California diary… Bob and Tigg on tour in 2005
10 days in southern California… day five
Welcome to Universal Studios... we spared no expense


From the Backpack ~ Strange and Unexpected

Normally when I post something from the archives, it involves bringing back an essay or article or such that had appeared on the In My Backpack web site and was removed during one of the updates or computer issues over the years.


This entry is a bit different though… in addition to appearing on the site, it was part of the Travel Trilogy project… or, more specifically, Strange and Unexpected: Backpack on the Road – Volume Two: California.

And that means a couple of versions exist… somewhat specific, almost definitive versions if you will… the work that was on the site, and the chapter that was edited and potentially revised from that piece and used for the book.

This material was originally posted on January 3, 2006. It was later published in April 2013. Some minor proofreading edits and adjustments may have been made while bringing the material back to the site in this posting.

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Day five, Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Welcome to Universal Studios.

We weren’t planning on coming to this park at all, but after three days consisting of a museum, a zoo and a national park, Justin is getting a bit antsy for something a little less… well… boring. Yes, he’s having a good time. Yes, yesterday was fantastic. He’s just looking for some mindless fun at this point… not art appreciation or potentially educational stuff or even the great outdoors. So, we discussed our options, and here we are.

The day has mixed results for convenience. We decided to pay a couple of extra dollars to get the VIP parking. On a busy day this would be a great value and I would nudge you into considering it. I just can’t comment on it too much beyond that idea because having only been to this park this one time, I don’t really know the savings and other benefits compared to regular parking. How much walking did I save getting from and to my car? I don’t know. But Tigg and I both had to return to the car for something at separate times before we got through the main gate, and it wasn’t a hideous trip. (Unfortunately, in Orlando, the parking can be dreadful at Universal and I have never found it worthwhile to consider paying extra there.)

I used the free computer services at our hotel to order tickets on-line (which were available at the web site for a discount). But, everything froze on that computer and I couldn’t print my tickets… and being on vacation, I didn’t have access to my main e-mail account and couldn’t print my confirmation receipt. So, I stood at guest services and waited while a representative tried to retrieve the information and process the order. I figure it cost us significantly more than thirty minutes, but hadn’t checked my watch when we arrived since I figured it would be a quick stop. (But hey… we were saving money while standing around doing nothing.)

No… the up front, full disclosure…

Did we have a good day? Yes.

Did we see everything we wanted to see? Yes.

Was it a great park that you shouldn’t miss? No.

Let’s put it this way… Tigg usually uses at least two rolls of film per day on vacation. A seven to ten day trip results in twenty to twenty-five rolls. That’s just from her camera. No one else. I am not exaggerating. The woman takes pictures. That understood, she left her camera at the hotel… on purpose. Once she knew I was bringing the smaller digital, she figured any pictures she might want were covered. And when the day was over, she didn’t feel like she missed a single shot.

When we finally made our way into the park, we tried to head to the back of the grounds and the new ride, Revenge of the Mummy. Due to some staggered opening times, we end up waiting a few minutes for the entrance to that section to be opened. The line is fairly short though when we reach the attraction.

As we get off the ride, Jay sums up the experience quite nicely: “What a piece of garbage.”

And he was right.

And… this also is something Universal has provided us with before.

Flashback time.

A few years ago, 1999 to be exact, our group was down in Florida. Every place you looked there were ads and billboards for the new Twister ride at Universal Studios Orlando. Billboards… flyers in hotel lobbies… advertising everywhere. They were telling you Twister was kind of a big deal.

When you went on “the ride,” they basically made a funnel cloud in a room and had a fake cow fly by. A pathetically fake cow. It was something that would have been impressive if a high school science class had created it in a gymnasium. (Not the cow. That would still have been stupid. But a funnel cloud safely created in a high school gym for a show… yeah… that would have been pretty neat.) It was something that might have been funny if it hadn’t been built up as so amazing and fantastic that it was setting a new standard in theme park attractions. Instead it was incredibly disappointing on so many levels… and especially from a major theme park.

Back to Hollywood.

Things had just opened for the day here, so I’ll forgive them the fact that the line direction was confusing, with about fifteen of us walking right past the door to enter the building (the door was barely open and the ropes set up outside the building kept going, so we did too). The walls and design inside were quite well done. Disney and Universal almost always do an outstanding job at creating the full atmosphere for every ride.

But the ride itself wasn’t much of a ride. Not much thrill. Around a bend, scary face, fog all over, back to the start. Done.

“What a piece of garbage.”

Yes indeed.

The next ride we went on was Jurassic Park, one that has been there for years, and it was significantly more fun than Revenge of the Mummy.

The back portion of the park is a lower lot. So we’re trying to figure out a plan for our visit and decide we don’t want to keep going up and down the escalator all day. The end result is that we stop and eat at this point, and then visit the Backdraft show.

Lunch was Panda Express, which isn’t very Universal Studios-y, but actually wasn’t too expensive and the food was alright. Just before we ate we saw promotions for a meal plan they offered… an all-you-can-eat kind of thing that might be worth asking about. Since we knew we wouldn’t be staying for dinner, we passed and didn’t research it.

The Backdraft show was pretty good. I always give bonus points to something that has a surprise that catches me, and Tigg nearly ripped my arm off at one point during the demonstration when the floor dropped under our feet. Sure… a cheap trick used in many places… but it worked, got us, and credit where credit is due.

We headed off to the upper lot and began to check off the rides… Back to the Future, the Studio Tour, and Shrek 4-D. Because of the show times, we had to head down to catch the Special Effects show and then go back to the upper lot for Terminator 2: 3D. In between these we walked through the Van Helsing Fortress Dracula, which was so poorly done it made me yearn for the high quality value found in other efforts from the Universal Studios theme park family like the Twister ride.

In the end, the old reliable won out as the best… the Studio Tour. Best ride in the park. Wasn’t even close. Not only was it fun and informative, it also included the stops and moments that made the Universal Studios theme park experience famous… Jaws, King Kong, Earthquake and even a moment from The Mummy that was better than the ride dedicated to the film.

We left the park and I decided it was early enough for us to make a real run along the coast to head back to our resort… and have dinner along the way.

I drove down to Long Beach, made a couple of turns, and our group was on the Pacific Coast Highway with water visible. Using the highways and main roads, I joined the PCH around Long Beach, followed it through Seal Beach and Huntington Beach, and ended up in Laguna Beach. The views were gorgeous, but a bit distracting for me while trying to drive.

Hunger was starting to take over. And the normal things I seem to get credited for on trips begin to take form for this evening. (Or, the normal things I seem to get blamed for, depending on your point of view.) For some reason, Tigg and the boys always seem to think I not only know exactly where I am at all times, but that I also know exactly where everything is located. Closer to the fact is the reality of day two on this trip and Denny’s… I keep making right-hand turns and much more often than not find myself exceedingly fortunate. I suppose I appreciate the reputation more than the truth. In any event…

Tonight the boys want to go to a restaurant called Chipotle. They are promising us “burritos the size of a puppy” if we find one. Tigg doesn’t see this as a tremendous selling point.

But, Tour Guide Bob comes through. First of all, I find not only a pay phone… hard enough in the current days of cell phones… but a pay phone with a phone book in place. I get a couple of addresses and head into the store the phone was outside of. A few minutes later I emerge with directions out to the highway and back north to the nearest Chipotle “burritos the size of a puppy” restaurant.

And having now been to one, I can honestly say… the burritos were very big, and very good. If you have the chance, go to Chipotle.

We arrive back at the resort and Tigg settles in for an evening of American Idol. The boys and I searched for something out of her sight to smack our heads against.

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