Our trip to Universal IOA also included a prep day at City Walk. With "Raiders of the Lost Ark" returning to AMC theaters in IMAX (albeit not true IMAX) I couldn't resist going to see it. After the movie plans were made to meet an old friend for dinner (and drinks - ZING!) at one of City Walk's cheesily theme eateries. Between the movie and dinner I decided to go ahead and pickup our internet purchased IOA tickets at the will call booth. (This was done to avoid any possible wait at the gate the following morning) My friend made a slight mix up between the Los Angeles and Orlando City Walks. The original dinner suggestion wasn't actually in Orlando. So we ended up at Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville. Simple food, simple drinks. Nothing too spectacular.
The following morning was a not so early start. With the park not opening until 9AM, there was no rush out of the bed before the sun was up feeling. A casual 730AM wake-up call to enjoy the hotel's breakfast. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express on Major Blvd for two nights and their breakfast includes pancakes (from a weird machine), eggs, sausage, biscuit, cereal, bagels, juices, coffee, tea, danishes & donuts. We left the hotel at 8:15AM, parked at 8:25AM, and at the gate at 8:45AM.
As we await the gates to open, we discuss a game plan for the day. My wife had a suspected broken pinky toe from someone stepping on her foot the previous day during lunch at Earl of Sandwich - our only Disney stop - so we knew our pace would be a bit slower for this park. Lockers, rides, food, etc.
We packed a bag with clothing for the water rides that we stowed away in an all day access locker for $8. That was our first stop. Second stop, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Past the port of entry and to the right we passed through the Seuss area, Lost Continent and then there was the Hogwarts Express awaiting us. A pleasant site to see and the theming and decor is astounding. Our first ride was Dragon Challenge, wait time 5 minutes. However, it took nearly 10 minutes to walk the entire queue. We waited for one train because we wanted the front row, but it was essentially a walk on. The ride was quick, a little jerky, but a nice view of construction for the apparent express train to Gringotts.
From there we retrieved our smaller belongings from the FREE while you ride locker and headed over to Forbidden Journey, placing these items back into a free ride locker. The queue wait time was 20 minutes. Again, this queue walk started off like Dragon Challenge, a long walk through a seemingly empty queue. After the conservatory area the line started backing up, yet kept moving at a decent pace. With the load platform being continuous the line in theory never stops, except when guests want to take in these amazing details of the queue. And when ride operators hold the line in the seating instruction room.
The details in the queue are amazing. Dumbledore's office is gorgeous and Ron's poor attempts at casting a spell are wonderful. But the truly greatest effect in the queue are the paintings. The moving paintings look exactly like an oil painting.
And then onto the ride. Having never been on a robotic arm ride, I was a bit worried if my slight motion sickness would be able to handle it. I can't do motion simulators (Star Wars) or teacup style rides. But the arm movement is paced gently and you are so immersed into the motion sims that you can't notice you are in a machine.
The technical specs of this ride are amazing, moving between sets and motion sims. I won't go much into the story line since that's been handle many times over, but I was extremely pleased with the high quality of this ride.
After Forbidden Journey, we rode the Hippogriff coaster (meh) and experienced Olivanders (not worth a wait over 20 minutes). Then it was time for Butter Beer. Having recently decided to stop drinking soda, I had to have a cheat moment.
After Harry Potter, we went through Jurassic Park and Toon Lagoon to Marvel Island. Spiderman was awesome. Was very happy to finally be able to ride an attraction that has been praised so highly by so many people. Hulk coaster was wonderful and that inclined launch was a first experience for us.
After doing most of the dry rides, it was time for the wet ones. I had been warned by reviews and friends that IOA's water rides are not "you will get wet", they are "you will get soaked!" We returned to our all day locker and changed into bathing suits and flip flops. First stop, Popeye's - a raft ride that starts with a 3' wave drop. If you leave the turntable backwards, you will be wet immediately. No one on our raft escaped the water. Even the foreign couple that spent too much time drying their seat before sitting down - which caused the turntable to stop since they couldn't load the boat before departure.
This was followed with Ripsaw Falls - the longest wait of the day at 30 minutes. I've never had more mouthfuls of water on a water ride. Exciting screams on drops that get filled from splash water. And then lets not forget the mist fountain spray you go through on the final drop.
Finally Jurassic Park was the last of the water rides. If the first half of LA's version could be combined with the 2nd half of Orlando's I think that would be best. I really enjoyed the fact that here the T-Rex appears very early on and makes a dive to the boat as the drop begins.
Changing back into our dry clothes we had lunch, did some shopping, and try to figure out the end of our day. Sadly we didn't get to Mythos as we thought we could save that for dinner, but they closed at 4pm. We had lunch at Cafe 4 - and it was just your standard fare as theme parks go.
Poseidon's Fury was up next. This show is nothing more than a special effects show, but with a mediocre story. This could use an update to the video technology. The film is very dated, almost to the extent of watching Captain EO. However the effect from "Room 2" to "Room 3" is amazing. I always love illusions/tricks like that.
We casually enjoyed some of the smaller things in IOA next: Jurassic Park discovery center, Hogs Head - yes I drank a beer. And since alcohol is such a hot topic I will say this about Hogs Head - the domestic beer of choice is Yuengling. There is no Budweiser or Coors. The remaining selection are imports, mostly British. As long as your in park restaurants offer alcohol, they should adhere to the theming. I didn't ask for a drink menu and not sure if there is one, but I'm sure that it would have listed British style cocktails.
We finished up with a little more shopping in Hogsmeade and a ride on the train in the sky. It was a full day in the park together which is something we have never done before. Our last WDW trip we stayed on sight so leaving for an afternoon nap was easy. Plus they had longer hours.
All in all, a wonderful full day at IOA. I skipped over the main park since I work in the film/tv industry and that style of park bores me.
I also want to state that this was the start of the off season. I know that Robert has mentioned many of the added benefits of staying on site - free parking, front of line included - which may be a good thing in the peak season. But during this slow time, we stayed off site (5 min away) and purchased tickets online. I researched staying on site, but wasn't willing to add nearly $500 to my vacation.
ButterBeer is Great!!
And remember, that cost isn't just the ticket price. It would've been parking, hotel, and meals.
I also think the two restaurants in the park are worthy of higher praise. Not to mention the new Cinematic Spectacular. Perhaps not worth a whole day's visit, but definitely a one-day two-park ticket.