Universal Studios broke my heart today. Well, technically they broke my kid’s heart, but same thing, right?
We’ve spent the last two days at Disney, and I plan to blog about it. But first, the Universal debacle.
We arrived early. One of Jett ‘s special interests is Harry Potter, and we were solely going to see the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. We’ve been talking about it for months. We looked up the accommodations for kids on the Autism Spectrum, and figured out which rides he would be able to ride (our only consideration was height. A huge mistake, but more on that in a minute).
I hate to compare Universal to Disney over and over, but the differences were clear from the moment we parked our car. At Disney a tram will deliver you to the ticket window, sparing you the mile walk. No such tram at US. And it was a LONG walk. This was our 3rd day of theme parks, and we really didn’t need the extra walking. And of course, J and I ended up carrying Letty and Carlos most of the way. Ticketing went smoothly, and in we went to seek out Harry. The park itself was practically empty as we walked through it. Then we rounded the corner for our first glimpse of Hogsmeade. It was packed. It was only a Monday in mid-September, and probably the least crowded it will be all year. But you could tell this is the most popular area in the park.
First off, let me say, Butter Beer is delicious. Totally delicious.
Zonko’s joke shop and Honeydukes Sweet Shop were also really fun. If it hadn’t been 10 am and hot, I would have bought boxes of chocolate frogs. Ollivander’s Wand Shop had a line around the building even that early in the morning. Which was too bad, because Carlos’ big thing for the last month has been dreaming about which wand he would buy. Luckily there was a kiosk further down where we were able to purchase both boys a wand ($29.95 plus tax each. I kid you not).
We then asked a cast member to take a tour of the castle. A review of the park recommended this, and since Carlos and Letty were both too small to ride the Hogwarts ride, it was a good way for the whole family to enjoy the main feature of the area. Hogwarts was a bit disappointing. Too small, and mainly used to shuttle people through the line for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride. No great hall, no houses other than Gryffindor and no professors other than Dumbledore. We got to the end of our tour, and because we had the “magic ticket”, which is the guests with disabilities pass, we were able to jump right onto the ride.
Jett and I rode alone while J stayed with the 2 little ones. The ride (and Hogwarts) were dark. The music started right up, with speakers in our ears. It then proceeded through a ride that was more cheap horror movie than roller coaster. Jett is a pretty brave 8-year-old when it comes to roller coasters. As he says, twisty-turny is ok. It’s the dark, creepy stuff he doesn’t like. I’ll spare you the details, but the ride was dark, with suspenseful loud music and creatures that jump out at you. He was sobbing by about 30 seconds into the ride. I kept yelling to him to close his eyes and try to put his hands on his ears. It was complete sensory overload.
We finally made our way out, and Jett was all the way done with Harry Potter.
We set out to explore the rest of the park. The next ride we tried was a splash ride in the Jurassic Park area. I’m sure you’ve seen the kind… the boat goes around a track and then plunges down a steep hill, soaking everyone in the boat. I took both boys on this one. They were both tall enough, and stupidly, I thought this was an indication of the appropriateness of the ride. Once again, there was darkness, suspenseful music, and dinosaurs popping out at us. The coup-de-grace was the t-rex looking like it was going to eat us as we dropped down the giant hill getting splashed. Since the boys had their eyes closed, and their fingers in their ears, the hill was a shock. They both came out of their seats, only to get a face full of water. Which didn’t disguise the tears, by the way.
Bless us all, we gamely kept trying. Spiderman (the ride) had a shorter height requirement than the Jurassic Park ride. But it turned out to be a dark, intense “thrill ride” as well.
We eventually made our way around to the Dr Seuss section. The rides were a bit baby-ish, and a tad faded and worn. Really, we were just so tired and discouraged by that point. You know when you spend money, time and energy on something and it just isn’t working? But you keep hoping something will justify the effort? That was us. We tried one last thing… a ride billed as a “tour of Poseidon’s Temple”. The whole family could participate. How bad could it be? When the tour guide announced it would be pitch dark, loud, and “not appropriate for some of our younger adventurers” we high-tailed it to the nearest emergency exit, both boys in tears, and Letty clutching J’s hand.
Next time we will just stay at Disney. It may or may not be the happiest place on earth, but it doesn’t make my kids cry.