Travel Tuesday: Harry Potter and the Prescription of Ass-kaban

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Now, I don’t want to blame Lance’s prescription for our less-than-stellar first visit to Universal Orlando’s The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

…but I am. [Editor’s note: Love ya, boo!]

I need to backtrack and provide a little context: Lance, per the usual, was having his Bi-monthly Health Crisis (seriously, he passed 30 and his body just began shutting down).  This time, Lance was experiencing (TMI warning!) a near-full-body rash.  We speculated for weeks as the rash grew more irritated and scaly: was it an allergic reaction? it was itching so bad, could it be bed bugs? and so on.

Finally, Lance got himself to a doctor, who couldn’t pinpoint the cause but figured it must be an allergy, and prescribed the steroid Prednisone to combat it.  I didn’t know much about Prednisone except I was under the impression that prescription steroids were supposed to be heavy-hitters: take a few and whatever was ailing you would be knocked flat on its ass.

Well, according to Lance, a side effect of Prednisone is that it makes you a giant rage monster.

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So that’s how we ended up in this Chili’s.  On the night of our arrival, we were to go to Artist Point, one of Walt Disney World’s signature restaurants in the achingly wonderful Wilderness Lodge (more on this in a future post).  However, we were having one of those travel days where we were both on edge and snipping at each other.  That, and Artist Point ain’t cheap, so I figured, “Why spend the money when we’re both miserable and certainly wouldn’t have a good time?”

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The rest of the trip was fraught with bickering, day in and day out.  This isn’t all Lance’s fault; when traveling, especially when the trip is understood to be “mine,” I am very sensitive to Lance’s mood.  Is he having a good time? I’ll worry.  Is he mad? Is waiting in line for Revenge of the Mummy going to lead to divorce??  

Whenever I notice Lance being quiet or distant, I prod him.  “Baby, what’s wrong?”  And that leads to us fighting over who’s being too sensitive, who’s spending too much time buying luggage at the Tumi outlet when we should be at Universal or Islands of Adventure, etc…

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My pal Brian is a champion of the Universal Orlando Resort (which includes the second park, Islands of Adventure) and after a recent series of articles he wrote for Theme Park Tourist, I was very excited to re-visit after nearly a six year absence.

We somehow slept in fairly late (something I never do) on our first full day in Orlando, and in my anxiousness to get to the park in an attempt to avoid lines, I ended up rushing us out the door and making everything even more tense.

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When we arrived at the Universal resort, we headed straight for Islands of Adventure, where the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is, tucked in the back.  As we weaved through Seuss Landing and The Lost Continent, I was hit with a wave of disappointment.  Beyond just the light crowds limiting the energy in the air, both areas were in need of some TLC.  Seuss really needs a paint-job after its unique facade has faded in the Florida sun, and The Lost Continent (along with the Jurassic Park section) is stuffed with cheap carnival games.  Was Universal not the theme park powerhouse aiming to knock Disney off its perch, as it’s portrayed online?

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But as we rounded the corner into Hogsmeade, it was obvious what had people excited about Universal: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is drop-dead gorgeous, the theming and immersiveness so spot-on to the film series that you can’t help but chugging down a butterbeer or perusing through Honeyduke’s.

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There are three rides in TWWoHP: the fairly standard kiddie-coaster Flight of the Hippogriff (really, go on this for the queue alone, which features and animatronic Buckbeak and a swell recreation of Hagrid’s hut), Dragon Challenge (a Goblet of Fire-overlay of the preexisting Dueling Dragons coaster), and the absolutely mind-blowing Hogwarts walkthrough/crazy ride, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.  I was completely taken aback by the whole of …Forbidden Journey, an amazing experience through and through, with such a unique ride vehicle technology that you really feel like you’ve never seen anything like it.  And the queue, which is more than half the fun! The “line” for the actual ride takes you through Hogwarts, up staircases lined with moving portraits, through Dumbledore’s headmaster office and the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, and past the Sorting Hat.

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TWWoHP is, I’m inclined to say, on par with Tokyo DisneySea as far as escapism is concerned.  When you’re winding your way through the back alleys of Hogsmeade, or inside Ollivander’s watching somebody being paired with a wand, it’s truly incredible.  (My only complaint while actually inside of TWWoHP was being able to see the warehouse-like showbuilding for …Forbidden Journey just past the Hogwarts facade.) The main downside is its size: TWWoHP doesn’t take up a lot of land, and therefore you feel like it’s over almost once it’s begun.  The Diagon Alley expansion, due later this summer, will bring so much more depth and space to this really wonderful land.

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I’ll report back next week about the rest of our time at Universal, particularly the expansion of the Simpsons area, which is also terrifically swell.  We honestly spent 90% of our time at Universal and Islands of Adventure in one of these two lands.

But, back to Lance, who was not only suffering from Rage Monster-itis, but also a side-effect of nausea.  After a kind Universal team member let us into the express queue for …Forbidden Journey, Lance’s time with attractions was limited.  Harry Potter, Transformers, Simpsons, and more all rely on similar-ish ride systems, where the guest is basically whipped around in front of IMAX-esque screens where the “action” is projected.  Even though we took motion sickness meds before we set foot in the park, Lance couldn’t make it past Harry Potter.  I rode alone for the rest of the day, which made us breeze through Marvel Super Hero Island and Universal Studios.

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Looking back, this trip was kinda a dud (except for the food, which I’ll address in a future post).  Lance and I fought every day, even though we were both trying out best to keep things in perspective–I mean, it WAS the Prednisone, not either of us, that was causing a lot of the personality conflicts during this trip.  And while it was disappointing to think about how much money we spent to have a less-than-stellar time, I also had to remind myself that we’ve been together for almost seven years and have made countless trips together–not every one is going to earn a gold star.

And heck, I was in Hogsmeade with a frozen butterbeer. Who am I to complain?

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Travels With Lance

[Continuing our series on the origins of Lance+Jeff! You can see our other entries here, here, and here!]

It was never a conscious choice of ours, to travel so much, but looking back to compile these posts, it’s pretty clear that going on adventures is a fundamental element of our relationship.

Our first trip together was actually the start of a rapid-fire succession of mini-trips, about five months after we began dating.  We went to New York for the day to catch the original off-Broadway production of future Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical Next to Normal, starring Lance’s fave stage actress of all-time, Alice Ripley.

[Sidebar: Lance’s obsession with Alice Ripley started in a Tower Records.  “I just saw her name on the back of a CD and I KNEW I had a connection with her!!” he describes. Stalker, much?]

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Since this was supposed to be Alice’s big Broadway comeback show (“It’s a RETURN!” says Lance) after an unsuccessful detour to Hollywood and rock music, Lance was terribly excited…and nervous, since the show was still working through some kinks in this limited off-Broadway run.  At that point, it was doubtful that it would even transfer to Broadway…and then what would happen to Alice??

So, after we saw the show that weekend, we decided to bus it back to New York to see it again…twice…the following week.

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It was obviously windy that day. This is why Lance no longer has his Milo Ventimagina hair.

New York, twice in one month (not the only time we’ve done that)–a test for any couple.  But wait, there’s more!

Some four days after this second NYC trip, we flew to Chicago!  Lance was checking out grad school programs at the time, and both of us have a mad metropolitan crush on the Windy City.

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Since that chilly March in 2008, we’ve travelled a bunch. Probably too much.

There was Universal Studios Orlando in May 2008…

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Yes, those are cargo shorts. 2008 was the darkest timeline.

DC in January of 2009 (for Next to Normal’s off-off Broadway re-tooling run):

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…then Atlantic City…

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…Finally back to NYC to see Next to Normal play on Broadway, just a few months before Alice won her Tony for the role (and will be forever remembered for her Tony acceptance speech.)

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…Then to Las Vegas…

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…And back to Chicago in October 2009…

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…And then to Hawaii in April 2010, where our Lance+Jeff story will continue tomorrow:

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Our first trip to Hawaii also marks quite a significant event in the long slog of our relationship (I bet you can’t guess what it is!!!1!), a turning point for our relationship, but also for our travels.  Ever since this trip, we’ve gone even more travel-crazy, going back to NYC multiple times, back to Vegas two more times, then to New Orleans, Dollywood (x2), Disney World (x2), Tokyo…and I think there was even a trip to Lincoln, Nebraska in there somewhere…not to mention our trips home to Michigan…

Why does it work for us? That’s hard to say.  If you don’t like the bussle and anxiety of travel, this might not be for you. Thankfully, both of us like travelling and like spending a lot of time together, though we have, over time, established guidelines and agreements so that we don’t kill each other.

This isn’t to say that we’re the world’s most-traveled couple. Obviously not! Nevertheless, our desire to hop on a plane together, to hold hands as the wheels slip free of the runway, and go off exploring somewhere…that’s in the chemistry of our relationship.