I attended the LIVE 360: SQL Server Live conference in Orlando, Florida. The conference was held at the Royal Pacific Resort, which is also where I stayed. Since I'd be there Sunday - Friday, I opted to rent a car, and also to spring for airfare so Lori and Traven could come along.
Picking up the rental car was so easy! Thanks to my work, I belong to the Emerald Club for Enterprise and National. You just take nifty airport indoor shuttle from where you landed to baggage claim, go down one floor, walk across the street and BOOM! There's a sign that says "Emerald Club - pick any car in this row". I chose a Nissan Rogue for the luggage and leg room and drove to the exit. The lady gave me the "you don't come here very often" look and speech, but we were still quickly on our way.
As I walked up, I knew I was in for a treat. The front of the hotel is surrounded by a lagoon, with rich vegetation everywhere. You cross this bridge, surrounded by tikis with island music playing. When you check in, you each get a personalized room key, because that bad boy is your Universal Express Pass. That's right, if you stay there, and go to Universal, you get front of line treatment on every ride. Unlimited. Oh, I figured we'd find time to use that.
The room was nice. It was huge, but it was clean and well kept. Oh, check this out. The hotel keeps in touch with you via text messaging. How cool is that? Any time I had a question or need, I could just text them.
There were several good restaurants on property. Not overly expensive, and good food. We tried two of them. I think Jake's American Bar and Grill was my favorite.
The resort has a great pool. I plan to go back and spend some time there. There just wasn't time this trip.
I won't bore you with conference details, but it was the best one I've attended.
While I was conferencing on Monday and Tuesday, Lori and Traven went to Disney. That was a true test of my will power, but honestly, I was so happy for them! They were able to do some rides I haven't, so first hand reports were appreciated. They were both great about texting me updates. And I tell you, they were Disney Warriors! I think they were gone from 7:00 am to past midnight on day one, and they were out almost as late on day two!
Since we had express passes, early park entry and were minutes away from Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios, I managed to squeeze out some park time on days 3 and 4. Not as much as I would have wanted, but I was there for a conference!
My one complaint against Universal is there lack of accommodations for someone with legs the size of mine. To their credit, they are up front about it, and have test vehicles in front of the rides. I'm nowhere close to getting onto any of the Harry Potter rides. That's ok, while waiting at Escape from Gringotts, I chatted with a guy working there who doesn't fit on the ride. That has to really suck!
The Hogwarts Express train ride is amazing. From the train stations, to the train cars, it really feels like you are on a journey from London to Hogsmeade! You can see shadows through the frosted glass to the interior of the train, and it would seem Harry and the gang are roaming around. There's even a moment when a Dementor has its icy claws on your train car, but Harry chases it away. Meanwhile, if you look out the window, you appear to be passing through London or scenes right out of Harry Potter. It's all very impressive.
Traven suckered me into Olivanders again. And he managed to get picked for wand, so now we own another one of them. I couldn't say no. The wand fitting is quite the production. The owner has the lucky chosen guest try several wands. Traven caused lightning with the first one, then wilted a plant with another one. Finally, when he takes the right wand in hand, dramatic music plays and a spotlight hits him. I'll bet the sell a lot of wands with that show!
Men in Black was a fun ride. It's very much like Buzz Lightyear at Disney. Simpsons, Minion Mayhem, Spiderman and Transformers are all very similar.
E.T. is alive and well in Florida! Man, I love that ride. It still looks like it was built in the 80s, and I enjoyed every detail. And of course, sending texts and Snapchats to my sister in law, who suffers from a fear of E.T., was also probably more fun that it should be.
Poseidon is an odd adventure. It's kind of a tour meets special effects show. You walk through 3 different scenes as the guide explains that is happening. It ends with a battle between Poseidon and his enemy, which felt like watching Flash Gordon maybe? I have never done an experience like this one before. So odd.
Jimmy Fallon's race thing was not my favorite. It's kind of similar to the other motion / screen rides, but not as cool.
Kong was great. It's similar to the part of the tram tour in California that features Kong, but with more footage. It's an amazing experience, watching Kong battle dinosaurs, sending your vehicle flying.
We did Jurassic Park right before the park closed on Wednesday. We walked right up. The ride attendants were like, well, sit anywhere you want. It was just the 3 of us. Traven took the very back row, and Lori and I sat right in front of him. It was great doing the ride at night. When we took the last drop, there was so splash. No, we pretty much hydroplaned that bad boy, sending a shower of water right at our faces. Traven was dry. I felt like I had stuck my head in a cold shower.
They have two rides in Dr. Seuss land. The one is kind of like the PeopleMover at Disney. Loved it. The other is very similar to a Disney classic such as Mr. Toad or Snow White. It was nice. Turns out, Lori is not a big fan of the cat, though. He does cause a lot of trouble in the book!
Shrek 4D is also still in Florida. It's still fun, though I've seen it enough at this point.
Oh, we did a couple of shows. The horror effects show was so great. At one point, one of the actors blames a kid for throwing a rock, and points to Traven. From then on, he had a fun interaction with both cast members, and he played his part like a star! He got to pose for a picture after.
By Thursday, we had completely worn out Traven. Thursday was pretty much shopping day after the conference!
We did drive to Disney Springs one night. We at at D'luxe Burger, which Traven claims is the best hamburger he has had in his life. And he might know. He had at least one burger every day of this trip!
All in all, I'm a big Universal Orlando fan now. I can't wait to get back! And that was with having a conference in my way. I could really party it up full time! I will for sure stay on property. It was a short walk, but just in case you weren't up to that, they had a water taxi that would take you back and forth. How cool is that?