Orlando, Florida & Universal Studios
6/16/17 to 6/22/17
Friday 6/16/17 We left our campsite in the Florida Keys around 10:00 AM. The next place we want to see is Universal Studios in Orlando, FL. We had been to Disney World just a couple years ago when we flew down to visit Michael but it's been 15 years since we were at Universal. From Key West to Orlando is about 380 miles and we didn't want to be there on a weekend so we decided to head back to Fort Myers and see Michael and the kids again.
We planned on driving about four hours today and then on Saturday drive to Shady Acres Campground in Fort Myers. Spend Saturday and Sunday night in Fort Myers and head for Orlando Monday morning. I found a campground in Ochapee, FL which is in the middle of Big Cypress National Preserve in the Everglades. This is pretty close to the airboat ride we took a week or so ago. Driving on the Overseas Highway was slow and when we got close to Homestead, FL there was a lot of construction so we arrived at the campground at 2:00.
We pulled into the campground and there was absolutely no one there. We did see a tent on one of the sites but no cars or RVs. We drove around and found our reserved site. Looking at the site I knew it was going to be hard to back into. There was a tree on the left side and the road we were on was a narrow single lane. Plus it looked like there had been a lot of rain the last couple of days and the grass across from the site was soaked. With the truck and trailer being about 50' long I knew I would have to drive on that grass to get into the site. So Rose took the walkie-talkie and got out of the truck to guide me in. As soon as she walked to the end of the site she got attacked by a swarm of mosquitoes. She came running back to the truck and jumped in bringing at least a dozen mosquitoes with her. We sat there swatting mosquitoes and deciding what to do. Since the campground was empty we drove around trying to find an easier site to get into but they were all about the same. Back to our reserved site and we got out to check it out. Again as soon as we stepped out of the truck we got hit with a ton of mosquitoes. I've never seen so many come so fast. It was like they were waiting for us. We ran into the trailer to get some repellent and of course bringing some inside. Once we got covered with deet we walked back to survey the site and found another problem. The welds on our back bumper were failing from the weight of our bikes. It's a good thing we stopped at this campsite because if we went any further the bumper would have come loose and we would have lost our bikes somewhere in the Everglades.
We took the bikes off the rack and after moving things around in the bed of the truck put my bike in the truck. We put Rose's bike in the trailer on top of the bed. I had to get some tools out and remove the bike carrier. All this time still getting attacked by mosquitoes. After this, we decided that we couldn't stay here. It would be tough to get set up and once we did we couldn't even walk outside without getting eaten alive.
Fort Myers was another 80 miles and it was only 2:30 so we decided to keep on going. We tried to call Shady Acres but there is no cell service in the middle of the Everglades. We arrived at Shady Acres after hours but someone was still in the office so we got our spot for the next three nights. We immediately needed to shower to get the Deet off. We ended up driving about 260 miles today. I know that doesn't sound like a lot but driving from Key West to Fort Myers with the trailer and all the trouble we had, it took us about eight hours. That's more driving than I like to do in one day.
Saturday & Sunday 6/17/17 - 6/18/17 Today marks one month on the road! We stayed at Shady Acres for the next three nights, the same park we were at a week or so ago. Again, not much going on at this park since this is off season for Florida RV parks. The next two days we spent visiting Michael and the kids. We went to a very nice playground near his house and spent a lot of time in his pool. Leila and Liam got to sleep in our trailer again. I also helped Michael put together a couple of new bed frames for Liam and Luca and put up some decorative lights around the pool.
Fun at the Playground
Monday 6/19/17 We packed up the trailer and headed to Orlando, FL. Driving time was just around four hours. Online I found an Orlando City Park that had a lot of good reviews. I booked four nights at a campsite in Bill Frederick Park at Turkey Lake. This was a really nice place. It's a 183-acre city park that has a pool, biking trails, a lake with boat rentals, a disc golf course, picnic tables, pavilions and an RV park. At the entrance is a gate that they close at 7:00 PM. All the campers get a code to open the gate so they can come and go as they wish. This was in a very quiet residential area that was only ten minutes from Universal Studios. We had a nice shaded spot with a cement pad to back the trailer onto. Perfect camping near Universal and only $18.00 a night! What a great find.
Tuesday 6/20/17 Today we went to Universal Studios! We got up a little later than I had planned. We wanted to be parked and standing at the gate when they opened at 9:00 but we didn't make it. We came today (Tuesday) hoping that the crowds would be smaller. Got to the parking deck just a little after 9:00 but didn't get into the park until after 9:30. Universal has a gigantic parking deck where everyone parks at $20.00 a car. From the parking deck, the crowds are funneled into security. Security to get in the park is the same as in an airport. Everything out of your pockets and into a container which goes through a scanner and then you walk through a metal detector. There were probably 15 stations but with the crowd size, it took a while to get through. Once through security, you have to walk about a half a mile through Universal City Walk before getting to the entrance of the park. Universal City Walk is a large area filled with stores, bars, cinemas, clubs, and restaurants. The parks close at 10:00 PM but City Walk is open until 2:00 AM.
Universal Studios is actually three different theme parks. There's Universal Studios Florida, Universal's Islands of Adventure and Universal's Volcano Bay. Volcano Bay is a water park filled with swimming pools and water slides. Great for young families but not something we wanted to do. Universal has lots of ticket options and offers but we chose the 2 day, 2 park ticket. This lets us in two days in both Universal Studios and Universal's Islands of Adventure with unlimited transportation back and forth to each park via the Harry Potter Hogwarts Express Train. I have to say that ticket prices are high, I was kind of shocked at how high, but I'll write more on that later.
We spent all of Tuesday in Universal Studios Section. Most of the attractions are the 3-D/4-D type in different themed sections of the park. It was crowded and our longest wait time was probably 50 minutes for the most popular attractions. We managed to see every attraction/ride but missed a couple shows because of their scheduled times. Below is a list of everything we saw.
Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, Shrek 4-D, Hollywood Rip Ride Rocket (Roller Coaster), Transformers 3-D, Race Through New York with Jimmy Fallon 3-D, Revenge of the Mummy (Roller Coaster), Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts 3-D, Men in Black, E.T. Adventure, The Simpsons Ride, Terminator 2, 3-D, Fear Factor Live (Show), Animals Actors on Location (Show), Horror Make-Up Show and Universal's Cinematic Spectacular.
In my opinion, the best attraction/ride in the Universal Studios section was Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts 3-D. The whole Harry Potter-themed section of the park was amazing. Although I'm not a big fan, I've seen all the Harry Potter movies and this part of the park is something you have to see. The attention to detail and the technology of the ride is impressive.
A couple rides that are dated and probably won't be around much longer are Men in Black, Terminator 2 and E.T. These haven't changed since the last time we were here. (15 years ago).
It was very hot and waiting in line for some of the rides really took its toll on us. For most of the rides the lines started outside and as they got shorter they snaked inside where it was air-conditioned. One thing we bought was a refillable Coke cup. You can purchase a refillable souvenir mug for $15.00 and get free refills on Coke products all day long. Universal has self-serve Coke machines all through the park. Yes, we just bought one and shared it.
The Simpsons themed section was fun. They had a replica of Springfield: Home of the Simpsons, complete with all the places you've seen on the show.
We spent the whole day in the park, from 9:30 AM until the 10:00 PM closing time.
Wednesday 6/21/17 Back to Universal to visit Islands of Adventure. Today we got to the park at the right time. We had the truck parked and were at the gate at 9:00 AM. I had read that the longest wait times in Islands of Adventure were for the Skull Island: Reign of Kong ride so we headed there first. Because we were so early we basically walked right on to the ride with no wait time. Then at the end of the ride, the attendants let our group shortcut to the loading area to ride again. We enjoyed the ride so much that once we got off, we waited in line to ride again. It was still early so there was only a ten-minute wait.
I've got to say that that ride was the best one I have ever been on. You ride in a safari truck that fits around 30 people. The truck enters a tunnel in Skull Island and the action is all around you. There are giant bats, giant bugs, giant worms, dinosaurs and of course King Kong. The 3-D screens are on both sides of the truck and you are in the middle of it all. There is one part where King Kong is fighting with a dinosaur on your right and throws it over the truck to your left. Then jumps on and over the truck to finish it off. We also rode it later in the day for a total of four times. Great ride!
We spent most of the day in Islands of Adventure and got to see and ride everything we wanted to. Islands of Adventure has more children's themed sections than Universal Studios that we visited yesterday. Some of the sections are Toon Lagoon and Seuss Landing where there are lots of kiddie rides. There are also a couple of water rides that we didn't ride because we didn't want to walk around in wet clothes all day. There is another Harry Potter section in Islands of Adventure called The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Hogsmeade. The Hogwarts Train connects it to Diagon Alley in Universal Studios. Here's a list of what we rode in Islands of Adventure. The Incredible Hulk Roller Coaster, Doctor Doom Fear Fall, Skull Island, Reign of Kong, Jurassic Park River Adventure, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Flight of the Hippogiff (Roller Coaster), Hogwarts Express and Poseidon's Fury. Plus we saw a couple of shows. Later in the day we rode the Hogwarts Train over to Universal Studios and finished the day riding more attractions and watching the Superstar Parade.
Now about the ticket costs. The cost for a 2 day, 2 park ticket is $254.99 per person plus $20.00 a day to park. When I first saw that price I was shocked, but after spending two days in the park I feel different. Universal Studios is a unique amusement park. There is nothing else like it and every attraction and ride is amazing. The place is staffed with a lot of helpful employees and the planning, building, and technology of the 3-D / 4-D rides takes a lot of money. I can now understand why it costs so much. My advice if you plan to visit Universal would be to save up, have a good time and don't think about the cost.
Another thing that upset us at first was the Universal Express Pass. This is a pass that costs more money and gets you in front of most of the other people waiting in line. Here how it works: When you approach a ride with Universal Express, you show your pass to an attendant, who will scan it and then let you enter the Express Pass line. Closer to the ride loading area (this distance varies by ride), the Universal Express Pass line will merge with the regular line. Keep in mind, that you will still likely wait at this point, but it is usually only 5-10 minutes. We didn't really know what this was until we saw people entering the line ahead of us. What really bothered us was that we were waiting in line for 45 minutes and these people got on the ride in 5 or 10 minutes. They were riding multiple times while we were still standing in line. There are two types of Universal Express passes. Universal Express Unlimited (additional $84.99) and the Universal Express Pass ($64.99). You can use the Universal Express Unlimited Pass an unlimited number of times at participating rides and attractions each day that your pass is valid. For the Universal Express Pass, you can use it one time per ride each day that your pass is valid.
After we looked at this option we felt that it would have actually saved us time and money. If we had purchased a one-day admission and an Unlimited Express Pass we could probably ride everything multiple times at both parks all in one day. Without the second day, we would have also saved money on parking and food. My advice is to check all the options before purchasing tickets.
Thursday 6/22/17 After two full days in Universal Studios we took today to rest. We just enjoyed our nice campsite in Orlando and later in the day took a bike ride around the beautiful park. Tomorrow we are heading north toward Asheville, North Carolina.
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