Today’s adventure wouldn’t be possible if I hadn’t woken up ridiculously early for no reason. Anyway, I’m largely happy I did so I guess it worked out okay. Otherwise, I’d be sitting at home all alone eating Ben & Jerry’s and crying about not having anyone to spend the holiday with.
As I said above, I woke up around 8am and went about my morning routines as usual ending with me forgoing my usual e-mail and RSS feed checking and went straight to the I-Ride app which told me the next trolley was coming in about 25 minutes. I could handle that, I put my shoes on, grabbed my wallet and keys off the counter and left.
I arrived at the iconic Universal globe (why they don’t have their photographers on that bridge is beyond me as EVERY family I saw had to stop and get their picture in front of it) at 10:15am and waited in line for over 30 minutes before getting a friendly ticket agent who tried to covertly slip the extra $80 Express Pass with my ticket. Nice try, but $142 is enough for one person for one day. This was actually a good move on my part as according to the fine print none of the Harry Potter attractions (my primary reason for coming to the park today) use this service.
The first thing I wanted to do was get lunch. No, first thing I’m doing is becoming a minion, but I wasn’t about to waste an hour and ten minutes on a single ride. Tellingly enough, the “Shrek 4D” attraction directly across from it only had a 15 minute wait, but so did “Twister: Ride It Out” which I remember being an unintentionally hilarious show and for the most part it hasn’t changed (though they moved the queue indoors and gave it an atmospheric setting that proved a little too much for at least one guest who took to the emergency exit just before the ride doors opened).
The next three attractions “Revenge of the Mummy,” “DISASTER,” and “Transformers: The Ride” all had long lines so like with “Minion Mayhem” I decided to skip them and come back later. As I passed “Transformers” on the way to Springfield USA, I finally decided to get lunch at Mel’s Drive-In. It was packed, and the service area is clearly not set up for lines like this. At least my food – when it finally came out – wasn’t bad…by theme park standards anyway.
I left Mel’s Drive-In around noon and just as I was about to cross the Sunset Boulevard, the backstage gate opened and a large parade float with Dora/Diego (along with a separate “Rescue Jeep” carrying Baby Jaguar) pulled midway into the street. I took one step into the street and was immediately chased back onto the sidewalk by a parade attendant.
“YOU are not allowed on the street in the middle of a show,” she said sternly. She then looks at me and cocks her head back disgustedly. “Do you need me to get you HELP or something?”
Yes, I know that’s her job, and she did eventually let me go (apparently crazy is above her pay scale). However, her clearly fake “question” still pissed me off – particularly since her likely idea of “help” (having strangers manhandle me, confiscate my tickets and forcibly ejecting me from the park without refund) would have only made things worse.
Springfield USA was kind of fun to walk through… but 35 minutes seemed a bit long for an over-glorified carnival ride, and I wasn’t waiting nearly an hour for “The Simpson’s Ride” either. I’d just missed the Animal Actors on Location show (which I’d already seen anyway) so I ducked into “E.T” and pretty much walked right onto the ride – ditto with “Men in Black: Alien Attack” (which was considerably more intense than I remember it being).
I won’t speak of the rest of the park’s areas, but I will say the interior of Diagon Alley was a lot bigger than its tiny façade would lead you to believe. Also, if I was wondering where the crowds were in the rest of the park, well I found them stopping and waving their wands at every window, statue and storefront in the newly opened wizarding area. Suffice to say, I didn’t get to see any of the window animations or what the various shops like the relocated Weasley’s Wizard Weezes looked like on the inside (couldn’t possibly be any worse than its initial incarnation at Islands of Adventure).
I stood at the crowded entrance to “Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringott’s” unsure what to do. It was the primary reason I came to this park today, but the wait time was nearly an hour so I decided to skip it and went over to King’s Cross Station to ride the “Hogwart’s Express.” The wait was 45 minutes, but the line moved relatively quickly with a new train arriving mere seconds after the previous one departed (they must double track them for at least part of the journey).
Finally, at 1:31pm, I arrive at the famous platform and continue to snake my way through the queue area towards the awaiting train. When it pulled away, I was ushered to a row just in time for the next train to arrive (if only real trains ran like that), and just like that I was leaving London behind on my magical journey to Hogwarts…