Playing catch-up… (I started writing this on Tuesday evening and finished up on Friday)
On to Monday. Monday seems like so long ago, not just yesterday! That’s what happens when you pack your days this full of fun. Let’s see. Oh, I got up at 7am and checked out of my hotel room (there was something I needed them to take off my bill so I had to do it in person) & stored my bags with luggage services. Then I took the water taxi to the park to be there at 8am for an hour of empty park fun with only resort customers there. The streets of Hogsmeade were deserted; it was a really neat, quiet, beautiful thing to experience. I spent the whole morning taking photos of every inch of the park, to be sure I got it all. I took advantage of the lack of people and finally got the chocolate frog display window recorded. And I stood in the full/long line for Forbidden Journey and took photos of everything. The people in front of me for the longest portion of the outdoor line were rather annoying (they kept getting things wrong… and they were very anti socialized medicine, so 2 big strikes out in my book) but I saw a girl with a Hufflepuff lanyard and wearing a Hufflepuff Sandwich t-shirt standing in line. I tried to wave to get her attention but she was too far away. I took sooooo many photos and then rode the ride. Then I went straight back and rode it again, this time as a single rider (a 5-10 minute wait).
Next, I went over to the Dragon Challenge and took photos of everything on that ride as well- every banner, every egg, etc. I even got video of the car (I didn’t realize it honked! I hadn’t been able to hear that when I went on the ride the first two times). I learned my lesson that time, though, and did NOT ride the thing a third time. I didn’t even put my backpack in a locker, I just walked through the line and took photos then ducked out through the confusing passageway. I still can’t believe they left out Cedric completely.
I explored every inch of Hogesmeade, taking pictures of everything. I found the ATM machine (Gringots Bank) and a back patio area behind the Leaky Cauldron, neither of which I had seen before during the previous 3 trips. The Forbidden Journey was starting to feel a little predictable to me, so I ended up just leaving around 10:30-ish and making my way over to some other part of Universal—I spent 3.33 out of 4 days in the Wizarding World! LOL I cried a little as I was leaving, knowing what I was leaving behind. Seriously, I want to LIVE there!
I walked through Seussland and went on the Cat in the Hat ride (when I was a kid, I decided one day to sit down and memorize that book; most of it has stuck with me until today). The ride was adorable; it was like taking a stroll right into the book itself.
Then I went over to Marvel Island (when it comes to superheroes, my allegiances are–in order of how much I love them: 1-Batman 2-Anything Marvel 3- Anyone else). I took lots of photos and then went on the Spiderman ride. All weekend I heard people describing the Forbidden Journey as “like Spiderman”. It was really neat to walk through the halls and offices at the Daily Bugle. They even have some fun easter eggs hidden during the line/wait. But the ride wasn’t as exciting as I’d hoped. The 3-D was rough in a lot of places and the whole thing felt a little disjointed. It was fun, but after riding Forbidden Journey so many times, I was unimpressed. Little did I know that Forbidden Journey would be the best ride of the whole trip and my whole last day at Universal would be a let down compared to it. Looks like I did things in the wrong order, again! I explored the stores, looking for neat Marvel gear to buy… and not finding anything I really loved except maybe a mug (I don’t need another mug, cool as it was) and a Remy t-shirt (which I also did not buy, though I liked it). It was really neat to see a real comic book store in the middle of the theme park, though. It was like a little bit of home comfort when I walked in and Astonishing X-Men graphic novels were staring back at me *happy sigh* Then I ate lunch at the Fantastic 4 Café in the Baxter Building.
Let me just repeat that: I ate lunch in the Baxter Building!! SQUEEEEEEEEE! That was so cool. First the Three Broomsticks and then the Baxter Building. I love Universal so much. As I was leaving the Marvel Island area, I noticed an X-Men ride tucked away in the back. I really wanted to go on it (X-Men—whoohooo!) but I had just eaten and I didn’t want to give my stomach more reason to hate me.
I left the Islands of Adventure theme park and went over to Universal Studios theme park. There was a concert at 11 that I was too late for, but I’d mapped my whole route out during lunch, so I knew I’d catch it on the repeat at 12:15. I first went on Shrek 4-D, which was a lot of fun. And let me just say, the resort room key card I had that let me go into the Express lines? Totally freakin worth the cost of the room alone. That thing let me miss SO much waiting it’s not even funny. Shrek was fun; definitely a whole lot tamer than Harry Potter, but I loved the story elements and all the acting; it was certainly fun and unique and like being part of a Shrek movie.
I killed some time while waiting for the Blues Brothers concert by walking around the movie set-like town they had set up. It didn’t have the same feel as Universal in LA where I knew they physically used those buildings as parts of movie sets, but it was still a really well done area. I even found a snarf (a statue of one of the presidents/execs). I found a random little Irish store and very nearly bought a copy of the Proclamation of the Republic but decided I could just print one out from online if I wanted the text in hard copy (wasn’t worth $10 to me, though I was quite tempted).
The concert was well worth waiting for. Lots of dancing and only, like, 4 songs so you weren’t moving about in the sweltering heat too much. I actually broke out the little pocket fan I finally remembered to bring while I was waiting and that thing was amazing; it definitely cooled me down. I got some video of the singers and of Elwood & Jake arriving via police car. “This is a real car, folks,” said the guy in charge of our enthusiasm levels (he told us when to clap and applaud and such). “It will hurt if it hits you.” I had a great spot, right up near the front and I liked the little stage they built into one of the storefronts. Very clever. And very enjoyable. WRock definitely loosened me up; I even danced a little!
I wanted to go on the Revenge of the Mummy ride at that point but it had broken down (which, apparently, it does every day). So I headed over to the kids area and stood in line for ET. Again, I was in the express line and the long wait was something like 75 minutes. I was in line maybe half an hour. Apparently some of the cars had broken down so it was slower than usual. The line was a lot more elaborate than I remember the one in California being; it was like being in a huge indoor forest at night, with trees towering above you. The ride was very similar to the one in Cali, though I think I remember those cars to be smaller, and I was in the back so I didn’t really notice ET rise up in the basket at first. And, at the end when ET is supposed to say our names, it still didn’t work. Ah, memories. I loved my visits to Universal in California with my family.
I went back to check on the Mummy ride after that and it was still broken down. So I decided to head back to Islands of Adventure. None of the rides felt as thrilling as Forbidden Journey and I kind of wanted to end my adventure there. But first I made a few stops. I went to the main Universal Studios gift shop, looking for something Blues Brothers related I might be able to get my parents—there was nothing. What the store DID have though was tons of Harry Potter merch, some of which I hadn’t seen in the park at all. And the isles were wide, not cramped like in the Wizarding World stores. I discovered that Fluffy (the three headed dog) actually made sound when you squeezed him… so that pushed me over the edge and I bought one (those ears are so cute! And he’ll be in good company next to my other Book 1 plushies, Norbert and Scabbers). I bought a Hufflepuff t-shirt, another chocolate frog, and a present I’m sort of regretting but not really. At the store, I ran into two of the girls I met on the first day of Infinitus, the ones leading the leaders discussion and had a nice post-Infinitus conversation.
Then I went over to Islands of Adventure and rode the X-Men ride (even the little rides have plots; I love it). And I headed over to the Wizarding World again. I walked around, taking a few last photos and just soaking it in. I did the Forbidden Journey for a fifth time and this time it felt fresh and new again after all the other rides I’d been on. I even screamed when the Dementor came at me again. I knew it was coming but I still totally freaked out when it swooped in to deliver the kiss.
With lots of deep breaths and happy sighs, I finally left the Wizarding World behind and this time I didn’t tear up. I’d had my fill and was ready to let my memories stand for themselves.
I took a water taxi back to the hotel (I just missed one and had to wait, like, 30 minutes for another while one of the captains-in-training was being evaluated. Finally I got back, got my luggage, and changed clothes out of my sweat-soaked ones. Then I took a cab over to another hotel about 5 minutes away where the car rental place was. The cab driver was really sweet; a dog lover who wasn’t allowed dogs in his condo but was saving up to move to a place that did allow it.
I got there around 4:40pm or so; my reservation was at 5pm. The rental car guy was nice as well. He had a dot matrix printer and was using an old DOS system, so those took me back a long ways. And then when he brought up my reservation and saw my address he said “Burke… hmmm. Burke Lake Park. There was a 7-11 or a café or something there…” It’s an ice cream parlor, actually. “Right next to the train, right?” Here I was in Orlando and this guy knew my little home town! He apparently used to live in Twinbrook back in the 1970s. Small world! He didn’t have any cars the size I requested so he upgraded me to something slightly bigger that they did have on hand.
I took a spin around the parking lot, stopped at Burger King for a drink and onion rings, and started my first leg of the long journey home.
My first stop was the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse. Going into a lighthouse has been on my list of things to do before I die for years now (probably since about Highlander, Season 2 episode an Eye for an Eye). On retrospect, I probably should have chosen one other than Florida’s tallest lighthouse after a day of walking around two amusement parks.
I went into the gift shop and bought a keychain and postcards (and admission to the lighthouse). Then I left a book on a bench outside before climbing up the lighthouse. For one brief moment, I actually thought there might be an elevator (perhaps the Washington Monument ruined me). But then, looking up at the spiraling staircase, I got really excited. I counted on the way up but kept stopping to take photos of the info signs along the way. On their way down, people would offer words of encouragement to those going up (“you’re almost there!”). It felt high by the time I got up to the top; I clung to the railing, not wanting to get dizzy. But when I stepped out of the door behind the railing, it was magnificent. It was cool and windy—so windy! And the view was just amazing! I looked down to get a picture of the book I’d left (what a neat photo that would be) but the book had already been picked up!
I stayed up there for quite some time, enjoying being up so high on a real lighthouse. Then I headed down and gave people the same sort of encouragement. “It’s cool and windy up there!” I walked around the grounds, taking the full walking tour. There were buildings you could go into, a boatyard (with Cuban refugee rafts), displays on everything from the history of lenses to nautical navigation to the lighthouse during wartime to the lighthouse keepers. I stayed there for about 2 hours and I couldn’t have timed it better. After I went through the gift shop on my way out, it was just about 9pm and dark out. So I got to see the lighthouse in the daytime and at night.
I drove to Jacksonville from there, which was about a 2-hour drive. I had the air conditioning up on full to preserve the chocolate frogs I’d bought. The cold air in my eyes made them want to close, but I only discovered this was the problem on day 3 of the drive. If only I had known before that! The last half an hour of the drive was difficult but I made it in safe & sound.
Before that, I stopped at a grocery store for food and ended up at this weird, ghetto save-a-lot store where food was stacked in boxes along the isles. I ended up with some snacks, saltine crackers, peanut butter, and fruit. I also grabbed a $1 DVD documentary about LARPs called “Darkon”. I haven’t watched it yet.
I crashed in the hotel room, exhausted, and woke up 7 hours later for the next leg of my journey.