About Me

Tired of the mundane and craving an adventure, on Saturday, May 22nd, 2010, I embarked on the ultimate American road trip through all fifty states. After nearly a year and a half on the road, on a budget of less than 50 bucks a day, this is my story...

Florida: Universal's Islands of Adventure

Pharos Lighthouse sends out a bright beam to lead visitors to and from the park's gates each night

Wednesday, ‎October ‎5th
This morning I drove to Orlando, stopping on the way to purchase discounted theme park tickets in nearby Kissimmee.  Now there are lots of little booths/buildings advertising huge discounts, but of course I found it very sketchy, because if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.  However, I wanted to see for myself.  So it was 9am when I arrived in Kissimmee, I found one of the little roofed sales booths and, no surprise, they were not yet open and there was a little hand-written sign reading "Dropping my child off at school, be back in 15 minutes" or some crap to that effect.  The guy isn't even at work yet and he's already lying; ridiculous.  There was another hopeful customer who looked like he'd been waiting in his car for quite some time.  I myself waited 10-15 minutes then said forget it.  I may never be in Orlando with this opportunity again and the clock's ticking.  This missing sales guy doesn't deserve my business.

CityWalk, the Entrance Plaza of Shops Connecting the Parking Lots to the Theme Parks, in Case You Run Out of Ways to Spend Your Money, LOL

Well that was just sales booth number one.  It gets worse.  I stopped at another booth located practically across the street (they're everywhere), which was open.  I happened to get out of my car and approach it just as a couple of foreign tourists walked in before me. They started asking questions about why the tickets are so cheap and the pushy, wiseguy salesman in his thick East Coast accent and attitude to go with it became very rude, cutting them off and pretty much telling them to shut up, he was trying to talk, then he started telling them this thing would only work if they returned the tickets after they were done using them, so on and so forth.  I shouted to the salesman that he was really rude as I walked back to my car and he belligerently shouted right back, attempting to defend his behavior and unethical business.  He kept shouting at me even as I drove away, lol.  What a buffoon.  You can read more about these scams here and here.

Almost There!

I drove to the local AAA office and purchased a 2-day admission pass to Universal Studios (both parks) for $22 off regular price.  I paid a total of $113.99 + tax, but it was worth the peace of mind, knowing I'd be guaranteed to get in, instead of potentially getting busted for illegal activity.  At 10:30 I arrived at the the gate for Universal's Islands of Adventure, paid the $15 parking fee (ouch!) and was finally in, phew!

Port of Entry, the Starting Point for Islands of Adventure

Universal's Islands of Adventure opened in 1999 as part of an expansion of Universal Studios Florida (adjacent), which is now considered a separate park with its own separate fee.  Islands of Adventure's overall theme is that of a journey of exploration, where guests depart from a main port to visit six islands, each having its own distinct theme.  It's hosted approximately 5.9 million guests, ranking #7 among United States parks and #12 worldwide.

Help, the Raptors are Eating Harry!

I was rather hurried, because there was so much to see and so little time, but I still enjoyed myself.  The day looked like this:

~ Passed through Universal CityWalk, (an entrance plaza from the parking lots to the theme parks, lined with entertainment, dining and retail businesses), received a FREE Universal Studios birthday pin at Guest Services, had my admission pass scanned at the gate, entered the park

A Marvel-ous Meet & Greet!

~ Rushed through the Port of Entry - the park's main entrance, home to many shops and services, themed to reflect the crossroads of a Port town

~ A meet and greet style outdoor show starring the various Marvel Comics superhero characters, including Wolverine, Storm, Rogue, Spider-Man and Captain America, as I walked through Marvel Super Hero Island, notable for its unique, comic-book styled architecture, focusing primarily on thrill rides

 Toon Lagoon

~ Made my way through Toon Lagoon, based on the characters of King Features Syndicate and Jay Ward, focusing on water-based rides, and rigged with dozens of interactive water props that squirt at visitors, like water  guns and cannons

~ Entered through the giant doored-gate of Jurassic Park, recreating the "real" Jurassic Park environment from Steven Spielberg's film with the thrill rides and discovery-based exhibits one would find in the "real" Lost World.  Here, I rode River Adventure (only 10 minute wait time, woo-hoo!), 1,900 feet in length, lasting 5 1/2 minutes. Taken from Universal's sister park in California, this is a flume ride beginning with a leisurely boat ride through tropical settings, before being stalked by velociraptors, culminating in an 85 ft. drop to avoid the jaws of a menacing T-Rex, considered by many to be the best end of any flume ride (I admit to screaming a little, lol)!

I Swear I'm Not a Lawyer!

~ Back in Toon Lagoon, I rode Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls, a very wet, themed log flume combined with roller coaster track, based on the 60's cartoon series, which culminates in a 75 ft. drop down one of the steepest water drops ever created (and there are no restraints in the vehicles)!

~ With the two rides they recommend going on first thing in the morning (they fill up later in the day) out of the way, I spontaneously hopped from ride to ride within the different sections of the park, starting with Popeye & Bluto's Bilge-Rat Barges, a 7-minute white-water rapids raft ride themed after the 1960s television series Popeye the Salior, in which the rider twists and turns through rapids, waterfalls and other water hazards to help Popeye save Olive Oyl from the clutches of Bluto.

Who's Hungry?

- Back on Marvel Super Hero Island, I got onto Dr. Doom's Fearfall (only 5-minute wait time, sweet!), which straps you into your seat and lets the tension builds until the countdown reaches zero and you are rocketed skyward, 150 feet into the air at a speed of 40 miles per hour (64 km/h), experiencing up to 4 Gs, then hurled back down faster than the force of gravity itself!

~ The Incredible Hulk Coaster, a green behemoth visible from almost every area of the park, spit me out of the gate from 0 to 40mph in 2 seconds flat, the force equal to that of a jet taking off an aircraft carrier, topping out at 65 mph as I experienced a weightless "zero g" roll through a series of corkscrews, loops and subterranean dips!

Real Props from the Movie!

~ On The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, I was queued through a mock up of the Daily Bugle newspaper (where tidbits of the story you are about to experience are fed to you) onto a 4-D dark ride where, with my 3-D glasses on, I encountered Spider-Man and the Sinister Syndicate appearing to punch, kick and otherwise pummel my car as I swung and soared alongside the web-slinger, careening and crashing through the streets of New York City, scaling skyscrapers and plummeting to the pavement below in a simulated 400-foot free-fall!

~ Caesar salad/cheese pizza combo lunch al fresco at Jurassic Park's Pizza Predatoria

 The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

~ Oohed and ahhed inside the Jurassic Park Discovery Center, a large, interactive, dinosaur-themed museum based on the Visitor Center from the film, featuring a large spiral staircase (just like the one seen in the film) winding past two suspended dinosaur skeletons (actual props from the film!), and on the lower floor several interactive experiences geared towards children.  Of course, I didn't let the fact that I was 29 years old stop me.  In the nursery I placed the egg in an analyzer, and attempted to discover the kind of dinosaur inside, and in the center of the back wall, I got to see several eggs being rotated, and an attendant came to check on them and announced as one of the eggs was starting to hatch!  I also got to test my DNA to see what kind of dinosaur I'd be...ferocious predator or peaceful herbivore.  Result: Don't tick me off!  LOL :P

~ WOW-ed while entering The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the ultimate realization of Rowling's dream, where guests are instantly transported to the land of Harry Potter; the attractions, shops and restaurants complete with snow-covered arches, rooftops, and leaning chimneys, ominous spires and towers of stone, set inside such locations as the Forbidden Forest, Hogsmeade Village and the iconic Hogwarts castle...the atmosphere and sense of depth created by Universal's team of designers is nothing short of astounding

Welcome to Hogsmeade!

~ On Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, I entered through the castle gates inside the towering replica of Hogwarts Castle, making my way down the familiar passageways and corridors of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, visiting iconic locations such as Dumbledore's office, the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom, the Gryffindor common room, and the Room of Requirement, interacting with various characters and props from the Potter series, including a speech from Dumbledore, and directions from Harry, Hermione and Ron, before boarding a "magical bench" for a simulated ride around the outside of the castle, encountering the Whomping Willow, a horde of dementors, and a Quidditch match.  So good (and no wait time) I went on again!

~ Boarded the family-friendly Hippogriff coaster for a training flight over the grounds of Hogwarts castle, spiraling and diving around the pumpkin patch, and swooping past Hagrid's hut, and I almost positive I was the only one on it past the age of 12 without any kids, haha 

~ Entered Hogsmeade, the main area of HP land, approached the huge red barrel of Butterbeer (can't miss it!) and stood in line for the sweet, two-part concoction, tasted and approved by Rowling herself: "The bottom layer is a slightly thickened mixture which tastes like a combination of butterscotch, cream soda and shortbread cookies. Then there's the Butterbeer's head -- a lighter, fluffier, less sweet version of marshmallow fluff, placed on top."  For obvious reasons, Universal is keeping the ingredients classified, but they state it contains REAL sugar (no high fructose corn syrup), and, despite its name, contains no butter or dairy of any kind (vegans and the lactose intolerant rejoice!).  The drink was drawn from a tap, like a beer, and the dense, whipped topping was added from a separate tap; it was served in disposable cups (FREE souvenir!); $3.25 for a 16 oz pour.  I opted for the frozen version ($1 extra), which is the same thing only it contains blended ice and more foam topping.  DEELISH! =D


~ With frozen Butterbeer in hand, I wandered around Hogsmeade, people-watching in the Train Station, getting my park map stamped with an authentic Hogsmeade Owl Postmark at the Owl Post (a real, working post office where one can mail letters and postcards and purchase offical WWHP stamps, stationary and other related merchandise), following shrieking cries to find a squirming Potted Mandrake plant screaming bloody murder within the windows of the Dogweed and Deathcap storefront, browsing Dervish and Banges (the magical supplies and equipment shop featuring Quidditch equipment, Spectrespecs, Remembralls, Hogwarts school uniforms, and The Monster Book of Monsters, which growled at me from inside its cage) and Ollivanders - "Makers of Fine Wands since 382 B.C.," the small dusty shop is filled with wand boxes stacked floor to ceiling, decorated with colors and details from the books and films, where the guest can experience "the wand choosing them," as the wandkeeper asks them a series of questions that narrows down the most suitable wand for the guest.

I Spy Butterbeer! 

~ On Dragon Challenge I chose from a pair of intertwined inverted roller coasters themed to two dragons, one side being Chinese Fireball (60 mph) and the other Hungarian Horntail (55 mph), with a layout in which the two trains share adjacent lift hills, but then traverse two completely unique courses, a two minute and twenty-five second ride duration with five inversions, including a zero-g roll, Cobra roll, two corkscrews and two vertical loops!  Wish I had known that they had two different tracks, guess I need to go back! =)


~ Purchased another Butterbeer (regular this time, not frozen, which was noticeably sweeter) then headed over to The Lost Continent island for The Eighth Voyage of Sinbad Stunt Show, which had me leaving early when I could no longer endure its labored slapstick comedy and lame humor (definitely geared towards kids), albeit the set was quite spectacular, as was all of the scenery and structures within The Lost Continent

Three Broomsticks British Tavern

~ Made my way back to Harry Potter land and enjoyed Pumpkin Juice (mostly apple juice with a little pumpkin puree thrown in and really sweet) and Strawberry-Peanut Butter Ice Cream (meh, I don't know if I bothered to finish the stuff) al fresco at Three Broomsticks rustic British tavern

~ Popped into Zonko's, a colorful joke shop selling silly novelty items, jokes, toys and sweets, like screaming yo-yos, ball-balancing bicycling elephants and nosebleed nougat

~ Took one last look and appreciated the amazing attention to detail given to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and bid farewell the Hogwarts Express train, complete with billowing smoke and iconic whistle signaling its arrival, before journeying on

The Lost Continent

~ Returned to The Lost Continent only to discover Poseidon's Fury Special Effects Show was temporarily closed for undisclosed reasons, snapped a few pictures of the ancient remains of the legends of Atlantis, Sinbad and Merlin, which make up the area's marvelous architecture, and watched in amusement as the unassuming Mystic Fountain spontaneously interacted with passersby (watch out, it sprays!)

The View from Seuss Landing

~ Arrived at Seuss Landing, based on the popular works of popular children's book author Dr. Seuss, characterized by bright colors and playful music, bound to bring out your inner child, reportedly without a single straight line anywhere, even installing palm trees curved by the winds of Hurricane Andrew to continue the theme!

Circus McGurkus Cafe Stoo-pendous!

~ Took in a bird's-eye lay of the land aboard The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride, journeying above the colorful rides and attractions with audio excerpts from Seuss stories, on one of two different tracks to choose from (wish I had known this before, so I could've gone on it twice for the full experience!), and circling around the inside of Circus McGurkus Cafe Stoo-pendous.  To my surprise, this was probably the longest line I waited in the whole day, but fun, nevertheless =)

~ Went for a spin in the dark on The Cat in the Hat, riding a 1000-ft. course on my couch through the pages of Dr. Seuss' best-loved children's book, re-creating it scene for scene.  I ride on it at least twice, never overcoming my fear of the slightly sadistic Thing One and Thing Two characters, lol

~ Dodged water-spitting fish that squirt in time to a musical rhyme on One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish

~ A few go-arounds on the Caro-Seuss-el, featuring imaginative characters from several Seuss storybooks.  The only one not behaving was not a child at all, but one rather tall, 
an adult no less, the operator did protest, "No standing I say!" the adult didn't obey, what a wretched role-model, smacked her head with a bottle...wanted to! =D

~ Explored the maze-like hedges of If I Ran the Zoo, an interactive play zone for children

FREE Birthday Dinner from Captain D's! =D

Content with my list of to-sees complete, I left Islands of Adventure around 7:30, stopping for a FREE deep-fried fish and shrimp birthday dinner, complete with hush puppies and okra, at nearby Captain D's, a super cheap, super unhealthy, somewhat sketchy, cafeteria-style, health code-violating seafood chain, lol.

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