Sunday, December 18, 2016

Gotta Go! Universal Studios & Islands of Adventure Orlando

After spending a mad dash time at Disney World, we ventured to Universal Studios & Islands of Adventure the next day. There's two separate parks so again we opted for a Hopper that would get us into both. Like Los Angeles, there's a vibrant scene of restaurants and shops before the park. Unlike Disney World, these two parks were more or less connected so you didn't need to hop on a 15 minute shuttle bus ride. Right away you walk into a section of Beverly Hills streets and there's the Terminator 2 3D show Battle Across Time. This has closed in LA but was still packing them in at Orlando. It's been a couple years since I saw the show and I was impressed by how much pageantry and set up there is between the Cyberdyne waiting room with host, warm up video and pre-show in the theater with actors, pyrotechnics, giant props and the like. The finale fills the theater with fog and then your seats drop, it was truly shocking. Masters of the Universe director and theme park attraction specialist Gary Goddard worked closely with James Cameron to produce the immersive show that transports you to the Future War to take on a T-1 Million. Arnold, Edward Furlong and Linda Hamilton all reprise their roles from the 1991 summer blockbuster for a 12 minute short film that cost an alleged $24 million!

Walking around there were plenty of other movie and TV tie-ins like The Simpsons Land, a Men In Black ride along with the flying train and Delorean from Back to the Future III! The big noise however was for the recently opened Harry Potter land. There's a London looking facade but walk through the doors and you're transported to Diagon Alley, an intricate reproduction of one of the films' major settings. You had sweet shops, gift shops, wand shops and stands selling Butter Beer which was surprisingly tasty and not too sweet. There's a couple rides, a fire breathing dragon perched atop a building and you can take the Hogwart's Express to the other park but it was a long wait.

Between the parks was a Hard Rock Cafe which offered double Jameson's for just $3 bucks more next to a giant steampunk chocolate factory and restaurant. Straight out of Willy Wonka, it was a truly unique establishment even if I couldn't figure out the theme of the food. I'd long heard about Island of Adventure from Wizard Magazine as in the 90's they had a Marvel restaurant with props and suits way before any studio backed film had come out. Right away we hit Marvel land which had a Hulk roller coaster, a Spider-Man 3D ride, gift shops and a Captain America diner! Cyclops, Cap and Wolverine were strolling the streets and buildings had giant images of Captain America fighting MODAK! These were truly my people. Walking further and further in there were more lands with old school comics and cartoons like Flash Gordon, the Phantom and Blondie then there was Jurassic Park and a new attraction based on Kong: Skull Island. In the back was another Harry Potter land with snow capped buildings, more gifts and several more rides. The one we went on was kind of crazy, it's a car on a track but you're in a seat hoisted by hydraulics with giant video screens taking you through various locales in the HP canon. While we didn't spring for it, Universal offers a Front of the Line pass, it's not cheap but you can also basically walk onto any ride so it would be worth it if you wanted to save half a day.

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