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BOTCON SAN DIEGO
(griffin's 2013 BotCon adventure)


SUNDAY 23RD JUNE - FLORIDA UNIVERSAL STUDIOS

(Looking for the JUST the Transformers Ride part of my Universal Studios coverage? - then jump to here)

Sun 23/6
05.35 - FL arrive (saves having to book a hotel for one night)
(go to hotel first to drop off luggage if room not available)
(Florida Hotel, Sky Lake - midway between airport and Universal, with TRU, Kmart, Target & Walmart within walking distance)
- UNIVERSAL STUDIOS (13 hours)
08.00 - open
21.00 - close
- back to Hotel
- eat & sleep
 

The plane landed in Orlando early at 5am... which meant less sleep for me, but it probably wouldn't have made much difference.
The flight is what some call a "red eye", in that it departs late in the evening, and arrives at dawn (usually by travelling eastwards).

First thing I did when I got off the plane, was look for the Burger King that I remembered from 2010.
Sure enough, it was there... but wasn't in the same place as last time, so must have moved or renovated in the last 3 years.

They had a pretty small breakfast menu, so only got a bacon & egg crossant, and Frech Toast sticks with maple syrup. (VERY yummy)

I got my baggage and went outside for a taxi. (it was 6am by now)
At the Florida Hotel within 15 minutes, I left my big bag with the bellhop, and grabbed an iced coffee from the Starbucks in the lobby... to pad out a bit of time before going to Universal Studios (which doesn't open until 9am, so didn't want to be sitting out in the open for a couple hours).

Orlando Florida - Airport (C), Hotel (purple spot), Universal Studios (U), Disneyworld (D).

Florida Hotel and nearby stores.

Satellite image

THE FLORIDA HOTEL AND CONFERENCE CENTER AT THE FLORIDA MALL
1500 SAND LAKE ROAD ORLANDO, FL 32809 ~ 407-859-1500
Check-in time is 4:00 pm ... Check-out - ???

Close up of Hotel (the blue roof bit at the bottom of the shopping centre)

 

At about 7am I went back out the front of the hotel and asked for a taxi to be called. Within a few minutes one arrived, and I was off to Universal Studios for about 13 hours.

It only took about 15 minutes to get there, and as I had expected, being so early there was almost no one around.
The taxi dropped me off at a public transport location near the City Walk precinct (see above), which is publicly accesable (quite a few people were arriving in the evening for the night stuff in the City Walk precinct when the themepark crowd were leaving).  Disneyworld has a similar thing, so one was probably set up to compete with the other, as a place to attract people (20-somethings) to spend their nights, without having to pay for access to the park itself.  (the Universal in California has one outside their park as well)

Dispensor was so keen to get to the Transformers ride, he raced me up the escalator to the over-pass (between the parking area and the City Walk).

The entrance to the City Walk, complete with cinema, restaurants and bars.

The 19 is the over-pass from the parking area.

I wandered around this part of the park first, taking a few pics...

That thing at the bottom of the photo above is a squirrel.  There were heaps of them running around when I got there, scavenging for food.

Here's another one...

Across the lake, the Hard Rock Cafe Colusseum.

Walking over to the "Studios" Themepark, with the trademark spinning globe.... complete with a mister to make it look like it is just floating there.

Looking out across the lake.

The boats were to ferry people from different hotels to the parks.

I went through the archway of the "Studios" Park and found some ticket machines, which someone was just turning on as I got there.  They were supposed to print out tickets that were pre-paid as well, but when I tried, it just told me an error.
Fortunately I had the confirmation printed out, so when one of the ticket offices were opened, I could just get them to issue it.

I wandered over to the "Islands of Adventure" Park next.  I started seeing more and more people arriving, and it was still an hour before the park was meant to open.  I thought it was odd that so many people would be arriving this early, just to wait for the park to open.
As I got closer, I saw that they were actually being let in... so I wondered if the Islands part was actually open an hour earlier than the other one, or was this something the more-expensive VIP ticket bought you.
I then saw a sign saying that people who stayed at the on-site hotels, were given earlybird access of an hour, before the park opens to regular people.  That's a pretty good deal, as you can get a few rides in before the lines blow out.... and you could do that every morning of your stay.

Since the ticket office was open at the Adventure Island already (probably to sell Express passes to the earlybirds), I went up and handed in the copy of the confirmation email.  I was then handed two tickets - one to gain entry, and one was the Express pass (valid for one usage per ride - which was okay with me, as there was only one ride I was going to go on more than once anyway... and it had a single-riders line for me to get on quicker after I had used the Express pass).
They were selling lanyards and card holders for about $5 to protect the tickets when in the park (especially from wet rides, or just from frequent handling... because if the barcode on the back of either one was too damaged for their scanners to read, it was useless).  I didn't need to buy it though, as I always carry my passport in a ziplock bag to protect it, so I just put the tickets in that, with the barcodes showing for easy scanning through the bag.

It was still another hour until I would gain access to the Studios Park, so I completed the anti-clockwise lap around the City Walk lake, to have a better look at what was in there.  One thing that attracted my attention was the big BK Whopper Bar sign... I had to see what that was about, as it was note as a world first.  From what I could see through the tinted glass wasn't much, but it gave me the impression that they just served Whoppers, but you customise it with a heap of optional items.  I definitely had to check it out later when it opened.

A tropical plantation of palm trees. The Nascar Sports Bar & Grill at the back had an outside eating area, and looked over the Studios Park entrance, so I sat down there and got my computer out to work on typing up my adventure so far.  During this time, I saw that the battery indicator on my camera was already at half-full, which usually meant less than half-full, as it would have a full battery icon most of the time, before suddenly showing a rapidly dwindling supply of power.  This had me a bit worried, as I put all my different cables (including the adaptor and the battery recharger unit) in my big bag, which was left at the Hotel.  If I'd brought them with me, I could have looked for a power-point and just worked on the computer while giving it an hour or so re-charge.
I don't like half-charging the battery, as it shortens its life-span, but I didn't even think about it while I was sitting at the hotel that morning.  I could have stayed there and given it a full recharge, as I'd forgotten that I spent the whold day in Las Vegas taking photos since it was last recharged.
Would my camera last 13 hours of photos... or would I need to do something drastic, like head back to the hotel after checkin opens (at 4pm) and spend at least an hour with the battery in the recharger?  If that were to happen, it would mean spending about $50 on taxis, and at least 60-90 minutes of the day away from the Park.

I also realised that I forgot to get the sunscreen out of my big bag, which I bought at Las Vegas specifically for today and the next three days.  Here's hoping I don't spend enough time out in the open to get burnt, and ruin the rest of the week.

It came to 9am, and number of people walking past where I was sitting with my computer was steadily increasing.  I packed up my stuff and walked over to the entrance... scanned my ticket and walked inside.

First up, find the lockers, and get one for the day... for my backpack and anything I bought later.  They were an all-day locker, which was handy to keep coming back to.  Only problem was that they were inside the entrance, so if I bought stuff at the Adveture Islands park or needed something from my backpack, I'd have to come all the way back here to get to it.

On the map below, I planned to go straight to the Transformers ride, and then work my around the park in an anti-clockwise direction.  Some rides I had done before at other Universal Studios Parks, so didn't need to do them again if I didn't really want to.  Other rides would be done if I had the time... which I gave myself until 4pm (7 hours of the 13 hours I had to cover both Parks).

Just inside the entrance.

Approaching the Transformers Ride, which stands out like a beacon.

GO HERE FOR THE COMPLETE COVERAGE OF THE TRANSFORMERS RIDE

(9.30 - 10.10 for the Transformers Ride bits, which is at that other link)

Heading on towards the Simpsons Ride, I saw these characters - Scooby & Shaggy.  (I didn't actually see too many characters wandering around the park, like I did at the other two Universal Themeparks)

The "Hollywood" themed section.

The Terminator 2 ride. I did the one in California, but wanted to do it again if I had time.

Horror Make Up show. Sounds interesting, so wanted to do that one later if I could.

Mel's Diner.  This one was at the Singapore... but this one didn't have the giant $50 burger (which I would have considered buying at the end of the night if they had one).

The main lake.

The Kid-zone... for families with younger kiddies.  It also had the ET ride up the back. (I'd go on it later in the day)

At the Spongebob store, you could meet Spongebob and his friend Patrick the Starfish (not in this photo, but I saw him at another time of the day).

More of the Kid-Zone.  (note the splotches on the photos... I didn't realise it until a few days later when looking at the photos, but the camera lense was so dirty, and I'd never thought to clean it before)

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A Doc Brown, from Back to the Future...

...and the two time-machines.  A legacy of when this park (like the California one) had a Back to the Future ride. Both were replaced with the Simpsons Ride.

Approaching the Simpsons Ride, was a construction barricade with human-sized Simpsons characters on it, for you to have your photo taken with.

There were also various Simpsons shop-fronts that lined a building that housed a foodcourt and a Bar.  (damn... when the sun hit the dirt on the camera lense, it certainly made it look really bad)
This created a nice big Simpsons city feel to it, and it is a shame that the California Themepark didn't appear to have the space to do the same.

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Inside Moe's Tavern

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Inside the foodcourt.

Elsewhere in the park was a mobile show truck (for props and a change-room), made to look like a Simpsons campervan.

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More of the construction site wall. On the other side has a spinning ride, with the alien Kang (or Kodos) on top, which you can see poking over.

Inside the Kwik-E-Mart was a gift-shop. With clothing (including Homer slippers) and plush toys (I liked the Blinky fish toy so much that I impulsively bought one later in the day).

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Just like at the California gift shop, there were Giant Donuts (about four times the size of a regular one).

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The ride itself.... which I went on, as it is a favourite of mine.

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Outside the Ride was a courtyard of games to win prizes.

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Walking on towards the Men In Black ride, looking over the Lake... and you can see the new Simpsons ride being built on the left.

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The Men In Black Ride.  I went on it, and wasn't that impressed. (you hop on a car with about 5 others, and you have a laser gun to shoot at targets around a track to earn points)

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The giftshop impressed me more though, with some odd items, including freeze-dried icecream (a favourite of mine), AND edible insects (the first MIB movie had an insect theme to it).
Scorpions and crickets in lollipops (stingers were removed from the scorpoions, so were apparently safe to eat)...

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...and various flavoured crickets, choc-coated insects, and more lolly-blocks with insects in them.

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Next to MIB was a stadium that looked to have a Fear Factor show (with various dares for audience members to do, but had to audition for first).  I didn't get time to sit in on a show though.

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There was a big construction site between the Fear Factor stage and the next attraction, so something big is coming soon to the park (but no signage to say what it was though).
The next attraction was called "Disaster".  It sounded like some sort of demonstration attraction, showing how they do special effects. Since it wasn't a ride, I was going to leave it until later if I had time... but they had a sign saying it was starting in 5 minutes, so figured I might go inside anyway while I was there.

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It started out with about 6 volunteers taken from the group. Then we had an introduction by actor Christopher Walken (a recording, but projected on a screen as if he was there talking to our live host).  Next was in a studio stage, which had the volunteers participate in several special effects shots to show us how they are done in movies. (photo below)  After that, we were led to another section that has us hop on an open-sided tram (like they had at the Backlot tour at California).  The tram drove into a dark tunnel, and it was the underground train station set from the California Backlot tour, which did the same thing - an earthquake dropping a tanker truck through the roof, a train crashing next to us, and a flood of water on the other side.  From that we were then shown on the TV screens throughout the tram, a short movie made up of the scenes that the volunteers shot and the earthquake that we went through, with a guest role by Dwayne The Rock Johnson.  It was certainly more involved than I had expected.

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A Jaws shark, which is all that remains of a previous Jaws Ride.

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It was about 11.30 at this time, and I came across a Burger restaurant, with an Earthquake theme (a remnant of a previous Earthquake themed attraction, that was absorbed into the Disaster Movie attraction).
They had just 3 or 4 burgers on the menue, so I ordered a bacon cheeseburger with fries, which cost US$10.43!

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An interesting thing that caught my eye though, was a drink machine station that offered over a hundred drink options!  (probably just a combination of a dozen various syrups to create all those varieties)

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The Beetlejuice stage show.

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I didn't have time to watch it, so just took a couple photos while a show was on.

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The Blues Brothers car, driving to join a street performance nearby.

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The small crowd were watching some singers perform, for the Blues Brothers to join in.

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The Mummy ride - I didn't like this ride at California, so would only go on this one if I had time left and didn't have anything else to do.

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Fast & Furious 6 cars.  Not sure if they were replicas or actual movie cars.  I remember that the California Universal park were showing off the cars of the fifth movie a couple years back.

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Next was the Twister attraction, which I was keen to go on, as I thought it would be something good... I was wrong.  It was a long wait (even with the express pass), that ended up in a disappointed special effects show of windfans, flashing lights and a rainstorm, while the stage we were standing on rocked from the fake tornado (and various props were moved around as if blown around).

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A performance stage for special events. And the Rockit rollercoaster behind it. (I didn't end up going on it though, as it would have been done later if I had the time)

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Dispicable Me attraction.  This one had a huge line, and even the Express pass line took about 15 minutes.  The attraction itself was okay, as a cross between the Shrek 4D and Simpsons rides.  I've never seen Dispicable Me, but the second one is getting so much publicity at the moment (in America and Australia) that I was familiar enough with the story concept to end up enjoying this.

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Shrek 4D.  I'd done the one at California, so wasn't interseted in spending about 30 minutes queuing up and going through this one.

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Inside one of the giftshops - plush Marvel characters.

A Terminator robot that you could actually buy (no price listed though). I think the Toyworld in the Brisbane CBD once had one, for about a few thousand dollars I think.

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And plush Star Wars characters and vehicles.

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It was about 2pm and I had now done a lap of the park, taking photos of everything, so had time to do some rides I had skipped past.
I started off by going back to the Transformers Ride, which had a wait time of 80 minutes in the regular queue by this stage.  That's a long wait for a 5 minute ride.
I went to the Express line entry and asked if my card had been scanned yet (as I was sure that I didn't get scanned the first time, and you only get to use the Pass once on each ride).  It didn't really matter if it hadn't beause I could use the Single Riders line, but if the regular queue was this long, there could also be a big wait in the Singles queue.
The Pass was scanned and it was indeed the first time it was scanned... so I got a third go on the ride for the day. (it would be my last time for the day too)

This was the time that the Ride stopped for about 10 minutes while I was in the queue, so perhaps it is still working out the bugs, as it is still only a couple weeks since it started operating.

I then went to the ET ride, which you hopped on a block of 4 bycicles that you were strapped into, and you flew through the track, replicating the Moon scene from the Movie at one point.  (you also end up flying to his home planet, which has his friends calling him "ET", which doesn't make sense if that is a human scientific term, not an actual name)

When I came out of that ride it was about 2.30pm and it was raining.
Similar to the Singapore themepark, it is a common thing to have afternoon showers here, so people were crammed in the ET giftshop waiting for it to stop raining.
I wasn't as fussed about the rain, and it wasn't too heavy, so I made my way to the main walkway by running to various covered spots, and saw that the next Horror Makeup show was about to start in 2 minutes.  I ran inside and sat through that show (which told us the history of make-up and monsters in movies, with a few demonstrations).
When it finished about 10 minutes later, it was still lightly raining, but nothing too soaking, so I decided that since my camera was now showing a red battery indicator, maybe this was a good time to head back to the hotel (to checkin and recharge the battery a little).  I saw that there was a daily parade at 5pm, and wanted to be back for that, but decided to make my various purchases I had kept a mental note of during the day, and take them all back with me to the Hotel (as I would be doing the Adventure Islands Park when I got back, so wouldn't need the locker anymore anyway).

I power-walked to the MIB giftshop (it was still drizzling) and bought freeze-drie icecream (for me) and a Scorpion lollipop (for a friend at work, who is just as sweet and deadly). I then went to the Simpsons giftshop and bought a Blinky fish toy (for me), and restrained myself from bying a giant donut.

Next up was the Transformers giftshop. I'd already bought a t-shirt and the chocolate shards, but now I was back for the two plush toys and the $225 Allspark cube. I didn't get them before because they wouldn't fit in the locker.
The cube was sold in a big brown box, which they opened to show me that there was indeed a cube inside. I think I must be one of the first to buy one, as the two people at the counter weren't sure what I was asking about at first... thinking I was wanting one of the projector cubes instead. I had to then tell them that I was wanting the expensive one, and pointed over to the display case.

It was already 4.10pm at this stage, and taking into account about 30 minutes of taxi time (between both trips), it didn't leave me with much time to recharge the battery with if I wanted to be back for the 4pm parade.
Actually, it only left me with 20 minutes at the most... and that's if I got a speedy check-in and retreval of my bag from the bellhop.  It wasn't looking likely though... and if I miss it, it wasn't a huge loss (unless there was a Transformers float), it would just be something I'd have to come back and do again some time in the future (like if there was another BotCon in Florida).

I got to the Hotel at 4.25, and in my room about 5 minutes later.  I plugged in the battery, and decided to have a shower and put on new clothes (it had been two days since my last shower, and I was wearing most of the same clothes during that time).
At 4.45 I decided that I'd stay for another half an hour, to give the battery enough charge to last until the end of the day (I still had another 5 hours at Universal).  This meant missing the Parade.

The hotel room I got.

When I was there in 2010 I was a few floors up, so looked over the shopping centre.  This year I was on the 3rd floor, so had this as my view...

At 5.20pm I grabbed the battery for the camera, put on sunscreen, and went downstairs to get a taxi back to Universal. (a 15 minute ride)

TO BE CONTINUED IN PART 2 (ADVENTURE ISLAND)


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***All pictures in this convention report are mine unless noted or watermarked. Any that are borrowed, have the source credited/noted.  If you want to use/borrow any of my photos, all I ask is for you to please credit the source as well. I try to take as many of my own photos as possible, and usually only resort to using others if I failed to get something, or my photo wasn't clear enough.

OZFORMERS - The Australian (and Asia) Transformers Fansite for News and Interaction (started way back in 1996 - try to find a Transfan community that's older)
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BotCon website - The official Collector Club and Convention website
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To contact me --> griffin @ otca.com.au