Wednesday, 30 June 2010


You'd expect we'd be parked out by the time we rocked up at Universal Studios, some five days into our holiday. You'd be wrong.

On balance Universal is perhaps the best of the parks in the Disney area, though it is itself not a part of the Disney group. All of which means you get less Mickey Mouse and more of The Simpsons.

The latter is the closest I got to a roller-coaster for the entire fortnight. Even then it took me two attempts. The first time around I couldn't help but notice that the winding queue was travelling ever upwards, and by around the half-way point I was convinced that this could not be anything other than a roller-coaster. My mind even began to play tricks on me as I looked up and felt certain that I saw the vehicle, parked up on what looked like a very narrow, but very high track.

Unashamedly, I rolled back down to the bottom to ask the docile attendant about the exact nature of the ride. I have biff issues to think about at this point, and was not about to risk being thrust upside down at 743 miles per hour. The explanation I received was hardly informative, but fortunately I had Emma as a guinea pig. She remained in the queue and took the ride, returning some 40 minutes later (Orlando has a lot of theme parks, but even more queues) to inform me that it was just a simulator.

We trailed back up, killing another 40 minutes stone dead in the process. I have to say it was worth it though. It feels for all the world like you are travelling on the world's most dangerous, most inept roller-coaster, complete with it's broken track and the presence of Sideshow Bob trying to damage your health at every turn. You find yourself hanging on all the same, while there is a generous smattering of Simpson's humour featuring Homer, Bart and all of the regular favourites.

Men In Black was not so impressive. Indeed, the most impressive thing about this ride is the lengths they go to to make it accessible for wheelchair users. The portable platform they use is a ride in itself, as it is slowly transported towards the vehicle. Unfortunately the rest of the experience is something of a let down, as an attempt to emulate the shooting formula of Toy Story's Midway Mania fails to deliver. Maybe my gun was broken. It happens.

If it's a show you're after then move on to Beetlejuice's Graveyard Revue or The Eighth Voyage of Sinbad. This has nothing to do with that rotund fellow from Brookside who can shortly be seen prancing around The Empire Theatre in a dress, but more in connection with the sailor and all around adventurer of the same name. Princesses and evil sorceresses abound, accompanied naturally by the usual blend of fireworks, unneccesary splashing of water and a posse of shell-shocked and shocking extras.

Beetlejuice's Graveyard Revue is not quite what you might expect, and not half as annoying as Michael Keaton's film. In essence it is a short musical, with tracks ranging from the Dirty Dancing soundtrack to the Black Eyed Peas. If you can deal with the notion of a man dressed as a werewolf belting out ballads then this might be for you. If not, you can always just watch the scarily but nevertheless scantily clad women dance. What?

For reasons too laborious to go into here it was not until our second visit to Universal Studios that we ventured over to the nearby Islands Of Adventure. What else does Orlando need more than another theme park? This one contains the much vaunted Spiderman ride, which is one of the more impressive of it's kind in Orlando. It's a simulator not dissimilar to The Simpsons, but it also has the added advantage of a 3-D element. All of which drags you face to face with Doc Oc and his fiendishly evil friends, aswell as having our hero Spidey jump on to your vehicle at regular intervals to instruct you on what is required of you in the next part of the adventure. It's all a good deal better than this column makes it sound.

Surely the only place to dine at Universal or Islands Of Adventure is the NBA restaurant. It's walls are adorned with the expected decor. NBA greats such as Magic, Larry, Rodman, Dr J and Kareem peer down at you from above as you tuck into your chicken (for Orlando serves little else it seems). Interestingly there is no sign of Michael Jordan, not even on the numerous screens that surround the dining area playing a mixture of classic highlights and recent clashes. It's probably contractual.

After your meal there is the by now mandatory gift shop to visit, though a replica NBA vest would, if you were so inclined as to wear such an item during an English summer, set you back some $140. I didn't have that kind of cash to splash on looking that bad, so I settled instead for the tried and trusted Chicago Bulls mug. On leaving the restaurant we were met by some of Orlando's wildlife, as three tiny lizards wanderered around on the paths outside. For some reason Emma was not totally enamoured by them when I pointed them out, although it has to be said that one of them was indulging in some slightly unnerving throat movement and colour changing shennanigans.

We survived long enough to make it back to the car, though bags were checked for miniature reptiles more than once...........

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