A window into the life of a professional geek, wife and mother (and nonni), stitcher/designer, bibliophile, old-school gamer, and whatever other roles she finds herself in.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Confessions of an adrenaline junkie...

Yesterday we went to Islands of Adventure!

The day seemed to be off to a soggy start - our drive began early in the morning, in the midst of torrential rains. If I hadn't already claimed a vacation day from work, we might not have gone. But since the rain seemed to be headed east, and we were headed west, we trusted that all would work out.

And it did. I dislike driving in torrential rains, but I felt strangely calm when normally I'd be white-knuckling the steering wheel. By the time I got off I-95 and headed westward, the rain and I were beginning to part ways, and we arrived at Universal to overcast skies and a light misty drizzle.

We splurged for 'premium' parking, which put us in a parking garage pretty close to the entry. We had purchased and printed tickets online, so we were able to go right up to the gate, arriving just after the park opened.

Marvel Super Hero Island
Our first stop was the Adventures of Spider-Man ride. DsD had been to Islands twice before, and the lines had always been too long for her to get in. Today, we were able to go right in! It was an enjoyable ride - a cross between a 3D adventure and a coaster. DD was pretty fooled by the 3D illusions, and sensory extras such as water droplets and blasts of heat added to the realism. Quite enjoyable. DD said she was a little scared but liked it. Next, DsD, dBF and I headed for one of my two desired destinations....The Hulk! DH and DD stayed in the arcade and played some games. MAN, what an adrenaline rush! Very intense coaster, with a little bit of a surprise at the end. DsD and I quite enjoyed it...dBF was a bit more, um, prayerful about the experience. But we all survived, and rejoined DH and DD to go play on the Storm Force Acceleratron (which was basically the spinning teacup ride with an X-Men theme). DH, dBF and I went on Doctor Doom's Fearfall, which was an initial adrenaline rush on the first ascent, but then seemed to be a bit of bouncing. It was like what I'd imagined bungee jumping to be like - I guess I'd been expecting something a little more freefall. It was neat, but I must admit it was a tad disappointing. The girls had stayed in the arcade.

Toon Lagoon
After the bouncing exercise, we went on the Popeye barges, a whitewater raft sort of ride. We Got Soaked. Well, except for DD, who had put on her poncho. With the rest of us soaked to the skin, the other ponchos I'd brought were pointless, so we didn't bother. DsD, DH and I went on the Dudley Do-Right log flume ride. Lots of corny puns, and more general external hydration! But still, a lot of fun. Probably even more fun when the sun is beating down and people need cooling off.

Jurassic Park
After the log ride, dBF and DD went to the Pteranodon Flyers, which despite the relatively light crowd was already building up a lengthy wait. This ride was unusual in that it requires that a child be at least one of the passengers. DH went ahead and went on the River Adventure ride while DsD and I waited for dBF and DD. We waited about 45 minutes, which ended up being the longest wait we had all day. DD enjoyed it, though - it was a suspension/glider type ride. We all went on the River Adventure afterward, having wasted $2 to discover that the rolling backpack I'd brought wouldn't fit in the provided lockers. The River Adventure was a neat little boat ride, though the animatronics could probably use a little updating. DD enjoyed it, and we got even more wet. (Notice a theme here?)

It was near noon by then, so we stopped for lunch. DH and I have a weakness for smoked turkey legs, so we indulged our inner barbarians. Fortuitous timing as well, as there was a bit of a rainstorm while we were sheltered under an umbrella eating. The rains let up about the time we finished, and we headed onward.

The Lost Continent
Our first stop after lunch was the Flying Unicorn, a smaller coaster. Unlike most kid coasters, this was actually pretty cool, and became DD's favorite ride.

By now, my other desired destination was starting to run...the Dueling Dragons, a pair of roller coasters that run in tandem but have very different tracks. The ride was just starting back up from the rains, so we got Express passes for later, and continued to the Eighth Voyage of Sindbad, a stunt/performance show. I liked it - it was pretty funny and a little bit campy. DD did NOT like the pyrotechnic effects, though, and buried her face in my shoulder most of the time.

Outside of the Sindbad venue is the Mystic Fountain, which at first seemed to just randomly spout off (both verbally and hydrally) at passers-by, but then I saw a kid actually get into an argument with the fountain so there must have been someone controlling it remotely. The overall effect was very cute.

The line for the Dueling Dragon wasn't too long yet, so since DsD and I wanted to ride both parts, we brought dBF along and rode on the Ice dragon, a suspension coaster with several loops and turns. Very cool - not as intense as the Hulk, but I liked it just as much. In the meantime, DH and DD played some of the gallery games, and won a stuffed dragon/donkey critter from Shrek2. There was still an hour left before the Express passes for the Dragons would be valid, so we moved along.

Seuss Landing
We rode on the Caro-Seuss-El, a carousel with Seuss's whimsical creatures as mounts. Each one seemed to have some way to interact with it - DD's beast had a head that she could bob, mine's head turned. Carousels are always nice, but there was nothing super-special about it other than that it looked cool.
We then went to the One Fish Two Fish ride, a spider/octopus variant that allowed you to move your fish up or down, while a song directed you which way to move to avoid getting water squirted on you. Yet another way to get wet!

The window of opportunity for our Express pass for Dueling Dragons had opened, so we headed back. DsD, dBF and I got on the Fire dragon while DH and DD went back on the Flying Unicorn. The Fire coaster certainly goes faster than Ice, but both were quite thrilling. We discovered, though, that Express doesn't put you at the front of the line for the Dragons like it does on other rides, so we had a bit of a wait. DH and DD had to wait about 25 minutes for us after finishing the Flying Unicorn, and if we'd known about the delay in the Express line, they could have gone for a third go as DD had wanted.

After that, we went to the Poseidon's Fury show. Being set in an underwater temple, there was no stadium seating, but rather a line and we barely missed the 4pm showing. By the time we realized this, we were already well in the queue, so we waited around for the 4:30 show. DD was a bit antsy about the line, which was in an underground passage, and she got a bit freaked out when we were finally in to the first of several staged rooms used for the show, which involved the guide and audience seeking an escape from an underwater temple while being embroiled in a feud between Poseidon and an evil wizard. To her credit, she calmed down pretty fast once we explained to her that it was just a show and not real. By itself, the show had some neat aspects, but combined with the wait and DD's initial distress, it was definitely the least favorite of my experiences.

We stepped out of Poseidon's Fury to see a strange glowing yellow ball in the sky, and we blinked in the sudden brightness. The newly-revealed sun helped with drying our clothes as we went back to Seuss Landing for the Cat in the Hat ride, which took one through the Cat in the Hat story. DD enjoyed it and I thought it was kind of cute. It reminded me a little of the older incarnation of the Imagination ride at Epcot.

And as the Cat in the Hat story came to an end, so did our time at Islands of Adventure. The midday visit, combined with the inclement weather, had helped keep the crowds (and thus the waits) down, so we were able to do pretty much the entire park in a day. After a brief time in an arcade to spend the remaining tokens from the morning (in which DD beat DH at air hockey but then lost to dBF), we left the park, had dinner, and made the long drive home.

General impressions
Other than the steep admission fee, which seem to be a hallmark of theme parks in general, I quite enjoyed Islands. There were several features which I prefer to the way Disney does things: most of the rides have a 'baby swap' area near the front of the line, where parents can take turns on a coaster while another stays with children who may be too young to ride, without having to wait twice through the line. I personally didn't take advantage of it, since someone was keeping DD occupied at all times, but I definitely like the concept. The line areas are also more decorated with themes related to the ride instead of being only a cattle-corral, and speakers added story or other ambiance to the wait. Some of the newer rides at Disney seem to be doing this, but Universal definitely hides their lines better....I'd rather wait under cover than in the rain any day! Another feature was the parking garage. Disney World has huge sprawling parking lots - Islands of Adventure could probably *fit* in one of Disney's lots! I also noticed the absence of most of the wandering street vendors with cheap goods that seem to plague Disney. (Only Rome is more infested with them, in my opinion).

There were still souvenir stands, and many of the major rides required one to walk out through a gift shop at terminus. I don't particularly care for that myself, but most of the rides at Disney do that as well. A fool and his money are soon parted, and with competing theme parks in such close proximity, each one wants their cut.

Driving around in search of dinner reinforced my opinion that Orlando is really just one giant tourist trap. There were so many stores, malls, restaurants and hotels, that it put me in mind of Vegas, except with strip malls instead of towering resort hotels. I don't think anyone actually lives *in* Orlando anymore.

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