Friday, December 18, 2015

Aliens and Spiders and Dinos …Oh My!

Seuss Landing
Although we spent a fair amount of time in the Wizarding Worlds, there are 11 other venues for entertainment. And there are things to do that don’t make you risk life and limb – or at least threaten to separate you from any loose objects. Walking through the parks is a visual treat. As with the Harry Potter areas, attention has been given to creating realistic (or fantastic) ambiance. For instance, The Lost Continent is constructed from sandstone, making the statues appear realistic and creating a desert ambiance that had me looking for camels. I’m not quite sure what I was looking for at Seuss Landing, but the fanciful creatures that greeted us made me smile. Horton was there, listening to a Who, and the Cat was wearing his big Hat; lots of children were wearing t-shirts that labeled them ‘Thing 1’ or ‘Thing 2’. But in the distance we could hear something growling…

Dinosaur Eggs
Following the roars, we came to Jurassic Park. The discovery center tells the story of how these dinosaurs were created and lets you try your hand at splicing DNA and sorting eggs. None of the eggs hatched while we were there, but there was a velociraptor that was tame enough to have your picture taken with. We weren’t quite that trusting and moved on to watch people exiting from the river adventure: they were dry when they boarded the boats, but soaked when they disembarked. There are several of these boat rides throughout the park and I’m sure they are very popular in the summer!

Most of the rides tell a story that involves the visitors (Spiderman, Shrek, Transformers, the Mummy, Men in Black, E.T., the Simpsons, Terminator 2) helping the hero rescue the city, a
Dancers in Beetlejuice Graveyard Review
person, or the world from something evil. Some of these require that you wear 3D glasses while others rely on very good visual displays, a lot of fog, and twisting, starting, stopping, spinning, bouncing of the car or seats in which you are riding. My favorite ride was Despicable Me; we were turned into minions, but only for the duration of the ride. Dave liked the Simpsons because the plot was that a murderer was out to get Homer. We did agree that the Beetlejuice Graveyard Review, a stage show with lots of explosions and smoke, was great fun. The dancers were wonderful, but the make-up, costumes, and singers were excellent. The actors had the audience up clapping and singing throughout the performance. It was all great fun and I’d be ready to go to these parks again in another few years.

Minion and Street Dancers
Dave and I do have a few recommendations for visiting the two parks at Universal Orlando Resort:
  • If you use one of the Universal Studio Resort hotels, you’ll get all of your transportation included, some nice coupons for food, and the freedom to come and go to the parks as many times during the day as you’d like.
  • Wear shoes that stay on your feet unless you don’t intend to get on any of the more energetic rides.
  • Eat at the restaurants in the parks rather than at the food stands or the hotels; breakfast and lunch are less expensive in the park restaurants.
  • See the Harry Potter portions of the parks as early in the day as possible. The smaller areas increase the apparent crowd size and these are the most popular amusements.
  • Souvenir shops at the area they represent have a better selection than at the places that represent all of the areas in the park. None of these souvenirs are inexpensive!
  • You can see both parks in one day if you get an express pass and it’s not a weekend during high season.
  • Make plans to visit the parks during the school year and on Tuesdays through Thursdays. In high season, all bets are off but weekends will be more crowded than weekdays.
  • Take a small, cloth backpack with hand sanitizer, water, a poncho (for water rides and perhaps for inclement weather), sun screen, snacks, and so forth. For some rides you will be required to put all of your loose objects in a locker. These are free for the length of the ride (if the ride happens to breakdown, there is an attendant who can let you into your locker and you won’t be charged for the extra time).
  • Plan what you’re going to do and in what order, but be flexible. Make sure that you take some time just to sit and watch people; you’ll need these little breaks to re-energize yourself.
  • If you don’t have an express pass for the rides, look for the ‘single rider’ lines. This may get you onto the ride sooner, but you probably won’t be sitting with people from your group.
  • ‘Child Swap’ doesn’t really mean you can trade your kids in on ones that appear to be better behaved.

The Lost Continent Waterfall

We stayed at a hotel on the resort property and ate at restaurants in the hotel and at the parks. For information about my rating system, see Reading the Reviews.

Where we stayed:
Four Carrots
The Cabana Bay Beach Resort (6550 Adventure Way, Orlando, Florida, 32819, 407-503-
Top L to R: Bedroom, Bathroom
Bottom L to R: Toiletries, Pool Area
4000) is a nice place to stay. Our room, on the 7
th floor, was large, even with two queen-size beds. There were two trash cans (one of my requirements for a good hotel), and a small table with two chairs. The only nod to the current century was the flat screen TV, remote control, and a coffee maker. There were plenty of towels; the bed linens were very nice. While the mattresses were quite comfortable, the pillows were marginal. We could get the pillows lumped up enough for support, but that’s not the most comfortable way to sleep. There is plenty of light around the bed, so reading anywhere in the room is comfortable. The sink is separate from the rest of the bathroom, which makes it easier to share a room. The bath area is quite nice. The negatives for this room were that there is no air return in the bathroom, the shower is a drizzle, the fan on the air conditioner won’t stay on if the room is above a certain temperature, and the toiletries are limited to shampoo, conditioner, and soap. There is a free shuttle from the hotel to the parks; it is always on time with a pleasant group of drivers. From the people at reception to the maids, the service at this hotel was great. There was not a time we didn’t get a smile from the people providing service.

What we did:
Four Carrots
Universal Orlando Resort (6000 Universal Boulevard, Orlando, Florida, 32819, 407-363-8000) is a combination of Universal’s Islands of Adventure, Universal Studios Florida, and
Top L to R: Universal Globe, Snowman Wizard
Bottom L to R: Juggler, Trident
City Walk – Orlando. There is plenty to do here if you like rides, shows, parades, places to eat, shopping, and inventive architecture. There are plenty of places to relax and simply watch people. While we didn’t experience the crowds on this visit, they can be a real trial during high season. Other negatives are noise levels – you are made to hear rather than asked to listen; on a couple of the rides I thought I had lost my hearing.
For children this is a major concern, especially since the sound level isn’t tied to explosions, gun fire, and the like, but to the sheer volume of the music and dialog. It would actually be easier to understand what was being said if the volume was less or the sound effect were on a different (quieter) track from the dialog. Beyond the entrance fee, reasonable if you intend to participate in even half of the amusements available, the prices for souvenirs and for some of the food are quite high.

What we ate:
Four Carrots
Bubba Gump Shrimp Company (City Walk – Orlando, 6000 Universal Boulevard #735,
Top L to R: Calamari, Coconut Shrimp
Bottom L to R: Bubba Gump, Drinks, Fish and Chips
Orlando, Florida 32819, 407-903-0044) is a chain, and we don’t usually evaluate that sort of restaurant. However, the service was extraordinarily good so should be mentioned in a review. After getting our drinks, we presented our coupon for a free appetizer and asked what that covered. The server ran down the list, but everything contained foods to which I am allergic. She called over the manager who went through the menu with me and together we selected my dinner. He also took the coupon and credited it to an appetizer that wasn’t on the list. Our server and the manager checked back several times to make sure that we were satisfied with our food. Dave had fish and chips made with Pollock; the fish was tender, the coating crispy, and the tarter tasted fresh. He did say that the chips (French fries) were average. My coconut shrimp were also very good. The shrimp were tender, with a thick coating of coconut and a tangy mango-orange dipping sauce. I agreed with Dave on the quality of the French fries. My order of slaw was very good. The calamari, our appetizer, also had spicy red pepper and pepperoncini breaded and deep fried. There were two sauces, the usual red sauce and one made with ancho. The calamari was correctly prepared so that the meat was not rubbery. Dave had a cold beer and I had a prosecco that came in a small bottle, making it about half the cost as one glass of wine. The price of the shrimp was rather high, but the rest of the food was reasonable. We were pleased with our meal and especially with the service.

Croissant Moon Bakery (Universal’s Islands of Adventure, 6000 Universal Boulevard, Orlando, Florida, 32819) is a great place for breakfast and probably a good place for lunch
Top L to R: Croissant Moon Bakery, Green Building
Bottom L to R: Dome, Croissant and Muffin
within the park. We had basically the same breakfast we did at the hotel for about half the price. We shared a bacon, egg and cheese croissant, and a cranberry muffin; we both had huge cups of coffee. The croissant was fresh and hot; the muffin was chilled, but very tasty. The ladies at the counter were pleasant and efficient. There are some small tables inside the bakery, and several larger ones outside. For us this was a great option for breakfast!

Lombard’s Seafood Grill (Universal Studios Florida, 6000 Universal Boulevard, Orlando,
Top L to R: Menu, Sourdough Bread
Bottom L to R: Clam Chowder, Mahi Mahi Sandwich
Florida, 32819, 407-224-6401) is a very nice restaurant within the park. For lunch, this venue is actually less expensive than some of the food stands along the walkways. Dave and I shared the Mahi Mahi fish sandwich, but Dave had the clam chowder, also.  He really enjoyed the chowder, especially with the fresh sour dough bread served hot and with real butter; I liked the bread, too. The fish sandwich was on a warm, sweet bun with a creamy spread and some sundried tomatoes. The fries were crispy and hot. Our waiter was funny, efficient, and attentive. The setting is lovely and in the evening you’ll need reservations to get a seat in a timely manner.

Three and One-half Carrots
Emeril’s Orlando (City-Walk, 6000 Universal Boulevard #702, Orlando, Florida 32819, 407-224-2424) was a bit of a disappointment for me. Although we were early and the restaurant
Top L to R: Emeril's, Bread, Key Lime Pie
Bottom L to R: Pork Chop, Asparagus, Scallops
wasn’t particularly busy, we were seated on the ‘cat walk’. It was nice to be away from the noise of the restaurant, but it was so dark that we couldn’t appreciate the food presentation. Our waiter was excellent; the two wine stewards who came to check the wine cabinets next to us were very friendly, but couldn’t be talked into slipping us a key. I ordered scallops; the sides had to be changed because of my food allergies. The chef over-salted two of the scallops so much that I had to mix them with the mashed potatoes to make them edible. The other two scallops were fine, if rather tasteless. All four were cooked correctly so that they were tender and flaky. The mashed potatoes were good, if rather uninspired. The grilled asparagus were wonderful. Dave had a pork chop that was cooked perfectly, tender, and juicy. It came with two very tasty sauces: a barbecue and a mustard sauce. His sweet potatoes were well prepared and flavorful. I had a very nice moscato wine and Dave had a good pinot grigio. We shared a piece of rather tasteless key lime pie; the raspberry coulis was the best part. While the prices were about average for lunch, they were overpriced for the dinner entrees.

Galaxy Bowl Restaurant (6550 Adventure Way, Orlando, Florida, 32819, 407-503-4000) at
Top L to R: Galaxy Bowl, Nachos
Bottom L to R: Hamburger, Bowling Alley
the Cabana Bay Beach Resort is right out of the 1950s. This is a full service restaurant in the hotel bowling alley. We had the best time watching children just older than toddlers roll bowling balls down the alleys and cheer when one or two pins fell. Dave had a regular hamburger with fries that was average. My stadium style nachos were tasty, but nothing special. Dave had a nice cold beer. Our waiter was pleasant and efficient. 

Three Carrots
Breakfast was in the hotel at the Bayliner Diner (6550 Adventure Way, Orlando, Florida, 32819, 407-503-4000). This is basically a food court where you can get pre-packaged food,
Left: Menu, Croissants
Right T to B: Restaurant Wall, Seating Area
pre-prepared food, and made on request (limited to omelets, burgers, pizza, and the like). The restaurant is set up for huge groups of people, so getting through this setting is relatively quick. At this time of the year, finding a place to sit and eat was not a problem. Dave and I shared a bacon, egg and cheese croissant and a whole grain croissant; we both had coffee. Everything tasted fine. Prices were average, but not great. This is also the place to get soft drinks, bottled water and snacks. Prices for these commodities were high.

Swizzle Lounge (6550 Adventure Way, Orlando, Florida, 32819, 407-503-4000) is a very
Left: Menu, Drink
Right T to B:Lobby, Minion
nice place to watch what goes on in the Cabana Bay Beach Resort lobby. While we were enjoying an adult beverage, we got to see a Minion and Lucy Ricardo posing for pictures with guests. Happy hour was going on and our drinks were very good. However, even at happy hour, these were quite expensive even though they were well drinks. 

Christmas Elf Balloon

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