Trip Report: Universal's Islands of Adventure

posted by Jeff | Sunday, December 1, 2002, 9:24 PM | comments: 0

(Repost from CoasterBuzz.)

I think I've mentioned this before, but IOA is the best theme park ever. Disney should be worried, because the new kid in town does what they do, only better.

First off, I'll mention that we visited the park on the last of four days in Orlando. We stayed on-property at Universal's fairly new Royal Pacific Hotel. The hotel is pretty top notch, and being a short walk away from City Walk and the Universal parks makes it a great place to stay, isolated from the Orlando cheese found everywhere else.

Staying on-property has some perks. First off, your room key is like gold. It gets you to the front of all the lines, a 20% discount at the big gift shop in IOA, priority seating at City Walk restaurants and you can use it as a charge card to bill stuff to your room, from pretty much anywhere on the Universal property. Very convenient.

It was "chilly" by Orlando standards, the temperature topping out around 64, but certainly not uncomfortable. We started the day on Spiderman, which for Stephanie lived up to the hype I had been placing on it for roughly a year. It's absolutely one of the best theme park rides anywhere.

From there we bounced to Hulk, right to the front of the line, for a back seat ride. I still love that launch. The train I was on (all three running) was really rough, as if the guide wheel springs were shot. I watched the individual cars shift laterally all over the place throught the turns and loops. Caused a spot of head banging here and there, but still made for a good ride.

They hadn't opened the rest of the park yet, so we headed over to Cat in The Hat. Yeah, it's a goofy drug trip, but I still think it's kind of fun.

At this point we were pretty starving, and encountered an all-you-can-eat deal in Seuss landing for $10. It opened at 11, so we had to go kill about 15 minutes or so. We found the third and fourth DDR machines of our trip in the arcade next to the Fantastic Four Cafe. They were setup for five songs each, the USA at $1.25 and the MAX2 at $1.50. I haven't played a lot lately, but comfortably advancing at the 5 and 6-step level. It was fun because without local mallrats, people thought we were really good and watched. Ten songs later, we headed back for lunch.

And it was a damn fine lunch. Fried chicken, mashed taters, roast beast (ham), s'ghetti and meatballs, breadsticks, corn on the cob, fries, giant desserts... so much good food.

After a lap around the park, we hit up both of dueling dragons, which were unfortunately only running one train each. Not a big deal I suppose, but a ride with seperate load/unload has much longer intervals with only one train. Fire is still the stuff, easily one of the most intense inverters out there. Ice isn't bad either, but Fire takes the prize.

After that, we headed back for a nap. This being the sixth park in three days, we needed a little break.

About two hours later we returned to the park, my camera in tow. It's such a beautiful park to roam about in. We did find that Pteranadon Flyers was closed for seasonal maintenance, which was a bummer, but went about our business on the water rides.

First off was Dudley Doo-Right's Ripsaw Falls. I don't think there's a better flume out there. The theme is fun throughout, and the final splash down is crazy airtime-filled finale that should be manditory on all flumes. Great stuff.

After getting yelled at for dragging my significant other on the ride (), we headed over to Jurassic Park for the River Adventure. It's one of my favorite rides because it's just so massive in scope. The T-rex is awesome to see, and no photographs of it do it justice.

We dried off a bit and rode the Flying Unicorn. I wonder if Cedar Point wouldn't have been better off with this Vekoma model instead, because the capcity is better (two trains) and it's just a hair longer. This is what family rides should be.

The rest of the day's events aren't clear as far as order goes, but I know it went something like this. We landed back in the Marvel area, where the heroes came out to play (and KMFDM blasted across the midways, if you can believe it). Got some good photos of us with the good and bad guys, including my girl Rogue. We skipped on Captain America because the dude needs to get back on the Super Treadmill.

We did Poseiden's Fury, which was cool for the most part (the water vortex in real life is stunning), but the projected video parts were kind of lame. Explosions and water, that's cool. Our "tour guide" was also a cutie and really into the show.

Have you heard about the talking rock/fountain in the Lost Continent? Basically it's a dude somewhere with a voice harmonizer harassing little kids and squirting them with water. It's absolutely hilarious and the guy behind it (or woman, who could I suppose be anywhere in the park) was really good.

A stage show in the midway basically went through the entire Grinch story, and I have to say that the makeup of the actors was as good as, if not better, than in the Jim Carey movie. I assume this was their first public performance of the show (it was, afterall, the first day of "Grinchmas"), but they were really quite outstanding.

As it got dark we headed back to Dueling Dragons for another lap on Fire, front seat. They now had two trains running on each side and it made a huge difference. We didn't get the illusion I was hoping for because Ice got a little behind, but wow does that ride kick ass. The free lockers for the camera were also cool. What a great system.

Back around through JP and Toon Lagoon, we jumped on Spiderman and Hulk again. As the park cleared out, we wandered back to Seuss Landing for some night photos before ending the day at the big gift shop, where we dropped about a hundred bucks (and this was after our 20% off).

I should note that the Univeral Express system seems to work just like Disney's Fastpass. Both are good systems if you ask me, and if you're going to do queue management, this is how you should do it. The pay-extra schemes found at the Six Flags parks are insulting by comparison.

After the park closed, we went to City Walk to eat at the Italian restaurant there. Really good stuff! The ice rink was also open for the start of Grinchmas.

Overall, I love IOA and had a good time staying on-property. They make it very easy for you to spend all of your money there without ever leaving, and quite frankly, I'm OK with that. Everything is world-class at this complex. It's not cheap, but really I don't think we would've spent any less on a trip elsewhere.

Make plans to visit and stay at Universal!


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