Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Wait, I thought I was leaving the country tomorrow...

[written June 29]

My day at Universal Studios with my mother and cousin was everything I expected (and more). The ExpressPass, which is included for all guests in the park-controlled hotels, was worth every penny, because it allows one to literally bypass the lines at every ride. The longest wait we had was about ten minutes, for our second turn on Revenge of the Mummy, which, incidentally, was Mom's favorite ride.

What I hadn't anticipated was the number of foreigners I'd be skipping ahead of in line. The park was full of adolescent tour groups from Brazil not staying in a park-controlled hotel, which made the express line that much sweeter. The most memorable moment with these folks was on the JAWS ride, which involves a boat tour gone horribly wrong. Our boat was about 75% Brazilian kids in identical white shirts. The actor driving our boat probably deviated from his script when he said, "The kids in the white shirts have no idea what I'm saying, but they'll cheer anyway! King Kong, woohoo!" The Brazilians did, in fact, cheer King Kong on the JAWS ride. Poor kids probably waited in line for an hour to do that.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about the Universal theme parks is the quantity and quality of human actors. I thought the rides would be largely automated, with robotics and pyrotechnics the order of the day. While there were many impressive explosions and robotic sharks and dinosaurs, a majority of the rides and attractions had human talent playing an integral part in the experience. The dungeon keeper at the Shrek 4-D show summed it up well, saying, "Come on people, if I can fake this enthusiam all day, you can do it once! Flogging!" [Crowd responds, "Oh no!"].

In addition to the undiscovered thespians running the rides, I was impressed with the participation of many A-list Hollywood types in the attractions based on their movies. Steven Spielberg welcomes guests to the E.T. ride, Helen Hunt does the same for 'Twister', and, most impressively, the governor of California reprised his role from the movies in Terminator 3D. Sadly, Jeff Goldblum does not get eaten by a dinosaur on the Jurassic Park ride. Aside from that, the whole experience was great, and I heartily recommend both parks (Universal Studios and the newer Islands of Adventure). Stay in a park hotel, though, or you'll be in line with all the Brazilian kids.

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