Monday, July 01, 2013

Monday, June 24 (Universal Studios, Day 1)

Bright and early Monday morning we struck out to Universal Studios, traipsed through the parking lot for over twenty minutes, and finally made it through baggage checks and into the actual park. It was quite the hike and, unfortunately, we didn't think about that again until our day was done and we had to make the trek back. It was a trail of tears, I tell you.

Our day began with tears, too, because the day started hot and Rachel busted out her fan and went to cool the back of her neck and caught her hair, which got all twisted up in the motor. We did manage to pull it free, but there was much screaming and crying. Our day was just filled with tears.

Universal Studios was fun, don't get me wrong. But let's just say it's not the happiest place on earth. Disney is much better suited to young families than Universal.

Ignoring the wisdom of an experienced traveler and instead choosing to follow the advice in a hotel pamphlet, we made a beeline for Hogwarts first thing, hoping it wasn't too crowded (and stopping only once to ride The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride (could they possibly have come up with a longer name?) because there wasn't a line at all).

After months of anticipation, Rachel was excited simply to be there, even if it was rather crowded.

We stopped for a picture by the Hogwarts Express before wandering through Hogsmeade:

Rachel hasn't read the fourth book so didn't quite understand the show we caught, but she was happy to watch anyway. Miriam loved the girls from Beauxbatons Academy.

After the show finished we headed down to get in line for The Flight of the Hippogriff, which was Rachel's all-time favourite ride of our vacation. Grandma had rented a double stroller to use, thinking we could keep Benjamin in it and let the girls take turns riding in the other seat, but the double strollers had a single seatbelt, which wasn't going to hold Benjamin in at all. We managed to switch to two single strollers for the day—and they gave us an infant seat to keep Benjamin strapped in better since the seatbelt of the single stroller were still questionable.

Miriam loved her stroller, of course, and Benjamin took several naps in his (because his seat was reclined for the whole day and he was bored the entire day). Benjamin got to hang out with Grandpa, who suffers from vertigo if he tries anything other than the most tame of rides, while we all waited for our turn on the roller coaster. We walked through a bit of Hogwarts, past Hagrid's hut, to get on board the hippogriff. 

Just as the ride starts you come up to Buckbeak and then he bows to you, to let you know that he respects you, before you can ride. Rachel thought she bowed low enough but later decided she must not have because she bruised her back on the ride somehow and decided that Buckbeak must've bitten her like he did Malfoy.

I honestly don't know how she managed to bang up her back like she did but both times on the Hippogriff she was rewarded with a wicked bruise, the poor thing. It's still her favourite ride though.

We cooled off with some butterbeer after riding the hippogriff, and, yes, it's as good as everyone says.

We still hadn't met up with Grandpa so we wandered around Hogsmeade looking for him, enjoying taking peeks into the store windows and marveling at how long the wait times were for the other rides.

We eventually found Grandpa and Benjamin and took a quick break in the owlery to feed Benjamin and rest in the shade. We took turns running children over to the restrooms, where Moaning Myrtle was shrieking constantly.

Rachel was too short for the other rides in Harry Potter's Wizarding World so we went over the bridge to Jurassic Park where we somehow convinced Rachel to ride Jurassic Park River Adventure. Truthfully, I think the only reason we got her on it is because she was completely clueless. We got in line to wait while Grandma and Grandpa took Benjamin and Miriam off to enjoy a little dinosaur play area.

The line we were in was long and stretched right across the walkway. Someone in line mentioned that we should swing the line to the side so that we weren't blocking foot traffic, but thanks to what Andrew called a "collective action problem," nobody budged—it was a "naturally occurring suboptimal outcome." We'd all be better off if we'd move but no one is going to stick their neck out there and solve the problem because there's too great of a risk to that one individual.

"We need someone to organize our action," he said. "Or the line's not going to move."

"I'll do it," I said.

"No, you won't," he said. "It's not worth it or someone else would have done it."

"Hey, everybody!" I yelled. "Let's swing the line over to the side so we're along this rope here."

I got that whole crowd to move, though I did get yelled at by this one guy (sheesh, man!) so perhaps the cost was large for me. But as a group we benefitted, so I suppose it was worth it.

"I just solved a collective action problem," I boasted to Andrew.

And that's kind of how our life goes, vacation included. You can take the nerd out of academia but you can't take academia out of the nerd. Andrew talks about stuff like that all the time.

Anyway, once Rachel had verified that the ride was a fresh-water ride she relaxed (because sharks don't live in fresh-water) and enjoyed the first thirty seconds or so before the ride took an "unexpected" detour into the carnivore enclosures.

Oh, how she howled.

She was so afraid of the dinosaurs that she didn't even notice when we took an 85-foot drop. She was clinging to my arm and screaming, "Momma! Momma! Momma! I want to get off!" Unfortunately, by this point in the ride we were committed and the only way to get off was to finish the ride. I tried explaining to her that everything was fake—the dinosaurs were just robots.

"I know but they look real!" she shrieked.

I don't blame her for being scared. That movie is terrifying. I remember when it came out. I didn't even have to see it to be terrified of it. My dad and brother had gone to it together and I was miffed that I hadn't been allowed to go. I mean, come on! David is only two years older than me. If he could handle it I could handle it. I brooded about the house while I waited for them to come home so I could ask them all about it. Unfortunately, they were out so late that bedtime came around before they got home and I was ordered into bed.

"But Dad and David aren't back yet!" I protested.

"Maybe they're not coming back," Abra said, tilting her head in a manner that made me wonder if she knew something I didn't.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"They didn't really go to the movie," she lied. "They went to the actual park."

"No, they didn't. They went to the movie."

"What do you know? You're like, what, eight? They went to the actual Jurassic Park and didn't tell you because they didn't want to worry you. Trust me."

At this point you should know that I a) am/was a world-class worry wart, b) was/am super gullible, c) trust/ed my sister with my life, and d) shared a room with my sister in the basement.

"Why would that worry me?" I asked.

"Because they really have live dinosaurs at that park and do you really think any manmade structure could actually contain a dinosaur—especially a hungry one? Because I don't. They're dead and they're never coming back. I'm sure of it. They were supposed to be back hours ago. I've given up hope that they'll ever return. They probably got ripped to shreds by a t-rex or something."

By this time my mom, unaware of the thoughts Abra had been filling my head with, had ushered us downstairs into the dark, scary, unfinished basement to go to bed. As we're fumbling our way through the dark to our bedroom (the light in the entry way was on and we had to make it from there to our room to turn on the light), Abra let out a tremendous, "ROAR!"

Long story short: I started screaming and crying. My mom rushed downstairs to see what the hullabaloo was. Abra got a lecture. I got a cuddle. My dad and brother came home completely unharmed and gushing about how awesome the movie was. I wouldn't see the movie until long after it was released and I still found it super scary.

The end.

Needless to say we didn't repeat that ride. But we did stand in the splash zone getting soaked over and over again for quite some time. At least, some of us did.

Rachel's always happy when she can get soaked.

We wandered through whatever it is Universal calls their cartoon land, stopping only to ride Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Rapids, stirring a heretofore latent phobia of caves (speluncaphobia) but more specifically mining within Rachel (because we found ourselves "stuck" in a mine on the brink of collapse while we waited in line—it was dark and there was a soundtrack of falling rocks and it was terrifying (when you're five)). There were tears. And she declared that she was never going to enter another cave (or mine) ever again and also that she was never going to ride a water ride ever again.

With a sniffling Rachel in tow, we made our way back to Dr. Seuss land where Rachel hugged a garbage can in honour of Uncle Jacob, who at age five ran around Disneyland hugging all the garbage cans while on a family vacation. And he will never live it down. But in his defense the garbage cans at theme parks are rather whimsical.

We rode the carousel, which Miriam had been dying to do, and that made Rachel feel much better. It was a pretty fun carousel and even Benjamin got to go on, though he and I just sat in a non-moving bench seat, which was kind of lame.

Next up was the One Fish, Two Fish ride (I'm not sure if that's the right name; I'm sick of looking these things up (I looked it up and it's One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish (can't be too pithy about these things (at least I was close))). Benjamin was also allowed on that ride, so long as he sat beside me since no lap riders are permitted. 

He loved it until he got squirted right in the face. Then he didn't love it anymore, which is strange because he loves being splashed with water. I think it just took him by surprise. Whatever the case, it made him cry, which was really too bad because the carousel and fish ride were the only two rides he was allowed on all day.

We spotted some Dr. Seuss characters and ran over to meet them. Miriam was brave enough to meet The Cat in the Hat because Rachel went up with her. He was totally going to pose with the girls but they ran off to meet more characters before it happened so he just kind of shrugged at me. 

Thing 1 and Thing 2 were much more interesting things to meet, though Miriam wouldn't go up to them. I guess meeting The Cat in the Hat was fine because she and Rachel outnumbered him, but meeting two characters at once would mean there was an equal ratio of child to character. That was unacceptable to Miriam, so Rachel got showered with attention.

They had a spontaneous dance party.

And then we met The Grinch. Rachel found him to be much more agreeable in real life than he was in the book and/or movie.

Benjamin did not like him at all!

And it's probably no surprise that Miriam wouldn't touch him with a nine-and-a-half-foot pole.

It's possible we did the carousel again right after meeting the characters because I have a bunch of pictures. Miriam loved the carousel and the line was typically short so we went on it several times. This particular time I put Benjamin on his own animal and he did great.

We took a little walk through the truffula tree forest...

...and then, with one loop of the park complete, we headed back to Harry Potter's world to begin another loop. We wanted to see if the lines were any shorter in the afternoon (as we'd been told to expect) and also wanted to grab some lunch at The Three Broomsticks.

The lines were indeed much shorter in the afternoon than they had been in the morning. Andrew and I went off to ride the Dragon Challenge while Grandma got in line to have another go on the hippogriffs with the girls. We then picked up the girls, took them to the bathroom (with Moaning Myrtle again) and took them to the Pteranodon Flyers, a ride designed only for children between 36 and 56 inches (and accompanying adults).

Miriam got bored and said she needed to go potty. We reminded her that we'd just gone. She asked if we could do the carousel. We reminded her that we'd already done the carousel...twice. She said she needed to go potty. We told her we were already halfway through the line. She asked if we could find Grandma and Grandpa. We said we'd find them after we rode the pteranodons. She said she didn't want to ride the pteranodons. We reminded her about Dinosaur Train. She said she needed to go potty. We said we were almost through the line. She said she was going to pee her pants right then. We said we were three people away from the front of the line. She began crying—she had to go pee that bad.

"Fine!" I said. "We'll just get out of line and find a potty and meet Daddy and Rachel when they're done."

"No!" Miriam wailed. "I want to ride the pteranodons!"

So we rode the pteranodons and Miriam loved it. When we got off I rushed her toward the exit.

"Come on!" I said. "Let's go find a potty!"

"Why?" she asked.

"Because you're about to pee your pants, remember?"

"Oh. I changed my mind. I don't have to go," was her answer.

Oi! We fought with her all day about going to the bathroom—the entire trip, really. We'd tell her to go and she'd fuss about not wanting to and would cry when we'd make her try. Later she'd scream about needing to go potty right then and when we'd rush off to find one she'd magically no longer need to go potty. It was rather frustrating, but she's three years old so that just about explains her behaviour, doesn't it?

To get out of the pteranodo area we had to go down some stairs that led to Camp Jurassic, a dinosaur-themed play area. The stairs spat us out onto a pathway with dinosaur footprints that, when stepped on, evidently triggered a ferocious dinosaur roar.

Miriam and I were leading the way, rushing off to locate a toilet, and we stepped on a footprint, which caused a roar to be emitted from a speaker hidden in a bush. Rachel, who was right behind us, turned tail and ran back up the stairs, all the way to the exit of the ride. It was so funny—she just disappeared! She was so panicked.

We had to pick our way through the playground, avoiding stepping on footprints or picking pathways that would eventually turn into caves.

We made our way through the cartoon area once again, and found ourselves in super hero world (or whatever).

There we left Grandma to ride the teacups Storm Force Acceletron, while Benjamin hung out with Grandpa and we rode The Hulk, which was probably the awesomest ride in the park.

We headed back over to Dr. Seuss land where we did The Cat in the Hat ride and a couple others before deciding that we really wanted to do the ride in Hogwarts itself and left the kids with Andrew's parents in Dr. Seuss land while we ran over to get in line at Harry Potter world. It was a fairly long line but it was a fascinating wait. They did a great job with the castle—we walked through the greenhouse first and then through the castle, were cautioned about our journey by Professor Dumbledore, saw talking portraits, met up with Ron, Harry, and Hermione, went through the Fat Lady's portrait into Gryffindor tower, all before getting on the actual ride, which was terrible.

I suppose it wasn't all terrible. Andrew enjoyed it.

It was mostly just a simulator, though, and I can't do simulators. They make me feel ill.

Rides where I'm actually moving are fine. Rides where I'm kind of being jerked around in my seat while a screen in front of me goes crazy are not fine.

I spent most of the ride with my eyes shut tight. Some parts were actual sets with anamatronics, and I liked those parts just fine. But most of the ride was simulated, and I hated those parts.

Besides being awful for kicking in my motion sickness, they smack of laziness. I mean, they could have actually designed an entire castle and worked through all the crazy effects somehow but instead they chose to just have a computer do the work. Lame. I was expecting more.

We did find out, however, that we could take the kids through the castle on a "tour." We'd just enter through the "kid exchange" line and then exit without riding. We knew the girls (or at least Rachel) would love that, so despite the fact that I was ready to collapse and/or vomit we ran through the park to find our family (which took us quite a long time to do—we ran all over Seuss land several times over before we spotted them walking around).

Rushing through the park, we made it back to the castle with plenty of time to do a quick tour. As expected the girls loved it!

We rounded out our day with one last spin on The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride, only this time I stood in line with the girls by myself because everyone else was too exhausted. Miriam, who grumped around all morning and early afternoon, found her energy late in the day and was still demanding to go on more rides as the park was closing and everyone else was dragging. We were happy we did the train ride again, though, because there are two tracks and we managed to ride on both of them.

The walk back to the car was horrendous. It took us at least twenty minutes to get to our car. We were so exhausted. But, on the upside, we did sleep well so we were fully rested the next morning when we did the whole thing all over again.

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