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Skold family annual trip 2018

Discussion in 'Universal Orlando' started by Skold, Jun 7, 2018.

  1. Skold

    Skold Rookie

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    Aight, I'm doing a trip report. I swear I remember Brian or someone wanting more reports too, so here goes.

    We just got back from a 14-day trip, so lots to cover. 7th trip in 5 years with APs.

    I think, rather than do the diary thing along with food pics, I'll do a few posts (as I have time) about the different things we did.

    Such as:
    • Hotels (we did a split stay at CBBR and RPR)
    • The parks (USF and IOA seem like one to me now with the Hogwarts Express)
    • Volcano Bay (we did two days there; the first was the perfect rope drop)
    • Animal Kingdom (another perfect rope drop, I tell you!)
    • EPCOT (ran into some serious rope drop issues)
    • Restaurants (including watching Stanley Cup finals at NBC)
    • Shows (first time seeing Blue Man; Caring for Giants)
    • Progress reports on lagoon, HP coaster, Mummy lockers, parking deck weirdness. No real news here, just some things I saw.
    • My high score on MIB! (this will likely not be one post)
    • Tricks and tips for using ponchos
    • The Publix on Dr. Phillips Rd.
    • Jai Alai vs. the NBC IPA flight
    • Popeye vs. Kali
    • Why so many donuts, and are Toothsome shakes not as good these days?
    • Is a hotdog a sandwich?
    Sounds exciting! I have to go to my 2nd day back at work tomorrow, so sleep now. I'll try to get the first one in at lunch.
     
  2. Skold

    Skold Rookie

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    Man, with work and the Caps winning the Cup, I've had less time than I thought. Here goes!

    We did arrival day + 3 at USF/IOA. Then, Sunday was VB; Memorial Day no parks; a mix and mash of parks and a 2nd VB day on Friday.

    So, Volcano Bay:
    • Our first rope drop was perfection.
    • We arrived at 7:46 for a 8:00 EPH rope drop.
    • It was a very overcast day with forecast for rain. Turns out that this is the time to do VB.
    • All tapstiles had less than 4 peeps.
    • Once in, the lockers behind Tawhana Tubes are key. Everyone hits the Marketplace lockers; go right past them.
    • Even after getting a locker, we were second in line for Krakatau (the coaster). Awesome ride as we all know - both days, we asked the unload TM if we could ride again, and we did. BAM!
    • Fearless River now has life vests instead of tubes. This was a GREAT decision! You can go through so many ways ( my fav is the feet first back stroke). Fun fun fun. I'm all aboard the life vest decision.
    • Bars claim that they open @ 10:00. This is untrue; they start getting poop ready @ 10:00. I ran into 4 "change the keg" situations in 2 days. Not what I'm paying for.
    • If you're looking for a minute and the kid needs action: Blue boat oversees the tubes; red boat has easy access to wave pool beach.
    • Vol is great; does not start until at least 10:00
    • Second rope drop (Friday, nice weather) was 20 people deep in each line
    • Get into the two lines in front the garden/plant thing - no one seems to get that you can slide into this line
    • Our second rope drop was also great. We got way ahead of people by not using the Marketplace locker bay.
    • They let us go through Krakatua twice even though there was a line!
    • Red Boat bar is the way to go.
    [​IMG]
     

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  3. JoeCamel

    JoeCamel Premium Member

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    A TR I can use! Thanks for the tips :drool: Looking forward to your hotel reports.
     
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  4. Andysol

    Andysol Veteran Member

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    Overall rating of VB? (Have you been to TL and BB?). Also what time did y’all bail out of there? Once the lines build I’ve found hopping over the the dry parks using EP is a plus.
    And did you get a chance to snag one of the free “cabanas” or were they still under construction when you went?
     
  5. Skold

    Skold Rookie

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    I have not been to TL or BB, but I love VB. And I don't really like water parks that much.

    We bailed around 1:00 each day. Ate lunch, did the rivers and got out. Crowds got crazy around that time on the nice, sunny day.

    The free cabanas were finished but we did not use them. They are way in the back of the beach, and I am not a fan of how they have the lounge chairs laid out in 40-chair wide rows. I do not want to lay down that close to a stranger in a speedo, and would much rather hit the bars! :grin: :cheers:
     
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  6. Ridgepole

    Ridgepole Member

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    Wondering since you were at RP, anything going on at the old Toup Chop?
     
  7. Skold

    Skold Rookie

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    Just vacant as far as I saw.
     
  8. Skold

    Skold Rookie

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    Quick addition to my Volcano Bay report:

    We did all slides except for Ko'okiri last year; this time we hit them all including that one. (It's the red straight down drop slide, that the Serpentine Slide operators say is more tame).

    So, Red slide: a big MEH :sleep:. I wrote about the serpentine slides last year (Volcano Bay: Photos & Reviews | Page 3 | Inside Universal Forums) and they are way better than the straight drop. For all three, the biggest thrill is standing on that damn trap door, wondering when will it flip! But for Red (aka Ko'okiri) it is just a big grey wall of water until you land 2 seconds later. I much prefer the other two. The bright side is, though, that my 11 year-old insisted on doing this over and over after bailing on the other slides last year. So, he liked it.

    Reminds me of another thing I forgot to mention: hitting EPH at rope drop and leaving by 1:00 means no lines, and we never had to tap in for anything. A good park plan is always better than trying to get a low-crowd day.*

    *this will come up again in my reports :rock:
     
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  9. Skold

    Skold Rookie

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    Sure! Let's do that now!

    We did 11 days at CBBR and 3 at RPR. This was our 4th time at CBBR, after staying off-site for a few years. Someone here has said a few times (I think it was @Mad Dog) that once you stay on-site you will never go back. That happened. In the last 3 years, we've been in Americana right next to the main elevator, Starlight, and Bayside (I'm convinced we were the first paying family in that room). When I made the reservation over the phone, I made a request for Americana or Continental.*

    *I want an indoor hallway, and the two new CBBR towers are way too far away from the bus stop.

    So, the woman who checked us in did not see any requests, but gave us our best room ever in all of our CBBR stays. Last room in the first block of Americana. I want to recommend this to everyone, but don't screw me out of these rooms. I even made script for you: "Americana close to elevator bays unless Skold has a reservation here". Do that.

    In addition to being right by the bus, the first elevator bay (2nd in the tower?) lets you out right by the entrance to Hideaway/lazy river. Also, laundry on the 5th floor for those you (like us) who stay for longer than we have clothes for.

    CBBR vs RPR

    CBBR

    • My touring plan is about hitting the parks early, taking a nap/pool break from 1 - 4, early dinner. This affects how nice you think your hotel is.
    • CBBR buses are always there. Water taxis are more fun and scenic, but I saw more waits at RPR. Water taxis security check point is better and faster, no doubt, but what good is that if I'm standing there for 15 minutes waiting for the next boat.
    • We love the themeing of CBBR.
    • On Memorial Day (our "no park" day) we did Galaxy Bowling. Rope drop that poop @ 12 on holidays btw. Eh, its bowling, but i like the hour limit rather than "games played" and they do have some good beers to deliver.
    • The lazy river at CBBR is the bestest. I mentioned earlier how I don't like water so much, but it is so easy to get a table and grab a draft beer @ the Hideaway while your family has fun.
    • Atomic Tonic on the other side has always has better service for some reason, and that pool has the obligatory hotel water slide.
    RPR
    • So following the path to destruction ---> offsite ---> CBBR --- > Express Pass
    • We pull up, get EP and parking sorted out no prob.
    • At 3:00 I texted to get status and room is ready.
    • They insist on taking my luggage. Type 1 diabetic here, and that is a big NO. I had to argue with people to take my own bags up to my room. Maybe I'm not as fancy as most RPR guests, but this put a big WTF on this stay. Just want to carry my own bags. * edit to add: insulin and poop
    • Room was great, much more spacious than CBBR.
    • Elevators way more crowded. Turns out, only one elevator bank per tower.
    • Kid loved the splash pad @ the pool
    • So here's a thing my uncouth self asks: why can i not just sit at a poolside table? Well you can but you gotta order. Fine, I wanted Jai Alai anyway. All taps are out. I'm not kidding, no draft beers.. So now I pay more for a canned Jai Alai than I did at the Publix down the street for 6 of them earlier that day.
    • The entry and lobby of PR are absolutely gorgeous.
    • ^^ Cannot stress this enough!
    • Express Pass: never had it before so we used it to see all the different EP queues. Only ones worth a poop are FJ (which we saw when you used to be to be able to "tour" it), Simpsons, F&F, Spidey, Transformers maybe. Most of them are just hallways (looking at you MIB, Kong, Gringotts, Fallon, Minions, Hulk).
    • I was hoping for Polynesian Resort vibe, which the lobby definitely has and is lovely and grandiose, but the it falls flat.
    • Ha my wife just reminded me of the thing that drove me bonkers: placard says Ice and Elevators to the right; the ice is actually top te left in the oddest ice vending machine room i h ave ever seen.
    • My Advice: go to dinner at Jake's , but don't book here.
    Final Verdict
    Express Pass is great but completely unnecessary if you rope drop and plan your day out right.
     
    Last edited: Jun 9, 2018
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  10. JoeCamel

    JoeCamel Premium Member

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    Thank you! I mostly agree but had a different experience at RPR and am willing to walk at CBBR for the volcano view. Probably the reason they have all the different hotels.
     
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  11. Mad Dog

    Mad Dog Premium Member

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    Great reviews. Waiting for more. And, thanks for the call out. Yes, I sincerely believe that once you stay on site you will never go back. The leisurely, relaxing, easy to get around, no planning needed atmosphere is really what separates Universal from WDW for me. The parks are equal in my view, but the Universal on site experience is, by far, superior.....As to RPR, I've stayed there twice for long stays, but always carried my own bags in without trouble. But, as hotel resorts go, I actually like Sapphire & CBBR slightly better than RPR, EXCEPT for the Express pass. So, if the room price was equal, and no Express existed, RPR would be number three of those resorts for me. And, of course, Portofino is our number one. But Portofino is more an adults oriented resort and just not a great fit for families with kids, since it's atmosphere is so subdued.....And yes, you are right that you can do well with the touring if you have a good understanding of when the lines will be shortest, avoid mid afternoon (go to the pools, it's too hot then anyway) and do the early entrance. That's what we do when we sometimes split our stay between the hotel classifications. Universal's lines are shorter than WDW, their newer attractions have better capacity than WDW new attractions overall, and Universal goes all in on "single rider" lines that can really help on a busy day.....Note: Love the pools, bars, and lazy river at CBBR. And that 1950's/1960's neon atmosphere, especially at night. And, just about always have seen 'two buses' waiting for passengers at CBBR. We have never waited, not even once.
     
    Last edited: Jun 9, 2018
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  12. Ridgepole

    Ridgepole Member

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    Never have had bags issue at RP. Never a beer issue at Bula. Guess I've been lucky. In the morning I usually walk to the parks, or pedicab if my feet hurt. Walk is under 10 minutes easy.
     
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  13. Skold

    Skold Rookie

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    Yeah there's no doubt that I was extremely unlucky at Bula, but it did just add to all the weirdness that we encountered. And I should have been more clear about the bags - Bag Service has to transfer it if you use a luggage cart (which we did - 3 suitcases, two boxes of dry food, and a cooler).
     
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  14. Skold

    Skold Rookie

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    So, Disney!

    We did two WDW days. DAK is by far our favorite WDW park and it is not even close, so I originally had both days there (and do not get me started on those "half day park" people lol).

    Then, Disney made every day for the last half of May and all of June DAK EMH morning days. This pisses me off to no end. I have to book my dinner 180 days out, books rides 30 days out, and they just do this crap? I said before how important that park planing is, and it is more so at WDW because of this FP+ nonsense, then they do crap like this. As an important point for making your park touring plan, do not go to WDW parks that have EMH. Disney is just funneling thousands of people who have no idea what they are doing to those parks. Avoid them.

    So, DHS is a no go because it has 4 rides open, and we did MK two years ago. E.P.C.O.T.! Or "Epcot", now. I have such nostalgia for this park. Commincore, World of Motion, Horizons. I got goose bumps just typing that. Last visit was five years ago, so let's see Frozen Ever After, new Mission Space stuff, and new American Adventure.

    Disney's Animal Kingdom
    This rope drop will go down in my mind as the best planning I ever did. I want a trophy for this.

    I wanted to make sure to do Flight of Passage, and every other ride except Dino spinner and Dino MouseTrap (lol!). Rivers of Light was important too, but I did not want to burn a FP+ on this. 30 days out, I ended up with FP+ for Safari @ 9:15, Everest @ 10:15, and Navi River Journey @ 1:15. The important thing here is to realize that, because of Disney making everyone book 3 FP's, the 4th day-of FP+ pickings are slim. But that's all you got.

    Park opens at 8:00 and we arrived to the parking gate at 6:36. The attendant waved us in for free! Is this a regular thing? No idea, but it sure was "magical". :grin:

    I was worried that our Magic Bands from 2014 might not work, but there is NO WAY to test this. I asked. I had our cards from 2013 in my pocket for backup.

    MBs worked!

    We're through the tapstiles at 7:34 (don't call me OCD dammit!) and people are running for Pandora. We laughed, jogged a few times, but in the end realized that we were still near the front. If you don't get there at least 75 minutes before rope-drop, prepare to throw elbows.

    Not going to review the ride, but it is awesome. All the gushing that people do about its legit. It is great.

    We were out of FoP by 8:04 and the line was 130 minutes. I love to point out that this is not 1 hour and 30 minutes. :freak:

    So, even though we had NRJ FP+ for later, it had a 5 minute wait so we did it. Lots of people giving a lots of poop about this ride, but I liked it. I also like F&F okay, and this is similar in that it's just a bunch of nonsense while you go through. I'm not looking for Ernest Hemingway here. The ride gets the job done.

    Quick piece of advice: do not try FoP if you can't rope drop it. Pandora is a wonderful land, filled with many twisty-turny paths. By 8:30, they were doing cross-walks. The path from the ride exits to the bar crossed with the extended, not planned, queue. They had ropes at at least two intersections to allow smart people like me (who already did the rides and just wanted a green beer) and dumb people (standing in a 3 hour line). And crossing guards. With ropes.

    BTW I'm from Athens GA and one of our local breweries, Terrapin , makes the Pandora beers. Shout out! Terrapin Beer Co.

    Now, the best thing. Did Kilimanjaro twice, and then signed up for Caring for Giants. I love DAK more than any other park including UOF and this is an absolute hidden treasure. There is a weird booth right before Kilimnjo, and it opens at 10:00. You can sign up for one of many hour-long tours. I think it is $30 a person, which is an absolute steal compared to those cupcake parties.

    DAksign.jpg

    You get a behind-the-scenes tour of the elephants and it is absolutely fantastic. It was my family of three and another couple on this thing, and my 11-yr-old kid would not stop with the questions and they answered every one. 3 Cast Members for 5 people, and they were indeed magical.

    They tell you all about every elephant living there. We are still gushing about this a week later, with 7 Orlando trips now under our belts. It is flat-out amazing.

    myboys.jpg

    I cannot recommend this enough. The elephants are more lively in the morning, but we did ours at 1:00, because ride plans and stuff.

    So, how bout those Rivers of Light?

    This was the enigma to my 1-day plan. I want to see it, but if you reserve it via FP+ you burn all the day-of Fps you can get. They have two dinner party reservations available, but my 11-yr-old freaking loves Yak & Yeti for some reason. I do too, and I now have a Landry's card.

    So, walking out at 8:56 (don't call me OCD dammit) and holy poop there is the RoL queue and not a single person is in it.

    We got in on the second concrete row, 3 from center, and it was really good. Lots of crap being thrown at this show, but I really liked it. If USF's lagoon show is this good, I'd consider that a win. It was good!

    It all worked out! Best planned day ever.

    This went a lot longer than I thought it would, so I'll do Epcot tomorrow. Prepare to be disappointed in more ways than one.....
     
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2018
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  15. JoeCamel

    JoeCamel Premium Member

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    I have to second what you say about dumping EMH in AK. I have a 3 day resident pass that I won't use the last day before it expires. The first day I did exactly as you said and hit the gates early (they never used to let you in they just made you wait at the parking gate til they opened. Other parks you can drive by if you are early enough.) then wait at the mickey heads to RD. A brisk walk and you are on FoP before the crowds hit. Only way to do this, with EMH??? No way, guess I could go up at 11 and sit in Nomad lounge all day.......
     
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2018
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  16. Scott W.

    Scott W. Premium Member

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    These are the exact kind of reviews I’m looking for.

    I’m planning to do AK on my first day and I’m not a morning person at all which is why I’m doing Disney first to take advantage of the 5 hour jet lag and Universal last since I’ll have Express Pass.

    Did you have access to the EMH?
     
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  17. Mad Dog

    Mad Dog Premium Member

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    ahhh, the luggage cart. Yes, they do that at all their resorts that have bag service.....I only did that my first trip down there. Now, I always park and then go back to my car for the baggage when the room is ready.....Nice tip on old MB's still working to get early entry. Just shows how screwed up the whole FP thing is. There's gaps everywhere that people in the know take advantage of. No wonder lines are so long.
     
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2018
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  18. Skold

    Skold Rookie

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    I had a few before I posted that, so I was not entirely clear. :)

    We did not have EMH access, and in fact scheduled DAK on that day because it was the only non-EMH day for the entire month. If we had to go on an EMH day, I'd do FoP at around 1:00 because for some reason wait times are shortest then ("only" 85 to 90 minutes usually).

    I mentioned our MBs just because they were 5 years old. We didn't sneak in to EMH or anything - I was just happy that they still worked! :)
     
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  19. Mad Dog

    Mad Dog Premium Member

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    Yes, early afternoon is generally the lowest times of the day. It's been like that since it's opened. It's the complete opposite of all other attractions in that regard.
     
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  20. Skold

    Skold Rookie

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    Now, Epcot!

    • No real reason to book here other than nostalgia. And I have that. First went in 1984 and SpaceShip Earth, Horizons, and World of Motion are still core memories for me. I lovingly watch @Marni71 vids about Communicore and Wonders of Life.
    • We haven't been here for 5 years for obvious reasons.
    • The plan was such: FP+ were secured for Frozen Ever After @ 9:15, Living with the Land @ 10:15*, and SSE @ 12:00. Let's rope drop Test Track, do FEA, see if we can fit in Soarin' before LwtL. My must-do's are SSE a few times and American Adventure,
    • *LwtL - weird choice for a FP+ right? No. Soarin' brings so many people into The Land pavilion and most spill over to this rider after. Not to mention it has one of the worst queues ever. All switchbacks, right up there with HRRR. Hasta!
    • Got to parking gate @ 8:15 for a 9:00 open. But holy crap it was raining. This will become a theme.
    • I was disappointed that I had to pay for parking after my DAK parking freebie. Oh well!
    • It was raining hard, and the gate CM was nice enough to let us know that Test Track is closed while it is raining. We know this, and already are putting Plan B Soarin' rope drop into effect. Neat that he told people though. Imagine running over there and it is closed...
    • So, they let us in under the geodesic dome to wait. I love this thing so much; even if they did ruin the descent.
    • Soarin' is quite possibly the worst ride ever. It is inexcusable that feet dangle in your field of vision. I have no idea why everyone loves it and I am glad to have it out of my system for the next 5 - 10 years. New video sucks, too. The clouds/eagle/bs transitions are quite frankly insulting. And I like Navi River Journey and F&F!
    • I loved Maelstrom, but I am okay with the Frozen overlay. Those AAs are pretty sweet.
    • The Stave church in Norway has a really nice Viking Gods exhibit. See it. These are the type of touches that I remember, and it is really great that they put this in.
    • New Mission Space: meh, jut like the old one. I may be still bitter about Horizons.
    • SpaceShip Earth: I could ride this all day.
    • Mexico has a really great Coco exhibit; again, one of those touches that I love.
    • It was raining on and off all day, so no Test Track. I dont really care, but my 11-year-old really remembers it from our 2013 visit. Oh well what can you do. If WDW was more flexible, I would have rescheduled this day. But FP+, dinner reservations I made 6 months ago, and all that.
    • It was a great day (how can a day when you go n SSE 3 times not be, despite the crappy ending), but it is bittersweet knowing what this park used to be.
    • Quick word about ponchos! Buy your own. We also had a plastic bag to carry them around when it wasn't raining (in addition to our backpack). This worked great. Easy on, easy off, carry the dripping bag separately. And, best of all, the park is less crowded when rain is pouring down so you can hit whatever you want. Unless it is Test Track. :sick:
     
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