October 2014 Trip Report – HHN Nights And Food & Wine Days – Day 2
Didn’t quite get to the park for 7am, but I was inside the turnstiles by 7:10am. In late September I was surprised by how much darker it was in Florida at this time of the morning than it would be back at home. I got some beautiful pictures as I walked through CityWalk and Universal Studios as a result of that.
Finally the moment was here for me to see Diagon Alley, as you walk beyond the London facade and you see it… Speechless. I couldn’t possibly describe it to you in words other than to tell you it is the most magnificent thing I have ever seen in a theme park. The details, the scope of Diagon Alley, the magnificence of it is beyond anything you can imagine until you have seen it. The line for Gringotts was backed up so I had to get in line rather than explore but everything I did see was perfect. The kind of place you never want to leave. I have seen photos of the dragon, of the area and still it did not prepare me for it.
It didn’t take long to get inside the bank itself and shortly after I once again had to drop my jaw as I went into the bank hall. The chandeliers were massive as was the chamber that holds them. The outer perimeter had several tellers all busy doing transactions and whatever else goblins have to do in a bank. Each goblin animatronic more impressive than the next. Each with their own quirks and personalities. One goblin is facing us at the far end of the hall and this particular goblin is more impressive than the rest and he addresses the guests in hopes of opening a new account.
The queue is elaborate with plenty of items to distract from your wait. The moving pictures effect has been perfected by Universal at this point and it is even more impressive than what had been doing using it at Hogsmeade village. Eventually you find yourself in a elevator chamber which is neither the hyrdrolators nor the tower of terror. What it is, however, is a simulated descent miles down into the deep chambers of the vaults. It is very impressive, and if you are prone to motion sickness you definitely want to stay to the edges where hand rails are present.
You will now board a vehicle most similar to the Mummy ride vehicle in the same park. A four across, three rows deep roller coaster type of apparatus. Once everything is settled your journey begins. You move fluently on a coaster track between scenes depicted by 3d projections as well as physical sets. Moving quickly from scene to scene on a steel coaster track. The vehicle is extremely maneuverable and can rotate atop the track while moving. It is not at all intense from roller coaster standards and the motion simulation is also tame for such standards. Only those who are extremely sensitive to motion and / or coasters should take heed.
I enjoyed the ride thoroughly. It lived up to my expectations of what it was. My personal ranking puts it behind the Amazing-Spiderman, and Forbidden Journey at a solid third position. Over the course of the vacation I was able to ride it four times, and I warmed up a little more to it each time. The scenes are humorous as well as adventurous and introduces some of the evil characters we love to hate from the books / movies. Bellatrix and Voldemort both are featured in the attraction attacking us as Potter supporters. It’s a spectacular ride in a spectacular land.
Upon exiting, I did get to explore Diagon Alley some more and stroll about. The unexpected surprise to me was Knockturn Alley. It really blew me away how they pulled this eternal night shopping district off. So clever in making it dark all the time. The entire area is amazing and you could easily spend hours just combing about through all the nooks and crannies of it. Universal hit it out of the park on this one truly. You can view a Flickr album HERE I threw together after my vacation showing some of its wondrous locations.
Keeping an eye on the clock I had to bail from Studios and get back to the hotel or more directly, my rental car. I needed to pick up my wife and another couple today at the airport for a 9am arrival. I picked them up and we made it back toward property in no time at all. One quick stop at the Publix on the way home to pick up some meager supplies (Beer!) and we made our way right back to the Cabana Bay Beach resort for their check in. We actually stopped off at my room first to drop off their bags and because parking is convenient to where my room was. We were aware at time of booking we would have adjoining rooms so no reason not to drop all of their bags off in my room. We made our way to the extremely busy check in area and waited. Everyone was situated now, their room was not ready yet, but a text message would be sent when it is. Of course this was a lie but hey I wanted to believe it. Fortunately they had their keys, and we knew what room they would be in.
We decided we needed some lunch before hitting the rides. It made sense to figure out where to eat upon arriving at CityWalk. We opted for the NASCAR Grille. Apparently we jinxed it, because later that day the announcement came of it’s closing. Surely it must have been the fantastic service they were known for that did them in. Did I ever tell you about the time… Never mind, another story for another day.
The 3 along with me seemed pretty happy with their meals, a couple of burgers and my wife had a bowl of chili. My wife, in particular, was pretty vocal about how good it was. I had the chicken and waffle basket, which is pretty much chicken fingers and french fries. The chicken is supposed to be in a sweet waffle batter before being fried, but they did not really taste much different than any other fried chicken finger I have ever had. The dipping sauce, a tangy balsamic maple syrup, was quite delicious. They should bottle that up to take home. From a value perspective, this we would learn later, was quite a value. The most expensive plate we ordered was $15.
After NASCAR we entered into Islands of Adventure. Crowds seemed manageable for mid day so we went all the way back toward Hogsmeade to see the damage on Forbidden Journey. It was a 25 minute posted wait so we gladly accepted that challenge. Butter beers were had by all and we enjoyed (were forced) to ride pretty much everything at Seuss before having some real fun over at Marvel Superhero Island. Spider-Man after all these years is my absolute favorite attraction. We also had some thrills on Dr Doom and the Hulk as well. We made our way back to the resort for a break before HHN. The buses, once again, proved reliable. Waiting there as we walked up and off we went.
Although our friends never got a text message, it was after 4 and we knew what room to expect was their room. Sure enough the key opened it right up and we moved their luggage in. After some relaxation, we ate a quick supper at Bay Liner. It’s a food court of sorts with some nice variety. It also does have a grab and go section that is very convenient. It is good and reasonable, or at least as reasonable as can be expected at a resort such as this.
Back on a bus headed for CityWalk and ultimately back to IOA where we would ride the Hogwarts express to Diagon and enter HHN from there. Except they closed the Hogwarts express unlike the weekend prior and threw our plans into a spiral. With that plan out the window we went into the lines for entry to HHN out front. Fortunately it worked out well with the hotel guests line over on the far side, by the path to the Hard Rock Hotel is. We zoomed right through security as well as the turn stile and there was HHN in all its glory. We spent a lot of time in the Purge scare zone, it was a hit with our crew and we frequented it quite a bit over the next few days. We hit every house and I still hadn’t caught either show. Actually Bill and Ted was all I was interested in as I had seen Rocky Horror Picture Show the prior year. Not tonight it would turn out but it was fun going through all of the houses easily with express and spending a good evening purging.
Somewhere about midnight we were back at the hotel and ready for another amazing sleep in those amazing beds. If not for the weird phone call at 2am that woke me up. I didn’t answer it. Rings again. I refuse to answer it. A while later a knock at my door. Seriously? I then get up, throw a t-shirt on and as I’m moving toward the door, someone begins to open it. I grab the door and say ‘hello’ and then I get an immediate apology and then a hotel staff member speaks into his phone there is someone in the room. I never figured out what the problem actually was but since it was my 2nd night in the room it seemed crazy for them to think the room wasn’t occupied. I guess having my wife check in and then the other couple checking in a day later threw them off somehow. Anyway, after being a little angry, that wonderful bed put me right back to sleep. Got to get up early after all.
|Day 10 – Summary|