Islands of Adventure, Universal Studios, IAAPA 11/03

Associated parks:
None

Monday, November 24, 2003 4:41 PM
I really love going to Orlando in November. It's so refreshing considering the weather just starts to get cold here in Cleveland. I posted a few photos here.

The first reason for the trip was to stop by the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) trade show. There's generally not a lot of new things to see from year to year, but it's a good networking opportunity for someone who runs this site.

The rest of the time there is all about hanging out and enjoying a theme park or two. We stayed for the second year at Universal's Royal Pacific Resort. There are so many things I like about that place. It's a nice setting, the rooms are nice, it's within walking distance to the theme parks and CityWalk and it's just an overall secure and semi-upscale environment. Yeah, you pay a little more (actually a lot more), but it's worth every penny. You get to bypass the normal lines on all of the rides as a guest too.

The first night we were there we hit Medieval Times. If you've never been, you should most certainly go. It's dinner and a show, only without any silverware. The food is quite good, and the horse, jousting and fighting stuff is pretty good. You basically get a knight who represents your section, and you cheer him on in the tournament, while a somewhat light story plays out.

As usual, our knight sucked ass. He got his ass kicked. We really wanted to be in the next section, because the drunk guys there cheered the loudest and were having a damn good time. Being the only drunk guy in our section, I had to try and compensate.

The show itself is around $50 a person, and that includes your food and two beer refills (if you're old enough). Naturally I needed to supplement that with a pitcher. By the time you add in extra beverages, the photos they sell you, the tip and souveniers, it's pretty much a $100-a-person affair. That's cool though. I'm on vacation.

The next day we hit Universal Studios after a visit to Steph's grandparents' place in Kissimmee. It was the first time I had been there since the month it opened back in 1990. There was a lot of new stuff I had not yet seen. Most of it was pretty unremarkable. I thought Twister was pretty cool, and it was cool to finally see Earthquake (which was closed and being tweaked when I was first there). The rest was pretty much just there. the MIB ride was kind of fun, though I think my gun was busted. I had the lowest score in the car. We left after about four hours and hit the NASCAR Cafe for lunch.

Food is an important part of the vacation to me. I love to stuff my face. NASCAR is pretty average stuff with pretty average service, but it hit the spot when I was hungry. Can't argue with that.

After a nap and some TV, we eventually hit CityWalk. It's Universal's answer to Disney's Pleasure Island in many ways, though I think there are fewer clubs and no Cirque du Soleil. We stopped in the lower level of Motown to hit the DDR machine. It's an attention whore's dream. Five songs for a buck right there where everyone comes in for CityWalk and the theme parks. Drawing a crowd is not difficult.

We landed at the Italian place for dinner, which was strikingly average again. Last year it seemed better. Our waitress wasn't very on top of things either, and even though we tend to overlook certain things when she has a cute package, it wasn't going to happen this time. She sucked.

On Saturday we finally got to Islands of Adventure, the park we were looking forward to the most. There are so many things right with the park that it's hard to think of where to start. The park has something really for everyone. Our only annoyance for the day was that they don't let you out beyond Seuss Landing or Marvel Superhero Island until the park has been open for an hour.

There's a lot I could tell you, but let me stick the more important things. First off, Spiderman is still the best dark ride anywhere. There is no other ride that can mix live action and 3D film as well as Spiderman. It's a real work of art.

Other interesting rides included Dr. Doom's towers, the Jurassic Park River Ride, the Caro-Seuss-el and Cat in The Hat. So many of their rides are based on familiar rides or concepts, and taken to a much higher level.

Dueling Dragons are together the best roller coasters in the world. Individually they'd certainly be among the best inverted coasters, but it's having them together that makes them so special. The queue and stations are great, and the way the two trains interact is great. Very well done.

We almost didn't get to ride Hulk, as it went down mechanical about an hour before closing. It opened back up, we hit the Universal Express line, and got right on. We sat in the back seat. The launch is very cool (if not the most inefficient means to launch a train), and the first half of the ride is a lot of fun. The rest just feels like it kind of wanders around. I don't understand how it can be the best ride in some of the polls, because it's pretty average to me in terms of sit-down loopers. It's not a bad ride by any means, but it gets more attention than I think it deserves. It's in dire need of new springs or wheels, or both, because it bounces around entirely too much for a B&M ride.

We capped the night off with a little hot-tubbin' and beers back at the hotel, followed by dinner at Motown. They have some of the best damn barbecue sauce anywhere. It's really good stuff. They have a half-chicken and ribs combo that no one human can actually eat (well, sholdn't eat), so Steph and I split that. Good stuff indeed! The only negative was the really crappy service (again). We had the same problem last year. It's not the restaurant, because we watched this cutie in the next section be all on top of things for her tables.

Tired after a long day, we jumped on the boat back to the hotel and tried to stay up and watch SNL. We got an hour into it before we fell asleep.

I really enjoy being in Orlando. I hope to back again next year, and maybe even spend a little more time down there. I'd like to get back to the rat and visit some of those parks, maybe even spend some time at Busch Gardens again. If it weren't so damn hot in the summer, I'd even consider living there. I suppose you'd get used to it. Overall, we had a good time, and we were both the happiest we've been in awhile.

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Monday, November 24, 2003 5:12 PM
It's a shame about that rental car you had to drive... no Ford Escorts available? :(

I must agree that it's hard to find anything to complain about at IOA. We went for the first time this past February. Everything was just perfect.

One of my favorite perks: happy hour! Who would've thought it at a park? The bar in the big oak tree had half price drafts and domestic wines for a couple hours each afternoon.

Also, one night the park closed at 6, but our hotel's bus didn't arrive until 7:30. Went in to the Motown Cafe to find out, yep, happy hour as soon as the park closed. Had a half price appetizer and some more half price beers. (Quite reasonably priced in the first place, considering where you're at.)

(...and until DDR has a Sisters Of Mercy soundtrack, I'll stick with Donkey Kong.)

So what'd you think of that Zamperla Disco flat ride/coaster hybrid thing? That and the 4-D ring of fire were the best things I saw. (Wasn't there, just know a bunch of people who were.)

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Monday, November 24, 2003 7:26 PM
Disko (or however you spell it) is a Huss Frisbee supported from underneath instead of above. The sensation is very nearly identical. It's a big deal because it appears different, and who knows, maybe it's less expensive than its Huss counterpart (or at the very least has a trailered model), but in terms of the experience itself it's not that different.
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Tuesday, November 25, 2003 3:31 PM
Jeff, did you buy any chance get to see LA NOUBA, the Cirque Du Soleil show at DownTown Disney? Kick a$$ show, if you have never seen it. I won't go back to Orlando without seeing it again.

-Michael

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Tuesday, November 25, 2003 3:46 PM
Great report, Jeff.

But I have to take exception to your recommendation of Medievil Times. I've been to the one in Buena Park (down the street from Knott's) and it was a very average and poorly acted show, lame food, and overpriced. Our knight actually did quite well, but it didn't make the tourney any more fun. I guess I just didn't get into it. And when I say "into it" I mean "drunk."

I hate getting bad waitresses while on vaccation. You get so precious few vaccations and then being forced to deal with someone who looks like they would rather be on the receiving end of a root canal. Not good.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2003 7:08 PM
For a minute I thought Stephanie's hair was red...;)
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Tuesday, November 25, 2003 11:12 PM
Well, it's half red, half black. Close enough. :)

No, didn't go to Disney. Truth is, I had no desire to rush around places this time. Last year we did three of the Disney parks in one day (all of Animal Kingdom plus the coasters at the other parks) and that was insane.

Medieval Times is admitedly an acquired taste, but the one in Orlando is fairly well done. I mean, it's not Broadway and I wouldn't expect it to be. If you like Medieval Fairs and stuff like that, you'd like the show. If you enjoy really getting into it and cheering for your knight (can't do that on Broadway), you'll enjoy it.

We had a lot of good service, I guess I should add. Every bartender was top-notch, and I was really pleased with the quick-service in the Universal parks.

I also forgot to mention that the Universal parks actually have healthy food. I'm talking about fresh grapes and fruit slices, among other things. They have vegetarian-friendly stuff, if you can believe that. Would it kill parks like Cedar Point to carry this stuff?

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Tuesday, November 25, 2003 11:17 PM
Jeff, next time you definetely have to get out to EPCOT and ride the Mission Space. that was great! I liked the 4d ring of fire, Disko was fun, and the X seats. IAAPA in general was great this year.
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Wednesday, November 26, 2003 8:14 AM
Agreed on the food at Universal. When I was there last, I came down with food poisoning (probably the crappy Burger King chicken sandwich I had at the airport when I got off the plane the first night). At IoA I wa able to find wonderful fruit cups that didn't challenge my stomach too much. I was incredibly grateful.
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Wednesday, November 26, 2003 5:14 PM
Hey, Greg, Kennywood has fruit stands, too!

I agree that Universal has a great selection, though. My wife doesn't eat red meat or most fried food. Usually when parks offer chicken it's fried, but she never had to search far for something good while we were down there.

Disney/MGM had Tibouli (sp?) wraps, too. That made her quite pleased.

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Friday, November 28, 2003 10:10 AM
What I missed this year at IOA was the all-you-can-eat buffet at Cirus McGurkus (or however you spell that). That was a sweet deal last year, and we pigged ourselves into a food coma. This year it was regular per-item pricing.
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Friday, November 28, 2003 11:40 AM

kpjb said:
Hey, Greg, Kennywood has fruit stands, too!

Yup, and it's very good, too. Didn't mean to imply that NO other parks have good food like that, just that it was great to see at IoA when I really needed it... *** Edited 11/28/2003 4:40:57 PM UTC by GregLeg***

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Friday, November 28, 2003 2:01 PM
The vegetarian thing is almost always an issue at events, though....unless you consider burgers and hot dogs vegetarian, that is.

Oh, and hot dogs should *never* be boiled....;)

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Saturday, November 29, 2003 12:30 PM
Well, with some park hot dogs I'd dare you to find anything resembling meat...
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Wednesday, December 3, 2003 3:09 AM
Yes, I've heard that "if you've been to one IAAPA, you've been to them all"! I'll disagree with whoever said that. :)

I'll have to note that I think it's worth the drive/flight/unicycle ride to Orlando to experience the Cat in the Hat dark ride as opposed to seeing the motion picture, which is absolutely dreadful and nearly as gag-worthy Gigli.

Themed Post Quote of the Moment-
"It's Turkey Time!"
"Huh?"
"Gooble, Gooble!"

-Danny

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