021214 Universal Studios, Orlando, FL

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On February 12th, 2014 m’lady and I spent the day in the magical kingdom of Universal Studios.

That was hard to write – I feel like I could get sued for even thinking such a sentence. 

We woke up in our free hotel (well, it cost us a few hours at a timeshare meeting and a whole lot of perseverance to not purchase said timeshare) and drove to the park.  Without the aid of cellphone technology (which I abhor) we somehow managed to meet up with m’lady’s family, including her two niblings* who both possess an encyclopedic understanding of the theme parks in Orlando after a literal lifetime of experience tromping the American fairyland of sun, fun, and wholesome family adventure on an annual basis.

Through the gates, we bee-lined it to Harry Potter Land – or whatever they were calling the area – and it was immediately impressive.  The streets were very Hogwart-ish, with wand and cape stores and shops selling every-flavour jelly beans and mugs of mead.  Every detail was attended to (or so it seemed) as we virtually ran past everything to line up for the main Harry Potter ride.  The kids assured us that we had to get this one in quickly – by noon the lineups for this attraction would be oppressive.

One thing these Florida parks excel at is keeping you entertained while you wait to be entertained.  As we waited in the ride line I had time to cast my eyes around the streets and take in the utter Harry Potterness of the area that we had been rushing through.  The detail was pretty impressive, from the freshly-applied coat of age and grit on the cobblestone sidewalks to the gothic crinkle of the forced-perspective rooftops.  And in no time the line was almost gone and through the door we went…

…into another line that wound through a castle replete with anti-allergenic dusty bookshelves and Hollywood-cobwebbed chandeliers.  Winding along the passageways one would catch a subtle movement in one of the old portraits on the walls and hear faints voices calling for the young Potter.  Soon enough the entrance was just ahead, and through it we went…

…and found ourselves lined up in a darkened passageway where a spooky voice dictated our special mission as we were about to embark upon our Quiddich-inspired broom ride through Hogwarts.  And finally, finally (though it seemed like no time at all), we hopped on the Broomhilda simulator and the ride began.

Over the next four minutes or so we launched straight up into the air and careened over gothic steeples and under gargoyled arches, flying just feet above the spires of the vast, Medieval campus.  Occasionally the little gold Snitch would appear in front of us and our brooms would turn on a dime to give chase, flying this way and that following the very convincing holographic projection across the equally realistic lake and through the I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-forest forest.

In reality we probably travelled about eighty feet, with hydraulics giving us the impression of astounding feats of propulsion while surely we never got more that eight feet off the ground.  It was remarkably thrilling, and a very jolting start to the day.  Unfortunately it was so realistic and so jarring that m’lady came off the ride feeling woozy and had to take it easy for the next few hours.

(Universal Studios has since opened up a second park that is entirely Potter-themed and I suspect it is pretty impressive.)

And take it easy we did.  We stopped for a hearty Griffindor lunch and did a lot of meandering.  We found the comic book land and Dr. Seuss world and relaxed our butts off.  We rode the flume and a few other rides before finally ending our day back at Potterworld.  We lined up for a very loopy and body-jolt suspension rollercoaster called the Dragonslayer or something like that, a ride so bold the theme park professional niblings had to watch from the sidelines as me, m’lady and her brother-in-law hung like screaming rag dolls below a greased metal track that flung us willy-nilly at speeds up to 70mph through turns, loops, and corkscrews until we could scream no more.  Physically slamming our bodies back and forth, it was like a real-life re-enactment of the simulated broom-ride that started the day and it was both exhausting and exhilarating.  (As I understand it, the Dragonslayer has since been slain and has shut down for good.)

Shaken and stirred, we walked out of the park and before parting we got instructions from the niblings on where, when and how to start our attack on Disney the next day.  This theme park stuff can be gruelling.

*Nibling: (noun) A niece or nephew or any combination thereof.

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