Like last year, the focus of this year's trip was Universal Orlando. We had four-day, park-to-park tickets that allowed us to park hop each day. This would be critical for riding the Hogwarts Express train between Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure.
The main draw for the crowds was the brand new Diagon Alley expansion in Universal Studios Florida. Diagon Alley is part of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter experience that stretches between both of the Universal theme parks. Hogsmeade opened in Islands of Adventure back in 2010, and Diagon Alley opened this past summer. Connecting the two lands (and theme parks) is the Hogwarts Express. Advertisements for this were all over Universal Orlando.
We were visiting Universal Orlando in September, and that meant that it was time for the annual Halloween Horror Nights (HHN) at Universal Studios Florida.
This time around there really wasn't a whole lot of Halloween theming in the park. The New York area had a couple of wrecked vehicles for The Purge, and Production Central had the usual selection of Halloween-themed carnival games. One of the themes in this year's HHN was Alien vs. Predator, but the only reference we saw for it was a single t-shirt. It seemed like most of the Halloween theming involved zombies. Again. <yawn>
One of the more amusing new additions to Universal Orlando was actually in the parking deck. There was an exhibit hosted by American Express, and it used video cameras to put guests' images on a large TV screen along with a series of animations. This wasn't really an interactive exhibit as the animations did not respond to the people. Instead, this was something like, "Hey! I'm on TV with fairy tales, dinosaurs and space aliens!"
Some of the people got into it and played around with the animations. This wasn't anything major, just some harmless fun.
Universal Orlando - Universal Studios Florida
This year Universal Studios Florida was significantly busier than previous years. That is, of course, because of the recent opening of Diagon Alley in the back of the park. Once you see this new land and all of the detail in it, then you'll also understand why that addition has caused such a huge draw of people back to Universal Studios Florida, especially if you're at least somewhat familiar with the Harry Potter books and movies.
Although the park was busier, many of the rides and shows had low wait times. Diagon Alley was always busy, Springfield had some crowds, and most of the other people were up front in Production Central. Rides like Men in Black, ET Adventure, Transformers, and even Revenge of the Mummy had very short wait times, often less than ten minutes.
The Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit roller coaster was fun as always. A noticeable change this time were the workers being very aggressive about making sure that riders did not have ANYTHING in their pockets. One worker questioned every person about this near the start of the line, and another later in line was also looking for violators. Of course, I still had my camera and cell phone inside of my pockets, but that's because I was prepared and had secure pockets on my shorts. Plus, I lied when stating that I wasn't carrying anything. I'm confident that the workers still wouldn't allow me to carry anything even though my pockets were secure.
As you leave the station, the track climbs straight up the lift hill. That's most likely when stuff is going to fall out of your pockets. Other parts of the ride are close to being inverted, but the high g-forces keep you pressed against the bottom of the seat, and those forces normally keeps items *inside* of your pockets. But that lift hill is different, and that's where many people have lost items from their pockets.
Rides like this are easiest if somebody in your group is not riding and just waiting on the outside. That person can hold your stuff so that you don't have to mess around with the "free" lockers.
Outside of TRANSFORMERS: The Ride-3D is a place to meet some of the robot stars and get your picture taken with them. They only have one Transformer out at a time. This year we saw Bumblebee as one of the Transformers out greeting people. I don't remember seeing him last year, just Optimus Prime and Megatron. This year we saw all three of the robots.
Twister was entertaining as usual, and we had a great view of the tornado from the front row. Like many other attractions, this one had almost no wait time.
One of the stranger parts of Twister is in the store. Universal has some strange fascination with not just cows but flying cows. Twister should win an award for having the most unusual t-shirt. Check out the shirt with the cows flying around a smiling tornado wearing a bowtie and saying that it loves milkshakes. I'm a little bit surprised that I didn't see anybody wearing that shirt simply because it's just so wacky.
Revenge of the Mummy was awesome every single time we rode it. Fortunately for us this one also had a minimum wait time (five minutes or less), so it was easy to say, "Let's go ride the Mummy!" whenever being near the attraction.
One of our more common locations to eat was at Richter's Burger Co. in the San Francisco section of the park. While eating at Richter's you'll encounter either a tremor or an earthquake. The Earth movements are simulated by a loud and deep rumbling from the speakers. During the earthquake the scientist in the Richter's Burger Co. sign will pull the lever and signal the "earthquake alarm" (a ringing bell). Immediately after the earthquake or tremor the radio will play "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" before resuming its normal programming.
The E.T. Adventure is still one of my favorite rides. This is a classic dark ride that dates back to the opening day of Universal Studios Florida. Although parts of the ride are showing some aging, this is still a fun ride with some great theming and an overall fun experience.
During this visit the "Interplanetary Passport" system was down. We did not need to give our first names (for those who actually give their real name) to the workers, and E.T. did not bid us farewell by name. The workers claimed that the system was being upgraded with a new database of names. You would think that this would be a quick upgrade, but this part of the ride was down during the entire week of our visit.
Maybe the new version of the name database will finally include the names of E.T.'s friends on the Green Planet. Otherwise, I'll have to go back to using "Elliott" or other names.
Springfield was lively and busy as people got their fill of The Simpsons. A new addition for us was Chief Wiggum's police car wrecked against the leaking fire hydrant. That small part of Springfield was still under construction last year.
Men in Black Alien Attack was yet another ride where the wait time averaged less than ten minutes. In some cases it took longer waiting for the preshow than it did to wait to board the ride, just like with E.T. Adventure. That just means more opportunities to continue riding and shooting at the space aliens. On one of the rides I set what I believe to be a new personal record ---- 300,000 points, and that's *without* pressing the red button at the end.