The Most Universal Trip Report Of All: Food Reviews

Shall we talk food? I thought so.

My Universal Studios trip was brief and not particularly food-filled, but I made time to try some things. Lunch on day one was of course accomplished at The Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley. The offerings are extremely British and rather heavy, but I found a good option in The Ploughman’s Lunch. It’s advertised as for two but they can split the portion and sell it for one if you ask.

The Ploughman’s Lunch for One comes with half a Scotch egg, half a roasted tomato, salad, bread, cheese, and some random jelly stuff which sucked so we’ll ignore it. This was… okay. The bread was not toasted and the Scotch egg was lukewarm. The tomato and salad were fine. The cheese was pretty good but I would’ve liked it to be separated from the dressed salad; it had developed some moisture. But cheese and bread are never a bad plan and from a nutritional standpoint this is reasonably sound. I wouldn’t steer anyone away from ordering this one, but don’t go in expecting anything special.
Butterbeer was also to be had, because duh. I have had it before it both the regular soda and frozen versions. Almost everyone prefers the frozen version, but not me – CARBONATION IS MY GOD. HAIL TO THEE, SODASTREAM! … Anyway. Butterbeer is basically cream soda if you replace the cream with a bit more of a butterscotch thing and add some rather amazing toasty vanilla foam to the top. Also, when unfrozen, bubbles. BUBBLES!
Dinner that day was at CityWalk’s Antojitos (I wanted to go to the place that sold sushi AND burgers but was overruled). I had a large and tasty salad but it wasn’t anything to write home about. In fact, I only really mention this mini-review to say that Antojitos is a standard Mexican restaurant and if you want to be wowed I’d say pass. That being said, I didn’t have any margaritas and anything – who knows, they could be astounding. Try it and report back, soldier.

I did finally get my sushi! I ate twice at the sushi place on the second level of CityWalk – Sushi Fusion according to the receipt, but the sign just says “Sushi.” Apologies for the lack of photos; don’t know how I spaced on that one.
I tried the rainbow and dragon rolls along with avocado rolls. To be honest, the rainbow roll was not the best – serviceable, but the fish topping was just okay; disappointing when you expect the salmon and tuna to be the star. The dragon roll (eel) was better but nothing memorable.
Surprisingly, however, the avocado roll was quite excellent, larger than you expect from a veggie roll advertised on the side and full of ripe avocado. If you’re a raw fish person, I might give Sushi Fusion a pass, but if you’re in it for the veggie stuff, take a shot. (And if you’re a person whose significant other hates sushi, you take it where you find it. *raises hand*) 
And now for the real star of the show – Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour, the new place in Diagon Alley. I went twice for a grand total of four flavors.

I’m not gonna lie – flavor selection was tough. They have a million interesting options – strawberry and peanut butter, how did I leave you behind?! But for my first round I settled on what I found to be a logical combination: Earl Grey & Lavender and Clotted Cream.
The Earl Grey is nice – sort of a vanilla base with the tea flavor mixed in. I don’t remember a strong lavender element but then I couldn’t describe with certainty what that’s like so who knows. If you’re into tea, try it. If you’re not, don’t.
The clotted cream though. OH MAN, THE CLOTTED CREAM. It’s like… it’s like cheesecake ice cream, kind of, only BETTER. It’s like when you have afternoon tea at the Grand Floridian and there’s Devonshire cream and you spread it on a scone and it’s awesome only instead of Devonshire cream it’s now ICE CREAM. (No scone, though; hey, Florean, can we get on that?) Highly recommended if you’re into tangy sweet almost-cheesy dairy goodness.

Apparently they ran out of the cute pink cups. 🙁

For my second go round, I got sticky toffee pudding and chocolate chili (“That one is spicy. Is that okay?” said the CM. Sounds like some customers haven’t been paying attention). I was frankly disappointed by these two. The sticky toffee pudding was good but the toffee pudding chunks were insufficiently frequent and indistinct. But the chocolate chili hurt me the most: it was BORING. It tasted like regular chocolate ice cream only there’s a bit of heat in your mouth after you swallow. I don’t know what I expected, but I certainly expected more than that. Should’ve gotten more clotted cream.*

* New life motto

And that’s it! Thing I Am Bummed To Have Missed: breakfast in the Harry Potter places. Oh well. Just have to go back!

Jenn is running the 2015 Marine Corps Marathon for the Diabetes Action Team. Will you help her earn her bib while fighting diabetes? Click here to make your tax-deductible donation.


Don’t forget, you can follow us on Twitter @fairestrunofall. To see how our training is going, check out Jenn’s dailymile here and Moon’s dailymile here. If you have any questions for us, leave a comment or email us at fairestrunofall@gmail.comSee ya real soon!

The Most Universal Trip Report Of All: 8/20

It’s the briefest trip report of all! While on a recent conference trip to Orlando, I carved out a bit of time to visit Universal Studios Florida. Click here to read all the entries in this report. Onward!

I had purchased a three-day park hopper, but in truth I didn’t really need it; I’d pretty much knocked out the stuff that mattered to me in the previous two days. Mind you, I did NOT take a completist approach to park touring – I skipped a lot of stuff that I’d already done on previous visits. A first-timer would doubtless need more days. As for me, I was kind of over it, but I had that last day and figured I might as well use it.

The hotel shuttle dropped me off at the park a little before 1PM, which didn’t leave me a lot of time. I booked it directly to Diagon Alley, where I once again enjoyed a ride through Gringotts courtesy of the singler rider line. I still think I prefer the Hogwarts ride just because I like the increased swooshiness of the mechanics, but Gringotts definitely grew on me over the course of my four trips. Good job, Bill Weasley!

I had skipped the conference’s final lunch, and the only natural replacement at that point was Florean Fortescue’s ice cream parlour (note the very British u). More on the result in my upcoming Universal food post.

I wandered around Diagon Alley with my ice cream, soaking in the atmosphere. As I said above, I prefer the headline ride in Hogsmeade, but I find I must give the ambiance edge to Diagon Alley. It’s much more contained and built up higher, for starters, which makes you feel unbelievably immerse. I noted on Twitter that while in line for the Hogwarts ride I could hear sounds from the nearby Jurassic Park area, which drags you back to the real world. Diagon Alley sucks you in; as long as you remain within its confines you can see nothing but the wizard world. I dig it.

Post ice cream I headed over to Men In Black Alien Attack and took the single rider line for a quick spin. My score was pretty good – certainly better than anyone else in my car that I saw – but somehow I completely missed the instruction to press the red button. If I remember correctly that would’ve netted me like 100,000 points. FAIL.

From there I walked around through the remaining lands; I pondered doing the Terminator show but the next one wasn’t for 20 minutes and I wanted to get over to Islands of Adventure. I booked it over to the opposite gate and went straight to Hogsmeade for one last ride on the Hogwarts ride (this trip was brought to you by the single rider line).

Time was getting short, so I backtracked to the front of the park and the main gift shop where I had been promised a coupon book. I collected it from a very nice cashier but the book turned out to be basically useless; all restaurants and waived club covers, no tickets or gift shop discounts. Oh well. I had already decided to buy a stuffed animal of Hagrid’s dog for Pat’s niece, so I went ahead and did that and left the park.

I had time for one last trip to the sushi place at CityWalk (Pat doesn’t like sushi so I take it where I can find it) before I caught a cab back to my hotel, grabbed my bags, and headed to the airport. Thanks to storms in Baltimore and then storms in Orlando, my flight took off 2.5 hours late and I could’ve stayed at the park for longer, but hey. Better safe than sorry and all that.

And there you have it! My trip to Universal Studios Florida. The summer crowds weren’t conducive to getting a ton done, but I knocked out everything that was important to me. I very much enjoyed the experience and there are particular rides that I would love to have another go at.

But.

I just didn’t get that feeling, you know?

You know. The feeling you get when you’re at a Disney park. You don’t have to be doing anything, really. You just stand there and look at the castle, or Spaceship Earth, or hell, all of World Showcase, or the prayer flags outside Expedition Everest…

Maybe it’s a matter of familiarity. After all, I’ve made enough trips to WDW that I know what to do and where to go when it’s raining or crowded or hot or cold. I know my favorite things. I’ve been to Universal before, but I’ve never given it the same attention Disney gets.

I came closest to the feeling at Universal in Diagon Alley. Even as a lukewarm Harry Potter fan, the attention to detail and immersive environment was beautifully done. But aside from that – even in Hogsmeade – nothing at Universal touches Disney for me. Is it nostalgia? Prejudice? I don’t know. But I know that while I CAN. NOT. WAIT. For my next Disney trip in November, I’m cool to wait on Universal. I’ll definitely jump on it if a trip falls in my lap, but I don’t have the same Disney need.

Who else has been to both? What are your thoughts on the matter?

Anyway. That completes this trip report. MOSTLY. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for food reviews!

Jenn is running the 2015 Marine Corps Marathon for the Diabetes Action Team. Will you help her earn her bib while fighting diabetes? Click here to make your tax-deductible donation.

Don’t forget, you can follow us on Twitter @fairestrunofall. To see how our training is going, check out Jenn’s dailymile here and Moon’s dailymile here. If you have any questions for us, leave a comment or email us at fairestrunofall@gmail.comSee ya real soon!

The Most Universal Trip Report Of All: 8/18

It’s the briefest trip report of all! While on a recent conference trip to Orlando, I carved out a bit of time to visit Universal Studios Florida. Click here to read all the entries in this report. Onward!

Day two at Universal Studios was buddy-less; I was the only one who had bought a multi-day ticket. And so, after two and half days of conferencing, I gallivanted off back to the park.

My cab dropped me off at the park around 4pm, and I spent the entire walk from the drop-off spot to the entrance formulating my plane. One of the perks of solo travel is that you only need to consult with yourself, after all.

Item one was to go right back to Diagon Alley for some ice cream from Florean Fortescue’s – but I got distracted. First by the Blues Brothers show, then Revenge of the Mummy for some single rider action.

At that point I figured, well, I’m here and it’s not raining, so I backtracked to the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit single rider liner and hopped on that. Like the Dragon Challenge coaster, this now requires that you completely empty your pockets and then walk through a metal detector before you’re cleared to ride. I considered using one of the secret song codes for my ride soundtrack, but ultimately just went with Daft Punk since I didn’t have my phone to confirm the numbers. I was lucky enough to get the VERY back seat, which I totally deserved after listening to the pre-ride instruction video so many times (“AWESOMMMMMME!!!!!”).

Then it was time for Diagon Alley, really, although I prioritized a trip through Gringotts over the ice cream. The single rider line was available here as well, so I took it – and found a truncated experience. No photo (fine by me), but more importantly no elevators. If you hadn’t gone through the regular line you never would have known, which is kind of a bummer since the fake elevator effects are kinda part of the ride. But that’s the price with pay for efficiency, I suppose.

Finally ice cream time! I got two flavors in my cup and will detail them more closely in my upcoming Universal food post. I wandered through Knockturn Alley while eating, which is air conditioned and very very dark. There isn’t much in there – a single gift shop and some displays – but it’s a nice extension of the area and a great place to escape the crowds.

I was thirsty post-ice cream, so I hit up the bar, The Hopping Pot, for some club soda – which I was given for free! Score! I didn’t need anymore food, but I saw “pasties” on the menu; if those were pumpkin pasties I will be very sad I missed them. Also I understand they have some exclusive beers, so clearly I’ll have to go back.

From there I exited Diagon Alley and circled around to Springfield to look for a present for Pat, who had informed me that his favorite Simpsons character is Disco Stu. Let it be known that there is nothing Disco Stu in Springfield as far as I can tell. Let it also be known that this will become a pattern…

I passed back by Men In Black Alien Attack and pondered riding, but ultimately decided to just hop the Hogwarts Express. Incidentally, I don’t think I’ve yet addressed the interesting tiered system Universal has inadvertently created by allowing people to ride the Express ONLY if they have park hoppers. Can’t afford it? Too bad; you’re not riding. An interesting approach and I wonder: has there been backlash? Will they loosen this policy at any point, perhaps if attendance drops?

No more Harry Potter for me just then, thanks – I was on a Pat Present Finding Mission. He had named Yertle the Turtle as his favorite Suess character (good choice, Pat!), so I wandered through all the gift shops in Suess Landing… and came up empty. Didn’t they formerly have a giant Suess book selection? I swear they did. And it’s gone. BOO.

ME.

Next Up: Marvel Island, where I hopped in the Hulk coaster’s single rider line (after another pocket-emptying and metal detector-scanning). While I was in line, a guy in a standby row called out to tell me I was “very pretty,” so that was nice except we ended up in the same train and he was looking at me still so I was a little worried he might start following me. #SoloGirlProblems But he didn’t so that was fine and I can say: thanks dude! Also I got to be in the VERY FRONT so ultimately it was a successful endeavor.

And now for another episode of Try To Find Pat Presents That Don’t Exist. Pat’s favorite Marvel character? Gambit. Things Universal carries featuring Gambit? ……… Nothing. At all. I almost got him a Silver Surfer comic since Pat’s a surfer but decided that the commonality of a single word wasn’t enough to justify the purchase (and Pat now informs me he was never a huge fan anyway, so that worked out).

Ah well. I decided to take a walk and complete my park tour, walking through the comic area, the toon area, and the Jurassic Park area, just kinda looking around. I wound up back in Hogsmeade, where I enjoyed the single rider line through Hogwarts.

It was getting late in the evening, but I still had time to jam a few things in there. I took the Hogwarts Express back to USF with some loud people (why are there always loud people?) but I had already experienced the effects so it was okay.

Upon arrival in Diagon Alley I discovered the Gringotts single rider line was closed and the regular wait time was listed at 20 minutes. I asked the attendant if he thought it was a REAL 20 minutes or a vanity 20 minutes, and he guessed vanity so I went in. I think ultimately it probably was closer to 20 minutes but I got to do the elevator thing again so that was nice for a complete experience.

The park was closed upon exiting the ride, which meant it was time to turn my attention to such practical matters as dinner. I fought through a SEA of people exiting the park to the counter service sushi place at CityWalk. I barely got my sushi and booked it to the hotel bus in time, but I would just like to point out that if anyone can power walk from the second floor of CityWalk to a bus waiting at the drop-off point in under 4 minutes it is ME and I did. HORNBERGER!

And so I returned to the hotel and sat outside on my balcony eating my to-go sushi because it was one hell of a view.

One more day of Universal to go!

Jenn is running the 2015 Marine Corps Marathon for the Diabetes Action Team. Will you help her earn her bib while fighting diabetes? Click here to make your tax-deductible donation.

Don’t forget, you can follow us on Twitter @fairestrunofall. To see how our training is going, check out Jenn’s dailymile here and Moon’s dailymile here. If you have any questions for us, leave a comment or email us at fairestrunofall@gmail.comSee ya real soon!

The Most Universal Trip Report Of All: 8/15

No trip to brief for a trip report, right? Last week I was in Orlando for a conference, and I figured while there I may as well schedule in a little playtime. So I headed down a day early for some Universal Studios Florido time (don’t worry, WDW, you’re next!).

There was a long luggage check line at the airport, I barely made my boarding group, I had hardly eaten anything, and I was frankly exhausted by the time I made it to Orlando, but there’s nothing like the promise of a theme park to fuel the old adrenaline. I met my old boss (at the conference with a different organization) at the Starbucks right outside security, picked up her coworker, checked in at the conference hotel, and then we were cabbing it to USF!

We hit the original park first and headed straight to the new Harry Potter section, Diagon Alley. The Gringotts ride – officially Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, I believe – posted a 45 minute wait, which was frankly good enough for us at 2 in the afternoon in the summer, so we hopped in line.

DAGRON

The queue was pretty good but VERY extended. First you walk through the main bank area with the various audio-animatronic goblins doing, I don’t know, ledgers or math problems or something. Then you look at nothing but stone walls for awhile until you reach a section where they want to take your picture in front of more stone wall (maybe they magic it up in post; we didn’t check). Then you get on a fake, but well-faked, elevator, which takes you down into the bowels of the bank. THEN you go up a flight of stairs and THEN you’re finally in a position to get on the ride.

Iconoclast Goblin wears a bowtie.

As for the ride itself? [SPOILER ALERT] It’s kind of like Revenge of the Mummy, only a bit milder in force. “Dark ride” scenes – in this case often holograms and large-screen projections enhanced with some real-life set dressing, similar to the Hogwarts ride – are interspersed with fairly gentle roller coaster action. If you can handle Big Thunder, I’d say you can handle this.

The basic plot line is that you’re looking to open up an account, so Bill Weasely is showing you around. The main Potter group shows up for some reason and hijinks ensue, naturally. It’s fun, and it definitely grew on me with subsequent rides, but I think I prefer the original Hogwarts ride in Islands of Adventure. Interested to hear any opinions you guys might have.

Our next stop was the Leaky Cauldron for lunch, which has NO INTEREST in nutritional balance. Not that I was necessarily looking for a kale salad, but everything had a meat-and-potatoes-hot-stuff bent. I went with the Ploughman’s Lunch, which I will detail further in an upcoming food review.

After lunch we wandered through a gift shop or two and then Knockturn Alley, just checking out the details. At this point there was a 30 minute posted wait for the Hogwarts Express, so we decided to take a shot. The queue area is kinda cute, set up to look first like an actual London train station (complete with snack stop full of English stuff like Mars bars), plus a transitional trick mirror that makes it look like the people in front of you in line are disappearing into the wall. We were able to skip a significant portion of the line by virtue of being a party of three.

[SPOILER ALERT] The Hogwarts Express looks like a regular European train with compartments and whatnot, but the windows are actually screens that project the England-to-Hogwarts countryside, or vice versa. The frosted glass pane between you and the train corridor is also some sort of screen that shows silhouettes of characters as they pass by in the hall. The trip TO Hogwarts is much darker and features an attack by the Dementors, so that’s fun.

Upon arrival in Islands of Adventure’s Hogsmeade, we immediately encountered a mere 15 minute wait for the Dragon Challenge. Despite impending rain we jumped in line. After, of course, stowing ALLLLLL our stuff in lockers. Universal has long had a policy of making you stick bags and stuff in lockers before you can even get in line, but they’ve gotten MUCH more hardcore lately on some of the more intense roller coasters. Now they don’t even permit you to carry your phone or anything in a zippered pocket, which I had included in my attire for this specific purpose. You have to walk through a metal detector to make sure there’s nothing in your pockets.

But anyway, we made it through the line and rode the Chinese Crested before the rain started. From there we hightailed it to the Hogwarts ride (Official Name As I Remember It: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey), where the posted wait was 45 minutes. Unfortunately it was probably longer at that point because everyone could see rain was coming and wanted to do something indoors. Still, we made it eventually and it was a super fun ride as always.

We exited the ride to discover that it was now positively POURING outside. Everyone was coming off the ride but no one was leaving the gift shop, so it was getting increasingly insane. We decided to make a break for it and wound up in line at Poseidon’s Fury, which I knew was a) relatively nearby; b) inside; and c) inside for a good 15 minutes worth of show at LEAST. The line was weirdly long (I suspect there may have been technical difficulties) but our Taylor did a good job. I do rather wonder, though, how they convinced Christina Pickles to be in this thing. Also, it is WAAAAAY dated. But kinda fun therefore!

It was still raining when we got out, but not nearly as hard. We wandered back to the Hogwarts Express, where there was pretty much no line at all. [SPOILER ALERT] The trip back to London featured nothing but safe and happy scenes, my favorite being Ron and Harry peering into our compartment and declaring that we looked like a bunch of first years. Oh, and Buckbeak. Always Buckbeak!

On our way out of Diagon Alley we passed the new Transformers ride and, seeing a 30 minute posted wait time, decided to go for it. Guys, this ride is EXACTLY THE SAME as the Spider-Man ride in IoA. In terms of mechanics, sure, but I also felt very seriously that the scenes and sets were basically just re-skins. Don’t get me wrong, it was fun, but I had some serious glitch-in-the-Matrix deja vu. AUTOBOTS, ROLL OUT. (That’s right, right?)

BATTLE GLASSES

Up next was Revenge of the Mummy, which is one of if not my absolutely favorite ride at Universal. I love the reasonably thrilling coaster combined with the dark ride scenes, plus Brendan Fraser is awesome of course. “I would’ve enjoyed this interview a lot more if I had GOTTEN MY CUP OF COFFEE!”

We had about enough time for one more ride, so we headed for the Despicable Me motion simulator – which boasted an hour wait. Pass. Instead we headed across the way to Shrek 4D, which I had never really had much interest in… and my instincts were totally spot on. I found most of the humor pretty unsophisticated. But then plenty of people just love Shrek so YMMV, as the kids acronym.

Real subtle, guys.

From there we headed out to CityWalk, where we got dinner at a Mexican place that I will talk more about in my Universal food post. And there you have it: my first day at Universal. More to come!

Jenn is running the 2015 Marine Corps Marathon for the Diabetes Action Team. Will you help her earn her bib while fighting diabetes? Click here to make your tax-deductible donation.

Don’t forget, you can follow us on Twitter @fairestrunofall. To see how our training is going, check out Jenn’s dailymile here and Moon’s dailymile here. If you have any questions for us, leave a comment or email us at fairestrunofall@gmail.comSee ya real soon!