Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Make-A-Wish Day 3 - Universal Orlando

Today was cold; cold for Florida anyway. The high was around 61 and the wind was 15-20 mph so all but Bob had on sweatshirts with Capri’s or jeans. Bob just thinks he looks funny in Capri’s so he opted for shorts and a long sleeve undershirt. This morning started early for both rooms so everyone got a bath or shower this morning. Oddly Olivia completely forgot to take off her underwear and undershirt before getting into the tub. Once she got rid of the rest of her clothes she was cleaned and ready to leave at 8:30 am. We’d never been to Universal before but had a general idea that was in the same direction as Sea World so we headed out sans map. Oops. We took exit 74 as the signs nearby said 74 – 76 would all work. 74 needs another , bigger sign as you exit the highway so that you don’t miss the first turn and end up driving around in the many condo areas near Dr. Philips, FL (never heard of a town name like that before but it seemed a little odd for a name of a town). After a short excursion through this oddly named town we got back on the highway, took the next exit and arrived at Universal Studios for the very first time.

Universal offers a preferred parking section for $17/day (compared to the non-preferred rate of $12/day). Bob and Gwendolyn had seen this pricing at Great Adventure over the summer but had passed as it was an additional $15. That worked out well because that day we were so early that we parked next to the preferred folks. Today we decided to go nuts and spend the extra $5 as a treat for Max (even though he had just bitched Bob out for driving around aimlessly on his ONE day at Universal). That seems to have been money well spent as we were very close to the parking lot entrance from the parks but the distance from the parking lot the parks was pretty formidable.

Here we need to interject a bit of history as we’d been told by nearly everyone that Max was not likely to enjoy the parks as many rides are roller coasters which, for the most part, he wants no part of. We’d also been told that when compared to Disney for service and appearance it loses hands down (which isn’t hard to believe given Disney’s attention to every single detail). There were far too many comments like that but cold weather aside today was a fantastic day!

We started at Guest Services where Maria asked Bob for his confirmation number. Bob felt like he’d been punched in the stomach. Confirmation number? Well, he didn’t have that but did have his own name and a drivers license to prove it was his name which was all that Disney required. Well, he had his PDA and access to the most recent two weeks of emails so maybe he’d gotten it in an email and just needed to find it. While he was frantically pressing buttons and trying to figure out how to search on the damn thing Tracy said, “It’s the same as all the others … 11 something or other.” That feeling of being kicked in the stomach was quickly replaced by a feeling of being kicked in the balls without warning by someone with steel toed boots. “What confirmation number,” Bob asked. “You know, the one in the Make-A-Wish packet,” replied Tracy. Bob knew full and well that the Make-A-Wish packet was back at the hotel because he’d asked Tracy if she brought it when he was driving through the condos in Dr. Philips and could’ve used the AVIS map that was stuck in there so he was a little puzzled by this not being mentioned a little early. Thank God for Maria though because she was able to find the reservation by name putting an end to the train wreck that was looming just around the bend. Maria asked us when we’d be returning to the park because we were being given a two-day, two-park pass but we politely said that we didn’t know if we’d make it back this trip as we’ll be leaving Friday (Tracy explained that while Bob just turned red because he can’t even think about lying without his face flushing fuller red than Rudolph’s nose – yeah that’s great at the poker table). Maria explained that wasn’t a problem at all. The tickets would be good until Dec 26 of next year, 2009. The special needs card that she was giving us could be brought back with the tickets and re-issued for whatever day we could come back. Oh, and the special needs card was even better than the cut-in-line pass that you can buy from Universal (they call it something else but it is one of the things we’d heard was beyond annoying). This card didn’t just get us toward the front of the line, it got us someone to take us to the front of the line. It was cold and the park had very few people but for the two rides that we did get that kind of attention it was pretty amazing; more on that in a bit. In a nutshell, this was starting off better than our first day at Disney.

While Tracy, Bob, and Max had been talking to Maria (Max was very busy sharing bad jokes with someone new), Gwendolyn was busy with the map trying to figure out how to get to Jimmy Neutron and Shrek as those were Max’s first two choices for rides. We took about three steps when Max yelled out, “I see it! I see Jimmy!” This, of course, caused Gwendolyn to be horribly upset because she’d done a lot of figuring in trying to help Max and he had the nerve to ruin it by actually looking at things. Oh yes, Bob can completely bask in knowing that this is the kind of pain that he and his brother, TR, had caused their own parents though those fights often quickly turned to violence and the need for medical attention. Karma has a nice way of smiling on Bob like that every so often. While Tracy consoled Gwendolyn, Bob took Max aside and explained the work that Gwendolyn had put into trying to help him out and that maybe, just maybe, he could pretend that he really needed her help. That actually went well for more than just the next 5 minutes though it eventually broke down.

The Jimmy Neutron ride was a virtual ride with a big screen movie and seats that moved around to simulate movement (many rides here are like that). It ties in well with the cartoon and the movies about Jimmy Neutron so everyone was happy … until … Max got wet. Oh, did he scream. It was really just a few drops but he screamed and screamed. Thankfully he started laughing at the show again and was in stitches along with the rest of the family when Carl started the Chicken Dance music and the seats bounced in tune with the song. It was a great way to start the day as well as to prepare Max for what would be an endless supply of minor wetness that would follow him the rest of the day. While he never got to doing anything less than screaming like he girl he was able to laugh the wetness of almost immediately for the rest of the day. Oh, to be clear, these were all sprinkles of water – never enough to get more than an inch of clothing wet – he just HATES rain. Shower is fine because … well … just because he is Max and shower is different than rain for some reason that only makes sense to Max.

Bob is now actually dizzy from laughing so hard at memories of growing up with TR. That and a scarcity of sleep the past few days necessitates a break so this will get finished later. Bob has decent notes on today so the memory erosion should be minimal (Bob is disappointed that he NEVER thought to do this before and instead relied on Tracy’s map markings to bring everything back)

Ogre Vision 4D followed the Jimmy Neutron ride. For this ride, there is a holding pen that serves as a torture chamber before you enter the ride. There Mirror on the Wall and the Gingerbread man entertain you with the help of Pinocchio (who is upside down in a box with only his feet and nose sticking out). Lots of bad jokes with Pinocchio’s nose growing while he tells Lord Farquad’s Ghost that he doesn’t know where Fiona is so everyone had a good time in the pre-ride. The ride itself is a 3-D movie so everyone needed glasses again. Donkey sneezed on us in the very beginning so Max got sprinkled again but recovered quickly. This was a fun ride but everyone’s favorite between the two was Jimmy Neutron (Limo ride was still the number 1 ride for Max).

Exiting Shrek’s ride we found Twister to the left. Amy had said that the ride was pretty cool but the kids probably wouldn’t like it. Anne Marie had said Max definitely should not go on the ride (though for Bob this was third party knowledge, through Tracy, and could be considered suspect). Bob did make everyone go on the ride and in the holding pen we were treated to videos of Bill Paxton (sorry if that is the wrong Bill but he is not a friend of Max’s after this ride) and Helen Hunt. Bob doesn’t remember Bill’s role in the movie as being particularly masculine but man, in these setup videos, the guy defines swagger. Or, more appropriately, swagger wanna be. It’s ridiculous. He’s standing there with his denim shirt open several buttons, his chest swelled up and in a stance that made us think he was sitting on a horse and trying to lean forward. Oh, and the deep voice that he affects doesn’t suit him. Well, most of that is really just distraction here because while Bob found the ride very cool (pre-ride aside) he exited the ride with three hysterical children, all balling, and asking “Why did you make us do that? Anne Marie said it was BAD!” Oops.

After that we got pretzels for a mid-morning snack and started walking towards the ET ride. On the way there we came across a show had several characters dancing on the stage and signing a song that escapes Bob right now but probably isn’t critical. Olivia had just gotten out of the stroller to dance when the music stop and they announced character meet & greets for those in the show so we lined up for Curious George and the Man in the Big Yellow Hat first. Max told several jokes, Olivia stamped her bells and flashing sneakers for George, and we learned that the Man in the Big Yellow Hat’s name is Ted. From there we got on the Shaggy and Scooby line where Bob looked dubiously at Shaggy as the wig seemed off from Bob’s memory of the stoner in the show. Well, that was the only thing that was off as Shaggy nailed every other aspect from the slightly raspy with a hint of bubbling bong water gurgle in his voice to his “Hey Scoobs” and finishing with his peace signs (clearly not rabbit ears; a mistake some amateurs make by holding them too high). Max and Shaggy shared bad jokes and Max learned a new one that has stuck with us

Shaggy: Hey Max, do you know which letter is a pirate’s favorite letter?

All: Arrrrrrrrrrrr

Shaggy: Oh, well, do you know his second favorite letter?
[pause here because none of us had thought the joke went on from there so we just stared stupidly]

Shaggy [pointing to his eye]: Ayeeeeeeeeeee

That was a fun visit which we followed up with the ET Ride. Bob and Tracy had heard great things about the ET ride but given his experience in watching the movie (cried and cried and cried when ET seemed dead) Max did not want to go on this ride. We made Max join the rest of us and we were escorted to the ride by the greeter. We boarded our bikes and took off on a journey through the setting of the movie with police cars pulling into our path, lots of shouting from police and dogs searching for ET and the kids, and followed by a visit to ET’s home planet. Bob’s opinion is that the ride could better have been called “ET’s ride to planet suck” because it seemed horribly dated for a movie that reigned as highest grossing film for such a long time. The kids all agreed that the only cool thing was that ET said “Thank you Max, Gwendolyn, Olivia, Tracy, Bob”

Next up was a visit to Woody Woodpecker’s roller coaster. Bob sat out being far too large for the seats of nearly every ride and likely to break something (knee or ankle) on the kiddie rides). Everyone else got off the ride excited that it was so fast but disappointed it was so short. We did a brief walk through Curious George’s play area and thankfully got out before something like half a million gallons of water spiller from the top of a building and off an awning soaking everything inside. Not only would Max have been beyond pissed about being that wet but being that wet in the cold and wind would’ve forced a trip home.

Danger avoided we headed to the Simpson’s Ride which seemed to have no line at all. That was very deceiving though because it is only a few months old and was build to disguise the fabulously long queue behind animations, whole walls, and even a second level of queuing. The second level on our side was a ramp up the outside of the building where we could feel the full force of the wind. That was a long few minutes standing shivering but we were rewarded with entrance to a staging room where 7 screens played quick Simpsons clips (each at a different time) that were interrupted by an announcement that Side Show Bob had escaped from prison and was looking to kill the Simpsons for their role in his being captured. For the ride we sat in a car that rose through the ceiling where it stood in front of a gigantic movie screen – this is very similar to Soarin at EPCOT but the ride is all about humor, Simpsons’ style. Everyone felt it was a great ride.

Men In Black was our next ride and was met with some trepidation from Olivia as it was a little bit dark. It is a shootout with Aliens, similar to the MIB movies and the Buzz Lightyear ride at Disney. Lunch was next but wasn’t very memorable as Bob, Tracy and Max are unable to recall a single detail just a few days later. On the way out of Universal Studios we ran across Doc Brown and his Delorean. Max talked to Doc for a long time but Doc was having a hard time following Max’s train of thought.

In Islands of Adventure, our first ride was Caro Suess el. Max isn’t a big fan of carousels because they make him dizzy and he hates that the horses (Seuss characters here) go up and down while going around so he wanted to sit in a car. He didn’t communicate that very well though until after the ride was over :( Next up was The Cat In The Hat ride which is a trip in a car through the story. At the start Tracy snapped a picture of Max, Olivia and Bob and immediately the ride slowed, the sound track stopped and voice came on saying, “Please secure all cameras. Photography inside the ride is strictly prohibited!” Oops. Tracy and the kids rode 1 Fish 2 Fish (like Dumbo) and then we all got on the High In the Sky Trolley Train ride. That was appropriately named as it is just a train running about 20 feet off the ground and through the restaurant and rides in Seussville.

Our next attraction was the Eighth Voyage of Sinbad which was a show. We initially sat very close but then realize we were in a soak zone and with the bitter temperature we opted to relocate outside the zone. The show was nice but, in spite of the weather, they seemed to have the air conditioning on inside the pavilion as it was a good 10-15 degrees colder inside. The cold prevented everyone from napping during the show. After the show Tracy talked to Max’s teacher, Mrs. Sulley to find out about seeing her daughter later in the week as she’s currently in the employ of Disney and was trying to setup something special for Max at the Lion King show in Animal Kingdom.

We took a long walk around the park past some roller coasters that seemed cool to Gwendolyn and Bob but we were quickly losing Max to fatigue so we rushed to the Spider Man ride which we’d heard good things about. This ride was neat as it was 3-D but you sat in a car that took you to various sections that had 3-D movies. Max liked everything but the bumps. Olivia didn’t like it saying, “I was afraid because I didn’t know if it was all pretend like Disney.” Too bad it was the last ride for her or we could’ve cleared up that misconception.

Before leaving the park, Gwendolyn and Tracy rode the Hulk. Gwendolyn came off beaming and asking to ride again while Tracy came off disoriented and wishing she hadn’t done the ride at all. Apparently Tracy is no longer a fan of the fast, looping coasters.

Max had been talking about the Hard Rock on and off before we left and then non stop once he had seen the coliseum type building near the entrance to Islands of Adventure. We compromised on a walk through the Hard Rock rather than having dinner there as we still had something we wanted him to do tonight. He agreed but walked with his hand blocking his view of the building so that he would be totally surprised when we got there. We still don’t know why Max was so excited about the Hard Rock but it was not at all what he thought it was because within a few minutes he said he was done and we could leave. No explanation as to what was missing or different then he’d expected; just “I’m done.”

We did dinner at Denny’s in 30 minutes; a record for Max and Olivia. After making a quick pit stop for warmer clothes at the hotel we headed out for Max’s surprise. He loves mini-golf so we decided he would probably like mini-golf at Disney. We got there at 8 pm and it was deserted. Possibly this was due to the cold but we were ready in our winter coats, hats, and gloves/mittens. They offer two course and we opted for the Fantasia course which was clearly the right decision because what we saw of the other course were bunkers and sand traps making for a course that would’ve taken us hours to complete. The course has lots of tubes and funny shots to make all with characters from Fantasia incorporated along with a guide at the beginning of each hole which is sort of a riddle for the best way to attach the hole. Bob and Olivia each got a hole in one on the 5th, Gwendolyn on the 10th and Tracy on the 15th. Max didn’t hole-in-one but was very excited the entire time. As late and cold as it was he was remarkable for not having napped. His spirits were high because he was having a great time figuring out how the tricks in the course worked. On the 17th hole, Max putted and then walked around a sunken walkway to the left of the green. As he passed each of the 6 brooms with buckets, water shot out of the buckets and into a fountain. Since he did not get wet, he thought it was great though he seemed to be hoping that at least someone in our party would get hit by the water. Thankfully, that did not happen. We finished our round of golf at about 9:15 and headed home.

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