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Old 20 Sep 16, 01:37 PM  
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The "Years in the Making" Trip - Day 7 - Check in RPR, Universal Studios and IOA, Circus McGurkus

Sorry for the massive delay in getting this day up. I've actually reached the point where thinking too much about Florida is making me sad, because I so want to be back! We are looking at booking for 2018 though, so yay! I'm also hoping that getting back in to writing these reports will make me feel less sad and more back in the moment! The next couple of days at Universal don't feature the greatest photography in the world, and I was also very, very light on notes, so sorry about that (although I've still managed to ramble on for in the region of 4000 words, so sorry about that too!

Today we were off to Universal - and this was actually the first ever trip to Universal for all of us. I must apologise that once again my notes were a bit sparse for these days, so there may be some gaps.

Like true Dibbers we’d booked a night at Royal Pacific Resort. However, we had no intention of actually staying there (look at us, rebels again - we’re the sort of people who are affecting the experience at Loews Universal hotels with our one night stays - supposedly! ) There was no point in uprooting from our spacious two bedroom at OKW to cram in to a single room, especially when we had the car to easily transport us back and forth. We also weren’t that bothered about making it for early entry. Surprising as it sounds, the main reason we wanted the Express Passes was precisely because there was a lot Thomas either couldn’t or wouldn’t go on, and there was also a lot that my parents wouldn’t want to go on either (nothing too big or too fast, and not keen on simulators either). This meant we could force a lot of waiting around, and having Express Passes meant Ian, Simon and I could all do the rides we wanted to without so much splitting up. And as it turned out, it meant Thomas could ride the Trolley train and Cat in the Hat to his heart’s content, round and round and round!

So we set off reasonably early, but not at the crack of dawn. Without notes I forget exactly what time we arrived, but I’m guessing soonish after 8. We parked up and went to check in, which was quick and efficient. Ironically, given that we didn’t want to stay, our room was ready. We did have intentions to at least visit the room - but I’m ashamed to say in the end we never even set foot in it! We headed over to make our Express Passes. We then had to pop back to the car to pick up the troller and then we decided to walk over to the parks, as it was a very pleasant morning - not too hot yet!

We must have reached the entrance just after general opening - or certainly they were letting everyone in! We headed in to Universal Studios first - after some obligatory globe photos - as we had arranged to meet my brother here. He had separate tickets and as a single person buying an Express pass had actually been cheaper than booking a hotel room. He did only have the single ride version, but as we discovered they weren’t actually scanned on the less popular rides, so he could have got away with using it again. (We didn’t actually do this though, before anyone thinks we’ve taken the rebellion too far!)

Simon was running a bit late so we wandered through the park soaking up the atmosphere. We headed towards Woody Woodpecker’s Kidzone, but discovered that it didn’t actually open until 10am for some reason, so we continued towards the Simpsons, knowing that Thomas would be happy to ride the Twirl n Hurl.

Of course he spotted the Jules Verne Train (also known as the Back to the Future Train) and was very excited about that (despite not having a clue what Back to the Future is!).

We also spotted this guy hanging out on the bumper of the DeLorean

And these guys just chilling in a puddle

We managed to catch a picture of the moment that Simon appeared, sneaking up behind Thomas posing with Chief Wiggum.

Ian, Simon and I then headed on the Simpsons whilst the others headed on to the Twirl and Hurl. It was at this point that I realised I’d forgotton to stick on a Scopoderm patch. Simulators can make me feel travel sick, and I’d also had an unusual bad experience after riding Nemesis at Alton Towers last year (which is fairly similar to the Dragon Challenge coasters) so I’d intended to use something to help - both to stop me feeling rough and to stop me worrying about feeling rough, which is often as much of a problem too. Scopoderm is my method of choice because it is a single patch that lasts three days, and it’s really effective. (They advise that you stick it behind your ear, but it works fine if you stick it somewhere a bit more discreet - I use my lower back, where it joins my bum!). Technically you need a prescription, but I buy mine online from a pharmacy site where you fill in a questionnaire which is effectively an online consultation. It’s reviewed by a doctor and then they are sent out. I was gutted that I’d forgotten to put one on, but decided to plough on. The day would be pretty rubbish if I went on nothing, so I had to take the chance of the day being made a bit rubbish by feeling ill!

We had a fairly short wait with Express Passes and were soon on in the front row. The ride did make me feel a bit queasy, and I had to cover one eye for quite a bit (far more effective than closing both eyes which jst heightens the brain’s confusion about movement) but overall I was ok. It’s a pretty good ride, but I’m still someone who would much prefer a good physical ride over a simulator. I understand why Universal and many other parks are investing in this technology. It's overall cheaper and much faster to install and crucially on a small site like US, can take up less room for the same impact. But I really hope the entire theme park industry doesn’t fall down this rabbit hole never to return to good, solid physical attractions.

When we came out Thoms wanted us all to go on Twirl and Hurl together, so we happily obliged. I never saw this ride with a queue really, but it’s a good one for kids - for all those wondering what their kids can do at Universal!

Next stop was Diagon Alley. We wandered over to King's Cross. I don't need to say much about the theming of this area because you've all doubtless either seen it yourselves or read about already, but it really is fantastic and very true to life down to little details. We had fun kcnking on the doors (Thomas, knowing nothing really about HP beyond the fact that it is about Wizards and has the Hogwart's Express) wanted to knock on them all, but that was fine.

Then in to Diagon Alley itself. It’s fair to say that it was heaving. Absolutely rammed with wannabe witches and wizards all waving their wands around. To be honest, I got a bit sick of being jabbed with a wand. Every time I turned around it felt like someone was sticking one in my ear hole or attempting to poke my eye out! And to add insult to injury, every time you want to stop and look at something or, god forbid, just rest for a moment and take it all in, it turns out you are in the way of somebody’s spell and if you don’t move straight out of the way they’ll happily give you a shove for your trouble. (True story: I was physically pushed out of someone’s way within two minutes of setting foot in Diagon Alley with an “Oi. I NEED to stand there”. Nice manners there. If that is what they teach at Hogwarts then maybe being a muggle isn’t so bad!)

I know, I know. I sound miserable. I get that the interactive wands are fun, watching the spells work is entertaining even if you haven’t performed them yourself, and it’s a great use of technology. But when space is so limited, the sheer number of people all competing to stand in a particular spot and wave their wand around - and the fact that some of those people, and their parents, are not always particularly considerate of everyone else trying to enjoy things too - is a bit overwhelming and somewhat hazardous if you’re not looking where you are going! I also get that space at Universal is limited, but I do think Universal could perhaps find some way for the interactive wands to work that doesn’t impact quite so much on every one else moving around the area. From the other perspective, assuming the spells work during early opening, if I had an interactive wand that is definitely when I would be trying to do them all!

We spent quite a bit of time wandering around Diagon Alley and Knockturn Alley. I didn’t actually take very many photos though. I wanted the opportunity to capture some of the smaller details but the various wand incidents were getting on my nerves and the space just felt so confined. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not doing Diagon Alley down at all. The theming is absolutely amazing and Universal have done an incredible job. And I know that my frustrations could largely have been avoided if we’d made the effort to go for early opening. I think I was also just feeling a bit under pressure about Universal as a whole. It was a bit of an unknown in comparison to Disney and Ian and I had been the ones to insist that we went, even though I new my parents would mostly only be interested in the Harry Potter stuff. I guess I felt that we’d made everyone shell out for tickets and then the hotel room and so the pressure was on for it to be worthwhile. And I particularly wanted my parents to get a lot out of the Harry Potter areas because it is what they were most interested in and most going to enjoy. I have perfectionist tendencies that sometimes then manifest as anxiety and irrational frustration. Silly really, because if anything it was my stress that was going to affect things.

Anyway… I made a conscious effort to chill and just soak up the atmosphere, hence the lack of pictures. You’ve all seen them all before anyway!

And I did capture the dragon breathing fire. The heat underneath is pretty scorching!

We made a stop at the Fountain of Fair Fortune for our first taste of Butterbeer. We had one normal one and two frozen ones between us. I must admit to much preferring the frozen one. It tasted like that lovely Smuckers butterscotch sauce you used to be able to get. Really hit the spot in the heat and crowds!

We then made our way back out in to muggle London and off to ride the Hogwarts Express, much to Thomas’s glee. Again the detail in King's Cross was great, down to the destination boards and cancelled services.

Now I must admit that I totally failed to “see” the passing through the wall bit this time, even though I knew about it. I think because there was no one immediately ahead of us, so it was only as we reached it ourselves and went through that I realised, and by then it was too late as there were lots of people behind us.

Thomas was enthralled, as you’d expect. He did find it a bit loud though, but he’s the same with proper steam trains too - it can be a love hate thing at times! Speaking of “proper” steam trains, it took Thomas no time at all to suss that the Hogwarts Express is actually a cable car, not a real steam train at all. He didn’t seem too concerned though, either by it not being a steam train or not actually being magic!

We didn’t have long to wait and were soon speeding through London. The film was pretty good, if not entirely geographically accurate and like most people, I found “Hermione”’s voice really grating. I’m sure they could have found someone a bit more similar sounding! Thomas wasn’t keen on the dementor bit either, but we’d done a good job of preparing him that it was all just make believe (probably why he wasn’t perturbed by it not being either a real or a magical train).

Once we arrived in Hogsmeade we decided to split up for a bit. Ian and I wanted to do Dragon Challenge whilst we were there. My brother opted to skip this time due to having a belly full of butter beer. I did wonder if this was a sensible thing to do given that fact, plus my lack of Scopoderm, but you only live once!

So we had our first experience of locker battle. Honestly, could Universal actually have organised the locker situation any more poorly if they’d really, really tried? There is absolutely no scope for anyone to form an orderly line for the rental stations, so it seems to be a “he who pushes hardest gets there first” and then you have people trying to rent lockers from the same point that people are trying to open them back up. Obviously when you are trying to open your locker you don’t have a choice about which station you go to, which makes it doubly frustrating to have someone launch in front of you to rent, and then get all huffy that there are no lockers left. Well… if you had let me open my locker you could have had that one… Anyway (I am a moaning Myrtle today, sorry) on this particular occasion having fought Ian’s normal sized bag in to the teeny locker we set off for the queue. Only for Ian to tell me as we approached the metal detectors that he still had a load of stuff in his pockets. Doh! Partly my fault because I forgot that he hadn’t spent every waking moment planning this trip and therefore wasn’t as intimately familiar with all the restrictions as me. Still… they do have big signs. Sigh. So back we went, to rent another locker.

Eventually we made it on. I’m pretty sure we rode blue first, and then red, but my lack of notes means it could have been the other way around. Both were a walk on with Express Passes.

We then wandered down to Seuss Landings to find the others as it was getting on for lunchtime now. We spotted my brother perched on a wall as we came through and he told us that Thomas was having something like his third go round on the High in the Sky Trolley Train. We’d timed it well as a few moments later they passed overhead and we were able to wave. He was absolutely ecstatic when he came off and it was clear that this had been a really BIG hit. I was starting to feel more relaxed by now, as the Express Passes had proved their worth in letting him go round so many times in a row, and he was clearly having a great time which meant the grandparents were having a good time too.

Next up was the Caro-suess-el. Thomas was very insistent that he and I ride in the carriage whilst the others were all aboard the various creatures. There was then time for a spin on One Fish Two Fish. I love this ride and I love the song. Not ashamed at all!

We then headed in to Circus McGurkus Cafe Stoopendous for lunch, as it was right there and the menu looked fine. Plus, many of the tables are carriages of a train, and the trolley train passes right through, so this was a big hit with Thomas.

Sadly the service in here was distinctly lacking. We seemed to queue for an absolute age. The there was an unsupervised trainee on the till who was not only taking all the payments but getting all the drinks too. And only one half of the serving area was actually open. I can’t remember what we got in the end, although I think pizza was definitely a feature. And we did splash out on three Coke Freestyle refillable mugs. They are cheaper per mug if you buy three, and three between six made sense - we all got to keep one as a souvenir too. I was pretty desperate to get one not only to make a change from just drinking water all day, but because I really wanted to sample all that the Coe Freestyle machines had to offer. they are not very common in the UK (some Burger Kings and Pizza Huts have them, I think) and the only one I have ever come across only had about 10 options for some reason. As a diabetic for well over 30 years, I’ve always been restricted pretty much to Diet Coke, as most places don’t have any other diet options. The choices on these machines are amazing, and we had fun trying some pretty fancy concotions. My only criticism of the machines and refill program is that there don’t seem to be quite enough machines. (I’m also disappointed to learn that they have now removed the “water” option from the machines. We were able to fill Thomas’s cup with water, but we also put water in the refill cups a couple of times. It’s just nice to be able to get cold, filtered water to drink without having to ask someone behind the counter. If you pay for the cup, surely you should be able to choose to put water in it, even if it isn’t available in non-Universal cups. And since the machines work by blending water with various syrups, it’s not as though water isn’t available!)

Following lunch, we split up again. Splitting up worked really well for us at Universal as there were many things that Thomas couldn’t ride, and quite a few things my parents didn’t want to ride. It might sound like we were using them as free child-minding, but obviously they were happy to do it. The main thing they wanted to do was see all the Harry Potter stuff. So this time we split Ian, Thomas and I, whilst my parents and my brother headed back to Hogsmeade to take in the details. We took Thomas back on the Trolley Train (safe to say he really loved this) and then on to The Cat in the Hat… three times (safe to say he really loved this too) plus another spin on Red Fish, Blue Fish. We then wandered around through Toon Lagoon to Me Ship, the Olive. Ian and I split here and took it in turns to have a couple of goes on Fearfall - the thing which made me jump most about this was the Green Goblin suddenly appearing through a door and putting his face right in mine!

Thomas had a whale (pun intended) of a time on Me Ship. He really loved everything about it! I did get a bit irritated round by the water canons over looking the Bilge Rat Barges. There were a couple of guys there shooting everyone and congratulating each other and themselves on their great shots. Thomas waited incredibly patiently to have a go - bearing in mind this is a kids’ play area and these guys had no kids with them! Eventually one of them looked at Thomas and so, “Oh, would you like a go”. And he had fun just shooting the water. His aim wasn’t great in terms of soaking the (already soaked) passing barge riders, but he’s four years old and it was funny anyway. Until one of the guys, still hovering around said “shall I show you how it’s really done?” before taking the water cannon back off him. Really? You’re a grown man in a theme park full of stuff to do and you choose to hang around the kids’ play area just so you can take the toys off kids and congratulate yourself for getting some people wet? Is it just me, or does that make you a bit of an oddball?! Anyway, fortunately Thomas had had some fun and we headed off to explore the rest of the ship. We also ran in to Popeye himself, along with Olive. They were superbly in character. I’m not sure Thomas knew (or still knows) who they really are, but he was very engaged by them nonetheless and they really took their time to chat to him and ask him what he’d been up to.

It took a bit of effort to extract him from the ship. he met the height requirement for the Bilge Rat Barges, but didn’t want to ride. He also declined the Pteranodon Flyers (which I was a bit sad about, but we'll have to go back before he is too tall!) so we headed to meet my parents and brother. We’d arranged to meet them at Jurassic Park, but when we turned up there was no sign. We waited a good ten minutes. We tried messaging and calling and got no reply. Eventually my mum appeared around the corner, absolutely dripping wet. Soaked to the skin wet. They’d been on Dudley Do Right and it had gone down, so even in the Express Queue they’d had a bit of a wait, hence being late! We swapped Thomas over to my parents whilst my brother joined Ian and I.

Apparently my parents explored the Jurassic Park area and Discovery Centre and then headed back to Seuss at Thomas’s request. The three of us headed back to Hogsmeade to do Forbidden Journey. We queued for about 35 minutes, which did’t seem bad at all. It took more than five minutes to sort a bloody locker though - I can’t help but think there has to be a better way. Maybe an actual queue to enter the locker area, one to store and one to retrieve. Might mean only a few people could be accessing a locker at a time, but overall it has to be faster than the scrum for the machines! Anyway. The walk through the castle was as fantastic as I'd been told. The ride itself was also amazing. I’d been a bit concerned that the 3D plus motion effects would make me feel a bit ill, but actually it was fine. I think the real movement helped with the 3D bits, as I mainly struggle with this when there isn’t enough physical movement for my brain to reconcile.

We headed out and had time for the Hippogriff. The standby line was a whopping 65 minutes though - which seemed crazy given how quickly we’d been through FJ (I’m not sure what the posted time for FJ was though, so perhaps that was putting people off.) The Lines app gave the Hippogriff as being pretty accurate, and it looked that long too. Absolutely no way we’d have queued that long! There was also a bit of a prat at the entrance blocking access to both lines with his insane amount of shopping. And I mean insane. He had like seven or eight of those huge square, cardboard bags - he’s obviously come from one of the Malls and I can only assume he'd come in a cab. Instead of dropping them wherever he was staying, or having someone to hold them whilst they split up for rides, or leaving them at lockers at the entrance (not sure if they would be big enough mind you!) he wanted to take them all on the ride with him. And he actually wanted them on the ride with him, he wasn’t even asking to leave them on the platform. Unsurprisingly the ride attendant was patiently telling him that they would not fit and it may be better if he came back without the bags! I think we may actually have gone round twice on this one as the Express Queue was pretty short.

We then had some time to wander around the shops. I’d like to have done the wand thing (just to watch a choosing rather than buy a wand) but there wasn’t really time. We did get some stuff in Honeydukes though and had more Butterbeer.

We met my parents by the station ready to get the Hogwarts Express again. I’m not sure which direction I feel is better really. At the Diagon Alley end I ended up folding the Stroller and carrying down the stairs as the queue for the lift was silly long. There was one lady in a wheelchair waiting who was behind a massive party of people - including teenage kids - of whom just one had a walking stick. I couldn’t help but think it was a bit selfish of entire groups, most of whom were almost certainly capable of walking, to clog up the life so that those in genuine need - walking sticks, wheelchairs, sleeping children in strollers etc - would have to wait longer. It really bugs me when people do this in lifts anywhere when there is a queue. Goodness, I sound like a right moany cow today!

We had some time to look around the shops in Diagon Alley, although we didn’t buy anything, but we did get ice cream from Florean Fortescue’s ice cream parlour. I can’t tell you now what flavours I picked, but I know they were absolutely delicious. Between us we had agood selection and shared the love (and germs!) by passing them around. Well we are (mostly) all family! I took a quick detour in to the toilets - sorry, restrooms - with Thomas. They were themed but there were some significant flaws in the theming. The flush was a standard American flush rather than the British method of washing a bit more water in and hoping that terribly politely it will ask the other water to, you know, move along in the pipes please. They were also far too clean and, most critically, they still had the bloody gap around the door. That just doesn’t happen in London!

We were pretty tired by now, so it was time to head back to the car.

We stopped on the way to pick up a Big Pink Donut, because it has to be done. We caught the water taxi back to the hotel. Whilst we were shuffling along in a line to board, we couldn’t help but notice the lady in front of us. She was - how can I put this delicately - on the larger side of massive. She was carrying a huge paper carrier bag in which we counted not one, not two, not three, but FOUR Big Pink donuts. I can only hope that her family had gone on ahead and was a large (in terms of the number of people) family and that she wasn’t planning on eating that lot herself!

We had thought about visiting the hotel room that we’d paid for, but Thomas was really flagging and as we weren’t actually staying, we just jumped in the car to head back to OKW.

My notes fail me on what we did for dinner, but we did share some of the Big Pink - and I did confirm that yes, it really was as big as my head!

The "Years in the Making" Trip Report - Apr/May 2016 - unfinished, but hopefully soon!
Our Japan Adventures in the Have Child, Will Still Travel... to Japan! Trip Report - In Progress!
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Old 20 Sep 16, 04:59 PM  
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I love your moaning actually! Made me really laugh. I wouldn't like to be poked with a wand either!

We have a room booked at RPR but also don't plan to use it. My husband doesn't do the whole packing and unpacking thing well.

Some great photos!
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Old 20 Sep 16, 06:39 PM  
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Yay, you're back!

Oh the ducklings in the puddle! So precious <3

Oh gosh, that sounds a rubbish experience of Diagon Alley. We were lucky, as it never really got that busy. Sounds a nightmare though!

You packed a heck of a lot in and did pretty well on photos and remembering, considering you said you hadn't done very well!

Thanks for sharing! Can't wait to read the rest of your report
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Old 20 Sep 16, 07:29 PM  
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Excellent report. Sounds like a fun day despite the gripes.
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Old 20 Sep 16, 09:36 PM  
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Fab a side note,you can buy scopoderm from your local pharmacy without a prescription
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Old 20 Sep 16, 09:48 PM  
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Originally Posted by Loopylooloo View Post
I love your moaning actually! Made me really laugh. I wouldn't like to be poked with a wand either!

We have a room booked at RPR but also don't plan to use it. My husband doesn't do the whole packing and unpacking thing well.

Some great photos!
Thank you! I did feel a bit like I was moaning all day, even though I actually had a great day... but maybe that's because I sometimes enjoy a good moan! And yeah, packing an overnight back a squeezing in to smaller room just seemed more hassle than was strictly necessary!

Originally Posted by nanasamboy View Post
Yay, you're back!

Oh the ducklings in the puddle! So precious <3

Oh gosh, that sounds a rubbish experience of Diagon Alley. We were lucky, as it never really got that busy. Sounds a nightmare though!

You packed a heck of a lot in and did pretty well on photos and remembering, considering you said you hadn't done very well!

Thanks for sharing! Can't wait to read the rest of your report
Thanks. Yeah, life got a bit busy and got in the way for a while. Hopefully I'll manage to keep going and get the rest up. Looking back I did actually have some really great pictures from today. The lack of notes wasn't too bad as I wrote quite a bit of this back in June when it was still fresher in my mind! The next day is definitely less good

Originally Posted by waiting4disney View Post
Excellent report. Sounds like a fun day despite the gripes.
Thanks you

Originally Posted by Floridaagogo View Post
Fab a side note,you can buy scopoderm from your local pharmacy without a prescription
Really? I thought it was a PoM. Just had a quick nosy in the BNF and suggests that it still is? Will have to ask! Thanks for reading
The "Years in the Making" Trip Report - Apr/May 2016 - unfinished, but hopefully soon!
Our Japan Adventures in the Have Child, Will Still Travel... to Japan! Trip Report - In Progress!
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Old 21 Sep 16, 12:32 PM  
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Hurray, so glad you are back with another installment! (I have been religiously checking back on this report! )

What a fab day at Universal, and once again so many beautiful photos!

I completely agree about the bedlam in the locker areas... it really is every man for themselves in there!

Thank you so much for sharing, can't wait for the next day!
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Old 24 Sep 16, 03:39 PM  
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Oh I'm really pleased you're back!

We are also looking to go back in 2018 😺

Completely with you on the rudeness of people in Diagon Alley. I was physically shoved a few times by one particular... witch. Grrrr!

Great day though, you packed so much in!
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Old 27 Sep 16, 07:47 PM  
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More please. Your reports are highly addictive!
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