Sunday, 15 December 2013

Minions, Moe's, and Men in Black: Our Day at Universal Studios

USA Trip 2013:  Blog Post #7

“I’ll be back” - Arnold Schwarzenegger, The Terminator

Universal's Superstar Parade.
After surviving some intense Minion training, it was time to boogie.  Emerging from the Despicable Me Minion Mayhem ride we were greeted by 70’s disco music, a sparkling mirror ball, and a dancing minion who was beckoning us over to join him.    It was a fun ending to a thoroughly enjoyable ride. 

Universal Studios Florida (USF) is Universal Orlando’s oldest park, and, in my opinion, the better of the two.  It seems that I am amongst the minority in this opinion (the WWoHP over at Island’s of Adventure is a pretty big drawcard), but there were just a few more attractions at this park that I enjoyed.

For a start, my favourite ride of the whole trip was in this park.  The Transformers ride uses the combination of a moving ride vehicle and 3D special effects to create the effect of being chased thorough city streets and being thrown off tall buildings by the evil Decepticons.  It provided just the right amount of action that had you screaming one minute and then cheering the next.  There is a similar ride over at Island’s of Adventure called Adventures of Spiderman.  It uses the same ride technology and follows the same good vs. evil storyline.  But for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on, The Transformers one was better. 

I visited USF many many years ago as a teenager.  The park I remember from then is quite different to the park that exists now.  But a small handful of shows and rides have survived the passing years, and one of these is the ET ride.  It’s little wonder this ride is still around; it’s great.  The basic premise of the ride is that you board a modified bicycle and then ‘fly’ over cities and forests in search of ET.  When you find him at the end of the ride, he thanks you by name.  Young children, who tend to forget about the staff member at the start of the ride who asked you your name, find this little twist quite magical. 

The thing I liked the most about the ET ride was the smell.  As ridiculous as this might sound, I have an extremely sensitive nose and happen to think that Smell is a highly underrated sense.  Universal pumps an aromatic mystery scent into the room and it combines with the powerful air-conditioning.  The effect is one of flying over a fragrant rainforest on a cool summer’s evening.  I’m a fan.

Both Universal and Disney have created rides where you board a track-mounted vehicle and then travel around a scene shooting at targets.   Disney’s Toy Story Mania and Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin are the best and worst respectively of this style of ride.  Universal’s Men in Black Ride sits somewhere in the middle.  It was such great fun competing against Scott and Oskar over who could accumulate the most points during our alien shoot-out.  Somewhere during my hours of holiday research I had read tips about how you should aim for the small alien targets in windows rather than the big formidable aliens directly in front of you.   I only gloated briefly over my far superior score, before coming clean to Scott and admitting that I had gone on to the ride with an advantage.   Scott got his revenge later in our holiday when he got twice my score on Toy Story Mania.

Don't bother

There are quite a few shows at this park and we made the time to attend three of them.  One was the Animal Actor’s Show, which was cute and charming, but not really a must-do.  The second was The Beetlejuice Graveyard Revue and this show was downright awful.  I remember attending this show when I visited about 20 years ago and at the time thinking that it was quite good.  But the world has changed a lot in 20 years and this show just hasn’t aged well.  I felt like I was a spectator at a bad dress-up karaoke party where I sat looking at my watch and questioning whether it would be polite to stand up and leave.  Scott disliked it even more than I did.

The third show was the Shrek 4D movie.  Part show, part ride, I caution against participating in this attraction if you get lower back pain like I do.  Just about every ride in every park comes with a bad back warning and (perhaps irresponsibly) I always ignored this warning without issue.  This is probably the one time I should have heeded the warnings.  While the show itself was fun, the seats rattle and vibrate in a way that gives your lower back a really rough shaking; particularly the part where Shrek charges down a very bumpy road on a wagon.  

Only a few months prior to our visit, USF had put the finishing touches on the new SpringField USA.  Built around the already existing Simpsons' Ride, this land was a pretty good representation of the tv show.   It was great thinking on Universal’s part to put in so many permanent Simpsons' characters (statues).   They provide a great character photo opportunity that lasts all day, and they're much cheaper than paying actors to walk around in hot, over-sized costumes. 

For lunch that day we ate at Moe’s tavern.  The all American counter food was not particularly memorable, but the atmosphere certainly was.

Is it irresponsible to let your 5 year old test his level of sex appeal?
Even though I loved the Simpson’s Ride, we rode it only once.   It made Scott feel even more ill than the Forbidden Journey ride the following day.  Luckily these were the only two rides of the whole trip that affected him this badly. 

After a day of fighting Decepticons, shooting at aliens, and getting shaken around by Shrek, we were in desperate need of a swim.  One last attempt at being transformed into Minions and our fun day at this park was over.   There were a few attractions we never did get to try, such as Revenge of the Mummy and Terminator 3-D, but in the immortal words of Arnie, "I'll be back".  (Or, at least I hope that one day I will be).  

Don't spend too long looking at this guy and admiring his abs; he'll hunt you down.

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