Let’s face it, parents. Sometimes planning a vacation for your teenagers can be tough. Next time you’re struggling to find an activity that doesn’t make them say, “Ugh, no,” consider Central Florida. Universal Orlando™ has thrills to entertain each member of the family.
Our trip to Universal Orlando™ took us to mysterious islands, ancient archeological digs, tropical paradises and lands where ancient creatures roam. Grab your pith helmet and compass, because we’re headed out for adventure.
Standing in the shadow of the massive lighthouse, my wife, Ashley, 14-year-old son Drew and myself, looked on toward the gates to Islands of Adventure™.
“Adventure is waiting,” I said. I could almost hear Drew’s eyes rolling. Dad jokes just get better with age.
Our first stop on our expedition was Skull Island: Reign of Kong™, the newest addition to the park. Skulls lined the rooftops as we crisscrossed through the queue, careful to avoid the skulls on spiked sticks along the way. Inside, the walls, covered with more skulls (I was starting to see a pattern), began to narrow until Ashley, Drew, and I were walking almost on top of each other, our feet slowly shuffling forward.
“Look!” Drew yelled, pointing to the wall of skulls. Behind the skulls, I could see a person in costume, a real person, staring back us with a blank face. He was growling.
“Um, can we make this line start moving? Like now?” Ashley said in a nervous tone.
Now, Drew wouldn't admit that he was scared, but the single bead of sweat rolling down his face didn’t lie.
We soon took a seat in our expedition vehicle, put on our 3D glasses and headed outside, where we drove toward a gigantic temple entrance. Massive gates opened and the island natives begin to chant Kong’s name as our vehicle ventured into the dark depths. Before we knew it, we were dodging flying creatures and monstrous worms with teeth, only to narrowly escape and come across the great ape, Kong. Drew reeled back and bumped into me.
“Hey, quit monkeying around!” I said.
Our next adventure had us passing under a very famous gate covered in flaming torches—the iconic music playing in the background.
“Welcome to Jurassic Park,” I said in a deep voice. Drew shook his head and was not impressed.
We boarded a bright yellow raft on the Jurassic Park River Adventure™ and floated along the gentle waterway until coming upon a group of dinosaurs lounging about in a lagoon. Finally, I thought, a ride that I can relax on. A narrator described the dinosaurs (thankfully all vegetarians) we were seeing amongst the jungle foliage and rocky terrain—that is until we took an unscheduled detour through a raptor containment area. Our little cruise quickly fell into chaos as alarms began to blare and we entered a darkened building. Raptors rattling the nearby chain link walls caused the three of us to jump back—the haunting calls of the dinos could be heard echoing in the darkness. Ashley tightened her grip around my arm like a blood pressure cuff. Suddenly, an enormous T. rex loomed in front of our raft. Ashley yelled as the T. rex bellowed. We narrowly missed its powerful jaws by plummeting down through the building and splashing into the lagoon below. Ashley looked over at me, her hair and shirt drenched from the spray.
Our last ride at the park was The Incredible Hulk Coaster®, which had recently been renovated. I looked up, staring at the gleaming green track as people and their screams whipped through the air as the coaster passed by. With the wave of her hand, the wife decided to sit this one out.
Before we knew it, we were upside down looking at the ground below as the coaster flipped and spun—zooming through the warm Florida afternoon. I think Ashley was waving to us, but I’m not certain—my eyes were closed. Don’t tell Drew.
We finished our adventuring for the day at Mythos Restaurant™, a sit-down restaurant themed with Greek mythology that looked like it was carved out of rock. We sat down and relaxed from our travels, smelling wonderful spices on the air wafting from the open kitchen. Most of the food choices had a Mediterranean flair, so we went with an appetizer sampler, the Mezze Platter with hummus, babaganoush, marinated fennel, Kalamata olives and pita, to get a taste of it all. Ashley went for the Greek salad, but I thought I had earned the Beef Medallions for facing a T. rex on two attractions that day. Drew chose the lamb burger. I, of course, made him share a bite.
Our second day at Universal Studios Florida™ started in a museum, but this wasn’t your ordinary collection of dusty curios and relics. No, this was the facade for the Revenge of the Mummy™ attraction.
“It looks like a museum,” Drew said. “How bad can it be?”
“Famous last words,” I smiled.
Inside the building, we wandered through what appeared to be an abandoned archaeological dig deep within a cavernous Egyptian tomb. Single-bulb lights flickered, and creepy music and voices echoed along the walls covered in hieroglyphics. Even the queue area was creepy. I wondered if a single beat of sweat was on my forehead—like father like son. Whatever awaited us couldn’t be good.
We soon found our way to the loading area and were seated into mine cars. After a few twists and turns, we found ourselves with Imhotep, the villainous mummy from the Mummy films. The bandaged baddie cursed us with plagues of spiders and beetles before shooting us through a wild rollercoaster ride through the darkness.
Just when we thought the ride was over and we were about to step back into the real world, the mummy appeared and set the ceiling on fire, the heat so intense that I could feel my face sweat. Before we had time to react, cool air hit us as we dove down into the dark. The surprise caught Drew so off guard that he screamed loudly as our vehicle plummeted below. The mummy had him calling out for his mommy.
At first glance, it appeared to be just a couple of ordinary buildings in London, but I could sense there was magic nearby. Walking through a secret passage in the facade, we entered the streets of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ – Diagon Alley™. The three of us are all big fans of the Harry Potter™ films, so seeing the Leaky Cauldron™, Ollivanders™ and Gringotts™ bank all together made us feel like we were truly stepping into Harry’s magical world. After taking a ride on Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts™, I stopped in Sugarplum's Sweetshop to get some Bertie Bott's Every-Flavour Beans™ while my wife and Drew got Butterbeer™.
“Here, try this,” I said, handing Drew a jellybean.
“Gross!” Drew said as he bit down and grimaced. “Was that earwax?”
“Sure was,” I said with a huge smile. “They really do have every flavor.”
Our next adventure had us braving the mean streets of NYC at the Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon™ attraction. While we waited in the lounge area for our turn to ride, Hashtag the Panda was giving hugs and taking selfies while the Ragtime Gals, the fun barbershop quartet from the Tonight Show, were belting out tunes. I made Drew take a photo with Hashtag. Boy, did he try not to smile for the photo! It certainly wasn’t your ordinary ride line. Soon we were on the ride, zipping through New York City with Jimmy. You haven’t known adventure until you’ve come face-to-face with the Statue of Liberty!
We finished the evening with a meal at Lombard’s Seafood Grille™. We had several entrees to choose from, so we all tried different things in order to try a little of everything. Drew wasn’t too happy about sharing his shrimp, so I made a deal with him. He could try some of my calamari for a few shrimp in return. He reluctantly agreed and enjoyed a few bites of the calamari and his mother’s mahi mahi. Compromise!
After dinner, we got exclusive seating to Poseidon’s Fury™, a rip-roaring undersea show. As pyrotechnics exploded around us, I was sad that our adventures were over, but was sure glad we got to enjoy them together.
At the end of most adventures, the explorer finds a treasure or priceless artifact, but for us, we found each other and that’s what the adventure is all about.