February 2017 Universal Orlando Trip Report - Day Two
We spent the afternoon at Islands of Adventure on Day One of our Universal Orlando trip, so we decided to spend the morning of Day Two in Universal Studios Florida. We got to the park gates just as the park as opening at 9:00 a.m.
Getting to Universal early in the morning - especially as the parks are first opening - can be really helpful if you want to avoid heavy crowds. The wait times are short, even for the most popular rides, and smaller stores, such as those in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley, aren't as crowded as they are later in the day.
We spent most of the morning enjoying the theming, riding rides, and window shopping in some of our favorite stores.
Rides at Universal Studios Florida
Our first stop was Transformers: The Ride 3-D. Jeremy is a big Transformers fan, so this ride is among our favorites at Universal Studios Florida. The posted wait time was 5 minutes, but we were able to breeze through the queue and get straight onto the loading platform and into Evac, the ride vehicle, with no wait. (Note: If you want to ride Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, we recommend heading to that ride FIRST when the park opens. The wait times for that ride typically hover around 60 minutes for the rest of the day, even when crowd levels are low.)
We went to The Simpsons Ride next. This ride was closed for a refurbishment during the second half of January, so we were keen to get back on it. The posted wait time was 10 minutes but we only waited about 6 minutes before we were ushered into the pre-show area. I realized about 30 seconds into the ride that I forgot to take my Dramamine, which made me feel a little panicky. Even with the Dramamine, I tend to feel slightly nauseated on The Simpsons Ride as well as my favorite ride, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. But for some reason, it wasn't so bad this time. I don't know if I'm getting tougher or if I benefited from an empty stomach or if the refurb helped with the screen-induced motion sickness. In any case, I can still brag that I've never thrown up at Universal. Yay!
We walked around in Springfield for a bit while we waited for E.T. Adventure to open. This ride usually opens about one hour after the rest of the park. E.T. Adventure is kind of like a slow-paced bicycle ride through an LSD-induced dream world. It isn't considered to be among the most thrilling rides in Universal Studios Florida, but it is a classic, and we thoroughly enjoy it each time we ride. The posted wait time was 5 minutes, but we were only in line for about 2 minutes before Steven Spielberg came on screen to explain our mission. The ride was awesome. I got a good seat: E.T. was in the basket of my bike and I heard him say my name loud and clear at the end of the ride.
New Stuff in the New York Area of Universal Studios Florida
In the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them movie, Newt, Tina, Queenie, and Jacob visit a 1920's New York speakeasy called The Blind Pig. The entrance to The Blind Pig is found behind a painting designed to look like an ad for lipstick. If you're recognized as magical, the painting will come to life and allow you entry into the speakeasy. The Blind Pig painting was created for the movie by graphic designers Miraphora Mina and Eduardo Lima, who also designed the artwork for many of the props in the Harry Potter films.
Universal added The Blind Pig painting into the New York Area of Universal Studios Florida shortly before the Celebration of Harry Potter in January, so we stopped by to see if this painting was still there. It was! We're not sure how long this painting will remain in the area. If you want to look for it, we suggest starting your search near The Film Vault store in New York.
We also visited The Tonight Shop, which contains a wide range of Fallon related merchandise, including pants, shirts, jackets, hats, glasses, keychains, and much more. You can also purchase NBC merchandise that we haven't seen in any other store. A small stash of Universal merchandise, such as shirts, hats, and hoodies, rounds out the selection. We didn't buy anything in The Tonight Shop, but we did have fun looking around.
Shopping at The Film Vault
The Film Vault, which opened in the summer of 2014, is one of our favorite stores in Universal Studios Florida. This store is full of merchandise based on classic properties like Jaws, Back to the Future, Ghostbusters, The Breakfast Club, The Godfather, The Big Lebowski, and Scarface. You can also find merchandise based on Universal's classic monsters and more recent films like Sharknado and Pitch Perfect. Merchandise includes, but is not limited to: posters, t-shirts, blankets, film cells, and collectible figures and toys.
Lunch at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.
Most of the restaurants in the park and CityWalk open at 11:00 a.m., so this is when we like to eat lunch. If you wait until noon, the restaurants start to fill up, and if the park is really busy, you may have to wait to get a seat depending on where you dine. We've only been to Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. one other time, and we enjoyed the experience, so we decided to go back for another meal.
The restaurant was practically empty when we arrived at 11:10. We were immediately seated and greeted by our server, Patrick, who offered to answer any questions we had about the menu. We weren't hungry enough for appetizers, so we just ordered two drinks and two entrees. Jeremy had a Big and Frosty, a non-alcoholic frozen drink in a souvenir glass ($8.99). This drink had a tropical flavor and was very tasty. However, it was on a special menu insert, so we think it may be a temporary offering. I ordered a soda ($3.89) because I was craving a Mountain Dew. Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. is one of the few places on Universal property where you can get Pepsi products.
We also had:
- All-American Cheeseburger and Fries ($13.49): The starting price for this 1/2 pound burger is $11.49. We paid an extra $1.00 for cheese and another extra $1.00 for the burger patty to be made from grass-fed Angus beef from 44 Farms. For another $2.00, we could have had the burger topped with BBQ sauce and frizzled onions. The burger was cooked as requested, and the meat was tender and juicy. This is the second time that Jeremy has gotten this burger. He really liked it both times and would definitely get it again.
- Captain's Fish and Chips ($16.29): This entree includes three large pieces of beer-battered cod, French fries, coleslaw, and homemade tartar sauce. For an extra $5.00, you can get an even bigger portion of fish. This dish was almost sharable (I could only eat two of the three pieces of fish), so if you paid the extra $5.00, it would definitely be shareable. The fish was cooked perfectly. The batter was crisp, with no undercooked or mushy parts, and it was nicely seasoned and really tasty. The coleslaw was also some of the best coleslaw I've ever had in a restaurant. I would definitely get this again.
Our food came less than 15 minutes after we ordered it. We spent a total of 40 minutes at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. The service from Patrick was really good throughout the meal. He was friendly, helpful, and efficient.
One of our favorite things about eating at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. is the server system. Each table has two license plates on it. One says Stop Forrest Stop, and the other says Run Forrest Run. When you don't need anything, you display the Run Forrest Run license plate, and when you need something, you display the Stop Forrest Stop license plate. This ensures that you never wait too long for your server to stop by if you need a drink refill, more tartar sauce, or anything else.
Poolside at Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort
After leaving Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., we felt like we needed a break, so we took the bus from CityWalk back to Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort. The bus ride took less than 7 minutes. Jeremy headed to our room to take a nap and I went outside to spend some time at both of the hotel pools.
Cabana Bay Beach Resort Pool #1
The first pool at Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort is the Cabana Bay Courtyard pool. It is surrounded by the Castaway, Thunderbird, and Starlight buildings, which house the family suites at Cabana Bay.
Cabana Bay Beach Resort Pool #2
The second pool at Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort is the Lazy River pool. It is located between the Americana and Continental buildings, which house the standard rooms at Cabana Bay.
Rides in Islands of Adventure
After our midday break, we were ready for more park time, so we headed to Islands of Adventure and into Marvel Superhero Island. Before we talk about the rides we experienced, I should probably explain a little bit about how we tour the park. We don't like to wait in lines, and we typically do not have an Express Pass, so our entire touring plan revolves around choosing what to ride based on wait times.
We check wait times with the free Universal Orlando App. This app will show you wait times in real time. You can even set up alerts that will notify you when the wait time has dropped below a specific time (such as 10 minutes) for any ride in the park. Touring the park in this way can result in more walking, but it does ensure that you do not spend your entire vacation waiting in line!
The wait times for each ride in Marvel Superhero Island were marked as 10 minutes or less, so we knew that this was the perfect time to hit Marvel and ride all four rides.
- The Incredible Hulk Coaster: The posted wait time was 10 minutes, but we waited less than 3.
- Doctor Doom's Fear Fall: The posted wait time was 5 minutes, but we walked right on to this ride.
- Storm Force Accelatron: The posted wait time was 5 minutes, but we walked right on to this ride.
- The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man: The posted wait time was 10 minutes. We waited about 5 minutes.
In the end, we were able to ride all four Marvel rides in just 35 minutes. We even stopped by the Crimeline to get an update. During Day One (which consisted of just a couple of hours in the park) and Day Two, we were able to ride 10 rides and we waited less than 20 minutes total for all of them thanks to careful timing and the Universal Orlando App.
Shopping in Port of Entry
Before leaving Islands of Adventure, we stopped by Islands of Adventure Trading Company store in Port of Entry. This store is sort of like the Universal Studios Store in Universal Studios Florida. The Islands of Adventure Trading Company store is near the entrance/exit of Islands of Adventure and has a mishmash of merchandise from every property featured at the park: Seuss, Harry Potter, Marvel Superheroes, Kong, Minions, Transformers, etc. You can also find general Universal Orlando merchandise. We really like this store because it is a good place to get a snapshot of the merchandise available in the park. You can also see some expensive collectible merchandise, such as Dumbledore's robe (can be purchased for $700).
We also stopped by Ocean Traders Market, located next to Islands of Adventure Trading Company, so that I could buy a Panama Jack hat ($19.95) to protect my head from the sun. We visited the Port of Entry Christmas Shoppe to browse the selection of holiday ornaments, and then went to the Port Provisions store, also in Port of Entry. Port Provisions is an excellent place to find discounted/clearance merchandise. For example, Port Provisions was selling a Universal hoodie exactly like the one I purchased at Islands of Adventure Trading Company in 2015. The hoodie was marked down from $59.99 (which is what I paid in 2015) to $39.99. Finally, on the way out, we stopped at the Last Chance Fruit Stand for bottled drinks. It's really important to stay hydrated while you're touring the parks!
Mardi Gras at Universal Studios Florida
On Mardi Gras nights, the French Quarter comes alive. You can hear live music performed by New Orleans bands, interact with performers from the Mardi Gras parade, and eat special Mardi Gras themed food like Beignets, Cajun Shrimp, Jambalaya, Po Boy Sandwiches, Gumbo, and Andouille Sausage.
We were hanging around in the French Quarter listening to music when a Universal Team Member approached us and asked us if we wanted to ride in the parade and throw beads from one of the floats. We immediately said yes! The only thing more fun than watching the Universal Mardi Gras parade is being in the parade!
We were sent to the Barney Courtyard in Woody Woodpecker's KidZone to get registered. This involved signing paperwork and learning how to throw beads (underhand or Frisbee style). After being strictly instructed not to take any pictures, we were led backstage, dressed in a Mardi Gras themed smock, and sent aboard our assigned float.
We rode the Rise of Garuda float. Garuda is a birdlike creature from Hindu and Buddhist mythology. The phoenix is thought to be a contemporary representation of Garuda. There were 25 people on our float (including us). We were all instructed to have fun and throw as many beads as we could along the parade route. There is not an endless supply of beads on board, so we were also encouraged to ration the beads to ensure that everyone along the route got some.
We were sent to register at 5:30 pm. The parade started at 6:45 pm. And we got off the float at about 7:30 pm. We really loved the experience and encourage you to ride a float in the Universal Mardi Gras parade if you ever get the chance.
Dinner at Cabana Bay's Bayliner Diner
By the time the parade ended, the park had closed. CityWalk was packed with people, so we decided to head back to Cabana Bay for some dinner at Bayliner Diner. This diner is set up like a food court with various stations, including:
- A Taste of the World: International eats
- Delizioso Pizza: Pizza and pasta
- Sizzlin' Good: Burgers and other items off the grill
- Delicatessen: Sandwiches, wraps, and soups
You can also make your own salad at the salad bar, get frozen yogurt from the self-serve frozen yogurt machine, or visit one of the many coolers for prepackaged items like salads, sandwiches, desserts, and snacks.
We were so hungry that we forgot to take a picture of our food (sorry!) and didn't remember until our plates were so demolished that a picture would have been a little pointless. But here is a description of what we ate:
- Daily Changing Roast from A Taste of the World ($13.50): This entree came with a fresh-carved piece of pork loin, mashed potatoes and gravy, and corn on the cob. The pork slice was very thick and juicy, and the mashed potatoes were tasty. The corn was a little rubbery.
- Side Salad ($3.99): This salad was prepackaged and came out of one of the coolers. The greens were fresh. The grape tomatoes looked okay but some of them tasted a little sour.
Annual Passholder Savings
We used our Preferred Annual Pass throughout our trip to get discounts on our hotel room, food, beverages, and merchandise.
On Day Two alone, we saved:
- Hotel room: $59.00
- Food and drinks: $5.23
- Merchandise: $2.00
Total Annual Passholder Savings for Day Two: $66.23