Winter Break 2012: And back on dry land

I take a photo of the girls in this spot every time we visit.

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” ~ Albert Einstein

Einstein was a wise person. I,  however, am not.

My family loves amusement parks. I do not. While I used to be able to ride all the rides, now I can’t, as they all make me feel dizzy and sick. It’s actually gotten worse in the past few years, so now there’s very little I can ride, as I get off staggering and queasy.

Nevertheless, we have been to a number of amusement parks over the course of our travels. As a result, I know far more about those places than I would like to and, by association, have seen far more humanity than I care to see.

Still, if I’m going to go to an amusement park, there are a few that I don’t hate as much as others and one of those is Universal Studios in Orlando. It’s a really nice park with great theming and interesting attractions. And with the opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, as a huge fan of all things Harry, I’ve actually been eager to visit.

We got off the cruise ship bright and early on Thursday the 3rd and headed immediately to Orlando. By late morning, we were there, in the thick of it. And it was really thick. The place was wall to wall people. And the Harry Potter area was the worst. It was so crowded, in fact, that entrance to that part of the park was being limited, as they were at capacity. So we got our timed tickets and waited to enter.

Inside Honeyduke's. Yes, it truly was magical.

Ollivander's wand shop. You couldn't just walk in. Oh no, there was a line. Wrapped around the building. And it was a 45 minute wait, minimum. We decided to skip it.

We did try butter beer and pumpkin juice and both were quite good. The butter beer was very foamy and frothy and tasted like an overly sweet creme soda. The pumpkin juice exceeded my expectations and I might just have to make some. That stuff was tasty.

All of the rides at Universal were packed, most with lines that were an hour or (more often) two or more hours long. We were staying in one of the Universal resorts, which meant that as registered guests we could skip to the front of the line for most rides. But there was one ride that didn’t offer that option and it was one that we all wanted to check out: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. On Thursday, the average wait time was 150 minutes. No way. No. Freaking. Way.

Luckily, there was a work-around, but it sucked a little bit. Because we were staying in an on-site resort, we could get into the park an hour before the official opening time. Which is how we found ourselves at the gate on Friday morning at 8 a.m.

Allow me to set the scene for you: It was, as I just mentioned, eight of the o’clock in the ay-em. My family does not move fast in the mornings. So people were a bit groggy. And we were hungry, as there was no time to eat before going into the park and standing in line for The Ride. And that also meant there was no time for coffee.

Oh, and it was raining and cool. Not heavy rain, but it was still a bit more than just a drizzle.


It would seem that every single person staying in a Universal resort had the same plan that we did, which meant that by the time we got to the Harry Potter part of the park at 8:15, the line for the ride was already 45 minutes long. So we got in there and we stood. And stood. And stood. And stood. And stood.

Do this math: Amusement park + no breakfast + no coffee + rain + a long line = it’s a wonder I didn’t kill someone.

55 minutes later, we were getting on the ride. And I knew as soon as we set off that it was a terrible mistake for me to be on it.

Don’t get me wrong, the ride is amazing. If you like rides, you’ll love this one. The special effects were spectacular. But I was thrown about and spun and lifted and jostled and thrown more, all with visuals right in my face that made it appear as I was on a dragon swooping over a Scottish loch or racing about a Quidditch field on a zooming broomstick.  It was like I was on a roller coaster. I hate roller coasters.

I closed my eyes and squinted at the view every now and then so that I could get a sense of the ride’s underlying story, but honestly? I can’t really tell you what was going on. Only that we were riding dragons over a Scottish loch, that we were playing Quidditch, and then some other stuff that I’ve already blocked from my brain.

When we got off four minutes later, I was actually staggering around all drunk-like and Pete had to lend me an arm so that I could steady myself and walk out of there upright.

The ride’s exit dumped us straight into the gift shop, which was armpit to armpit with people. Oy. We had promised the girls some shopping in Harry Potter World, so I managed that while Pete escaped the crowds. They got t-shirts in one shop, then we went to Honeyduke’s and Zonko’s, where they got wizarding candy and other fun stuff. They were having a great time, which made me happy, because we were there for them.

And then FINALLY we got breakfast at a pub in Harry Potter land, where we stood in a long line for an overpriced mediocre breakfast. And I got my coffee, thank you sweet baby Jesus. I could almost hear the angels singing from on high as I got that first sip into my system.

After that, we left Harry Potter and his wizarding pals and headed to another part of the park. Thank goodness, because by that point, my wallet felt like it was a hemophiliac that had been pushed off a cliff and landed on a pile of jagged rocks.

Dental floss picks. In the parking lot. Which means that someone was using them outside of the bathroom (or possibly just carrying them around). Either way, I was disgusted. What is wrong with people?

There comes a moment in every amusement park adventure when I cross the line from having fun or even just merely tolerating everything to full on I am done with this shit. If we’re lucky, it’s well into a day’s visit, say, after lunch. Alas, my moment occurred as I was in the Harry Potter gift shop. It was 9:20 a.m.

After we left Harry Potter, I gave up on rides and started waiting for my peeps at the exits. Luckily, I had been smart and packed entertainment:

Reading my Nook AND listening to my iPod. I was taking no chances on my fellow humans' safety and well-being when around me.

I also did a fair amount of people judging watching.

And then finally — FINALLY — we got in the car and left Orlando. We drove north, through a little bit of Florida, a lot of Georgia, and then South Carolina. We pushed hard and knocked off half the distance from Orlando to Jenworld on Friday afternoon and evening, spent the night in a hotel in the middle of nowhere, then got up on Saturday and drove the rest of the way home. We didn’t even stop for meals, just quick pit stops for gas and gas station food. Many nutritional rules were bent during that 24 hours, I tell you.

On a related note, can anyone tell me why South Carolina has so much porn and adult entertainment? We saw billboards nearly every mile we drove in the Palmetto State, sometimes more frequently than that. They were offering all kinds of things. Truck stops seemed to be favorite location for offering those things. And, so help me, at one point we drove by a sex shop that was next door to a Baptist church. What is UP with South Carolina and the adult entertainment industry?

So that’s the last installment of our winter break adventure. We had Saturday evening and Sunday to empty our suitcases, brush away the sand, push through eight loads of laundry, restock the fridge, and remember what it’s like to have to go to bed at a reasonable hour and wake up at the unreasonable hour of o’dark thirty.

We’ve been home five days now and are already contemplating possible adventures for Spring Break.

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13 Responses to Winter Break 2012: And back on dry land

  1. Little Miss Sunshine Stats says:

    I had EXACTLY the same experience on the Harry Potter ride. I did it to make the family happy but I will never do it again.
    I would love to go on another cruise but it looks like my next adventure is going to be in the Dominican Republic.
    I so sad that I missed seeing you in Orlando.

  2. Erin says:

    Sounds like you all had a great time! I absolutely love reading about your travel adventures, and this one especially since I’m exactly the same way about amusement parks. I’d make an exception for HP, but that’s about it.

    Love, love, love the glimpse inside Honeydukes! I’ve heard that the frozen butterbeer is pretty good & tastes like butterscotch.

    When you were walking through the whole HP world did it feel a little like the set of the movie (if you could have ditched all the other park visitors, I mean)?

  3. Patience says:

    Ugh, I don’t think I’d have liked the amusement park experience at all. We were at the Universal Studios park before they built the Harry Potter stuff and that was more than enough.

  4. Smalltown Me says:

    Speaking of P)rn, on our summer road trip we were quite surprised to cross over from CA to OR and see an adult store at every truck stop.

    I used to love the wild rides and still have a strong stomach but my neck can’t take it any more.

  5. Aunt Snow says:

    I used to love the rides - still do, I guess although I never go on them anymore. I love older amusement parks - you know, the ones with a little touch of sleaze. But I am left cold by modern engineered brand-name amusement parks. It just seems so calculated to me.

    I never went to Disneyland as a kid; my first time there was with my seven-year old. And although I was prepared to dislike it, instead it just left me “meh” - although as an events professional I admired how they handle lines. The Harry Potter park does look well-executed. I just can’t stand the crowds.

  6. Becky says:

    We have never taken our child to an amusement park - it’s not just the crowd thing, we simply cannot bring ourselves to pay that much money for ‘amusement’. Thankfully, we have a very cautious child who is not a fan of things that go fast or spin you around or definitely anything that resembles a roller coaster which makes it far easier to dodge the idea.

  7. Damn that sounds nasty. I heard that Universal bowed to JK Rowling’s wishes and built the park to scale-for normal, not for industrial-sized crowds. It’s never not jam-packed and what a shame. Disney is never that bad and it doesn’t seem built so big, either. Anyway, it sounds like your people enjoyed themselves and that’s the main thing, right?
    As for SC, the interstate by Milwaukee looks the same way-icky.

  8. Nic says:

    I am with you on the amusement park tolerance thresh-hold. My waiting limit is half an hour, or 45 minutes for a ride I really want to go on (and I will start complaining unless I can see the front of the queue from about 25 minutes in), but unlike you, I enjoy the rides. I’m not surprised you opted out and got some reading done! I once obliged some friends and queued over an hour for a ride that was done in less than two minutes. I’m not doing that again - life is too short.

  9. Amusement parks are like Vegas. You’re either a fan or your’re not. Although I can’t ride everything I used to, I still need to get my roller coaster fix at least once a year. Sorry you’re not a fan.

  10. badness jones says:

    Jen, you are such a good sport. My poor children have thus far been very amusement park deprived. Then again, my parents never took me to DisneyWorld and I turned out okay. (I have been once - when we were teenagers my sister and I flew to Florida to visit my grandparents, and they paid the exorbitant rates to camp in Chip and Dale’s campground for a night and let they decided that we were old enough to take the mono-rail into the Magic Kingdom by ourselves, and they’d see us at dinner. Very civilized!)

  11. Julie says:

    I think it’s all in the proportion of things—your age, your kids ages, your health (yeah, no sh*t on this one) time of year you go, day of the week you go, if your husband goes with, where you stay (on property, off?) time of year you go.

    I spent the better part of my son’s early lives figuring all this out. And only at Disneyland. It was my goal, though, to give them this. A memory? yes. for them? yes, for me, oh yeah.

    I also grew to become weary of which ride would make me sick…and as the years went by, crossed more and more of them off my list. But, in the early years, I went on most of them. Watched California Adventure, and Downtown Disney, be built, stayed first at the Disneyland Hotel, and then the Grand Californian….all in the month of October. Cooler, and less crowds. During the week. In on a Sunday, out by Friday. Walking from 6a.m. (get that coffee!) until about 9-10 every night. I did lose weight. That was the icing on my cake!

    Felt the draw to expand to Florida’s bigger “Disneyland” but never could justify the cost of such a trip….so we just kept going back to Disneyland. Fed my time capsule memory bank right up…now my sons are 20 & 23, and I know that they will include this place in their futures, because it just seems to happen that way to us Californians. Maybe it is a thing we do here because we grew up with it?

  12. I would have been right there with you. Sometimes we bend our own rules (for nutrition, or coffee, or amusement parks) but it’s usually not good. I’m thinking you needed a nice, quiet coffee shop to read and sip.

    As for the shop next to the church? I liken it to the liquor store across the street from the BYU campus. If it exists, it is there as proof that people are not the way they would like to be perceived.

  13. I am okay with amusement parks and still love all but the upside-down rollercoasters or spinny things. We spent a week in Disneyworld and that was all my Disney for several years. Those crowds sound dreadful.

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