Just Published: Theme Park Insider: 2016 Year in Review
Here we are, on the road in Orlando during the absolute worst week of the year to visit the Central Florida theme parks – the week between Christmas and New Year's. I used to work this week, as a cast member at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, and every year I was amazed at the massive number of people who would cram into the parks, enduring hour-long waits for the attractions that rarely merited a single queue stanchion the rest of the year.
I'm violating all my advice by even thinking about visiting a park here this week. But with Laurie and I teaching, school vacations are now the only time we can get away. And with a new niece to meet among my Orlando-area relatives, here we are at Christmas.
But which park to visit?
Yeah, we went to IOA – Universal's Islands of Adventure. I knew better than to attempt the Magic Kingdom at Christmas. And since I wanted to spend only one day at a park this trip, due to our family visits, that knocked out the rest of the Disney parks. (We don't have any leftover Disney tickets, and I didn't want to invest in a new set of multi-day tickets with Natalie being 9, and needing to upgrade to an adult ticket the next time we visit.) If Disney still sold one-day tickets at a reasonable price, we'd likely have gone to Animal Kingdom, but Disney's “all or nothing” ticket philosophy left us looking at Universal or SeaWorld instead. And my six-year-old son's obsession with Spider-Man sealed it for IOA.
Now I know that Robert's Single Most Important Piece of Theme Park AdviceTM is to get to the park at opening. But IOA's 8 a.m. open today was 5 a.m. to west coasters like us. So I grudgingly conceded to my family a more realistic departure time of 9 a.m. from our Celebration Hotel.
I'm glad I did. For it turns out that, unlike Disney, Universal's a piece of cake on a rainy morning the day after Christmas. Arriving at 9:30, we walked up to our choice of waiting ticket booths. Inside the park, we found posted wait-times of five minutes (!) for Spider-Man, Hulk, Dragons, and Do-Right.
Are you kidding me?
I abandoned our plan to start in Seuss Landing and steered us left to walk on to The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man instead. Thanks to a helpful assist from employee Jessica, we avoided a bathroom disaster, and knocked off our number one priority for the day immediately. As much as Laurie and I loved Spidey, we sensed the kids were a little rattled by the ride, so we decided to head back to Seuss Landing for our next ride.
In quick order, we hit The Cat in the Hat, both sides of the High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride, strolled through the Street of the Lifted Lorax, took a few pictures with Thing One and the Cat, then strolled over to Lost Continent for a quick ride on the Flying Unicorn, Natalie's first coaster and still her favorite ride anywhere.
Brian and Laurie walked ahead to the Camp Jurassic playground, where Natalie and I caught up with them and hung around for a while.
After that, we backtracked to Mythos for our scheduled lunch. The readers of a certain website keep recommending Mythos to me, so I figured I just had to check it out again. (Review to follow tomorrow.)
By the time we finished lunch, after 1 p.m., the crowds had arrived, though we didn't encounter a wait of more than 30 minutes all day. We rode the Caro-Seuss-El, the Cat in the Hat (again) and double-backed over to the Toon Lagoon.
Despite the moderate lines elsewhere, the cold, overcast weather kept everyone from the queues for Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls and Popeye & Bluto's Bilge-Rat Barges. Brian (“Um, I don't want to get wet...”) and Laurie begged off, so Natalie and I walked on both with no sign of any other visitors.
And, oh, did we get wet. While the theming of the Dudley Do-Right flume ride does not match the consistency of Disney's rival, Splash Mountain, Dudley clearly wins for a more enjoyable ride, with what seems a smoother double dip at the climax. Sitting alone in our log, I took the full blast of the wave after the final drop, while a squirt cannon around the bend quieted the trash-talking Natalie.
Fully soaked already, we hit Bluto's, confident we couldn't get any wetter.
But we did. This tub raft ride soakes its riders in every way imaginable, with waves, splash back, cannons, charges, streams and dumps coming from what seemed every direction. Dripping, Natalie and I waddled back to meet Laurie and Brian, before calling it a day with a second trip on Spidey.
More than a dozen rides, a leisurely lunch, and no waits of more than 30 minutes all day. I guess it is possible to have a thrilling, headache-free day at an Orlando theme park during Christmas week.
I just had to go to Universal.
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