This week my husband and I took some much needed time to ourselves. Many people go to the beach, wine country, cabins in the woods. We...we go to theme parks. Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Orlando is one of our most frequented destinations. We are former season pass holders since we used to live in Florida. But we always find ourselves back here, no matter what.
Typically we stay at one of the Loews properties on sites, for many reasons. They exercise incredible customer service. They offere a multitude of high quality restaurants on site. They have a great gym and pool area. They offer a ferry to and from the parks all day long so you never have to worry about driving AND they offer the greatest perk of all...a fast pass to the parks for all hotel guests. A fast pass is an expensive ticket that allows you to "skip the lines" essentially. On this particular trip I wasn't impressed with fast pass at all, which I will cover later.
We booked at Royal Pacific this time, a Polynesian themed hotel. We are already quite fond of them for treating Pharaoh like gold on a previous visit. We checked in without issues as normal, got to our room and dressed for the gym. While at the gym, Cody received an email from the hotel about being offered an upgrade. We liked our room just fine but responded back that we'd be interested anyway.
The bellman and VIP/Guest Service Manager Raymond Coleman met us back at our current room, loaded up our things and then moved us into the main tower building into an amazingly beautiful suite the size of a typical apartment! It had a full kitchen, dining room, library/office space, enormous master suite and an additional guest bathroom. All of this from recognizing us as hard-working entertainers. Let me tell you how refreshing it is to be accommodated in this fashion with nothing further expected. Raymond was a complete class act for our entire stay leaving us deserts at night and checking in on us during the day. I don't think I can ever stay anywhere else now except for a Loews property because every single time we have been treated like a million bucks, whether people knew us or not. That's just the Loews way. Customer service is everything to me and they have a customer in me for life.
Now...on to the parks! We met friends there on Thursday and decided to utilize our fast passes for some fun. The pass is not available for Harry Potter attractions, so we waited about 45 minutes before being able to ride Forbidden Journey. This is not uncommon, but it was unbearably hot and I'm not sure how people weren't passing out from the heat in line.
Next up, we went on our first coaster- Dragon Challenge. This used to be one of my favorites. Here is where I start having problems with this park. Suddenly, now there are metal detectors, not near the front of the line, halfway up. So if you aren't aware of these and make it halfway through the line you WILL get sent back by some sourpuss faced girl who will rudely dismiss you all the way back past the entrance to the overfilled locker area to store ANYTHING in your pockets. Yes, even a make up compact. Brutal and kind of nuts. Why arent those detectors at the entrance? And why are the people manning them so rude? It's a theme park and like I said I was a season pass holder at one point. I've lost things on rides, it's kind of part of the experience and how you learn. This was the case for all coasters on this day and they cannot seem to make their minds up about the rules from ride to ride. Some rides you can keep your hat with you, some you can't. It's a big what-to-do and it needs to get sorted.
Another huge problem was the "fast pass" lanes for some rides. They merge WAY too soon. So if I'm paying the extra $300 to get to the front of the line, I shouldn't be merging early and still having to wait 30+ minutes. That's my opinion. But on days where the parks are this busy and sweltering hot I know the answer...hold that thought...
After the first few interesting ride scenarios, we were hungry. We decided to get lunch at Mythos, our favorite restaurant in the park. The problem was, there was a line OUT OF THE DOOR of people waiting to just put their name on the list to eat! At this point I'm about to lose my cool and out of nowhere an old friend appears...Jesse Dillon...our VIP Host the last time we were at the park. What's a VIP Host? They are angels from heaven above...aka people you pay one hell of a premium to guide you around the park to ride every ride you want to FIRST. No wait at all. None. Zero. AND this includes the Harry Potter attractions...AND dining experiences.
Instantly I knew we should have done the VIP. But Jesse, being the kind and super customer friendly individual that he is, got us immediately sat at Mythos. Good guy. Great guy. And from that point on our experience went from meh to terrific.
We got to ride the water rides (with ponchos because have you ever ridden Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls before? Yeah...without a poncho, you might drown). I get made fun of for doing the ponchos but in the end, I'm always the hero. And I still get plenty drenched so the rides still work as a "cool down" I just don't feel like a sewer rat after. We also got to see the new mechanical raptor enclosure. Did not wait in line to take a picture, but he was rad.
We traveled over to the Universal side shortly thereafter to do Terminator2 (for a friend who is obsessed with that attraction. In all honesty it's not bad just LONG). And then get some wizarding fun in over in the Gringotts area. Escape from Gringotts...Still my favorite ride in the park due to its intriguing mix of coaster and 3D simulation. It's expertly done. Transformers might be my second favorite with old Optimus getting right in your face at the end of the mission and calling me a Freedom Fighter. Anyone know the significance of Bumblebee's song selections on the ride? If you've caught them, comment me...I'll be impressed. So far I've been the only one I know to pay attention to those and get it.
In the end, the park was great even on a very busy and unbearably hot day. We stayed until closing and enjoyed time with our friends (even though one has some strange park etiquettes). We will absolutely be back soon for Halloween Horror Nights and we will surely be staying at Royal Pacific again. This time of year is much less challenging and maybe by then some of these "coaster line quirks" will be worked out.
Orlando...always a favorite.