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  1. Volcano Bay https://www.parkz.com.au/attraction/volcano-bay A couple of weeks ago I finally got to visit Volcano Bay in Orlando. Got a pretty good run at the place, the weather was rainy, but it was also warm and humid, and the water is kept at a perfect temperature, which was fine for this South East Queenslander. The net result was a dead park, and walk ons for almost everything. I was in and out in about 4 hours, and that was with re-rides, a lap to take some photos and mucking around to have lunch. Entry to the park is a bit of a pain in the arse if park hopping. You have to walk right to the back of the car park, where they have built a bus station, for shuttles to the park. Nothing screams tropical getaway like this? IDK maybe they could have built a shutte train from Citywalk itself and called it the Pineapple Express or something? But they make up for it when you arrive because its legitimately one of the nicest park entries anywhere. Overall impressions, has one of the most impressive slide line ups anywhere, and I guess what sets them apart is they are typically much longer than other installs. This means much longer climbs to the top, but it also means you get quite a lengthy ride every time. Theming is nice and has been beautifully styled, but for me it's still fundamentally a water park, just with all the signs and handrails etc better themed than usual. None of the slides really had any additional theming or SFX on them. There were lots of nice details to spot if you keep your eyes peeled. Most of the technical wizardly is reserved for the various interative Tapu Tapu things you can activate with your RFID wristband. This ranged from interactive fountains to underwater features, right through to light shows in a cool little walkthrough hidden inside the volcano. This wristband is also used to make ride reservations, though given the non existent crowds it went unnoticed, though you still tap in on each ride, so i guess they get super accurate guest flow statistics! The Punga Racers Body Slides and the 'normal' lazy river Kopiko Wai were closed for annual maintenance but I didn't really care, and of course the Runamukka Reef (get it? run amok) is just for the kids. Onto the slides. Ohno and Ohya drop slides Drop slides that finish a few meters above the pool, with some nice waterfalls. Fun to watch and quite attractive. The nicest feature was the interative kids pool next door with big spinning fountains that would throw water in a giant spiral pattern. Maku Puihi Round Raft Rides I'll get my one moan out of the way early. Yes there are a couple of attractions with catchy sounding names, and I can see they were trying to keep to the theme with these tribal sounding words, but for most of the rides the names they have are just not memorable. Which of these slides was Maku and which was Puihi? I dunno? It's not like something such as "Perfect Storm" or "Mammoth Falls" or "Summit Plummet" where at least its kind of fun and catchy and gives you an idea of what the ride might be like. I guess thats why they have given them captions like "Round Raft Rides", anhow, whinge over. The one that is the big saucer type slide is actually pretty good, even if the saucer is a visual gimmick, since this was quite a fast slide and you rode up on the walls a fair bit on the turns. The double tornado slide is the 36ft model, so its Smaller than the 45ft Tornado at Adventure Park Geelong, but bigger than the 24ft Tantrum Alley at at Raging Waters Sydney. Despite this, it might as well been as rough as the 24ft ones, but didn't really have all the extra turns and helices that come with it, so it felt quite short, but also lacked the signature tornado airtime. ehhh. Te Awa - The Fearless River This is a high speed lazy river, so fast in fact you have to wear a life jacket, which you'd never see in Aus lol. This was great, its fun to power swim along, and there are some big waves, including a huge surge of water that gets released periodically, and happened to go off right as i was in front of the inlet. Woosh! Waturi Beach Bit of a miss. Looks great, but the waves are definitely underpowered. Typhoon Lagoon reigns supreme as the best wave pool in Orlando. I did like how they had a spinning dial on a tower that would rotate to show a wave icon when the waves came on. Taniwah Tubes Take the Temple of Huey from WWW and make it 3x higher and this is what you get. What is also nice is the way rafts have a conveyor, which land on a mezzanine below the start deck. So you only have to carry your raft one flight of stairs, and there is none of that muck around with queuing separately at the bottom for a raft. Another minor grumble, all 4 slides were running and had water going down them, but they only had 2 of 4 open, and yeah they are pretty similar, but one had this intense looking double helix I wanted to try and of course that was the one that was not available and they weren't rotating. The green one was standard raft slide stuff, but the blue ones had a bit more kick, with Proslides Explosion Curves, which are like their take on the constrictor, so you got a little head spin on each helix. Krakatau Aqua Coaster Again, like Supertubes at WWW if you made it several times longer. Im not normally that big on water coaster type slides, because to be honest straight gentle drops in a raft just aren't all that thrilling (though the uphill slighty bumpy LIM launches are fun). I guess i just prefer slides that wash you around a bit and feel out of control. Give me a tornado or a wave any day. These slides just repeat the same trick over and over. Somehow, my head was just at the right height to get hit by every single sprayer that wets the surface, so the whole time I'm squinting trying to avoid chlorinated mist in my eyes. The one big thumbs up I'll give this is the completely over the top theming of the station and the beautiful landscaping around the first couple of drops. Why did they do such massive safety fences? They almost treat it like a real roller coaster in terms of safety. Ko'okiri Body Plunge The biggest and baddest, it's a straight trapdoor drop from the very top of the volcano. This has the fun gimmick of transparent sections a the top, and again at the bottom where the slide passes through a swimming pool, so people can swim right up and apparently watch as you shoot past. Aaaand of course you get water in your face the whole time so can't really see much, and half the drop is in darkness so perhaps you lose the sense of speed a bit. Gave it a couple of goes because that intial trap door release is still pretty cool. The bit passing through the pool is nice on paper, but doesn't really work in practice because physics. If you keep your head above water and try to look at the tube the refraction of light means you end up seeing shimmering instead, though if you put your head underwater and open your eyes then yeah you can see a split second splatter when the rider goes past. Kala & Ta Nui Serpentine Body Slides Also from the top of the Volcano are a couple of turbo tunnel slides with trapdoors (again only 1 was open). This was the only ride where I was given a return time (The whole of 10 mins). The climb up the Volcano is very cool, with the staircase zig zagging through the tangle of slides and supports. The ride down has a bit less water in your face and consists of several very fast turns, so you cover a lot of slide in short space of time. Only did this one once. Honu ika Moana - Turtle & Whale A couple more decent family raft slides. Again with the naming, the blue slide is apparently the Turtle and the green one is Whale, so try and figure that one out. The Green one is mammoth type slide, without any gimmicks, and you know what it was legitmatley one of the best slides the park, it was long, it was fast, you got good wall time, and the straights in between actually work well because they give the rafts a chance to wash around. The double tornado wave is really good too. These rides are heaps of fun to begin with, but having the 2nd drop following from the first is a bit of genius because you get this scary moment where it feels like you could go airborne. Of course its all highly calculated and you get two big airtime moments. Worth a couple rides, especially if you can get a fully loaded raft. Overall, yes I'd recommend the place, especially if you have a multi day ticket to Universal since if you get bored you can go sit on Hagrids or Velocicoaster for the rest of the day. The slides are all mostly better versions of your favourites.
  2. I mentioned in another thread i'd just returned from a trip to California, and while we were there, we did the Universal Studios VIP Tour. I also said that now i've done it, i'd probably never visit the park again without it, and I thought i'd go into some detail as to why. (Your mileage may vary). I've read some of my thoughts below as i've drafted this, and i'm conscious this comes off like a paid #ad. I can assure you that this isn't sponsored, and i'm just that impressed with the product that i'll happily spruik it for free. I should add that i've included some photos here where i had them, but we mainly just enjoyed the day and didn't take a lot of photos - plus the photos you see on the USH website are far better illustrations of the experience than i could ever do. This is the current link to the experience Pricing \ Costs - First up - the economics. A lot of people said to us it was expensive. Others just told us to do two days in park to save money. We had an extra day planned in our itinerary in case we needed it as we stupidly booked a trip right in the middle of spring break. 1 day general admission is posted at "from $109" and the VIP experience as "from $369" though these prices can vary on the day. I can't remember the day ticket price when we booked, but the current pricing on the website for this friday 14th April is showing $149 for a day ticket. Universal Express is an additional $160 per ticket and gives a one-shot express to included rides, attractions and shows (excludes Mario Kart). The express pass also gives you a one-time entry (without reservation) into Nintendo land. All up, this is $309. You can also add 'early access' to nintendo land - one hour prior to park open - for an additional $20, so your single day entry with these perks comes to $329. On the same day, the VIP pass is currently selling for $489 - an extra $160 on top - however the perks you receive for this additional price are absolutely worth it - and i'll cover these below. The Experience We decided to book our experience first thing - a 7:30 timeslot was the earliest available, and this meant we would have our VIP pass for use throughout the park for the entire day. Our first inclusion of the day was free Valet parking at Jurassic Valet (located inside CityWalk) so we were able to drive into the garage, drop the keys and start our day. Valet runs you $50 per car for the day, so as a single this is a huge value to your VIP experience, but as a group arriving in the same car, the value does diminish somewhat. After clearing bag check, we proceeded to the VIP entrance to the side of the main gate, where our parking ticket was immediately validated, we were checked in, given our VIP passes for the day, and escorted upstairs into a private dining area for a light breakfast (included). Breakfast included pastries, fruit, yoghurt, cereal, coffee, juice etc, and there were several 'travellable' items you could pop in your bag to munch on later. It was on par with a 'very nice' hotel breakfast that you'd pay in the realm of $25pp for. The entire facility was filled with cool behind the scenes pictures, and movie props, award statues, etc. Our VIP host - Donna - met our group of 10 (about 3 different family groups) and took us aside to explain how she intended to run the day, plus usual housekeeping. We discussed what everyone was looking to tick off today, and those who wanted to dine inside Nintendo land were given a QR code to make their reservations early avoiding disappointment. Donna was absolutely incredible as a host all day and I cannot sing her praises enough for the experience she gave my family throughout the entire day. We then set off through the park alongside a second tour group (most groups are paired for some experiences) and shoutout to Michelle who was our other guide that day for her awesome hosting skills also. We passed through the rope-drop-queueing guests with ease, and as the 7:30 tour we got to experience something few people get to see - an entirely empty Hogsmeade and Springfield. We paused for photos before pressing on into the studio tour. Unlike the standard 6-car tour trams, our tram was a single vehicle, well appointed with luxury seats, onboard drinks cooler, and plenty of space for all, and we begun our tour early in the day. While the standard studio tour takes about an hour non-stop, the VIP tour can take more than 90 minutes, as the tour stops at various points to let you step out and explore the sets - On our tour we explored the crashed 747 from War of the Worlds, "little europe" and sets from 'The Good Place' (NBC\Netflix). We also toured the prop department, and did the usual tour experiences including Kong, Jaws, F&TF, Earthquake, etc - although as our tram was only one car long, our driver would sometimes reverse back down the stage to prolong the experience for us. Unfortunately an advertised highlight of the tour - the Hill Valley \ town square set - was closed for filming the latest season of American Ninja Warrior (boo!) I should add that you are allowed to take whatever photos and videos you like while walking the sets - only the prop department forbids photos! After our studio tour, we took a back door entry into Hogsmeade, and bee-lined for Hippogriff. The tour guides are familiar visitors to the ride operators and they immediately cleared a path for our group to board the next train. The hosts try to group the VIPs into as few carriages as possible so they don't add to the wait more than necessary, and it was great to see Ops and the hosts working together to make things as smooth as possible. The hosts waited at the exit to the ride, captured the photocards for on-ride photos and distributed them to the groups on exit. They were great at engaging with each guest about their experiences, their thoughts on particular rides, especially for the kids in the group (3 total). They also carried bags and other loose items, though in hindsight, a backpack is definitely not needed whilst on the tour. We moved immediately to Forbidden Journey, and through clever doors were able to walk right to the front of the line with ease. Again, Ops worked well to accommodate us and we were on in moments. It was my first time riding and it was an impressive experience to say the least. We moved onto Despicable Me (another backdoor trick to get right to the front) before finally breaking for lunch at Moulin Rouge. This place is set up for private VIP dining, overlooking the San Fernando Valley, with chef prepared buffet lunch offering something for even the fussiest eaters - salads, carvery meats, seafood, pasta, pizza, kids options, plenty of sweets and pastry options, gelato by the scoop, hotplate cookies, cooked to order scampi - the works. Plenty of drinks options as well as a charging station with plugs to suit literally any device you can fit in your pocket. I'd have happily paid $50USD per person for this and still think I got a bargain. They even had private bathrooms with luxurious fitouts that were probably nicer spaces than anywhere else in the park! Dining also had guest characters appear (Doc Brown made his appearance during our lunch), and a very generous hour was allotted for us to enjoy our lunch, relax, and decompress from the bustle of the park. Some of our group took the extended break to ride Simpsons, and returned about 10 minutes late to the meet up point (don't be that guy). We met outside Secret Life of Pets, and again, a very secret backdoor put us right to the front of the line. (Many of these backdoors can't be used without a host present). Given our early start, our lunch had concluded before midday and so by noon we had done everything topside other than Simpsons (we'd be skipping this during the tour but were free to come back after our host had finished for the day). So it was time to head down the hill. Coming down the hill it was clear the spring break crowds had arrived. (Remember, this was only just midday - it got more crowded by mid-afternoon). We quickly hit Mummy, Transformers, and Jurassic. Everything continued to be an absolute walk-on despite the ever-lengthening queues around us. The tour provided a plastic poncho for Jurassic, though it was a hot day and not really needed. We ticked these off, again our host captured our ride photo for us and had it ready as we exited, allowing us to move onto the next experience. Now, by this point, I think you'd have to agree that it's a finely balanced thing as to whether this is worth the extra $160. Sure, it was a great lunch, and the parking and breakfast adds some value, but as inclusions, it's still a little short unless you can put a value on the walk around experiences in the backlot. If you'd put a price on these extras and charged them separately, some folks would happily pay them and some wouldn't, so at this point, the VIP is not for everyone. Until this point. Donna explained that Nintendo Land was the one challenge to her job. That for all the express, vip, special doors, Nintendo was still too new, and too busy to be quick. She explained that on quiet days, she can get her group into Mario Kart in around half an hour, but that she had had it take longer than 80 minutes. We were stood outside the exit to Transformers, and at this, curiosity got the better of me, and I started a stopwatch. Donna lead us from Transformers to the 'queues'. This morass of people were queueing to get admission at their reservation time. every half hour, another group would add to the queue. Beside them, the express lane. These were the folk who got a one-time entry into the land once per day. they were being admitted only as fast as they could be scanned in, by a single express lane operator. Then there was Donna. With her hand raised in the air for our group to follow, she marched confidently through the masses. Politely but assertively weaving through the groups, picking her path well in advance from years of experience in theme parks, the cast manning the scanners recognised her coming, and cleared a path for us the last few metres. We paused only long enough to be scanned into the land, and then proceeded straight into the Warp pipe. We came out the other side to be smacked in the face by how incredible the land is, (and how full of people it was). Donna tells us that the land has had to be evacuated twice today (once because someone in the MarioKart queue pulled a fire alarm) so it's busier than usual. and you can tell. We head straight into Mario Kart, sidestep a small barrier and we're into the express lane, rushing past miles of switchbacks in a blur barely long enough to register the theme inside each room before pressing on. And here is where we start to see why it takes so long to get through the ride. It's been about 6 minutes since we left transformers, but now we hit the first pre-show - how the gameplay works. Its unavoidable (and necessary to enjoy it) so we stall while we wait for the room to fill and the pre-show to play. Donna passes down to our group not to stop in the next room for helmets - she will have them for us and we need to press on into the next queue area. We do so and skip another good chunk of humanity all trying to collect their mario hats. We pause again on the stairs, and she passes out the helmets. We can finally see the load station, and we're close. As soon as we round the corner, Donna waves to an op on station, and again the path opens before us. Next minute we're on the ride, and its over before you know it. We unload, and exit Bowser's castle. It's been 46 minutes, and Donna has excelled at her job once again. On a day when Mario Kart was posting a 180 minute ride wait time, 46 minutes to enter the land and get off the ride was insane, and more than makes up whatever dollar value you felt was lacking in the pricetag for this experience! At this point in the day, our tour is over. Donna has seen us get onto every attraction in the park except The Simpsons, and it's barely 1:30 in the afternoon. Before leaving, Donna recapped with every party the things they had wanted to get done on the day, and confirmed these had been done or that plans were in place. She provided showtimes for Waterworld, the light show for Hogwarts (and even mentioned showtimes that were not advertised, but would happen today due to the high crowds). And at this point, I was satisfied we'd had our money's worth. But it wasn't over yet. The park is open until 10pm, so we have more than 8 hours left in our day to explore on our own. She has shown us every special entrance we can use (and even a few special code words to use in places like Ollivanders) to skip the line. Unlike the standard express pass you can buy with your one-day ticket, the VIP pass is unlimited express, and you can literally marathon the same ride all day long without waiting if you chose. The rest of our day was largely free-play. We knocked Jurassic and Mummy out a couple times, and spent a bit of time exploring Nintendo land \ Mario Kart. We headed up the hill to do Simpsons, and then went back into Hogsmeade to do Hippogriff and Journey a few more times. We wandered around the upper lot just taking things in, shopping and taking some photos before Waterworld started. Although we still had several hours left, we were heading out the gates around 7pm, happy with the day we'd had and without needing to spend the additional 3 (increasingly freezing) hours in the park. (LA was seeing an unseasonably cold spring, and there was still snow on the nearby mountain ranges). Valet collection was also painless and quick and we were back onto the freeway in no time. So ends the VIP experience review! _____________________________ **I do want to add one thing - my Son had had a popcorn bucket at the park he'd been asking for most of the day. I'd gotten it before Waterworld, but we had stopped at the photo counter to ensure all our photos for the day were captured. Somewhere along the way it had gotten misplaced, and only missed once we were at the Valet. It had been the one thing he had asked for that day, and not wanting to disappoint, I went back into the park to retrace our steps, but neither the photobooth nor the main Universal store had seen it. I tried to see if I could just buy another one but they all appeared to be sold out. The Universal store directed me to guest services, and I walked in not expecting much. The GS cast member who greeted me was great. Admittedly we'd had a long couple of days and I got a little emotional about this damn popcorn bucket as it was the one thing he'd liked and asked for as a souvenir. The GS cast (I'm appalled I cannot recall her name) brought me into a waiting room, got me some water, confirmed exactly what bucket it was, and then left. In less than ten minutes, she returned, with a replacement item in hand, as well as a giant bag of freshly cooked popcorn. We'd been at SFMM the day prior and experienced really poor service all round (which is kinda par for the SF course) but I honestly hadn't expected Universal to go this far outside of the VIP experience and this gesture by the GS cast member genuinely surprised and touched me. All round, while I still think Disney's long standing attractions have got Universal beat - the gap is far FAR closer than it ever used to be. However on levels of service - Universal (in my opinion) is now beating Disney in terms of simple guest experience. At some point, i'll get around to putting my thoughts down on the other parks we visited (this has taken at least 2 hours already) but overall I couldn't be happier with our time at Universal and will gladly pay the same again to have that level of experience, but I added this last point to demonstrate that Universal's service extends beyond the premium payer into a level that they genuinely care about each and every guest's experience in the park, as it should be (and to the nameless GS cast member I cannot remember the name of, thankyou again for saving our day!)
  3. Hey! (I'm only imagining how many eye rolls that this title would have received... 😂) So I know this is a 'cliche' topic and has been discussed several times, but I just want to know peoples thoughts to the following; Many say that Australia can't accomodate a Universal Studios park due to the small population that Australia has, yet Singapore has only got a population of 5 million? As well as that, Universal Studios Singapore only has about 20 attractions - in comparison to Movie World that has 24 - and it's size isn't ALL that big (It literally surrounds a lagoon). I can understand why a Disney park wouldn't work in Australia, but I feel like a Universal Studios park has potential? Anyway, I'm a curious person and just want to see/hear what other people think about this.
  4. After a great time at Movie World's Halloween the weekend before. It was time to cross the Pacific to theme park Nirvana, and get my haunt on. In summary, what did I do? Sat October 17 : Travel Sydney to Los Angeles then onto Orlando / Fun Spot Orlando Sun Oct 18 : Busch Gardens Tampa and Howl O Scream Mon Oct 19 : Animal Kingdom / Disney Studios / Epcot / Magic Kingdom Tue Oct 20 : Sea World / Fun Spot Kissimmee / sleep Wed Oct 21 : Universal Orlando / Lights-on Maze Tours / Halloween Horror Nights Thu Oct 22 : Knott's Scary Farm Fri Oct 23 : Magic Mountain / Zombie Joe's Urban Death Tour (North Hollywood) Sat Oct 24 : Queen Mary Dark Harbor Sun Oct 25 : Knott's Scary Farm Mon Oct 26 : no parks / Australian Consulate Tue Oct 27 : Knott's Berry Farm Wed Oct 28 : Knott's Scary Farm Thu Oct 29 : Knott's Scary Farm Fri Oct 30 : Halloween Horror Nights - Hollywood Fri Oct 31 : watch rugby world cup final / Universal Citywalk / go home I was also going to Las Vegas and Frightdome and other haunts, but had to cancel and stay in LA because my Passport got severely damaged in Florida and I had to go to the Australian consulate in LA to get an emergency passport. Trust me folks, trying to get through the TSA at screening with just an Aussie issued driver's licence is not fun. To be continued...
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