Orlando part three: Universal Studios & Emeril!

Getting up on Wednesday morning was difficult after being up so late on Tuesday.  Luckily, I was still riding on a “second wind”…still excited about actually being in Orlando.  I got to my meetings at 8am and was ready to start the day.

The meetings were originally scheduled to be over at 2pm but ran a little long.  The plan was to head over to Universal Studios for the afternoon, get back to the hotel to change, and then meet the rest of the group by 6:15pm so we could head over to Emeril’s for a group dinner.  I didn’t get to head down to the water taxi until about 2:20pm, so I felt a bit rushed.

But then I saw the view and immediately realized that I was in no hurry to go anywhere…

This was the view from the stairs that exited the lobby of the Portofino Bay Hotel. In the distance to the right you can see the water taxi. The water taxi would head to the upper right (there's a bridge in there) and then slowly cruise to Universal's CityWalk. How could I be in a hurry with a view like this??
This was one of the water taxi's that went back and forth to the CityWalk area and the three different Universal Orlando resorts.
I met this little guy after getting off the water taxi at Universal's CityWalk. I saw quite a few of them over the course of the week. I'm assuming it's a Florida thing.
Okay...I need to pat myself on the back for this picture. I'm actually quite impressed with it. If I was tired at all from my meetings, seeing this entrance definitely woke me back up again.
When I entered the park, I noticed to my right than there was a small line-up of people waiting to get their picture taken. When I realized that they were waiting to get their picture taken with the Simpsons...well, I couldn't just stand back. I absolutely NEEDED to get my picture taken. It's funny...my friends back home find this picture to be their favorite out of all of the pics on my Facebook page. I guess this cartoon's popularity hasn't died down yet. So yeah...be jealous. Heh.
After wussing out on yesterday's Incredible Hulk roller coaster, I was feeling a bit more adventurous on this day. I decided to try this: the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit!! When you sit down in the car, you have a screen asking you to choose music to listen to on your ride (dance, rock, etc.). I chose "Kickstart My Heart" by Motley Crue...which ended up being an excellent choice. So the picture you're seeing here is of the very beginning of the ride. That's right...you don't just have a vertical incline, you go STRAIGHT UP!! For me, this was actually the scariest part of the entire ride. So as Motley Crue blared in my ears, this coaster took off on one helluva journey. I loved every single second of it. It actually hit a top speed of 65mph (104kph) and was just an amazing adrenaline rush. How good was it? Mr. Scared of Roller Coasters (i.e. me) went on this thing TWICE!! Simply awesome.
This is an indoor roller coaster ride...and definitely my favorite of either park. The lines wind through the insides of tombs with mummy statues at every turn, which really help the line-up move along (oh...except on this day there weren't any line-ups to worry about...heh). The ride actually starts like a slow-moving animatronics show, with mummies and fire and lights all over the place. Then, without warning, you race up an incline and into total darkness...and the roller coaster experience begins. With speeds of up to 45 mph (72kph) in the dark, this ride REALLY rocks your socks. I loved every single second of this ride and, as with the previous one, was one I went on twice without hesitation.
One of the fun things about both Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios was that they had characters walking around or standing to take pictures with the guests. There were actually quite a few moments where I could have gotten my picture taken but didn't (I didn't think I needed a picture with Dora the Explorer...lol). This was a woman dressed-up like Anck Su Namun from the Mummy movies. She actually acted the part, too...and I couldn't figure out if I found that campy fun or cheesy nonsense. Either way, I had to get a pic!
One of the guilty pleasures of either park is the classic ride that I remember going on when I was first here back in 1991: The Jaws Ride. As explained on the Universal website: "A leisurely boat tour off the coast of Amity goes horribly wrong when you suddenly come face to face with the largest Great White shark ever seen in these parts." The shark famously known as Bruce is recreated here and is made out of steel, fiberglass, & latex. With fire and explosions and the possibility of getting wet, this never fails to put a smile on my face.

At this point, we realized that it was after 5pm and we needed to get back to the hotel to change for dinner.  That was okay, because I had been on the Shrek 4-D, Men In Black, E.T. Adventure, Twister, and Terminator 2 in 3D attractions when I was here five years ago.

The only attraction that I never got to go on but wish I had was The Simpsons Ride…and from what QT Mama told me, I missed out on the best ride in the park.

This was the entrance to the Simpsons Ride. It was set-up to look like a low-budget theme park created by Krusty the Clown. Once inside, it's actually a massive motion simulator and you feel like you're on a Simpson's roller coaster ride. I wish I could have gone, but I'm sure I'll get back there one day.
The other guys I was with were in a hurry to leave and get back to the hotel, so I couldn't get a picture of this with me in the frame. But yes...this looked as cool in person as it does here.
Unfortunately, I never got the time to go inside...but how awesome is it that they've actually got a Kwik-E-Mart at Universal Studios?!? Actually, I'm kinda glad that I never went inside...my wallet is thanking me.
I could be wrong, but I believe this Mel's Drive-In is supposed to be an homage to the Hollywood restaurant chain that was created back in the late 1940's. I remember this place from when I was here back in 1991. I've never been inside, though. I'm sure the burgers and shakes are amazing.

In fact, I think I’ve actually got a photo from that 1991 family trip…

Wow...how's THIS for a trip back in time???

So we made our way back to the water taxi and to the hotel to change.  The reason we needed to dress-up a bit?  Everybody attending the meetings were being treated to Emeril’s for dinner!

Emeril Lagasse is a famous celebrity chef ("BAM!!"). And trust me when I say that his menu was out of this world...as were the prices (lol).
http://www.emerils.com
This is a picture I got from Emeril's website (www.emerils.com). In the distance, you can see stairs leading up. We went up the stairs and the 14 of us sat in a private room, where we were treated to one of the greatest meals I've ever had.
This is one of the appetizers that I had: New Orleans barbeque shrimp. UNBELIEVABLE! As the alcohol flowed and the food continued to arrive, I ended up trying cavier and roasted duck for the first time before polishing off one of the greatest filet mignons I've ever had. Bar none, this was one of the best meals I can remember having and I would highly recommend this place if you've got a few extra bucks lying around (or a couple hundred, anyway).

Once we finished our meal it was 9:30pm, and since we were already at Universal’s CityWalk (and since some of the sales guys hadn’t seen my performance from the night before), it was decided that we’d go back to Rising Star for another musical odyssey.

While there is video of my second performance, it’s currently on a sales guy’s phone and he doesn’t know how to get it online (lol).  So until that happens, you’ll just have to wait.  I ended up singing “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond…which was awesome because the crowd sings back to you a few different times in the song (I didn’t know about it until it happened…VERY cool!!).

As with the night before, we stumbled our way back to the water taxi just after midnight and head back to the hotel.  The next day was going to be brutal…guest speakers and lectures from 8am to 4pm.  More on that tomorrow.

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