~living a life of adventure with a little bit of attitude
Universal Studios Day One - Three- December 2020
4am comes way too soon the day after Christmas. Actually, it comes too early any time you are forced to get up at that hour but especially when you have spent the last few days running around and staying up late in an attempt to create beautiful and lasting memories for your adored family.
By 4:48am we were packed in the cold car and on our way to the airport.
Traveling during covid is hit or miss. Do you get to the airport 2 hours early as they suggest (no)? Are there a ton of extra screenings and questions that slow things down? (Not in our experience) Grand Rapids was pretty busy but we walked right through security through the pre-check line, our plane was not at capacity with people placed in every other seat and Atlanta airport was very quiet compared to what I have seen in the past. Transportation from the airport to our resort in Orlando was super smooth as was our check in. No waits, no lines, and very few people.
Let’s pause for a minute here and talk about airport bathrooms. Lots and lots of folks cycle in and out of these necessary stops and for the most part I have found them to be on the cleaner side so no complaints there. What I would like to complain about are those automatic flush toilets! I get it. People are in a hurry. People are lazy. People think if they touch the flush handle they get more germs. (You do realize you just locked and unlocked a stall were a person before you did the same without washing hands so what makes the handle of the flusher seen as so much dirtier. And you just sat your butt down where another bare butt sat... so....) and when the toilets don’t get flushed the next person skips that toilet by creating longer lines and plugged toilets.
The thing I hate about the automatic flush is that they always always flush while I am sitting down. If you shift your weight just a little to reach for toilet paper- flush. Person next to you flushes - flush. You sneeze- flush. You lift your foot- flush. Flush flush! And chances are the water from the toilet will splash up on your backside. It is like a bidet with pee water. Gross. I don’t want a golden bidet. I just want to pee. Manually flush the toilet- I will even use my hands. Proceed to wash my hands and be on my way! If you have any hints for me besides completely squatting and not touching the toilet at all I’m all ears!
I tried to talk the kids into a tropical all inclusive vacation, but they weren’t going for it. They wanted the excitement of the roller coasters and fun with cousins so that is how we ended up at Universal Studios in Orlando Florida. If Disney is the happiest place on earth Universal has to be something similar right? Maybe by the end of this “vacation” I will know what that is. I’m hoping it isn’t the most stressful place on earth! At any rate, our hotel; the Royal Pacific looked like an all inclusive resort according to the kids so that was a step in the right direction for me!
After claiming our room, meeting up with Aunt Megan, Uncle Tom, and cousin Sadie, grabbing some wrapped food in the little snack shop to avoid hangry attacks; we all took a little ferry to Universal Studios. We stood clumped up in our group of nine and waited for our first squirt of 85 million of hand sanitizer before boarding.
It was a quick trip snaking around lush green banks. Much different scenery then the grey we have been seeing in Michigan. The sun was out but it was chilly. Jeans and layers chilly. Maybe even a light coat chilly. For Floridians it was down right freezing!
We waited patiently to be told to stand and exit for another squirt of hand sanitizer. This one was sticky and I think I ended up with more on my pants after trying unsuccessfully to rub all of it into my skin.
I love how close the resorts and the two Universal Parks are! Not having to rely on transportation to get where you want to go is such a relief! (especially during covid when sanitizing and social distancing make things move super slow)
After getting into the absolute wrong line at the Universal Studios entrance that didn’t move for forever, we were on our way! The plan was to look around and check things out, go into the Harry Potter area to use our wands, and to do the park for real the next day.
As soon as we walked in we saw a float with characters waving, singing and dancing. That was enough to put me in a happy mood! Around the corner we saw Hello Kitty who one of my nieces adores and has for years - I may have yelled out a bit too loudly; much to the embarrassment of my children and maybe the adults with me too, but no better way to prepare them all for over the top on obnoxiousness!
Our original plan quickly changed when we noticed the lack of people and the short wait times! I call it the C triangle- cold weather, Christmas, and Covid. We couldn’t resist stopping at some rides on the way to Harry Potter instead of running right to Diagon Alley.
Our first stop was ET. We rode on bikes and were chased by police. A nice mild way to start. During quarantine we had the kids watch a bunch of 80s movies with us so they knew the story line of ET which made it more fun. What would make this ride even better is if you could actually pedal the bikes! Entertainment while getting exercise because honestly junk food far out numbers anything healthy at amusement parks.
We also stopped at a kids coaster which is totally my speed and then the Simpson’s ride. The kids don’t know who the Simpson’s are so while I enjoyed being nostalgic as we walked through the area pointing out Duff beer and Itchy and Scratchy - the kids were clueless. Their lack of pop culture knowledge didn’t affect how they enjoyed the ride fortunately. It was a 3 D ride and they all loved it. It made me a little queasy so I focused on looking at the cars next to us and missed about 75% of the plot. It made Ry completely queasy and he had to sit out for a few rides after that. Oh the joy of being old...
We finally made it back to Harry Potter. They have it well hidden but we saw people going around a corner and followed them. We did a lot of that - following crowds- even small ones.
Right away we saw people waving around wands so we did that too. Not knowing what in the world was going on until we asked others and read the plaques on the ground. We actually had a map and directions that came with the wand but forgot of its existence in my sling bag which I of course had over my shoulder.
There are so many details in Diagon Alley. Each store front window, intricate display, and staff member has been planned out with a specific thought and purpose. It’s important to go slow through this area or you will miss some of the coolest things! Go in the stores and just look around. You’ll encounter enchanted mirrors, speaking snakes, and chocolate frogs. (Although the mirror told me that my outfit left a bit to be desired.)
There is a money exchange store with a goblin doing work at his desk. If you ask the goblin a question he will answer you! That was really really cool. The first time we entered the exchange we had no idea what it was. We followed the ropes around like a herd of Buffalo and walked right back out the door. The second time we knew you could ask questions and exchange US dollars for Galleon, Sickel, and Knuts. Unfortunately the lowest domination is equal to ten dollars and you get a note saying it is worth 10 dollars from Gringots. I was hoping I could get smaller bills or coins to give to the kids to divide up as souvenirs. Fortunately it can be spent anywhere in the parks so that part is good. Not sure why you would want them though... and I don’t understand why there are no signs anywhere saying what could be done at this location. Along that thought; I felt like that was a big something the park was lacking. Much of the time we were confused and I had to look it up on my phone. There were plenty of people standing around waving at us holding signs that reminded us to social distance but we couldn’t find half the things we needed or the directions on which way to go.
We stopped in one of the less busy shops and ordered the infamous Butter Beer. There are three ways to get it but not every place has the option for each variety. I loved the hot butter beer. Lola ordered Fishy Green Ale and the other kids ordered frozen butter beer. If you want water it’s Gilly Water you need to search for. Again we had to look up the recipes to know what to order because who wants to be the one to hold up the line asking questions ! If it were up to me I would also add Hot Butter Beer Coffee and a Butter Beer Float to their menu.
The big ride in Diagon Alley is Escape from Gringots. Ry sat out because he was feeling a bit green. I walked the line with our group (which is really cool and has a lot of fun things to see) and made it all the way to the front before my anxiety of a roller coaster got the best of me and I bailed. I wasn’t at all disappointed in my decision even after everyone said how great the ride was. Even after my 9 year old niece who was close to tears on the kiddie ride told me it wasn’t scary at all- still secure in my decision to bail.
Once we had our fill of the fire breathing dragon and wand waving (which we had to stop and get fixed by the way, but it was fast!) we headed out of Harry Potter World and explored the rest of the park.
We had express passes so we were able to skip longer lines and get on rides fast! I really had no idea what to expect from Universal. My impression was roller coasters (which are not my favorite thing) and Harry Potter (which I do like). What I found were a few large roller coasters, a lot of Harry Potter, and a ton of 3D rides with intricate story lines. If you are prone to motion sickness you may want to take some preventative measures before starting your day. Some of the rides it is impossible to find a spot to fix your eyes on to keep your belly from rolling over.
It was so nice not to have crowds and we were able to go on almost all of the rides at Universal. The only one we missed was a giant roller coaster that I didn’t want to go on anyways. I did miss ridding the Mummy. I did my last minute bail out move. Those signs of warning they have up are a bit extreme but after seeing so many warnings of steep drops I decided to play it safe. My family was so excited for the ride that when they saw me ahead of them after the ride in the gift shop (because all rides end in a gift shop) they couldn’t understand how I got there ahead of them when I had been behind them in line! No one noticed I bailed. The kids just shook their heads and said “classic mom”.
The sun had set and the night brought cold air. A lot of cold air! We left the park and made a short journey on foot to City Walk. I think it is basically the equivalent of Downtown Disney for Universal Studios. There are a number of restaurants and shops. My sister in law was smart and made reservations for each night we were there so we would be sure to have tables. It was a good thing she did that because the restaurants had just announced a few days before we got there that they would only accept reservations and not walk ins.
We were early and cold so we went in a shop and milled around for as long as we could. It was an uncomfortably long amount of time. Under normal circumstances I think security would have been following us around the way we were loitering, but with the amount of customers inside; no one noticed. We then went to a little cart with drinks that had a heater next to it. We snuggled around the heater and felt guilty about taking the table and heater so we ended up ordering overpriced sodas for the kids to put our minds at ease.
Our dinner was great- we had amazing fresh guacamole made at our table - well behind a plastic shield on a rolling cart. After our bellies were stuffed we peeled our tired bottoms off of the chairs and started for the hotel. We could have taken the ferry, but it was so cold that we decided speed walking would be the way to go.
Up since 4am Ry was in bed at 9:23. I know this because he was very proud and relieved to be in bed before 9:30!
To see the pictures and video from our entire trip go to my youtube channel: Adventure and Attitude
or click on the videos below! There are three videos: Day One, Two, and Three!
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