Tue, 23 Dec 2008

Our Florida Vacation, 2008, Orlando Portion, Part 1

Loews Royal Pacific, Orlando

I mentioned earlier that we visited Florida for our annual vacation. For the first segment, we visited a resort complex in Orlando. The Universal Orlando resort consists of two theme parks, a complex of shops, bars, and restaurants, and a collection of hotels. We got a package deal that bundled lodging, admission to the theme parks, and a variety of entertainment coupons.

Pacifica Ballroom HallwayWe stayed in Loews Royal Pacific, a huge Polynesian-themed hotel located in the Universal complex. On our 2006 trip to Disney, we stayed offsite, so we wanted to try the on-campus experience with Universal. We had a very nice room with nice amenities. No free internets, though, so I stayed offline except for my phone. And parking was $15 per night, which was pretty obnoxious. Something we noticed on our Disney trip and which definitely held true at Universal was that the resorts represent a completely closed economy where everything costs 150% of what it would cost pretty much anywhere else. The hotel had a number of themed restaurants onsite, though we basically ate all of our meals outside to stretch our vacation dollars.

Fisherman's CoveThat said, staying onsite had a number of advantages. We could hop a shuttle bus or (more entertainingly) a water taxi between the parks and the hotel at any time. The entire complex was arranged around a natural lagoon, complete with scenic walkways and bridges. There were beached seaplanes everywhere, too. ;)

We arrived very late on Tuesday night, thanks to flight delays, and awoke the next morning to a steady downpour. We went out and grabbed breakfast, then headed over to the park in the early afternoon. Luckily, the rain stopped just as we got there.

Flash GordonUniversal has two parks at the resort, Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure. Universal Studios is, as you would probably imagine by the name, strongly themed with movies and television-flavored attractions. For example, there is a partial recreation of the town of Amity as seen in Jaws, the centerpiece of which is boat tour with a large and toothy uninvited guest. There are themed rides and shows for Terminator 2, Shrek, Twister, E.T., Men In Black, and many more.

Simpsons rideThe rides we were most impressed by at Universal Studios were the two newest: the Simpsons ride and the Revenge of the Mummy. The Simpsons ride was a tour-de-force virtual coaster. The passenger car only moves a few meters in any direction, but thanks to perfectly synchronized IMAX scale sperical projection, six degrees of freedom in the passenger compartment, and elaborate tactile effects (moisture, wind, surround sound, etc.) the experience was completely enveloping. The wait in line was part of the experience -- the whole ride area was completely themed, all the way to having an onsite Kwik-E-Mart.

mummy logoThe Revenge of the Mummy is a completely enclosed indoor roller coaster. Riding this for the first time was especially fun, as I knew nothing about the ride at all, and thought it was a conventional dark ride, as many of the attractions at the Florida parks are. Indeed, the ride begins at the stately pace of a dark ride, but there's a point where you go through a door and WHOOSH! One impressive thing we noticed after leaving the ride was that much of the bulk of the coaster is camoflaged behind the external building facades down the block from the ride, so you really have no idea of the ride's scale from outside.

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