DAY 10 – MONDAY 8TH MAY 2006

Woken by the alarm at 5.45 after another late-ish night (and one or two drinks!), we shower and finish the rest of our packing. All good things come to an end, as they say, and we are off to coaster heaven today, but it’s still sad to be leaving WDW once more, especially as it has been my first (excellent) on-site experience, and our first Florida, Disney vacation together…

Downstairs for the car at 6:50, we say our goodbyes to Paul at the valet station, and he seems genuinely touched when we give him a bottle of wine as a thank you for his courtesy and friendship this week.

It takes about 20 minutes to reach Universal Orlando, and we self-park at the Royal Pacific just after 7.15am. Warm (75 degrees) and blue skies again. The canopied entrance across the tropical ‘moat’ is delightful, with its comical frog sculptures on the tops of the posts.

Sliding, glazed doors lead into an airy and calm lobby, with the main reception area to the left, and a lovely, courtyard garden surrounding a large, ornamental pond straight ahead.

We check our two cases at Bell Services, and walk to the desk. Amazingly our room is ready – we’d only expected to receive our room keys for Front of Line access at the parks – so we recover our bags and take the elevator to 1750 (Tower 1, seventh floor, room 50)

It’s still only 715am! We check out the room – twin, kingsize beds, attractive furnishings (are these rooms looking just a little tired now?),

…great views over Islands of Adventure…

… unpack essentials, admire the view from the window near the elevators..

.. and descend to the lobby for breakfast. The main, resident’s lounge here, the Orchid Court, serves breakfast from 630 each day and cocktails in the evenings.

Juice, coffee and pastries all round, and out to the courtyard garden to enjoy them. This is a lovely, restful space.

It’s 8.15 when we finish our brekkie, and, after a restroom stop and a quick look in the small gift shop in the lobby, we set walk down to the lower floor and off on foot to Citywalk. We pass Tchoup Chop and the lovely pool area, and take the path past the Shuttle Boat dock (these don’t start until 830 anyway, and it’s only a five minute stroll)

There’s a security point at the end of the path, to the side of Jimmy Buffet’s, and we are asked to present our bag for checking. The (retirement age) guard, Stan, asks us, in an American accent, which part of the UK we are from? North west, we say, Manchester, and good call, as most people think we’re from Austrailia! Yes, he says, in a cockney accent, I get that all the time!

We natter about home and football for a minute and then walk on into Citywalk proper, strolling up past Starbucks and back down along the entertainments strip.

It’s 8.30, so we carry on to Islands, where we join a modest line waiting for admission.

Sometimes Universal seem to open their parks significantly early, even before 830, but today we are kept in line until 8.50. Out tickets, bought online, read as Children’s tickets under the scanner, even though they are marked as Adult ones, and although the CM lets us in without problem, he advises us to get them checked at guest services before trying to enter another park.

We bear left, through Port of Entry, to Marvel Superhero Island, and stow our bag in the lockers near Hulk, our first choice.

The lockers have been moved since my last visit – they used to be underneath the ride, effectively in the flow of people exiting the attraction, and now, across the plaza, they are in a much less congested position. (Incidentally, don’t try and ride the coasters at Universal with a bag or camera, as you may be turned away at the point of climbing on board, no fun after any length of line. The lockers are free for the first hour anyway – but don’t forget to write down your number!

We don’t need our FOTL passes this early (aww!) and are on the loading platform in less than a minute. This is probably my favourite coaster anywhere: the launch is stunning, and the noise and length of the ride never fail to impress. We exit, happy, and run straight round for another go… just as good!

Storm Force Acceleratron next, mainly as it’s next door. Think ‘teacups’ – it’s a fairly basic, fairground ride with a fancy title, but fun none the less.

Back onto the street, and next left to Dr Doom’s Fearfall. Once more a walk-on, as most of the early crowds are mobbing Hulk and Spiderman. This is another, internationally generic attraction, essentially a ride vehicle like a square donut on a tall pole… they release the elastic and you shoot skywards at a rapid rate of knots, enjoying a moment’s weightlessness at the top. I’ve been on similar ones at Blackpool and Southport, just as good, but they don’t have views of Orlando, so I prefer this one!

Off to Spiderman next, this time using our room keys to bypass the modest, 10 minute line. This is a very clever piece of engineering and I am still impressed after several years of repeat rides. Amanda rates it highly, too, and we quickly return to the entrance for round 2!

It’s 10am, and time for the wet rides – I don’t much care for wandering around with wet undies, so, after retrieving the bag from the Hulk locker station, I nip to the restroom to change into swim shorts and a spare t-shirt. We walk through MSHI to Toon Lagoon where we decide to ride Dudley Doright’s Ripsaw Falls first. Our room keys get us on without any queuing, although the regular line is admittedly very short, and we are soon getting moderately soaked on this pretty standard log flume… the twist is at the end, where you shoot across ‘rapids’ at high speed after a steep, final descent. Good fun.

In terms of ‘wetness’ I reckon Jurassic Park River Adventure is next in the ratings, so we continue through TL to JP and are climbing aboard our boat in short order.

This would be a decent attraction even without the terror of the final stages, as the animatronic dinosaurs are cleverly built and the ‘park’ theming is excellent. However, we are here for the big drop at the end and… we don’t get much more than splashed! Normally I’d consider this a ‘result’ but as I’ve bothered to get changed, Iam a bit miffed!

Well, there’s no chance of staying dry at our next port of call! We walk back to Toon Lagoon and use the FOTL passes to get straight on Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge Rat Barges. This is probably the best water ride in Orlando, in my opinion, a wild and chaotic raft journey with lots of opportunities to get saturated! I normally have to ride it two or three times when I come with the kids, as DS loves it. Amanda is just as enthusiastic and we go straight on for another ride. This time we are accompanied by a group of cool teenagers, the lads dressed in oversized, baggy jeans and long t-shirts. I think they expected to get wet, but they seem rather shocked at the extent of their baptism! Great fun!

It’s 11.30 now, and we walk back to MSHI, sitting near Hulk for a while to dry off and catch up on my trippie notes. It’s hot and hazy, and the park is getting a lot busier.

Seuss Landings next, where we ride Cat in the Hat for a bit of light relief,

…before walking through The Lost Continent to admire the scenery – sadly, my second favourite coaster, Duelling Dragons, is in rehab.

It’s lunchtime, more or less, and as it’s convenient we decide to eat at The Enchanted Oak Tree Tavern.

We order turkey legs with fries, cornbread and corn on the cob, which costs around $20 or so for both. There is a pleasant and sunny patio at the back of the restaurant, overlooking the lake, with views to Hulk, and we eat here.

It’s 1215 as we finish and walk back through Seuss Landings to the exit. We’ve done pretty much everything we wanted to at IOA, so time to go.

However, first we call into Guest Services near the exit to get our passes sorted out. There’s no problem and they simply replace them with two, new, complementary ones.

12.40 now. We stroll back across Citywalk to Universal Studios and get the mandatory photo taken in front of the globe, before entering the park at 12.50pm.

The sun is beating down pretty savagely now, and Amanda is feeling the effects, so we call into the Universal Store to buy a cap. It’s busier here than at Islands, and we use the room keys to bypass a 20 minute standby at Jimmy Neutron to kick off proceedings. Good laugh!

Across to Shrek 4D next.. we miss a show, just, and have a short wait before the next intake. I love the pre-show here… just remember to behave yourselves otherwise you’ll be flogged!

It’s 2pm as we leave after the main show – one of the best 3(4!)D shows in Florida!

I buy a phonecard and try to call the kids, but the phone doesn’t accept either the new card or my Visa/Master cards. However I do manage to confirm our Tchoup Chop reservation for this evening.

We carry on to our next attraction (my personal favourite), The Mummy. There’s still some work to do around the lockers here, in my opinion, and it takes a few minutes of pushing and jostling to secure one for our bag.

The standby line is 35 minutes, but one wave of the magic plastic and we’re at the loading station inside 5!

I’ve read recently that after the initial experience here, the ride loses a little of its appeal for some guests. I know where they’re coming from, the first one is undoubtedly the best, but I still get a buzz from this two-year-old attraction. Amanda loves it, and, after a quick look at the ride photos we pass through the inevitable gift shop and ride again without delay. Pure magic!

It’s 240ish when we leave the ride. We try to ring the kids again from another phone, but no joy, and we settle for a Starbucks instead. Amanda has a Java Chip Frapuccino, and I ask for a Red eye. Coffee can be a bit wet sometimes, don’t you think, so we accompany them with a slice of banana nut bread and an espresso brownie.

We sit at benches behind Richters Burgers, overlooking the lake, to enjoy. It’s still hot, although a little hazy. The park seems relatively quiet today, with only the headliner rides being particularly busy.

It’s still 4th July as we progress through Amity, and make our way to the Boat Tours (Jaws!) I think there was some talk about closing this somewhat cheesy but still delightful ride recently, but thankfully it is still operating. There’s a 30-minute line, which shrinks to less than 5 for UE pass holders like us!

Jaws is one of those attractions where the energy and enthusiasm of the driver can make all the difference to your experience. We are lucky today and have a committed soul who naturally rescues us from the brink!

A quick restroom stop and another attempt to call home (the last one, or it will soon be too late back in UK) and we continue round the lake to Men In Black. This is another ride where bags are not permitted, and we stow them in the free lockers next to the entrance.

There’s a hefty standby line here, and we (ok, I!) walk smugly past them after using the room keys once more. It’s an effective walk-on for us, and we record scores of A - 56,125, M -242,025. The ride picture suggests that we are slightly competitive, judging by the set of our faces! Ok, round for another go…

We both do less well next time for some reason – A- 46,475, M – 184,450, so we go again… Amanda is catching on now, and scores 110,800, but I slip again to 144,800.

On the way out we buy DS a Neuraliser from the gift shop ($13) and head over the hot plaza to Back to The Future. It’s 4.10pm and the standby line is showing a modest 20 minutes. We are set to ride inside 5, as per.

It may be time to call it a day with this simulator ride, in my opinion. It’s dated, bumpy and only just worth the effort now. Still, at least we didn’t spend ages in a line to discover this!

4.30ish as we leave the area, and still blazing warm. We sit on a bench near the lake for 5 minutes to plan the rest of the afternoon – the park closes at 6pm today – and head off towards the entrance for the 5pm Terminator 2 show.

This is still a cracker, even though it’s several years old now, and we both enjoy the tour of the Cyberdyne Facility!

530 now, and time for one more ride…. Back to The Mummy! We’re in and out within 15 minutes and call it a day, walking back to the exit. There’s a PowWow International Conference tonight (water fountains or something?) and CMs are busy setting up stalls and posters around the park… this will be the reason for th early close tonight.

The light and temperature are lovely as we stroll across CityWalk. It seems a shame to head back to the hotel, and our meal isn’t until 9pm, so we rest a while at the Lone Palm Airport bar, opposite Jimmy Buffet’s, and enjoy a spot of people-watching whilst testing the quality of their Margaritas! (Excellent by the way, and we have three!)

We play ‘guess the nationalities’ based on attire and body language!

After an hour or so we decide to stroll back, and arrive in our room around 7.35pm. After admiring the sunset over IOA (shame there are no balconies here) we shower and make ourselves suitably gorgeous for the posh nosh to follow.

We stop off in the lobby and courtyard to take a few evening shots, and walk down to the restaurant.

We are seated immediately, at 8.50. Tchoup Chop is an attractive space, with a high, vaulted ceiling, lots of beams, wood and bamboo, complimented by exposed stonework and two, impressive water features – a large, central, lily pond, and a waterfall of sorts running down the wall above the kitchens.

We are made to feel very welcome and offered the services of a wine waiter, water waiter and server! We choose still water and study the menu before deciding to go for the Chef’s Tasting Menu with Wine Pairing. ($54 + $26 for the wine, per person).

They serve some prawn crackers with a spicy, sesame seed dip while we wait.

The food is served with either wine or sake – we choose the wine for each course. Let the feast commence!

Well… it’s delicious! Perfectly cooked and attractively served from start to finish. Each course and its accompanying wine is introduced by the server and wine waiter.

The portion sizes are much more sane than of late, too! We enjoy every morsel, without feeling over faced or full. But, at the end, we are satisfied. The bill is $170 and we leave $200. An excellent experience.

It’s 10.15 as we leave the restaurant on this final evening. We are too tired to return to Citywalk at this hour, and still have a bit of packing to do, so after a slow amble around the pool area we head back to our room. We are packed and in bed by 11.00pm.

Mike & Amanda

Tomorrow: Final morning in the parks, and home.