Guest blog entry by Michele:
While I would have been content to spend the entire vacation focused on Disney, the rest of our Schilling family was determined to make Universal a part of the adventure. Despite the outrageous expense to make the most of our one day theme park visit, I was assured that it would be worth it --- and I have to agree.
After a quick breakfast to honor our birthday girl Nati, we met the Whites (minus Whit) and caravanned to Universal. We additionally opted to take some “non-drowsy” motion sickness meds as a precautionary measure for the intense rides at Universal. I can report in advance that they worked – none of us suffered from any ill effects throughout the day. However, we question the “non-drowsy” aspect as much of the morning especially our energy level was lacking. Of course this might have a bit to do with the fact that we had been non-stop playing for several days.
After securing our “fast pass express” “VIP” tickets, we relied on Travis’s knowledge of the park/maps, and Ellie’s knowledge of Harry Potter to navigate our adventure. We immediately high tailed it to “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley”. The creativity and quality craftsmanship of the structures and attractions at Universal was so very impressive. In fact, we almost missed the entrance to Harry Potter as one moment we were in London and then a few steps around a corner we were in Diagon Alley. I loved the very authentic dragon perched atop the Gringotts Wizarding Bank that certainly brought out the crowds poised to take a pic as soon as he blew his fire.
We quickly stored our belongings (renting lockers at many rides to store our backpacks was a slightly inconvenient mandatory necessity at Universal) and then hopped on “Harry Potter and The Escape from Gringotts”. Again, so impressive. Folks at Universal did their homework and perfected props, scenes, and imagery to match the Harry Potter series. Our group was also enamored with the Hogwarts Express train ride that provided not only great comfort in our train “cabin” but also more visual “movie scene” entertainment along the way.
The train transported us from the “Universal Studios Florida” park to “Universal’s Islands of Adventure”. At this point, we were immersed in the “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade”. This setting looked like a medieval snowy castle village – which of course did not match the hot and humid Florida weather, but it was still gorgeous. “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey”, and “Flight of the Hippogriff” were our next attractions, followed by the infamous “Dragon Challenge”. Again – all were fun and thrilling, and as the lines were extremely manageable with our express passes, throughout the day we were able to hop back on rides multiple times.
We had earned a break at this point, so before we left Hogsmeade, the Whites treated us to some Butter Beer. While it sounds questionable, it was a sweat and delicious “cream soda float like” drink. Definitely a favorite with our group.
We then did some walking through The Lost Continent and Suess Landing to our destination of Marvel Super Hero Island. We spent a good amount of time here enjoying “The Incredible Hulk Coaster”, “The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man” and lunch at Captain America Diner. We then cheered Stephie White on as she conquered “Doctor Doom’s Fearfall” with the rest of us.
Following this, we cruised through Toon Lagoon to “Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls”. This is Universal’s version of Splash Mountain, except that one might label this “Soak Mountain”. We were DRENCHED. In the Florida heat, we were able to dry off a bit, but our next attraction “Jurassic Park River Adventure” soaked us thoroughly once more. I suppose the dripping hair and clothing added to the memorable adventure.
The highlight ride for the majority of our party was “Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit”. The speed/g-force, straight vertical take-off, and personal selection of music to enjoy along the way made this one extremely memorable. On my end, I only wanted to ride it a few times – while it was exciting, I wasn’t a fan of how much abuse the back of my head took in the process.
We hit a few dud attractions, but for the most part, we celebrated a full day of thrills and chills with Travis and Stephie – making Nati’s 15th birthday an extraordinary day of family bonding, laughter, and joy.