Universal Orlando Summer Trip Report – Part 3

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Picking up where Universal Orlando Trip Report – Part 1 and Part 2 left off, I’m back for the first half of my second day at Universal Orlando Resort. This portion of the trip report focuses mostly on Universal Studios Florida, namely the non-Wizarding World of Harry Potter stuff there.

Since this portion of the trip report lacks photos of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and doesn’t have (many) night or sunset photos, it’s more reliant on my written words. Judging by the ‘average time on page’ anaylticz for past installments, either you all are super-speed readers, or you don’t care so much about my words. I can’t really blame you…between the “jokes” and my lack of proofreading, I’m sure these things are a chore to read. However, so I don’t lose you too quickly, here’s a bit of the greatness to come in this post: the man, the myth, the legend: Christopher Walken; and, a pimple on the buttocks of society, Michael Bay. Okay, so the latter probably doesn’t compel you to read on, but whatever.

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Right from the get-go, I knew it was going to be a good day, because we saw Doc Brown. He even told us about his plans to reclaim the Institute from The Simpsons…

tom-bricker-doc-brown-usf copyThen, right after this photo was taken, disaster. My Nikon D810 and Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 combo came unscrewed from my Blackrapid strap, and crashed to the ground. At first, it seemed like everything was alright. The lens had a crack on the exterior plastic, but it focused and seemed to shoot as normal.

Only upon returning home and viewing the photos on a larger screen did I discover that the lens was focusing correctly in the middle, but the edges were all messed up. There also was error with some mechanism on the camera that gradually presented itself. All told, it was about $800 worth of damage to the two, and I ended up taking photos for the rest of the day with a jacked up lens, most of which had to be trashed. So I apologize for the photo quality here (I’ve supplemented with a few nighttime photos), but it mostly shouldn’t be noticeable in these shots.

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To cheer myself up (actually, I wasn’t upset since, at that point, I thought I had averted disaster), it was time to do Revenge of the Mummy. Actually, I wasn’t all that much looking forward to this, as it replaced my beloved Kongfrontation (so many years as a child, I spent my “vacation allowance” on a Kongfrontation shirt). I understand things change, and maybe my opinion of Kongfrontation is colored by the nostalgia and wonderment of childhood, but it certainly didn’t seem like an attraction in need of replacement to me. Kongfrontation, to me, was pure magic.

Anyway, I can’t hold that against Revenge of the Mummy which is a really…well, really good attraction. For me, there are two things that make Revenge of the Mummy great. First, the obvious–it’s a fun themed roller coaster with great special effects and mild thrills. It has solid variety in the effects utilized, and I think the first half of the ride is technically impressive. The coaster parts don’t do a ton for me one way or the other, but it’s a diverse attraction that should appeal to a variety of guests.

The second, less obvious reason is the central conceit of the attraction, which is unabashedly silly. Now, “silly” probably seems like a fairly meager way to describe an attraction, but I think it’s apt. I’m guessing most guests don’t pick up on the full story here unless they spend a lot of time in line (and looking at the queue “artifacts”), but it’s pretty funny. What I really like is that it’s humorous in a self-aware, almost self-deprecating way. I love self-deprecating humor, and it feels like the attraction show writers said here, “you know what, we can’t really develop a fully coherent and logical story to explain away how this all goes down, so let’s have some fun.” The pre-show has the feel of a mockumentary, and Brendan Fraser’s cup of coffee is arguably the attraction’s MacGuffin that moves the film from beginning to end. Okay, not really at all, but I really want to make some sense of why I love the nonsensical narrative framework of this attraction so much. Really, it defies logical explanation. It’s just awesome, silly fun.

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Next up was Twister… Ride It Out. I know this has been around since I was a kid, but I don’t really remember it. There’s probably good reason for that, because, while enjoyable, it’s not all that memorable considering all of the other attractions at Universal Studios Florida. Don’t get me wrong–it’s fun, it just wouldn’t have compared with other Universal attractions like it back in the day, and now that it is sort of unique (in that those other attractions have been removed), it feels dated.

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The special effects are cool, but my favorite thing about the attraction was Bill Paxton’s absolute indifference to everything. It feels like his contract for the film mandated he do the attraction, which was clearly something he did not want to do. That, coupled with the drama and seriousness he and Helen Hunt tried to give the subject matter just seemed laughable to me. I’ve heard rumors that this is soon to be replaced, so I’m glad I got to do it one last time, but I think it’s time has come and gone.

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We also did E.T. Adventure again.

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…and again.

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…and again. Have I mentioned how awesome E.T. Adventure is? Well, it is. I think we did it 4 or 5 times that day.

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After one of those times, we headed over to Islands of Adventure, mostly for the purpose of eating lunch, I believe.

I had heard a lot of praise about Mythos, especially from the guys over at Parkscope and Theme Park Insider (the readers of which have repeatedly named it the #1 theme park restaurant every year), so I wanted to eat here for lunch.

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Aside from the general, glowing praise, I hadn’t really read much about Mythos, other than that everyone loves it, so I didn’t know what to expect. For whatever reason, I was thinking it would be expensive–perhaps on par with a flagship in-park restaurant at Walt Disney World.

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I was shocked when I saw the menu. The prices were slightly more expensive than a counter service restaurant! Given my expectations, I almost felt like loudly ordering “TWO OF EVERY ANIMAL!” to our server when she arrived, but I managed to contain my excitement.

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I’ll have a full review of the restaurant here at some point, but suffice to say, I was really impressed by more than just the prices. Given the quality of the cuisine, I would call this restaurant not just a good theme park value, but a good real world value. That’s pretty wild, as I don’t think I’d say that about a single Disney restaurant, anywhere. This isn’t a knock on Disney–almost every theme park’s restaurants charge a premium since they have a captive audience. 

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Mythos is the kind of restaurant where, were I not a weird blogger wanting to eat at a variety of places for the sake of content, I would eat every trip. With that said, I think it’s far from the best theme park restaurant in the world strictly in terms of theme and cuisine quality (it wouldn’t make my top 10 or probably even top 20), but once you throw value for money into the equation, it’s an absolute winner that’s near the top of the list.

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After lunch, it was basically back to Universal Studios Florida. I caught part of this parade, or street party, or whatever. I was completely unimpressed.

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Next on the agenda was the Horror Makeup Show. Anything that features dinosaurs in the lobby is a good thing.

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I dialed up the post processing to 11 to make this rather dull prop photo a bit creepier and moodier.

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Same goes for this Hitchcock prop. If you don’t know who this character is, I won’t spoil it for you. (I will make an assumption about your taste in movies, though, and recommend you skip the Transformers section below, lest you risk being offended.)

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This show was nothing short of hilarious. The hosts absolutely carried a show that otherwise might feel woefully behind the times, and there were some laugh out loud funny moments.

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After this, another disaster occurred. Disaster, the attraction, that is.

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Going in, I knew absolutely nothing about this attraction. I was unintentionally ignorant, which probably made the whole experience all that much better. If you haven’t experienced Disaster, and you have a great sense of humor, you might consider retaining that same sense of ignorance by skipping down to the Jaws photo below…

Okay, so Christopher Walken is one of my favorite actors. Not because I love all of his films or roles, but because he has a certain aura about him. It’s something I can’t articulate, but given how many fans there are in the “Cult of Walken” I know I’m not alone in this sentiment. I was shocked to find out that this attraction stars him and features the old subway scene from Earthquake: The Big One.

The multi-scene attraction here is nothing short of brilliant. It’s a different type of attraction that really has no comparison, but each scene does something a little different, and it utilizes a ton of different technologies from the Universal playbook, features guest engagement to great success, and offers a boatload of tongue in cheek/self-deprecating jokes and that trademark Walken humor. The attraction hams it up at some points, and roasts everything from filmmakers like Michael Bay to theme park attractions to Walken, himself. It’s not silly in the way that Revenge of the Mummy is silly, but instead it delivers calculated satire that is ostensibly silly, but under that exterior is offering a biting satire, mostly of action films. What seems ridiculous at first blush is actually really clever.

This is the type of attraction I love, and I feel like many other theme park-goers don’t appreciate. I put it in the same class as Country Bear Jamboree in the Disney parks. Even though the two are altogether dissimilar in terms of delivery, both seem to receive a tepid response from audiences, and I think this is largely because modern theme park guests have been conditioned to turn their minds off when in attractions.

As a result, when something clever, or that requires a bit of thinking to “get” comes along, that attraction is misjudged. In the case of Country Bear Jamboree, the attraction is misconstrued as being about a bunch of bears singing boring country music. In the case of Disaster, it’s a slow walk-through that goes behind the scenes of action movies. In both cases, those judgments reflect a superficial (mis)understanding of the attraction. These summaries totally miss the point for both, as the respective attractions are (very slyly) lampooning the very things that most guests assume are the actual subject of the attraction.

To be sure, there’s nothing wrong with mindless theme park attractions, and I can’t blame guests who complain that Disaster is “too long” or “boring” or “cheesy” or whatever. Theme parks have spent the better part of a generation moving away from thoughtful, slow-building, intelligent attractions, so this is a huge curveball in that regard.

I do implore you, if you have done Disaster before and thought one of those things, that you give it another chance, this time giving it your full attention and really thinking about what’s going on. For my money, it’s one of the best–if not the best–attractions at Universal Studios Florida. Just in case you think I’m crazy, here’s proof that I’m not the only one who thinks it’s underrated.

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I really miss JAWS, but this homage is nice, and I certainly can’t complain about what replaced it.

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To make up for some of the questionable content in this installment, consider this photo from Universal Studios Japan a bit of a peace-offering. By the way, is anyone interested in a trip report from that park?

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Following Disaster, it was time for Terminator 2: 3D. I fondly remember this show, and it’s just as awesome as ever. Really, though, I can’t think of anything Terminator 2 related that isn’t awesome. I really hope the new Terminator movie is awesome (I don’t think that’s a realistic expectation, as its title alone seems to be warning people, “hey, I’m going to suck!”, but I can dream) and Universal decides to do an entire Terminator land. Or entire theme park.

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Next up was Transformers: The Ride 3D. Ahh, Transformers. I’m not exactly a fan of the Transformers films. In fact, I think the term “films” is a bit of a misnomer, but “festering, fly-infested piles of warthog feces thrown on film” doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as well. Likewise, I think “director” Michael Bay is an epidemic slightly better than the Irish Potato Famine.

That might seem a bit harsh since the Irish Potato Famine is estimated to have killed over one million people, but Michael Bay’s Transformers franchise has grossed over $1.3 billion in aggregate, so he has done his part in attempting to murder American cinema, and hundreds of thousands of people have been robbed of their money at his hands. I apologize if you’re a fan of the Transformers franchise…not for what I’ve written here. I’m just sorry for you. 😉 (Please don’t be offended–I enjoy watching The Leprechaun films, so it’s not I’m really one to talk…)

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With all of that said, Transformers: The Ride 3D’s only offense is its building. Plopped almost in the middle of Universal Studios Florida when the park was/is otherwise experiencing a creative renaissance and upping its game in terms of themed entertainment, the building here is a step in the wrong direction, with no easy remedy in the immediate future.

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The attraction, however, is top notch. Loud, fast-paced, mindless action all translate much better to a 5-minute theme park attraction than they do a 90 minute or longer motion picture. I do consider theme park attractions art forms, but I also think weak dialogue, story, and other elements that cripple films–things with which Michael Bay cannot be bothered as his focus is on MOAR ‘SPLSIONS!!1!!–are more forgivable in theme park attractions given the nature of the medium. Transformers: The Ride works because it immerses the guest in the action, and makes you part of the wild ride.

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You don’t worry about story and all that other stuff because you’re having such a blast immersed in the adventure, and the attraction is just the right duration so that you don’t become fatigued with the ridiculousness of the whole thing. I’ve done Transformers: The Ride 3D several times now, and I still have no clue what, exactly, the plot is here. I think the Autobots (good guy robot-cars) are simply fighting back and forth with the Decepticons (bad guy robot-cars) over this thing called an AllSpark, which I presume is like a big spark plug that gives power to the robot-cars, and you’re a new recruit with the Autobots trying to help grab it. Neither side can hang onto it during the fight for too long.

Think of the AllSpark as a football that has been fumbled, and the attraction as the ensuing scramble by different players to recover it; none of them are hands players, so there are a bunch of subsequent fumbles and general chaos. It’s a simple premise, but a simple premise here is probably for the best since the intense action and movement would make something more convoluted difficult to follow. While Transformers: The Ride 3D is definitely not as good as The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, it’s a very good attraction in the same (or similar) style. I think directing theme park attractions might actually be Michael Bay’s calling!

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Assuming I haven’t offended the entirety of my readership with this post (if you like Michael Bay films and/or can’t take a joke, you probably wouldn’t last long reading my posts, anyway), come back later this week for the final installment of this trip report. To catch up if you haven’t read the previous installments, visit my Universal Orlando Summer Trip Report index page.

These photos were all taken by me with my Nikon D810; I used my (broken) Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 Lens for the vast majority of the shots. I also used my MeFoto travel tripod for some of the shots, particularly the Diagon Alley nighttime ones.

To get some more Universal photo ideas, check out my Universal Orlando Resort Photo Gallery.

Share!

I’ll level with you–after not being too active with this blog for a while, I’m trying to kickstart it again and post here on a regular basis. If you enjoy this Universal Orlando Resort trip report, the photos, whatever, I would greatly appreciate it if you’d share it on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, USPS, UPS, FedEx, etc., via the social media buttons on each installment to help spread the word. Reader comments with your feedback, thoughts, etc., are also greatly appreciated!

Your Thoughts…

Do you agree or disagree with any of my thoughts regarding Michael Bay, Christopher Walken, Revenge of the Mummy, etc? Are YOU a Transformers (films) fan? Interested in visiting Universal Orlando Resort? Have any questions or other thoughts? Please share below in the comments!

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18 replies
  1. Nolan Blaze
    Nolan Blaze says:

    About the Kongfrontation, next time you ride Revenge of the Mummy look for the hieroglyphic soldiers carrying banana swords while you’re in the que, and while you’re on the ride, look on the left side of the treasure room and you can see a little statue of king kong. Oh, and while you’re on the rollercoaster part, look up and you might just see the old track from Kongfrontation!

    Reply
  2. Rachelle Beaney
    Rachelle Beaney says:

    Yes please write a trip report from Universal Studios Japan!! We are heading there not next year the year after and would love to hear your thoughts and strategies!

    Reply
  3. Fernando
    Fernando says:

    I find it amazing how you could jump from park to park and still do all the stuff you did! And also how the attractions you did were all far from each other.

    Reply
  4. Laura B.
    Laura B. says:

    I guess I need to make a trip back to the land of Universal. The last time I was there, Jaws, Kongfrontation AND Earthquake were all still operational (though I refused to ride Earthquake that last visit…I’m deathly terrified of earthquakes, and however campy the ride was, it still caused panic attacks the few times I tried it).

    Sadly, Kreacher was definitely not responsible for my camera malfunction. Instead, it was a distinct blackhole resulting in a lack of Pixie Dust at Hollywood Studios last February. My 3-month-old Canon 7D and the Canon 50mm f/1.4 I’d just bought from Cory Disbrow 2 weeks earlier hit the pavement with a crunch as I was headed to Lights, Motors, Action! The camera survived with only minor scuffs and scrapes, but the lens had to go in for repair. I now have a BR tether on all 3 of my cameras. Well worth the $20.

    Reply
  5. Melissa
    Melissa says:

    My camera also broke at Universal! Kreacher (the House Elf on your way into Diagon Ally) clearly broke it, since it fell to it’s death whilst trying to photograph the House Elf. My camera was no where near as nice as yours though; sorry to hear about that.

    As for the Transformers ride, I enjoyed it innitially. And then the ride broke down when we were about halfway through….that seemed to be a frequent occurence during the three days we were there in October.

    We missed out on eating at Mythos (we ate at both Harry Potter themed restaurants as well as a few places on Citywalk), but the food you ordered looks great! I will definitely have to make a stop there next time!

    Reply
    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      So he’s the elf on top of that stack of coins? Good to know! Sorry to hear about your camera, though.

      Assuming Kreacher broke mine, have you had any luck collecting any coin from him to reimburse you? 😉

      Reply
      • Karen M
        Karen M says:

        Kreacher is the elf in the window of the building out in the London waterfront area. He pulls back the curtain and glares every few minutes. The guy on top of the gold coins is a goblin.

        Reply
  6. Valerie
    Valerie says:

    I’m interested in a trip report from Universal Studios Japan! I’d love to hear about it. Also, did you get to see Megatron talk when he was out? I’m not a transformers fan either, but those costumes are incredible! We’ve only seen Optimus Prime out for meet and greets and he’s boring, just kind of recycles the same lines over and over, but I watched these videos:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AndDKFfmV94
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e4gdkt9eo7Y

    Megatron’s just totally making fun people he’s was meeting and it’s hilarious! I think the videos are from Universal Studios Hollywood, I wonder if he does the same in Florida?

    Reply
  7. Darrin Robichaud
    Darrin Robichaud says:

    Great report and pictures as always! I have stayed away from Universal just doing Disney but I think it is time to go back based on your pictures and report. Sorry about your camera and lens. I have a BR strap as well and I use their tether and it works great. It also allows me to keep the camera on the strap and around my neck while on my tripod if I feel there is a chance it may get bumped into. I enjoy your Disney and non Disney reports and pictures and your writing style. Thanks again and keep them coming.

    Reply
  8. Dan Heaton
    Dan Heaton says:

    The overly dramatic way that Bill Paxton says the lines in Twitter makes me laugh every time that I think about it. “The storm has an angry mind of its own…” I’m paraphrasing from memory, but that’s the general idea.

    Reply
    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      It’s an odd combination of terse drama and indifference. Usually, with that level of drama in the dialogue, you think the actor would speak passionately. But there’s none of that in Paxton’s delivery.

      Reply
  9. Kevin
    Kevin says:

    Hey – I’m a fan of the Transformers franchise! (If by franchise you mean the 80’s cartoon. The first movie sucked and I was told by a friend who’s taste I respect that the second and third were worse, so I didn’t see them.)

    I’m very sorry to hear about the lens damage – that’s a sad and expensive mishap with a repair cost close to the used price of the lens. 🙁 I was debating whether a BR strap might work better than my Joby, but I think you effectively scared me off.

    Reply
    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      I take no issue with fans of the original Transformers franchise, toys, and all that. Oddly, I was a child in that timeframe, but it was never my thing. I was totally obsessed with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles–didn’t have time for other toys, I guess!

      I still use the BR strap, so maybe I haven’t learned my lesson, but I REALLY like it. I know there are safety cords and other things that can be attached to avoid the issue I had.

      Reply

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