Wednesday 8/13/14 – Universal Studios/Islands of Adventure
In a word, No. No it was not worth the wait. What, you ask… the Gringotts Bank roller coaster at the new Diagon Alley section of Universal Studios, but more on that later. To start I must warn that there will be spoilers in this post. So, if you do not want to know things about the ride or the new section of the park, Stop Reading Now.
I drew this picture of Nemo while waiting for the Mears bus.
Kyra and I started our day by waiting for the mears bus. While outside our hotel I saw three easels with instructions on how to draw Nemo. Since we had nothing better to do and were just killing time, I decided to try it. After I was done and we were just standing around waiting, I noticed the guy in front of me had a cool backpack. I took a picture of the lable and when we got home I looked into the brand; they have some pretty cool stuff.
Eventually, the slightly late Mears bus arrived which was set to take us from our hotel to Universal Studios. We stopped at one other hotel and dropped people off at Sea World before finally arriving at Universal Studios at 9:30am. Upon making our way to the entrance to the park, I had to wait for Kyra to buy a second ticket in order to be sure she’d be let in. It’s a long story involving over-thinking things and buying tickets at AAA and wrong names on tickets and more crap than I care to get into all for what ended up being unnecessary.
Crappy overview of London.
So, becasue of all this, we didn’t get into the park until around 10am. I was already frustrated at the whole situation and we hadn’t even gotten on a ride yet. The first thing we did was to make a beeline for the new Diagon Alley section of Universal Studios.
Slightly less crappy overview of London with random people in the foreground.
After admiring and taking pictures of the outside, we stepped through the brick wall and into Diagon Alley. In hindsight, with a non angry mindset, I can say that I was blown away.
The first thing you see when entering Diagon Alley. Go back and watch Sorcerer’s Stone, then look at this picture, your mind will be blown.
The detail of everything was out of control and, regardless of weather or not you know about or care about the books and movies, the architecture and world you step into alone is very impressive. But I didn’t care about any of that at the time, I wanted to get in line for the Gringotts Bank coaster. We went straight there and saw that already the line was out the door. We thought we saw a wait time that said 100 minutes.
More of Diagon Alley.
After a few minutes we noticed employees going up to various people in line and telling them somehting. We couldn’t hear what it was, but it didn’t seem good. I asked the woman in front of us if she knew what the deal was. Apparently the ride wasn’t even working yet and they weren’t sure how long it would be until it opened. Frustrated that I might spend my entire day waiting in line for one ride, I told Kyra, who is a huge Potter fan, to look around and that I’d text her if there were any updates or if the line began to move.
By the way, the dragon actually breaths fire!
We stood around for about 10 or 15 minutes until suddenly they began letting people in. Just before entering the building, I heard an employee say that the wait would be at least two-hundred and forty minutes! This made our original panic at the thought of a 100 minute wait seem laughable. I texted Kyra and she soon joined me in line. Shortly after though, I got the urge to pee. Seeing that I wasn’t going to hold it for 4 hours, I got out of line. At the entrance, I explained the situation to the employee. She said it was no problem and handed me a ticket to show I had a place holder so that when I came back, it wouldn’t look like I was cutting. This I thought, was a smart idea.
Took the pics of Diagon Alley while Kyra was holding our place in line.
After going to the bathroom, I decided to walk around for a bit to explore a little bit of the new section. What did they care how long I was out of line? After a couple minutes I made my way back to Kyra and the real waiting began. We went up and down endless switch backs. About an hour and a half in there was an announcement, the ride had broken down. Morale fell. A little while later it was operational again. More waiting. Another announcement. This time they predicted the ride might be down for a half an hour.
These pictures aren’t going to be in an order that co-insides with the story, but they will at least help to break it up.
Kyra left me to do more exploring while I sat and waited. By the time she got back there had been no progress. There was talk of an exit strategy. How long were we willing to wait? How much of our day were we willing to sacrifice? Though I didn’t want to waste my entire day in line for one attraction, I didn’t want to give up on all the time we invested. We agreed on 3pm, but I had it in my head that I was riding that ride. I then decided to tag out and told Kyra to text or call if the line started back up again. I got all the way to the front and was taking my re-entry ticket when I heard the announcement, “Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts is once again operational.” In spite of this I continued walking around and exploring. There was no way she was going to make it to the front by the time I got back.
I then explored Diagon Alley in more detail, going into the shops, taking pictures of the facades, and even taking a stroll down Knockturn Alley. It was nice to be in the sunlight, to be free to walk around, to feel like you were accomplishing something. By the time I got back, about 15 or 20 minutes later, Kyra had made it out of the switchbacks and into the straight bit that leads to the first open and themed section of the queue.
Gringotts Bank lobby.
After being forced to step out to put bags and loose items in the free lockers provided, we got back in line and were finally able to appreciate some theming. Again we were over whelmed with the details but were torn between stopping to take pictures and running down the open section of queue. While I waited towards the end of the bank lobby, I looked down and notice $20 on the ground. I looked around and saw no one looking for money, then reached down and put it in my pocket.
Goblins hard at work.
I felt and still feel sort of bad about the whole thing. I could have done the right thing and handed it to an employee to put in lost and found, but how does one claim lost money? How do you prove it’s yours? “Did anyone turn in a $20 bill?” “Yes, could you describe the bill sir?” “Uuuhh…” “Do you know the serial number?” I dicided to just keep it. It was payment for all the waiting I was doing. I really shouldn’t have been surprised I found money, this was a bank after all.
After the lobby, the queue moves into a long hall section. There are paintings of famous goblins and gold bars stacked behind bars. We heard from an employee that we were fairly close to the end of the line. All we had left was a pre-show, and elevator ride and then the last little section of waiting. He said we were about a half an hour away. This got us both very excited as half an hour seemed like no time compared to what we had gone through. Eventually we got to the room with the pre-show.
A goblin got out from behind his desk and began talking to us. I was very surprised by this becuase I thought, “Wow, they have a live actor here all day to do this pre-show!?” It wasn’t until one of the effects happened that I realized this wasn’t a live show, this was some sort of hologram projection like when Tupac performed at Coachella. I was blown away by how real it looked.
Talking heads in Knocturn Alley.
After this we moved on to the next room where we were loaded into an “elevator.” I say “elevator” because it was clearly just a staging area. The floor bounced up and down to make you think you were moving, but really you were just staying in the same place. The “elevator room” in the Haunted mansion is much more convincing.
The Night Bus.
When the doors opened we exited to the basement level of the bank. It looked like a dungeon and this was where you got your 3D glasses. You then got in one of two lines that lead to a staircase the brought riders to a duel loading station. Soon we were at the top of the stairs and before you know it we were finally on the ride. As the ride pulled out of the station I yelled “Four. Hour. Wait. Wooo.”
The interior of the Night Bus.
The ride basically takes you through the vault and cave section of Gringotts where you have run-ins with Voldemort, Bellatrix and Harry, Ron, and Hermione. The ride is a combination of a roller coaster and an immersive movie expirence. You move through actual environments but the rest is completed by the giant movie screens. The 3D is incredible and you’d swear that the actors were really there. Soon it was over and we exited the ride.
After getting off, all I could do was think about the countless other things I could have done in four hours that would have been a better use of my time. The ride was good and unlike anything else I’d ever done, but definitely not worth the wait. (This however was apparently nothing compared to the supposed 7 hour wait times people dealt with when the ride first opened!) The thing that disappointed me was that I thought it was going to be this crazy fast roller coaster though Gringotts with barrel rolls and stuff. In reality, they probably could have used any sort of ride vehicle to give the same experience. I checked my phone and it was 2:29pm. I looked at the text I had sent Mom when we first got in line and the time stamp was 10:25am; we had in fact been in line for four hours.
—The Rest Of The Day
After being freed from the prison that was Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, we made our way out of Diagon Alley and over to Kings Cross Station to take the Hogwarts Express to Hogsmead. Your theme park ticket serves as your ticket to board the train. We got in the 45 minute line and after about 15 minutes of waiting, we got an announcement that we’d become so familiar with. In short, you guessed it, the ride had broken down. We waited through a few more of this same announcements before bailing. I was not going to spend my day waiting in line for unreliable rides. The Hogwarts Express breaking down was a blessing in disguise (though I didn’t know it at the time) as I had more to see at Universal Studios before heading over to Islands of Adventure and I figured it made more sense to finish one park before making our way over to the other.
I angrily lead us towards the Transformers ride. I knew that this was basically the same ride as the Spider-Man ride they have at Islands, only with newer technology and Tranformers themed. However, though I don’t give to much of a shit about Transformers, this ride was relatively new to the park and 100% new to both Kyra and me, so I wanted to check it out. My thought was this, if the wait time is reasonable, like 15 minutes, I’ll do it. If it’s crazy long, I can skip it for now. I did want to do it just to say I did it and because it was new, but after that wait, I just needed to get a second ride under my belt.
We walked up to the line and saw that the wait time said 60 minutes. I was literally in the middle of saying “Fuck that,” when the following announcement was made: “If you want to turn your 60 minute wait into a 5 minute wait…” -I assumed they were going to tell us to by their device that allows you to skip the lines so I skeptically kept listening- “…why not try our single rider line?” I looked to Kyra and we were both on board. We got in the single rider line and as it turned out, the announcement was true! It probably took less than five minutes for us to get on the ride and on top of that, the attraction was incredible. This really turned my mood around and got me to think that if we ran into more luck like this, the day might be salvageable.
Next we made our way over to the nearby Revenge of the Mummy roller coaster. This is one of my favorites and again we decided to do the single rider line. The wait ended up only being about 15 minutes and Kyra and I still ended up on the same car. We weren’t next to each other, but she was sitting right behind me. This helped to solidify my new found good mood. We were able to ride two rides in the same amount of time it took us to wait in 8.3% of our total wait time for Gringotts!
After that we headed for the exit of Universal Studios. Along the way I checked out the single rider wait time for the Rip, Ride, Rock-It roller coaster. At 75 minutes I was like “Fuck that” and we made our way over to Islands of Adventure.
—Islands of Adventure
Now I was really getting excited because though I had been to Islands twice before, Kyra had never been. Though she was hungry, I wanted to check the wait time for the Hulk roller coaster. When we got to the entrance, I was shocked at what I saw: 15 minutes! Everyone else must have been in line for Gringotts. I asked Kyra if she could do one more ride and that after I promised we could get food. She agreed and we shortened our wait to about 10 minutes by once again doing single rider. As usual, the ride did not fail to entertain. It is just filled with nonstop action. You’re always either dropping, turning, or looping and the ride never gives you a chance to breath. It’s really intense but I love it every time.
“Welcome to Executive Bathroom Island.”
After the Hulk, we went next door to Cafe 4. We got pizza and pasta at the Fantastic 4 themed restaurant before continuing our journey. The next stop on was Jurassic Park to ride the Jurassic Park River Adventure log (or in this case boat) flume ride. Yet again we did the single rider line, cutting our wait time from 40 minutes to about 10 or 15. I love this ride because you get to relax and enjoy a nice slow cruise, checking out some dinos along the way. Then, as is the case with rides like this, something goes wrong and you end up climbing a lift hill into the facility only to have to plummet 80 feet to the water below. It’s a pretty standard ride but I always enjoy doing it.
Just Hogwarts… nothing you haven’t seen before… move along.
After that we made our way to Hogsmead. Upon entering that section of the park, Kyra, once again, lost her shit. She got super excited upon seeing Hogwarts and this in turn made me happy. However, I was dreading the wait time for the star attraction in this area, The Forbidden Journey. To my shock and amazement, the wait was only 30 minutes! This blew me away because when I came in 2010, the wait time was 2 maybe even 2 and a half hours. Now granted that section of the park was new at the time and granted four years have passed since then and now everyone is more interested in the Gringotts ride, but still, I was blown away. We hopped right in line and began our relatively short wait.
Initially, before knowing that the wait time was going to be so short, I was all set to tell Kyra, “Look, I’ve ridden this ride before, I don’t need to ride it again, I already did one big wait today. I want to get other rides in, but I don’t want to prohibit you from being able to ride it, so why don you go on if you want, and I’ll bang out a few other rides.” But, as it turned out this wasn’t the case. I’m actually glad I got to ride it again for two reasons. 1) because the last time I did the single rider line and missed most of the queue, which turned out to be interactive and entertaining. And 2) because it is one of the most unique and innovative rides I have ever been on and I was glad to get the opportunity to ride it again.
Once we finished the dizzying ride, we made our way over to the Dragon Challenge roller coaster. Formerly Dueling Dragons, the coaster remained the same but was merely enhanced with some Harry Potter theming objects in the queue. Upon entering the line we were once again greeted by a surprisingly short 15 minute wait! There was basically no line at all and it was actually closer to only five minutes. We chose the blue coaster to ride first and it was, as usual, a lot of fun. The one thing that disappointed me was that they were no longer making the coasters “duel.” They used to run the two trains at the same time in order for them to pass by one another in near misses. Now however, they no longer do that. This is/was lame to me because that was a big aspect of what made the ride entertianing. Nevertheless, it was still fun.
After riding blue, we headed over to the Three Broomsticks (restaurant)/Hogs Head (pub). Kyra had been craving a Butter Beer, and I wanted to try a Hogs Head brew; a red ale specially crafted for the park. We got a table and sat and drank our drinks. Kyra was underwhelmed by her Butter Beer, as I sort of expected she would be, I didn’t like it the first time I went to the Wizzarding World either. My real beer on the other hand was quite good.
Dueling Dragons or Dragon Challenge.
After finishing our drinks I wanted to go on Dragon Challenge again in order to ride the Red coaster; which has a different layout from Blue. Kyra didn’t have an interest, so she waited and held my stuff and I got in line. Amazingly there was literally no wait! By the time I got to the front of the queue I walked right onto the ride.
After doing this we got on the Hogwarts Express and took it back to London/Diagon Alley. The ride was actually really cool. Rather than just sitting in a train, they make it an attraction. The windows are actually video screens that show you pulling away from Hogwarts and entering downtown London. The glass and doors project shadows of passengers walking by. Ron, Harry and Hermione even walk by and peek in, “Looks like a bunch of first years in there.” The cool thing was that when we left Hogsmead, there was still sunlight, but by the time we got to Kings Cross, it was dark out. This perfect timing made the ride feel more realistic; like we’d actually taken a long distance journey.
Kings Cross station.
When we got off the ride, Kyra and I parted ways. We didn’t have much time left before the park closed but we had separate things we wanted to accomplish. Kyra wanted to take one more walk through Diagon Alley and I wanted to see if I could squeeze in a ride on the Rock-it roller coaster.
I walked over to the Rock-it and saw the wait time for single riders was still 60 minutes. I got in and hoped that, as had been the case with most of the posted wait times, it was shorter than it said. The only reason it was a factor was that we had a bus to catch and I didn’t want to miss it. I got in line and though it wasn’t fast, it wasn’t going to be 60 minutes either. It ended up being closer to thirty and though the ride wasn’t as enjoyable as I remember it being, mostly because I didn’t remember it being so rough, I was still glad I was able to ride it.
After getting off the ride, I met up with Kyra who was waiting near the ride’s exit and we headed to the bus. The day ended up being much better than I expected it to be from the way it started out. I was able to accomplish all but two of the things on my list. One was the Spider-Man ride, which I’ve ridden before and the other was the Classic Monster Cafe. But a) it was closed by the time we got around to it, and b) I wasn’t hungry by that time anyway. It was a long day and stressful at points, but it ended up well and by the time I got back to the hotel I was cooked. I even fell asleep on the bus that’s how burnt out I was. All in all a solid day.