Universal Studios Florida

Hey, y’all! You’re listening to Tourist in your Town! This episode features day 3 of my trip to Orlando. I’m going to tell you about Universal Studios Orlando and Harry Potter Wizarding World. In honor of Harry Potter, I’m currently drinking a Hagrid Imperial Stout by Mispillion River Brewing Company, located in Milford, DE. It’s 11% so this could go south pretty quick. The side of the can says “Full bearded, big boned man ISO magical creature who enjoys long walks in dark woods, loves animals, and tolerates children. I am dark, mysterious, and strong.”

I started the day early, once again trying for breakfast at the hotel. Nope. Another line, consisting of several families and some already annoyed people. Since I knew what waited over at CityWalk, I just headed over that way. I figured, a coffee and egg bites would be fine again. But the line for Starbucks was insane. I went for Cinnabon instead. The line was relatively short but I got tricked once again as the couple in front of me were ordering for several other people. Eventually, I got to order my coffee and cinnamon bun. The cinnamon bun was delicious. I don’t eat them often anymore, so I forgot how yummy they are. The coffee was too hot to drink, or touch, or even look at. I managed to score a table. While sitting there, I noticed a family looking for a place to sit. I let them sit with me. My good deed for the day, I guess. I finished my bun, tried to drink the coffee, still too hot and took off for the park entrance. I ended up throwing the coffee away because not only was it too hot to drink, the day was getting hot. I should have gotten an iced coffee. I got in line for the park. This time Universal Studios Florida. When you enter the park, they do a fingerprint scan. Just an fyi. My fingerprints often don’t work with those things and it tool several tries before it finally took. I’m always holding up the line.

Entry to Universal Studios Florida
Entry to Universal Studios Florida. That’s me in the hat

When you enter, you can go straight or to the right. If you go straight, it takes you into a small NYC. If you go to the right, it takes you to a mini Hollywood. Everybody else was going straight, so I went through Hollywood. I was there for Harry Potter, so I grabbed a map and headed that way.

I found myself unable to find it. The entrance is a bit hidden. I suppose just like Diagon Alley. I saw where the train drop off was and went into a brick doorway which seemed to lead nowhere. But instead it was a dark alley, with some random windows with magicy stuff in them. When I popped out, there I was at Diagon Alley. The best part about this moment is that it was not too busy yet. So, I got to see it without a million people in it. This made it worth it. I thought I’d do the Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts ride, another 4d ride like the Forbidden Journey. Just the walk through to the ride was amazing. Again attention to detail was incredible. There are pics on the blog at touristinyourtownpodcast.com. Confession time, I walked almost all the way through and did not get on the ride. My stomach was not in excellent shape and I was worried about getting motion sickness. So I bailed. A small regret, but one I can live with.

When I came back, the wait was over 2 hours. I decided on a hard pass. I went over to Simpson land and got myself a Duff Beer and pretzel. Again, a surprisingly good beer for a theme park. This park is a visually nice. You can go through a very realistic NYC, a mini-hollywood, Moe’s Bar (the Simpsons), and tons of other cool things. There were several restaurants, sit down style. One I wanted to visit was Finnegans. But the line was always so long. I decided to go for a smoked Turkey Leg instead. So, I grabbed a turkey leg, after waiting in line for about 20 minutes, then over to the bar for another Duff. In the Hollywood area, they have a show called the Horror Make-Up Show. It’s a small theatre where they talk about horror make up in the movies. There’s also a little sketch comedy. This is what I wish these places had more of. But I suspect I am in the minority here.

After that, it was my nap time. I asked at the gate if I could return later. They said, of course if they have not reached capacity and they were very close. I walked back to the hotel and relaxed for a little while. Oh, yeah, they were doing a Mardis Gras thing. But I couldn’t tell that it made much difference. I guess maybe they were serving hurricanes at the full service bars around the park and some of the food was Mardis Gras style.

I headed back to CityWalk for dinner. This time I was hungry. I decided on Pat O’Briens. I got a small table in the bar. Service was excellent. I went with a Guinness and started with the Blue Crab Beignets – Blue crabmeat, mascarpone cheese, tarragon aioli. These were delicious. I could taste the crab and there was not so much breading that you couldn’t taste anything else. For my meal I had the Crawfish Etouffee – New Orleans sauce, andouille sausage, crawfish, white rice. I added hot sauce to it, as it was pretty bland. It was okay. I would not go out of my way to have it again. But I would hunt down those beignets. I took some of the beignets and a Guinness to go back to my room and got comfy. While you can take beer out of the restaurants in CityWalk, you are not supposed to take them out. But I took mine out and walked the mile plus back to my room without spilling a drop.

The next morning, I schedule my Uber without a problem. I got to the airport extra early. Again, got to enjoy the TSA pre-check! I stopped in at Port Paradise for lunch and a pre-flight beer. I had a burger and Sunshine Lager. I spoke with a guy from Bristol, TN who was into model trains. He was trying to find someone near him who could help learn photoshop so he could make his own backgrounds. Thanks for listening to Tourist in your Town. Be sure to visit the blog at touristinyourtownpodcast.com to see pics! Don’t forget to share with family and friends! Stay safe, stay hydrated, and pack light!

Orlando Part 1

Hey, y’all! You’re listening to Tourist in your Town. Okay, I had Covid in late January. I did not get too sick. It felt like a really bad sinus infection. I had no lung issues and didn’t lose my taste or sense of smell. But I did get very congested. Since I had some antibodies going, I decided to take a trip. I considered going to Asheville or Chattanooga, but decided instead to go to Orlando, Florida. For years, I have been waiting to visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios. It seemed like a good time to do it. It’s off season, it shouldn’t be too crowded, right? Well, I’ll tell you about that later. Anywho, I got a cheap flight through Allegiant. I had 2 free nights from my Hilton Honors points, so off I went.

I chose Allegiant because they have a direct flight. What I didn’t understand is that the airport where I landed was so far away from Universal. It was a 40 minute car ride. Normally, there would be a shuttle, but due to Covid, no shuttle. I looked at taxis, considered renting a car, evening thought about just driving down instead. The drive would have been 9 ½ hours. That’s just too long for me to drive alone. Also, the plane tickets were already purchased. I could have taken a credit for them and used it later. But decided I really just did not want to drive. After recommendations from some folks, I chose to go with Uber. My biggest issue with that is that you can’t schedule it ahead of time. You can schedule your trip TO the airport, but not from. I don’t like not knowing if I’m going to have a ride or not. I decided to chance it. Right before lock down, I got approved for TSA pre-check and had not had a chance to try it yet. This is some awesome shit. If you haven’t signed up, do it! You have 2 options, domestic or international. If you don’t think you’ll be flying anywhere outside of the states, then just do domestic. Seriously, worth every penny and even the time to go to the interview! Here’s the way it works. Once approved, you get an ID number. Anytime you book a flight, you put your number in. Then when you check in and get your boarding pass, your number is there. When you get to the airport and go to the precheck line, they scan your pass, and send you through the line. At wee little Mcghee Tyson in Knox, it wasn’t very busy, so they saw me coming. Here is the wonderful part, you don’t have to take your toiletries or electronics out of your bag! Also, you get to keep your shoes. It’s like the old days, where you put your bags in the tray to go through the x-ray. Be sure to remove any metal. You don’t have to empty all your pockets, just anything metal. Then go through the metal detector. That’s how it used to be before 9-11.

Mcghee Tyson is pretty small airport. We have 1 sit down restaurant and it’s Ruby Tuesdays. I visited so I could get my pre-flight bloody mary. I tried the omelet, since they were only serving breakfast at the time. It was fine. The bloody mary was excellent though! The flight was pretty full but I managed to get a row to myself. The flight is only an hour and half so the chatty kids and their loud video only irritated me marginally. Also, keep in mind that Allegiant brings a snack and drink cart around. But you have to pay for any snacks or drinks.

After landing at Sanford International Airport. You’d think that with a name like that it would be a large hub. Nope, it’s a pretty small airport. Did I mention that it’s kind of far from anything. So, I pulled up my Uber app and it wouldn’t work! I couldn’t order a ride! There were some small vans sitting at the ride spot, so I just went up to one and asked if he only took reservations. No, he says, get in. In the 40 minutes that I rode with Bob, I learned a great deal about the values of raw honey. Also, spent a small fortune. But I got to the hotel. Then discovered that my Uber issue was operator error. Live and learn, eh?

I was staying at the DoubleTree at Universal Studios. It’s a little over a mile from the park. There is a beautiful walkway to the park from the hotel. It’s a little spooky after dark, though. There are pics and video on the blog, touristinyourtownpodcast.com. After a brief nap, I wanted to hunt down dinner. I considered taking an Uber to downtown Orlando, but after spending so much on the taxi, I didn’t want to spend any more on car rides. I decided to stick with something nearby. The options were slim. A few chains, TGIFridays across the street, Kobe’s Steakhouse, and a local place called Miller’s Ale House. I think it’s a local chain. The area is like any suburban area. Some small strip malls and even an outlet mall nearby. But the roads seemed a little too busy for walking although there was a sidewalk. If you’ve ever seen a car lose control and jump a curb, then sidewalks don’t feel very safe on a busy road. Miller’s was pretty much in the parking lot of the hotel. So, that’s where I went. All the local beers they had on tap were IPAs. I am not a fan of IPAs, so I steered clear and went with a classic, Guinness. So, they had something on the menu called a Nashville Hot Fish Sandwich. I assume this is like Nashville Hot chicken only with fish. Yes, please. I don’t generally eat chicken, so I was ready to try it. But, alas, it was not available. I went with the Creole mahi and Shrimp. Blackened Mahi filet, roasted shrimp, andouille sausage, spinach, diced Roma tomatoes, creamy cheddar grits, New Orleans creole sauce. It was pretty tasty. The Mahi and shrimp were perfectly cooked, not rubbery as they can sometimes be. Back at the hotel, I wanted to have a drink and sit outside. They have a beautiful patio with a large fire pit and water feature. There is also a decent pool. I got a Sunshine State Lager from Florida Beer Company in Cape Canaveral, Florida. It was a good refreshing beer. Perfect for a sitting outside and relaxing. After that it was time for sleeping. Be sure to listen to the next episode to hear all about the Island of Adventure at Universal Studios and even some Harry Potter stuff! Thanks for listening to Tourist in Your Town Podcast. Visit the blog for pics and videos! Stay Safe, Stay Hydrated, and Pack Light!