Finishing out a two-day two-park run at Universal, my fourth trip report segment covers Islands of Adventure!
Out-of-sequence night shot!
Unlike SeaWorld and the original Universal Studios park, I'd legitimately never been to Islands of Adventure, so everything was new to me. I had higher expectations for this park, given some of the things I'd heard about it over the years, so I was wondering if it would meet those expectations. The final answer: maybe not quite, but close.
I visited on Wednesday, February 15. Scorecard for the day: Forbidden Journey (x2) Dragon Challenge (blue) Dragon Challenge (red) Kong Hulk -- Lunch -- Poseidon's Fury Cat in the Hat Spider Man Dr Doom Ollivander's Hulk (x2)
I might be totally off base, but my biggest takeaway from Islands of Adventure is that there just doesn't seem to be that many attractions. I say that while acknowledging that I skipped all the water rides, with a late-day attempt to ride Jurassic Park River Adventure thwarted by a thunderstorm-induced shutdown. I'd hate to think I missed some stuff, but I usually prepare for park visits in detail, and I think I got on everything I really wanted to.
It's probably one of the biggest travesties of my Universal experience that I didn't ride Spider Man until after experiencing every other simulator (of varying quality) at the resort. Spider Man has sort of a legendary status, and in retrospect, I can see why it was such a game-changing combination of ride, media, and physical sets. At the time, though, it didn't have the effect on me that it should have. I'd seen all the tricks already, though probably not done as well. I kind of wished I'd have started with this one!
Oh, but IoA had one of my favorite rides of the whole Florida trip -- Forbidden Journey. Got on twice with no wait shortly after the park opened (not that there were lines for much of anything all day), and really thought it was spectacular. A fantastic example of how a media-based attraction can work seamlessly with physical sets and creative ride motions. Best of all? No 3-D! Forbidden Journey was so much better than the other rides at Universal that have come after it -- even Gringotts. I hope other park franchises eventually take advantage of this ride system, because it's a lot of fun.
Have to give some credit to Hulk -- that's about as fun a first-half as any B&M sit-down looper I've ever been on. It's big, it's actually reasonably intense, and it launches into a zero-G roll. I even thought the cobra roll was comfortable, and I usually hate those! Really good ride, and probably sneaks just above Rockit as my favorite coaster at Universal.
Otherwise, my reviews are mixed. Kong was the Transformers of IoA -- loud and incoherent. Cat in the Hat felt like it was trying to be Magic Kingdom's Pooh ride, and that ride isn't even all that great. Was very disappointed by Dragon Challenge, though I'd just been on Montu a week before, so that's kind of an unfair comparison. I remember thinking one of the sides was the worst B&M invert I'd ever been on, and one was about average, though I can't remember which was which. Poseidon's Fury was a little better than expected, actually -- some cool effects to make up for the cheese-filled storyline. The little show in Ollivander's Wand Shop was cute, and Dr. Doom's a decent tower ride.
So, after full days at each park, what's my final opinion of Universal? I like it, but I don't love it. It all goes back to something I said in the last post -- I don't care much for 3D-media, and I don't have any connection to the franchises represented at the parks. I could overlook those facts if the parks were filled with outstanding rides and attractions, but to me they were more hit-or-miss, and IoA seemed a little sparse on attractions in general. With that said, there are definitely a few outstanding rides at each park, and I loved the detail in the theming -- especially at IoA. If I was back in the Orlando area again, would I revisit Universal? Sure, but I'd be more likely to do one full day split between the two parks, knowing there are things I can skip over. If I'm planning my next week-long family vacation to Orlando, would I skim some time from Disney World to bring everyone north on I-Drive? Not as likely.
Started the day in the Wizarding World, hoping to beat the crowds. This picture might indicate otherwise, but I was largely successful!
The snow-covered rooftops of Hogsmeade.
Not the first theme park in Orlando to use forced perspective.
I liked Diagon Alley, but I think I preferred the slightly more open feeling of Hogsmeade.
More detail on the windows.
Hogwarts Castle is large, imposing, and impressive.
It's full of awesome detail, but most of it is a little far away to get good pictures of.
There's a kiddie coaster, and it had the longest waits of any attraction in the park that I saw -- was up to 40 minutes just an hour after opening.
Needless to say, I didn't try to ride.
Hogsmeade has some sort of wizard show thing, and I'm really not describing this really well, so I'll stop now.
Lots of detail around the area, though.
I have yet to cast a spell, so consider the limits respected.
Old-timey luggage for your train ride.
Take a ride on the Hogwarts Express. If you pass Go, collect $200.
A barrel filled with good-but-overpriced not-coke.
Dragon Challenge -- a pair of formerly-dueling B&M inverts, which I'm sure I would have liked more if they were still dueling.
I only rode each side once, mainly because it's about a ten mile walk to get to the coaster station!
Also, because I didn't think either of them were good enough to warrant multiple rides. Also, because my fluffy, fluffy bunny filled with medicine and goo was about to expire, and I didn't really feel like re-upping it.
There were waits only for the front row, and I saw several half-full trains going out at various points during the day.
Continuing a counter-clockwise rotation around the park, I came to the Jurassic Park River Adventure.
There are several great spots for photography near the big splashdown finale.
I guess what I'm saying is, prepare for a whole bunch of pictures of the same thing (or scroll down if you don't want to see them).
This was the one water ride I had actually intended on riding, but I never did get on.
I even put my stuff in the /pay/ fluffy, fluffy bunny filled with medicine and goo at the ride's entrance, only to have every outdoor ride in the park shut down due to a nearby thunderstorm.
At least I had plenty of pictures of /other/ people enjoying the ride.
It did look like a lot of fun, though quite wet, especially in the front row.
Kicking up some water.
Kicking up some more water.
Hidden in the mist.
Perhaps a drenching splash.
I'd heard that sitting in the back row in the middle seats might result in an acceptably-misty (rather than head-to-toe soaking) ride.
The pictures sure make it look like everyone's getting in on it, though.
There are several phases to the splash, and several phases to the reactions.
Not sure it's possible to actually hold off the water, but good attempt.
Applause from another happy boat.
Soaking and smiling.
Harry Potter can't save you.
Even Megadeth guy liked it.
Running out of captions before I run out of pictures.
Everyone always looks so surprised.
OK, next up...
...Kong. Or, Skull Island. Which, at least, was better than the similarly-themed Immersion Tunnel things I went on in Europe.
Kong was my longest wait of the day -- about 20 minutes.
Obviously didn't get on this thing, nor did I even try. Pteranadon Flyers is not for solo adult riders.
Kinda looks like fun, but I doubt I'm missing too much.
Ripsaw Falls is next on the loop, and provided another opportunity for some fun photography.
Honestly, I had considered riding this as well, because I love well-themed log flumes. Splash Mountain (WDW) and Chiapas (Phantasialand) are among my favorite amusement rides of any type.
Just didn't feel like getting totally soaked. Next time.
This one does seem to be a soaker, too.
The flume has two sides to the drop, but I only ever saw boats going down the left chute.
Cresting the Chiapas-esque airtime hill (and yes, I know this one came first).
Another splash on the way down.
Was tough timing out a shot right as the splash was beginning.
Managed to get a couple!
Even if you were to somehow survive the drop, people are going to use the squirt guns to get you again.
With no exceptions, every rider reacts like they never saw it coming.
Still trying to decide if I liked the comic strip area or not. Not sure I've seen this kind of theming attempted anywhere else. Some of it comes off as kind of cheap. It /definitely/ feels like a bit of an artifact of a bygone time.
Yet another water ride, but with less in the way of good photo ops -- the Bilge Rat Barges.
It's a well-themed version of your standard spinning raft ride.
There are rapids...
...and big faucets guaranteed to get just about everyone wet...
...but especially if you're on that side of the boat.
Nearby is the Olive, a three-level boat.
The second level has opportunities to spray water at the Bilge Rat Barge riders...
The top level has the controls for the ship, but more importantly...
...it's got one of the best views in the entire park!
So, I figured I'd set up for a few minutes for some photography. Here's a nice view of Hulk's first segment.
Spiraling out of the launch.
Kicking up some water in the splash-down.
Looping up a little higher.
The Dr. Seuss area is directly across the water.
There's a little monorail that goes around this area. Probably should have gotten on that for some more views of the park, but I did not.
The H-triple-R lift hill can also be seen pretty prominently from here.
To the left, Mythos and Hogsmeade can be seen.
I did not eat at Mythos, but perhaps I should have. Is it as good as their last-decade hype would indicate?
There are some decent distant views of Dragon Challenge.
The blue train heads down the first drop.
The red train hits what has to be one of the only airtime hills on a B&M invert anywhere.
A twisted turnaround.
Another inversion in the distance.
The Jurassic Park building in the foreground, with Hogwarts Castle behind it. A strange juxtaposition.
It's dark and gothic -- Cinderella's Castle, this ain't.
Because I can't get through a photo set without finding a bird.
Poseidon's Fury! Actually kind of stupid-fun.
I liked the water tunnel. Doesn't everyone like the water tunnel?
Seuss Landing is an interesting place. I saw things I recognized from books I must have read 20 years ago.
Story time with several Dr. Seuss characters.
This guy's rather timely.
One shot from the Cat in the Hat ride queue. I liked what they were going for, but the execution felt like something I'd expect out of a second-tier park.
A sand castle!
A tribute to Theodor Geisel.
Back-tracking to Marvel Super Hero Island, also known as "pony up if you want these guys in your park, Bob."
As I look back, I really think I should have appreciated Spider Man more than I did. I saw it through the lens of having a day and a half of other (mostly inferior) 3-D simulators beaten into my skull, whereas this was among the first and probably still remains one of the best.
I did take the time to appreciate the fake awards in the queue, like this one for somebody who has apparently accomplished very little...
...or this one for a photojournalist who would fit in with today's media just fine.
Hulk is good. Hulk's queue entrance, courtesy of the old version of the ride, is also pretty awesome.
The green track on blue sky looks nice!
Even Hulk was running half-empty trains, though when I caught it for my first ride of the day, I had about a ten-minute wait. Probably about as long as it got all day.
I'm really glad the Hulk trains have headlights. Foreshadowing, perhaps.
Yet another big splash.
Tall vertical loops are fun -- one of my favorite B&M elements.
It's late afternoon and with thunderstorms in the vicinity, the park's outdoor attractions shut down. I appreciate a park that actually cares about taking proper safety measures!
The storm clouds rolled onward, and operations resumed with about an hour to go in the operating day.
The sun begins to set on Hogsmeade...
...and the sky behind the castle just makes things even more dramatic.
An orange glow behind the Seuss trolley.
Distant thunderstorms behind Super Hero Island.
One last day-time view as the sun sets. But not quite time to put the camera away. After a couple last rides on Hulk, I had a photo spot to get to after dark.
A night-time view of Hulk and Super Hero Island.
Remember the Hulk train headlights? Thanks to a 25-second exposure, you can see the train traverse the entire first half of the ride.
A slightly closer view over the first Hulk segment.
This shot of the cobra roll, unbeknownst to me, was the last Hulk train of the night! I had one chance to get this shot and got lucky.
(Well, actually, it wasn't the last train of the night -- I saw the ride cycling about 45 minutes after the park closed!)
As has been tradition for this post -- yet another "other stuff in Florida" addendum! This is the longest of these segments, but covers a bunch of stuff heading north from Orlando and up the Atlantic coast of the Sunshine State.
See ya later, Orlando!
My first stop was at Blue Spring State Park, about 45 minutes north of Orlando. It's heralded as one of the best places in the state to see manatees in winter, and it delivered.
The sign does not lie.
This was another great spot to see lots of Florida wildlife, including manatees.
Yup, all those dark spots in the water are manatees. The park said there were just over 100 on the day I visited.
Even more manatees.
A short walk leads to Blue Spring at the source of the manatees' stream. It's like a giant blue hole in a lush forest. Maybe something out of a Roger Dean album cover.
One lone manatee was exploring the source of the spring.
Plenty of birds, too, such as this green heron...
...and this red-bellied woodpecker.
That lone manatee made its way down the stream, and I got to see it from about 10 feet away.
Probably floating back to find its friends.
Next, I headed to Canaveral National Seashore on the Atlantic coast. It's a pretty quiet stretch of beach just north of Cape Canaveral.
Here's Turtle Mound, an obviously-unnatural shell midden on the inlet side of a narrow barrier island. It's a prehistoric archaeological site built many, many centuries ago.
The entire mound is made up of shells like this!
There are boardwalks that lead to the top...
...with views over the inlet (left) and ocean (right).
Oh, and it's Florida, so the wildlife also includes things like the spiny orb weaver spider...
...and its much, much, much larger cousin, the golden silk orb weaver "banana" "leg-span the size of a softball" "get this thing away from me" spider.
I took the road as far south as I could, but obviously they don't let you drive all the way into the Cape.
The beach at the end of the road -- as far south as you can drive.
It's a very quiet beach, which is good.
Probably not quiet if a rocket's launching, though. The launch facilities at Kennedy Space Center are visible way in the distance!
Ponce Inlet (south of Daytona Beach) is home to the Ponce de Leon Inlet Light, a pretty awesome lighthouse and museum.
Not the only lighthouse in this post, but it's the first.
Palm tree shadows on a lighthouse = you're probably in Florida.
A view over the Ponce de Leon Inlet.
Looking north toward Daytona Beach.
There's the built-up area near Daytona Beach, many miles in the distance.
This lighthouse provides a great view of boats...
...and blimps, apparently. The Goodyear blimp (which isn't actually a blimp) was in town for the Daytona 500.
This lighthouse has wires above the railing, but they're easily wide enough for a camera lens, so it's no problem for photography.
A look down from the top.
The museum contains one of my favorite artifacts -- a first order fresnel lens. This one was originally used at the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse starting in 1868.
This thing is 16 feet tall and weighs almost 13,000 pounds!
After visiting the lighthouse, I went down to the inlet.
I was not planning on doing either.
Here's the scene at Lighthouse Point Park on Ponce Inlet.
A reflective ocean looking north.
Looking back to the west at the lighthouse.
Sunset over the inlet.
A good time to fly.
Waves crash on Ponce Inlet's north jetty.
Birds on the water.
Bikes on the beach.
Sunset behind the guard shack.
A farewell to Ponce Inlet.
I made a quick stop in Daytona Beach, curious as to if their little Pinfari was operating. It was not. I did not find Daytona Beach particularly pleasant, so I did not stay long.
Yeah, this was not my favorite beach, and this one picture is about all I have to show for my visit.
I started my next day at two big attractions in St. Augustine, a city most noted as the oldest occupied settlement in the continental US.
Next day, first stop -- Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine.
This is the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States, built by the Spanish in the late 1600s.
It's changed hands several times, as has Florida. It's now managed by the National Park Service.
Most of the fort is made of Coquina -- rock made from fragmented shells.
Crossing the moat into the fort.
The inner courtyard, where demonstrations sometimes take place.
Cannons on the top of the fort, looking out over Matanzas Bay.
The collection of old cannons is pretty impressive.
Oh, and the fort has a nice view of both downtown St. Augustine and...
...the St. Augustine Light Station!
It's about 10 feet shorter than the Ponce Inlet light (165 feet vs. 175 feet) but it's equally as impressive a structure.
Unlike the Ponce Inlet light, this lighthouse has a half-spiral staircase with landings.
A wide view toward St. Augustine from the top.
Looking out over the water.
This lighthouse is completely open at the top.
The Castillo is clearly visible...
...as is downtown.
Took a walk out on the St. Johns County Pier in nearby St. Augustine Beach.
Walking out on the pier.
This is a modestly-built-up beach area, nothing like Daytona, but not as secluded as some of the nearby state / national park beaches.
Flattened perspective looking south.
Also, a pelican.
Amelia Island is Florida's northernmost point of land on the Atlantic coast. It's home to another old military installation -- Fort Clinch.
Fort Clinch, built in the mid-1800s, is much younger than the Castillo de San Marcos.
It's primarily a masonry fort built with bricks and earthen rises along the edges.
Fort Clinch was important during the Civil War. It was seized by the confederates, but abandoned and re-occupied by the union.
Like the Castillo de San Marcos, Fort Clinch has cannons. These cannons sit on swivel rails so they can be aimed.
A 35-star flag sets the year -- some time from 1863 to 1865.
Finally, closing this segment of the trip out with another night-time downtown visit.
Jacksonville's Friendship Fountain and the very-blue Main Street Bridge.
On less windy days, the fountain shoots water much higher in the air.
Downtown Jacksonville looks nice just across the St. John's River.
Not many bridges that photograph as well as this one.
With that, the Floridian segment of this trip is basically complete. However, there's one more trip report segment to go, and it's going to go in a very different direction. More to come!
Please never stop taking photos. Awesome stuff as always. Your long exposure shots of Hulk are the stuff of legends. Also, bonus points for nabbing a tricolored heron in the park (wonder why it's not in breeding plumage?).
I agree with your assessment of UO in general, but especially IOA. It was really phenomenal when it first opened, but I actually don't feel like it has aged very well (especially the original sections/rides). I agree with you on FJ though. I think it is a prime example of the proper mix of physical sets/effects, a unique ride system, thrills and media. I think Gringotts and others focus too heavily on the media portion.
As you said, really it's pretty easy to do both parks in one day depending on crowds, especially if you're by yourself as almost every ride has a single rider line. If the barks aren't busy and you avoid the water rides (as I do as well b/c they really do get you soaked) IOA almost becomes a half day park. The only downside to doing both in one day is IMO it really does give you media-based attraction burnout, hitting one after the other after the other.
Amesome pictures of IOA, the Florida wildlife, and the Florida beaches.
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