Universal-ly Accepted

None of this architecture is ‘necessary,’ per se, serving no other purpose than to tantalize the eye and imagination, and just so, I love every detail. Who wouldn’t want a windmill spinning atop their house, or a clam-powered faucet?

Details are important.  Any fan of H.G. Wells’ science-fiction will inform you that ignoring the little things in life can prove fatal . . . you know, because all the aliens died in Wells’ novel War of the Worlds . . . because they never considered Earth’s micro-organisms . . . and because of this ‘tiny’ oversight of these microbes the space invaders ended up a ‘little’ dead . . . which is to say ‘very.’

Which brings me to my second point: subtlety.  Subtlety is also a very important quality, especially in writing.  However, in theme parks, the subtle touch is best left outside the gates, along with moderation and unapproved coolers.  In a well-designed theme park, the act of walking or waiting should prove as entertaining as the rides themselves, engaging the imagination as well as the senses.  At the risk of sounding like a dork, I enjoy the lure of another world, of the fantasy.  To quote John Hammond: “I’m not talking about rides.  Everyone has rides.”

For this reason, I adore stepping outside Disney every once in a while to visit Universal’s Islands of Adventure.  Much like the best of Disney’s parks, simply walking through the pathways and shops proves rewarding, gifting visitors with strange contraptions, extinct monsters, inspiring movie scores, and other forms of eye-candy.  It’s nice to see that someone other than Disney understands the difference between a theme park and a carnival.  Plus, they sell sugar-roasted almonds.  Honestly, I’d suffer through the lines at the DMV if they distributed free bags of the sugary squirrel food.  Certainly, there’d be far less unpaid parking tickets.

Rodney, Bree, Kevin and I set off to Universal at the end of the week. Ryan distracted by the arrival of his girlfriend, Mary, opted out to spend some time snuggling by the pool. Yes, it’s as disgusting as it sounds.

The Harry Potter-land, being the newest section of the park and Mecca for Potter-fans the world over,  fills to capacity quickly.  In past years, when the buzz of the last two films had driven Potter-heads to rabid excitement, lines had formed to simply enter the snow-capped lanes of Hogsmeade.  Lines stretched through The Lost Continent, a fantasy-themed zone filled with massive tridents and stone gryphons.

I love this place. When I conquer the world in the year 2140, all waterfalls will be diverted to flow from giant carved heads of dragons and centaurs. How incredible would Mt. Rushmore become if water continually flowed from Teddy’s right nostril? I know, right!

So Rodney had never visited any of this before, so perhaps we should have been more considerate. Still . . . ‘Is that real snow?’ should be pretty self-evident.

Before entering the park, the kids and I decided to buy some ‘Fast Pass’ tickets. These little cards allow you to essentially jump to the front of the line, bypassing the normal traffic like a HOV lane on a freeway. Unfortunately, the tickets doubles our admission price into the park. Still, they’re quite useful. Moreover, I got several compliments from a few of the female attendants, who recognized my shirt from Threadless.. Lesson: chicks dig a fashionable guy.

I love this view: castle, emerging from behind the trees.  Apparently, Alnwick Castle in Northumberland is the inspiration behind Hogwarts.  After I conquer the world, I wonder if they’ll let me live there.

I have nothing particularly witty to say here, only that the ‘snow’ owl is pretty awesome.

After Harry Potter, we left to visit the neighboring Jurassic Park. Their river raft ride is pretty awesome (if a little short), but does drench the body some. We had to . . . hide this fact from Bree, who possessed no inclination to get wet.

Yeah, so Bree got a little mad at us afterwards. No amount of cajoling could assuage her anger — I even offer to buy her a dry T-rex shirt! — until we stopped to grab some food. Teenage girls (and, let’s face, anyone) loves sugar-roasted almonds. It’s her kryptonite.

Most of the ‘lands’ at Islands of Adventure circle a large lake, much like Epcot at Disney World; thus, unless you double-back, there’s no way of missing any of the attractions. Our next ‘land’ was Toon Landing, a comic strip themed zone filled with flumes and raft rides. One look at Bree told me that any additional water rides would result in immediate fratricide. Ergo, we continued onward to Marvel City, a towering cityscape where Marvel superheroes battled along rooftops.

Now, ironically Disney owns the rights to all these characters and superheroes, yet sells very little of the merchandise anywhere within their parks. Thus, if I want to buy or purchase books, Universal is the (only) place to go. Shirts, statues, graphic novels: seriously the shops here sell everything. Rodney bought gifts for his girlfriend; I loaded my arms with graphic novels; and Kevin and Brigid pored through the shirts and replicas.

Of course, the rides are the real attraction. Apart from the lackluster Dr. Doom’s Deathdrop (or something like that), the Hulk coaster and Spider-man ride are some of the best you’ll encounter in Florida, Disney included.  The Hulk launches you from the chamber (essentially 0 to 40mph in 2 sec), providing the adrenaline rush of transforming into the green behemoth.  Moments before launch, you can hear Bruce Banner’s voice over the loudspeaker: ‘I think . . . I think its working.  I’m cured . . . OH NO!  ARGGG!’  Awesome.

By this time, we were ready to tuck into bed. The previous night’s entertainment consisted of running around the Magic Kingdom until 2AM, so we felt legitimately hungry and exhausted. Still as we dragged our tired corpses to the car, I spied a new mini-golf course, located right off the Universal’s CityWalk (their equivalent to Disney’s Marketplace).  Well . . . no way, we could ignore that!

As mini-golf courses go, Universal did a pretty decent job of creating fun, challenging holes. More often than not, putting around ‘the gimmick’ was the wisest play, but like the picture above illustrated the temptation proved too enticing. I lost six strokes trying to ‘coerce’ this Tim Burton-esqe snake to ‘swallow’ my ball. Kevin and Bree just looked on, laughing at their older brother’s (apparent) incompetence.

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One thought on “Universal-ly Accepted

  1. I really, really want to go there!! especially the Harry Potter bit : ) may have to take a trip to Northumberland and the original castle

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