Universal Studios, Florida, December 2016

Due originally to Robert's enthusiasm for good deals and time share spiels, we had planned to spend a long weekend in Orlando doing Universal Studios (primarily for the Harry Potter worlds) and possibly Seaworld (we were undecided on the ethics of this when it became moot, for reasons you'll learn in just a moment). We got cheap JetBlue flights and planned our getaway for an October weekend when Hurricane Matthew threatened, and all the airports closed and Florida hunkered down. Hastily arranging things on the phone, we postponed until the middle of December, at which point there weren't anymore three-day weekends, so we reluctantly cut a day off our trip, figuring two days were better than none. We then started to realize that taking time out of the (shorter) trip to get from the time share hotel to Universal Studios, and then back again, as well as for the two-hour-plus spiel itself, was starting to eat up a significant chunk of the weekend, so we cancelled the time share part and booked two nights at a Universal Studios hotel. Whew! However it happened, the afternoon of December 16th, just a day after Samantha's fifth birthday, we flew from Boston to Orlando, Florida, to start our weekend away.

After a nice lunch at Marky Mark's burger place in Logan, we had a quick and easy afternoon flight and took a taxi to the Loews Royal Pacific hotel to check in. From there we took the water taxi over to Citywalk to scrounge up something for dinner. Samantha was pretty entranced watching a kids' hula hoop competition in progress meanwhile.

On Saturday, bright and early, we were in line at Universal Studios at 7:38 a.m., and despite Robert's grumbling that we were going to have to wait 22 minutes, they actually opened fifteen minutes early, so we were able to walk swiftly over to the Harry Potter area. In this park, the Potter area is meant to look like Diagon Alley, and in the adjoining park (Islands of Adventure) it's mean to look like Hogwarts and Hogsmeade, and you can ride the Hogwarts Express back and forth between the two areas. All of these areas are incredibly well done, with great attention to detail. We had butterbeer ice cream (tastes like butterscotch plus marshmallow) and frozen butterbeer with foam, and we joined the throngs of people standing in the street waiting for the dragon, perched on the top of the bank, to roar. When was he going to roar next, and was there a schedule, Robert asked someone working at a drinks cart. "I really couldn't say, sir," was the reply, "since he's a wild animal and all. But he does usually growl right before he starts breathing out fire." Helpful!


We went first on the"Escape from Gringotts" ride, but we also rode a Minions ride, a Men in Black ride very much like the Toy Story ride from Disney, a Transformers one (Samantha was terrified), an E.T. ride (Samantha would have loved it, but after Transformers, she wasn't going on anything she couldn't see), a cute Woody Woodpecker roller coaster,a pteranodon flying kids' coaster, a kids' hippogryph roller coaster, and a Splash-Mountain-style ride (Samantha again refused).

She liked meeting Curious George, and both she and Marcus liked the dinosaur-themed playground and the Woody-Woodpecker playground with a trampoline and a water slide you did on sleds.

As it was approaching dinner time, I took Helen and went on ahead to Citywalk while Robert took the big kids on one last ride, so I could put our name in at the Toothsome Chocolate Emporium, a steampunk-style restaurant.

The kids had plain pasta, and I had pasta with shrimp and crab (lots of crab, and Marcus actually ate a lot of mine), and Robert had a pork chop in mole sauce. Then we shared a huge s'mores sundae and a peanut butter milkshake, with a candle for Samantha's birthday. Samantha also had a long conversation with an actress in costume as the supposed "founder" of the chocolate emporium, who came around to the tables and would normally have just made small talk and left, except that she asked Samantha if she was an artist ("Yes."), seeing her drawing, and then asked her to explain her drawing ("See, it's part of a book, and I'm both the author and the illustrator. It's called 'Rides' and it has pictures of all the different rides we went on today...."), and that took awhile. Both of them seemed completely engaged in the discussion, though.

When the water taxi dropped us back at our hotel, we discovered that the kids' movie at the pool was still going on, so the kids settled down to watch the last forty-five minutes of "The Polar Express" (a.k.a. "that interminable Christmas movie," as Robert, not a fan, called it to me). Everyone slept well, though we got a slightly later start the next morning and weren't in the park until 8:15.

On Sunday we spent most of our time in Islands of Adventure, where Samantha especially loved the Dr. Seuss world--riding the carousel, telling "Sam" that she was Sam too and watching him mug and react, and playing in the water playground there.

Our final stop of the day was the white water rafting ride in Toon Town, which Marcus ended up going on four times. When Robert was d o n e with the ride, and done getting soaked, Marcus just kept going on happily without him. Helen had a little indoor playground to cruise around in in the shade, and Samantha was able to go up on the roof and aim a water gun at Marcus's raft to help get him even a bit more wet, if that were possible.


We landed in Boston just after 9:00 at night, with Samantha so tired she curled up on the airport floor while Robert dashed to the bathroom. Meanwhile, Marcus had engaged in a little Christmas spirit by reading "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever," which Sarah had gotten him as a present, and then writing a note in the book and giving it to another kid in the airport and asking them to do the same for someone else.

We'd had a great weekend of 85 degree sunny weather--meanwhile, Boston got five inches of snow on Saturday morning, and my father ended up shoveling for us!


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Created: 12/18/16. Last Modified: 12/18/16.