Universal Orlando Old and New

Hello All!

I was about to start Day 5 of our little Holiday Adventure when I realized I could only do this piece properly by taking you on a little trip back in time first.

Set your Wayback Machine to October of 2002, a decade earlier than this adventure. We had planned a big family vacation to Georgia where my family is along with a drive to Florida where my great aunt has an oceanfront apartment and where we also wanted to do some theme parking.

We visited with family for a week in Georgia and had a nice time. Then my fam and my mom packed up and drove to Destin, Florida on the gulf coast. The apartment our family has use of is very cool being right on the beach in a hi-rise complex. My great aunt keeps it fully stocked other than perishables and has an updated sign-up sheet. You just have to pick a time with decent notice so she can send you the keys.

We’ve only used it that once but it was a lot of fun. We even had a front row seat to Hurricane Lili as it stormed across the gulf on its way to Louisiana!

Heres a shot of the girls and I having fun in the water

After out time there we packed up and hit the road for Orlando. Now you may think that for the girls first big theme park experience that Disney would have been a no-brainer. But my little ladies were only 3 and 6yrs old at the time.

I did a bunch of research before the trip on which parks offered the most rides & kid activities for their height range. The info came back with more rides at Universal. Adding that to the price difference and the limited timeframe of 2 days we were going to have to give the Mouse a pass this time.

We made pretty good time and checked in at our hotel which had been provided by my mom. Unfortunately due to a logistical snafu she got us a hotel basically at the front door to WDW. So every morning we had to jump on I-4 and drive past the Disney exits and on to Universal. Go figure.

Our first day we went straight to Seuss landing, which the girls loved. First stop was to take a ride on a little cow bug thing.

PumpkinGirl on the egg

They rode the Seuss Go Round several times

Then it was on to the Cat in the Hat ride I think we ended up riding that one at least 10 times

Onto the Lost Continent and PumpkinGirl met up with Princesses and Sorceresses

No Wizarding World back then so we walked past what was then called the Twin Dragons and rode what was then the little Unicorn coaster.

Next up was Jurassic Park and a meeting with a big beasty!

We watched a baby dinosaur hatch which the girls were amazed by. Then we moved on to River Adventure. Here we had a big meltdown as wee little Bean was too short to ride it :-[

I stayed with her while the rest of the fam took the ride

Then Roxy and I switched out and I rode it with my mom and PumpkinGirl. Bean was distraught over missing that ride for the rest of the trip and basically for the following decade – lol.

We came into Toon Landing and she was consoled by Olive Oil

We did the water rides and moved on to Marvel Island. At that time Spiderman was a very new ride so the lines were loooong. We braved it once or twice I think and moved on back to Seuss Landing the girls needed more Cat in the Hat. We also took a ride on One Fish Two Fish.

A ride attendant was nice enough to take a pic of the whole fam

Day 2 brought us to Universal proper. On our way we took a moment to hang ten

In the park PumpkinGirl had a run-in with Doc Brown

Then it was on to Barney and Friends. I have to show the girls the evidence to prove that A) They liked Barney and B) They actually liked to wear pink at some point in their lives!

Then it was on to the E.T. Ride. Bean fell in love with this ride in a big way and we ended up riding it 7 or 8 times total. Here we are in line, aren’t they cute?

On down the set streets we came across the Ghostbusters car!

And a car more the girl’s size

Somewhere in here we did Earthquake, T2, King Kong, and Jaws no pics from them apparently.

On past them was the Back to the Future ride (now The Simpsons) including the DeLorean

From there we of course headed to Men in Black, which we rode several times. I remember actually getting a tech call and helping through a network/server issue on the phone to work while in line for that one.

Our day wound down with a trip back towards the front and some great character interactions

As you can see the Rugrats were still big at this point in time

Hey look, its SpongeBob!!!!

We always left as soon as it started getting dark as they were doing the Halloween Horror Nights stuff and it freaked out the girls. I remember us being offered free jello shots by zombie schoolgirls on our way out that last night.

We had two full fun days there and a nice extended visit with my mom. We went back to the hotel that night for showers and sleep, and got up the next day for the long drive back to Atlanta and our flight home.

I remember that flight was the last time in my life that I flew on a plane that actually had empty seats. It was a 747 and the last dozen rows were open so we were able to literally lie down and take naps on the flight from there back west.

So here we are, literally a decade later. Now Roxy and I had been there the previous April as part of my birthday trip so we knew the lay of the land. But the girls were REALLY chomping at the bit to get back to their first real theme park and of course experience The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. So brace yourselves for my next installments reflecting our family’s return to Universal – w00t!

Thanks for joining me on my little trip back in time! Oh, and as a little statistical aside, this post brings our pic count over 1,000!!!!

So as you know we came in late the night before (technically that morning) from MVMCP and the family slept until nearly 10am. I got up a bit earlier, maybe 9am and went down to the food court, grabbed breakfast, and tinkered with photos. When the ladies woke up I took their breakfast orders and brought them back to the room.

I had set a 10:25am pick-up for MEARS but was set to bump that to 11:25am if needed. But the family, Bean included, were energetic and ready to hit Universal! So down we went to the pick-up area for MEARS and took our ride to the park. We stopped at the Caribbean Beach resort to pick up a couple more passengers and I snapped a quick pic of the great wreath they had at that entrance

We did the big drive to Universal and pulled in around 11:15am. After unloading ourselves and waiting for Roxy’s ECV to get pulled out from the cargo hold underneath we hit the elevator on up. It brings us right to the security checkpoint, which went fast and off we went on the moving sidewalks.

Well the girls and I on the moving sidewalks

And Roxy zooming along beside us that ECV could get up and move!

As we went along I caught a quick pic of the monster house on the put-put course beneath the sky bridge. Very reminiscent of Grus house in my opinion.

Yay, we made it!

Coming in we stopped at the big wave

By comparison here’s that pic from 10 years previous at the same spot. I think the old wave looked a lot cooler than the one they have now. My how PumpkinGirl has grown though!

We would of course be repeating our route from that last time and made a beeline for Islands of Adventure

We went to guest services and picked up our park tickets and meal deal tickets for the three days we would be spending here. For anyone contemplating it I highly recommend the meal deal there, only $20 per person per day for all you can eat at 3 Quick Service-style restaurants in each park.

As you can see the crowds were very low coming into the market area

The market area had some great prop vehicles to pose on and the girls were actually motivated to pose in them!

Bean liked the leopard

I had tried to get a panorama of this area last time and didn’t have the right angle for it to look good. This time turned out a lot better. See if you can spot the oddity in the picture ;-]

More fun pics on prop vehicles

And there it was Seuss Landing!

The girls probably werent quite as excited about this island as they were last time, but they were still happy

It was Christmas-time in Whoville

Including a sleeping Who!

The girls then ran into some more energetic Whos to frolic with!

The Whos got the girls together for a picture

And then some more Whos showed up!

And even more!

The got together and sang a song from the Grinchmas show

We watched for a minute and then moved on  the icees looked good

Ye ole Cat in the Hat ride

We had decided on the bus over that we would breeze through Seuss Landing and The Lost Continent to get to the Wizarding World before it got too crowded so on we went!

I loved all the curves in this place – and such a nice Christmas feel

One of the themed restaurants on the dining plan – Circus McGirkus Cafe Stoopendous

And beyond the main street of Whoville

Hello Mr. Lorax

I loved the Horton-styled elephants outside the circus

We headed down the street

And caught their version of the people mover ride going overhead

On to the Lost Continent!

We rolled along until we came to the fountain. The girls saw how wet it was and knew something was going on

But they were still game for a posed pic in front of it ..hehehe

Nothing happened so I told them to give me a “thumbs-up”

Here it comes!

Ain’t I a stinker?

So after about 3 years of seeing commercials for it, AND having to deal with the fact that their own parents went there without them the year before, our darling daughters were finally standing in front of the gates to Hogsmeade Village

The first stop was an enthusiastic interaction with the conductor of the Hogwarts Express

The ladies then moved along and spotted Zonkos and had to check it out

Roxy and I stayed outside while they explored the shops. The village was getting a bit more crowded

Roxy with the Express

The Express itself

Meanwhile Bean snapped a couple of pics of PumpkinGirl trying on a wizard hat

The ladies were ready for some action so they all headed up to the Dragon Challenge. If you want some cool pics of it check out my birthday Trip Report, I took a bunch.

But in this case I guarded Roxy’s scooter and our stuff while they took the big ride. They rode it twice and then came back down to check out some of the false storefronts. I wish more of these were real stores/exhibits we could explore.

Bean sure wanted to check them out in more detail

We were really bummed out that they were not doing the Durmstrang and Beauxbatons acrobatics/dance or the Frog Choir anymore. The girls had been looking forward to seeing that. They did however get to do a photo op with them

Then we were on to the Big Event! It was time for Harry Potter and The Forbidden Journey! We made quick time up the path, I snapped a shot of the school on the way in

It was a mere 15 minute wait and again, I didn’t take many pictures since we took so many the last time and we just wanted to RIDE! We rode it twice in a row and the girls LOVED it! They were very content at this point but we were all getting both hungry and thirsty, and in need of a bathroom break.

We doubled back to the village and the girls checked out the Moaning Myrtle-themed bathrooms while I got them butterbeer from the Boar’s head. That is a handy tip for any travelers wanting a Butterbeer if the lines are long for the stands outside, you can get your fill in the Boar’s Head!

The girls liked the Butterbeer well enough but now we were REALLY HUNGRY! We headed towards Jurassic Park and the Burger Digs (one of the other meal deal restaurants). On the way out I snapped pics of the ladies in front of Hogwarts

Butterbeer and Hogwards pics in the can it was now time

*cue the music*


? bah-badah…bah-badah …bah-badah-ba-ba …bah-badah-ba-ba! ?

It was around 2:30pm and we were starving so we made a beeline for The Burger Digs. We turned in our meal deal vouchers for the day and got our armbands and some grub.

With the armbands you get an entrée, side, and dessert. And you can go right back through for another round if you’re not full. We got our fill, Roxy and PumpkinGirl took some cold meds, and we headed downstairs to the Discovery Center.

We said hi to this guy on the way down

He has quite the grin

When the girls were here a decade ago we waited around for close to 45 minutes waiting for a dinosaur egg to hatch. Never saw it. The girls were really bummed. This time one hatched in no time

They were less enthused than we expected but oh well. Bean and I played the trivia game for a bit. Then we headed over to see the big guys.

Of course I have to flash back to our last time in front of them

I followed PumpkinGirl

And then Bean

They enjoyed manipulating the dinosaurs and ‘looking through their eyes’

Bean then moved on to creating herself as a dinosaur

We wrapped up our time in there and headed for the place that Bean had been waiting to see since she was 3 years old.

That’s right, we were on our way to The Jurassic Park River Adventure!!!!


PumpkinGirl was happy too by the way – lol

On to the doors

On in to the beasties – a big one

A small one

A couple of in between ones

We come back to see a couple of watery dinos

Then we made our “wrong turn” into troubled waters

Love these little guys

Even if they did eat Donald

Bean was intently watching

There be something in that box

And in that control booth

We finished that run and then went around again, this time with Roxy sitting it out and holding the camera for our big splashdown

Now the first time AND the second time we made it without getting wet. But Bean wanted to go ONE MORE TIME!

..and we ended up in the first row.

Here comes splashdown number 3!

We shook it off and headed down to the photo spot

Then it was on to Toon Lagoon. The first thing we saw was Ripsaw Falls – the girls were enthused!

After seeing the splash at the end of Dudley Do-Rights Ripsaw Falls the girls couldn’t wait to give it a shot. At this point all of our shirts were mostly wet so what more could we get on this, right? We went into the queue and I was amazed at exactly how long the queue was. But then I thought of all of those really hot days and how many people would use this as their cool-down and it made sense.

As it was we walked/jogged/ran through the maze and into the ride structure and on and on. Eventually we made it to the ride queue, which was empty except the attendants. We hopped on board and followed the story of Dudley and the rest of the crew.

I was impressed overall. Even though the ride itself is old, it is still the most involved log ride I’ve ever been on as far as twists and turns/ups and downs.

Not the level of storytelling of Splash but still very entertaining. And it ends with this plunge!

Roxy had been waiting patiently, taking pictures of every log that came down until ours showed up. Yay Roxy!

No worries about staying dry in this one!

The log then travels under the bridge separating Toon Lagoon from Jurassic Parks Island. On the far side of the bridge they have a series of stations where you can spray the riders. I got nailed in the ear by one well-placed shot from a guy standing up there.

Here we come after running that last gauntlet

We got off and went right back through the queue for one more run on it. Poor Roxy saw a group come down ahead of us and thought it was us so there are no pics of our second plunge. But here we are going around that last bend again.

And here is the end result 3 very waterlogged parkgoers!

Since we were already that wet it was a no brainer to just head onto Bluto’s Bilge Rat Barges. Roxy was again nice enough to act as our photographer for two runs in a row on it we didn’t even have to get off the barge in between rides :-]

And here is the end result of our watery fun

They had these People Dryers that you could pay $5 to have it blow hot air on you. We passed on that, but did go into the restroom and wrung out the excess water from our clothes. Then it was on down the lane of shops in Toon Lagoon.

A nice panorama of the area

More quiet spaces

Good Ole Popeye!

As you can see we pretty much had the place to ourselves.

PumpkinGirl stopped to have a quick thought about a friend

Go Betty Boop!

The girls take one last watery ride

By now it was 6pm and we were cold, wet, and hungry again. Fortunately we were right next to The Comic Strip Café, which had some nice Christmas touches

The place had a great selection of Oriental, Italian, and American fare. We ate our fill and I had a couple of red star Heinekens which were very nice after a long day of walking. We were still a bit on the cold and clammy side and by the time we finished up it was just after 7pm and time for park closing. I had us set for an 8:15pm MEARS pick-up instead of 7:15pm because I knew how far we had to walk and I had no intention on hurrying anywhere.

We left Toon Lagoon behind and headed down into Marvel Island, which we had basically to ourselves except for random park staff going about closing up shop.

There’s a chilly fellow

Family wandering

Rogue has quite the kick

Hello Spiderman

It was after 7pm but they still had attendants out front at the Spiderman ride. We asked and they said come on in! No line, no waiting, right onto the ride – we were the last ones to ride it for the night!

And I really like the re-make of it, especially the hot blasts of heat that get sent at you. Those were so welcome for the girls and I in our damp clothes! Once we got off I snapped a shot Wolverine, who was green for some strange reason

Empty streets

The girls checking out Doctor Doom’s Drop

Bean wanted to take a ride in the mock-up of some sort of police hover-vehicle

We came upon the marketplace, which was also a ghost town. It looked very peaceful.

There was still some action across the lagoon

We found a motorcycle for the girls to pose on

Heading to the gates

The Island’s lighthouse looked very majestic

Another shot across the lagoon

Citywalk looked very colorful but also very empty – it was a Monday night after all

Is there a hotel up there?

We made our way the rest of the way out and back down the elevator to the MEARS pick-up area right at 8pm. The girls settled in and shared some music on PumpkinGirl’s iPod touch.

The bus was early and there weren’t many people with reservations so we were on the road pretty quickly. We were also the first stop once we made it back onto property so were at our room before 9pm.

We did the ritual of showers and bathroom stuff. I texted myself the last bit of my TR notes for the day and grabbed tomorrow’s mad money from the safe, the ladies took their cold meds, and to bed we all went. All heads were on pillows and asleep by 10pm.

Tomorrow would bring us back to Universal Studios proper. We were set for an 8:25am pick-up by MEARS but I assured the fam that if they wanted to sleep longer I could call in and bump it back.

Tune in next time for day 2 of our Universal side trip!