Universal Orlando - 6/7/07 - 6/10/07

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Jeff's avatar
Three visits in six months. I wish they rewarded this kind of loyalty the way Vegas casinos did. Anyway, I need to knock out some negatives first.

First off, we used USA 3000 as our airline because it was dirt cheap. $150 round-trip, each. Not bad. But here's the problem: It's a relatively small airline that basically runs their planes in an eight to ten hour shift, ending up where they started. That means layovers. It also means that there's no real urgency if you're late, because ultimately the plane just needs to get back where it started. They had stickers on laser printer boarding passes that indicated your seat. That's high tech.

Racism is still alive and well in America. Our flight out was delayed because a passenger was "detained by security." Big surprise, the guy arrives and he's Middle Eastern and wearing a turban. But the TSA doesn't racially profile or anything. That's crazy talk. Then on the way back, during the layover in St. Petersburg, some Clevelander hilljack is going on over his cell phone saying how he'll never go back to Florida because those "damn Mexicans" can't speak English and don't deserve jobs in the US.

Anyway, I already wrote about the Blue Man Group show in another report, so I'll leave that part out. Catherine, Cosmo (the dog) and I got in Thursday evening with a fairly uneventful check-in at the Royal Pacific Resort. No Loews First perks for us because we got a great rate, about a third off, being annual pass holders. They did not give us our "Loews Loves Pets" stuff at this time, for some reason. They did say we could still use the gym (more on that later).

We had dinner at NBA City, since game one of the finals was on. Our Cavs did OK that first half. The food was pretty awesome. I swear it's the last place that you'd expect to find good food, but this was my second take on it. We watched the second half from our room, since Cath was fried from vet school exams ending that very morning.

Friday began with Cath wanting to use the gym, only they charged us for it. This eventually led to an argument at the desk with some manager named "Kiki" who was not helpful at all. They insisted that we would get no Loews First perks because we booked through a "third party," even though it was on the Lowes Web site. I looked around and asked if I was, in fact, at Universal Orlando and explained that I didn't care what the particulars of the arrangement between Loews and Universal were. I got my way, but it was annoying.

The other sticking point is that the card key lock on the door to the pet park was broken, so it was easy to lock yourself out. I called the first night and they didn't do anything about it, so I called a second time. The lack of attention to detail is exactly why I said they don't deserve their four-diamond rating, if they haven't lost it already.

Anyway, while Cath used the gym, I went to Pastamore on City Walk for a little breakfast, and read the NYT while watching people stream in. I met Cath at Islands of Adventure at guest services, as she needed to get a replacement annual pass card, since she lost hers. First replacement was free, which was a nice perk. For some reason they did not issue another plastic card, just a paper one. Then we had to contend with their almost non-functional finger scan thing. They need a better system.

Tip: Look for a gate attendant using a hand-held scanner. These don't require the finger scan, and therefore move much faster.

Every time I walk in Port of Entry, I just get a little giddy. I don't know what it is about that place, but I could spend every day there. We started with a ride on Fire, since we didn't do it December. The crew was really hauling ass (two trains each side), which was the first time I had ever seen any urgency there. That was nice to see.

We hit the Sinbad stunt show next, which seemed to have more pyro than the last time I saw it. The female lead has some really scary abs, but I like that she's not the helpless damsel in distress. Fun show for sure. The kids love it.

A ride on the Jurassic Park River Adventure put my fears at rest that they were slipping in terms of maintaining the theme to the rides. Last time I was there, it seemed stuff was just not all there, but the park overall surprised me with details I hadn't noticed before. All of the dinosaurs were present this time, and the only thing I missed was the dropping Raptor container at the base of the lift. There were sparks coming out of the Raptor paddock, which I'd never seen before. The T-Rex was in all of her spectacular glory. Two thumbs way up. What a great ride.

We had lunch at the Comic Strip Cafe, which isn't spectacular, but like its counterpart in the studio park, has lots of options. It's one of the better values too. I'll also mention here that soda is a buck less or more compared to the Cedar Fair parks. I find that pretty ridiculous.

Spiderman was next, and I noticed subtle details there too. There was one of those rabbit ears things that electrical sparks travel up as we transitioned into one scene. The steam hits were extensive and small lighting details were in place. Again, it just felt like everything was spot on.

Now for a little bad news, The Incredible Hulk is in the worst shape I've ever experienced. Props to the crew, running three trains and dispatching quickly, but the ride is beyond rough now. I still think it's the springs or loose wheel padding or something. Sit toward the back, and through the loop or other straight track, you can see every car shimmy around laterally in a very violent way. You can't ride defensively against that kind of roughness. I really don't get this, because it's not like they don't have another B&M ride in the park. It's basically the same bogey, so whey is it so poorly maintained? It's such a great layout and a fun launch, and it's lost on the torture of the violent shaking.

That was pretty much our first day. We went back to the hotel to clean up a bit before the Blue Man show. I missed another Space Shuttle launch too, because we were in the show. I missed one when I was there in December just because I didn't know it was happening. Sigh.

We ended Friday night at the Hard Rock Cafe. The food is kinda average still, but there was no wait for a change, and I do enjoy the atmosphere.

Saturday was a very casual day, starting at Universal Studios. It was damn hot, 91 with high humidity, but with so many things indoors, it wasn't terrible. I still enjoy E.T., Men in Black and Jaws. We walked right on to Revenge of The Mummy with our room keys, and the main queue was nearly filled. That's why I stay on property. We also did the animal actors show, which was really short this time, presumably because of the availability of the talent.

Back to the hotel, I chilled with the dog, Cath used the gym again. After that, we headed over to Portofino for massages at the spa. What an amazing and beautiful hotel! I've never paid for a full blown massage before (and didn't this time either, technically, since Cath bought it in return for buying the dog's plane ticket). It was AWESOME. Beautiful facility, they go out of their way take care of you, and Melissa, the massage therapist, well let's just say I'd do anything she asked for. She was amazing. I'd really like to try out the hotel next time, if I can justify the cost, and I would really like to get another massage.

We never did make it back to the parks, but we did have dinner at Maragritaville, and saw Oceans 13. I have to say that this is still the best way to enjoy these parks. Just block out several days and wing it. You get to skip lines staying on property, so there's no rush at all.

We did go back into IOA Sunday morning prior to departure. Got a ride on Ice in the front seat, but we were incredibly disappointed that they opened with one train each side. The line crawled. I have no idea why they'd run so few trains. At first I thought I was being a whiny enthusiass, but others around us were making the same observations. It was most unfortunate during a weekend where, operationally, they were doing a good job.

We also snagged a ride on Cat In The Hat, and bought goodies at the Universal Store using the pass discount.

The weekend winded down with some video games at the hotel, "beach" time, and some time wasting in the lobby. A thunderstorm rolled in later in the afternoon and caused some flight delays.

Overall, it's always nice to visit the parks. I'm just tired of being disappointed by the Royal Pacific. On the other hand, I was very impressed with the spa at Portofino. I think the parks are paying stronger attention to detail again, and that will most certainly serve them well as they expand with the Harry Potter stuff.

Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog

eightdotthree's avatar
Can't agree with you more about the Ports of Call entrance. We love eating breakfast at the little cafe and just letting everyone come in behind us. Its so great to watch all the first timers, the kids wowing when they see the Hulk.

Its no fun to start your day with a headache, I don't get why they can't fix the Hulk. And why not start dueling dragons with four trains. When there is only one train on the course the crews have a tendancy to take their time, which leads to frustrated guests. Disney has all their trains ripping first thing in the morning. Its amazing to watch them work. I wish IOA would follow their lead.

Its sounds whiney, but its true. Other people notice it too.

I can't wait to go back.

Jeff's avatar
The contrast to Disney, if you ask me, is reason enough to put a very high emphasis on capacity. The way they push people through Rock n' Rollercoaster and Everest is jaw-droppingly awesome to watch. If you want to chip away even a little at that market share, you need to play the game.

Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog

I completely agree, and that's something that has always bothered me about Universal (specifically Islands of Adventure). They seem to run nearly every attraction at or near capacity except Dueling Dragons, no matter how long the queue is. This January we waited darn near an hour for Fire Dragon while nothing else in the park had more than a 15-minute wait, including the Hulk. Why they continue to operate an attraction designed to run six trains with just two trains is beyond me, especially when it's causing their guests to wait in excessive lines. That just doesn't happen at Disney. Capacity matters, and people notice. As you said, if you're trying to compete with Disney, you need to do it on all levels.

I've never had a major problem with roughness on the Hulk. It seems to shake/vibrate more than some other B&M's, but I've never had what I would call a "rough" ride. It certainly wasn't as bad as you described a few months ago. Unfortunate.


Last Janurary while in line for Dueling Dragons they took one train off each side at 5:00 with a relitively full queue. When we got up there I asked a ride op why, and he replied "we always take a train off at 5:00".

Strange, indeed.

To being an "us" for once - instead of a "them".

Agree with you Jeff about Hulk. I rode in March and it was totally brutal. On the other hand, Dueling Dragons were both in absolutely pristine condition, running smoother than any B&M invert I have been on (with the exception of Nemesis Inferno which is freakin' glass!).
Jeff's avatar
Ugh... they're still taking trains off an hour prior to close? I'm glad that all the bitching I did early last year was heard. LAME LAME LAME. Did they ever do the math to see that if you had a queue full of people, you'd vanquish them more quickly by not taking 15 minutes to take off trains, and using the capacity to give them all rides?

It frustrates me so much that the people in operations in that park are so clueless as to what's going on around the industry.

Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog

Universal's piss poor admission process is my favorite "ride cut" system. You just go straight to guest relations after your half hour wait to get in the park...complain...and whamo they will give you at least 2 (more if you are good) Universal Express passes. The minimum wage workers at the front are used to the complaints...they've had problems for over two years now that they've not bothered to fix. If you ask for a manager...you can get up to four/five (?) passes for your party. Almost enough to knock out the park in an hour or two. I've never paid for Universal Express because I know I can get close to it for free.

Operations indeed are lacking at this place...but the rides and theming are just so darn good.

Ditto on the NBA food...we've gone 4-5 times and still cannot believe what a hidden gem that place is. Usually has the least wait time too...great spot to sit and read the Wall Street Journal ;) while relaxing in the afternoon.

P.S. Have they started the expansion yet?

*** Edited 6/13/2007 4:56:56 AM UTC by Jeffrey R Smith***

Jeff's avatar
Nope, not that I've seen. No barriers, survey marks or construction vehicles that I noticed.

Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog

The only time I saw the Dueling Dragons run all 6 trains was during Halloween Horror Nights, when the park is packed beyond horrible! They had 4 operators in the load, 2 on the unload and 1 in the booth for each side. They were dispatching basically as soon as the ride letted them, so they were pumping people through and the wait was minimal. On the other hand, Hulk was running 3 trains and had a 120 minutes wait...

Regarding the Disney coasters, the way they're setted up most of the time is that if a train stacks behind the station, most of the time, the ride goes down! Space Mountain at Disneyland is the most extreme in this aspect: they run 12 trains at once (12 seats per train) and as soon as there's more than one train waiting behind the unload... it goes down. So, they have to get the trains in and out ASAP. As for passagers with mobility issues, they found the perfect solution... They have a 13th train that sits on a transfer table just after the load station. The passagers can take all their time to board and once they're ready, they send an empty train, stop it on the table and the loaded train slides on the track... Amazingly, it only takes a few seconds to do that!

Maybe they take trains off Dueling in an effort to justify the insanely long (yet very neatly themed) castle queue line, which must have cost the park a fortune to create? Really, what other possible excuse could they have for running a coaster INTENDED for high capacity in such a low-capacity manner.

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