Monday, December 29, 2014

Ten things I learned about Universal Studios at Xmas Time

1. Logic- specifically my logic- would dictate that two days before Xmas should be a great time to go to a theme park. People are traveling to get to family; they are baking and decorating dead foliage; they are wandering shopping mall parking lots trying desperately to remember where they left their cars. They are doing whatever it is that people that are into celebrating Xmas do. They are not dragging their families to Orlando to go on kiddie rides and roller coasters.

Unless they are. My reasoning, which even with the benefit of hindsight still seems sound to me, was way off. I don't know who these people are or how they normally celebrate their holidays but there certainly were a lot of them. I don't think you could have fit one more person into either Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure. Not even a skinny one. Or a midget. Or a skinny midget.

Both parks were at peak capacity.  There were lines for the rides.  There were lines for the restaurants.  There were lines for the bathrooms. There were lines to get into the lines. It was madness.  Theme parks know no reason or logic and it was foolish of me to try to apply some.
2.  If you stay at one of the Universal properties you do get a brief reprieve.  By virtue of your room key, you are granted access to the park an hour before it opens to the common folks. As far as I can remember the key is not scanned.  You just present your ticket and wave the key in the air as you run through the gate.  This is why I am saving my key until the end of time.  As with everything, there is a slight catch.  Only the Harry Potter and Minions rides are open at that time, meaning everyone makes a mad dash to the far side of the park to get on the wizard one.  The result is a beautifully empty park. Enjoy this because it does not last.

3.  Speaking of boy wizards, I wondered if I would get anything out of all the Potter hoopla since I have never read the books or seen the films.  I briefly considered trying to get caught up on the franchise but once I realized there were approximately 99 Harry Potter movies, I quickly abandoned the idea.  Both parks have a Potter themed area and are connected by a Potter themed train. On either side you can board a Potter themed ride.  They have doubled and tripled down on all things Potter. Yet, even without the benefit of any clue as to what any of it means, I found all of it to be very cool and trippy.  That said, I am sure I did not get as much out of it as the swarms of people, both children and adults, dressed in Hogwarts jackets and maniacally waving wands in the air.

An optical illusion makes it look like you are walking through a wall when traveling between the Potter worlds.

4.  The park is more adult friendly than I imagined. Not only were there plenty of grown-ups disguised as British school children, it often seemed like we, the more mature set, were the ones enjoying the park the most. From the number of exhilarating height-restricted roller coasters to the various nostalgia-inducing fantasy lands- do kids even read Dr. Seuss or watch the Simpsons these day?- a lot of the park seemed to be designed with grown-ups in mind.  This came as a very welcome surprise to me.  I'd expected to be dragged from one kiddie ride to the next but instead found myself excitedly running from coaster to coaster.

5.  Another nod to 21 and over set was the ample availability of alcohol throughout the park.  It was not just the standard Bud, Bud Light either.  There are specially brewed beers on tap.  That the Simpsons area would have Duff beer is a no-brainer, but there also a couple of Potter Ales that were not half bad.

6. To get to the beers or the rides or the lockers before the rides or just about anything else, there was, as I mentioned, a line.  There is no getting around this.  You can try.  There is a "fast pass" that can be purchased that is supposed to whiz you onto the ride.  It is easy to tell who has purchased these passes.  They are the ones standing in the other line,  the one which is moving only slightly faster than the regular one.  

You need a secret weapon.  You need my friend's daughter, Kelly.  That kid is the theme park whisperer.  Armed with an annual pass and countless visits, she is intuitively plugged in to the rhythm of the park and knows precisely where the crowds will be.  Using this instinct, she was successfully able to navigate us to the shortest lines and onto the rides in the least amount of time.  I am trying to convince my friend to pull her daughter out of school and rent her out as a park guide.  Her trip advisor ratings would be off the chart. The kid would make a killing.

7.  Intuition aside, she did have her tricks.  She frequently checked in on an Android app that is continuously  being updated with the wait times for each ride.  The times are determined via check-ins from other users, a fact which leads me to conclude that our fellow park-goers were a bunch of lying liars who lie.  There were way too many instances where the times reflected on the app were completely at odds with the reality before us.  Overall, it is a useful tool as it does give you an idea as to which are the more popular rides but it is by no means foolproof.

8.  Even our park whisperer could only do so much.  When faced with the reality of an overly packed park, she would lead us down the line for "single riders".  I had never heard of this before but I can now say that single riders is the best thing ever.

The lone rider fills in empty seats when a family does not have enough people to occupy up an entire row on any given ride.  By being selfless enough to agree to ditch your own family and ride with someone else's, you are led straight to the front of the line.  This does mean that you also miss the waiting areas, where the lines snake in and out of, which can be a shame because a lot of those are really well done but when the difference is 10 minutes versus an hour, I can do without.

9.  The rides themselves are not very long.  The majority are motion-simulation rides with 3d effects thrown in, but there are also some scream-worthy thrill rides.  I would guesstimate that the average length of a ride is around 2-3 minutes.  My favorite, Dr.  Doom's Fear Fall, is way short of that, clocking in at about 30 seconds. I can't imagine what the lines would be like if the rides were actually longer.

10.  If you are going to try to go to both parks on a one day pass, you've got to be ready to put in a lot of hours.  Thankfully, this is possible because the park, at least on the day that we were there, was open until 9pm.  Right around dinnertime, people begin to leave the park, giving the more determined amongst us the opportunity to ride the attractions that had been too crowded throughout the day.

It was in this manner that we were able to ride the Fear Fall- twice!- without waiting in any line whatsoever.  In fact, armed with Kelly the wonderchild, an iffy app, a willingness to ride as single riders and fourteen hours of park time, we rode over 15 rides (3 of them twice) plus one train (twice). The longest we waited was 30 minutes for the newest Potter ride, which may sound like a lot but given that it was the holidays and people were not subscribing to my logic one bit (see #1), I would say this was pretty darned impressive.

1 comment:

  1. I used the same logic when taking my family on a cruise once. My boys were in their teens, and I thought there wouldn't be any little kids along, since they'd all be home waiting for Santa to put the presents under the tree. Unless, of course, Santa doesn't bring presents to your family whether because you celebrate Chanukah, Eid, or nothing in particular. The ship was overrun with little kids. Ah, well, a learning experience.