On our second day at Universal Studios, we visited the Islands of Adventure so we could check out the Harry Potter and Jurassic Park areas. Like another large theme park chain in the area, Universal is good about spreading out the things you want to see so that you have to pay for multiple visits, filling up the rest of their space with stinkers like Barney Town and Old Timey Comic Land From The Time When People Still Read Newspapers. Joke’s on you, Universal, if we can have fun at a cranberry museum, we can have fun anywhere, and if you don’t have a ride, we’ll MAKE a ride. See?
Our first stop in Universal Studios was the Dr. Seuess area, which was 99% for children. We still had a most excellent time riding the carousel, which is filled with different Seussical creatures, most of which would move their heads or stick out their tongues if you pushed and pulled a lever. You had to actually strap yourself onto your carousel “horse” which I thought was a little overkill until I started going nuts making its head bob which threw me off-balance, almost making me fall off of the ride. So now we know why the seatbelt is in place: not for children, but for jackasses like me.
After the Seuss carousel, we went straight to the Harry Potter area, which is a recreation of the wizarding village of Hogsmeade (with a few additions here and there as are expedient, like Ollivander’s wand shop and Hogwarts itself). It. was. amazing. It felt like you were walking straight onto the movie set, and even though it was more than ninety degrees outside, it still looked properly chilly with all of the fake snow on the rooftops.
If you haven’t noticed it already, check out the priceless expression on the face of the woman on the lower left.
It was anything but chilly outside, however, and even at a relatively early point in the day I was sweating and miserable. So our first order of business was to go into the Hog’s Head Inn to taste their butterbeer. They offer it two ways, regular and slushy, and we ordered one of each, looked around, and discovered there was no place to sit down in the blessed air conditioning. The Three Broomsticks is attached to the Hog’s Head Inn, and they had more seats available, but we had just made ourselves comfortable when a house elf approached and told us that if we weren’t going to order food, we had to get out. Oh, we got out, but I thought some thoughts about freeing her from her servitude in the form of a sweaty sock to the face. Regular butterbeer is basically cream soda with some butterscotch flavoring and a head of thinned down marshmallow fluff. Since it’s “beer”, there’s no ice in it so it warmed up rather quickly and wasn’t the most refreshing of beverages. The slushy butterbeer, however, was life-altering. It was basically the world’s best slurpee; the only thing that could have possibly improved it was the addition of alcohol, and maybe not even then. It makes me want to have some sort of slushy machine in my house so I can have a butterbeer whenever the urge strikes. A friend bought us a giant cotton candy machine as a wedding gift, so anything is possible–one room of our house could be dubbed “Party Alley” or as a life insurer would call it “Increased Premiums”. In addition to the cotton candy machine and slushy machine, there could be a deep fryer, one of those things that rotates churros and hot dogs to keep them perfectly warm, and, I don’t know, a human size stack of oreos or something. These sorts of masterpieces take time to flesh out and fully devalue one’s home. I’d also like some sort of giant unicorn sculpture that dispenses soft serve ice cream out of its butt and rainbow sprinkles out of its mouth.
Refreshed from our butterbeer, we did some more exploring around Hogsmeade.
We checked out Zonko’s Joke Shop, and bought a chocolate frog at Honeydukes (remembering my earlier encounter with the centipede flavored jellybean, I elected to pass on a bag of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans, because the last thing I wanted was for some poor Universal employee to have to clean up my sure to ensue vomit pile in the sweltering heat). The chocolate frog was solid chocolate, a bit difficult/awkward to gnaw on, but Jason is the sort of trooper who can eat almost a third of a pound of chocolate in one afternoon and still be ready to go out for dinner later. It came in a pentagonal box identical to the one in the movie, and even had a lenticular wizard card inside so the photo appears to move (we got Godric Gryffindor).
After doing a bit of shopping, we waited in line for Ollivander’s wand shop, as they do a bit of a show there. Now, depending on your feelings about children, this is either the worst job in the park, or the best job in the park. You see, in each small group ushered into the shop, they choose one child to participate and the show revolves around choosing him/her a wand. The first few wands cause mini magical disasters to happen–the lights will flicker or books will rattle on the shelves, but once the child swishes the last wand, there’s a great big whoosh and the wand is proclaimed to have been destined for him/her. Immediately after saying this, they take the wand away, and tell the child that their parents can discuss buying it with the helpful house elf standing to the side. It is literally a wallet-pumping tantrum machine disguised as a show.
Being fully-grown adults, no one was going to tell us which wand was our destiny, so we picked out the wands that we liked most/swished best, because we fully intended to have wizard battles back at the hotel. I ended up with a Death Eater wand, and Jason favored Ginny Weasley’s wand. We also bought a book with the Hogwarts symbol on the front, which one of the employees helpfully took off to have stamped at the owl post, and a time-turner keychain, because I like my experience memories to come with stuff; I am not a clutter-fighter, I am a clutter-embracer. Our next stop was the ride at Hogwarts, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Based on the name, one can only assume that the Dursleys have some sort of problem with Harry listening to classic rock, but Harry won’t stop believin’. While waiting in line, they have a number of videos playing on the walls featuring the actors, making it feel as if you are part of some plot to save Hogwarts, even though you’re a stupid muggle. When you get to the front of the line, you’re strapped into a contraption and sent off onto a ride that’s partially 3d video and partially real world mechanical props. Laid out like that, it sounds terrible, but it’s actually one of the best rides I’ve ever been on. The mechanical props and effects are real enough that you feel like you’re going to be trapped by giant spiders, burned by dragon fire, and have your joy sucked out by dementors. The 3d videos are integrated perfectly and make the whole thing feel incredibly magical. It’s strange, because the Transformers ride is actually set up similarly, and it couldn’t possibly be more terrible. That ride, you get off and think “What the hell just happened and why am I angry?” This ride, you get off and wish you were born a wizard.
The Hippogriff ride we went on immediately afterward was fun, but couldn’t hold a candle to the Forbidden Journey. Same for the Dueling Dragons roller coaster…though we did go on that one twice. After we finished with the rides in that area, I bought a pumpkin juice for future consumption and we headed off to the Jurassic Park area.
We managed to miss the path out of Hogsmeade leading in the correct direction, so we had to trek around the entire park, through The Lost Continent, which we still did not give a rat’s ass about seeing even on the second trip through. (Oooh, eat at the restaurant voted World’s Best Theme Park Restaurant? That’s like being voted least homicidal maniac in the high security prison…still not that great.) On our way, we stopped in the Marvel comics area, and while the Hulk roller coaster was fun, the rest of it was kind of sad. It, like Old Timey Comic Land, desperately needs a facelift. Marvel is killing it right now with movies that all tie together and Universal is rolling in that Marvel cash, so why do their rides look like sad 80s rejects? Even though the only ride in the Jurassic Park area was a water ride (which I am opposed to, as I loathe being soggy and squishing around in my shoes for the rest of the day*), it was still worth the trek.
They had the Jurassic Park Visitor’s Center, where you could see incubating eggs, and occasionally, one would hatch and then they’d ask someone present to name the baby dinosaur. I’m a little sad that, again, they only do this for children. I demand to be treated like a big fat child! Especially if I am on trial! Unless I am in a bar, and then I want to be treated like an adult. But an adult young enough to still be carded. In retaliation, I totally stomped a kid and his dad at a dinosaur trivia game show, because if there’s a piece of knowledge out there that’s important to literally no one, I will know it. It is just one useless talent out of many equally useless talents that I possess. For example, I can also burp the alphabet. That’s not something that’s coming in handy any time soon. While in the Jurassic Park area looking for pressed penny machines, we popped into another gift shop and I made it clear to Jason what sort of rock I’m looking for when it comes time to upgrade my engagement ring. Anything less would be an insult to my irreproachable wifely skills. Skills such as the aforementioned alphabet burping, containing my clothes piles to just two rooms in the house, and letting him know that he’s a shitty gift giver.
Before we bailed for the day, I discovered the actual path back to Hogsmeade and got a second slushy butterbeer for the road, just in case Party Alley never becomes a reality. While the Harry Potter area of Islands of Adventure is fantastic, and the Jurassic Park section is pretty good, the rest of the park was definitely worse for wear, and it especially suffers in comparison to the other Universal Studios park next door. That doesn’t mean I won’t go back and ride the Hogwarts Express between the two parks once they’ve finished construction, but there’s so much that could be culled or made better to turn it into one truly amazing super park. Dear Universal, please start your culling with Barney Town. *However, I have no problem inflicting this upon others who have chosen to ride. You can tell by my maniacal laughter.