I love watching people and working out what makes them tick. Nine times out of ten it’s out of curiosity rather than trying to locate the levers to influence them, and it can be a fun fantasy game to come up with a back story for someone and then seeing how wide of the mark I am. If nothing else it’s good practice for creating characters in my stories and games.
It probably comes as no surprise then that I’ve been paying attention to a few odds and ends while we’re out here and making some observations. I’ll bounce a few into the feed as we go:
The first is a small thing, but it amuses me. I’m making a point of being as unfailingly polite as possible and refining my accent where possible. Quite aside from the joy of the smiles this tends to bring, I’m enjoying watching the confusion when I thank them “very much” for their help/service/letting me on the bus.
For some reason this seems to short circuit the brain-mouth link, and I get a variety of suppressed splutters in response. The most common reply usually ends up being ” You’re, uh, um, very welcome?”
You don’t need to match my quantifiers, but thanks for playing 🙂
On our first visit to Universal Studios, we deliberately avoided going into the Harry Potter themed areas. Today we took it by storm. Split across both the main park and it’s daughter, The Islands of Adventure, Hogsmeade has this year been expanded to include Diagon Alley (and it’s shadowy counterpart: Knockturn Alley, which is concealed round the back).
We got there as early as we could after an alarm clock malfunction, and piled into Platform 9 and three quarters. The illusion of walking through the wall is cleverly done, and the journey, although brief, was entertaining.
The level of immersion presented is frankly jaw dropping. All staff are dressed appropriately and all seem to be huge fans, making the whole experience something like a huge fandom convention on steroids.
Lady M was in her element, excited and positively squealing in joy when the music we used for her wedding march (The Quidditch World Cup themes) was played in The Three Broomsticks while we had lunch.
Staff in the restaurant were amazed, and claimed she was the most excited person they’d met, which triggered blushes, more clapping, chattering and bouncing up and down.
We just had to try the drinks. Charleesi had butterbeer, while I went for the frozen version and Lady M had the pumpkin juice. They were incredibly sweet, and I certainly couldn’t have more than one. To be on the safe side I tanked up on water for the rest of our visit.
For food, we attempted the Feast, reasoning that three hungry Maidments could polish off a meal for four. We were wrong. Chicken, ribs, corn on the cob, brocolli, carrots, and potatoes with a mountain of salad were duly brought across to us.
It was delicious, though the chicken was just barely a touch on the dry side. The vegetables were perfectly al dente, and the rosemary on the roasted potato was just right. The ribs just melted off the bone and were just sticky enough, while the salad had a light citrus vinagrette that lifted it perfectly.
There was just too much to eat comfortably, so we conceded defeat before rolling back out to continue exploring.
The rides in Hogsmeade are great. We loved trying both the blue and red dragon rides as there were only five minute waits. Our favourite was the swooping blue dragon course.
The flight of the hippogriff ride was fast, along the lines of a runaway train ride, and the 3D immersion of Escaoe from Hogwarts actually had the girls screaming between the spiders and dementors. I’ll admit to shuddering a bit at the dementor attack too.
We browsed the shops a bit to pick out what we might like to get for family presents and then got back on the train to Diagon Alley. Different animations played on the journey back to the Universal Studios end of the track, keeping us distracted as we pointed them out to each other.
Then, a quick sidestep left out of the station into a concealed entrance and we were in the newest section. If we’d thought the immersion in Hogsmeade was pervasive then it had been taken up a notch for the Alley. There is no way to see the rest of the park from this area, and at roughly double the width and about one and a half times the length of the street set at the Watford studios, the main street just swallows the crowds.
When you factor in the side streets and the shops, you suddenly realise there’s a huge area associated with it. We’d heard that the queues for the Gringotts ride were still hovering around the three hour mark as a minimum so we’d decided not to try it this year, but then we saw the wait time listed as 75 minutes, so we just went for it.
A combination of rollercoaster and 3D projection, I just can’t stress how much fun it was. The Hogwarts ride felt longer, but the Gringotts immersion and effects are both superior, down to the animatronic goblins that glower at you while you queue and are very good likenesses of the original actors. Make the time to try this if you can.
Exhaustion was setting in by now, so we decided to call it a day and return tomorrow to finish it off. Frankly, Universal could close the two outer parks and still have enough with the Harry Potter material to keep it a multiday visit attraction.
Dinner was at the Grand Floridian and was a great close to the day. Or it would have been if we hadn’t got the boat across the lake back to the Magic Kingdom where we were just in time for the Electrical Parade and the closing Sound and Light, and Fireworks displays. A quick side trip for photos and a meet and greet with Mickey Mouse and Tinkerbell later, (no points for guessing that Lady M was rather excitable at this point) and we finally collapsed back at our hotel
Very slowly and reluctantly, we got up and started the next day, heading to Disney Hollywood Studios. For some reason some of the reviews we’d seen before coming out here had the place pegged as a half day park.
I’m not entirely sure they visited the same place we did. If they did, they must have done a couple of rides and missed the shows.
Our absolute favourite was the Aerosmith ride, which features a fast launch into a dark indoor rollercoaster with a loop pretty much the first thing you hit. It’s a great adrenaline ride, possibly the best one there.
The rest of the day we bounced between shows and explored. I’d been on the Paris Star Tours ride about ten years ago, so was curious to finally experience the updated ride. As a piece of immersive fun it ticks all the right boxes for me, and it was fun to go from that to The Muppets for a different kind of immersion.
Then, with the temperatures soaring, we got some more character photos, and debated calling it a day. The one criticism I’ll levy against the park is the irregularity of their air conditioning and use of fans. Hopefully this will get attention soon as it really detracted from the day’s enjoyment.
We only stayed on because we had Fastpass tickets to the car stunt show. Sadly, a thunderstorm swept in just as they had finished their first sequence and the show had to be abandoned.
We stayed in the grandstand to watch the spectacular weather from somewhere covered and grounded, at least until the wind changed to drive the rain horizontally into us.
That was the point we took staff advice and sheltered with other guests under the bleachers. As the rain eased off, we went into British tourist mode and walked out again, enjoying the reduced temperatures and decided to substitute our FastPass for a go on the new Toy Story ride instead.
This is well worth tracking down in the Pixar section. Its another shooter on rails ride, using 3D graphics to present animated targets as if you were playing in Andy’s toybox. Great fun, and being the competitive souls we were, it was tightly contested.
Dinner was at Bongos in Downtown Disney. I’ve never had Cuban cuisine before, so tried a taster dish that had highlights and more mundane flavours between the chicken, pork and beef and the dipping sauces. Service was so-so, especially when we didn’t order any alcohol (Lady M has an intolerance to rum that knocks her for six, and I’m limiting my alcohol while my doctor settles my new meds routines.
I don’t think we’ll be going back as the mediocre food and sensory overload detracted hugely from my enjoyment. I’ll try tracking down more Cuban restaurants when I’m back in London as I’m sure this wasn’t a representative experience.