Universal Studios Day 1

Hey, y’all! This is Sharon with Tourist in your Town. This episode is my day at the Island of Adventures at Universal Studios. Up bright and early, I thought I’d check out breakfast at the hotel, since there weren’t many other options. Normally, it seems, there would be two options for breakfast at the Doubletree. A quick grab at the cafe or a sit down at the Grill. But, you guessed it, these aren’t normal times. The only breakfast was a quick grab from the grill. And it looked like only 1 person working. And after standing in line for a few minutes, I realized, that 1 person actually represented 4 or 5 people. Dad or mom would stand in line while the kids were out playing or doing whatever. Nevermind, I thought, I’ll get something at the park. So, off I went.

When you arrive at Universal, they do have security at the entrance. You have to empty your pockets of metal and put your bags through the screening machine. One cool thing about Universal is that they allow you to bring your food and drinks. No alcoholic beverages, though. I did see a family dragging a giant cooler around. That might be more than most want to do. I had a bag with some small snacks, a power bar, and some nuts. And my water bottle. I also have started using something called Liquid IV. It’s a powder that you mix with water and gives you all the hydrating power of gatorade without all the sugar. However, I find it really tart and a little sour. But I still use it. If you listen to the Asheville episodes, you’ll know why. The packs are easy to carry and they really do work. After security, you find yourself at Universal CityWalk. CityWalk is, well, a small city. There are restaurants, all chains, and shops. Even a movie theatre. I thought for sure I could get a nice breakfast here. The only places open were Starbucks and Cinnabon. If the line at the hotel was too much, these lines were just crazy. Yikes. Okay, I thought, the park opens soon, I’ll just get in line. They did let us into the entry of the Island of Adventure early, but you could not go past a certain point if you did not have an early pass. There was a Starbucks here that only had a few people in line. I still had to wait for about 25 minutes just to place my order. Did I mention that what seems like 1 person is usually 5 or more? Anywho, I ate my egg bites and drank my coffee and walked around a bit. I couldn’t get further in to the park yet. It still wasn’t open. You have to wear a mask while walking around. You are strongly discouraged from drinking or eating while walking because you have to remove your mask. They were very good about making sure people were masking properly and maintain distance. When they could. It was impossible in some places to keep people apart.

I bought a 2 day park ticket with entrance to only one park per day. I figured I would do Islands of Adventure one day and then Universal Studios the next. When the park finally opened, I went straight to Ollivanders Wand Shop at Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventure, I wanted my wand. All through the Harry Potter part of the park there are interactive locations where if you wave the wand a certain way, lights will come on, things will move, etc. What I did not understand about Ollivanders is that it is a show as much as it is about getting the wand. And you have to stand in line. Okay. I found the store front and saw the line, it didn’t seem that long. But there was no way to get into line. So I ask the woman standing beside the ropes, an obvious park employee, how to get in the line. She says, the line is at capacity, come back in about an hour. So, I walked around for a bit, but I really wanted my wand. So I went back, I told her it was just me, so she did let me get in line. One benefit to being alone. I still had to stand in line for over an hour. Because again, what I thought was just one or two people were actually whole families. I finally got to go inside. It’s a dark little place and there is a “wizard” who helps you find the wand for you. You follow his instructions, say the proper words and lightening strikes and thunder, etc. Until you find the wand for you. You are then escorted out. You can purchase the wand at that point ($55) or not. I wish that I would have just bought a cool wand from one of the shops instead of waiting in line. The wand I got was kind of plain because it’s interactive, I guess. But then I spotted so many other beautiful ones. I did not want to buy another at that point. So, keep in mind that you can buy much cooler ones without standing in line for a 5 minute show.

Then it was lunch time. I wanted to eat lunch at the Three Broomsticks. The wait was about 2 hours. I went to the Jurassic Park area and got a beer and a snack to hold me over. Then, I thought I’d go on a ride. I am not a roller coaster person and I was here for the Harry Potter stuff, so I got in line for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. If you have a bag, they have lockers to put your stuff in. The smaller lockers are free for a set amount of time. They have larger ones that cost money. You use your park pass to unlock the locker. I downloaded the park app, so I had easy access to everything including my pass. The wait was about 30 minutes, the line was constantly moving though. It went by fairly quickly. They have markers on the ground, so that people stay 6 feet apart. Most people followed this guideline. The interior that I walked through was pretty cool on its own. It was very much like walking through the halls of Hogwarts. The attention to detail was wonderful. When it is time to get on the ride, the seats on the floor are moving, so you have to be quick. Since I was alone, I got a whole row of seats to myself. This is what they call a 4d ride. Your seat moves up, down, around, and back (not upside down, but you are on your back, looking up). I did thoroughly enjoy this ride. It was like I was flying around Hogwarts, inside and out.

After that, I figured the lunch crowd was somewhere else so headed back to the Three Broomsticks. I still had to stand in line, but it was not very long. This is not a real sit down restaurant situation. You do get seated at a table but you order online, put in your table number and they bring your food. I ordered a Dragon Scale beer and the Fish and chips. I did not take a pic of the food, I guess I was hungry. It was fine. You can see the Dragon Scale on my blog. It was a nice, brown english ale. Surprisingly good for a theme park beer. I did get the souvenir mug. Because I’m a sucker for that sort of thing. The seats were not very comfortable, they were too short for the table or something. It just felt weird.

Back out into the heat I went. It was late February, but hot as fire already. The buildings at Hogsmeade have snow on the top, so it felt a little surreal. There was a train at Hogsmeade. A train that went from Hogsmeade at Island of Adventures to Diagon Alley at Universal Studios. But guess who could not take that train? Me. Because I did not buy a park to park ticket. This was my biggest regret of the whole thing. So, keep in mind that if you want to ride the train, get the park to park ticket. Also, there is a loooooonnnnng line for it. My consolation prize was a butter beer.

Hogwarts Express

You could get a cold butter beer or a frozen one. I chose just the cold. It was good, tasted like butterscotch. But so sweet. While standing off to the side, drinking my butter beer, a guy came up to me. He was probably in his forties and he had some teens with him. He asked if he could use my phone. He and every person with him had given their phones to the moms of the group so they could get on a ride. I guess the ride didn’t take as long as they thought. So there they were with no way to contact anyone. I let him use my phone. I was not worried about getting covid as I had just had it. And I don’t guess he was too worried about it either. They made their call, thanked me profusely for saving them hours of waiting and I went on my way.

Cold Butterbeer

I walked around some more. I went through the Jurassic Park area and the Marvel area and through Toon Lagoon. Mostly roller coasters and shops at those places. If you enter the Islands of Adventure on the right, you go through Seuss Landing. It was after 3, I was tired, so I headed back to my hotel for a nap. There was no nap, the cleaning people were prepping for a busy weekend so they were very active in the rooms beside mine and the hallways. That’s okay, I still got a break from the people and heat.

At dinner time, I walked back over to CityWalk. There are quite a few restaurants to choose from there. But it was packed. I was not really that hungry. I wanted something light and easy. I decided on the Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar. They had a little bit of everything. It’s a three story place with a nice outdoor seating area. Which I was not able to enjoy because it was packed. I did manage to get them to seat me at the bar. Another benefit to being alone, I don’t take up much space. They have lots of specialty drinks, but I got a Blue Moon. For dinner I went with the Flamin’ Salmon roll – Spicy salmon with togarashi mayo and spice, minced pickled ginger, scallions, jalapeño strings, flash fried and served over tempura flakes and topped cayenne pepper strands. It was delicious. The crunchiness of the tempura gave it a great texture. It could have been a little more spicy for me. But still excellent. I would definitely get this again. I walked back to my hotel. There is a video on the blog of the trail that took back. It was dark and a little eerie, since it was just me on it. That’s it for Day 2 in Orlando. Thanks for listening to Tourist in your Town. Be sure to check out pics and notes on the blog at Touristinyourtownpodcast.com. Also, share with your family and friends! Stay safe, stay hydrated, and pack light!

Flamin’ Salmon Roll from Cowfish

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!

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