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Old 04-12-2017, 03:40 AM   #121
broganmc
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Hey everyone,

So I'm home now for the post trip wrap up. Still coughing and sneezing (damn cold) but the warm weather has followed us. It reached a high of 83F in Maryland today. Bright sun, gentle breezes, they even cut the grass today to give everything a fresh smell. I'm glad to see the early Spring blossoms are coming out. That bitter and wet winter spell didn't kill everything back here.

Before I get too deep into what's happening right now, a few pictorial highlights from our last days in Orlando.

Picking up on Friday, the three of us headed off to Islands of Adventure. Our goal was to show my cousin as much as we could so he knew what it was all about. I thought they'd be open until 9pm like always, but both parks closed at 6pm. Why? It was Grad Bash night. Seems they're doing this over several Fridays this month. Various high school groups are involved by the looks of the check-ins. That meant as the day wore on the crowd got bigger and decidedly more adolescent.

Weather was a nice mild low 80s. Bright sun though. Now Islands of Adventure is an interesting cross between Animal Kingdom and AdventureLand. You enter into this Mediterranean-style bazaar with shops, street markets and cafes.



I sent GpaM and Cuz to the bakery for a morning snack and to recharge my Coke refill mug ($8 for the day) and raced ahead to Marvel Comic Hero Land. I wanted to check out the wait for Spiderman and get a disability return time. It was about 35 minutes. Not bad considering the building crowds.

Marvel Land is done up as if you are stepping into the world of comic books. There's Captain America's cafe. The Incredible Hulk's gamma radiation accelerator (aka the big rollercoaster). Dr. Doom's Fall towers. And the Daily Bugle, where Spiderman resides.

Now a note about accessibility for Spiderman. It's an indoor ride simulator with a moderately long queue that winds its way through the offices of the Daily Bugle. No strollers or ECVs are allowed inside. Wheelchairs are fine. The reason, of course, is because there are some tight turns inside the building and ramps that would cause issues for ECVs. My dad finds the walk easier than Transformers or any other ride queue so we don't ask for a backdoor entry.

Dad walks a bit slower but it allows us to really enjoy the scenery in the queue. It takes me back to some of my old college newspaper days.



The dark room:



One of my old bosses:



The premise of the story is you are part of a brand new crackpot team of reporters in a special news vehicle out on the streets to investigate reported disturbances around town. Seems Doc Ock (Doctor Octopus) and his gang are tearing up the place.

The ride vehicles move along a track and themselves spin, rock and rumble. It's also 3D because you are inside the world of a Spiderman comic. They add extra 4D effects as well such as water spritzing on you and heat from a simulated flame. Each vehicle has two rows of 4 seats with a lap bar to keep you in place. I find it an extremely easy ride vehicle to board. No steps to climb over, no saddle horns to straddle and plenty of leg room. The ride itself is much smoother than Transformers as well. Far less jerking and more spinning. My dad and I really enjoy it. Cousin thought it was "cute".

I can't wait to take my sister's boys on it. It's just their type of ride. Not too scary but immersive enough to enjoy the story.

Really the only thing we don't like about Marvel Land is the music. They play this constant electric guitar beat out on the streets that grates the nerves. I know it fits the theme, but not my preference.

From there we moved onto Cartoon Land. It's very similar to Marvel except it's based on classic cartoons. Popeye, Betty Boop, Cathy, Krazy Kat. It's also home to the park's major water rides. That includes the Bilge Barges (which have an accessible raft) and Rip Saw Falls (a huge water log ride with some of the biggest wettest falls you've seen). Everyone came off that soaked. I just love sticking around for the scenery.







Next up was Kong. This indoor attraction is one of their latest and most popular. Usually there's been a wait time of over 100 minutes when I went past. Today it was only 45. So I got a return time and suggested we grab some lunch while we waited.

Lunch was supposed to be a quick hot dog from a stand outside Jurassic World. The line for the hot dog took longer than the wait for the ride! I don't know why. They had 3 Team Members working, but the line just took forever. And we way overpaid for the hot dogs. $16 for a foot long dog and a bag of chips. We should have gone inside to Thunder Hills cafe instead. That's where we ate with my brother and niece. Same price but you got a real meal with two sides and a drink. Live and learn.

We did get to enjoy a nice view of the Jurassic World ride. This is also a water adventure. One large boat carrying about 40 people through the jungles of animated dinosaurs and prehistoric creatures. It terminates in one giant 85 foot waterfall. I keep telling myself I'm saving it for when I have the whole family with me (and they can drag me on the ride). The full ride videos make it seem like lots of fun. I just don't know if I could handle that straight drop.



After lunch we went back to ride Kong. We were going to go through the Quick Queue line (because I'd heard there was some fun theming inside including a scare actor to ramp up the thrill), but a Team Member redirected us to the backdoor again. It just makes it easier for them.

Again, no ECVs allowed but power wheelchairs can go in. You do have to transfer to a seat or a manual wheelchair to ride. The vehicle is similar to the Kilamanjaro Safari and old Backlot Tour. It's a giant bus with bench seating and doors that pull down shut. No seatbelts are required, but you will get jostled a lot. It's also a 3D experience.

Basically the ride vehicle moves along a track taking you through 4 distinct scenes. First you ride outside and enter the mythical underworld of an island temple. The narrator is a native who tells you how her tribe has worshiped the mighty Kong for generations. Years past that worship included blood sacrifices, but they don't do that anymore. Instead you are meeting up with a research team trying to track the mythical beast.

Things quickly descend into mayhem as the researchers are attacked by other "lost world" style creatures. Pteradactyls, a giant squid-like creature, etc. Soon you're being chased by veloceraptors and T-Rexes. The 3D is very well done. It's all around you so you truly believe you are inside a jungle swinging from rope bridge to bridge and flying thru the air. (Don't worry, there are no inversions. Remember, there are no seatbelts or restraints on this ride.)

The last room is not 3D but instead is very real. Now my only issue was those 3D glasses have very small lenses and don't fit so well over prescription lenses. So I didn't bother putting them on. I just glanced through them occasionally when I wanted more scene detail. The panoramic effect was much better without having to constantly spin my head around. Many of the Team Members don't bother with the glasses either.

After we exited and were getting our stuff together, a couple with a 3 yo girl stopped to ask our recommendation for her. Under no circumstances would I take a child under 8 on that ride, or one with an active imagination. That dinosaur attack was very realistic and terrifying. I told them she'd have nightmares for weeks. Instead, I suggested they do a child swap so both parents could experience it. It's fine for an adult or any kid that understands fantasy vs. reality.

And again another thumbs up for Universal. Seems even when they build new rides, they are giving thought to making them accessible. I really appreciate that. And their staff could not have been more helpful. It really is amazing. When I first visited with my mom back in 2002, they were downright awful handling my needs. Now they seem to go out of their way to help. When I chose to wait for the wheelchair accessible bus (giving myself an additional 5 minute wait), they kept apologizing for the delay. Ever since Disney went through that GAC/DAS switchover... well making wheelies wait an additional 10-20 minutes means nothing. I truly think all the ECVs crowding the lines has had a detrimental affect on Cast Members. They seem to associate us wheelies with bad drivers and being run over. Not everywhere, mind you, but in enough places you notice.

Our next stop was Hogsmeade village. We went by way of the Jurassic bridge. That takes you smack dab between the village and Hogwarts Castle. It's a good route if you want to avoid the majority of the crowd. The village does get very congested with people lining up for Butterbeer and spellcasting.



Not to mention you get some great views of the castle. On a full moon night, it's gorgeous.



I can't actually ride Hogwart's adventure, but they allow all wheelies to take a self-guided tour instead. That means you get to enter the Quick Queue and walk thru at your own pace. Cuz pushed Dad through in a manual chair which left me free to take photos. I just pulled to the side to let riders skip thru behind me.

There's the grand staircase hall with all the talking paintings.



The ornate stained glass windows.



Dumbledore's office where he imparts some much needed wizard wisdom.



The Fat Lady who sings and bemoans they're letting anyone in the castle these days... even muggles!



You're supposed to be attending Professor Binns' lecture on wizard history but Harry, Ron & Hermione have other ideas. Why bother listening to some moldy old ghost drone on for hours when they can take you to a Quidditch match instead?

That's what the ride is about. You are on bewitched broomsticks that fly you to the match when Dementors attack. Unfortunately the ride vehicle employs a rollercoaster like seat with saddlehorn. Not accessible for me, so i content myself with the tour and ride video.

My tour ended with the Sorting Hat.



Then I came back to exit into...



Not a bad name for the gift shop at the end.

And I couldn't resist a few more iconic shots of the castle.



By then the park was beginning to get really crowded. We had about an hour left before the teenagers took over. We had to decide between riding the Hogwarts Express over to the Studios or pressing on around the IoA loop. We decided we'd come back the next day for the train, so went on into The Lost Continent.

I read something interesting just the night before. Seems back in 1998 when Animal Kingdom was built there were original plans to build a land of mythical creatures. This would include unicorns, dragons, sea serpents. There'd be a flight ride and boat ride. But the cost of bringing in all the animals for the nature preserves sucked up most of the money. Then Michael Eisner visited Universal's brand new second park Islands of Adventure and found a dueling serpent rollercoaster, talking magic fountains and other similar attractions. So the land of Mythical Creatures became Camp Minnie/Mickey. Pandora may bring some of that ethereal magic back to the park.

For us the Lost Continent is where you can talk to a comical fountain, meet Sinbad the sailor, eat at Mythos (which we didn't do after all) and see Poseidon's Fury. That's an indoor guided tour through a lost tomb with all kinds of special effects from fire, water, darkness. Great show for us, but my cousin was finding it difficult to stand throughout the various rooms. His ankles were starting to give out from all the walking.

Our last stop was Suess Landing and the very cute Cat in the Hat ride. It reminds me of Winnie the Pooh, although I'm not a Suess kid myself. But I finally understand the meaning of all those Thing 1, Thing 2 shirts.

The park officially closed at 6pm which meant now all the Grad night teens were in full force. I looked up the details of the night. Not all rides were open (like the Harry Potter ones), but the major thrills were. And even more interesting several areas were designated chaperon lounges. I can imagine hiding in the lounge as a chaperon while the kids went on their fifth consecutive ride on Hulk.
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Old 04-12-2017, 03:40 AM   #122
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On the way out of the park, I snapped a couple quick photos of the nearly full moon rising. It was getting much cooler and was to be a very clear night.





Unfortunately my cold was in full bloom, which meant a necessary stop at the pharmacy to pick up some stronger cold meds.

Cuz had grand ideas of making us breakfast the next morning but by midnight he woke up with a killer sinus headache. My cold claimed another victim.
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Old 04-12-2017, 04:30 AM   #123
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Saturday was meant to be our last park day. We'd get a late afternoon start and go ride the things we missed in Universal Studios with my cousin. But his sinus headache turned into a migraine and like a true stubborn man he was more content with misery than any remedies we suggested. Made for an awkward end to the trip. I think he made himself worse (freezing himself, not eating or drinking anything but fruit and coca cola), but it's hard to tell. That first day we barely saw him and when we checked on him all he did was moan. Cousin doesn't handle illness well. It shuts him down. His preferred remedy is a cold, dark room and absolute silence for a week or so.

As for us, well I did get up once in the wee hours of the morning then slept most of the rest of it away. The rest did me good. I plied myself with some medicine to dry up the runny nose and suppress the cough. Fed myself hot tea and hot chicken soup. Then just let my body heal a bit.

By the time I awoke, I felt a lot better and ravenous. So GpaM cooked up a nice big afternoon breakfast, which we ate on the balcony.



The weather was sunny yet cooler. Barely broke 80F that day. So when we finally went out for a walk, the air was downright chilly. We both had to don our warmer jackets. I guess we've turned into Floridians. Anything below 79F requires coats. (In all fairness, it got down to the 50s after dark.)



We didn't want to go too far without my Cuz so we just stuck around the resort. It's actually a very pretty place. I only wish he could have seen more of it. He would have loved the cool night air and almost full moon.









When we returned, Cuz had emerged from his sick room enough to start requesting stuff. Pudding and mixed fruit. He still felt miserable but at least he started taking some of my cold medicine.
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Old 04-12-2017, 04:32 AM   #124
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Sunday was our last day in Orlando. I was feeling much better but it was clear my cousin was not going to be up to par anytime soon. That left us both with a bit of worry how we were going to manage getting everyone home. Cousin had come down to bring our van home via auto train because there were no handicapped sleepers left for us. That meant we'd have to fly home and he'd have to drive to Sanford. And somehow we were trying to throw in a visit with our friends.

We tried everything to convince Cuz to eat and drink. When he took some meds and finally slept a bit, we did get out to meet our friends during a quick trip to Disney Springs. Then he texted me with a list of food requests from the store, so we stopped for more food.

When we got back, GpaM and I packed up most of the van. I ran around printing off boarding passes and getting change for tips. Cuz finally tried some of the hot chicken soup I'd been offering him. He never did eat the new food he requested, but by midnight he said he was feeling better.

Then it was grab a quick 3 hour nap, get up and shower to leave for the airport at 4am. Cuz was well enough to drive. He's a natural nightowl so being awake in utter darkness suits his nature better.

Our 6am flight had us leaving as the moon was setting and the sun rising. Made for some gorgeous photos.

Cuz had left our other van in the airport parking lot so we just had to grab the van and drive home. Then we ate and slept most of the day away.

On the downside, GpaM came down with the cold as soon as we got home. He can't take any of the standard cold meds because of conflicts with his heart medicine. Means the poor guy has to suffer with the runny nose and cough more.

As for Cuz, he did manage to get home via the auto train. He ate a full dinner and breakfast too. But he's still not 100%. (According to him, it's more like 15% so don't expect to see him for a few weeks.)

We never did go meet up with my brother or sis-in-law. They arrived Friday evening for the week. But when my cold started spreading, we thought it best not to get too close to them. I couldn't even hug our friends expecting the baby. Call me Typhoid Mary, I guess.

So that was the sour end to the trip. I've had colds before on these trips. (One raging one over NYE and a horrible bout of Norovirus post family cruise.) But I found dealing with my cousin's illness far more unsettling. I understand why he's such a germaphobe. I'm most sorry the experience was not up to his expectations. He just wasn't as impressed with Universal or Cypress as we expected, although that could have more to do with his not feeling well. It's ironic that I got sick the very night he arrived.

Since I hate ending things on a bad note, I'll close with some pretty photos.

Here's that pretty full moon rising over Cypress' great lake.



And here it is rising over the Reception Center.



Here's the dawn breaking over Orlando as rush hour begins on the highways below.



And here's the sun rising over the ocean, at 10,000 feet.

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Old 04-12-2017, 05:15 AM   #125
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As for my highlights and lowlights...

1) We absolutely LOVED our first week in Bay Lake. That couldn't have been a more perfect way to begin our trip. The winter had had been a rough one for us both. We were both super busy with work. The weather had turned nasty cold at home. I had that bout with a GI bleed sending me to the ER for blood just a week before. And we were exhausted.

Traveling by auto train is a good way to get you and all your stuff to Florida, but it does involve 18 hours on a very rocky track. The trip itself can be grueling. We can't get into our BLT room until afternoon so I always try to schedule that arrival day with just enough activity to keep us occupied and get us settled in time for dinner.

That meant a 45 min drive to Orlando, a trip to morning mass at the Cathedral. Shopping for necessities at Publix and then checking into Bay Lake. Our friend visits to welcome us with a care package. I get maintenance to come remove that door spring. We eat something light. Shower, dress in jammies and watch fireworks from our room.

That entire week we kept our schedule light just so we could ease into vacation and recuperate. You saw the change in my dad. He went from old and frail to hearty and happy. Oh and we eat out a lot. It's expensive but we never eat out at home. So we get better meals on vacation.

2) That first morning room service was one of the best ideas I had. We decided to repeat that exact trip plan when we return in October. I'm just glad I was able to book it.

3) We loved having my niece down for her first "adult" college trip with her dad. They thoroughly enjoyed Universal and can't wait to return in the Fall. Although next time we're staying a day longer at BLT and a whole week at Saratoga. Niece will be splitting Universal and Disney days. She gave me tons of ideas for a future big family trip.

4) And we loved returning to our second home Cypress Harbour. That entire complex is just so relaxing and convenient. You are 6-8 miles between both Universal and Disney. If you know the local roads, the drive is incredibly simple. And their villas are so spacious they remind us of our true summer second home in Ocean City. (Cuz thought so too before he got sick.)

5) We adored the new Beauty and the Beast movie so much we saw it twice. In fact, I'm itching to get out and see it a third time at home.

6) Loved the Jimmy Fallon ride.

7) Enjoyed the backstage view of Rivers of Light. Without Producer Joey explaining the story to us we never would have appreciated it as much. Our friends complained they never could discern a story from their front stage FP+ viewing. With the help of our explanation, they vowed to give it another try.

8) Candied strawberries from China.

9) Viewing fireworks from Germany and seeing Wishes & Illuminations at the same time.

10) Disney Springs. It's grown up nicely. I was doubtful of all the extra shopping and dining (as if we needed more), but I was wrong. It turned that place into a true destination for adults. It's always busy now, according to our friends, so it must be working. And you do find items you can't find elsewhere. It puts Universal's CityWalk to shame.

11) Skipper's Canteen, Diamond Horseshoe, BLT in-room dining, Finnegan's, Raglan Road... each lived up to their reputation and deserved every penny for the meal. I'm pleased to see Raglan has remained popular and expanded their entertainment options. Food is excellent as always.

12) The new Castle evening light show. Very pretty with a nice amount of fireworks. I hope it means good things for their Happily Ever After replacement show for Wishes.

13) Speaking of, watching Wishes in FantasyLand. it doesn't get much better.

14) But racing with the dolphins is a close second.

15) Seeing my brother, niece and cousin turn into little kids when spellcasting in Harry Potter world. You're never too old.

As for the cons:

1) Saratoga management being jerks to me over that door. I hope I'm able to shame them into submission for the future. it's ridiculous that every other resort I visited had zero issues with my request. I've got my letter ready. We'll see what action I can get on that issue.

2) Tusker House was too overpriced. Good character interaction but not enough variety of food. I'd rather have spent the money on a trip to Boma's.

3) The EPCOT monorail. I'm still miffed the one day we chose to visit from BLT the monorail broke down. I swear every day I went into EPCOT after that it spun around the park just to taunt me! It reminds me how much I do not want to stay at Grand Floridian and have to rely on that monorail.

4) The super summer hot weather we encountered our second week. I'm just not ready for 90+ temps in March/April. The locals weren't either.

5) Our Marriott presentation was a dud. Sales guy couldn't care less, but at least we got $250 for showing up.

6) Traffic on a Saturday night out of downtown Orlando is recklessly wild. Keep that in mind for your future trips. Native Floridian drivers are more impatient and reckless than MD/DC drivers!

7) Wait times at Disney is out of hand. FP+ has not improved the situation. If anything, it's made it worse everywhere. Compare to Universal and SeaWorld who use a paid FP/QuickQueue system. That kept most wait times in a reasonable under 30-45 minutes when Disney's rides were topping 60 mins. I have decided FP+ is an utter failure for us except for one single use case: when we travel with a large group over NYE. If you have a once-in-a-lifetime trip or one that is already based on a tight schedule with lots of planning, FP+ works great. But for your average vacation, it is a hindrance. I was able to book things the night before or morning of, but I can't say it helped much. Either there was no line so no FP+ was even needed or the FP+ line had a significant wait.

8)Getting sick.

9) My cousin getting sicker than me.

10) My dad ending the trip sick too. Bad luck for all of us.
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Last edited by broganmc; 04-12-2017 at 05:23 AM.
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Old 04-12-2017, 05:22 AM   #126
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One last recommendation, we both picked up these litle keychain fobs for our new Magic Bands. Cost $10 and comes with a screwdriver. You pop out the Mickey puck and put it in this. Since I have to carry my Annual Pass for discounts, it's easy to just hang it on my lanyard.

This wallet goes in my desk drawer when I'm not traveling. It contains all my park passes now.

The keychain idea is so much more convenient than a wristband.

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