILLAGE TO RIDE A CAROUSEL, INTERNET.

Amelia isn't a huge FAN of carousels, but she was desperate to ride SOMETHING, so she hopped on.

Took a second, but she quickly decided that she didn't want to stay on.

Too bad it was already in motion at that point.

Meanwhile, Jake and Mop were having a grand old time on the other side!

Never fear, everyone made it off alive, and then they went over to Red Fish, Blue Fish.

I knew nothing about this ride, so when I was looking at these pictures later, I couldn't figure out why no one was looking at the camera. Grayson took like 48 pictures, and they only bothered to look at him in about five of them.

Also, I thought Amelia was standing on the ground with Grayson -- until I saw this picture, about 20 pictures into the set. Ha!


This one made me think Jake had peed or vomited or something equally vile.

I mean, REALLY. I was like, WHAT HAPPENED IN THAT FISH? Look at my dad's face. Bahahahaha.

Keep in mind, I'm only showing you a fraction of the pictures that were on my camera. There were GOBS of these, and in every single one, my parents looked like they'd stepped in dog crap. I was laughing out loud as I was scrolling through them. Even in this one, I can tell my dad was saying to himself, "FRED, PULL YOURSELF TOGETHER. YOU'VE STOPPED TAKING ARCHIVAL VIDEO WITH YOUR iPHONE." And my mom was clearly being supportive of this train of thought.

So I YouTubed it, which reminded me that when we caught back up with them, my parents were pretty wet. On that ride, something sprays you with water if you don't steer your way out of trouble, so apparently those faces they were making were due to the fact that they'd gotten drenched.

Oops. I'm giggling again.

I will say, for those of you who may be thinking of taking toddlers there, I'm pretty sure that the carousel and One Fish, Two Fish were the only two rides Amelia was tall enough to ride at Islands of Adventure. We tried to take her on the train that runs through Seuss Ville, but she wasn't tall enough for that (the ride host stopped us at the entrance). If I'm mistaken about this, someone please correct me in the Comments.

Anyway, to help my parents dry out a little, we walked back up the hill to Jurassic Park.

There's a GREAT playground in that section of the park that all four kids really loved.

It was planted with all sorts of lush, tropical vegetation, so it was definitely the coolest spot in the park, as well. I liked it for that reason alone.

I caught a sweet conversation between my sister and Amelia that I will treasure forever.

In addition to the climbing ropes, the playground has water guns, hidden paths and slides. Several slides. Amelia was a HUGE FAN of the slides.

But the slides didn't just appeal to her ... everyone loved them.

Our final stop of the day was the Hulk, the big green roller coaster over the lake.

Grayson and Nathaniel rode it first, but we were still over at Jurassic Park for that. Then when we walked over, Sarah Ellen rode it with Nathaniel.

They're on the fourth row from the front, far right. Nathaniel's in the red T-shirt.

And coming around the curve on the opposite side, into the sun ...

We were supposed to eat at Lombard's that evening and enjoy the show over the lake, but there was a mixup with our reservation. So instead, my parents went back to the resort and ate there, and we drove through Chick-fil-A. Not quite what any of us had in mind, but Universal did refund my parents' credit card.

Still, it left a little bit of a sour taste in my mouth, because their Guest Services attendant didn't handle it very well, in my opinion. Overall, though, it was a lot of fun, and if your kids are over age 5, I think you'd have more than enough to do there for an entire day.

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