the Backpack ~ Strange and Unexpected
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.
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.
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.
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.
~ ~ ~
five, Wednesday, April 20, 2005
to Universal Studios.
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.
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.)
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.)
the up front, full disclosure…
we have a good day? Yes.
we see everything we wanted to see? Yes.
it a great park that you shouldn’t miss? No.
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.
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.
we get off the ride, Jay sums up the experience quite nicely:
“What a piece of garbage.”
he was right.
this also is something Universal has provided us with before.
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.
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
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.
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.
a piece of garbage.”
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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…
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.
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
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.
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.