Universal Orlando: June 5-8, 2008

Associated parks:
None

Friday, June 13, 2008 9:44 PM
A little late getting this out, but here it is. I'll try not to do a play-by-play and just hit the highlights.

Let me get the negatives out of the way. They need to fix the admission procedure. The ticket/pass scanners are very particular about their focus point, so if you don't use them a lot, you have to rely on the attendant. The Disney scanners are slot loading, forcing the ticket's position. The attendant who is standing on the wrong side, so they take the ticket from you, reach across, then have to get out of the way so you can put your finger on the scanner. The scanners don't force your finger to a specific position the way the Disney scanners do, so there's more variability. You also need one attendant for each turnstile, so it's expensive for the parks. The system sucks and it's slow. I can do it quickly because I know the drill, but I have to be forceful in scanning my own ticket and just doing it.

Operationally, I wish they'd work a little harder and be more consistent. It's just at the point where if you know better you might be slightly annoyed, but it's not bad enough for the average guest to notice. The Mummy crew was kicking ass all over the place, and the big coasters were all pretty decent, but some of the other rides, like Storm Force, Dr. Doom, etc., need to lose the slow motion.

OK, got that out of the way. Overall, we had a great time and really took the most casual approach ever to the parks. With a Blue Man Group show on Friday night, meeting Diana's dad and my mom at various points, intermittent pool going and other activities, we just really took it easy. We got some really quality pool time in at Royal Pacific, which did a good job overall in terms of service.

The big story is of course The Simpsons Ride. I'm not much into simulators, so my expectations were low, but I've gotta say I really enjoyed it. It's a good ride because it's a very good integrated experience. The stuff they show in the queue starts setting things up, and then the count-out staging queue rooms have a number of things going on from four animated screens featuring characters and a fake informational sign that also starts the story rolling with Sideshow Bob. The small room they feed you into with your car mates further develops the story, and then you're into the ride vehicle.

The ride itself is well programmed, and the projection technology is the most amazing thing I've seen. I think it may project at a full 60 frames per second, maybe at a full 4k resolution, because it's amazingly clear for the size of the screen. It's really a lot of fun. I'm generally indifferent about sim rides, but I like this one.

As an example of poor operations, take Men In Black (just this one more point, I promise). The regular line is backed way up beyond the room with "The Twins" and into where ever it goes (I don't remember because I haven't used that line in years). The express line is almost non-existent, so we walk right up to the platform. And with all of that line, the ride ops can't even get four other people into our car. So me and Diana roll out, just the two of us, as pissed stares from the line watch us. Duh.

Anyway, it's funny how once you know the ride pretty well, you can score like crazy. Diana got all of the hits on the other car, so even though I got the red button bonus, she still beat me. What rocked though is that, without any schmucks to drag down our score, we averaged around 250,000 points, nearly ten times our opponents, and we finally got the highest rating out of it before the flashy thing. Sweet.

We also did the new Disaster Blah Blah Blah Starring You!, the revamp of the San Francisco Earthquake. The ride portion is about the same, only it shows a Mutha Nature, a film starring The Rock, er, Dwayne Johnson, a combination of pre-recorded stuff and stuff you shoot in the pre-show with audience members. It gets a serious laugh from the crowd. The first second room that had the miniatures has an effect where Christopher Walken is projected into the room and walks in front of and behind real objects, a neat trick considering said objects are still in 3D space for the viewers.

We ate at Mythos for lunch, twice, at IOA. The viewers of that theme park insider site must have ****ty taste, because that's not even on the radar of being the best theme park restaurant. Seriously pick one, any one, in Epcot, and it'll be better. Mythos isn't holding reservations months in advance. It's not bad, it's just cosmically average.

We're still getting lots of discounts on food and merchandise with the annual pass, and overall the food is still better quality and cheaper than the crap at Cedar Point. Just had to throw that in there.

We got on the water rides early on Saturday. Yes, it's true that Dudley has lap bars. Strangest thing I've ever had. First time I've been there in awhile when the ride wasn't down for rehab, so it was nice to get on it. The airtime wasn't very strong, maybe because we sat in the back. They need to tweak the audio in a few places, as it's hard to hear the story.

We also did the Popeye/Bluto Barges. I usually hate those damn rides, but that one is so kick ass. The speed at times is actually alarming. It has a couple of dead spots, but it's still a lot of fun overall. I would've liked to have had a chance at Grand Rapids at Michigan's Adventure for comparison sake.

The Jurassic Park River Adventure again had a dinosaur boxed in. It has been a couple of years since I've been on that where every effect and animal was up and running. Again, it needs some audio tweaks, especially at the start. They need more fog around the T-Rex too, even if it does perhaps kill the skin that they replace weekly more quickly. I think the water level was low too, because we didn't get very wet at all.

The temporary bridge is in place between the service gate just passed Mythos to the Jurassic Park dock, for use when the Harry Potter stuff gets into the midways. The main ride building is enormous. They're gonna have to figure out a way to dress the back of the building, or hide it with more vegetation, because it's clearly visible from Jurassic Park.

We saw the Sinbad stunt show. Same actors we saw in November, and a year ago when I was there. That gig has gotta get boring. The princess has scary abs.

The studio park needs more sit-down restaurants, we think, but the truth is we've never really explored the food options there very well. I like to sit down and have food served at least once a day at theme parks. I think the Irish themed place across from The Mummy is sit-down, but I've never looked hard enough.

They were putting up an enormous light rig on the street around there. It was very impressive, but no idea what it was for.

Overall, we had a really good time. I think we spent around five hours in the park the first two days, then two or three on Saturday and Sunday, which is when we were traveling to and from The Villages to visit mom.

I ended up having to buy another annual pass for me, because mine expired, and like an idiot, failed to realize that the cheap seven-day pass on the Internet has to be bought more two days prior. I bought the cheap one with the black-out dates, so maybe we'll take a quick hit in November during IAAPA so I can at least get my money's worth. Generally speaking, I've had my fill for a little while, though I look forward to the new coaster and Harry Potter stuff late next year. IAAPA week is gonna be all about the rat.

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Saturday, June 14, 2008 12:50 AM
"They were putting up an enormous light rig on the street around there. It was very impressive, but no idea what it was for."

Gay Days party after hours on Sunday night...

Why is that Sea World and Universal can't figure admissions out?? its just painful especially after walking into Disney.

(Warning- Spoilers for Simpsons)

I agree on Simpsons- very fun with all of the inside jabs on parks in the area.. (the wet and smokey stunt show, shamu etc)

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