My visit to Universal Studios Islands of Adventure today was planned around a new land themed to the Harry Potter books. I'd anticipated high demand, and I figured that arriving at the park entrance thirty minutes before opening would been ample, which I can report proved optimistic to the point of foolishness. There was a ninety minute queue for the signature ride by the time I got there, though it could have been worse; less than fifteen minutes later it had hit three hours. In a rare example of good morals overtaking profit, Universal does not offer paid line jumping on this attraction, and I noted that the express pass for everything else was a full $99 on top of regular admission.
The queue line for Forbidden Journey is extensive, and much of it is unthemed cattle grid. However, portions of it are extremely well done and easily recognisable from the movies, with the route taking in one of the greenhouses, Dumbledore's Office, the Defence against the Dark Arts classroom, and a hall full of moving paintings talking to themselves. The ride vehicles are four-seat benches, which are attached to robotic arms which themselves are attached to a track. The technology is impressive, allowing a freedom of movement that cannot be matched by any other dark ride technology; passengers are moved seamlessly between projection screens and fixed scenery. Operationally the ride is loaded with military precision and at high speed; one cannot fault Universal for the speed at which the queue moves; it's simply a case of demand greatly outstripping supply.
As an enthusiastic fan of all things Potter, I really wanted to like Forbidden Journey. Unfortunately, I found the story was far too disjointed to make any sense; it seemed like random flashes of different aspects of the magical world stitched together in a way that was almost incoherent. For me the best bit of the whole experience was the room full of talking paintings. I would very much like to try it again at some stage in the future, but I honestly don't think I'd wait more than fifteen minutes for the privilege.
Queues had yet to build up at Dragon Challenge, so I caught one lap on each side. These rides used to operate in tandem, with three near-miss moments providing spectacular visuals for riders and observers alike. Unfortunately, despite ten years of safe operation they have recently been modified to dispatch separately, and while both tracks deliver good rides the experience is far short of what it used to be. On my way towards the exit I took a quick look at the status of Incredible Hulk, but with a ninety minute wait I decided to move on to my next stop instead.
30th December 2011
The park once known as Cypress Gardens went out of business in 2009 due to a combination of bad luck and low attendance brought on by its location almost an hour outside of Orlando, too far away to attract many tourists to what was was essentially a set of botanical gardens with a few amusement rides thrown in. Fast forward to this year, and the park has been transformed to the sixth Legoland resort. While some of the rides have been preserved the place is barely recognisable; there is new theming, new landscaping, and other significant alterations which turn the park into a destination that families will make the effort to visit. As a testament to the changes, the park hit capacity for the first time in its history two days before my visit.
America has too many lawyers, and a tranche of them appear to work for the Lego group. The following text is reproduced intact from the receipt given to me after I paid the twelve dollar parking fee. The word ridiculous springs to mind.
Customer and Operator agree this is a license to park only, no bailment is created. In accepting this contract, Customer agrees to use Operator's lot or garage at Customer's own risk. The Owners and Operators of this parking facility hereby specifically disclaim any responsibility, express or implied, to protect against the loss or damage to your vehicle or its contents. No employee or agent may enlarge our liability hereunder orally or otherwise. Vehicles containing illicit drugs, firearms, open alcohol bottles, explosives, or other hazardous or dangerous items are not permitted and may be removed at the owner's expense. It is also unlawful to leave children or pets unattended in vehicles. Parking in this facility shall constitute an acknowledgement and acceptance of the conditions on your right to use our parking facility. Note hours of operation and posted rates. Parking area closes one hour after LEGOLAND RESORT closes. Vehicles remaining in the parking area thereafter are subject to being towed away at the owner's expense. Please lock your vehicle and take your keys. WHEN YOU PARK YOUR VEHICLE IN AN UNOCCUPIED SPACE, YOU AGREE THAT IT IS AT YOUR SOLE RISK, THAT YOU WILL LOCK YOUR CAR, AND THAT POSSESSION AND CONTROL OF THE VEHICLE AND CONTENTS ARE YOURS.
These same minds appear to have done a job on the Island in the Sky observation platform, the only such ride I've come across where guests are required to remain seated at all times despite the posted language on the signage which states that standing up is permitted. Better yet, the island has been covered in black netting, presumably to stop people throwing things from it. It is a sad reflection on the American legal system when this ride cannot operate in the same way as similar attractions everywhere else in the world.
The first coaster I found was the Dragon, a ride that incorporates the track of the original Okechobee Rampage but extends it significantly with a large dark ride section at the start. The question of whether or not this makes it a new credit is one that enthusiasts will likely debate for eternity; in my case, I decided against counting it a second time. From there I went to Project X, a mouse coaster that was removed from Legoland Windsor following neighbour complaints about noise. It was running well today, and it was good to see that the unwieldy scream shields that it operated with in England have been removed.
The queues were such that I decided against going for a repeat on remaining wood coaster, the full-size Starliner having been too big for the reimagined park, but I did take the time to ride the Lost Kingdom dark ride, a target shooter from Sally that was good fun if perhaps not quite worth the hour that I waited for it. The delay was, however, almost pleasing to me; hour long wait times at a park that has been through bankruptcy can only be a good thing.
I'm dreaming of a white Christmas was playing over the PA system as I left the park, making me wonder about the optimism of park staff. Having said that, some parts of Florida actually did get a dusting of snow on Christmas Day in 2004; maybe a few more years of climate change might make this wish more realistic.
Fun Spot America Kissimmee
30th December 2011
Fun Spot America is a park that is going places; media reports have indicated that new coasters are on the way, and indeed it was quite crowded when compared with the largely empty Old Town next door. The Kiddie Coaster (#1704) was my sole new credit for the day. Much to my surprise I wasn't the only adult riding independently; four teenagers joined me for a lap, all of whom screamed like two year olds to the amusement of everyone. Following this, I took one quick lap on Power Trip before returning to my car.