Universal Orlando Resort – July 2016

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Before the Vacation, and Getting There

We actually combined two trips into one. We flew from Denver into Ft. Myers on Sat, July 2 to spend a few days there with my family. We spent a few fun days lounging in Grandma and Grandpa’s pool, playing with the cousins, and Lily and Owen even organized a 4th of July party! But, more details about that trip in another post.

On Tuesday morning, it was time to make the drive to Orlando. We are not very good road-trippers, so I knew the 3 hour estimate on Google maps was highly optimistic. Especially since we would need to make a grocery and lunch stop on the way. We took the back roads instead of the interstate, and got to see the more natural, rural side of Florida along the way.

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The first two attempted grocery stops didn’t work out – the first was a Publix that wasn’t having its grand opening for a few more days, whoops! And the second was a Walmart, but not a supercenter, so no groceries. I didn’t even know they still had any of those! Finally we found a Winn-Dixie, also didn’t know they still had THOSE, lol! Owen was thrilled because they had tiny little shopping carts that he could push around.

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The rest of the drive was uneventful, and we arrived at the Royal Pacific Resort a little after 1pm. (I have to admit I was a little sad to be just passing by the signs for Disney World. Another time though, another time.)

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Chapter 1. Cooling off in the Pool. Or NOT! At least we have Perfect Seats. Or NOT! (Day 1)

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I had pictured in my mind us spending the afternoon settling into our room, unpacking, maybe hitting the pool to cool off. For some reason it didn’t occur to me until just before we got there, that we probably wouldn’t be able to get our room right away. Well, we could be flexible.

We had a short wait to check in, and spent the few minutes observing the lobby. It was nice, but not quite the “wow” factor of the Polynesian (at Disney World), which I know it is often compared to. Of course, that was the “old” Poly, the new one is much less impressive. But, the a/c was cranking, which felt glorious given the sweltering conditions outside, and we were all in generally high spirits.

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I was anxious to make sure everything was okay with our reservation – I had booked through a 3rd party, which always makes me nervous. And the kids were not on the reservation yet. I had actually lost sleep the night before worrying something would go wrong here. But all was well, and adding the kids was no problem at all. But, our room wasn’t ready. She said we would get a text with our room number later.

We went ahead and made our Express Passes. I couldn’t believe how much Lily and I looked alike on our passes – I had such a hard time telling them apart all week!

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We went back outside to park our car. In hindsight, we should have gone ahead and unloaded, and let Bell Services hold onto our stuff. But we just grabbed what we needed for swimming and left the rest in the car. Did I mention yet that it was HOT?? That swampy, yucky, I-feel-like-I-can’t-breathe HOT.

We wandered out to the pool, assuming there would be locker rooms, or some sort of changing facility. Finally, we stumbled upon a small, one person restroom next to the pool and ended up changing in it. A non-air-conditioned restroom. And it was swampier than the Amazon in there! Yuck. But I just kept seeing that blue water and imagining how good it was going to feel to cool off in it.

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Brian had already picked out some chairs when Lily and I came out, partly in the shade, but also in the sand. I actually didn’t realize that there are a lot of chairs NOT in the sand, or I would have made him move. I hate sand. Sorry, I just can’t stand the stuff. Not a beach person, lol! We suffered through getting everyone sunscreened, because both kids were hot and grumpy by now. I sent them ahead to the pool while I finished sunscreening myself.

Finally, cool blue water, here I come! I ran towards the zero entry section, anxiously awaiting that blast of cool refreshment…. And it didn’t come. Instead my toes hit more warmth. More heat. Just a wet variety. What??? Surely it was cooler in the deeper parts. Nope. It was like a giant hot tub. Seriously, the water temperature had to be in the mid 90s. And I started feeling panicky!

I had counted on this to get cooled off. And that obviously wasn’t going to happen. We met up in the middle of the pool and commiserated about the highly inappropriate water temperature. But, there wasn’t much we could do.

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I didn’t stay in too long, because it was actually making me hotter to be in there. At some point, I tried to go get a cup of cold water from the dispensers, but only resulted in burning my feet (we hadn’t thought to get our pool shoes out of the car) because it was empty when I got there. The splashy kids area was a little cooler, but you had to tolerate constantly getting blasted in the face with water guns.

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This wasn’t exactly turning out to be the afternoon I had hoped for, and not how I wanted to start the trip. But, the kids did have fun playing in the pool, even if it was too warm for their tastes. After a couple of hours, I decided to wander around and see if I could find a better place to get dressed. I still hadn’t gotten a text for our room, and there was no way I was getting dressed in that tiny steam room again.

I got really lucky, just as I was finding a restroom (and air-conditioned one at least) someone right in front of me asked a janitor if there was a locker room somewhere. She said there was one in the gymnasium and offered to take her over there. So I followed along. Man I wish we had found this earlier! It was so much nicer in there. I leisurely took my time getting dressed, finally feeling relief in the cool locker room. Then I went to gather everyone else up and get them ready for the evening.

We stowed our swim bag with bell services and headed out to the boat dock. We had an early dinner reservation at Hard Rock Cafe, then tickets to the Blue Man Show! We got lucky and just caught a boat that was about to leave, and were excited as we started pulling into CityWalk.

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Unfortunately, there were apparently too many boats out and about, and we had to wait out in the middle of water for about 10 minutes for a spot at the dock to open up. Oh well. I really didn’t remember CityWalk at all, not sure if it’s changed a lot, or just not something that “stuck” from 15 years ago.

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We checked in at HRC and were seated right away. Definitely glad we had a reservation, as they were telling walkups 15-20 minutes. Once we were seated and had ordered, I started to feel us slowly relaxing and finally slipping into “vacation mode”. Owen fell in love with the plate that his kids meal came on (it was shaped like a guitar), so we had to ask if there was a way to buy it. Of course there was, lol! So he got his first souvenir.

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It was a good meal, mostly uneventful, but we were in good spirits by the end and ready to head to our show, which conveniently was right next door. (Not an accident, that’s why I picked it for dinner tonight, of course!)

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We made it to our seats about 20 minutes before showtime, and I was pleased to see that the seats I had specifically picked for us would work out great. You see, I’m short (and of course so is Owen) so carefully picking a seat where we won’t be blocked by heads is very important to me. So I had selected the first row of a section, with an aisle between us and the section in front. With only a few minutes before the show left, the back rows of that section were still empty, so this was going to be perfect.

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And then all my plans fell apart. With less than 5 minutes before showtime, some of the ushers came to our section and told us that they were actually using these rows for a “special event” tonight, but not to worry, they were giving us seats much closer to the stage. Closer. But not elevated above heads. Now, I am usually a very soft-spoken and non-confrontational person. But I made my unhappiness at this point known pretty clearly. This was my new view.

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Shortly after being moved, I decided at the last minute that I really needed to make one more potty-break before the show started. (I knew I shouldn’t have drank two Diet Cokes at dinner, lol!) I thought I told Lily where I was going, but I did bolt out of there pretty quickly since I knew I only had about a minute. (And I wasn’t the only one at the moment making a restroom sprint, lol!) I got back into my seat right as the lights were dimming, and apparently the rest of the family was in a tizzy because they didn’t know where I had gone so suddenly, and Brian assumed that I had stormed out in anger. I laughed and assured him that I just had to pee! But I was still annoyed, and trying really hard to shake it off.

We had seen the Blue Man Show over a year ago in Las Vegas, I wasn’t sure how much of it would be the same. A lot of the scenes were, but there were some new ones too. Overall it was great, of course. And I loved listening to Owen giggle through much of it. If you’ve seen the show before, you may have seen the Twinkie scene (we saw that one in Vegas too). I don’t know if they plant the audience volunteer, or give them some intense training before the show, or if we just got really lucky, but they picked this old lady to go up on stage (she could barely walk, the Blue Men almost had to carry her up there.) She was absolutely hilarious! She was totally running the show for that whole scene. If she really was just a random audience member, they need to hire her.

With the show over, it was time to trek back to the hotel and get settled in. I had finally gotten a text, right at 4pm, but not with our room number. Apparently we had to go back to the desk and get new keys, Sigh. And we had one bag with Bell Services, and the rest of our stuff still in the car in the parking lot. So it was a tedious few minutes once we were back, getting everything sorted out.

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I realized when they brought our luggage up, the flaw in our plan. We had made a grocery stop to get breakfast stuff and snacks for the room. And then left it in the car all afternoon. Nothing that really needed to be refrigerated, but it really didn’t need to be left in an oven for hours either, oops! It was still hot to the touch. Hopefully it wouldn’t give us food poisoning.

Despite all the shuffling around, we were mostly in bed by 9pm, which had been my goal. But I didn’t sleep that well. OH well. Hopefully adrenaline would push us through the morning! The alarm was set for 5:30am…

Chapter 2. I Guess We’re Getting Wands Too! (Day 2 – Part 1)

After the rough night, I don’t think I could have gotten up at the 5:30am alarm if it wasn’t for the first-day excitement! We got the kids up around 6, ate some snacks, and were out the door by 6:30. We decided to walk, since it wasn’t unpleasantly hot yet, just muggy and swampy. It is a nice path though – very lush and tropical, and goes right next to the water.

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We arrived at the gates of Universal Studios at 6:46am, just a few minutes before they opened. Today, we were all decked out in our Hogwarts Houses – I was Slytherin, Brian was Ravenclaw, Lily was from Hufflepuff, and Owen wasGryffindor.

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I was nervous about using our tickets for the first time, (14-day unlimited 3-park passes from UCT) but they worked flawlessly, and we were soon following the masses to Diagon Alley! I had been “exploring” the park a bit on Google maps street view, and had been a little surprised to see that there wasn’t a clearly marked entrance… was I missing something? Maybe it would be more obvious once we were there. Well, it was more obvious only because of the massive stream of people pouring in, lol! It really is hidden. Makes sense, but I have to wonder how many people wander around the park all day and leave thinking that there was supposed to be a Harry Potter land here, that they never saw.

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We slipped on into Diagon Alley, and it was just as cool as I had been led to believe. There is just no way to put into words how amazing and realistic it is! We didn’t dally long to sightsee though – we had a mission. To Ollivander’s! The kids were so excited to pick out their wands that they wanted to do this first. I think we had just missed a show starting when we went in, and had to wait for the next one. But it gave us a chance to look around, and the TMs entertained everyone with HP trivia. Lily spied what looked to be a dead spider in between one of the shelves, and we wondered if it was real, or part of the “atmosphere”, lol!

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The show was neat – at first a girl next to Lily was about to be chosen to participate, but she had apparently already bought a wand, and was holding it… so the wand-keeper passed her over after a brief chat, and chose two girls on the other side of the room instead. I think she was crushed, because she was doing the show again in hopes of getting picked. I guess the lesson is not to take your wand in with you! Lily had said that she really didn’t care if she got picked, she would rather pick our her own wand.

After the show, the kids quickly set about picking their wands. Actually Owen had already decided long before the trip which one he wanted. I thought he might waver once he saw the options, but he was sticking to it. He wanted Dumbledore’s Elder wand. The most powerful wand in the Wizarding World. That’s not scary at all, lol!

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Lily didn’t want a character wand, and was with Brian, studying the case of generic wands. She asked to see a Birch wand, then I heard Brian ask for an Oak wand. I thought he was helping Lily and told him she had already asked for the one she was interested in. He looked a little disappointed, and said “I can’t get one too?” I was like “OH! I didn’t know we were getting them…” But okay. If he was getting one, so was I!

It was no matter that I hadn’t already started looking. There was really no thinking to be done, if I was getting a wand, there was only one I would consider. Snape’s wand, of course! So within a few minutes, we were ready to go, four wands in hand.

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I knew we needed to get over to Gringott’s before the line got any longer. Owen was tall enough for this one, but was adamant that he didn’t want to do it. I was hoping we could coax him past some of his fears on this trip, but in fairness, this one did look a little intense. Probably best not to push it too far. So we did child swap, which at least meant that we didn’t have to use the lockers for our stuff.

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The inside of the queue is really cool! Through the Gringott’s bank, and you can see the goblins hard at work. Owen had fun playing with his wand in the child swap room, while we waited for Brian and Lily. I think we actually ended up skipping a good part of the line, as we were pulled out well before the loading area and escorted through a different path. But then I wasn’t sure what we were supposed to do. No one was monitoring the room, and no one gave us any instructions.

Once Brian and Lily were back, she went with me and we finally figured out where to go. I’m not really sure what keeps people from abusing the system here, it seems like anyone could just circle back around after exiting and use the child swap area for a quick second ride. Oh well.

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The ride was really good, and it was probably wise not to encourage Owen to do it. Definitely would have traumatized him, lol! Afterwards, we spent some time in Diagon Alley casting spells with our wands. Brian had a hard time getting his to work, but finally had success on the toilet-flushing spell, of all things! We also stopped for some butterbeer. Tasty, but pretty much just cream soda as far as I could tell. Lily, of course, was in Harry Potter heaven by now, and would have been content to stay all day, just exploring. She had been dreaming of this for a long time.

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It was around 8am by now, and we wanted to take the Hogwarts Express over to Islands of Adventure to finish out our morning there. The station was still nearly empty, and the only wait was the time it took us to walk through the queue. We thought it was neat that you could see people going through the wall to the 9 ¾ platform! And of course all of the TMs were so “in-character” and lots of fun. It reminded me of how the CMs at Disney used to be, a decade ago.

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It was so hot already, and I was looking forward to a break in the (hopefully) air-conditioned train. Unfortunately, it was a similar moment to the pool yesterday, as we were greeted with a wall of warm, humid air inside our car instead. Bummer. But the scenery out the window was really cool, even if Owen refused to believe that it was “real”.

Once in Hogsmeade, we headed straight for Flight of the Hippogriff. Owen had initially been really excited to ride this – tame coasters are his thing. He LOVES Barnstormer and the like. Unfortunately, yesterday he had for some reason gotten himself worked up about it and was convinced it was too scary.

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So he cried and pitched a fit all the way through the queue. The TM at the loading area almost wouldn’t let us get on because he was so visibly upset. I was trying really hard not to lose my temper with him by now – this was completely ridiculous! We managed to get him on, much to the dismay of the TM. He was still crying when the ride ended, and I was beyond annoyed by now, asking him why in the world he was crying.

He finally shouted that he LIKED the ride. Which was even more baffling, why was he crying if he liked it?? He mumbled something about being afraid of falling out at one point because the bar wasn’t down far enough. He had ridden with me, and I had the backpack in the floor, which crowded my legs and probably kept the bar from coming down further.

So I asked if he wanted to ride again with Brian, who didn’t have a bag, and convinced him that they would be able to get a tighter fit that way. He hesitantly agreed. He was in much better spirits through the queue this time, and the TM at the entrance was quite surprised to see us back so soon, lol!

Well, he LOVED the ride this time, and was begging to go AGAIN when it ended. I was so happy that he had gotten past his fear that I agreed. There was still no line, so it wasn’t a big time commitment anyway. The TM laughed this time as we came back, and we chatted a bit about how much more he liked it now. But, three times was enough, time to move on. But we promised we would ride it at least one more time during the trip. (It would end up being 10 more times, but who’s counting??) He was being so sweet now, and giving me lots hugs and telling me thank you for letting him ride.

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We stopped to do Dragon Challenge. We were going to do child swap, but they still wouldn’t let us bring our bags through the line, so Brian decided to just wait with Owen (and cast some more spells) and said he would ride it another time. Later in the trip, we got more used to the lockers and didn’t hesitate to use them, but we were still feeling a little intimidated by them today and didn’t think they were worth messing with. The coaster is fun, as usual I kept my eyes closed for most of it! I always wonder as its taking off why in the world I put myself through this. But I do end up enjoying it, even if it’s Type 2 fun.

Hogsmeade was crowded by now, so it made more sense to head out to the rest of the park where we could use our express passes. We headed into the Lost Continent area, and stopped by the Mystic Fountain, thinking we would get splashed and cool off a bit. Man was it steamy already! And then the fountain started talking to us, lol! And took a particular interest in Brian. They ended up having quite the conversation, and Owen thought the whole thing was hilarious!

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We happened to notice Poseidon’s Fury as we passed by, for some reason that hadn’t been on my radar when making loose plans for the day. There was no one in line, and we chatted with the TM at the entrance about what this was. Slowly, it started to seem familiar. We had done this before! Right after IoA opened. So we readily agreed to the A/C break, hopefully it wouldn’t be too scary for Owen.

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He was a little nervous during parts, but seemed intrigued too. They definitely know how to put on a show!

We continued on into Seuss Landing. There wasn’t much time before our lunch reservation, but we managed to do the High in the Sky Trolley and the Carouseussel. Both were fun, though there is decidedly less A/C in this part of the park.

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We headed on into Confisco Grille, even though it was just a few minutes before they opened at 11am. We were seated pretty quickly though and appreciated the break.

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However, I apparently offended our waitress by asking for the vegetarian version of the Pad Thai (which was clearly labeled as an option on the menu). She at first snapped back that they couldn’t do it. When I pressed further she admitted that they could, but said I probably wouldn’t like it. It was the only entree on the menu that even said it could be made vegetarian so I told her to give it to me anyway. She was pretty grumpy with us for the rest of the meal though. Oh well, you win some, you lose some, I guess.

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We probably should have just gone back to the room after lunch. It was surface-of-the-sun hot already, and getting more crowded by the minute. But we were all still caught up in the first-day excitement, and couldn’t bring ourselves to call it quits just yet. So we went over to Spiderman.

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In line, Lily admitted that she knew nothing about Spiderman, just that he was a superhero who probably spun webs. Lol! We must have failed this child. The ride was cool, and Owen didn’t seem scared at all, yay! After this, we split up for a while.

I sent Brian and Lily to do Dr. Doom’s Fearfall, while Owen and I went back to Seuss Landing. I really try not to be one of those old fuddy-duddy’s who won’t ride stuff… but this one is a little past my limit, I’m sad to say! (It’s the dangling feet that get me – I could ride Tower of Terror all day long and not think twice about it) Afterwards, I think they ended up going to ride Jurassic Park.

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Owen and I made a brief detour to the front of the park so I could pick up my PhotoConnect card, that I had pre-ordered online. The first TM I talked to said I was going to have to first go to guest services to get a voucher and bring it back, but luckily the one next to him intervened and asked to see my confirmation, turns out I didn’t need to go anywhere. Glad he overheard and stepped in! With that taken care of, we stopped just outside for a picture, then headed back to Seuss. It was SO hot by now! Owen wanted to do One Fish, Two Fish, but I talked him into Cat in the Hat first, so we could have some indoor A/C time.

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It was a cute ride for sure, reminded me a lot of the rides in Fantasyland at Magic Kingdom. Then we headed to the fishies. I didn’t even notice it this time, but Brian later pointed it out – the fish in the ride actually do go in a pattern. It starts with a ‘one fish’, then the next fish is a ‘two fish’ (capable of holding an extra person,) then a red fish and blue fish. Very clever! And if you don’t control your fish and doge correctly, you get wet! Not that getting wet was a bad thing right now.

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We were both ready to go by now, having had all the heat we could take. Brian and Lily were already on their way to the front. And Lily was is near-total-meltdown mode. She was “dying” from the heat. (She literally must have said that a hundred times during the trip. If she ever is really dying, no one will believe her!)

Seeing how quickly this situation was going downhill, Brian made a desperate run across the path to pick up some frozen treats. Maybe that would at least stave off the impending doom long enough for us to get back to the hotel. Despite the drama at the end, it really HAD been a great morning, and we were all loving both of the parks!

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Oops, I have an addendum to Chapter 2. Just realized I forgot to include the PhotoConnect picture we had taken right after entering the park that morning, wearing our Hogwarts house shirts. It was probably my favorite from the whole week – you just can’t beat that first day excitement! (We look progressively more tired in every picture afterwards, lol!)

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Chapter 3. Taking the Hippogriff Home (Day 2 – Part 2)

Somehow we made it back to the room. Brian went on down to the pool, but I stayed in the room with the kids for a while, hoping we could rest. The pool hadn’t been very appealing yesterday, afterall.

But Owen wasn’t having it. He was bouncing all over, and eventually I gave up and got him into his swimsuit. He had been having fun playing with his wand, though. It was so funny, he kept looking at it adoringly, and saying “My beauty, my precious, precious beauty.” It was a little creepy and Gollum-like, actually.

Lily had been complaining of being tired all morning, and I thought she was going to stay in the room and sleep, but at the last minute decided to come with us.

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Brian had found a much better spot today. Not on the sand, and mostly in the shade. Yay! And the fact that I had been pre-chilled in the room for a while made the hot water more bearable. After swimming for a while, we relaxed in our chairs and ordered some drinks.

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Mine was supposed to be a virgin daiquiri (not much of a drinker myself, I did enough in college to last a lifetime, lol!) but I’m pretty sure they gave me a real one. It wasn’t very strong, but definitely had something in it. I had planned on sharing with the kids when they got out of the pool, but instead I ordered them a smoothie, for fear I might make them drunk.

At one point, some of the resort staff came around giving out free popsicles. It was great timing, because Owen had just come back from a very “successful potty trip”. Maybe TMI, but let’s just say that he has some “issues” that we deal with on a regular basis, and at home he gets rewarded with popsicles. So it was perfect.

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It ended up being a much better pool afternoon than we had the day before, and I’m glad we gave it another chance. Still wish the water was cooler, but at least it was a chance to relax.

This was one of the few nights that I didn’t have specific dinner plans. Lily wanted to go back to Diagon Alley, mostly to shop, so I thought it would be a good chance for us to eat at Leaky Cauldron. We ended up walking again, because we just missed a boat.

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Owen played around in the Magic shop for a few minutes, but Lily really had a one-track mind at that point. She wanted a Hogwarts robe. I had told her before the trip that she could buy one “big thing”, and she had been determined that this would be it.

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Of course she picked out a yellow-trimmed Hufflepuff one. It took us a very long time to check out though. There were two registers open – one was dealing with a complicated return, and the other was dealing with a declined credit card. Oh well, mission finally accomplished. Even though it was still swampy outside, she had to wear her robe until we left DA. And of course she was positively beaming the whole time.

Owen hadn’t bought his souvenir yet. He had said earlier that he loved Flight of the Hippogriff so much that he wished he could take it home. Well, we couldn’t take a roller coaster home, but maybe a Hippogriff? A stuffed one of course! He loved that idea! And we easily found one in the pet store. Lily also used her allowance to buy a toad, so now she was all ready to be shipped off to school. Amazingly, her earlier tiredness completely faded once she was shopping for wizard gear, ha!

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We decided to get dinner. Lily and I shared the Ploughman’s Platter, the only vegetarian entree. She is not strictly a vegetarian like me, but will usually only eat chicken, and even then only if she’s in the mood for it. So it worked well for us. And of course the LC was so well themed, like everything else here. We were all still in awe!

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But, Brian declared that we were done with Wizarding World for tonight (Lily would have been happy to never leave!) We went to Transformers, and it ended up being one of Brian’s very favorite rides. I enjoyed it too, though it made my neck a little stiff. The line with EP was still a little over 20 minutes. Lily complained the whole time about how “horrible” this was. Brian and I just laughed at how spoiled she is – when we were kids, a 20 minute wait for a headliner ride would have been unbelievably good!

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Afterwards, Owen was really wanting to buy a glowing blue ball that he had seen a couple of places, so I sent Brian and Lily off to ride something while we shopped. I think they went to Men in Black. I actually didn’t know much about this one, or if it would be appropriate for Owen, so it was a good chance for them to do a recon mission. They really enjoyed it, and Brian thought it would be fine for Owen, so we would have to make sure to get over there again on another day.

We found his glowing ball, and he played with it while we waited to meet back up. We were thinking about staying for Cinematic Spectacular, but the weather was iffy. No rain, but a lot of dry lightning around. Enough that it chased Owen and I out of the open area we were waiting in, for fear we were about to get struck. We did see part of a parade going by, but Owen wasn’t too interested in watching.

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Once we met back up, we all decided we had had enough and called it a night. We would have plenty of other chances to see the fireworks, and no need to push it past what everyone was comfortable with.

The walk back was a little unpleasant. Lily and I had both been suffering from some heat rash, and it was really bothering her by now. But, we made it with no meltdown, and despite the minor drama at the end, it had been a really good first day!

We were all feeling very impressed with both of the parks, and I was starting to wonder if I had been wrong to assume this would be a one-and-done destination for us…

Chapter 4. The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day at SeaWorld (Day 3)

I’m going to start today with a spoiler/warning. If you like to read trip reports where it’s all rainbows and butterflies and people being happy, you should probably just skip today. Because that’s not how it went down. And if you are an avid SeaWorld fan who can’t stomach anything negative being said about the park (or lots of negative things), you should probably skip it as well.

I probably don’t have any readers left at this point, but that’s okay. I think it will be cathartic to type it all out. The chapter title is only a little bit overly dramatic. And it’s long I know, I had a lot to get off my chest. And not many pictures. It just wasn’t worth getting the camera out most of the time.

In fairness, it wasn’t ALL bad. There were some good moments, just a lot more bad ones. But, it’s okay. The rest of the trip was really good, so I can’t complain too much. Here is how it happened.

We were headed to SeaWorld today, if you hadn’t guessed already. A little history here – we went in 2008, just before Christmas, with my whole family, and had a generally enjoyable day. But left feeling a little uneasy about the whole whale-thing. And then there were all those stories. (You hear something once, you ignore it. Twice you start to wonder. Multiple times, from multiple sources… it gets unsettling) So, we had been avoiding it intentionally.

Since I don’t have a lot of pictures from today, here is one from 2008. Obviously pre-Owen, and look how little Lily is!

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Brian mentioned a few months ago what they really needed to do to turn things around – get rid of the whales and put their focus on conservation and natural experiences. And then, boom! There came the announcement. So I felt like we owed them another chance. “Throw them a bone”, if you will.

I hadn’t planned on getting there at RD today. I had already bought Quick-Queue, and because we were also doing the dinner with Shamu, we would need to stay for most of the day. So I figured a 10-11am arrival would do.

Things did not start off well. I mentioned that last night, Lily and I were both struggling with some heat rash. We stopped at Target to get some things that would help, but it took us out of “vacation mode” for a bit, and no one was happy when we pulled into the parking lot. And were directed to the very farthest away spot at the very back of the lot. I tried to lighten the mood by recalling the scene from the Vacation movie where the dad intentionally parks at the back of an empty lot so they can be the first out. But no one was interested, apparently. Today was forecasted to be the hottest day of the trip. High of 98, with a “real feel” of 118. Lovely.

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It was a madhouse at the entrance. A long line for security, then another long line to scan our tickets. No shade, no fans, no relief.  Then I had to figure out where to go to get our QQs and check in for our dinner. It took a few tries to find the right person. Finally, everything was settled, and I was determined to salvage the rest of the day.

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We headed towards Antarctica to do the Penguin ride. That sounded nice and cold. We walked up to the QQ entrance, and the employee monitoring the line (sorry, not sure if they have a designation like TM or CM here) just stood there looking at us. I asked if we could go through the QQ line, and he just kind of shrugged, and mumbled that it was going to be a long wait. When I asked how long, he rolled his eyes and said that someone had puked, and he had no idea how long it would take them to clean it up. Well that was bad luck. Obviously not their fault that someone got sick, but would it have killed him to be polite and apologetic about it?

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We decided to head back to the Atlantis ride. Outdoors, but maybe we would at least get wet. I felt like I was melting into a puddle on on the steaming pavement by now. (And thought it was just cruel that Antarctica looked all covered in snow.) However, we couldn’t talk Owen into riding, so I asked the line monitor if we could do child swap. He looked confused, then said that yes, actually we could. So I asked if that meant we could just take our stuff with us, and have the non-riders hold it, to which he said yes.

But then as we tried to go into the line, he yelled at me for still having my backpack. I’m not sure what he thought I was asking, but apparently we could not switch off the bags in the line, in fact the non-rider had to wait outside the line. He was being snippy with me, so I snapped back asking how that was “child-swap”, wasn’t that just taking turns? He shrugged and said “Yeah I guess so”.

Brian could tell that I was highly annoyed by now, so he took both our backpacks and told Lily and I to go ahead. I made him promise he would get Owen out of the sun, at least. The ride was cute – not really sure I “get” the storyline, if there is one. But pretty things to look at anyway, and we did get rather wet. Unfortunately, as we were coming back in to unload, the ride had some sort of issue and we were stuck sitting one boat short of the shade for about 10 minutes. Any cooling I got from getting wet was therefore erased.

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We finally found the boys in the small aquarium next to the gift shop at the ride exit, at least it was cool in there! Brian and Lily took off to ride, while Owen and I waited in the shop. I bought a bottle of water while we were in there, much to the annoyance of the cashier. This was a trend, we didn’t encounter a single cashier all day that was anything less than rude. They must not be paying these people very well.

This really was not how I had pictured this day going, but maybe it could still be salvaged. We headed back to the Penguin ride, hoping the earlier mess had been cleaned up. I don’t know why, but all day everytime we walked through Antarctica, the ground was so sticky all over. Other people were commenting on it too, so it wasn’t just me. And it wasn’t just one spot, it was the WHOLE area. We made it to the ride though, and were let into the QQ without too much grumbling.

Man, that is a slow moving queue! And cold. I know I shouldn’t complain, since we had been so hot, but Lily was soaking wet and it was downright chilly in there. I don’t think I’ve mentioned it yet, but the park was overrun with groups today. International groups of teenagers (100-200 per group) and smaller groups of local school age kids. It was hard to even get around because they were clogging up all the walkways. We somehow ended up in the middle of a group of teenage girls in the queue, and because 4 were in front of us, the rest thought they could go in front of us too to join them. The rest being about a hundred people. We had to be pretty firm and hold our place.

At some point, the line split into Wild and Mild. We wanted Wild, and had to repeat this several times to the line monitor, who kept trying to send us to the Mild line. They really should not have chosen two words that sound so much alike. It’s cute, but horribly inefficient. It was so crowded and noisy in there, it’s no wonder she couldn’t hear us. We ended up waiting about 30 minutes, even with QQ. As we were finally boarding our vehicle, the operator again asked us Wild or Mild. I thought we had settled this based on which line we were in, and again we had to repeat it several times. And this time – I guess he never did hear us correctly because we most definitely ended up with Mild. (We watched with some jealousy as the car next to us twirled and spun, boo!) After having waited in the longer line specifically for Wild. Ugh!

The ride itself was just… random. I couldn’t even tell what kind of story I was supposed to be following. Flashy lights and cute animated penguins, but severely lacking in actual content. The ride designers here are obviously not playing in the same league as the ones at Disney and Universal.

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After the ride, we were let out into the penguin exhibit. It was COLD! Had the wait not been so long, it would have been tempting to come back here later in the day. We didn’t stick around too long because we were hungry for lunch, and I was still hopeful that a meal would refresh everyone and reset the bad vibes that were seeming to dominate the day.

We headed over to Expedition Cafe. Now I will preface this by saying that we almost never eat CS, and definitely not for lunch. Because it tends to be a zoo, and almost always a bad experience. For some reason, I didn’t realize that there was a TS restaurant we could have eaten at over by the shark exhibit. That might have salvaged the meal. Oh well. So I do take some blame for that one.

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I do have to give a little credit here though – for all the negative stuff I observed at SW, this was one small thing they did get right. When we went in, there was one main line, going through several switchbacks, and at the end, one of the restaurant staff was slowly letting people out of the corral into the individual food lines. Because of how the ordering area was set up, if the entire crowd of people in there had mobbed it all at once, it would have been total chaos. That was smart. It still took us about 30 minutes to work our way through the line and get food though.

Unfortunately, there was no such organization or supervision in the seating area. The indoor area was completely overrun with the various groups, couldn’t even get in the door. The outdoor tables… most of them (I seriously should have taken a picture, in hindsight it may have been funny) were being occupied by a single person, obviously saving it for the rest of the family.

Those of us who already had our food had nowhere to go. It was maddening. We asked a couple of tables if we could sit down and eat our food there quickly, promising that we would probably be done before their family even arrived, but were very angrily told no. I was losing my temper quickly. I just don’t understand how people can think that this is okay. It is a horribly inefficient use of table space, and completely inconsiderate to other people. If everyone waited until they had their food, table space wouldn’t be wasted and there would be enough for everyone.

Having finally had enough, and in the middle of a loud rant about my feelings on the matter, I slammed my tray down on a table occupied by a lone guy, and instructed the rest of the family to sit as well. I guess he could tell I was not to be messed with at that point and didn’t say anything. Another family tried to squeeze in to the table too (it was very large), and he did shoo them away.

A few minutes later, we overheard him on his phone – apparently he hadn’t even been saving the table for anyone already in line – the rest of his family was off on a ride somewhere and he was saving the table “just in case” they wanted to eat there later. But they didn’t, so he got up and left.

It was so hot. So miserably, sweaty, swampily hot. And the table was only partly shaded. So much for lunch being refreshing. And when we finished eating, many of the tables that were being saved when we got there were still empty, minus the placeholder. We absolutely could have sat down, eaten our meal, and been gone before they ever showed up. THAT’s why this system doesn’t work. So much wasted space. Sorry, it’s one of my biggest pet peeves. If you’re a table-saver, you better not tell me or we can’t be friends. Just kidding. Mostly. Maybe you should at least wait a few weeks until I’ve calmed down a bit, lol!

We tried to go ride the Sky Tower after lunch. But it was closed. Apparently a long-term (permanent?) closure. Would have been nice if that was indicated on the map. So I decided to take Owen to Shamu’s Happy Harbor, and sent Brian and Lily to ride some coasters.

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Owen quickly spotted the large play structure and disappeared into it. He was having a good time, until he got lost up near the top and couldn’t figure out how to get down. I could see him, but was too far away to yell to him, so I was trying to direct him by pointing various directions. There were a couple different staff people up there, both completely ignored him. Even though at times he was standing literally right next to them and sobbing. SMH. I thought I was going to have to climb up there myself, carrying both my backpack and Lily’s. (She hadn’t wanted to take hers with her for their coaster-riding) He finally worked his way back down though.

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He wanted to ride the train next – I sent him alone because the thought of being in the sun right then was just unbearable. And then we rode the roller coaster. He liked it, but it wasn’t as thrilling as Flight of the Hippogriff.

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By this time I absolutely had to find some A/C. I honestly felt like I was going to pass out from the heat. We started wandering back the way we had come, hoping to find some sort of store or restaurant. But most of them were open-air kiosks. Finally we came to an ice-cream shop. Wasn’t really in the mood for ice cream, but it was cool in there, so okay.

The line wrapped around these large canisters of various toppings – sprinkles, cookie-crumbs, gummies, etc. I assumed that this was one of those fro-yo places where you pick your ice cream flavor then add your own toppings. But the menu only had chocolate and vanilla. The lady in front of us asked where the toppings were, as the ones in the line said they were for display only. Sounding half-dead, the cashier informed her that they had no toppings. Unless you ordered a sundae, which came with sprinkles. The rest were just decorations. That’s pretty lame! I don’t know, seemed a little like false advertising to have all those toppings displayed right in the entrance.

I happened to see that there was a something called a pineapple twist on the menu – cost twice as much, but that could be good. I was picturing something like a dole-whip. Nope. Vanilla ice cream served in a carved out pineapple shell. I paid $10 for that. Wow. (I thought I took a picture but I can’t find it now)

The one saving grace of the experience was that the seating area was relatively cool. I was fine with just staying there for the rest of the day at that point. Brian and Lily eventually met up with us there. They had ridden a couple of coasters – Mako and Manta I believe.

We headed off to the Arctic to do the ride there. At least the QQ wait wasn’t so bad here, maybe 15 minutes? The ride was okay, honestly one of the better ones in the park. But it looks very dated. The motions on the simulator don’t seem to line up quite right with the video, and you can tell the video is old and scratched.

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Afterwards, we enjoyed watching some of the belugas, manatees, walruses, and a few others. It was one of the more enjoyable parts of the day actually, and it was so wonderfully cool in there. Last time we were here, the area was themed to be the North Pole. Lily just barely remembered some of that while we were in there – she was Owen’s age at the time.

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Lily talked me into going coaster-ing with her afterwards, so Brian took Owen back to the Happy Harbor. We tried to go to Mako, but it had technical issues, and they closed down the line right as we were walking up to it. So we thought we would go over to Kraken, at least we could use our QQ there. (You had to buy a separate, $25 per ride QQ for Mako. Never saw anyone use that line all day, lol!)

The standby line for Kraken was only 20 minutes, so QQ should be super-quick, I thought. But it took us 15 minutes to get a locker. Seriously. The locker line was THAT long. The QQ line for the ride goes up the exit ramp. No shade. No fans. And there were 35 people ahead of us. They seemed to be using QQ like a single-rider line, but not splitting parties up. They were just filling in empty seats as they had enough for the party at the front.

25 minutes later (longer than the posted standby time) Lily and I finally reached the front – next to board. And then they shut the ride down. They claimed it was weather, but it was sunny and clear, and nothing else nearby was shut down, so I don’t know. We stuck it out for a few more minutes, hoping they would start again. But finally I couldn’t take it anymore. I was so hot, and feeling so dehydrated (my water bottle was in the locker) so we left. Mako was still shut-down on the way back, so I decided to give up on coasters for the day.

We met back up with the boys, and waited around while they did a couple more rides in the Harbor. And bought another bottle of water from another grumpy cashier. It was almost time for dinner. We had reservations for Dine with Shamu. I thought Lily as going to cry when I broke the news to her that dinner was outside, not in the A/C. Hopefully there would at least be fans. But gosh, I don’t think I’ve ever been so hot for so long.

It took us a while to figure out where to check in – it wasn’t quite in the spot that was labeled on the map. And this was the check-in line.

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We were seated, and almost immediately a chef came over to tell me that there were a few vegetarian options on the buffet, but that he had other stuff for me in the kitchen. I thought I had indicated that I would be fine with the buffet, but he later brought me the other stuff anyway. It was much better than what was on the buffet, so I was glad. In fact other people walking by kept looking jealous and asking where I found it.

Our waitress came by and asked for our drink order, and the interaction was very odd. She asked the kids first, then Brian ordered a beer. She looked a little stunned, like she wasn’t sure if he was serious, and looked over to me like I needed to approve. I thought she just wanted my drink order so asked for a Diet Coke. But then she turned back to Brian and stammered that she would need to see his ID. At 38 years old, he rarely gets carded, but whatever. After seeing his birthday, she looked very surprised, a little confused, and even exclaimed “OH! Sorry!” and shook her head. I guess maybe she thought it was a mom and three kids instead of two parents and two kids? Granted, he had a hat on, so she couldn’t see his receding hairline, but he has a rather thick beard that’s turning noticeably grey in spots. Doesn’t look like teenager to me!

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The buffet room was air-conditioned, though the seating area was not. Might have to make a few trips back here just to cool off! It was so crowded though, hard to navigate and get food in the mob of people. The food was pretty good though – probably one of the few highlights of the day. We were seated right next to the windows, and the trainers came out and talked to us a little about the whales. For what we paid, I was expecting a little longer with them though. One minor annoyance, that I left in the comment card, was that during the training demo, everyone rushed to the glass and stood right against it. Made it really hard to see anything other than what was right in front of us. It just seems tacky at a sit-down dinner to do that.

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We went to the Shark Reef aquarium afterwards. I wish we had come in here earlier in the afternoon when it was so hot. The kids did have a lot of fun looking at stuff here. And watching the stingrays outside.

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Then Lily talked me into making one last attempt for Mako. Brian took Owen souvenir shopping. I had told the kids they could get one thing from Sea World. Lily wasn’t interested because she said it wasn’t an experience she really wanted to remember, lol! Mako was actually running when we got there, and only a 20 minute wait. So we did it. The highest, fastest, some kind of impressive distinction of roller coasters that I can’t remember now. But it was terrifying! I kept my eyes closed the whole way up. When we started the plummet down, I remember an intense feeling of relief that at least we weren’t going any higher, lol!

I will say it’s an impressive coaster. And one ride was definitely enough. We met back up with the boys. Instead of shopping for a souvenir, Owen had played a game for one. A game with a winner every time, so he couldn’t lose, at least! He was now the proud owner of a small sea turtle names Bubbles.

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Brian had gotten so hopelessly lost trying to meet back up with us, and was very flustered by now. Owen really wanted to go see the sea turtle exhibit. This was another one of the few things during the day that went right though. It was a really cool exhibit. The park was really emptying out by now, and there were only 4 other people on our tour.

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We watched the sea turtles swimming in the tank, and one of the tour guides explained why one had a large hole in it’s shell. (It was hit by a boat) Then we saw a 3-D, 360-degree movie about sea turtles. The whole area was very well done, and all of the staff over here were so friendly, and seemed to take their job seriously. It was a refreshing change after the attitudes we had experienced elsewhere in the park.

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We had thought about staying for the fireworks, but it would require walking to the other side of the park. Owen wanted to stay, but Lily was done. DONE. D-O-N-E Done. So we headed for the front.

So, that was the day. There WERE a few bright spots, but ultimately we all agreed that today was mostly a bust. Sea World is definitely not a place we will be coming back to. Some of it wasn’t their fault. The heat, and some bad luck. But the rides are not on-par with the other parks, and the vast majority of the staff seem like they couldn’t care less. Everywhere we looked, there was peeling paint, weeds in the grass, crumbling sidewalks, overflowing trashcans…It feels like a run-down, local amusement park, instead of a world-class destination.

Once back at the hotel, Brian was still hungry. (At home, we usually don’t eat dinner until 8pm, so these early meals were really messing with him!) He wanted me to come down to the bar with him to get sushi. But I don’t drink, don’t eat sushi, and was dead-tired. So he took Owen instead. Yep, took the 5 year old to the bar at 9pm. For what’s it’s worth, Owen thought it was the coolest thing ever and even loved the sushi, lol! So they at least had a good ending to the day.

And I promise tomorrow (and really the rest of the trip) is MUCH better.

Chapter 5. “Over Here!” (Day 4)

We were headed to Islands of Adventure today! Another 7am early-entry, and it was actually the first time we had gone through the main entrance there, as we took the train over on Wednesday. And the Port of Entry here is so unique – probably one of the best at any theme park I’ve seen. It was one of the few things I remembered well from our trip 15 years ago.

Owen was bringing his wand, hoping to cast some more spells. He had become severely attached to said wand, which (hint, hint) becomes important later on.

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After yesterday’s dismal experience at Sea World, it was such a happy relief to be greeted by so many TMs who were energetic, smiling, and excited to be there. (Or at least doing a very good job of pretending to be, lol!) What a difference it makes!

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Of course we were headed straight to Hogsmeade, and Forbidden Journey. Owen was anxious for another ride on Hippogriff, but we told him it would have to wait, as I wanted to get to FJ before the line got any longer. This one wasn’t even an option for Owen, as he wasn’t tall enough. For him, this was a cause for great relief, not disappointment, lol!

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The walk through the Hogwarts Castle is amazing though! There weren’t a lot of people in front or behind us, so we could take our time and enjoy the scenery.

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Owen and I hung out in the child-swap room while Brian and Lily rode. They were playing the first Harry Potter movie, so Owen would have been content to stay there all day. Then it was my turn!

I had heard all along what a great ride this is – but wow. Just wow. Soarin’ (at Epcot) has been my favorite theme park ride for many years… well this is like Soarin’ on steroids. It was one of the coolest and most fun things I have ever experienced. I think I really screamed when the first dementor popped in front of me! But the simulated flight scenes were so realistic and well done. I was fortunate to get to ride a couple more times during the trip, and I still get butterflies in my stomach when I remember hearing Hermione say “Over here!” at the beginning.

After FJ, we gave Owen his wish for more Hippogriff. Two more rides, then two more after that when Brian and Lily decided to ride Dragon Challenge.

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By now, 3 Broomsticks was open for breakfast, and we were famished! They had relatively good food for CS, and of course the theming inside was fantastic. Today was the opposite of Wednesday, so since we had started in IoA, it was time to take the train over to Universal.

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And yes, we were wearing coordinating Hogwarts shirts today – each with the symbol and trait for our chosen house. Contrary to popular belief, Slytherin is not “evil”. Just “shrewd”. We make things happen. Sometimes people get in the way. But we don’t let little details like that derail us, lol!

The train wasn’t there when we got to the boarding platform (like it had been in DA), but it was neat because this meant we got to watch it pull in. And our car was air-conditioned this time, yay!

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Once in Universal, we headed over to Men in Black. Brian and Lily had done it Wednesday and assured Owen he would be fine. It’s actually like a grown-up version of Buzz Lightyear, and we all really enjoyed it. I was in last place until the very end, and then I somehow hit some sort of mega-bonus-target and got an extra 100,000 points, putting me in first! One of my few regrets of the trip is that we never got over here for another ride. OH well, we have it to look forward to next time.

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We went to E.T. next – a ride I remembered and loved from my childhood. I made the kids watch the movie a few months ago, because this was a classic they couldn’t miss out on. I just wish we could have gotten the front row, it’s so much easier to see. But we all enjoyed it, and it was a nice break from the heat, which was already brutal by 9am. Had to drag the kids out of the gift shop afterwards, as they had already bought all their souvenirs. (This was a struggle on pretty much every ride for the rest of the trip. Man these kids like to shop! It’s something I have very little patience for, so I don’t know where they got it from!)

We rode the Woody Woodpecker Coaster next. Lily was fuming all the way through the line because we hadn’t bothered to get out the EPs. There was no wait, but not using the passes meant a slightly longer walk. It was a tragedy, I tell you, ha!

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She really wanted to go back to the room afterwards, but we had already promised Owen some playtime in the Curious George area next door. All three of them played for a long time in the ball-room (even though it was HOT in there!) then they all got soaking wet running around the water-play town.

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Now it was time to head back though, lest we risk a meltdown from someone. I think the kids may have talked us into more Icee’s to make the trek back with, though I have no photographic evidence of such. I really needed to get some laundry done today, so we all helped out getting it lugged down to the laundry room at the hotel.

I didn’t have any plans for lunch, but Brian was intrigued by Emiril’s Tchoup Chop, next to the pool. It wasn’t busy, in fact we were the only ones in there!

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I thought the food was really good, even though I had been hesitant to try it. Unfortunately, Brian, who had been excited about it, didn’t care for his meal as much. I did have to run out briefly to go move the laundry to the dryer in the middle of the meal. We were taking up two washing machines, and there was a couple waiting, so I knew I needed to be there when it was done.

After lunch, Brian and Owen went for a very quick swim while I finished up the laundry. I had an idea for the afternoon that would keep us out of the heat, and not cost us any extra money. DisneyQuest! We had never been, but had lots of WP&M admissions left on our Disney tickets (19 each, to be exact!), so there was no harm in using one today, especially with rumors of it closing at some point in the near future. We found our way over there, but there was traffic and it was tedious.

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Once inside, Lily and I immediately took off to the the Hyerspace Mountain simulators. Oh my goodness we built such a crazy coaster! We had to wait 20 minutes for a simulator, but it was worth it. I thought I was going to get sick or pass out, and I NEVER get motion sickness! That’s how intense it was, lol! There’s no way Brian could have handled it, he would have been sick the rest of the day.

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We spent the next couple of hours playing arcade games and doing a few more of the simulators. You can definitely tell this place is getting old and dated, much needs upgrading or replacing, but obviously they are not going to do that right before they close it.

It was a fun couple of hours and I’m glad we got to do it once, but it’s not something I would ever care to do again. Brian said he didn’t think he ever needed to go to an arcade again after this. I definitely noticed a difference in the CMs working here. While they were polite, and a large step ahead of Sea World’s, we had clearly been getting spoiled by the enthusiasm of the Universal TMs. I do love Disney, I wish they would step up their game a bit though.

We had stayed a few minutes longer than I meant to, as we were headed to a Pirate Adventure dinner, back closer to our hotel. And then we got caught in traffic. And almost ran out of gas. And got caught in another traffic jam trying to get to a gas station. So I think we were the last to arrive to the dinner show, and missed all the pre-show drinks and entertainment. But we made it just before the main dinner seating, at least.

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I had almost been regretting having booked this. Maybe we should have just spent another evening in the parks. And from the looks of the outside of the building, I wasn’t expecting it to be all that impressive.

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But we were pleasantly surprised. The dining area surrounds a large pirate ship, and they did a choreographed show with original music and dancing, and of course audience participation. Brian and Lily said the chicken was very good. I think they forgot about my vegetarian entree and had to make something up at the last minute, but it was not bad at all.

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As the server was clearing our plates, he mentioned something about bringing out dessert next. I still remember the look on Owen’s face, and way he squaled “Dessert?? We get dessert?” (Context – we almost never eat dessert.) So this was a special treat. I ended up being glad we did this tonight, and Brian especially enjoyed it.

We got back to the hotel around 8:30pm, and the park was open until 10. So we decided to run over to US for what time we had left. Security wouldn’t let me bring my water in, apparently that’s a no-no at night (though no one had stopped me the first night we came over). Bummer because it was a fresh, cold bottle. The guard was very nice about it, and tried to tell me I could get my bottle refilled for free, but I joked that FL tap water is so nasty I wouldn’t bother. I’d just pay another $3 for a bottled one, lol!

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Brian wanted to make sure we did Terminator 2, one that he fondly remembered from our last trip, so we went there first.

It was just over 20 minutes to the next show. I was worried Owen would be scared, but he seemed to do fine and was really enjoying the 3-D effects. We sat in the very front row, so we were right in the middle of the action!

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We did Transformers again afterwards, both of the boys really loved this one. Like several of the motion simulators, it made my neck hurt a little, but I guess it was worth it. When we came out, the Cinematic Spectacular was starting, so we stood on the curb and watched. Neither of the kids were interested, but I told them they were going to have to be patient, since it was one of the things I wanted to make sure we got to do once.

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The show was alright. Honestly, I feel like this is one of the few areas where Universal is lagging behind Disney a bit. The water screens were well-done, but all of the projections were movie clips, nothing original for the show. And the fireworks were a cute addition, but nothing impressive on their own. But, I’m glad we got to see it once anyway.

The park was closed when they finished, so it was time to make the trek back. We stopped in City Walk to get pretzels and drinks, since I never had replaced that bottle of water.

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Overall, another good day!

 Chapter 6. Minions, Mummies and Mines, Oh My! (Day 5)

After staying out late last night, I knew better than to try for another 7am early-entry. So we took our time getting up, and had breakfast at Islands. Eulalie was our server, and she was so much fun! Singing and dancing, and calling the water “sky-juice”. Great way to start the day.

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We got to US around 8:30, and it was definitely more crowded. The combination of it being a weekend day, and later. But we had Minions to see! And I was assuming that with our Express passes, our late start wouldn’t be too punishing.

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I do LOVE the Despicable Me movies. I was a little late to the party – I didn’t see the first one until after the second one came out. In fact, I think I may have seen the second one first. I don’t know why I resisted for so long. Probably because it wasn’t Disney. (I hate to admit that, but it’s probably true). But we made up for it by going to see the Minions movie on opening day. For a while, Lily was completely Minion obsessed. She still likes them for sure, but at some point it was no longer “cool” to wear Minion t-shirts or have them plastered all over her room. Sigh.

But anyway, we had all been looking forward to this ride. It had nearly an hour wait by now, and even with our EPs it was about 20 minutes. Mostly outside, yuck! But the pre-show stuff inside is so much fun, almost as much fun as the ride!

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We did get unlucky with our seats, ended up right behind some tall people so unfortunately I think Owen missed quite a bit. But we all still enjoyed it a lot. We were one of the last ones out of the theater, so I was surprised that there wasn’t much line to meet the Minions and get a photo. The kids almost never want to meet characters these days, but I didn’t give anyone an option and pulled them into the line. They could humor me this once, lol!

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Afterwards, they were desperately wanting more toys in the gift-shop (no surprise) and we barely avoided a meltdown getting out of there.

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Brian and Lily wanted to ride Rip Ride Rocket, and Owen decided he wanted another ride on Minions. Unfortunately, we once again ended up behind the tallest guy in the theater! We had pretty bad luck with that the whole trip, actually. But it was still fun.

They didn’t really care for RRR that much – said it gave them a headache and was too jerky. I was waiting for their opinion to decide if I wanted to try it, and that made it a definite NO.

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I thought we should go to Shrek next, since it was right across the street and would be a good chance to cool off. Unfortunately, most of the queue is outside. I probably don’t need to mention it, but yes, it was HOT already.  And this was one that our EPs didn’t help much with. The EP line joined the regular line long before the entrance, so we still waited around 25 minutes.

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The movie was fun though, even though the kids haven’t seen Shrek. (I tried very hard to talk them into watching it several times, just couldn’t get them interested. The original Shrek was one of my very favorite movies in college, so it made me a little sad)

We were going to need lunch soon, but decided to ride Mummy first. I have to admit, I really knew nothing about what this ride was. But Owen was too short. A fact which he gloated about all through the line. That he “didn’t have to ride it”, lol! Maybe one day he’ll be a thrill rider. But not today.

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We took turns in the child-swap room, which of course means that Lily gets to ride twice. We were all really impressed! I didn’t realize it was a roller coaster! I think it’s actually one of my favorite rides there. And even better that Lily and I got to sit in the front. A good combination of theming, special effects, and a fast ride too. Hopefully we would get a chance to do this one again.

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Brian had spotted Louie’s a couple days ago and wanted to try it sometime, so it was a good pick for lunch. Again, I’m always a little nervous about CS, but this one actually went really well. There was a rather long line to order, but just as we walked in, they opened another counter, so we were almost first in line. There were several people saving tables here to (tsk, tsk) but luckily there were plenty of tables to go around so it wasn’t an issue at all. Pretty good pizza, too.

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Brian thought we should head back after lunch, as did Lily. But Owen really wanted to ride something else. In fairness, he had only done one ride (Minions) all morning. He couldn’t ride RRR or Mummy, and Shrek was a movie. So it seemed only fair to give him one pick. He wanted to ride E.T. again, so we made the long, HOT trek over there.

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We still didn’t get the front row, but I did put him on the end so he would be able to see the scene flying over the city a little better. Still such a fun ride, I hope they never get rid of it. Or change it. Some things just need to be left alone, lol!

This was the latest into the afternoon we had stayed, and man was it toasty! We almost had some meltdowns getting back, which we tried to stave off with more frozen treats, as usual.

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After a little relaxing in the room, we headed for the pool. It was a very similar afternoon to Wednesday. In fact, I think we ended up getting the exact same chairs.

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More lounging, playing in the pool, splashing, and frozen treats. I ordered a Tidal Wave smoothie while the kids were in the pool, and saved the gummy shark, thinking I would order them one to share when they came out, then they could each have their own gummy. Unfortunately, the server picked up my cup, with the intact gummy shark still in it, before that happened. Oh well. So they of course fought over the lone gummy shark in their smoothie.

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We ended up having to leave the pool earlier than planned because a nearby storm was threatening so they closed the pool. No rain, just some distant thunder and lightning.

We were headed to dinner at the Hard Rock Hotel tonight, and had planned to take the boat. Unfortunately, the boats were not running either due to the lightning, so we ended up walking the whole way. At least the storm had cooled things off considerably and it was actually pleasant to be outside. There was occasionally some misty rain, but nothing hard enough to worry about.

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We explored HRH a bit finding our restaurant. Brian especially likes it here, and was kind of wishing we had picked it instead. Maybe another time. We had dinner reservations at The Kitchen. We walked in just as a Minion was walking by! He played with Owen a bit, and tried to mess with the hostess too.

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We were seated right away and ordered. It was a good dinner. I can’t remember exactly what we all ordered, but no one had any complaints. In addition to seeing the Minion again (sorry I can never keep their names straight), we were also visited by Bart Simpson. I think Brian enjoyed that more than the kids, as they’ve never seen the Simpsons. A staple of our own childhood for sure, though.

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And our timing was impeccable. While we were eating, the storm arrived in full force, and it poured rain for about 30 minutes. But was mostly done when we were. There was still some lightning in the area, so I wasn’t sure how much would be open at the park, but we decided to give it a try.

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We walked over to Islands of Adventure and headed to Hogsmeade. Lily and I went for another ride on Forbidden Journey while the boys rode the Hippogriff again. Nothing had any wait at all, not even FJ, even though it was posted at 20 minutes. It was just the time it took to walk through the queue. I loved that ride so much, I could never get enough! And the park was especially beautiful at night, with everything lit up and sparkling in the dampness from the earlier storm.

Brian was getting tired of Wizarding World though, so we went on to Jurassic Park. Actually we first went over to Kong, but it was down (it was still in soft-opening) so we would have to try again tomorrow.

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Lily and I did the River ride while Brian took Owen over to Pteranodon Flyers. We had seen that ride last time (15 years ago, pre-kids), but didn’t have a kid with us so we were bummed we couldn’t do it. Unfortunately, Lily still can’t do it because she’s too tall to be the “kid” but not old enough to be the “adult”. She’ll have to come back when she has her own kids, I guess!

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The river ride was fun, I remembered most of it from before. There was almost no one in line, and we got to pick our row on and almost empty boat. Lily had done the ride with Brian a few days ago, but somehow forgot about the “drop”. I was like, how could you have ridden this and forgot the biggest part??

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Afterwards, we found the boys playing in the mines of Camp Jurassic, a large play area filled with climbing structures, caves, water guns, secret passageways, etc. I got Owen to go on the Pteranodon Flyers with me – the ride is a little scarier than I had thought! Especially in the dark. We flew high up above the forest, swinging violently back and forth. But it was fun, glad I finally got to do it.

I had thought that Lily would want me to take her somewhere else afterwards (because Owen had already said he wanted to play longer at the camp) but she and Brian had been exploring while we were on the ride, and she really wanted to play more with Owen in the Camp. So we spent most of the last hour playing hide-and-seek, climbing over rope bridges, having water wars, and generally exploring the mines and caves of Camp Jurassic.

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I’ve said before that the real Magic happens when you least expect it. We’re talking Magic with a capital “M”, not fake stage-show magic. Those perfect, un-repeatable experiences where the stars are aligned and everyone is happy and getting along, and just “in the zone”. I certainly didn’t expect our Magic to happen in a mostly deserted play area after a thunderstorm, but this was it.

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The kids had SO much fun! (And by kids, I mean Brian too. He’s really just a big kid most of the time anyway, lol!) There was almost no one else there, so we had free run of the place. Making it a little extra “spooky” at times, lol! And the lights reflecting off the wet surfaces were so beautiful. I had recently discovered “night mode” on my camera and had a lot of fun just walking around taking scenery shots. I left them a few minutes early so that I could take a few more on the bridge to Hogsmeade, and they met me there right as the park was closing.

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What a great night!

Chapter 7. Trying for Kong. Again. And Again. And Again. (Day 6)

Today was starting to feel like the beginning of the end. It was our last full day, and we were trying not to be too sad about it.

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We just barely made it in before the regular-open at Islands of Adventure, despite not having gotten to bed until almost 11pm the night before. (I think we went through the gates at 7:45am, just early enough to still have to show our room key) The park is so beautiful, especially in the early morning before it is mobbed with people.

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Unfortunately, I had managed to forget my camera today, so I had to make so with my phone. It doesn’t take the best pictures, but better than nothing, at least. (I should have stolen Lily’s phone – it takes better pictures than my real camera. Oh well!)

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(Later tonight, Lily would end up buying the coral/pink shirt on the right in the picture above. I realized later that I never took a picture while we were in there, so I was happy to see that by dumb luck, I snapped a picture of it as we went by this morning, at least!)

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(We had lunch later today here, at Mythos. I was glad I was able to get a picture before the crowds arrived!)

We wandered slowly through Seussland and Lost Continent. We were headed back to Jurassic Park, but that meant we had to go through Hogsmeade. Which of course meant that Owen wanted to ride Flight of the Hippogriff again. So we indulged him with two quick rides before passing through.

And he did a couple more spells with his wand. Lily was the one that was so excited to get a wand before the trip, but Owen had become much more attached to his throughout the week, and always insisted on bringing it to the parks with us. (If this was a movie, there would be some quick, foreboding music playing here).

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I had hoped to be at Kong shortly after it opened at 8am, but just like last night, it was not running. The TMs at the entrance seemed hopeful that it would open later today, and encouraged us to try back again. Lily was determined that we were going to get on it today, and thought we should come back to bug them every hour until they let us, lol!

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So, we went back to Jurassic Park, and had a repeat of last night at Camp Jurassic. The kids just couldn’t get enough of this place! Lily and Brian were totally soaked after getting into a water gun fight with some other kids, and we spent some more time exploring the caves.

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Finally it was time to move on. Sadly, Kong was STILL not running when we passed by again. Well, 3 strikes, right? Maybe next time we would be in luck.

We hadn’t been to Toon Lagoon at all yet. We tried desperately to get Owen to ride Ripsaw Falls since he was tall enough. Even bribed him with one of the giant lollipops he had been eying all week. But he was stubborn and still refused. Brian and Lily ended up going, and did get soaked (again), and said the ride was pretty wild. Maybe it was for the best that Owen refused.

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He wouldn’t do the Barges either, so we played for a while on Me Ship, the Olive. That was much more “his thing”.

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(There are some nice views of the park from up there!)

Lily and Brian did pose for a funny picture on the way out of Toon Lagoon. I love it when I can take a picture that so perfectly captures personalities. This was one, lol! Brian totally willing to go all-out and be goofy, and Lily just giving him a sarcastic smirk. That’s them, alright!

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We passed through most of Marvel, couldn’t talk anyone into doing Spiderman again. But we did do Storm Force Accelatron. Mostly like the tea-cups. As usual, Brian got it spinning so fast! He is prone to motion-sickness, hopefully he didn’t regret this later.

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We stopped underneath the Hulk for a few minutes to watch it test-running. It wouldn’t be open until later in the summer. Oh well, and excuse to come back, right??

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We stopped in Seuss Landing to play at “If I Ran the Zoo” for a while. Lily was complaining at first, but did end up having fun playing with Owen, despite herself.

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We rode One Fish, Two Fish again (and Brian pointed out the theming with the fish vehicles). He and Lily got quite wet, but I tried to keep Owen and myself dry. We didn’t have much time before lunch, so a quick ride on Cat-in-the-Hat, then it was time to continue on to lunch at Mythos! (I was really tempted to get a shirt here that said “Mother of All Things”. That’s how it feels most of the time anyway, lol!)

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I had been looking forward to this for a while. The inside is beautiful! Our reservation wasn’t until 11:15, but we arrived right at 11. The lobby was already packed, but the host decided to go ahead and seat us right away. It was funny, at first he said it would be a few minutes, then mumbled something, then said, “Or, I could seat you right now if you’d rather”. Ummm, yeah!

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It was cold in here! I know I spend a lot of time complaining about the heat, but we seem to find the coolest spots when we are wet. The meal itself was okay. I ordered the seasonal risotto. It was very beet-heavy, which isn’t really my thing. But the break still did us all good and I was glad we got to see the inside at least. I think Brian really liked his food, can’t remember exactly what he got. Something carnivorous, for sure.

We decided to take the long way around to leave, hoping that we could catch Kong running. But, no. I think this was our 4th attempt, things were not looking good. We would try again tonight. The boys played in the fountains in Toon Lagoon, but Lily was losing her patience and wanted to leave NOW! It was so hot. Another frozen treat, of course, to get us back.

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I declared a mandatory naptime once back in the room. Everyone was worn out, and it was starting to show in moods. Even Owen had been whinier and clingier than normal all morning. He resisted, but I convinced him to just lie down on my bed for a minute. I told him he didn’t have to sleep, just rest. Within about 20 seconds, he was sound asleep, lol!

I took over half of Lily’s bed since the boys were sleeping in mine, and we all napped for about an hour. The Brian decided he wanted to go swimming. And wanted everyone to come with him. And woke everyone up! Lily just growled and buried her head under the covers at the swimming suggestion, but Owen happily agreed, so they took off.

Eventually Lily and I decided we might as well go join them, but it started thundering just as we got down there and they closed the pool. It was okay, we had actually been considering going to the indoor hot tub instead, so we just headed straight there. I had discovered it when changing in the locker rooms on the first day.

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We had it all to ourselves for quite a while, I don’t think many people realize it’s there! You just have to stumble upon it by accident. I finally got in touch with the boys and told them where we were so they could come join us.

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One funny story… while it was just Lily and I in the hot tub, I saw someone come out the women’s locker room door behind me, and as I turned to see who it was, they quickly and quietly darted straight into the men’s! All I could tell was that it was a lifeguard. Not really sure what was going on there, but Lily and I got a good laugh about it. Probably some sort of secret rendezvous.

Once the boys arrived, there was briefly another couple in there, but mostly just us. It was a nice way to relax, and even though the water was hot, at least we were out of the sun.

This was the other (of two) nights that I hadn’t made dinner plans, so I thought we should let the kids choose. They had seen several CS places that looked like fun throughout the week (we don’t eat much CS, so to them it’s a treat, lol!) and they finally decided on Circus McGurkus in Seuss Landing. They liked that the Trolley ride went through it.

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I don’t think I’ve said much about our room – but this is the picture I took this evening out our window. We had a nice view of the water and Dr. Doom’s Fearfall. We could even hear people screaming when the room was otherwise quiet. It doesn’t show up well in the picture, but we could also see Hulk. I had only paid for a standard view, so definitely no complaints.

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We made our way to Seuss Landing at IoA for dinner. It wasn’t busy at all, but at first we had trouble getting the TMs behind the counter to pay attention to us. But I think they were just trying to get organized, because once they were ready, they were happy to help us. When we went up to pay, it turned out only one register was working, and it was the one on the opposite side of the food line that was open. So the cashiers were trying to go back and forth to ring things up, so that the guests didn’t have too. I joked to the cashier that Dr. Seuss would have been amused at this situation and she agreed that he would have loved it :)

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The food was pretty good actually, especially for CS. I had spaghetti, minus the meatballs. There had been a nearby thunderstorm as we were getting to the park so many of the rides weren’t running. But while we were eating, the trolley started coming through again, that was a good sign! I have to say, they seem really good here about opening things back up at soon as they can. Some places would be content to just call it a day if they had to shut down for a while.

So of course after seeing the trolley, we had to go ride it after dinner. I’m glad we did it again, because we ended up on the other track this time – totally different scenery and narration! I actually liked this one better. Or maybe it’s just because it wasn’t so unbearably hot – the storm having really cooled things down.

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We walked over to Kong to try one more time – it was actually open! With a 90 minute wait. I wanted to do it, but wasn’t sure I was willing to commit that much time to it, so we moved on, thinking we might try again later. I really wanted to get one more ride on FJ, so I talked Lily into coming with me, while the boys stayed in Jurassic Park. Owen did the climbing wall there, and I think they played at Camp Jurassic some more. I told you, they couldn’t get enough of that place!

Apparently I didn’t take a single picture during all of this, sorry!

The wait for FJ said 20 minutes, so we just went through the single riders line, thinking it was no big deal to be split up since we had done it twice already. But it turned out there was literally NO ONE in line when we got to the front (other than a few others in front of us in the SR line), so they just ushered us on together. I was tempted to go again, lol! But I figured we shouldn’t abandon the boys for too long. Brian had liked FJ the first time, but it made him a little queasy so he was never interested in riding again. It is most definitely my favorite ride ever, though.

We met the boys at the Raptor Encounter in JP. A trainer came out and talked to a big group of us, and then we all had our turn to pose with the raptor. Who was a bit temperamental and would often disobey his orders and snap at people’s heads! I couldn’t believe Owen wasn’t scared! He seemed to think it was more funny than terrifying. I even jumped and screamed when he came down close to me and growled!

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There really wasn’t much else after this that we really felt we needed to do, so we headed back towards Kong. It was still open – down to a 75 minute wait. I was hesitant, could we even contain the kids in a line that long without them totally losing their you-know-what? They all wanted to give it a chance anyway. So we got some frozen treats to take into the line, and hoped for the best.

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Lily was convinced all the way through that it was going to break down before we could get on. I really didn’t think the wait was going to be 75 minutes, I figured that had to be inflated by at least a little. But every time I thought we were almost to the front, it would turn out that we were just to the entrance to another room of lines. 78 minutes after getting in line, we were finally boarding a bus. I absolutely cannot believe we made it through a wait that long!

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The queue is pretty cool – has some entertainment built in during parts of it. Owen was a little nervous, but we kept reminding him that the raptor was surely scarier than this. Actually I had no idea if that was true at the time, but it sounded good anyway, ha!

The ride itself rather intense and scary, but fun. It’s mostly a simulation in front of a big screen, or rather between 2 big screens, on one each side of the bus. And there is different stuff happening on each side. You really need to ride it twice – once on each side, to see everything. I think Owen kept his eyes closed through most of it, but stayed calm at least. My biggest criticism was that it was so short – I really think it needs another scene. Especially after waiting 78 minutes for it, lol! (Although Brian was suspicious that a part may have been left out – he was sure he saw the busses going outside the building the night before.) But I’m really glad we finally got to do it.

Oh, and Lily’s pessimism wasn’t totally unfounded. Just as our bus pulled back in to unload, the ride broke down. It took them several minutes to get us out because they had to manually override something to make the doors open. And they were announcing as we left that they were having technical difficulties and didn’t know how long the delay would be. So we got quite lucky!

Lily was really wanting to go shopping now, so we left the boys, who eventually ended up going back to Hogsmeade for 4, yes FOUR more rides on Hippogriff. Thats makes a total of 13 for Owen. And to think we almost didn’t get him on it the first time!

Lily picked out a couple of girly shirts from a store near the entrance. I must have been tired because I didn’t take any more pictures until we left the park, oops! But remember I did accidentally get a picture of one of her new shirts this morning, and she wears it tomorrow so you can see it then.

 The TM at the register asked where we were from, and when we said Colorado, he looked very apologetic and asked how we were handling the heat and humidity. We admitted that we had to hide in the hotel room for many hours every afternoon and he laughed, but agreed that was wise!

We sat in the Port of Entry people-watching and enjoying the surroundings for a few minutes until the boys came along. Brian really wanted to stop somewhere for drinks and apps, since we had eaten dinner pretty early (around 6pm, that’s early for us!) I was exhausted, but being our last night, I don’t think anyone was willing to call it quits yet anyway.

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So we stopped at Margaritaville. There was a 25 minute wait for a table, but an open one in the bar area immediately so we just took that. The kids and I split a dessert. We got some kind of mega-chocolate contraption.

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Then we stumbled back to our room, thinking it was the most tired I had ever been, (although tomorrow night I would disagree, lol!) but still not ready for the trip to be over. We had a few more hours left in the morning, hopefully we could make the most of them!

On the vast majority of our vacations, we have had what I call the “Last Day Curse”. Something always goes horribly wrong, and our last memories of the trip are rarely good ones. We’ve had lost souvenirs, temper-tantrums, ride-breakdowns, bad weather, illness, etc. Many times, I have decided that we should just give up trying to do stuff that last day, and fly home early. And most years, that’s how I book our flights. On Southwest. Who doesn’t charge change-fees. So, a few months (or weeks) before, I always give in and change us to a later flight, because I just can’t stand to “waste” all that potential time. Same story here. So, would we survive the Last Day Curse? Or should I have left well-enough alone and kept our 8am flights?

Chapter 8. Surviving the Last Day Curse (Day 7)

Well, this was it. Our last day. Our flight was leaving MCO at 5pm, and we fully intended to suck every last second out of the day. We would have to be checked out of the room by 11am, but that gave us several hours to hit the parks, so we were determined to be at US by 7am. Owen talked me into giving him a Diet Dr. Pepper in the room, claiming he needed the caffeine. (He never gets soda, so this was a rare treat)


For the first time, there was actually a long line at security coming from the resort walkway. I tried to get a selfie of all of us, but Lily was refusing to cooperate, so I had her take a picture of the 3 of us instead. And then realized how TIRED we looked, lol! Then she did a selfie of just her. Couldn’t be seen with us riff-raff apparently.

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We headed straight for Minions and walked right on. I specifically asked to be put in an odd-numbered row because I had figured out last time that those are the front cars on each level. So we were directed to row 3 (after getting row 4 the first two times). Sure enough, we had a perfect, unobstructed view! It was a great way to start our last day.

We headed towards DA, and stopped to see the Knight Bus on the way. Lily mostly wanted to just see the area and wander around some more. We thought about riding Gringott’s again, but the wait was already 30 minutes. If we could have talked Owen into doing it, I wouldn’t have minded, but none of us were willing to wait that long just for a second ride.

So we wandered around some more, looking in shops and Owen was playing with his wand outside (he was the only one who brought his today) until LC opened for breakfast at 8am. We, mostly by accident, stumbled into Knockturn Alley. I’m really glad we found this, it was so cool! Lily loved looking in the Dark Arts shop buried back there. Then it was time to eat.

Right as we were ordering, Owen suddenly had to go potty. So I ran back to the restrooms (called Public Conveniences, lol) with him while Brian and Lily finished getting our food. Oh, if only I hadn’t been in SUCH a hurry. (This will be a minor tale of woe, just a warning). I had to explain to the TM back at the entrance to the restaurant (a nice, elderly, wizardly looking gentleman) what we were doing, as he wanted me to get back in line, but we finally made it to the table where Brian and Lily were already eating. We discussed our plans for the rest of the morning, cleaned up our table and were headed out of DA. So I asked Owen to give me back his wand so I could store it safely in its box in my backpack.

He wasn’t holding his wand.

Every bad expletive I could think of ran through my mind at that moment. We ran back in to check the table, having to explain to the same TM again why we were bypassing the line, but it wasn’t there. Brian didn’t recall seeing him with it in the restaurant at all.

The restroom. He had it with him when I took him to the restroom. I ran back there as fast as I could, leaving Brian behind. I think he was chatting with the same TM outside LC about our problem but I didn’t stick around to participate.

The stall we had been in was open, but no wand. I was getting panicky. There was a TM just outside the restrooms helping people with wand spells. I figured if someone found it and wanted to turn it in, he would have been the natural person they would have gone to. I had to wait several long, painful minutes to get a turn with him, and he knew nothing.

I knew it was possible that it would turn up at L&F. Eventually. But we had so little time. I instinctively patted Owen on the head and told him I was sorry. Up until now, he hadn’t even seemed that worried, just assuming we would find it I guess. But once he saw me give up, he burst into tears. I picked him up to comfort him, and he laid on my shoulder sobbing.

Not angry, not throwing a fit. Just heartbroken. So many tears. I decided right then that I was going to fix this. You see, 6 years ago, on our last day WDW (just like today), Lily had lost her autograph book. Filled with 30+ signatures that she had proudly collected throughout the week. That was something I couldn’t replace. I did buy her a few small presents to try to make up for it. But it’s a loss that still haunts me to this day. THIS loss I could replace. For $50, right then and there. So, back to Ollivander’s, a new Dumbledore wand was ours. 

Oh well. Problem solved, time to put it behind us and move on. Owen was being so sweet, he hugged me over and over and thanked me a million times for buying him a new one. The TM in front of LC stopped us again on the way out, wanting to know if we had found it. We told him we just replaced it instead. I know he felt really bad, he really was a sweet guy.

We had lost a bit of time, and only had about an hour before we needed to head back to the hotel to pack up. I really wanted to ride Mummy again- so as quickly as we could, we made our way through the queue and child swap. It was even more fun the second time!

Then we raced over for another ride on Woody Woodpecker, and Owen played on the playground for a few minutes while Lily and I went for one last ride on E.T. Not gonna lie – I was mostly swayed by the fact that E.T was cool, playground was hot, lol!

There was only one ride we had not done yet – the Simpsons! The kids don’t know the Simpsons at all, but I thought we should at least ride it once. It was going to be tight, but hopefully we had time. It was another motion simulator – made Brian a little queasy and my neck a little sore, but it was still fun.

We were definitely running behind schedule to get back though. The kids did talk us into one last frozen treat on the way, and then Brian became convinced that we needed to sit down on a bench and relax for a few minutes before heading back. We opted to take the boat, even though we just missed one. It was so hot, I no longer cared if we were late, I just needed to be out of the sun. And at least the boat dock was shaded.

Once back in the room, it was a packing frenzy. We had less than 30 minutes, and the room was in total chaos! Housekeeping was knocking at our door at exactly 10:55, and I apologized that we weren’t quite ready yet.

Finally, we were packed, bell services came for our stuff, loaded it in the car, and we were off. It had been a great week, and we were more than a little sad to be leaving. We still had some time before our flight, and the first order of business was lunch. We ended up at TGI Friday’s. We almost never eat at chains on vacation, but it was close and easy.

Brian and Owen were really wanting to go to Wet n’Wild. Lily most definitely did not, but I wasn’t even sure what else to suggest at that point. WnW was included on our passes, so it would be free, and at least by being wet we could stay cool. We would only have about an hour anyway, so I told her to deal with it.

Boy, it is a LONG, HOT walk from their parking lot! It’s a terrible set up. And then it took us a long time to find the locker rooms after being given wrong directions. Though I did think it was cool that the guy who scanned our tickets said he usually worked at Universal, and awarded 20 points to Slytherin for me wearing my shirt 🙂

We headed straight to Blastaway Beach, a splashy area with lots of small slides. Owen was having a blast!

The time passed quickly, and at least we were cool for most of it. Overall, the park wasn’t something I would have gone out of my way for, but neat to at least see it once before it closes later this year.

It was time to head to the airport 🙁 Our bags were a mess and would have to be repacked (because we had taken all the swimming stuff to WnW, plus had a few things in the car that were never packed.) Somehow, we got it all into the airport and checked in.

After security, we were eating a snack when Lily’s shoe broke! It was a flip-flop (a cheap one I bought at the grocery store) and one of the straps just snapped right off! I couldn’t find a single pair of shoes in any store, so she had to make do with a pair of fuzzy socks. She was convinced that they weren’t going to let her on the plane without shoes, but no one even noticed.

Otherwise, the trip was uneventful. I was SO sleepy when we got home! I think THAT may be the most tired I have ever been.

We made a stop at Village Inn before driving home, and I almost didn’t make it. The very next morning, I came down with a bad cold. I can’t believe how close that was to ruining our trip! I was so grateful that it didn’t, that I felt bad even complaining about it at all. But man, I think we really wore ourselves out on this one. Maybe I’m getting too old for this, lol!

As for the Last Day Curse… well we certainly had our share of bad luck with losing the wand. And not everyone was in the best of spirits at Wet n Wild. But, it could have been far worse, and I think it was worth staying the extra few hours, even it it completely wore us out. Might as well leave it all on vacation, right??

So – a few parting thoughts…

We will definitely be back! Probably not for another week-long vacation, but for a shorter trip. And NOT in the summer, lol! Every year, we alternate whether we spend Thanksgiving or Christmas with my family, so we are always in FL either in November or December. And we’ve gotten good at slipping in a few days at WDW first. We are already booked for our December Disney trip, and not willing to change those plans (plus if we did two trips in one year I’d feel really bad that we didn’t get APs)

But, we didn’t have any firm plans for next Thanksgiving (2017)! I had assumed we would go to Disney, but hadn’t even decided where to stay yet. I think this will be a Universal trip instead 🙂 Brian and the kids say they like it better than Disney. I don’t know if I can pick a favorite between the two, they are just very different.

The heat was definitely a major factor for us. I kind of knew it would be, but was hoping we would get lucky and maybe it would be a cooler week. Instead there was a heat wave. But, I think we managed to have a lot of fun anyway, even if we had to hide in the room more than I would have liked. Looking forward to next time, when it’s not surface-of-the-sun hot though!!!