Posted in: Food, Sightseeing

Universal Studios: Food

We stopped at the Leaky Cauldron for some food after riding Escape from Gringotts. We ordered a butterbeer ($7.99), a frozen butterbeer ($7.99), sticky toffee pudding ($7.49), and a scotch egg ($4.50). The butterbeer tasted a lot like butterscotch. The frozen butterbeer was similar to a slushy, and 3/4 of us liked the frozen butterbeer the best. The sticky toffee pudding was pretty good and was presented warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The scotch egg was ok. It came with a side of tomato (pico de gallo maybe) and a dipping sauce (mustard based). The breading had a flavor to it that I hadn’t had with a scotch egg before. It was $29.79 for the four items.

The window display of food does not make the food look very appetizing, but most of what we had tasted pretty good.

Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlor was our next treat in the day. We all shared a cone (they said they were out of cups). We got a waffle cone, which came with double scoops ($7.99). We got a scoop of the Earl Grey and Lavender and a scoop of the Chocolate and Raspberry. The Earl Grey and Lavender was a very delicate flavor, it wasn’t very strong. It was tasty though and different from what we would normally get. The chocolate and raspberry was also good, but it seemed like it was a chocolate ice cream with raspberry flavoring added in. I didn’t see any pieces of raspberry, and it had a slightly artificial taste to it.

We stopped in at Sugarplums and they had quite the candy/sweet collection of offerings. We went with the Cauldron Cake ($11+tax). It is a chocolate cake that comes in box and is served in a silicon cauldron (which you can keep and reuse to bake your own cauldron cake at home!). The cake wasn’t too bad, but the icing was a little fake tasting.

While the boys and I waited in line for the Twirl ‘n’ Hurl in the Simpsons area, Ben went to find the Flaming Moe ($11). The ride line wasn’t moving fast, so we left and joined Ben. The drink tasted like an orange soda and unlike the show’s version, is non-alcoholic. The cup had a bottom compartment with dry ice that creates the smokey effect once the drink is poured on top.

Towards the end of the afternoon, we stopped at Toothsome Chocolate Emporium. It is a really cool building on the outside. We bought a chocolate shot ($7.95, looks like a little chocolate cup), a Shamrock cocoa bomb ($10), and 3 candy bars ($4 each or 3/$10). We got the Cherry On Top, Dark Amaretto Coffee, and Mechanical Malt bars. The Chocolate shot was good and really cute with the gear base and handle. It was filled with a ganache. The whipped cream topping was not as good, and I didn’t eat all of it. The Cherry On Top chocolate bar had cherry jelly beans in it! Cherry and chocolate is always a good combo, and it was an ok texture combination once you got over the fact that there were jelly beans in your candy bar. The Dark Amaretto Coffee was one of my favorites, but it was grainier with small pieces of coffee beans. I would buy that one again. The Mechanical Malt bar was ok, not as strong of a malt taste as I was expecting. We tried to get a spot for dinner in Toothsome’s restaurant around 2:00pm and they were booked for the entire day. I did not see a way to make reservations on the app. However, there was a phone number listed on the app. I also found out later that if you went to the actual Universal website you could make reservations online.

We stopped at the Studio Store in CityWalk on our way out to pick up some Harry Potter Chocolate Frogs. They are solid chocolate, which makes for one heavy little frog! ($12 each or 3/$30)

In terms of amusement park food, it was good, although pricey.

Posted in: Sightseeing

Universal Studios: What We Rode, Waiting in Queues and Virtual Lines

We had made a Virtual Line time scheduled for Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon. For the Virtual Line, you selected an assigned time for your ride. You could do this on the Universal Studios app or at a kiosk near the ride. We did the app, so I’m not sure what the kiosk looks like. When we were there, the only rides with Virtual Lines were Race Through New York (in Universal Studios) and Hagrid’s Motorbike (over in Island of Adventure).

On our way over, it started to downpour. We ducked under an awning and
pulled out the ponchos. Our feet were still soaked, but the rest of us was
pretty dry. We presented the QR code to scan for entrance, walked down a
corridor, were giving a colored ticket, and were directed to a waiting room.
The waiting room did not have social distancing markers on the floor, but
people were pretty good about staying to their own groups. The overhead lights changed to matching ticket colors to announce your group. It was a 3D ride and also had really neat graphics.

The outdoor roller coasters had stopped running due to the rain, so we headed over to The Revenge of the Mummy. The queue lines were also nice decorated for this ride. There were several things to keep your eyes busy and a lot of it was inside, so we were dry and in air conditioning. However, the employees stationed along the queue lines on this ride did not enforce the social distancing rule at all. We saw a few people pulling their masks down and I asked people to back up several times. The markers were clearly placed on the ground, there was just no one enforcing it. This was our worst feeling at Universal, which was too bad because it was a neat looking area. Ben and I did not ride, but the boys did and enjoyed it.

When we were done, the outdoor rides were still closed and the other rides had quite a long wait. We headed over to the Men In Black ride, which had the shortest line. Once again, the queue line was decorated like the movie and was lots of fun to look at. It was a fun ride, although I had to store the wand in a locker. You sat in car that moved along a track and shot at aliens. The seat was molded and a little tight for us. This ride was easy to socially distance at.

Our final event of the day wasn’t a ride, but a stunt show at Bourne Stuntacular. There were two waiting areas, one with queue lines and the other in a large room. The theater was pretty large and they were seating groups with empty rows in between and at least 2 seats apart. This show has a lot of potential. The graphics are incredible. It was really difficult to tell which people were just graphics and who was real. There was a track in the ceiling for additional stunts. The stage is completely smooth (although there are some trap doors in it), so the large set pieces are run on a WIFI type of program. It’s a really neat concept, but it is pretty new technology and they had to shut the show down twice while we were there to get the devices back up. One time “Jason” was hanging from a wrecking ball (update: Ben has since told me it’s called a headache ball) and had to be brought back around to the stage. I think once they get the bugs worked out, it will be an amazing show.

Posted in: Hiking, Sightseeing, YouTube Video Link

Universal Studios: Harry Potter Diagon Alley, Wands, and Escape From Gringotts

Once we finally made it to the correct park and had our tickets scanned, we scurried over to Diagon Alley. We saw the Knight Bus by a fountain and a white building with pillars. The entrance to Diagon Alley is through the white building! It was hidden and it was really neat to “find” the entrance.

Our first stop was the Gringotts Bank to ride Escape From Gringotts. The dragon on top of the building was amazing and shoots fire every 10 minutes.

Click to play

Even the ride’s queue lines were spectacular. We walked right through the
middle of the bank, with goblin tellers on either side. They moved, blinked,
and occasionally spoke. The line wrapped around to the back and traveled past bank vaults, offices, and record books. There were paintings and newspapers that spoke and moved.

The ride was a 3D adventure. There was a hill/drop towards the beginning, but it wasn’t too far. (If you know me, I hate rollercoasters but this one was ok as far as the drop went. It was totally worth it.) The graphics and interaction with the riders’ cars were impressive. Everyone agreed that it was our favorite ride of the day.

We stopped by Ollivanders to get a wand. We picked out our own wand, we did not do the experience/show. We bought one interactive wand for all of us to share. I picked a Willow Wand. There are spots around Diagon Alley that are for use with the interactive wands. (Think of Magi Quest if you have been to Great Wolf Lodge.) There are spots marked on the map you receive in your wand box and also by gold spots on the ground. We found that if you could find the sensors (black circle with red lights) it worked better. We explored the area and used our wand for a little bit.

Interactive wand map, trying out some spells

VIDEO CLIPS OF HARRY POTTER, ESCAPE FROM GRINGOTTS, WAND SPELLS, DRAGON FIRE

We had not eaten yet, so we stopped at the Leaky Cauldron. We ordered a
butterbeer, a frozen butterbeer, sticky toffee pudding, and a scotch egg. The
butterbeer tastes like butterscotch. The frozen butterbeer was similar to a slushy. We liked the frozen butterbeer the best.

We also stopped at the Gringotts Money Exchange. We only exchanged $10. The Gringotts money could be used in the Harry Potter area, changed back to US currency, or I think it would make a cute souvenir (if it was like $1).

We stopped at a souvenir store outside of Universal on our way back to the campground to get Nick a wand. It was about a huge difference in cost ($8.99+tax) compared to the non-interactive wands in the park ($49+tax) and was still labeled “Harry Potter”. The wands in Universal are made from resin. Nick’s wand seemed to be made of lighter weight plastic (it also was a pen and had a light at the tip). For smaller kids who don’t know the difference and will quickly loose interest, or even older kids who just wants it as a souvenir, it might be a good way to go.

Posted in: Hiking, Newbie Mistakes, Sightseeing

Conquering the Universe…Or Not: Universal Studios Orlando (Lockers, Fanny Packs, and COVID Restrictions)

So you probably guessed by the title, but we chose Universal, specifically Universal Studios!

Disney made a strong case for itself. Who doesn’t love Disney? However, we had been there already and the brochure didn’t sell the kids on it. Universal had the most appeal with the Harry Potter rides/decorations. We ended up choosing Universal Studios so that we could see Diagon Alley.

Spoiler Alert: The day started a little rough, as we got lost.

PREPARING FOR OUR VISIT:

I never thought this would happen. In my mind I had these firmly locked away back in the 80’s, but I bought fanny packs for me and the boys. While Disney and Universal allow you to bring a backpack/purse into the park, Universal only allows fanny packs on most of the rides. They do offer free lockers near the rides for other types of bags. These lockers are only free for a certain amount of time (park calculates time based on ride time and line wait time). There are lockers that you can pay to have longer time periods as well. Universal allowed bottled water and small snacks in the park, which was nice (click for rules). We kept a bottle of water, a poncho (there was a chance of rain), a bag of nuts, and a granola bar in each pack. I kept a tiny 1st aid kit in mine.

Locker locations per app, Locker sizing and pricing
Lockers near Men In Black

We also checked on how they were dealing with COVID, as we have been trying our best to be safe along our journey. I will say that in general they did a good job. Face masks were required, social distancing markers were placed on the ground and floors, limited capacity, temperature check before entering the park, and everyone got a squirt of hand sanitizer before getting on a ride. There were also a few other hand sanitizer stations for rides and in shops. They made announcements at each ride as well, reminding people of correct mask wearing and social distancing were required. If you failed to comply you could be asked to leave the park. We did see a few people get reminded on keeping the appropriate spacing.

Moving sidewalks from parking area into park, staff holding mask covering signs, putt putt course by entrance, CityWalk

We parked, went through the temperature station, and started walking into the park. It was our first time at Universal, so we followed the main street and the crowds. Newbie mistake!

GETTING LOST:

We kept on the main path and walked through CityWalk (shops/restaurants) and accidentally ended up in Islands of Adventure (IOA), which is not where we wanted to be since we wanted to see Diagon Alley. Luckily, Will noticed that the decorations did not match what we expected and we ran quickly to Guest Services and they were able to transfer our tickets to Studios since the park had just opened. NOTE: On our way out of the park, we saw a small directional sign. It was either faded or done in pastels and Universal Studios was the very last sign. Bigger signs would be helpful for first timers, especially when it is crowded and you can’t see the sign through the people.

We hurried over to the Universal Studios entrance and got there by 8:00am. We were a little sweaty, as it was warm already with really high humidity, but we were excited to have an adventure.

DETAILS:*

  • TICKETS: Starting at $109+plus tax/adults (ages 10+), Starting at $104+plus tax/child (ages 3-9). COVID Restrictions: masks required, limited capacity including on rides, temperature screening.
  • HOURS: 8:00am to 10:00 pm
  • PARKING: Pay parking for day guests (non-hotel), free after 6:00pm
  • BATHROOMS: Yes
  • TIME RECOMMENDED: At least a day
  • *Details correct at the time of posting, but please double check before you go.