Saturday, June 3, 2017

Orlando Trip with Kids: Part II - Universal Studios/Islands of Adventure Day 1

On Monday morning we all decided to head over to Universal Studios as early as possible. They open at 9, and it's a 20 minute drive from our hotel, so I figured leaving around 8:20am would give us plenty of time to get parked and inside the theme park right at opening. Boy was I wrong! Our first barrier to arriving on time was traffic. This was spring break, so there were a LOT of people visiting the theme parks, and both the freeway exit and the side roads are pretty backed up everyday from about 8:30am - 10:30am. Next you have to allot time for the long lines to pay for parking, make your way through the enormous lot, and wait for the employees to direct you where to go. Some days we were able to get through fairly quickly and other days we had to sit and wait while people who'd arrived after us were able to park immediately. I don't know what their system was, but it didn't make much sense to us. Once you've parked you have to get from your parking spot through to security, which is also super crowded with long lines, and then you still have to go through the CityWalk before you arrive at the park entrance. This was much more walking than we'd planned on (around a mile), and we'd only brought a single stroller, so either we got worn out from carrying/wrangling Allison or Tyler would get worn out from taking such a long walk on his little legs. Then once we arrived at the entrance, we had to wait in more long lines to get our prepaid tickets (on the first day) and then in more long lines to enter the park. The kids were often worn out and melting down before we'd even done a single attraction.

On that particular morning, the kids slept in until 8:30am. They were still sleep deprived from our red eye flight the night before, so we didn't want to wake them up before we absolutely had to. The hotel curtains made it nice and dark, and they likely would have slept even longer if my mom hadn't called my cell phone to say they were leaving their hotel (my phone was connected to our powerful bluetooth speaker playing white noise, so her call and her voice came through the speaker as well). After that call we made a mad rush to get the kids ready ASAP, but it took an extra 10 minutes to find one of Allison's sneakers (one of the kids had put it under the sink in the kitchenette). We didn't leave the hotel until almost 9 and ended up feeding the kids their breakfast in the car and while waiting to get in the park.

Mike and the rest of the family arrived before us and waited for us at the Starbucks at CityWalk. Somehow we missed that message and went right to will call to pick up the discounted adult tickets Oscar had purchased through Comcast. Mike had bought the kids' passes online but still had to go through the regular line to pick them up physically. He'd been back at the Starbucks waiting, so he had no idea how long or slow it would be, and he didn't get in line until after we'd already retrieved our passes. His line was about the same size as our line, but it moved at least four times as slow.

My kids had hit their waiting threshold by then, so we let them play around by the Universal globe and took pictures while Mike finished waiting in line. The ticket lines die way down later in the day and are pretty much empty around 5pm, so what we really should have done was dropped someone off to retrieve all our tickets the evening before. It would have saved nearly an hour of waiting out in the Florida heat and direct sunlight (something my pacific northwest kids were definitely not used to after this year's record breaking rainfall).
In the entrance line I made sure to get pictures of each child in the clothes they were wearing in case one of them got lost. This was the best I could get from asking Tyler to look at the camera.

With all the waiting and walking, it was nearly 11am before we actually entered the park. Allison decided she'd had enough of that and conked out quickly in the stroller. I'd borrowed a stroller from a neighbor because I wanted something that would recline for her to nap in. Our jogging stroller will do that, but I didn't want to bring it since it's far too difficult to navigate in crowded areas (we learned that the hard way at Disneyland). This one reclined easily and steered nicely, but it would have been nice to have a stroller for Tyler too. Our double stroller was obviously not a good choice since it's also very cumbersome in crowded areas and doesn't recline, but I really should have brought along the umbrella stroller for him.

Mike's kids wanted to use their wands at the telephone booth near Kings Cross station, but since that had a slow line and wasn't particularly interesting to our kids, I thought we should keep moving. Mom and dad came with us, and we walked over to Springfield (from the Simpsons) to ride Kang and Kodos' Twirl 'n' Hurl since it only had a 15 minute wait (everything else was 45 minutes or more). Allison could have gone on this ride, but she fell asleep on the way over, so they let us cut to the front of the line for a child swap and Tyler was able to go twice. This isn't a ride that normally does child swap since even babies can ride it (with an adult), so I appreciated that they noticed Allison asleep in her stroller and chose to accommodate us.

We then went over to the Simpson's ride, but we didn't end up doing it since they were not quite as accommodating. Allison wouldn't have been able go on the ride even if she was awake, but we couldn't make use of the child swap option without taking her through the line with us. They wouldn't allow us to take the stroller through, and I was not going to wake up my tired baby just to wrangle her through yet another long line. Though Universal Studios does have a lot of fun things to do with young children, it was much more challenging than our Disney trip with baby Tyler because their height requirements and child swap policies are not family friendly at all. Disney has no height requirements on many of their rides while their Universal counterparts have 36 - 42 inch height requirements. And to make it worse, you have to wait in the lines with your tired, restless children for a ride they can't even go on in order to use the child swap option. It makes zero sense to me that they can accommodate wheelchairs in all of their lines, but they won't let you bring in a stroller with a sleeping baby who won't even be getting on the ride. While the rest of your party does the ride, you and your child wait in a tiny little room with a completely open doorway, so of course your busy toddlers are going to try and run out and you have to wrestle them just to keep them safe. It's awful! At Disney you go to the end of the line with your child and they give you a pass to come back later in the Fast pass line with 1 or 2 other members of your party. Sure it means doing the ride later than the rest of your party, but it's vastly superior to taking them through the line with you. The only way the child swap would even be useful is if the lines were super short and/or if you've got a mild mannered baby that's content to hang out in a baby carrier while you wait in hour plus long lines (neither of my kids ever fell into that category).

Mike and his family had decided to go on the Men in Black ride, so we took the kids over to Fievel's playland while we waited for them. Men in Black is super similar to Buzz Lightyear at Disney, but unlike Disney it has a 42 inch height requirement, so Tyler couldn't ride it (he was just shy of 41 inches at the time). Again I was annoyed by their overly conservative height requirements, but I do have to admit that Fievel's playland and all of the other Universal play areas were absolutely fantastic! They must have been designed by parents who take their kids on regular outings. They're everything you could want in a playground and more. Allison had woken up on our walk over and really enjoyed getting a chance to get of the stroller and move around. I got a bit stuck chasing her through this tunnel before taking her down the slide. I was a bit sad to see the ball pit next to it was closed since she's never been in one before, and I'm sure she'd love it. Ball pits were everywhere when I was a kid but now they're hard to find.

She did, at least, get to enjoy playing in the little bounce house with Tyler. Allison can't jump yet but she likes feeling the bounce when people jump next to her.

After Mike and family finished up on Men in Black, we all walked over to Diagon Alley to ride the Escape from Gringotts ride. It has a 42 inch height requirement, so neither kid could go with us, but Tyler was happy just hanging out with his cousins in line. Allison even had fun running down the rows when we first walked in but became pretty difficult once we'd caught up with the main line. Whenever there were chains she'd shake them happily, but then she'd throw a fit when we'd pick her up once the line started moving again.

Diagon Alley and the rest of the Wizarding World landscaping is just mindblowing! I didn't get a chance to truly appreciate it and take pictures that day since it was so crowded and we were busy wrangling the kids, but it totally took my breath away. One cool thing about Universal is that the lines are so well designed, so at least you have eye candy while you wait. Once we got inside the line goes right through Gringotts, which is just awesome. It really does feel like you've walked right into the story. The ride was pretty cool too (incredible technology), but I think it could have been improved by having dips like a roller coaster since that's how it's described in the books.

For as minimal movement as there was, I was surprised Tyler couldn't go on the ride with us (42 inch requirement). He was later able to go on both Transformers and Spiderman (40 inch requirements), and Gringotts was pretty similar to those two. Fortunately he enjoyed being with his cousins so much that he didn't even seem to realize we were in a line for a ride he couldn't go on, and he was entertained in the waiting room by playing games on an extra phone we'd brought with us. Allison, on the other hand, was pretty restless, squirmy, and tired. That ride actually had a much bigger waiting room than any of the others did, but the open doorways were always really challenging since she's always on the move and has zero sense of danger.

After Oscar and I took our turn on the ride, I asked Oscar and mom if they could take the kids back to the hotel for nap/quiet time. We found throughout the trip that Allison could only handle half days of high stimulation while Tyler could do 3/4 days as long as he got a decent mid-day break. They both fell asleep in the car and Oscar dropped mom and Allison back at her resort before taking Tyler back to ours. Oscar and Tyler came back to the park later while Allison stayed with mom and spent the night at her hotel so that we were free to stay late at the park. Mom took her swimming and let her wander around the room and the porch. Allison is a mover and a climber and she was just as happy to be walking and climbing around the hotel grounds as walking around the play areas at the themeparks.

Those of us who remained in the park were getting pretty hungry by then, so we attempted to eat lunch there, but the lines for any real food were incredibly long and super slow. We ended up just eating crappy, overpriced vendor stuff to tide us over until later. Oscar would be bringing Tyler back that evening, so I requested we do roller coasters until then. We went on Revenge of the Mummy and Rip Ride Rock-It before our virtual time slot opened up for Race through New York with Jimmy Fallon. There we were entertained by this colorful quintet while hanging out in the waiting room. 

From there we walked over to the other themepark "Islands of Adventures" to hit up a few other coasters - Hulk and the red side of Dueling Dragons. The others complained a bit about the lines and long wait times, but I could have happily waited in a three hour long line now that I was child free and knew they were in good hands. Catching up with my only brother, whom I rarely see, while not needing to worry about entertaining and taking care of my kids was awesome! The rides were just an added bonus. What an appropriate thing to do on siblings day!

Oscar and Tyler had arrived in the parking lot by then, but they couldn't meet up with us yet since I had Tyler's themepark ticket with me. Mike and family ate dinner at the nearby Jurassic Cafe while I worked my way back to the entrance. Tyler was thrilled to be back and in good spirits after having a nice, calming break. We'd brought our two man camping tent with us so he would have his own space at the hotel room. He spent a couple hours playing with his Legos before coming back to the park.

We planned on doing the Spiderman ride once everyone got together, so I decided to take Tyler to the "Me Ship Olive" play area until they were done eating and could meet up with us. Oscar had to use the bathroom on the way, so I told him to meet us at the Popeye play area. He ended up mistaking it for the water ride "Bluto's Bilge Rat Barges" and got completely soaked. You can see one of those barges going right by the ship we were playing on. There's actually a place on the lowest deck where you can shoot water at people. Ty really liked that! Then, funnily enough, Mike's kids ended up going on the ride and getting soaked too. They hadn't known it was a water ride and just saw that it had no wait (because, of course, the sun had gone down by then and no one wanted to get wet anymore).

We then walked over to Spiderman, which was really neat though a bit intense for Tyler. It was getting dark and all his wet cousins were getting pretty cold, so they headed back to the hotel. We'd noticed that the crowds died down considerably in the afternoon, so Mike figured they'd plan on coming after the morning rush in the future.

Since it was just us and Ty, we walked over to the Dr Seuss area to ride Cat in the Hat and the Seuss Trolley Train Ride. I figured we should do rides that Mike's kids weren't particularly interested in and that Allison was too small for. Ty really liked Cat in the Hat. We rode it twice since the line was short. We'd read the book to him just before coming on vacation, so he liked seeing it come to life in front of him.

I asked if we could take pictures, and the operator said "yes as long as you don't use flash or it will trigger a warning." We didn't use flash, but a verbal warning still came on telling us no photography was allowed. Oh well. At least we asked.

Next we went on the Seuss Trolley Train Ride. You get a decent view, but the line is pretty slow. I pulled these daytime pictures off the internet since ours were taken in the dark and didn't turn out well. I wanted to ride it again in the daytime but the line was always too long and we always had plenty of other things to do.

And since we still had a little bit of time before the park closed, we finished off with "One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish." We got a little bit wet on that one since the fish spit water as you go around, but you can try to maneuver your fish over or under it when it happens. Ty didn't like getting wet, but he did like seeing us get wet while we shielded him.

On the way back Ty fell asleep almost immediately in the car. We grabbed a quick dinner at Wendy's and went right to bed so we could take the kids back to the park early the next day.


  1. Love all the darling and cute pictures and especially the explanation of all you were able to do while the kids were with Oscar and me. When Ali woke up she had so much fun playing on the patio and even more fun splashing in the small pool. She was a little joy to be with and play with.

  2. Such a wonderful time with family and having so much fun at Universal Studio's in Florida. Love you sweet daughter