Abby’s Orlando Adventure, Part 1. Universal

Hey Thrill Seekers!

I’M BACK!!

I’ve been back a few days now – just about getting over the jet lag but still wishing I was in Orlando.. 🙁 I had the most AMAZING week out in Orlando and had the opportunity to do things i’ve only ever been able to dream of doing until now. I’m going to let you all know what I got up to over a blog or three.  😉 Today’s blog is all about what I got up to at the Universal parks..

So on the 17th September I made my way to Gatwick and met everyone (all 50 of them) at the check in desk ready to do my first ever long haul flight. The flight was fine and seemed like we were there in no time! We then travelled straight from the airport to Universals Cabana Bay Beach Resort which is a really cool 1950’s retro themed hotel. After being shown to our rooms we met over at Loews Sapphire Falls Resort – another one of Universals properties to have a welcome buffet and drinks. At dinner our lovely Universal host Liz gave us the opportunity to go over to Universal Studios to experience Halloween Horror Nights 27. Of course I opted to do this (partly because if i didn’t I would be mocked here at OAT towers) We hopped on a water taxi from Loews over to Universal Studios to experience the best Horror Night event i’ve ever been too! As soon as you walk in to the park it starts, there’s a scare zone after scare zone and so many houses to choose from. I done a mix of Rides and Houses that night, started off on Hollywood Rip Ride Rock It (Kayne West – Stronger, obvious choice 😉 ) – Wicked ride to do in the dark! Also rode TRANSFORMERS-3D, The Simpsons and Men In Black. TRANSFORMERS 3D was my first experience of a simulator ride and it’s safe to say I absolutely LOVED it! Now on to the houses, the first house I went in to was American Horror Story.. one word, terrifying. There is a video / sound clip on our Facebook page that I took whilst walking through the house and you can tell from that how scared I was and also how funny it is to be scared. The attention to detail in the houses is second to none, if you have the chance to go make sure you keep your eyes open the whole time to really take in all of the props and details! The second house I went in was Scarecrow – The Reaping. This house was more jumpy and I did fall over at one point from being scared – not my finest moment ;). The Scare Zones were also amazing and clever, my favourite Scare Zone was the Purge one as you just couldn’t escape! This was closely followed by the Scare Zone Roaming Hordes – Clowns with Chainsaws.. enough said. We made our way back to the hotel at around 1am to get some sleep ready for the next day.

On our first full day we made our way over to Universal Studios where we met our very own VIP tour guides who were going to be taking us around for the morning. We started off by heading in to Diagon Alley – the ‘wow factor’ when you walk in is exactly, if not more, how everyone describes it. We had a quick taste of Butterbeer – I loved this, I love all things sweet and this is definitely sweet, yummy. We then went on to do the Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts, I also had a lot of expectations for this ride and it lived up to every single one of them, it’s just so lifelike and cleverly done. After this we met up outside Kings Cross Station, had a few photos with the knight bus and then made our way inside to board the Hogwarts Express. Oh another thing, when you are standing outside Kings Cross you will reeeeeaaaalllllyyyy feel like you are back in London! (let me know below if you know what I mean by this 😉 ) After walking through platform 9 3/4 we hopped in to a carriage.The journey on the Hogwarts Express was soo immersive and be sure to look both left and right throughout the whole journey. In what felt like seconds we had arrived at Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventure, another ‘wow’ moment as you catch a glimpse of Hogwarts Castle for the first time. We headed straight for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, probably my favourite of the 2 Harry Potter rides we did, I love the way the ride really puts you in the middle of the action. We then made our way back on to the Hogwarts Express to head back over to Universal Studios, it’s a completely different experience on the way back so make sure you pay close attention (and look out for a cool graphic to do with a tree out of the window side). As we entered Kings Cross earlier on in the morning one of our group had said ‘the only thing missing is a busker’ and as we walked out back in to Universal Studios after departing the Hogwarts Express there was a lady standing at the entrance playing the violin – Universal don’t miss anything do they!  We then got to do most of the iconic attractions in Universal Studios.. Minion Mayhem, Revenge of the Mummy (fantastic ride!!) and Jimmy Fallon were all great, every sense is tested in Jimmy Fallon and the whole experience beforehand is also brilliant. We also rode the Simpsons Ride, TRANSFORMERS 3D, Rip Ride Rock It (Fergie – Glamorous this time) and Men In Black again (well second time for me because i’d stayed out to do them the night before hehe) Men in Black is so much fun, especially when you beat everyone.. not gloating, promise. My favourite ride in Universal Studios, by a mile is TRANSFORMERS – 3D I just absolutely love it for so many reasons. After Universal Studios we headed back to the hotel to get ready for a hosted event at Cuba Libre by Visit Orlando – great fun. 🙂

On the second full day, after breakfast, we made the short walk over to Universals Volcano Bay. After collecting our Tapu Tapus we walked the short path (which is very cleverly located) and turned the corner to be face to face with the Volcano. It is so awesome when you first see it, I had a look around and everyone had just stopped dead to stare or take photos – great backdrop for any photos!! We then got to explore the park at our own leisure, I went on Krakatau Aqua Coaster, Ika Moana, Honu, Te Awa Fearless River, Puihi raft ride and the one i’m most proud of.. Ko’okiri Body Plunge. There wasn’t one slide that I didn’t enjoy here they all made me laugh out loud – that is all bar Ko’okiri which was the only attraction in Orlando I was scared to do before I went and admittedly, I was 10x more scared when I cane face to face with it. Not going to lie, it was the main thing I noticed when I first caught sight of the Volcano after walking in to the park. Ko’okiri features a 70-degree fall through a drop door and a 125 feet descent, to be honest it was sooo much fun I wanted to do it again but we didn’t have enough time! 🙁 Krakatau was also wicked, i’d worked myself up so much about Ko’okiri that i’d partly forgotten about Krakatau but it was so thrilling and the dips and drops are a lot bigger and much faster than I had anticipated. It’s definitely a must!! After Volcano Bay and a quick change of clothes we headed over to Universals Islands of Adventure and were told to not wear any denim or white tops.. if you don’t know then i’ll tell you, IOA is renowned for its water rides! We had planned to do the water rides last though (because we are smart like that) so headed straight over to the Hulk coaster – amazing and the launch is really something else, loved it! We also experienced The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman and Skull Island: Reign of Kong which is a wicked ride with a really cool surprise at the end (I wont ruin it for you). It was then time for the water rides.. We rode Jurassic Park River Adventure which was pretty cool and I sat at the back so didn’t get very wet.  We then opted for Popeye and Blutos Bilge Rat Barges which was hands down the most i’ve laughed on a ride, ever. You can sit in groups of 12 and you get DRENCHED. Luckily (well, for me) we didn’t have time to get on to Dudley Do-rights Ripsaw Falls but got to catch a glimpse of a few others getting absolutely soaked on it.. hehe! Once we were done at Islands of Adventure we headed back to Cabana Bay to get ready for our ‘surprise evening with Universal.’

#volcanobay @universalorlando amazing morning, conquered Ko’Okiri too!! 🌋💚

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Our surprise evening with Universal was incredible.. we had the whole of Volcano Bay to ourselves, yep you heard it right, the whole park! The lovely Universal had put on a delicious buffet dinner and drinks for us in one of the restaurants and just as we were finishing up our food, the minions walked in to have their photos taken with us! After our photo shoot with the minions we headed down to one of the bars by the Waturi beach for more cocktails and a live band, had a little dance and then we headed down to the beach to watch a fire performer and Waturi dancers, had some more photos taken in front of the Volcano – which changes colour and looks even more awesome in the dark! It was such a fantastic evening and I felt very lucky to be a part of it. After a few more drinks we walked back to Cabana bay for a game of bowling and a night cap. The evening at Volcano Bay concluded our visits to the Universal parks and what a ending it was!!

Overall, my top 3 rides / attractions from the Universal parks were:

3. Ko’okiri Body Plunge

2. The Incredible Hulk Coaster

1. TRANSFORMERS-3D.

What are your favourite Universal attractions?

Stay tuned for my next blog all about what I got up to at Discovery Cove, SeaWorld, Aquatica and Busch Gardens! You can also take a look at the video below of me and Gavin chatting about what I got up to on the first part of my FAM trip. 🙂

Smiles Included,

Abby

 

OAT’s Review Of Harry Potter And The Escape From Gringotts

Hey Thrill Seekers,

As you’ll probably know by my recent posts and the numerous pictures I’ve been popping on our facebook page I recently visited Orlando and in particular the Universal Resort. I was really excited to be able to visit Universal Studios not only to check out Diagon Alley but to also visit and experience the Transformers Ride 3d, Minions Mayhem and the new Simpsons area, all of which had been added since the last time I visited almost 4 years ago.

I was very lucky to be part of a group that was shown around by an official Universal tour guide, the tour guide was extremely knowledgeable, especially about the new Wizarding World area and offered up a ton of additional information, one interesting piece was the telephone box found outside Kings Cross station… try dialling 62448 and see what happens!

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Diagon Alley is an amazing feast to behold. The attention to details is amazing and the dragon atop of Gringotts Bank is a brilliant touch, when it breathes fire everybody stops. Gringotts Bank is the setting for the feature ride at Diagon Alley, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts and I got the pleasure of riding it, here’s what I thought.

Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts

Firstly and straight off the bat, I loved this ride. Its a mixture of 3d technology and an indoor coaster, think Spiderman at Islands of Adventure mixed with a small helping of Revenge of the Mummy at Universal Studios. The story of the ride is pretty simple really, you’re at Gringotts to open an account its coincidentally right at the same time that Harry, Ron and Hermione are there trying to find one of the Horcruxes! You’re caught in the middle of a wild adventure.

The queue line starts inside Gringotts Banks, to your right are 3 goblins all going about their business, brilliantly brought to life by animatronics you’ll sometimes catch them staring at you, I must admit to feeling like I’d done something wrong when their gaze met mine. At the head of the bank is the chief Goblin who tells you what to expect with sagely advice.

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I would definitely recommend taking your time to have a good look around, the chandelier set in the very center of the room is amazing and the Goblin robots are superbly put together.

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From here we were lead down a long corridor, to our left and right are offices where you’d imagine the Goblins do their work. The doors have the appropriate Goblin name on them, for example “Blordak”.  Approximately half way down the corridor is a camera station where the Goblin workers (cast members) take a picture of you which can be purchased later on for your Bank I.D.

At the end of the corridor we’re taken in to a room where, using 3D effects, we hear a conversation between a Goblin and Bill Weasley we’re told that opening an account at Gringotts is a good idea as its the “safest place on Earth”.

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From here we move to a new room, which features a lift, the lift is large and can hold quite a few people. The lift begins to take us miles and miles below Gringotts. In reality you don’t move at all but the lift is manipulated to feel like you’re moving. In our group of 10 at least 6 people actually believed we’d been in a working lift such is the realism.

Finally we were at our coaster trains, each train can take up to 12 people, 3 rows of 4 and I found myself in the middle row. We start very smoothly until as readers of the books or watchers of the films will know our hero’s (Harry, Ron and Hermione) are detected. At this point Bellatrix, played by Helena Bonham Carter, appears and fires off some magic at us, as she believes we’re part of the crew trying to steal from her vault.

We’re saved this time by Bill Weasley but of course this isn’t for long when Trolls guarding the vaults mistake us for the intruders and send us plummeting towards the ground. As I’ve mentioned before I’m not a great fan of motion rides, they make me feel extremely nauseous and generally the falling to the ground bit (see Spider-Man, Transformers etc) is the bit that gets me but on this ride I’d didn’t feel it. I don’t know if its different technology being employed or the fact its part coaster but I felt fine. Bill again rescues us from the fall and sets us down in a vault where we should be safe.

However the hissing of Voldemort’s snake tells us we’re not. We come face to face with “He who must not be named” and Bellatrix, who quickly fire spells at us and then turn in to black smoke and follow us on to the next cavern. Just when it looks like Voldemort and Bellatrix have the advantage Harry, Ron and Hermione appear riding upon a dragon (the one featured on top of Gringotts Bank) Hermione throws us a chain, and the dragon hauls us up out of the cavern to safety. Which is brilliant illustrated by the a rush of speed from the Coaster part of the ride and we’re shot off through a wall of smoke to safety. Bill is then shown telling us how well we all did and how Gringotts is still the “safest place on Earth”.

The ride is brilliantly aimed at most ages, its not as thrilling as say Forbidden Journey but it offers a lot more family fun. Its definitely worth experiencing.

Smiles included…

Jamie

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Wizarding World Of Harry Potter Extension To Open July 2014?

Morning Thrill Seekers,

Over the weekend some interesting news broke regardingUniversal’s planned expansion of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Information supplied by the very talented Theme Park Insider, revealed that Universal are set to take their partnership with JK Rowling to even greater depths.

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As we have reported in the past, Universals expansion plans will be set around Diagon Alley, the secret Wizarding World located in London. The main attraction will be the Gringotts roller coaster which makes sense when you think about what parts of the books/films that would easily translate to Theme Parks but as we have seen with the original Wizarding World its the attention to details that has really captured peoples imagination and Universal are putting the same detail in to Diagon Alley.

As per the books, Diagon Alley wont be visable from the park, according to Robert Niles it’ll be hidden behind the facades of Grimmauld Place, Wyndham’s Theatre and other west end London landmarks. Only when you go through the adjacent Leicester Square station will you happen upon the “secret” entrance to the land, next to the Leaky Cauldron… An excellent nod to the book and something I can see people getting very excited about.

Ollivanders at the original Wizarding World has received criticism about queue times but as per the books Ollivanders Wand Shop is actually located in Diagon Alley, here Universal seem to be offering a much larger version of the attraction and possibly multiple live action studios.

The feature restaurant will be the Leaky Cauldron, other shops found in Diagon Alley will be Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions and Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment, Borgin and Burkes will also feature in Knockturn Alley and the popular Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes will also make an appearance.

As previously confirmed there will also be a Hogwarts Express linking the two lands and along with the Gringotts Coaster will act as Diagon Alleys feature rides.

Construction is well under way and the amazing part of all this is that we could see all this open as early as July 2014. Universal Orlando are really on a roll at the moment with The Transformers Ride opening this summer, if they could follow it up with the Wizarding World of Harry Potter Diagon Alley opening, then 2013, 2014 and 2015 could belong to Universal.

We’ll keep you updated as this story continues to break.

regards,

Jamie,

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