Monday, June 28, 2010

Thrills and spills at Universal Studios

After breakfast at Toast Box at the Forum, we walked over to the highlight of the day - Universal Studios.

Just a quick side note: there are a couple of interesting stores outside Universal Studios which we had explored the day before. One of them is Garrett's Popcorn which is supposedly one of Oprah's favourite snacks. I don't know how she can keep her diet under control while munching on these cos we sampled the caramel one and it was cloyingly sweet, even for a sweet tooth like mine. But I have to admit the buttery scent was rather enticing.

Next to Garrett's is Hershey's Chocolate World and THAT really sent my kids over the moon. As Andre described, it was like being in Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory.

Back to Universal Studios. The park opens at 10am but by 9.30am, queues had already begun to form. I love the atmosphere outside a theme park before it opens. The swell of movie music and the excitement of the crowd always makes me feel like I'm about to enter a Very Happy Place (the type without narcotics).

Just before 10am, the attendants start letting the increasingly impatient people in and off we go! Immediately we made a beeline for Lost World as we'd heard that it has some of the more popular rides.

First stop, Rapids Adventure. This ride is similar to the one in Dreamworld, Gold Coast, Australia. Up to 9 persons sit in a circular raft which goes through a watery path of gushing rapids. It begins with pleasant scenes of the more placid dinos and halfway through the ride, you'll hear an emergency announcement that the T-rex has escaped and for everyone to evacuate. The raft then goes into a pitch black tunnel with T-rex screams (at which point my two chicken kids closed their eyes and missed out on the occasional flashes of T-rex. The finale is a sudden end to the dark tunnel and a short drop.

Concept-wise, the ride is sound but there are two major flaws in execution which makes it inferior to the Dreamworld ride. First, with similar rides, the passengers usually get slightly wet with at most a damp patch on their clothes. With this ride, there's a high chance you will get completely drenched, some have emerged looking like they fell into a pond.

I don't know about you but I don't relish having to walk the rest of the day with clothes sticking to my skin and squishy shoes, it's extremely uncomfortable and annoying. Luckily I had read about it beforehand online and was warned by friends so before the ride, we donned unsexy disposable ponchos and changed into flip-flops. My kids were worried that it would be terribly embarrassing to go on the ride dressed for a dunking but guess what? Almost everyone we saw on the ride had the same idea! News travels fast in Singapore.

The second flaw is that due to the design of the ride and the seat, you can get bumped around quite violently. On one of the turns, I whacked my hip against the seat and had a large bruise to show for it the day after. Owww.

Any ride that is so inconvenient and potentially painful is just not worth the effort. We didn't bother to take that ride again and likely never will.

We then headed to the Canopy Flyer where a car of four (two facing front, two facing back) is suspended over a track with mild drops and turns. It's fun, albeit short (53 secs) and a good alternative for little kids who are not brave enough to face a junior roller coaster. We took this ride twice and I would recommend you try both the front and back facing seats for a different experience.

The rest of the rides I'm describing here are not in the order we took them as we spent the rest of the day taking and re-taking rides, interspersed with shows.

Another ride in Lost World is Dino-saurin', which is your traditional kids ride - take a spin in the air in one of these pterodactyls. You can control how high you go although with Andre, this can become one bumpy ride as he attempts to inject thrill by pressing and releasing the button incessantly.

Ancient Egypt has the most impressive landscaping, in my opinion. Its giant obelisks and pyramids make you feel like you're on the set of The Mummy. You almost expect Brendan Fraser to make an appearance.

The picture below shows the entrance to the Revenge of the Mummy. It's an indoor roller coaster in darkness, something like Disneyland's Space Mountain but scarier as it also has backward drops.

We didn't try this one, I like to see when I'm going to drop or be hurled over to one side, thank you very much! With the Battlestar Galactica coasters still out of action, this is the most thrilling ride in the park at the moment.

The only other ride in Ancient Eqypt is Treasure Hunters, where you drive a vintage car around an excavation site. The description on the website certainly sounded way more interesting than the ride, which was soooo boring I can't believe we queued 35 minutes for it. It's on a track so there's really no driving involved and the sights you see along the way, like a cheetah, cobras, rocks with scarab beetles, are uninspiring.

Maybe I'm being too harsh, this ride is obviously for little kids. I mean very little kids, like two-year-olds who get a kick just from turning a steering wheel. Do note though that this was one of the rides where the queue never seemed to wane, it averaged about 35-40 minutes all day.

Moving on to Sci-Fi City which had become something of a ghost town since its star attraction, Battlestar Galactica was grounded. However, this meant that its only other ride, the Accelerator, had relatively short queues.

Accelerator is basically a typical teacups ride but in zippier cars. Lesley-Anne and Andre tend to like the these types of rides, they're simple but spinning round and round at top speed is fun in its own way and short waiting times are always attractive.

Far Far Away is the trademark land for Universal Studios, based on the movie Shrek. It's like Disney's Fantasy Land, except the castle belongs to Princess Fiona instead of Sleeping Beauty.

It's here that we discovered our favourite ride - Enchanted Airways. It's a junior roller coaster in the form of Dragon, Donkey's partner. As junior coasters go, this one packs a punch. I rate it as more thrilling than both Gadget's Go Coaster in Tokyo Disneyland and Flounder's Flying Fish Coaster in Tokyo Disneysea.

Lesley-Anne usually shuns all roller coasters and at first refused to go on it. An hour before the park closed, she suddenly decided to brave it and went with Andre. I saw her crouching in the seat as the coaster hurtled past and thought she had regretted her decision. To my surprise, she proceeded to go on it three more times! It's always the fear that paralyses her so I was glad to see her overcome it.

How much do we love this ride? Well, Andre went a total of 9 times, 5 with me and 4 with Lesley-Anne. He managed to sneak in one last ride at 7pm, just before the ride closed for the day.

I had intended to write about Universal Studios in one post but what with my verbose rambling, I realise this has become one very long piece! So I'm breaking this up into a two-parter, this one is mainly about the rides. Look out for the next piece about the shows and some tips coming up next.

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