Sunday, June 05, 2011

[Travel] Reliving in Florida

Reliving in Florida: Another run down to North Miami, this time to pick up Miss Anna at the end of her freshman year. It is astounding how much crap can be fit in a closet-sized dorm room. Honestly, when you figure in the cost of the plane tickets, rental car, hotel rooms, and package shipping, it would have been cheaper to have her leave everything for charity and just replace it when she got home. In any event, it was a full day of disassembling, packing, cleaning, and hauling packages to UPS (whose agents we got to know on a first name basis). Of course there were good-byes to be said, both sad and happy; a fair amount of dramatic emotional churn.

Not just for Anna. All sorts of cues had me reliving my freshman year. Smoldering conflicts brought to a head at the last minute before leaving. Glad to be done with school, sad to miss your friends. Knowing you should be an adult and make use of the summer, but not really having a good idea how. Not knowing what to do with yourself, and so acting with ego and false confidence on confused and counterproductive intentions. Just generally being a mess of a human being. It's a frustrating and frightening time of life, although you don't know any better. And there are no words to make it easier. Even the promise of having an eighteen-year-old's health wouldn't make me want to relive that time.

Funny thing is that as soon as the boxes were shipped, we reverted to formula. Kate and Anna and I have been on innumerable little vacations together, all immensely pleasurable, and the next morning we found ourselves bombing north for Orlando, Universal Studios in our sights.

We checked into the Loews Royal Pacific Resort, one of the three that are located inside the grounds itself (along with Loews Portofino Bay and the Hard Rock). It's a decent enough place, nice pool, lots of activities, free water taxi to the key points in the park. But there are problems. We had a horrendous time getting housekeeping to make up the room. By the time 5 o'clock came around we started making inquiries. The strange thing was that everyone reacted like it was completely normal. By 7pm an angry call from me to the Manager on Duty finally got some action. Kate's poignant comment: "Do they realize that a room is no good unless you can actually use it?" There were other service oddities, such as general confusion about when the park opened for early admission, but I will say there was no sign of rudeness or disaffection among the staff. It's a nice place and it's possible we just had one bad experience, but I would try Hard Rock first if I had to do it again.

As far as theme parks go Universal Studios is as good as Disney. It's not quite so sprawling across the land and it sticks to more traditional amusement park stuff, but these are not bad things. Universal consists of three sections: 1) Universal Studios Park, 2) Islands of Adventure, and 3) Universal Citywalk. In theory Universal Studios is a "movie themed" park, Islands of Adventure contains variously themed "islands", in practice most of the "islands" in Island of Adventure are movie themed, so really there is little difference between the two proper amusement parks. Citywalk is kind of like Downtown Disney, basically a high-energy outdoor mall -- restaurants, shops, etc.

Both the amusement parks are heavy into "3-D experiences" which used to be pretty pathetic, if I recall correctly from the early Star Wars themed ones I saw at Disney many years ago. The latest ones are killer, though, and the Harry Potter one at Islands of Adventure is truly astonishing. Essentially it's a mild roller coaster through a darkened building which, in concert with 3-d animations, animatronics, and plain old fire and water, makes for quite a wild ride. You find yourself playing quidditch then being attacked by dementors and so forth. Just slightly less interesting was the hot ride from a couple of years ago, Spiderman 3-D. Same sort of thing.

One of the best things about staying at an in-park hotel is that you get early access to the park. One hour early. So you can get in at 8am instead of 9am. I don't think we waited more than 5 minutes for any ride and we pretty much covered the whole of Islands of Adventure, including lunch, by noon. Nice. I'm not much for theme parks, but Universal Studios is a good time. Reliving childhood there would be something I could stand.