Category Archives: Theme Parks

Ev’rybody Has a Happy Place

I have about 3 blog posts in the works, but lately I have been in such a funk that I cannot focus on the content they are about.

There is a confession to make here.  I am a former Disney Cast Member.  Being one was a badge of honor, performing the roles I had the opportunity to was a gift I cannot even begin to explain, and the joy I had on a daily basis almost outweighed the pain that my body was developing.

When I left, it was because I had limits and expectations on what my life should be that were completely based on what other people thought and what I thought it should be.  Not because leaving would make me happy, but because I needed to “grow up.”

There were blessings in leaving:  being close to the members of my family who were already diagnosed with Celiac when my diagnosis happened, being able to spend 8 hours with my Grandmother the day before she passed, getting to perform in a variety of productions in the Chicago area while meeting some incredible people, and only being 3 hours from my family.  There have been some bad things as well, but that is another tale.

Except, I never really let it go.  Every year like clockwork, from 2007-2012, I flew back to work for a week as a seasonal cast member, to recharge my batteries with the love and happiness that I had doing the job I did there, to see friends, to make new ones, and to soak it all in.

Just a bit Goofy.

Just a bit Goofy.

April 14, 2012 was my last day as a cast member.  I donned my blacks for the last time, took my voyage, and then said “goodbye.”  Not because I wanted to, but because the rules on being seasonal had changed, and there was no way I could make it work while living in Chicago.

I miss it.  People tell me I need to do what makes me happy and what I am good at, but to be honest with you, I am not sure what that is.  I know the things that I enjoy doing, but I know my happiest time was when I was going into work every day and performing.  I could be in the grumpiest mood, not feeing well, swear that I was living in a sauna, but as soon as the music started and I stepped onto whatever stage it was, it was like my world receded and for however long I was on stage, there was only that.

If this does not make sense, I apologize.  Tonite was a night where I just needed to put thoughts down and get them out.  If you want to read about my adventures eating GF as a guest as WDW try this.

And I am going to leave you with the last thing I do on every trip to my happy place:

 

Gluten Free Disneyland: A Wrap Up

Hi Friends!

I have been trying to write this for a couple of days now, and keep hitting a brick wall when it comes to the best way to organize my thoughts.  I finally decided that I am going to lump the things together and pray that it makes sense.

1) Guest Relations will no longer give out a list of the Gluten Free options available in the park.  This is because ALL restaurants will have GF options and sometimes they change so frequently it is difficult to keep that list up to date.  While I applaud the fact that all dining establishments will have GF options, sometimes that option is a plain old, run of the mill, boring, garden salad.  At least, that was my experience at The Golden Horseshoe where all of the food options were deep fried.  YUCK.

2) If all restaurants are going to have GF options available, there needs to be signage available so that people know what options are available GF.  When I was there in February (not a busy season), the line at Jolly Holiday was still 10 minutes.  If I had been able to know what I could eat in advance, then I could have used the time I stood in line to make up my mind.  Instead, I had to wait until a manager came out (not complaining about that, in fact, that is one of the things I greatly appreciate) to let me know, then decide between my options.  When I asked about desserts (because it is a bakery and there were many baked goods on display), I was asked if I saw their sign.  I hunted and I finally saw, in about a 2×2 square: “Gluten Free Options Available.”  TINY SIGN!  IN A CORNER!  And it did not say what was available.

3)  This is something I experienced at WDW and I think DL needs to incorporate it.  At counter service locations at WDW, when you mention you have a food allergy they bring out a binder.  This binder has a copy of the ingredient label from EVERYTHING you may be eating.  That way, you can look for other allergens and make an informed decision.  This is especially important and necessary when people have multiple food allergies.

4) I liked that the staff took the time to prepare my food in a safe environment.  If it was warmed up, they ensured that it was in something clean and not contaminated.  That level of care and concern is amazing and hard to find.

5) Ok.  Peeve of peeve.  The incident that irritated and pissed me off like no other.  First off, knowledge.  The fact that the chef in charge did not know everything that was available GF, but acted like he did, therefore putting my health into danger — not cool. It is important that you know everything, and if you do not know everything admit it and find the answer.  The fact that he blamed his delay in getting to me on it being busy in the kitchen?  Not good because I know that park will be much busier during the Summer and over Christmas.  Another part of this peeve is that the chef with the knowledge was at another location.  I do not know if it was scheduling because someone was out/on vacation, something being done because of budget cuts, or what, but it would be nice to have someone on hand to answer guests questions/concerns at all locations.

6)  It was a pleasant surprise when I was in the Marceline’s Confectionery and wondered out loud if any of them were GF.  The cast member who heard me stepped right up and let me know that, unfortunately, I could not have any of their treats as the pans are coated in flour.  I stood there, torturing myself for a couple of minutes, when she returned and let me know that I COULD have the chocolate dipped pineapple wedge.  AWHA!?!??!  What is this??  My mouth had never heard of this.  OF COURSE my chocolate craving, pineapple loving self was going to try it.  SO GOOD!!!!  And bonus points to the Cast Member who made the recommendation!

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I am trying to think if there was anything else that I really wanted to say.  Overall, I would say that if I were to rank my Theme Park Dining Experiences, WDW would be first (those binders seal the deal), DL would be a close second, and Universal Studios Florida would be a so far distant third it is 3 states over stuck in traffic.

Thanks for reading!

ToM

Gluten-Free DisneyLand – Days 2-5

Hello Again My Friends!

Last time I took you through my one day pig-out at DisneyLand.  The next couple of days were not as exciting, food wise (thank goodness), but the number of options available were still pretty great.

As mentioned prior, for breakfast I made GlutenFreeda Instant Oatmeal (love this stuff) at my hotel and grabbed a lot of fruit.  Most days I did not bother with lunch, as I was not hungry.  I know there are nutritionists out there who would probably love to rake me across the coals for that, but I had apples in my bag, so I at least snacked on something healthy when I had the urge. And I got a LOT of fiber!  =)

Day 2 found me exploring Disney’s California Adventure.  The bulk of the park is themed after different regions of California, be it the Piers along the ocean, Northern California, Hollywood, and the rest is pure Pixar fun.  I arrived not long after the park opened and after walking down Buena Vista street with my mouth agape (again), I reached a fork in the road.  Have fork, bear right.  Well, I explored a bit, then had a hankering for waffles.  Mickey Waffles.  So, I hit up the first restaurant I see and ask “Do you know where I can get some GF waffles?”  They did not know, but they sent me over to Flo’s in Carsland.  Ok, I wish I remembered the name of the chef (I think it was Mike), but he came out and let me know that they did NOT have GF waffles, but give him a moment.  He then went into the kitchen and called EVERY RESTAURANT ON PROPERTY to find out where I could get them!  Sadly, there was no place in the park, but he told me if I really wanted something with carbs, I could grab a GF muffin from Fiddler, Fifer, and Practical Cafe.  This made my morning as, not only was it a Starbucks, they had OMG, IT’S GLUTEN FREE blueberry muffins!  When I ordered it and mentioned that I would like it warmed up, the manager took it, and took care of it.  They told me the special precautions they took to avoid cross-contamination, but I don’t remember as I was hungry and needing my dirty iced soy chai.

So yummy, I had to take a bite before I got to the table.

So yummy, I had to take a bite before I got to the table.

The rest of the day was spent wandering around, riding the rides, screaming myself hoarse, laughing a lot, and just enjoying the day with Marianya.  Eventually, after she headed back to the hotel, I realized it was almost 8pm and I had not eaten yet.  WHOOPS!  So, I pulled out my handy guide map and started looking at what food options were out there.  Was not in a meat mood (as in meatloaf, pork loin, etc), or burgers or hotdogs, when I saw there was someplace called The Lucky Fortune Cookery.  That almost sounded perfect, so I thought I would run over and see if they could help me out. If not, I was pretty sure I could find SOMETHING at the Mexican place across the pier.  After a very short wait in line, I went up and told them, “Hi.  I am Gluten Free, is there anything here I can eat?”  The chef popped up and let me know that there is no pre-marinade on the meats, the rice is safe, as are the vegetables and they had a sauce (whose name escapes me) that I could have.  SOLD!  And it came in a cute take out bowl.  As an added bonus, this was the dish that I mastered the use of chopsticks with rice!  I took my food, found a good place to stand, and finished it while waiting for WORLD OF COLOR to start.

GF Beef/Rice/Veggies

GF Beef/Rice/Veggies

Day 3 found me back at Disneyland.  Once again, got a craving for a muffin, so I hunted and discovered that they had them at my old friend, Jolly Holiday Bakery and Cafe.  The sign saying that these were available is **really** tiny on the display case, but I got it (warmed up safely again, this time remaining in the bag as it was an Udi’s muffin) and my Practically Perfect Punch, to get my energy going.  Later in the day, I had an ice cream hankering, so I got one of my favorite treats, other than Dole Whip.  A Mickey Premium Ice Cream Bar.

Mickey Premium Bar at WDW.  Same treat, diff coast.

Mickey Premium Bar at WDW. Same treat, diff coast.

My dinner companion on night 3 was Marianya, as our third left to do the drive back to Pepperdine.  With both of us being clueless on what we wanted and the decision being left to me (which can be very dangerous as I am very non committal when it comes to food.  If it is edible, and safe, I am usually good), we headed to Redd Rockett’s Pizza Port in Tomorrowland.  Of course, the first thing I do is ask if they have GF options.  Upon being assured that they did, I headed to the pizza station.  The person there grabs the chef and who informs me of the pasta and the pizza options.  When asked what he would have, he did not hesitate a moment before saying the pizza.  SOLD!  He had me take a slip up to the cashier and complete my order, and then I came back and waited a grand total of about 10 minutes from placing the order until food delivery.  I have had the GF pizza at WDW which were OK, but nothing to write home about.  This one had a really nice crust and good flavors but sadly the chef could not remember who made it, even after others asked previously.  Ok, if people ask where the GF pizza is from, LEARN because good GF pizza is hard to find!

At the end of the night, I made my way to Town Square and City Hall (aka Guest Relations). While I still felt the need to say something about my night 1 dining experience, I felt a stronger desire to give compliments and applause to the chef’s and dining cast members who gave me so many good dining experiences.  I do not know what happened with the information I gave, but I know that every chef that I interacted with on these 2 days had something positive said for going above and beyond.

Day 4 found us arriving late due to errands in the area (like seeing the Pacific Ocean for the first time), and bouncing between the two parks.  I saw a show at The Golden Horseshoe, but other than a root beer float, the food options there for the Glutard were non-existent.  Dinner found Marianya and I meeting up with Hula to watch the Pixar Play Parade after enjoying hot dogs and chips from Award Wieners.  Once again, I failed to take a picture.  Here is my negative on this dining experience.  While they could guarantee that the hot dogs and buns were safe, they could make no promises on any of the other ingredients, including cheese and onion.  I know very few people above the age of 5 who like plain hot dogs.  So, my word of advice here would be to PLEASE have some GF toppings available.

Day 5.  Last morning.  Time to get those waffles!  I headed off to the one place I had been told I could get them:  The Storyteller’s Cafe at the Grand Californian Resort.  I had a hunch it would be a character breakfast given the facts: breakfast, hotel, Mickey Waffles.  But I did not care!  Now, I was silly and did not make a reservation, but the staff there were fantastic!  I got my seat, the server heard I was gluten free and chef Juan was out in a flash.  Just so you know, you have 2 dining options.  You can eat a la carte, off a menu, or you can do the breakfast buffet.  If you choose the buffet, your server takes you up and lets you know exactly what you can and cannot have.  For me, a buffet tends to be a waste of money, as I am a 1 trip and done person.  I said I wanted the Mickey Waffles and the Chef looked me straight in the eye and said, “you know those are frozen.”  Cue brake noise.  Nope!  Not a clue!  As the Chef and I both ended up saying, “If I wanted frozen waffles, I would have stayed home.”  So, I asked him what he recommended and both he and the server replied, “the pancakes.”  SOLD!   They came with what could only be deemed a rasher of bacon (nom) and all the juice I could drink.  Wanting some protein to go with this carb/bacon fest, I ordered a side of scrambled eggs.  THIS is what I was served:

Pancakes as big as the plate!

Pancakes as big as the plate!

Eggs and Bacon

Eggs and Bacon

 

 

 

 

 

 

First off, let me just say that the Chef brought these out himself.  I love the fact that he checked in with me so many times to make sure I was satisfied.  Secondly, do you see those little wooden tags on sticking out of my food?  Those say “ALLERGY”.  No one could mistake my food for a regular serving of bacon, eggs, and waffles. It is the little things that help make you feel a bit safer about the food you eat.

So, I have some comments on Disney Dining, but I do believe that I will save those for another day.

Thanks for staying with this!

ToM

Gluten-Free DisneyLand — Day 1.

Hi Friends!

So, I recently was lucky enough to fulfill a life long dream to visit DisneyLand.  The occasion that got me out there was the Golden Birth Anniversary for my friend, Voices.  But, I am going to do more about that whole AMAZING event later.  Also, the food recap is going to be a 2-parter because it was so tasty and there were so many options.

What I need to talk about first is my Gluten Free Experience in the parks.  The DisneyLand resort is made up of DisneyLand and Disney’s California Adventure, from here on known as DL and DCA.

My Go-To Travel Breakfast

My Go-To Travel Breakfast

My hotel offered a breakfast buffet, but because I figured that would not be safe in advance, so I brought a variety box of         Glutenfreeda Wheat Free/Dairy Free Instant Oatmeal.  I am SO GLAD that I did.  The hotel buffet was actually better than some I have had, but the majority of the offerings were things that were unsafe on so many levels.  Waffles, pancakes, sausages, egg patties, cereal, bagels, donuts…pretty much a Glutards worst nightmare.  The only things that I could guarantee any level of safeness was the yogurt, the milk, the juice, the already peeled hard boiled eggs, and the apples and oranges.  Not a lot of choice, so I was thankful for my bit of oatmeal to start the day.

The first day in the park was my “splurge” day.  Since it was a celebration of my friend, I planned on buying lunch and dinner in the park along with whatever treat caught my fancy.  There were three places in the park we were set to eat, so I was good.  In advance of my trip, I checked out the DisneyLand resort website for their food allergy information.  Since I had experience in the past of getting a rough list (because offerings can change) of the restaurants that offer GF food and what the choices were, I also e-mailed Guest Relations in the park to get that information.  What I found out is that, because people plan meals based on those lists, and then get upset when the offerings change, Guest Relations is not offering them anymore.  But more on that later.

Day 1 the food places were Tiki Juice Bar, Jolly Holiday Bakery Cafe, and the French Market.  2 out of 3 of these experiences were FANTASTIC!

Pineapple Dole Whip Float

Pineapple Dole Whip Float

Tiki Juice Bar serves one of my favorite Disney treats — Pineapple Dole Whip.  Unlike the option offered at WDW, this one does not have a vanilla swirl option.  It is straight up frozen pineapple juice.  You can get just the Dole Whip, a Dole Whip float with pineapple juice, pineapple spears, basically pineapple with a side of pineapple.  There are no cones, so you don’t need to worry about that cross contamination.  Plus, the float comes with a cherry on an umbrella stem so you feel extra festive and tropical as you drink it…preferably while watching the pre-show for the Enchanted Tiki Room!

LUNCH!

LUNCH!

The second stop on my food adventure was the Jolly Holiday Bakery Cafe.  The name alone has two words that tend to make me cringe — Bakery and Cafe.  Well, I went in knowing that they had SOMETHING I could eat.  Since there was no one at the door that I could talk to and notify that I am Gluten Free, I stood in line with my party and went up to the cashier when called.  My friend Hula and I both told the cast member behind the register that we were Glutards and he went right to the back to get the chef.  The chef came out promptly, and told us what we could have to eat.    Well, I heard all the fruit that was in it and promptly chose the Chicken Waldorf sandwich with a side of homemade potato chips.  SO GOOD!!  The bun, although cold, did not require 50 sips of water to force down my throat, like some other cold buns do.  Nope, this whole thing was tasty and easy to eat.  The chips were perfectly crisp with just enough salt, and all of it was washed down with the restaurants “Practically Perfect Punch.”

It is probably telling that there are NO pictures of my last meal of the day at the French Market.  From beginning to end this was a glutards worst nightmare.  I had consulted my handy dandy list before I left the hotel, so I knew there were options there, but walking in I noticed it was cafeteria style.  Cafeteria style is scary when you are a glutard because you have to question EVERYTHING.  So, I decided to continue my plan of attack of grabbing a cast member and trying to find a chef.  Which I did.  And was told he would be right out.  10 minutes later, the first of the group is starting to pay, no chef.  I am told “it is busy in the kitchen.”  It is February 1.  Busy has not even HAPPENED yet.  5 minutes later, a chef finally arrives and tells me that I can have the jambalaya and the red beans and rice.  Great!   I love me some red beans.  So, I get in line and order the red beans and see some veggies and say, “hmm, those would taste good.  Do you happen to know if they are seasoned?”  I had already had the GF conversation with the folks behind the counter, so they told me to hold on, they needed to find out.  They have me place my food under a warmer and step back from the line. Oh, this can NOT be good!  5 minutes are spent trying to find a phone number, another 10 minutes go by waiting for a chef…at this point, I have just about lost my patience.  Finally a different chef comes up, and apologizes for the delay, but he was at a different restaurant.  This is not a good thing DL!  You cannot have the person who knows what is and is not safe unavailable for almost 30 minutes!  I was then informed that the red beans I was planning on were NOT safe, as they did not know what was in the casing, and I was told more options that I could have.  So, I finally ordered, got a 15% discount (WHAT!?!?!), and sat down to eat as the rest of my party was enjoying their dessert.  I hate to say that I was more than a little steamed, had heard that I was going to get a discount and expected more than that.  I left my food, went back inside and talked to the person at the register, where I was told the supervisor and chef had told him 15%, when I had heard 50.  With a “Fine”, I went back to my table and started eating.  Not 5 minutes later, someone I was with noticed that a staff member (the supervisor) was in the dining area and she wondered if he was looking for me.  So, I raised my hand to get his attention and found out that, yes, he was looking for me.  He brought out 2 NON GF deserts (what the heck?!?!), and what I had paid for my meal.  So, I did end up getting my meal for free, but I had to get annoyed to do it.

Next time, I am going to cover the other 3 meals and the snacks that I purchased and talk about the changes DL is making for their allergen diners.  You know, I have an opinion on those and will slide it in.

Until then,

ToM

A (Very Late) Review of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

I know, I know, I have totally slacked on my blogging and I have promised this review for quite a while now.  Can I tell you I fell off my broomstick and have been in the health wing while healing??  No??  Dang.  And here I thought you might actually believe me.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Islands of Adventure (wow, now THAT is a mouthful), is one of the best “themed” part of any theme park I have seen in a long time.  It was so amazing that I knew I would need to talk about it all by itself.  So, if you flashback to my post about what to see at IOA (or just go back and re-read it), you will remember that after passing through the Lost Continent, you come upon the Hosgsmeade arch.  The thing that throws me is that, everything is covered in snow.  In May.  In Florida.  Something is seriously off here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anyway, once you get in, it is almost too much for your senses to take in. ESPECIALLY if you have read all of the books and seen all the movies. It sometimes felt like stills from the movie come to life, and others like pages of the book leapt out of my imagination and onto the street in front of me.

The shops catch your eyes, but you cannot miss the giant, red train that is off to the left. Yup! It is the Hogwart’s Express, just like in the movie, coming out of a tunnel and sitting right next to Hogsmeade Station, which doubles as lockers for the Dragon Challenge roller coaster. And across from the station are shops. Lots and Lots of shops, right out of the movie. There is Zonko’s, where you can purchase an extendable ear if you wish, Dervish and Bangs, where you can get Quidditch gear, and of course, Honeyduke’s where you can get your Bernie Botts’ Every Flavor Beans and, my personal favorite, a chocolate frog. And trust me, the frog is worth the price as it is SOLID milk chocolate!! As a glutard, I have to admit to being bad and not checking to see if there was flour involved in the process anywhere, but..solid, chocolate, frog! And a Wizard card!). Plus, there is an Ollivander’s, where small groups are allowed in and one lucky person gets to be fitted with a wand. BUT, if you really, REALLY want a wand, they are available for purchase from SEVERAL locations around WWoHP.

The Dueling Dragons ride has been re-named and re-themed to the Dragon Challenge. Straight out of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, it is your very own Tri-Wizard Tournament! Actually, it seems like that is the period the entire area is themed after, if you go by the performance I saw (more later). Anywho, the bad of this is that they no longer launch the dragons at the same time so that you almost feel like you are going to bump feet with someone in the other dragon. BUT, it is themed to Goblet of Fire!!! So, the queue line outside are all flags cheering on the participants, then you pass the car that flew into the whomping willow sitting calmly next to a fir tree (yeah, it bothered me a bit as well). And then you get to enter the castle! First thing you see is the goblet in the champions tent. I admit, I tried to put my name in. As you continue on, the mermaid egg clues are behind glass. More dark tunnels and then you are asked to choose between the Chinese Fireball and the Hungarian Horntail. Then whee, inverted rollercoaster time!

You finish this, there are more stops, there is a cart with butterbeer and pumpkin juice, both yum!!!! Get the frozen butter beer though, it is yummier. It tastes like liquid butterscotch with a hint of shortbread, while the pumpkin juice is available bottled (so you can do like I did and take it home), and tastes, literally, like liquid pumpkin pie. So. Friggin. Good!!! However, I would not drink it until AFTER you have gone into Hogwarts and ridden the ride as many times as you want. For the ride is kind of violent in its motions, and even my battle-hardened stomach turned a bit, causing me to become a not-so-lovely shade of green. And behind THAT is the Three Broomsticks, a great place to kick back, eat, drink, and get out of the Florida sun.

So, you continue through town, with many a shop window to look in and explore, heading toward the castle that looms over everything…the castle that you are super excited to get in, for, if you are like me, you secretly wanted to be enrolled there.

Outside, you may catch a show featuring the lovely lasses from Beauxbottoms or the strapping strongmen from Durmstrang

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Or, you may catch the Hogwarts Choir, performing their fall choral:

But, in all honestly, the real reason you are here lies ahead. HOGWARTS!! You have the option to go single rider, which will shoot you to the head of the queue, and then you can go back and get a castle tour, which will show you everything in the queue EXCEPT the greenhouse, or you can wait in line. When I was there, the wait was about 45 minutes, but I have heard that it can be longer than 90 minutes!! I could not get great pictures inside the castle, so I am not going to put many in here, so forgive me that, and continue to use your imagination like you did with the books.

First off, you have the dungeons, and the potions class. Listen carefully, you may hear a professor speaking. Then you continue out into the greenhouse, where you snake through a traditional queue line, with some odds and ends to look at, like these guys:

Eventually you work your way back into the castle, past the founder statue, past the statue that hides the entrance to Dumbledore’s office, past other images discussed in the books, into a gallery full of photos where some are talking and moving and…YAY! You find yourself in Dumbledore’s office!! The pensieve is there, along with a wall full of other treasures, then there is Dumbledore! He talks a bit and then on to the next space…the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom, which is AWESOME!!!!! So much to see in here, then Ron, Harry, and Hermione show up. You wander a bit more, pass the Fat Lady, and you are in the Griffyndor common room. I freely admit to checking the fireplace for Sirius Black’s head to pop up, and was disappointed when it did not. You continue through the castle until you find the hat that EVERYONE wants to have on their head at least once, the Sorting Hat!

And then the ride. The ride is technically called “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.” But honestly, I think everyone just calls it “Harry Potter.” The whole premise is that you are on a broomstick following Harry and the gang on an adventure in and around the castle, in a Quidditch match, into the Forbidden Forest, and encountering all sorts of beasties from the movie. The ride vehicle is a “bench” that seats 5 people, with a shoulder harness to keep you in place. This is NOT a roller coaster, but my stomach sure felt like I was on one as the ride vehicle dipped, dropped, spun, and even had me flat on my back. And, like any good theme park ride, you exit into a gift shop.

You could easily spend the entire day in this one section of the park, and it was really, most magical.

Next time will be sooner!

ToM

Universal Win

(ed. note — this has been sitting on my computer for about 2 weeks while I had every night rehearsal/tech/show run because I had a photo issue to figure out.  Hope you enjoy it)

Ok, so last blog I talked a lot about my difficulties in eating gluten-free at Islands of Adventure (aka IOA). This time I am going to talk about how much FUN I had!!!  Before we go much further, I worked at IOA when I was in college, so I have spent a LOT of time around the park.  So, this trip was really just about me enjoying the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and (trying to) get pictures with some of the Avengers.

So, you pass through the turnstiles and enter “Port of Entry”.  Yeah, they got real creative with the name here.  Even if you have never been on a cruise, think of what you THINK a port would be like on some island, and there you have it.  Basically, this is a place where you can buy any souvenirs on the way out that you don’t want to carry through the park.  Granted, not EVERYTHING is available up here, but a lot of stuff is.  There is also a couple of food stands and a sit down dining establishment.  Honestly, my favorite part is this sign on a bridge:

In Port of Entry

So true

Now, if you are like me, you want to get to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter as FAST as possible. So, off to the right I went, into Seuss Landing.

Seuss Landing

Just a little thought to carry you through your day.

I kid you not, Seuss Landing is like stepping into a Dr. Seuss book! Nothing, and I mean NOTHING is in a straight line! The palm trees were brought up from Miami after Hurricane Andrew and they all have these bends that you would never see in nature.  None of the buildings have corners either.  It is because over a steel frame, the builders then used a polystyrene foam and carved all of the exteriors!  (if you want to learn more about how they built this section, check out:  http://www.disunplugged.com/2011/03/07/creativity-and-science-collide-inside-seuss-landing/)  It is really cool looking and I always feel like I stepped right into the pages of a Doctor Seuss book!!  If you don’t have food allergies, pick up some Green Eggs and Ham before heading into the Cat in the Hat ride.  This is your traditional “dark ride” that takes you through the story.  I prefer to take a spin on “One Fish, Two Fish.”  You really have to listen on this ride and steer your fish up or down, depending on what is said, otherwise you might find yourself a bit wetter then when you started.  Then of course, there are your Doctor Seuss shops, including a book store to peruse.  I did not catch any characters as I almost literally RAN through this part of the park (hey, I wanted to spend as much time as possible with Harry), but I know they have had The Cat in the Hat, the Grinch, Things 1 & 2, and now, the Lorax.

Right after I passed under the sign, I met with what my friend so eloquently called, “The Angry Griffin.”  This, and this alone lets you know that you are entering The Lost Continent.  Some of the coolest things are in this section!!!  And they are not rides!  Visually, it has to be my favorite because it uses these mythological types of elements in its design.

There are no rides in this part of the park, but there is one of my favorite attractions, just for what they were able to do with water. Ever walk through a water tunnel? Like, the water is spinning around you and you are NOT getting wet??? This alone is worth checking out Poseidon’s Fury. The lone show of the park is also located here. It is the Eighth Voyage of Sinbad Stunt Show. It is cute, there are stunts, it gets you out of the sun for a little bit anyway.

But for me, the real draw, and the thing I was the most excited for is from a third party vendor. For those of you who do not know,a third party vendor is someone who leases space in the park to sell their wares. And this one is pretty unique. Using a Da Vinci coin press, the Master Coinminters of Mythical Metals will create a custom coin for you to wear. Every time I visit the park as a guest I get one of these.  They have over 100 different designs they can press for you, and they have sheets available for you to look at that tells you what each design means.  My first coin had a phoenix on it, but I took it off for a doctor’s appointment and lost it.  So this trip, I knew one side was going to be the phoenix (“immortal creature, symbolizing regeneration of man’s indestructible spirit), but the second side was the challenge.  I went with the kokopelli (“wandering trader, musician and story teller among the many tribes of the American southwest.”).  After you place the order, Sir Cumference sets up the press, knows how many TONS of pressure needs to be generated to displace the metal to press the images, gets people to cheer and clap, sounds the gong, then releases the press with a very loud BANG!  This area of the park also has a “talking fountain” that you need to watch out for.  It spits!  😉

So, the next section is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  I am going to just say that it is here, that it is so awesome that it needs its own post, and move on.

  If you have seen the movie, you know my next line…..Welcome, to     JURASSIC PARK!  If you read my previous entry, you know that this is where they have gluten-free quick service meals.  The other fact worth noting is that it is located exactly half-way through the park.  Happy mid-point!  There are dinosaurs in the brushes, vehicles from the movies, the Discover Center from the first movie, a kids area, and the Jurassic Park River Adventures which has a KILLER drop!

And if you ever wondered what life would be like inside a comic strip, Toon Lagoon is for you!  This area is very, VERY wet.  Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges, Dudley Do-Right’s Ripshaw Falls, and Me Ship, The Olive.  ALL of these rides have water elements.  But, there are some fun signs with cartoon captions that you can take pictures under, if you remember Marmaduke, you can get a picture of being dragged down the street after him, and there are some characters here to get pictures and autographs with.  I did not see them, but they are there.

Vs Green Goblin BEFORE the pants incident

Lastly, we come to my second favorite part of the park.  Marvel Super Hero Island!  So, if you did not know, Marvel is now owned by Disney, but through some legal….something….Marvel Super Hero Island still exists.  And I am so HAPPY that it does!  The best ride I have EVER been on is here (The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man), and it is worth going on once, if not twice.  Since I was last there in 2007, they have updated the graphics and smoothed out the ride even more.  It is about 50-BAJILLION types of awesome.  PLUS, there is the Incredible Hulk roller coaster.  This was one of the first coasters to use the electro-magnetic launch, so you get on, move just out of the station into an incline, the magnets grab on and SHOOT you out the rest of the tube and into a loop.  It is AMAZEBALLS!!  Seriously awesome!!  If you want to pick up a couple of comics you can do that, and they have the Marvel Super Heroes, and a couple villains to get your pictures with!  Spider-Man is there pretty much all of the time, but Captain America, Cyclopes, Wolverine, Rogue, Storm, Doctor Doom and the Green Goblin are out and about as well.  This trip I SO wanted to take pictures with all of them, got one with Goblin, was taking one with Spidey, went into a pose and my pants ripped from button to kneecap.  OOOOPS!!!  Thank GOODNESS I was standing BEHIND him when this happened!!!  At first, one of the employees offered to go up to the front of the park to buy me a pair of pants sing her discount, but a manager stepped in, another employee gave me her coat to tie around and cover myself, and we headed into Toon Lagoon to find some shorts.  This FANTASTIC employee (who I told Guest Relations about, and her manager), took me to 3 different retail locations until we found a pair of pants that I liked and were in my size.  Sadly, this adventure met that I was unable to get any more pictures, as I had to head over to the Mouse House to work an evening shift.  =(

It was a seriously fun day, you could EASILY spend a day in this park.  Hell, you could spend a day in Harry Potter, and I have not even talked about that yet.  If you have food allergies, pack snacks because the options are very few, very slim, and VERY far apart.  But it is fun and worth the money I spent getting in.

Laters!

ToM

Universal Food Disappointment

If you have not gathered by now, I am a bit of a theme park nut.  Not only did I have annual visits to Cedar Point growing up, but I moved to Orlando (after a boy) and lived and worked at either Universal or Disney over the better part of the 8 years I was there.  Since I am still Seasonal at the Mouse House, I have made many return trips.  But I had not been back to Universal Studios since they opened the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  And as a Potter fan I was determined to right that wrong this trip.  (it also helped that I am now working again and could afford the ticket.  But that is just details).

Anyway, I knew in advance I was going, so I decided to look online to see what the Gluten-Free options were.  Basically, they told me to see a chef at one of their “Fine Dining” establishments.  Oh oh.  This could be very, very bad as my budget, both time and monetary, was for quick service dining.  So, I was scared.

But, Friday morning came and I headed out to get my ticket for Islands of Adventure (aka IOA).  After you find your parking in their GINORMOUS parking garages (I take a picture on my phone of where I park so I can remember), you walk.  A lot.  Before you reach the park entrance.  So, you walk to a hub between the 2 parking garages, then you walk to CityWalk, then you walk THROUGH CityWalk, then you pick your direction.  Right leads you to Universal Studios Florida, Left takes you to IOA.  And past Margaritaville, which is always tempting. But the park icon is always there, leading you in like a sailor lost at sea.

Universal Studios Islands of Adventure

So, it is always better to buy your ticket online.  Learned that the hard way.  The longest line I stood in all day was the line to get into the park.  But it made for some fun people watching.

Once inside the park, I made my way to Guest Relations.  I should have known I was in for a hard time when the person at the desk had to ask someone else what they had.  When they finally found someone, I asked if they had a printout of their GF dining options.  The person tried to tell me, but I told him that I would forget if I did not have a printout and I would like a list so I could peruse it at my leisure.  And I had to ask a couple of times.  After receiving the printout, I learned why.  They spend a paragraph talking about how great the chefs are at their 4 full-service restaurants (2 in each park), in dealing with guests with gluten allergies and creating meals to “suit individual tastes and needs.”  Mention was also made about how Confisco Grille at IOA has a dedicated GF menu with the following options: “Pesto Penne & Tomato Basil, made with rice noodles: Mussels; and Caesar Salad.”

I am going to actually type out the next paragraph regarding the quick service because it made me see red.  And I quote:  “We are pleased to provide a variety of  gluten-free quick-service options.  The International Food & Film Festival in USF, and the Thunder Falls Terrace in IOA, offer the following gluten-free items:  roasted chicken; smoked chicken; smoked ribs; smoked turkey legs; roasted potatoes with onions, fresh herbs, salt, and pepper; roasted corn; baked potatoes; french fries cooked in canola oil; and salads.”  1 restaurant in each park offering the same menu is a “wide variety???  Plus, you know, the fruit that is available throughout the park is safe.

Needless to say, I was not a very happy person.  A variety of options, with 1 food option.  I am going to blog later about how much I enjoy this park, but I want to finish up on the food.  Hopefully y’all will come back to read the next part where I go all giddy and fangirl.

When I finally made it to Thunder Falls, located inside the Jurassic Park section, the first thing that I noticed was that the

Rotisserie Chicken, Roasted Corn on the Cob, and French Fries at Thunder Falls in IOA

food was served cafeteria style.  That put me on alert.  Then I talked to a supervisor, who was not much help, and finally got Chef Reuben.  Reuben was very good about answering my questions, letting me know that while the food was GF, it was prepared in a central facility that might not be, and while I could have BBQ sauce from the line, i could not get it out in the restaurant, because that one was GF.  My options were: Rotisserie Chicken, the BBQ Chicken, the Rotisserie/BBQ combo platter, and the Grilled Chicken Salad. Then I was told to join the line, and ask that either he, or Youza (his 2nd) make my meal.  So, waited in a long line for food, asked for Youza, and she put my Rotisserie Chicken plate together in the kitchen and brought it out to me.

And it was….alright. The portion was HUGE and I did not eat again that night, but the flavor was just average. But Youza and Reuben were fantastic. So, on my way out I wanted to make sure they got recognized for being knowledgeable when no one else in the restaurant was. And the new person in Guest Relations told me I didn’t have to leave Harry Potter to eat after all! Not on the list of places to eat is the Three Broomsticks. So, you can have everything served at Thunder Falls at the Three Broomsticks, as well as Potato Leek Soup and a Wedge Salad. And it is not served cafeteria style. Wish I had known that in advance…

Food cost:

Med Soda:  $2.59

Rotisserie Chicken Platter: $10.99

No piece of mine that I was not contaminated.

Next time, I am bringing my own lunch in.

Later this week I want to talk about how much fun IOA is!

Thanks for reading!

ToM