The first full day in Orlando is here, and we hit it head on. Today, we split up and conquered Universal and Disney World. The fact that it is Christmas Eve seemed to help keep the crowds down at both our parks. More for us!
Stephanie and I, along with Miles, Mallory and Marissa, had a full day at Universal Studios on our agenda. We left the house before 6am in the hopes that we could be at the gate by 7. We arrived at the Universal lot around 6:30 and there was only one lane open accepting car’s $20 payment to park. Shortly a second line did open while we were waiting. After paying we pulled through and followed the instructions of the parking crew, and somehow our car ended up in the employee lot. The employee who parked next to us didn’t seem to think it was a big deal, so we locked it up and headed for the park.
We entered the park and made our way to the Islands of Adventure area, and finally to the gates that keep out the non-property staying guests until the 8am opening. The park opened at 7am for guests staying at Universal properties. We expected to be joining a throng of others at the gate, but to our surprise, we were the first in line.
The guidebook we are referencing on this trip to help us know which order to ride the rides and what time to show up said that on the park’s busiest days of the year you need to be there one hour before the park opens. I guess our flaw was thinking that Christmas Eve would be a busy day. It didn’t turn out that way.
The park employee, Bill, kept us company while we waited for the park to open. Bill’s mother was from Anadarko, OK, and he had worked at the park since the year it opened. He absolutely loved his job and was very gracious in answering all our questions.
About 10 minutes until 8, the park opened the gate for us and “Travis” walked all of us back to Harry Potter Hogsmeade attraction (which is where everybody was headed).
Our first order of business was to ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Unfortunately, due to a miscommunication, Stephanie got separated from her phone and from the rest of us in the park for about 15 minutes. Fortunately, we reunited and enjoyed the ride, and then rode the Dragon Challenge.
We all enjoyed these rides, but nobody did more than Marissa. She enjoyed them so much she threw up. Twice. But I will hand it to Marissa. She rallied hard the rest of the day from that unfortunate start. Good job, Marissa!
We took time out to have breakfast at Three Broomsticks. The traditional English Breakfast option was popular in our group. While eating, Stephanie asked Mallory if she wanted to ride the Hippograph ride next. Mallory slammed the table with her hand and angrily said, “It is not a Hippograph, it is a Hippogriff!” That girl takes her Harry Potter seriously. (Naturally, we called it the Hippograph the rest of the day.)
Because the park was not nearly as crowded as we expected, we made an impromptu decision to take the Hogwarts Express to the other Harry Potter park. This turned out to be a good decision, as we were able to do everything Harry Potter related we wanted to do in both parks in one day. We never expected that.
The second Harry Potter park we visited, Diagon Alley, only had one ride, but it had its fair share of curious shops. The one ride it did have – Escape from Gringotts – was excellent, and might have been my favorite of the day.
Once we had our fill of all things Harry Potter, we made our way around the Universal Studios Park. The few rides we did get on were nothing to write home about. We ultimately ended up at the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit roller coaster. Only Stephanie and Mallory had the gumption to ride it, while the rest of us found a place to lay down. They were BIG fans of the ride.
We made it back to Diagon Alley and the King’s Cross Station for the Hogwarts Express. The Platform 9 ¾ signs were a big hit with most of the passengers.
We finally got the chance to ride the Flight of the Hippogriff once we returned to Hogsmeade. It was just the right kind of tame roller coaster to cap off our night. We left the park around 7pm, knowing that our 12 hours in the park had been well spent.
One of our highlights of the day was the Butterbeer. We tried it cold, hot, frozen, and in ice cream. Mallory’s favorite version was the cold, but Stephanie swears by the hot butterbeer. It was altogether too sweet for Miles, but we can all agree that it was tasty. Thumbs up for Butterbeer.
Meanwhile, the rest of the travel party – KK, PK, Scott, Erin, and Grandma Mary – spent the day dining and shopping at Disney Springs and a few other places.
Scott and Erin took the family to the Wolfgang Puck restaurant at Disney Springs that they had eaten at during their honeymoon in 2007. They absolutely loved the food and their waiter made a big impression on them. When he introduced himself to the table, the first words out of his mouth was, “Does anybody here have a food allergy?” Since the answer was Yes, the question as appreciated.
The gang hit all the shops they wanted at Disney Springs and also noted that the crowds were not what they expected. Once done there, they went off in search of some macaron cookies for Mallory’s birthday celebration tomorrow. They had to visit a swanky part of town, but boy oh boy did they find the place and its name was Winter Park.
Once the cookies had been acquired, it was on to more pedestrian obligations, such as getting our groceries for the week. In a daring act, these brave family members went to Walmart on Christmas Eve about 90 minutes before it closed at 8pm. KK was impressed that everyone was on their best behavior. Those of us not with them are eternally grateful that they took care of this huge chore for all of us.
Once everyone, and the food, was home, everyone fixed a plate and we shared with each other about our days. Without fail, our family always has plenty of humorous stories to tell.
After dinner, Stephanie, Marissa, and Scott made it out into the pool for a swim. This was Scott’s second swim of the day. He is maximizing his time at the vacation home. The rest of us look forward to doing the same.