Beyond the Parks Discuss TR: Islands of Adventure VIP tour, 7/22/05 in the Vacation Planning forums; ...
TR: Islands of Adventure VIP tour, 7/22/05
I’ve visited Islands of Adventure many times and I feel like I know the park backwards and forwards. I know how to get around the park and to avoid the crowds fairly well. Even with my many visits to IOA, I’ve always wanted to do a VIP Tour. It’s not that I needed the front of the line access to the rides. I could have stayed onsite, used Universal Express passes, or waited in the single riders line to avoid the long lines. Instead, by taking the VIP tour, I had hoped to gain some secrets about IOA and to enrich my theme park experience to the fullest. On July 22, 2005, I decided to finally take a VIP Tour.
I decided to take the one park VIP Tour of Islands Adventure. The one park tour was a five-hour, non-private tour that accommodates up to 12 people. The tour gave front of the line access to at least eight major attractions. No, you do not wait in the Universal Express line. The VIP Tour Guide takes you straight to the front of the line. You wait only a few minutes for your ride. Your VIP Tour includes an unlimited Universal Express pass that can be used at any attraction that takes Universal Express at either Islands of Adventure or Universal Studios Florida.
Other perks of the tour include:
· Complimentary bottled water and coffee on check-in
· Free valet parking
· A coupon good for one complimentary soft drink
· Exclusive access to backstage areas
· Complimentary Universal music CD
· Discounts on food and merchandise
The VIP tours started at 10:00 am and 12:00 pm. I decided to take the 10:00 am tour. The tour normally costs $120 per person, but I had a 10% discount with my Preferred Annual Pass.
My tour guide was Chris, whom I had requested. She did a great job on my Halloween Horror Nights VIP Tour that I requested her for the IOA VIP Tour. The tour group had seven people. There was room enough in the tour for a few walk-ups. I know what some of you are thinking…”I can walk up and do a VIP tour!” I applaud your spontaneity, but I wouldn’t recommend doing a walk-up. You never know if a VIP tour might be sold out on the day that you desire one. It is much better (and safer) to book ahead of time so you are assured a spot on the tour.
Chris began the tour a little early at 9:50 am. The tour began with a short history of IOA. IOA opened in 1999 in the spot of Universal Studios Florida’s original parking lot. Yes, much like Disneyland, Universal had its own parking lot and, yes, there were trams! And yes, IOA is a lot cooler than Disney’s California Adventure! But that debate is for an unspecified time later…
Chris walked the group through the Port of Entry and told us a background story. The story behind the Port of Entry is that explorers came from various places around the globe and were attracted to the lighthouse. They were so attracted to it that they decided to build right underneath it. Well, the Port of Entry is about 500 yards from the lighthouse, but put away your measuring tape because it doesn’t matter.
Chris showed us her favorite details in the Port of Entry. She stopped by the Port of Entry Christmas Shoppe. Around this area was the jail for the Port of Entry’s sole prisoner. He escaped a long time ago. She pointed out the balcony where a man was tuning his cats. You heard a “meow” every once in a while from that balcony. She showed us the Lucky Monkey sign, where if you listen to it later in the day, you can hear people winning. Her favorite detail was the Lost Explorers meeting sign. Since they were all lost, all the meets were cancelled. Chris said that the Port of Entry had a lot of little conversations that you can hear every now and then.
It was interesting to see all this detail in the Port of Entry. I knew of the detail, but I never really stopped to look. I’m usually too busy dashing through the area to get to the Incredible Hulk Coaster! I think you can spend an entire day just looking at all the detail in the area. I’ll have to listen to the conversations too, since they sound more interesting than the ones in the game “No One Lives Forever!”
Chris also pointed out the history of the creaking bridge. When IOA was being created, the designers took the idea of the bridge to the Creative Consultant, Steven Spielberg. Spielberg liked the bridge, but he said that it needed more. Thus, Spielberg and the designers drew out an idea on a napkin and it became the creaking bridge. Chris said that Spielberg visits every year to check how things are doing at the parks.
We then headed into Marvel Super Hero Island. The story behind Marvel Super Hero Island is that an asteroid struck the area and created the entire island. On this island, Marvel super heroes and villains duke it out for conquest of the Universe…or island? Chris pointed out the chrome-colored paint that changes color depending on the angle that you view it. She pointed out some red squares on a building across from the Spider-Man gift shop that best demonstrated that. The squares did change color as you looked at them from another angle.
The group was escorted to the first ride, the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man. The VIP entrance cut through the hallway by the baby swap. We were loaded onto a Scoop in a few minutes. We put on our 3-D glasses, I mean, Night-Vision Glasses and headed into New York City for our report. The ride worked perfectly, except the explosion under the bridge was missing.
After our Spider-Man ride, Chris took us on a behind-the-scenes look at the Spider-Man ride. We first entered a room that had a table with about a dozen TV monitors. Each TV monitor showed what was happening during each scene of the ride. A Universal Team Member sat at the table and closely watched the screens. Chris explained that the Universal Team Member was watching the ride to see if there were any ride problems (effects not working, Scoops stopping, etc.). He also was watching for anyone who was doing something that they shouldn’t be, like standing up in the middle of the ride. The Team Member had a red button that he could push. No, this red button would not give you 100,000 points, but it was a button to push in case the ride needed to be stopped for any reason. Chris said that the Team Member should hope never to press that button.
Chris asked the group if we felt like we were falling or dropping during the ride. Some of us nodded. She said that the falling and dropping were all “tricks on the brain.” Visual, audio, and other tricks make us think we are falling or dropping when we aren’t.
Our second behind-the-scenes look was at the Spider-Man maintenance bay. This huge room housed the Scoops and a few maintenance personnel. In this room, they could work on and fix problems with the Scoops. During our time in the room, I watched a Scoop spin around and around on its base. Chris said something about a technological upgrade to the ride from Universal Studios Japan, but I was too busy drooling over the Scoop that spun around and around. I am such a nerd! Chris asked the group whether or not they though the satellite dish was real. It may or may not be a surprise to you, but…it’s fake! No wonder I couldn’t get HBO on the little screen in the Scoop!
When we exited the maintenance bay, we saw construction for a Halloween Horror Nights haunted house in the Carnage House behind the Spider-Man building. They had a lot of set pieces outside, but I couldn’t see inside well enough to find out what was going in.
Our next ride was Dr. Doom’s Fearfall. We entered through the exit and loaded onto the towers. Suffice to say, Dr. Doom collected a lot of fear juice from our group! As we exited the ride, Chris pointed out a table by the ride entrance. This table had activities for kids where they could color pictures of Dr. Doom and send him friendly notes. It reminded me of a Kidcot station at Epcot. The table appeared because the Universal Team Members at Dr. Doom’s Fearfall were tired to telling kids that they didn’t meet the height requirements. The Supervisors heard about it and put the activity table up.
We headed next to Storm Force Acceleratron. Chris gave us a detailed explanation of what the ride was. She said, “It spins.” We entered the ride through the exit and were loaded in before the rest of the guests. I had never rode Storm Force Acceleratron with other guests, so I had to use my Herculean strength to spin my Pod. With other guests, the Pod was a lot easier to spin and spun faster than I’ve ever experience. I think the Pod spun so fast that my water bottle was ejected! I was sitting on it, thinking it would stay put. I should have remembered my high school Physics instead.
After being spun around and around, Chris took us next to the Incredible Hulk Coaster. The VIP tour entrance went up the exit ramp and entered through the Baby Swap entrance. Out first ride was in the back two rows. We were allowed a second ride in the front two rows. I think I prefer the back. After our ride on the Incredible Hulk Coaster, Chris took us on a behind-the-scenes look. We walked past the Hulk’s power station (thankfully, nobody sang, “Some Like It Hot”). She explained that the coaster’s launch is powered on its own power generator. If the Hulk were to run off directly the Orlando power grid, it would brown out the city every 5 seconds. The launch is done with over 200 tires that grip a fin on the bottom of the coaster train. The tires all spin at once and generate the speed needed for the powerful launch. The tires are Aviator tires. We were able to look at a pile of used Aviator tires that were going to be sent to recycling. I got to touch an Aviator tire. I will never wash my hand again!
Chris explained that the renowned coaster designers Bolliger and Mabillard (B&M to coaster enthusiasts) designed the Incredible Hulk Coaster. She said that a far-off theme park land called Walt Disney World approached B&M to create the Rock N Roller Coaster. B&M has a unique process to create coasters. The park gives them the land specs and they design a coaster for the land. Disney said that they didn’t work that way and wanted a greater part in designing the coaster. B&M said that they didn’t work that way and walked away from the project. Only B&M has enough clout in the coaster business to do that! I wonder what a B&M coaster would have been like at Disney. You know it would have had at least a cobra roll!
Chris said that the Hulk was the second choice for a roller coaster at Marvel Super Hero Island. The first choice was the Silver Surfer. That would have been an interesting idea, but the coaster would have had to been an all-chrome coaster. In the middle of the summer in Florida, an all-chrome coaster would have been quite blinding!
Having conquered all the rides on Marvel Super Hero Island, we headed to Seuss Landing. Chris explained that, just like in Dr. Seuss’ books, the island had no straight lines. She showed us the curvy palm trees. The curvy palm trees came from a nursery in Homestead. After hurricane Andrew hit, the palm trees were all bent up and the nursery owner couldn’t sell them. Universal came in and bought those trees cheap. Now they are growing and thriving in Seuss Landing.
On our way to the Cat in the Hat: Ride Inside, we passed by Horton’s egg. Chris said when people see the egg, they sit on it and take a photo. You’ve got kids on the egg, Dads on the egg, grandparents on the egg, and so forth. We took the back door entrance to the Cat in the Hat ride and climbed aboard the couches to see the story. The ride worked well and was pretty fun. Before we entered the closet, the doors were actually closed! Out of all the rides that I had on this ride, I’ve seen the closet doors closed only once or twice.
Current coaster count: 382
The whole group was composed of adults and none of them wanted to ride anything else in Seuss Landing, so we headed into the Lost Continent. Chris described the Lost Continent as the “land of myths and legends.” Chris stopped in front of Mythos Restaurant to exalt the fine cuisine found in the building. Chris said that the Executive Chef was given the building and then asked to create a menu for it. The menu is what we see today. Chris said that the banana gooey cake is to die for, a statement that I would wholeheartedly agree.
We headed to Dueling Dragons. Chris explained the back-story of the ride. It seemed that the villagers had a problem of two dragons that kept on eating them. Merlin then put a spell on them so that they would only attack each other. Merlin set the dragon’s boundary with a series of bells. Every so often around the Dueling Dragons area, you might hear a bell. I don’t think I have ever heard the story behind Dueling Dragons. I know part of the story from the short video at the beginning of the castle queue, but even that video didn’t go into much detail about it. Maybe I wasn’t listening either because I was busy “ooohing” and “aahing” over the animation in the video.
Our VIP entrance took us up the back exit and we went through the doors marked “Do Not Enter.” We had some great rides near the front of Ice and the back of Fire. Chris said that while riding Fire during the camelback, look down and you’ll see Ice past right underneath you. She said that it was the scariest thing you’ll ever see. There I was, silly me, on Fire and the train past through the weightless camelback. Like you can’t look away from a traffic accident, I had to look down and I saw Ice through the zero-g roll. It almost made me wet my pants. If I were in a Warner Brothers cartoon, I would have turned into a large candy ****er. Now the next thing you know I’ll be buying swampland in Florida and buying extended warranties for all my electronics.
After conquering Fire and Ice dragon, it was time for the first showing of Eighth Voyage of Sinbad show. We didn’t have a chance to talk to the Mystic Fountain, though. I hadn’t seen the Sinbad show in a very long time, so it was good to see it again. It was also a good chance to sit down and relax for about 20 minutes. We also sat in the better seats – the front row. It gave some great views of the stage, but it was hard to see the action on the second stage in the bleachers. The stadium wasn’t very crowded. It seemed like it was 2/3 full.
Our stomachs were growling, so we headed to lunch. Chris took us to the Enchanted Oak Terrace, where we could purchase all sorts of things for lunch. Too bad beer wouldn’t appease my appetite. We had 45 minutes to eat lunch. I suppose I could have wandered somewhere else to eat, but you know I would have ended up stuck in line at a place on the other side of the park and I would have missed the meet time. Besides, I hadn’t eaten at the Enchanted Oak Terrace in a long time. I had the chicken and ribs platter. Boy, they sure piled on the food on my plate! If I wasn’t so much a hearty eater, I could’ve split my plate with someone else.
Chris came back in 45 minutes to meet with us for more VIP fun. Our next stop was Jurassic Park. Chris said that 1/3 of the park’s landscaping budget was in Jurassic Park. You can see where all that landscaping money went! She pointed out the most expensive tree that I’ve ever seen, the Phoenix Sylvester. It looks like it has about 10 trunks, but it only has one. Including shipping, the Phoenix Sylvester cost about $80,000! Imagine that…the cost of one book at college is about how much the Phoenix Sylvester was!
The rest of the rides were going to be water rides. Chris took us on the rides in the order of least wet to most wet. We rode the Jurassic Park River Adventure. We entered the ride through the Universal Express entrance. We were seated in the back of the boat. Don’t faint, but nearly everything worked on the Jurassic Park River Adventure except for the doors. They were held open by C-claps. The group didn’t seem to get too wet on the ride.
As we exited Jurassic Park River Adventure, we saw a news helicopter flying overhead. I wanted to ride it, but we could only have VIP access if the station would let us. I suppose we could have yelled really loud at the helicopter and asked. Chis said that someone had fainted on Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls.
We headed into Toon Lagoon. Before going on any other rides, we stopped by to watch Mat Hoffman’s Crazy Freakin’ Stunt Show. Our seats were in the center, right behind the sound booth. I don’t know what skating and BMX riding have to do with ‘toons, but I guess Universal pulled a Six Flags and put the show wherever it would fit. I had never seen the show, but I had to struggle to stay awake. I wasn’t bored, but tired. I will have to watch my video of the show to see what I missed. At least I held the camcorder still!
After seeing crazy stunts, we headed to the two rides in Toon Lagoon, which happen to be the wettest as well. First we headed to Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls. Our VIP entrance took us through the exit and through a secret hallway. We piled into two logs for our journey into Dudley Do-Right territory. I hadn’t ridden Ripsaw Falls in a long time, but I had gotten just as wet as I did on my previous rides. I was fortunate enough to sit in the back, as the back seat gives me the best legroom. If I sat in front, a tall guy like me would be kissing knees! While we were on Ripsaw Falls, Chris obtained more information on the news helicopter. It seemed that a guest fainted on the ride and the ride had to be stopped. The helicopter was trying to get the “scoop.” I was expecting a big blue car on tank treads and with a satellite dish on the back to come rolling by too.
We headed to the most drenching ride in the park, Popeye and Bluto’s Bildge Raft Barges. The VIP entrance took us up through the entrance. I took notice of the regular wait time and it was 75 minutes! We loaded onto a boat and about four other guests from the regular line joined us. Chris said that if we wanted to go again, we were to hold up one finger. I assume she meant the index finger and not the middle one. This is not Popeye and Bluto’s L.A. Freeway Adventure, after all. It should come to no surprise that we all got wet on this ride. I mean, it was a wetness that was like taking a bath with your clothes on!
I’ve noticed on Bildge Raft Barges that everyone seems to be laughing and having a good time on the ride. I rarely hear screaming on the ride. The biggest laughs come when another guest in the raft is smacked by a huge wave of water. You don’t see too many people laughing on the Incredible Hulk Coaster.
As we made our way to the end of the ride, we all held up one finger, so Chris let us go again. The regular guests wanted to come along too, so why not, have another ride! I guess it was either stay on for another ride or wait 75 minutes again! We took a bath in our clothes again (I forgot the shampoo and soap) and we finally had to depart. We all looked like wet dogs when we exited, but had no wet dog smell.
The group wanted to ride the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man again, so Chris took us there. She would not be waiting for us at the end of the ride. She said her goodbyes to us before we were loaded into the Scoops. After the group exited the ride and past through the gift shop, we all said our goodbyes to each other and headed our separate ways.
After the VIP tour, I used the tour badge for Universal Express access on several rides at Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida. Even though my wait time was considerably shorter than the regular queue, it was very difficult to wait in 15-minute lines at Revenge of the Mummy, the Incredible Hulk Coaster, and other rides. I had been spoiled during the day by receiving true front of the line access and getting onto the rides in a few minutes.
Onsite hotel residents receive unlimited Universal Express access and I had debated on staying onsite instead of doing the VIP tour. The cheapest rate I could find for my dates was the Royal Pacific Resort at $159 a night. I could have used the room key for my “VIP tour” though the Universal Express lines. If my room key “VIP tour” were $120, my hotel room would be $39 a night. The room key would have allowed me to do what I want, explore what I wanted, and not be restricted by where the tour guide takes me. However, the room key would not have gained me access to new information about Islands of Adventure or access to backstage areas. If I tried to go backstage with my room key, I would be certainly be in trouble and ejected from the park! I learned many new things about Islands of Adventure and seen parts of the park that I had never noticed or would have never seen on my own. I feel that is priceless and well worth the price of a VIP tour. The next time I visit Islands of Adventure, I’ll be looking at the details in the Port of Entry and listening for unusual conversations. I’ll be hanging around Dueling Dragons and listening for bells.
With a VIP tour, I felt truly like a VIP. I do plan on taking a VIP tour of Universal Studios Florida sometime in the future. I haven’t penciled it on my calendar, though.
Current coaster count: 382