March 11, 2010

Our Day at Universal Studios (or No! I Don't Want a F***ing Picture! Get Out of My Face!)

Today was a break from the wonders of the Magic Kingdom. We were up early once again and outside waiting for our tour bus by 8:00 a.m. Once again the role of Creepy Bus Driver Guy was played by Philip Seymour Hoffman's brother, Hank. The unbelievable luck we have been experiencing this entire trip was still in place this morning, as well. We had been hoping we were going to be first in line for our bus so we could get the top front of the double-decker again. Unfortunately, we arrived to find a long line waiting for a regular-sized bus. So, we figured we would just sit wherever and get to Universal as best we could, no big deal. However, when we arrived at the front of the line, the lady bus driver stopped us and said her bus was full and that another one would be along in a minute. As a result, we found ourselves in the front of the line after-all, and, to top it all off, a big black double decker pulled up in front of us and out stepped Salvador Barta, our lovable driver from our trip to Sea World! Score! Tickets were taken and up we scrambled to our familiar top deck, front row seats. Double score!

The ride into Hollywood was pretty neat with all the recognizable sights and signage along the way. We saw the Hollywood sign and all that stuff which was pretty cool. Unfortunately, that's about where all the really memorable stuff from this excursion ends. Universal Studios was...how to put it...a fairly lacklustre affair overall. Kind of like Disneyland without the budget, friendliness, or joy. The difference between the two parks was immediately made clear the second we walked through the front turnstiles and were descended upon by a horde of camera-toting, blue-Universal-polo-shirt-wearing lackeys who were all but demanding that we let them take a picture of us in front of this sign or that building. This wouldn't have been so bad if it wasn't for the fact that we were hit by another wave of them just a few yards down the street. Again and again we were accosted by these guys (and girls) and it fast became old. It got the point where we would throw ourselves behind the nearest cotton candy stand whenever we saw a blue polo shirt in the distance.

In terms of the rides we had a couple of positive experiences starting with Shrek 4-D. Of all the 4-D attractions at any of the parks we visited, Shrek 4-D was the hands-down winner. It was kind of like all the humour and excitement in Universal Studios had been used-up on this show and there was none left for anywhere else in the park. Our hopes were pretty high after walking out of this one.

The next ride we hit was The Simpsons. I actually had no idea what kind of ride this was and it took us nearly a half-hour in line to find out. Turns out it was exactly the same deal as Soaring Over California at California Adventure. The only difference being that while you soar gently over California in one, in the other you careen with a vomit-inducing intensity over, around, under, and through Springfield. Kids loved it, April kept her eyes closed, and I almost threw-up. The whole experience was not improved by the fact that the kids who were operating the thing were surly and uncommunicative about where we were supposed to go and what we we supposed to do. Definitely not a score.

Next, we made our way down the seventy-five escalators to the lower level where our main objective was housed: Jurassic Park-The Ride! We were all looking forward to this one (except Chloe, who was nervous about the 84-foot drop at the end) and luckily we were able to just walk directly onto the ride. We prepared ourselves for the amazing animatronic dinosaur goodness we had read about on the internet all those months ago. Though it wasn't quite as good as we had envisioned, it was still pretty neat. Some second-rate mechanical dinosaurs populated a quite detailed Jurassic Park set and the T-Rex popping out just before we took the final plunge was appropriately scream-inducing. It really helped that we were able to just go around again and climb right back into a boat with no wait. The second ride was marred only by the failure of the T-Rex to pop out at the end. I'm not sure if this was a by-design randomness kind of thing, or a simple malfunction. Either way two go-rounds were enough for us.

For lunch we left the park proper and headed over to what they call the City Walk. This is essentially Universal's attempt to mimic Downtown Disney, with it's shops and restaurants, etc. We ended-up at the Hard Rock Cafe which was fine, but a little sad as we were served by a guy named John who was so obviously an out-of-work actor waiting tables to make ends meet. City Walk did provide me with my first souvenir of the trip: a Star Wars travel mug. Yay, me!

The afternoon was the classic Universal Studios Tram Tour. I remember this being very impressive when I was a kid. Things change, I guess. It was actually pretty lame, though the kids were impressed by the fact that some of the things on display had actually been used on screen. The earthquake set and, of course, Bruce the shark were impressive, but overall? Meh. After the tour I took off to the House of Horrors and April and the kids went to meet Shrek and Fiona. The House of Horrors was more like House of We Have the Opportunity to Make a Great Attraction but Instead Let's Only Present a Mediocre One. Other than the atmospheric recreation of Dr. Frankenstein's Laboratory, this was a giant miss. Too bad, it could have been great.


The last big show was Universal's Animal Actors which was pretty cute and provided Chloe an opportunity to meet the little white dog from The Proposal (which is now a medium-sized white dog).

After wading back through the sea of Universal picture-taking zombies, we ended-up waiting outside early for our beloved Salvador Barta to return because we couldn't muster the enthusiasm to be there anymore.

I know this post reads as a somewhat down and negative (and I know the kids had a much more positive experience than I did), but i guess there is just no substitute for the real thing!



Tomorrow: The Mouse Day 4: The Last Kick at the Magic Kingdom

Posted by Sean at 11:21 PM
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