The focus of the first day was Universal Studios. This is one of two theme parks at Universal Orlando (the other being Islands of Adventure, about which I'll talk tomorrow). Here's a chronological rundown, including reviews of the things we saw.
We planned very carefully here -- we bought five-day passes online. The passes were quite cheap, so we concluded (correctly, as it turned out), that the whole of Universal Orlando is really a two-day jaunt. But the five-day passes were cheaper than two individual days, so we simply went for it. (Whereupon we left the confirmation number for the will-call back at the hotel, and had to stand in line for the tickets, instead of getting them from the friendly kiosks at the gate. Oh, well.)
Lunch: It being noonish by the time we got there, we started with lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe. Generally good food, and a fun (if noisy) atmosphere. The walls are lined with photos and memorabilia from various rock stars, and the staff are all encouraged to costume like stars who they sort of vaguely resemble. We were seated in the Punk Rock section, with photos of the Clash looking over my shoulder. I was actually kind of glad we weren't over in the 70's section, where they had staff dancing on the tables and doing the YMCA song. Fun to watch, but a little too intense that early in the vacation. (msmemory described it as "lunchertainment".)
Random observation: one difference about Florida is the gratuitous use of citrus fruit. Glasses of water always have lemon wedges on the side (or the waiter asks if you want one).
Sadly, Shrek 4D isn't open yet. I suspect that would have been a lot of fun.
Twister: If you enter Universal Studios, pretty much the first "ride" you hit is the one based on the movie Twister. This turns out to be by far the lamest thing at Universal. You start out by watching the actors from the movie unctuously talk about the power and majesty of nature, and the terrible dangers of tornados, and are told that you're now going to experience that danger firsthand. Then you get ushered into a room where you basically stand on one side, and watch a stage with small-town props on it. The wind kicks up, rain starts to fill the air, and so on. Problem is, the props are so hokey that suspending disbelief is entirely impossible. The worst moment is when the obviously-plastic cow goes flying through the air in front of you; I broke into giggles at that point, and couldn't stop -- there's something about the forlorn "moo" that felt way too much like a cartoon. (On the other hand, you can get moderately wet if you stand towards the front. Some days, that's probably a virtue in and of itself.)
We passed by a "penny" arcade, which turned out to have a first-generation DDR machine. I jumped in and showed msmemory what the game actually looks like. (I've been telling her about it for weeks.) While I'm not deeply addicted, ladysprite and tpau definitely have me at least a little hooked.
Philosophical Tangent: It was around this point when I noticed a real personality problem in myself. I've always had a slight tendency to peek at the endings of books and such; I don't do it often, but I do sometimes. Problem is, I do the same thing with vacations. Practically from the moment I left home, I had a mental countdown set of how long we had left in the vacation, which is no fun at all. Need to work on that -- live a little more in the now, and stop worrying about how long it's going to last.
General observation: Universal Studios is even more shopping-focused than Disney, and doesn't have as many rides. I guess it's kind of comparable to Epcot, but without as much taste.
Men In Black: Okay, this ride was actually fun. It's basically an extended shooting gallery -- the ride goes through a city street where, of course, practically everybody is an alien, and your job is to zap them. The whole thing (including the waiting-on-line entertainments) has an appropriately goofy sense of humor, and it was worth the wait. But this is definitely one to get the express pass for. (You can sign up in advance for one ride at a time -- it tells you when to come back, and then you can just zip through and skip most of the line.)
Back To the Future: This one was a motion ride. You climb into a Delorean (albeit a big eight-seat Delorean), and chase Biff through time. The ride doesn't actually go anywhere, but bucks and twists, and makes good use of a wraparound screen, to make it feel like it does. If you've been on Body Wars or Star Tours at Disney, this is the same idea. Nothing terribly new, but generally fun.
T2 3D: This is one of the ones they advertise a lot -- a 3D attraction that spins off from the movie Terminator 2. The preshow entertainment isn't bad: a substantial and very unsettling advertisement for Cyberdyne, the company in the movies. It's all about how pervasive technology is, and talks extensively about the wonderful world to come, where everything will be machine-mediated and the computers will know exactly what you're doing at all times. It has the chipper and upbeat style of a typical marketing presentation, which just makes the whole thing creepier. It really ought to be mandatory viewing in modern America, to help people understand why the Total Information Initiative is a scary idea.
The show itself is an interesting mix of live-action and movie, with actors on stage interacting with the action on the screens. The 3D technology itself is unusually good -- I normally don't do well with 3D glasses (I can't always focus), but this one mostly worked for me. Makes very good use of the 3D effect -- it was downright startling at times, and I'm fairly jaded about this stuff.
Citywalk: Universal Orlando is basically two theme parks right next to each other, with a free shopping and entertainment district in between them, which we wandered through once we were done with the Studios. It's generally nothing to write home about, but did have a few highlights. One was Glow, a very cool store that specializes in glow-in-the-dark stuff. The entire store is blacklit, and filled with glowing toys. If it were closer to home, I'd be in serious danger of acquiring yet more cool cruft I don't need.
As we entered dinner, msmemory came up with a very useful neologism: "fandar", the sense that that person over there is surely fannish. (We didn't actually check, but he seemed very much the type.)
Latin Quarter: Arguably the highlight of the day was dinner, at The Latin Quarter. This is one of the restaurants in Citywalk, and specializes in Latin American food. It started out with salsa and chips so good I could easily have made a meal just on them -- not the tomato sauce that usually passes for salsa in the US, but a melange of spices, rich in cilantro and onion, that beat any others I've had. I had the Paella de Latin Quarter for my main dish, which was excellent, full of spices mixed with rice and every kind of seafood. (She described it as the platonic ideal of Jambalaya.) Her blackened mahi mahi was a little underspiced for our Cajun-informed tastes, but well-prepared, and her sides (especially the plantains) were excellent. And the dinner entertainment was live classical guitar, managing to provide atmosphere without being intrusive. Overall, a really great meal to finish off the day.