Best. Surprise. EVAR!: Day 3 – Islands of Adventure

DSC_6371The relaxing day did it’s job, and on Saturday morning we were up-and-at-’em ready to storm the gates for early admission at Islands of Adventure. I focused on getting the kids dressed and ready to go while Miriam made a run to the Concierge Lounge to grab us breakfast we could eat on the go. The CL doesn’t start serving breakfast until 7:30 a.m., and early admission begins at 8:00 a.m., so we were cutting things a bit closer than I would have preferred, but it worked out OK. We took the less-than 10 minute walk to Islands of Adventure, arriving just after the gates had opened.

Compared to our last visit to IoA in October of 2010 (just six months after the Wizarding World of Harry Potter had opened), the crowd was much lighter and easier to maneuver around. We passed through Seuss Landing and made a beeline for Hogwart’s Castle. All four of us got to ride together for the first time. It was virtually a walk-on, and the line really moved too quickly for my taste – the queue is amazingly well-themed, and we didn’t really get a chance to take it all in. But the ride was as fantastic as I remembered it.

DSC_6351Our next stop was Ollivander’s Wand Shop. This was what Jonathan was looking forward to more than anything else about the entire trip. He’s been reading the books with Miriam at bedtime, and couldn’t wait to have his wand choose him. We prepared him for the possibility that he might not be chosen, explaining that only one person gets picked for each show. And after the minor meltdown that ensued at the though of that possibility, we assured him that we’d keep getting back in line and going through it again until he did get selected. We did do everything we could to make him a likely candidate for selection – as we stood in line, he changed into his Harry Potter Halloween costume. He put on dress shirt and I tied his Hogwart’s tie for him. He slipped on his Hogwart’s robes and Mikaela put a lightning bolt scar on his forehead with makeup.

The costume worked, and Jon was asked to come forward so his wand could choose him. He was completely in awe of the whole experience, and was grinning about it for the rest of the DSC_6367day. The whole experience was MUCH more pleasant than it had been with Mikaela three years ago. The queue was much shorter this time (I thought we were going to melt in line last time), the room in the Wand Shop felt less crowded. And though “Ollivander” last time more looked the part, the guy playing the part this time really did a terrific job. We felt like the show itself was better this time.

Next, we ducked into the Hogshead Tavern for a butterbeer break in the shade and air conditioning. We were determined to keep the kids better hydrated this trip. I know I’ve mentioned it on the podcast before, but ducking inside the Hogshead for a butterbeer is my favorite WWoHP tip. The line at the butterbeer cart out in walkway is ALWAYS long, and usually right in the sun. You can get your butterbeer faster and more comfortably (and be entertained by the animatronic Hogshead) inside the Tavern. Fortified by our butterbeer, IMG_0640Mikaela and I headed for Dragon Challenge (which we’d missed out on riding three years ago, because she was about 1/8″ too short). We enjoyed Dragon Challenge – we’ve ridden other inverted roller coasters, and we agreed that it was fun and offered a good thrill, but was a bit rough for an inverted coaster. Meanwhile, Jonathan and Miriam did some shopping (including picking up a souvenir keychain for Jon and a birthday present to stash away and give to Mikaela in a couple of weeks).

We reunited, and the kids and I rode Flight of the Hippogriff. It’s a pretty basic roller coaster, though the Buckbeak animatronic is very well done. I noticed again that the coaster was really rough – Jon actually thought it was a wooden coaster, like the very rough Timberwolf at World’s of Fun. I think I would probably skip it next time – there’s not much to the ride to make it worth the discomfort.

At this point, we were ready to move on to the rest of the park, and Superhero Island was next. First, Mikaela and I rode The Hulk (another one that she missed riding last time by about 1/8″). Hulk is a terrific ride – very fast, great loops, and a longer ride than most looping high-speed coasters. We liked it better than Dragon Challenge. We followed that by going to ride Spider-Man – an attraction that I’ve been looking forward to for three years. Last time we were at IoA, we got in line for Spider-Man and Mikaela got spooked by Green Goblin’s echoing maniacal laughter. This time, we all rode, and we were blown away. Miriam and I agreed that Spider-Man may be the best attraction at IoA – even better than Dragon Challenge. The 3D effects are incredibly well done (the digital upgrades to this ride really paid off).

DSC_6380With the combination of early admission, low crowds and our unlimited ExpressPasses, we had ridden what we wanted to in the Wizarding World and Superhero islands and were heading for Jurassic Park by 11 a.m. Along the way, we made a pit stop at Toon Lagoon (side note: I found Toon Lagoon to be the one part of the park that was very confusing to navigate). Last time we were at IoA, Ripsaw Falls was closed for refurbishment. Since we had to walk past it on the way to Jurassic Park anyway, I suggested we go ahead and ride it now. Miriam decided to pass. I probably should have followed suit. While I enjoyed the Dudley Dooright theming, I found the ride vehicle extremely uncomfortable. And that was before the ride started, and I discovered just what they mean when they say that you will get wet on this ride. Generally speaking, I don’t mind getting we on water rides – that’s pretty much the point. And it was a hot day, I figured a little water would feel good.
Um, I have taken showers during which I didn’t get as wet as I got riding Ripsaw Falls! They are NOT kidding when they warn you that you’ll get wet. Luckily, I remembered to put my cell phone in the handy-dandy ziplock bag I’d brought along for just that purpose. Our various paper ticket media, cash, etc. that were in my lanyard holder did not fare as well.

Now sopping wet (and too DISDad frugal to pay $5 for a “people dryer” session) we made our way to Jurassic Park. I got some time to hang in the breeze to dry off while Mikaela and Jon rode Pteranadon Flyers. The kids thought it gave them a great view of the park (they especially liked the view of Hogwart’s Castle). I don’t think I would even attempt having them ride it if the park is busier. It doesn’t take ExpressPass and is incredibly slow-loading for a very short ride. But I’m glad they got to experience it while they were still within the rather strict height parameters (Even Miriam was too tall to ride). After Pteranadon Flyers, we attempted to grab some lunch across the way at Thunder Falls across the way. But the kids couldn’t find anything on the menu that sounded good and were getting a bit whiny about it. So we shifted gears. We decided to ride Jurassic Park, then find a sit-down meal for lunch. Jurassic Park is a well-done ride. There are some excellent animatronics. Jonathan really loved the dinosaurs, though the crate-dropping effect freaked him out a bit.

IMG_0644The menu that was most inviting (and the restaurant that I’d heard the most positive feedback about) was Confisco’s. It was even more attractive to us than Mythos, as the Mythos menu seemed awfully heavy on the pork, which my wife and kids don’t eat. Though it was a long walk around to Confisco’s, it was definitely the right choice. Getting everyone a chance to sit down and relax in the air conditioned restaurant was much better than managing the hustle of carrying trays in a counter-service location. The service was somewhat disappointing – it was VERY slow. But the food was excellent. We all enjoyed what we ordered. I had the Pad Thai. It was initially a bit bland, until I recognized the Sriracha sauce dotted around the plate as decoration, which spiced the dish up nicely when mixed in. Jon loved his cheese pizza (this would become a recurring theme). Mikaela liked her pasta dish and Miriam made a meal of the hummus appetizer. The kids had ice cream for dessert and when we were done we were all in much better moods.

After lunch, I had to admit that my feet were a mess. I’d made a bad footwear decision, wearing my new Crocs that had arrived later than planned. I had two definite blisters already, and another that appeared to be just starting. We settled on splitting up to check out one last thing, then head back to the resort. Jon and Miriam went to check out the Jurassic Park playground for a bit, while Mikaela and I went for a second ride on Forbidden Journey. We met back up with them at the Mystic Fountain, which they’d had some fun playing with on our way in as well. Even though it was only about 3:00 p.m. at this point, we decided that we’d done what we wanted to do at Island of Adventure, and in any case we were all ready for down time. So we made our way to the dock to take the boat back to the Royal Pacific.

IMG_0646The rest of the day/evening we just took it easy and relaxed. We got dinner at the hotel at Jake’s American Café. Our waiter, “Wheels,” was very friendly. The meal wasn’t really anything special – the highlight was a craft beer flight (you know how I love a flight). After dinner, we decided to make it an early evening. Back up at the room, we sat down together and worked out our plan for the next morning at Universal Studios Theme park.

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