Day #12 - More Thrills & Another Soaking!

Once again, we cheated on Mickey and headed back to the Universal resort, this time to explore the Islands of Adventure - their roller coaster and thrill attraction park.  It is based around eight themed lands or islands. These include the hugely popular The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (Hogsmead), Marvel Super Hero Island, The Lost Continent, Port of Entry, Toon Lagoon, Jurassic Park, Skull Island, and Seuss Landing.
The park is easy to explore since it's basically all arranged in one large circle meaning you either explore the park clockwise or anticlockwise, although we consistently managed to disorientate ourselves and get ourselves a bit lost!
We started our journey with he Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, a 3D motion simulator and dark ride. I remember this ride being celebrated when it opened not long after the park opened in 1999 (a year after I was last at Universal, Florida). Back then, it was a technological marvel and an innovative ride that combined a trackless vehicle that had an onboard six-way gimbal set up that tilts and rocks the seating cabin while a projected 3D film is used in between the practical sets. All of this is beautiful choreographed and timed perfectly to create a thrilling, face paced and engaging ride. It is still impressive, even though newer rides (such as Remi's ride at EPCOT) has taken this idea to a new level.
Next up was Reign of Kong, another trackless dark ride that is similar in its technology to the Spider-Man one we had just ridden, but larger, faster and includes a large animatronic King Kong at the climax, although he did look just as shell shocked and dazed as many of the passengers! Sadly our ride experience was halted near the end due to technical issues, so we lost a little of the magic as we sat in front of a blank projection screen!
We continued our journey around the park and arrived at the Jurassic Park area. The first ride here is the River Adventure. It's just like It's a Small World but with dinosaurs! A boat ride with dinosaurs, what could possibly go wrong! Nothing a dramatic plunge at the end to escape the T-Rex couldn't solve!
Not only were these mad theme park designers crazy enough to build a boat ride around dinosaur enclosures, they went and build a rollercoaster within a Velociraptors' enclosures so we could race alongside these amazing creatures! They called it VelociCoaster! A great pre-ride film featured Chris Pratt's character (Owen Grady) from the films warning us not to ride and at the very least, to keep our hands and arms inside the vehicle at all time incase their ripped off by a raptor!
The VelociCoaster
In a previous blog post, I said that Guardians of the Galaxy coaster at EPCOT was the best rollercoaster I have ever been on (this also featured Chris Pratt in a pre-ride film - coincidence?!). Now this ride didn't quite knock Guardians off that top spot, but it came close and was certainly one of the most intense coasters I've ridden with so many twists, turns, inversations and spectacular dives. It also covers a large area and is integrated well into its surroundings which makes it really thrilling.
Next up a complete change of franchise - Harry Potter! 
Universal has two Harry Potter areas - Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley, one for each of its main parks. Islands of Adventure has Hogsmeade which is the fictional village featured in the books that lies just outside of Hogwarts - the wizarding school. 
On arrival at Hogsmeade you are greeted by, well, Hogsmeade! Just like the cliche, it is like you are entering the film!
The famous Hogwarts castle dominates the skyline and you are able to enter these hallowed halls and visit many of the (recreated) locations you see in the films we are so familiar with - Professor Sprout's greenhouse, the corridors with the talking pictures, Dumbledore's office, Defense against the Dark Arts classroom and the sorting hat. We missed out on seeing Gryffindor's common room - we weren't the chosen ones this time!
At the end of this tour of Hogwarts, is an incredible ride - Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. This takes you on a flying adventure throughout the grounds of Hogwarts on a magical, enchanted… bench! Yes, you read that right! Once Hermione cast as spell on our seat, we were whisked through the Floo Network up to the Observatory, where a plan to make it to a Quidditch match quickly goes awry. We encountered the familiar sights of the most famous school for witchcraft and wizardry as we dodged the Whomping Willow, zoomed around the Quidditch pitch, and come face-to-face with soul-sucking Dementors, in a combination of physical sets and screen-based moments. For the technically minded and curious, my research tells me that this ride is currently one of the most technologically advanced rides out there. The bench is mounted on a robotic arm that runs along a ride track, providing an extreme amount of motion as it dives, turns, and pivots the bench. While you do not go completely upside-down, you will be tilted in just about every other direction you can think of! This combined with practical sets, animatronics, projections and wrap around screens made for a thrilling ride unlike anything else I've ever ridden.
A delicious cup of frozen Butterbeer
We definitely required a sit down after all that exhilaration and that made for the perfect opportunity to sample Hogsmeade's famous butterbeer! Butterbeer is an interesting interplay between the flavours of cream soda and butterscotch, with a sweet, frothy topping. I opted for a frozen version (a bit like a slushy) and it was delicious. 
The other big attraction in Hogsmeade is Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure. Sadly for us, we weren't able to ride it on this occasion either because the queue wait time was beyond our level of patience or the ride was out of action. At least that gives me an excuse to justify a return visit to James another year!
After the Harry Potter portion of the park (great alliteration eh?!) we wandered through the Lost Continent area which was a bit redundant since the big attraction there,Poseidon’s Fury, closed earlier this year. In fact, this section of the park gave over half it's space to the Harry Potter area and another one of its attractions, The Eighth Voyage of Sindbad closed in 2018, although the stage and auditorium still exist. It seems that Universal is quite happy to shutter attractions and not do anything with them. We saw several vacant or closed attractions which did mean some areas of the park appeared a little neglected. 
Continuing around the park, we can to Seuss Landing, a more young child orientated area themed around the Dr Seuss books. Both James and I enjoyed the books as children, but I personally was disappointed not to see Horton from "Horton Hears a Who" which was my particular favorite. And yes, you could buy green eggs and ham, albeit in the form of potato tots - yeah, go figure!

That brought us back to the front of the park which meant we were confronted once again with one of the parks other main coasters - Hulk. Like its namesake, this massive green monster packs one heck of a punch. This was one of the original attractions when the park opened and is still going strong. One key feature of the ride is that the launched lift hill accelerates the train up to 40 mph in two seconds meaning that when you hit that first drop you are already experiencing several "G"! The ride features seven inversions including a zero-G roll, a cobra roll, two vertical loops, and two corkscrew! Quite a thrill to say the least.
We did another circuit of the park and came across one of our favourite types of ride - a rapid river ride in the Toon Lagoon area, called Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges - quite a mouthful. As we walked the ridiculously long queuing lanes through a themed area not only did we get the back story of the attraction (that blowhard Bluto has made off with Popeye's best gal, Olive Oyl, and the only way to save her involves embarking on a whitewater rafting adventure) but also plenty of those "you'll get wet" notices that are obligatory on these kinds of things. 
The aftermath of Bilge-Rat Barges
We paid them little attention! Turns out you don't get wet - you get soaked. Water, lots of it, is dumped on you boat at several points on the ride and that coupled with the really choppy waters that frequently enter the boat, means that there is no escaping the dousing you will get.
Luckily the day was warm and we were able to dry off to a reasonable extent. 
We continued on our second lap of the park to see if there were any more rides that would tempt us, but we were content to leave it there for the day and return to the hotel. 
When we did return, we were once again greeted by a wonderful collection of animals outside our bedroom window. It is truly a magical thing to watch these magnificent animals - the giraffes in particular. 
Two Ankole cattle, one zebra and four giraffes - all in front of our window. 
Dinner this evening was another amazing affair. We dined at another of Animal Kingdom Lodge's restaurants, Boma for an all you could eat buffet. We watched the chefs prepare oak roasted meats, vegetarian specialties, coastal seafood dishes, fresh salads and house-baked pastries in the onstage kitchen.Once again the flavours were outstanding and every mouthful brought fresh delight. The blend of spices in the dishes was remarkable and every mouthful was a burst of flavour to savour. The selection of deserts was incredible to so needless to say, we both retired back to our rooms very contented but with stomachs that were painfully full!