Orlando Part IV: Transition Day, Disney to Universal (12/13/06)

Associated parks:
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Wednesday, December 20, 2006 3:03 PM
Waking up for the last time in Disney's Pop Century, fairly late in the morning, we snagged some greasy breakfast from the cafe there and brought it back to a table at the pool outside of our room. For the first time since we arrived, it actually felt kind of peaceful there.

Cath had gone for earlier in the week and saw the entire complex. I was curious to see the unfinished side, so I went walking. The open part is the 50's to 90's, while the unfinished part is 00's to 40's. The only thing they've done so far is the central hall, where the desk, shop and restaurant will be, as well as a couple of the hotel buildings and foundations. It appears it'll be exactly the same as the existing complex, with another 2,800 rooms. There's a neat view of it on Windows Live. I'm not sure why they just stopped... I mean there's no construction action anywhere, it's just sitting there dormant.

We checked out at 11am and took a cab over to Universal. Sure was busy on I-4 for being late on a weekday morning. Total fare was about $28, which I guess isn't horrible given the distance.

I can't even tell you how excited I was to arrive at the Royal Pacific Resort. Pop Century was clean and adequate, but it's not a nice 4-diamond hotel for a hotel snob like me. Our room was not ready, as you might expect arriving that early, so we checked our bags and went in to process our annual passes. We took the water taxi, for the atmosphere.

I bought the passes online, at $180 each. It made more sense to get these instead of the $90 five-day tickets, since we were planning to go back in June for the Blue Man Group opening. As it turns out, the perks make it well worth it. You get 15% off on food at the parks, and to varying degrees the City Walk restaurants. You also get 20% off merchandise. I'm sure by the time we left we saved more than $50 by the time we left.

Pass processing was pretty efficient. I bought online, then used the machine to get printed tickets. We used them to get into Universal Studios, then went to get our pictures taken. Took only a couple of minutes, and we were on our way.

Initially, I didn't expect that we'd spend any real time there, but since we were in anyway, and the place was practically dead, why not?

I've never seen the T2 show, so that was first. It's really, really good. I thought it was a perfect extension to the movie, with a good mix of action on screen and off. I can't believe I went so many years without seeing it.

Next, we acquired food. The first place we looked, next to Back to The Future, they had a variety of better than average quick service offerings. I had Asian, Cath had fried chicken. It was all pretty good, and it wasn't chicken tenders and fries like everywhere at Disney. Cath made a massage reservation at the spa in Portofino for that night.

We walked into Men In Black and, to my surprise, Cath enjoyed herself so much that she beat my score. This is the woman who tells me video games rot your brain, mind you. :) Beginner's luck!

OK, so what's the deal with these idiots at Universal who are trying to sell you something? It's like walking down the strip in Vegas. Seriously, this is one of two major complaints I have about the way they run things there, and it ranks high on my list of things that border on offensive. I don't even know what they're selling, just that it annoys me.

Jaws was kind of neat, as I haven't been on that in years. Our "captain" was an off-the-charts spaz, but in a good way. Very entertaining.

We were hoping to get on Revenge of The Mummy, but it just went down mechanical, and it was starting to drizzle a little. I had a phone call that our room was ready, so we headed back to the hotel.

For whatever reason, after getting our bags, the keys we were issued earlier didn't work. I went down to get replacements, and when I got back discovered that our room was not a king as I reserved. Sounds a lot like the Pop Century issues! Fortunately, they were able to move us, but it was a whole lot of running around and we were (again) pretty tired.

Our room in Tower 1 was on the side facing Islands of Adventure, which was pretty neat to see. It's also just short of eye level of the lighthouse, so it lit up the room every few seconds at night. But so what, that's atmosphere!

We changed into our swimmies to ride the water rides. I haven't been on a river rapids ride since, well, I dunno. I thought at the time maybe not since the year Thunder Canyon opened at Cedar Point, but I may have been on Roman Rapids at Busch in Williamsburg. Regardless, Popeye's Bilge Rat Barges is the best. It soaks you like any other ride of its type, but I was totally blown away at the size of the lift, and the sheer speed in several sections. Needless to say, we got soaked.

On to Dudley's Ripsaw Falls, which I had hyped up as the greatest flume ever before riding Splash Mountain. When I was down there with the Michigan girls in March, it was closed for refurbishment. I'm kind of wondering what they did, because it appears to need a lot of paint and rust repair in several places. The water curtain on the lift wasn't doing its thing either. The skipping "boards" over the drop don't even pop the way they used to. Still, a whole lot of airtime on that thing, and a solid second place behind Splash Mountain. I could do without the direct in your face coin-op water canons though.

We ended the day on the Jurassic Park River Adventure. Here's another ride that needs a little love. One of the dinosaurs is entirely gone from the first lagoon, and the others move like they have seizures. On the flip side, the T-Rex looked better than he ever has on any of my visits.

Despite the water, we did sneak on to the Hulk before we left. While we got right on using the Express perk of being a resort guest, it seemed pretty odd that they were running only one train. This isn't the first time I've complained about this. Here's the thing, Universal... people go in the off-season because of shorter lines. So why do you insist on disrespecting the value of their time (with shorter operation hours) by making people wait? The excuses about maintenance and staffing are irrelevant. Guests don't care.

After a nap, Cath went for her massage treatment and I bought a day of Internet access to catch up on e-mail and see if the lights were still on. I wandered over to City Walk and enjoyed a really good cover band before meeting Cath at NBA City for dinner. Excellent food, didn't expect that. The NASCAR joint was closed for refurbishment, but who cares, it was a dump with crappy food.

It was nice to be in the non-busy Universal kingdom.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006 3:44 PM

Jeff said:
I was curious to see the unfinished side, so I went walking. The open part is the 50's to 90's, while the unfinished part is 00's to 40's. The only thing they've done so far is the central hall, where the desk, shop and restaurant will be, as well as a couple of the hotel buildings and foundations. It appears it'll be exactly the same as the existing complex, with another 2,800 rooms. There's a neat view of it on Windows Live. I'm not sure why they just stopped... I mean there's no construction action anywhere, it's just sitting there dormant.

After seeing this myself, I did a little research on this subject. The current Pop Century made up of the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s are called the classic years, all using Classic Hall as their cafe, shopping center, check-in desk, and arcade. The current side has 2,800 rooms (the most rooms of any Disney resort).

On the other side of Hourglass Lake is the other five decades (00s, 10s, 20s, 30s, and 40s). This side is called the Legendary Years. All that stands right now is the Legendary Hall and two of the ten room buildings are standing. The rest are just foundations. The Generation Gap Bridge is in place to connect both ends of the resort (currently its just a dead end).

Pop Century was being built in late 2001 and early 2002. September 11th happened during the construction process. Disney and all of Orlando struggled greatly post 9/11 to get people to come to the parks. For this reason, the construction on the Legendary side was abandoned and it hasn't been touched since early 2002.

The original plan was for Legendary side to be identical to the opposite with just different themes. Earlier this year (2006) Bob Iger (Disney's CEO) announced the plan for the phase 2 part of Pop Century. The Legendary side is going to be finished, but the rooms will now be suite style. Phase 2 should be finished by Late 2007/Early 2008.

I found a couple links that show the unfinished side.

Two entrys from a blog:
http://jimhillmedia.com/blogs/jeff_lange/archive/2006/04/11/1785.aspx
http://jimhillmedia.com/blogs/jeff_lange/archive/2006/04/13/1813.aspx

Also a great 360 aerial view of the entire resort as it is right now:
http://bigeyeinthesky.com/ViewQTVR.asp?PID=661&RID=666

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006 3:45 PM
"The DROP" on Bilge Rats is unlike anything I've EVER seen on any rapids ride...strongly reminiscent of the first time I laid eyes on Perilous Plunge...

Are you KIDDING me? :o

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Thursday, December 21, 2006 9:35 AM
Here's what those suites look like: there are a few in some of the other Value-category resorts already.

http://www.mousesavers.com/allstarmusicsuites.html

They are probably one of the better values at Disney. Still about 2x what a top-shelf offsite 2BR condo within 10 minutes of the parks will run you, but not nearly as ridiculous as some Disney properties.

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Thursday, December 21, 2006 11:43 AM
Yeah, that floor plan totally matches the shape of the Pop rooms. If they're priced about the same as the All-Star suites, I think that's a fairly good deal, but I'm not sure it's a great arrangement given the distance from everything.
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