Islands of Adventure, Orlando, Florida, USA
If you are a guest of a Universal Studios hotel, you receive admission to the parks an hour before the general public is admitted. This is exceptionally helpful for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal's Islands of Adventure. While you do not get to skip the lines for Harry Potter with the Universal Unlimited Express pass that is also free to their own hotel guests, using the hour early park perk makes skipping the line unnecessary (if you can haul your butt out of bed and get over to the park at the ungodly hour of admission...a little difficult on vacation sometimes). I'm not going to go into too much detail about the park itself because it has been done. I will say that I was again blown away by the detail in this park, and that I'm still awestruck whenever I go there at how everything is so "larger than life". Yes, it still feels more like a typical amusement park than any of the Disney parks, but it is definitely the "coolest" park I've been to. I heard someone describe it as Vegas for kids, and that kind of fits.
So...Harry Potter...what can I say about Harry Potter's island? How about TOTALLY AWESOME!! YES, I'M YELLING IN ALL CAPS!!! I can't wait for the expansion because the area itself is very small, but what they did, they did beyond compare. Employees are pretty good at staying in character in directing the "Muggles" here and there. Many of the storefronts are just fronts, which is kind of a bummer (it would be cool to be able to buy some of the evil artifacts at Borgin & Burke's--I'm not sure if that is the correct name...can never remember that one), but the shops they do have are a lot of fun. If you're there and go to the Owlery, observe the Monster book in the cage. Be GLAD it is in the cage (I wonder how many Muggles they made absolutely screech at that book...I am guilty of it). Flight of the Hippogriff isn't a bad little junior coaster, although I honestly think this is the most underwhelming theming in the section.
Then there is the Hogwarts castle and the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride. Getting to the park at a little after 7 a.m., we got on the ride with barely any, if any noticeable waiting. The only snafu occurred at the beginning of the entrance, where they direct you to lockers. The wizard at the beginning of the ride directed everyone to the front room of lockers. It was a madhouse because she forgot to mention there were two other rooms of lockers, so everyone thought they had to go to the first room. Utter chaos ensued. We managed to get a locker though, and then we were off on the (unfortunately) speedy walk through the castle and greenhouse. The first few turns through the castle are unremarkable, with only some doors that say "Potions Classroom" and stuff like that. Then you really start getting into the whole thing at the greenhouse. If you don't have to wait in line at the top of the greenhouse, you may miss the screaming plants featured in the films, but they are there. The next level of the castle is just brilliant. The statues are gigantic, the house points system is just like in the movies, and it only gets better as you proceed. Really, Hogwarts is an adventure in itself, with no need to do the ride if you get sick on rides (probably not an issue for anyone here). Just go through the queue and ask them to exit you out before the ride, and they are more than happy to do so. And the paintings!!! So very cool. I don't know how they did it, but they made the moving paintings look just like the movies. People occasionally even exit their paintings just like in the movies. Dumbledore's chambers are exquisitely detailed, and although Dumbledore is a hologram, it is a damn good hologram. There is even a part occasionally where Ron manages to make it snow inside the castle (although we had to ride four times to see this).
Then there is the ride itself: Just brilliant, as Harry and the gang would say. The ride is both animatronic and movie screens, but they are blended very seamlessly. The screens are a bit grainy, and I don't know why this is, but this is an absolutely trivial point compared to the amazing, stupendous, fantastic, unforgettable, totally epic adventure that is HPatFJ. My husband is an artist and found a few things that he nitpicked about, but even with those, he was just as blown away. I will admit there were times that were reminiscent of my first Universal trip where had I had friends with me, I would have been busted for screaming my head off like a little kid. I'm absolutely thrilled and enchanted with this ride. 10/10
After a re-ride (and by the way, the souvenirs in Filch's are almost all available at other stores in Universal, but not all. If you see something you like there, I would buy it. Getting back into that area and purchasing something may be a line of epic proportions in itself), we wanted to get some Butterbeer and do some more leisurely shopping, but the park had opened to the general public at this point, and WWOHP was jam packed. On a later date, we did another two rides in the castle and got a frozen Butterbeer in a nice freezable collector mug (delicious, but not something you can have more than one of without going into sugar shock).
Of note: Dragon Challenge is STILL not racing. Dbags gotta ruin it for everyone. Hubby felt a little sick on the red dragon, so we did not do the blue side. Without the racing component and with the ride open so early in the day, it didn't seem to run as fast and forceful as I remember. 8/10.
I did not re-ride Hulk at IOA. The awesome first half in no way makes up for the lackluster and quite rough second half, and hubby was in no shape to take another B&M coaster on. No great loss, I say, though I would have liked to take at least one lap on it to see if a different seat further up in the front would have made a difference in smoothness.
Spiderman: The redo of this ride's visuals to HD video makes a huge difference. I didn't notice nearly the amount of inability to focus on something, the colors seemed much more brilliant, and the grainy quality evident at HP was nowhere in evidence here. I read a review of the Harry Potter that said HPatFJ was a Spiderman killer. No way. They're two very different rides, and I still adore Spiderman. 10/10.
The X-Men teacup ride in the cartoon section is fantastic. Cars that actually spin like crazy, a little story behind the ride, and a nice long ride cycle all make this a great cup of tea. No rating because how do you rate a tea cup ride? Thumbs up!
I saw a shirt at the Hulk souvenir stand that said, "Are you a screamer?" with little stick figures riding a coaster with their hands up on a yellow caution sign background. I thought I would go back and buy this, but apparently it was a Hulk stand only item. Again, buy your items when you see them.
Jurassic Park River Adventure: Okay, so I never made it past the coasters and Spiderman the last time I was at IOA. I had one day to hit the highlights at two parks, so I wasn't even aware Jurassic Park was there. I thought it was a new ride!! Jurassic Park is one of many rides at Universal/IOA that my husband and I felt was sort of incomplete. You are loaded into water rafts that are supposed to go through a nice tame tour of the veggiesauruses (veggiesauri?) that inhabit the riverbanks. Something goes wrong, and your boat is lead into the velociraptor holding areas of Jurassic Park. I loved the raptor sneaking through the woods, and there were little ones fighting back and forth over a shredded, blood spattered JP uniform. Then you get into the raptor containment center, and there are spitters and the scariest, most realistic looking T-Rex you've ever seen getting ready to eat you. All this was great, but I kinda felt, and my husband agreed, that it seems like Universal blew their wad on that pants-wetting inducing T-Rex. Everything else seemed too rushed and/or too spaced apart to keep the pacing of the ride on a steady climb upwards (or downward, actually). Still really liked it. 8/10.
Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls: This ride was uncomfortable, pretty jerky and bumpy at times, and uncomfortable in the way they make you sit. I never saw Dudley Do-Right, but I have a feeling it was pretty funny. The ride was just okay. There are other flumes I like much better, though of course, the theming was great. 6/10.
That is all for now. More in a little bit. I'm spent.
"Look at us spinning out in the madness of a roller coaster" - Dave Matthews Band
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