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Ah, the First day of vacation: the chance to sleep late, relax, and just unwind; far from the troubles of everyday life. 


Yeah, that’s an interesting theory.


The alarm went off at around 7:00 AM.  The specific time, I couldn’t tell you; my mind tends to be a little hazy at that time of day.  This is the time of day where I calculate how much extra time I can spend in bed if I forgo some of the usual morning routine.  No shower?  Extra fifteen minutes in bed.  No breakfast?  Another ten minutes.  Brushing teeth?  Hell, I’ve got Trident; another five minutes.  Unfortunately, when traveling with others, you have to take certain steps to make yourself  “socially presentable.”  And, unfortunately again, this comes at the expense of precious sleep.


And why exactly would I be waking up at this ungodly hour, when I’m supposed to be on vacation?  Because we have to catch the shuttle bus.  Remember when I said we didn’t need to rent a car, and thought it would work out for the best?  Sigh.


The shuttle from the hotel to the various theme parks ran on a very sparse schedule.  The Disney parks got the royal treatment, and had about four or five times to choose from, so you could get up early or sleep later, depending on when you wanted to go.  The other parks?  Not so lucky.


For the first day, we decided to go to Universal Studios.  This was, in part, my idea, since Universal was my least favorite park last year.  I figured we may as well do it first.  Not that I hate Universal, it just lacks some of the more redeeming qualities of the other parks.


One of the more glaring downsides of Universal was that the only shuttle from the hotel left at 8:00 AM.  Ugh.  Obviously, at that time of day, a sit down breakfast is out of the question.  So for my most important meal for the day, I went with a little bottle of Tropicana Fruit Smoothie; mostly due to the very small selection of products that didn’t involve being fried in butter or shrink wrapped.  The smoothie wasn’t filling or nutritious enough to be considered a diet shake, like Slim Fast.  It also didn’t have enough vitamins and fiber to be considered an old people shake, like Ensure.  It was good, basically diluted yogurt, but it really wasn’t very filling at all.  I don’t know what I was expecting, it was a little bottle; and judging by the nutritional facts, it would keep me full until, approximately, the end of the bus ride.  And it wasn’t that cheap either it… uh, wait.  This isn’t interesting at all.  I’m sorry.


The 8:00 AM ride to the park was about fifteen minutes long, and the park opened at 9:00.  Those of you who have a more solid background in mathematics might be seeing the somewhat significant problem about now. 


We wound up waiting in line outside the park for about forty minutes.  Then, promptly at 9:00 AM, it rained.  I am not joking.  Nine o’clock and 00/00 seconds on the dot. 





I had to restrain myself from turning around,  walking to the airport, and going home.


Fortunately, the rain was very light and didn’t last very long.  The timing of the shower was still unsettling, given the weather in Florida’s love / HATE relationship with me.


Universal’s layout is fairly simple.  It is basically a large ring, surrounding some man made body of water.  Actually, pretty much all the parks have one distinct landmark in the center.  Disney World has the castle, both Universal parks have a lake, MGM Studios has a giant hat (?), and Sea World has a monstrous lake.  The more specific organization of the parks varied; the Universal parks were laid out very well, and Disney World was also easy to get around in.  MGM’s layout wasn’t so much confusing as it was aggravating.  It seemed no matter how well you planned your route, you wound up doing a ton of backtracking to get around the many dead ends.  Sea World, oh God, that place is a mess.  Nothing is in any logical order or location.  They just took all the rides, attractions, and gift shops, shook them up, and sprinkled them randomly in the park.  But I’ll get into that later.  Not later in this article; later as in, "At another time."


I seem to have gotten a bit off track.  Had I written some sort of outline, I could have easily seen where I am in terms of the storytelling.  I hate outlines though; they’re just way too structured.  Which really is like saying you hate ice because it's too cold, so I should clarify that I am more at odds with the rigidity of outlines.  They think they’re better than other forms of writing because they are the most organized.  Outlines are pricks.


Getting back to the actual point (Universal Studios,) the beginning of the day was possibly the best part.  Not the rain, what happened after that.  This is because the beginning is when we went on the attractions that were new since last year.


The first of the new attractions was Jimmy Neutron’s Nicktoons Blast.  I really don’t like Jimmy Neutron.  Nearly all of the characters are blatant rip offs of Rugrats characters.  I don’t like Rugrats anymore, either.  It used to be really good; then it started winning Emmys, Cablevision awards, and such.  After that, it became self aware.  Then it got uninteresting in its weak attempts to be entertaining and relevant.  Sort of like this site.


The Jimmy Neutron ride replaced the Flintstones ride, which really is no loss.  I never liked the Flintstones.  Or the Jetsons, for that matter.  Although I did like “The Jetsons Meet the Flintstones” movie.  Funny how that works out.  I also thought they were called “The Flinstones” until MS Word’s scribbly red line informed me that that is incorrect. 


So they took a ride based on characters I don’t like, and replaced it with a ride based on characters I don’t like.  The new ride itself was better than the old one.  It was still essentially the same “sit in your seat and watch a video while your chair shakes” kind of ride.  However, the Jimmy Neutron ride had cameos by Ren and Stimpy.  Advantage:  Jimmy Neutron.


The slime fountain was the same as usual: uninteresting.  But I took a picture of it, so if I don't include it, I will feel like I wasted a picture that could have been better used to capture something more interesting. 


The next new attraction was right across the street.  Or path; whatever the roads inside a theme park are considered.


What used to be there was the Alfred Hitchcock attraction.  This was a hit or miss experience.  In the waiting area were props from his movies, which were interesting, since Hitchcock’s movies were great.  The attraction itself was divided into two parts.  First was a 3-D movie based on “The Birds.”  It sounds stupid, but having the psychotic birds faux-flying all around you was pretty creepy.  And aggravating.  The second part of the attraction was part of the set from the movie “Psycho.”  Audience members were picked to re-enact certain scenes from the movie.  I hate attractions like this.  Poorly acting out the scenes may bring no end of hilarity to your friends and family, but to everyone else you just look like a jackass.  Have your pictures taken now, while you are in the spotlight.  After your fleeting moment of minor fame, you go right back to being one of us.  Except with slightly less bitterness.


And I’m getting pretty sick of using the term “attraction.”  Granted, it is somewhat inaccurate to call them rides, since most of them don’t involve riding on anything.  But saying attraction so much is both annoying to you and me, and it is a lot more letters to type.  So for the rest of the Universal tale, and any other time it may seem appropriate, substitute “attraction” for the word “ride” when it appears.


So I guess I can understand why the Hitchcock ride would be replaced.


Especially when you consider what it was replaced with: Shrek 4-D.



Since Shrek was one of Universal’s biggest hits in a long time, it was rather obvious a ride would be built around it.  And it seemed rather obvious that the ride would be a big attraction.  Dammit.  I mean ride.


When we got to the ride, it was still very early in the day.  As a result, the line wasn’t bad.  Later on in the day, however, the line was ridiculous.  There was over an hour and a half wait, which is a common wait time for big name, marquee rides like Space Mountain.  What makes the wait time extra ridiculous is that Shrek holds hundreds of people at a time, so even a long line should run through it fairly quickly.  So combine the fact that the ride goes through people quickly, and the fact that the line was that long, it must mean that thousands of people must have been waiting on line.  Either that, or the posted wait time was inaccurate.  But that isn’t nearly as dramatic or interesting as the first theory, so we’re sticking with that.  Thousands!


While waiting on line, there are TVs everywhere playing the movie (Shrek.)  That’s a good idea for a couple of reasons.  First, it makes the time pass much more smoothly, since there is something to distract you.  Second, it’s better than talking to the people you are with.  The downside is that they only play the last ten minutes of the movie.  This makes sense, since it shows you where the movie left off, and the ride will continue the story.  The unfortunate aspect is that if you do wind up being on line for a while, along with the thousands of others, you will keep seeing the same scenes, over and over.  So by the time you actually get into the ride, you are sick to death of the movie, and want absolutely nothing to do with it.  So guess what you get to do?  Go on a ride and get another hearty serving of Shrek.



After the line comes the part that all the rides at Universal seem to have, an introduction area.  The introductions serve a variety of purposes, although each ride varies in how well it succeeds in the most important area, entertainment.  They all do a good job of another fairly important purpose, distracting you and killing time.  On the plus side, you’re not waiting on line anymore; on the negative side, you’re not on the ride.  Instead, you’re stuck in ride limbo.  Amusement park purgatory. 


The ride itself was pretty good.  The “4-D” refers to the aspects of the ride such as seat vibration, smells, mist, etc.  It goes beyond the normal 3-D of sight, sound, and… whatever the third “D” is.


From Shrek’s entertaining introduction, we move to the opposite end of the spectrum.  T2: The Ride’s intro is positively insufferable.  Not that my opinion of the intro represents my feelings on the ride itself.  The intro, however, pushes the limit on what is acceptable to make paying customers sit through.


The crowd enters a large room with multiple large monitors at one end.  Presumably, you will be watching a video; you will, however, be standing there presuming for a while.  Most of the rides get you off the line, and get the introduction started fairly quickly.  T2, well, T2 is a rebel.  It’s not hip to the whole “pleasing the customer” scene.  I can sympathize with that.  I hate customers, unless I am in the unfortunate situation of actually being one.  I still hate all of the other customers; but at the same time, give me my God damned money’s worth.


So the crowd stands there for about twenty minutes, anticipating that at any moment the ride will begin.  Anticipating… Anticipating… Anticipating…  Then, it starts.  And it’s terrible.


Eventually, the video begins.  It gives the background of Cyberdyne Systems, which is the company that results in SkyNet, which results in the Terminators, which results in nuclear holocaust, which results in the movies.  Possibly not in that order.  The video is meant to be very tongue in cheek, since it keeps talking about the great future the company can offer, when we really know what will happen.  What they fail to remember is that when keeping your tongue in cheek, don’t bite your lip.  Or something like that.  The video winds up being a little too serious, and a little too boring.


Suddenly, the heroes of T2, Sarah and John Connor, interrupt the broadcast.  They proceed to tell us how SkyNet will result in an apocalyptic future.  This is told to us in a painfully overacted fashion.  Now as I think I said in the Silent Night, Deadly Night 2 review, overacting can be a wonderful thing if done properly.  T2 was not done properly, just overdone. 


The acting isn’t the main downfall of the ride, the size of the video screens are.  The screens result in the presentation of a huge version of Edward Furlong’s ghoulish face being forced on the audience for far too long.



The next two rides, Twister and Earthquake are essentially the same thing.  The majority of Twister involves watching a fake tornado wreck a fake town.  The majority of Earthquake involves watching a fake earthquake wreck a fake subway station.  The common special effects are used, such as fire and large amounts of water rushing around. 



The line for Twister features a replica (in case you were wondering, the cow above is not alive) cow.  When a button is pressed it makes loud noises and plays, if I recall correctly, lines from the movie.  Or maybe it just said "Moo."  That's not very cinematic, though, so I am pretty sure it was movie effects.



Earthquake is far more interesting, since the action happens on both sides of you, and you are much closer to the action.  As opposed to Twister, which is enjoyable enough, but the excitement is sterilized by how far away you are from the action.  Both rides are fun, but nothing ground breaking.  Actually, I guess they would be considered ground breaking.  Ha ha ha.  …..



The ET ride was the same as last time, except with a MUCH longer line.  And this time he said my name, which was a cause for much concern last time, when his announcement of our names was conspicuously absent.  They make such a big deal over telling your name to the ET person, and give you this passport with your information on it.  I was expecting a firm hand shake, and an eloquently stated, “Thank you Robb.”  Clearly annunciated, and calmly paced.  Instead I was met with, “Thank yew steventhomassuzyrobchristy.”  He didn’t mention Amy’s name, but that is because she’s a xenophobe.


There’s nothing much to say about Back to the Future: The Ride.  It’s depressing how badly it has aged.



The biggest letdown of the day was that the Jaws ride was closed.  This is definitely my favorite part of the park, and considering how weak the day was turning out to be, this didn’t help matters one bit.  And what the hell is “Seasonal Maintenance” anyway?  Florida doesn’t have seasons.  Unless the shark pops out of the water wearing a Santa hat and spinning a dreidel when it re-opens, I’m not buying it.




The second biggest letdown was King Kong being closed.  This wasn’t a shock, since I knew that it got closed down; it still was depressing, since it was one of my all time favorite rides. 



Even more depressing is the fact that in its place, a ride based on the movie “The Mummy” is being built.  A movie that might have made a good episode of “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles,” but should not have been made into two major motion pictures and a spin-off.  Bah.



Despite all of the great possibilities, they still can’t do anything decent with Ghostbusters.  It boggles the mind.  Instead, they have an X-Treme Ghostbusters live action show, presumably involving singing and dancing.  I didn’t stick around to witness it, so I can’t give specifics.  Sorry.




The Curious George area was completely closed off.  It was undergoing “set enhancements,” which may or may not involve more foam ball firing guns.  That is just a theory, I have no proof.  It is a shame this was closed, since the sheer chaos this area offers could have provided a jarring interruption into this rather blasé day.




Despite all of the rain problems I had last year, I can’t tell which visit was better.  Shrek was a nice addition, but the loss of Jaws, King Kong, and Curious George was near tragic.   And the fact that Beetlejuice's Graveyard Revue still exists really didn't help matters.



Leaving the park through the City Walk, I came upon a booth that prominently displayed a teddy bear hard at work, churning a machine filled with its own innards.  Somehow, it seemed like the perfect punctuation to the day’s events. 



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