Florida 03/22 – Universal Studios

Day 6 – Universal Studios

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The following day began much the same, except that we turned right instead of left and headed for the big blue ball.

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First point of interest was #1 Hollywood Rip, Ride, Rockit. I’d always been intrigued by this thing, it’s so strange to see mainstream Maurer and, Sky Loops and G-Force aside, I’ve had some good times with this hardware.

One of the obvious selling points is the onboard music, which I had preplanned in my head well in advance. After the usual locker hassle, it was confirmed to me on queueline screens how the whole song thing worked and we sat down on the ride, only to discover the list had changed. I spent 10 seconds or so browsing through a generally unimpressive selection with nothing jumping out at me when, inevitablty, the continuously moving train reached the end of the station.

And so the lap was complimented with a default track that contained the lyric ‘I guess I didn’t know’ over an unremarkable beat, which undoubtedly added to my amusement.

Have to say I enjoyed the actual coaster far more than I had expected to. It’s not entirely refined in places, particularly when moving at higher speeds, but there were some good out-of-seat moments throughout, beginning with the big first drop. Much like certain other rides, it’s the shaping into and out of the many block sections that give it charm, sandwiching a moment of pure technicality with a fun little kick up the backside. It’s also got a satisfying amount of ride time and plays things a little differently in each section, all in all a solid performance.

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The same can’t be said for #2 Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster, yet another Vekoma Junior, but needs must.

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E.T. Adventure was just next door, hiding and looking creepy. It was a pleasant surprise to find this to be a dark ride, for some reason, in my head (something about that batch point?), it was another 3D cinema.
As such, you get to ride on bikes to go and help save E.T.’s home planet, which is dying.
Sure, but we’ve got problems of our own.
There’s a cute little interactive aspect in that you give your first name at another batch point, receive an intergalactic passport and then hand it over before boarding. The idea is that an animatronic at the end personally thanks all riders by name for helping him on the quest. Sadly, due to a very unfortunately timed staff announcement about ‘putting phones away’, the magic was lost.

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I really wanted to like The Simpsons Ride, what self-respecting fan wouldn’t? On reflection, I believe I enjoyed the clips, specifically the classic ones, on the queueline TVs more than the actual ride experience. There’s a very jarring and obvious clash between old and new Simpsons styles here, with all of the ‘fresh’ humour content for the attraction generally falling very flat, for me at least, along with constant reminders of how good it used to be – I’m one of those people that subscribes to the scientific pinpointing of when exactly the series just stopped being good any more. Of course the underlying storyline and film also harkens from this modern style and was worth a few chuckles at most, when it could have been so much more.
I was at least partial to the self-awareness surrounding any of the stuff about theme parks, along with a few nods to the Back to the Future ride it replaced.

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The biggest queue of the day, of course, went to Harry Potter land part 2, specifically #3 Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. Thankfully the result was another entirely fresh experience and again an attraction I was particularly intrigued by. What is the ride system? Is it really those complicated looking mine car things from the film? Well, no, it’s like if Intamin made cars for The Mummy, which is still cool in my book. Although it reminds me that the real one was closed. I’ll always have the best one.

There was a lot going on in the wait, including elevator rides and a pre-show introducing us to General Hux and some goblin. I had also wondered how the story would tie in, the result being that we were to be innocent bystanders co-existing around the same time as the actual Escape from Gringotts was happening in the usual ‘come and see the sights, oh wait it’s all gone wrong’ kind of way.

And that was the main downfall of the attraction for me. While technically brilliant, I struggled to really get lost in the wonder and spectacle. There were some lovely moments in there, clever tricks with the track and an amazing section of very convincing screen projection on what turns out to be smoke that you then launch through. I’d LOVE to see these types of antics translated over to something else that uses it better.

Ms. Lestrange doing crude, non-harmful lightning spells to our party very early on, much like Spiderman over the road, set the tone off on the wrong foot and then big Voldy turns up out of the blue for pure shock factor, only to be casually be sent packing moments later by Harry himself. That’s just not how it works and it all felt at odds with itself, trying to mash this age old theme park adventure stuff together with existing Harry Potter lore that doesn’t quite fit, while Bill makes the same joke about it being ‘the safest place on earth… right?’ four or five times on the bounce.

Oh, and then there’s the lockers.

But also that dragon on the bank breathes fire and is awesome.

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Talking of awesome, Fast and Furious – Supercharged was not. I’m fairly sure that’s well established by now, though I’m not sure it’s all that bad. I thought the actor interaction with the video feeds in the two pre-shows was really slick, different and appropriately styled. The final queue with the buses pulling up is a bit full on, but a good portion of the guests seemed properly into it and you can’t fault that.

It’s more ride than I had anticipated, similar to Kong with actual driving sections, not just immersive tunnel, though far less visually impressive. I didn’t really get what was going on and the animation appeared to get cruder and cruder until they just ran out of footage and it ended really jarringly. Good job guys, let’s head back to base.

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This? This was bad, on all levels. It felt like Race Through New York starring Jimmy Fallon had no substance, powering through the foyer, straight through the lack of queue and into the preshow. In contrast to the above, no one at all seemed interested or on board with what was going on, with just the one ex-staff member in the crowd ironically trying to hype it up a bit.

The ride is poor, they promised us a flying theatre, which I don’t really care for, and it’s actually just another big simulator. The audio was poor; I couldn’t hear the majority of what the guy was saying as he obnoxiously chatted to us like it was an afterthought. What I did hear wasn’t funny, or remotely entertaining. It tries so hard with that ego and appears to fail miserably at just about everything.

After bemoaning the location of Disney Springs, again, we took the opportunity to go and enjoy some late lunch in City Walk in order to clear that mess from the head.

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Upon our return, it was time for yet another simulator in front of a big screen, specifically Despicable Me Minion Mayhem. I don’t like the whole minion thing, but the actual characters from the franchise are at least somewhat endearing and I wouldn’t be overly averse to experiencing this again (though not at the cost of the Madagascar Boat Ride, what an awful shame that was for Singapore). It was better than Fallon at just about everything, which of course is not a notable achievement by any means.

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Men in Black Alien Attack was the last item of note on the agenda and a breath of fresh air. It’s got that classic vibe that’s just so damn good on it’s own merit as a ride, regardless of subject matter. Yet again I only had my hopes set to ‘3D cinema’ and so shooting dark ride with epic sets, complex scoring systems and fun minigames was right up my street. Also that ending with the neuralyzer and the offload station looking just like nothing happened was genius. I feel like it’s got a real replayability factor to it, though the wait and pre-show faff were just a little too long to capitalise on that.

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There was still time however to get reacquainted with an old friend in Transformers the Ride. I’m not sure if this one will ever get old for me, having ridden it countless times on the other side of the world. It’s just so well pitched and paced in both content and hardware. The movements are super violent, there’s a real frantic feel to the sequence and once again that ending with the massive setpiece over your head just, stirs theme park emotions in me. And I don’t like Transformers.

With that, the park was coming to a close, time for a quick parade and a cheeky Re-Ride Rockit. We had gone out of our way to look up the ‘secret song list’ throughout the course of the day and once again perfectly planned what to do with it once on board. The host barely had time to touch the restraint before I was frantically following the steps to make hidden stuff happen. In my panic, as soon as I had unlocked the extra songs I immediately hit the inconveniently placed ‘back’ button and had to start the whole thing over again.

By which time it was too late and I learned the hard way that it always defaults to the same thing.

I guess I didn’t know.

Day 7

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