^^ Thanks for reading / commenting guys!
robbalvey wrote:Sorry we missed you guys! June - August is crazy for us!
I can imagine, if I lived in Florida I'd spend the majority of my time trying to be absolutely anywhere else in the summer or at the very least sitting somewhere air conditioned and refusing to leave.
We go down there quite a bit so I'm sure we'll run into you eventually.
BitterOldHag wrote:Jagdish 'DEMANDS" that the reviewer remove his comments immediately. Ha!
Anyway, I was struggling to come up with a title for this next report so I figured I'd take the lazy way out (shocking, I know) and knock off one of the best TPR trip reports of all time
. From now on I'll refer to this as Coasterbill's Klassy Florida Adventure 2017 (or should it be "Koasterbill's so there are two K's"... nah that's retarded, scratch that).
What made this trip so klassy was that we were flying Allegiant Airlines, the cheapest and probably worst airline in America. We had never actually planned to visit Florida this year, but Allegiant's prices were so absurdly cheap that we managed to pay a total of $179 round trip for 2 people to fly from Trenton to Tampa (so about $44 each way per person after taxes and fees). I knew the airline was guaranteed to be a turd, but I couldn't turn down that price.
The itinerary was pretty simple. We would (barring any crashes) arrive in Tampa on a Friday night where we would pick up the car and get a hotel right near the airport. The next morning we planned to drive to Orlando and hit Universal, then stay in Orlando the next 2 nights so we could hit Sea World and Fun Spot the next day. Our flight home was scheduled (emphasis on scheduled) for mid afternoon on Monday so we figured we'd hit Busch Gardens until it was time to head to the airport and fly home (and by home I mean Trenton, where I definitely don't live. Please don't think I live in Trenton... or New Jersey. Please...
While I am knocking off the name, there's of course one BIG difference between this and TPR's Klassy Cruise. When you're on a piece of crap ship, when everything goes to hell you can hop in a lifeboat or into the warm, tropical water. When you're on a piece of crap plane and everything goes to hell, you crash, die and (most likely in my case) literally go to hell.
We had about a 2 1/2 hour drive to Trenton and while we had been there a few times we had no idea they even had an airport until I booked this flight. We got a major scare when we were driving down a 2 lane, windy back road in the middle of bumblef*ck nowhere and our GPS told us that we were about to arrive at our destination. We had a decent amount of time, but I had apparently screwed up and entered the wrong address and we were suddenly really worried that we'd miss our flight. Luckily our concerns were silenced a few seconds later when we arrived at a rinky dink sign welcoming us to Trenton Mercer Airport prompting Brit to yell "No, there's no way this is actually the airport... I'm gonna kill you".
I'll be honest. I loved this airport. Living in New York, I'm used to ugly, dated awful airports known for their ridiculous traffic jams, absurd parking prices, long security lines and overall just for being hellish experiences. While this airport was undoubtedly a piece of crap, it was a really convenient piece of crap. The process of parking the car (for a very reasonable 7 bucks a day), walking to the "terminal" and going through security took AT MOST ten minutes. The terminal itself was a tiny building with only 2 gates (which were just 2 glass door located right next to eachother) and a trailer out back that served as the baggage claim (no for real).
Luckily they DID have a bar, and I took full advantage of that while waiting for our flight. Once our plane arrived our pilot also took full advantage of the bar, but thankfully left with only a bottled water. It was a pretty hilarious visual though and a great introduction to Allegiant airlines.
I have no fear of flying, none. Generally when on planes we spend most of our time (usually mildly intoxicated from our time at the airport) laughing at the people who ARE afraid of flying but I'll admit that I was a little nervous this time as we taxied out to the runway as I remembered what airline we were flying with.
To their credit the flight was pretty uneventful. They don't have Wifi (because of course they don't) but that actually gave me a few hours to start typing up some trip reports I had been procrastinating on since last summer
since I had nothing better to do. I couldn't even talk to Brit since we weren't sitting together. Allegiant charges you to pick your seats and we both decided we didn't particularly care for such a short flight. I was perfectly happy drinking my "premium drink" (Mich Ultra, the only other beer they had was Bud Light... klass).
To my amazement, a few hours later we landed safely at Tampa airport! Well... okay, not quite Tampa airport. We landed safely at St. Pete-Clearwater airport which is another rinky dink airport located across the causeway from Tampa. This airport was actually pretty nice though, and also ridiculously convenient. I'd much rather deal with little airports like this than any of the major ones so no complaints from me.
One thing I found funny was that when we departed the plane we saw the pilot and 2 other guys standing around one of the engines (the one near the ramp... which was again exposed so you could hear everything they were saying). One guy was spinning the engine fan by hand (I didn't realize you could do that or that it wouldn't be hot to the touch but I guess you learn something new every day) and the pilot was yelling at him "See! You can hear it!" as it made a clicking sound. At that point we were already safely on the ground so we just laughed about it, but maybe next time be a little quieter when an entire plane full of passengers is walking down a ramp within earshot.
After picking up the car and grabbing something to eat we checked into out hotel to get some rest before the 7:00 wake up call and 90 minute drive to the best theme park resort in the Orlando area, Universal!
========= Fanboy Alert, Disney Fans should probably skip this part =============
Okay, I should probably just go ahead and get this out there now. We LOVE Universal. I know that puts us in the minority on this site but we absolutely love it. Also (since this has been coming up a lot lately and I feel like stirring the pot) to us, Universal is infinitely better than Disney and it's not even close. We've heard the complaints... "They have screens and we have animatronics". Yeah, but what you fail to mention is that their screens are awesome and Disney's flagship park has a total of 3 animatronic-based rides that are actually good and then a bunch of rides with animatronics ranging in quality from "Cedar Fair Boo Blasters" (I'm looking at you Winnie the Pooh) to "That doll that holds a candle and moves her arms that my Grandma brings out every December and puts near the Christmas tree" (looking at you Small World).
Alright, alright sorry. I know I'm exaggerating a little bit here (but not much) and I want to stress once again that we don't expect anyone to share our opinion (The Universal rage parade
is in full swing right now). I can't lie though, we love Universal and pretty everything about it. Everyone's totally right, Universal relies heavily on screens / 3d glasses and water and heat effects and we noticed that but we really didn't care. They pull everything off so well that we don't mind one bit. In my opinion just about every single ride in the park is a complete home run, we didn't feel this way at Disney where we felt like they had some amazing, superstar rides and then a ton of other rides that were vastly inferior to those and often just complete crap. There are a few duds at Universal but they're few and far between. Oh, and finally...
So that pretty much settles it...
=========== Okay, it's safe to come back now ===========
Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself. Enough Disney comparisons, let's talk about our day.
We parked in the Jaws lot and headed over to the main security checkpoint. I love Universal's setup. The placement of the security area and CityWalk is excellent since by the time you actually get to CityWalk you forget you even went through security and since you went through security already by the time you arrive at CityWalk you're free to walk around with beer pretty much wherever you want (even though it really doesn't feel like you should be able to). The whole place has an awesome party atmosphere that really gets you hyped up for your day before you even step foot through the gates.
We were already riding high and super excited for our day at Universal (this was a big deal for us since at $179 per person per day it's not a place we get to visit very often) but even before we stepped through the gates our day was about to get a massive upgrade.
When walking to Citywalk we noticed a guy with a sign advertising free Express Pass. We started walking past him and every rational bone in my body was telling me to keep walking "You're in Florida, it's some time·share bullsh*t... run for your life" but for some reason I turned around and asked him what we had to do.
As it turned out, he was with a major credit card company and all we had to do was sign up for a credit card with no annual fee and (if approved) we'd receive free Express Passes for two. We had been toying with the idea of Express Passes for weeks but eventually decided against it since that would have brought the total cost of our day with tickets and Express passes to well over $500. I was still a little bummed about it (being financially responsible sucks) but we were approved for the card (which they actually printed out and handed to us right on the spot... smart, but we didn't use the thing once so LOL Amex, sucks to suck) and within minutes we were headed to the gate with our free Express Passes. What an awesome way to start the day!
Once inside, there was absolutely no question about where we were headed first. I've always been a big Harry Potter fan since we were really at the prime age when the first book came out and it was all the rage when we were kids. Brit had just recently gotten into it since we binge-watched all of the movies to prepare for our trip and she fell in love with the franchise. We had previously ridden Forbidden Journey, but Diagon Alley was new for us and we were about as hyped up for a ride as we could possibly be.
We walked down the main midway, over past the New York section, down past the lake and finally through the brick wall where we came face to face with Gringots bank and a giant fire breathing dragon...
Oh my god does Diagon Alley ever deliver. They absolutely nailed the look and feel of the movie and it felt absolutely surreal to be finally be walking through it. The detail in the shops was amazing, the dragon was insane and I got the idea that I could spend days exploring every nook and cranny of this place. Still, we were on a mission so we booked it down to Gringots and found ourselves greeted with a short 20 minute wait.
One minor complaint I do have with this ride would be with the queue line. With Forbidden Journey the vast majority of the queue is highly themed, featuring awesome screen based and physical effects / theming that really keeps you engaged. The queue itself feels like a major part of the attraction to the point where we sometimes let people walk ahead of us if the ride is a walk-on just so we can stop and admire everything. With Gringots, most of the queue is out back in a mostly unthemed courtyard area. There was nothing particularly wrong with it, but only the last 10 minutes or so of the queue is actually themed. To their credit, that section of the queue is outstanding, but the rest of it is very dull comparatively speaking.
Once inside however, the theming really shines. The Gringots goblin animatronics are so realistic that it's almost creepy and the giant lobby area is really something to marvel at. As you continue on, you walk through the vaults, into a really well done "elevator" and up a small flight of stairs into one of the most visually impressive stations I've ever seen.
While the majority of the queue was unimpressive, the indoor section had done it's job well. Between the cool pre-show, elevator, lobby and overwhelmingly cool station we really felt like we were magically transported to Gringots bank. We walked up to the ride host and were quickly directed to a middle row. As we waited for our cart to pull up I couldn't help but think about how we had built this ride up to a level that was almost impossible for any ride to live up to. If this ride was anything short of the single greatest themed attraction we had ever experienced it felt like it would be a let down. It honestly felt surreal when our vehicle finally pulled up and we took our seats, pulled down the bar and prepared for a ride that we had hyped up to completely ridiculous levels.
Up next... Universal Orlando part 2
... I almost feel bad about that cliffhanger, emphasis on almost