no matter where you go, there you are

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

movie magic is movie magic - ben kingsley

Although Harry Potter world was the reason we traveled down to Florida and visited Universal Studios, it certainly wasn't the only highlight of our 2 days roaming about the park. Almost every ride we went on was fantastic, and except for a few, we re-rode them all 2 or 3 times more.

The Incredible Hulk is the first coaster to the left as you enter Islands of Adventure and it's a fast ride but a really fun one too. There was a little wait and we went into the "front row only" line so it took a little longer. But the advantage of being in the front made it worth it. Lots of loops and spins and fog.
Making our way around the Marvel section of the park we then rode Dr. Doom's Freefall. Molly and I have both been on numerous freefall rides similar to Dr. Doom, and Dr. Doom just didn't hold up. I don't know if it was shorter in height, shorter in time or what...but it wasn't terribly thrilling. We passed on Spiderman 3-D cuz I have bad memories of getting nauseous during 3D/Moving visual attractions and Molly didn't care about it either. We also passed on Dudley Do-Right's Riptide Falls....or whatever the name is. You get really wet on that ride.

We then went to the Wonderful World of Harry Potter and after leaving that section of the park rode the Jurassic Park ride twice. This one was really exciting. Jurassic Park is a favorite of both Molly's and mine and seeing all the dinosaurs from the movie combined with the set elements was really fun. Like Disney, those kind of rides which tell a story really suck you in.
Universal definitely does them differently, and I think I'd give the edge to Disney, but there are still some excellent rides to choose from. We spent the latter 3rd of the day in the Universal Studios side and was really sad the Mummy ride was closed. But we did Twister, an experience of how-to special effects, battled Jaws, spent 20 minutes with Homer Simpson and family, and rode the Hollywood Rip-Ride Rockit. Jaws was a little cheesy but fun and the Simpsons was really neat but about 2 minutes too long because my stomach started acting up. The Rip-Ride Rockit is a new coaster in the park; the concept for it is that each person gets to choose a song (from a small selection) to listen to during the ride and it films you as you scream your little heart out. And instead of just being able to buy a picture at the end, you can also purchase a DVD. I wasn't a huge fan of this ride. When you're traveling at fast speeds I don't like wider chairs that allow your head to shake back and forth a lot more. The Rip-Ride Rockit does this so I didn't like it very much.

The following day was spent mainly in the Universal Studios side, but we did re-visit Islands of Adventures to see Harry, Ron and Hermione again as well as wander through Seuss-Landing (kiddie rides) and watch the Sinbad stunt show (which totally stole a line from Star Wars).

In the Studios we rode the Mummy coaster 4 times (sooooo amazing!) and waited a LONG time for Disaster but it was really neat and definitely not a waste of time. We fought Aliens as a Men in Black trainee (a ride totally not worth the really long wait), saved E.T. a few times (a great, magical ride!) and saw a make-up show. We also rode the Rip-Ride Rockit again and my phone fell out of my pocket. Lost forever.

Monday, June 20, 2011

boof-falo, the boof-falo

The midwest, specifically the prairie and grasslands, is home to the American Bison. And although not a true buffalo, most people I know call them buffalo. Driving out west you expect to see them at some point or another especially when you visit National Parks that work at preserving their living conditions. Badlands National Park and Yellowstone National Park are two excellent examples and buffalo sighting locales. While we were at the Badlands we didn't see any on the main road but after driving 20 min off a dirt road to the area highlighted on the map as being Buffalo territory we were not disappointed. And there were even quite a few young ones grazing and roaming about.

Now a quick flashback story that sets up part of our buffalo experience in Yellowstone. When I went cross country with my family way back in 1996 my mother became famous for not having the camera cocked (because way back then you needed to do that to advance the film), and missing a great photo opportunity when a buffalo walked right in front of our van. I've told that story so many times that I think everyone knows it by now. So, back to present day. Molly and I are entering Yellowstone after a long day of driving across Wyoming from the Black Hills. As we're approaching the road that's part of the main loop we see a buffalo up ahead in the middle of the road. Now buffalo have the right of way. Not because they're animals but because if you scare or piss them off they will trample you and your car. So we stopped and let it go about its business. I got the camera out and just as it crosses in front of the car....I fail to take a picture. I took one, and I honestly have no idea what happened, but what came out was a picture of the dashboard. I, like my mother did 15 years ago, failed at taking a picture at the perfect buffalo photo op.

Thinking this was going to be it for up close and personal buffalo I was a little sad but we continued on towards the campground. Turns out we planned our arrival poorly, but spectacularly too. Poorly because we hadn't showered in 3 days and it took a long time to get to the campground because of traffic. But, the traffic was due to all the buffalo out and about during dinner so that was a sight to see as we continued to pass groups in the distant fields or solo ones running alongside the road. This time we got some great pics and it was amazing, and a lil scary to be so close to such large, and interesting creatures.

Turns out being in your car is a lot less scary than up close and personal which we discovered on our second day in the park. As we made our way around the park toward the Geyser Basin we stopped at the mud pots first. There's a short walk along the boardwalks from the lower pots to ones situated up the hill and as we're ascending, this foreign man comes walking down with his group and pointing up the hill says "boof-falo! the boof-falo!" Excited, intrigued and entertained, we continued up the hill and discovered what he meant by "boof-falo." There they were, a small herd lazying about the mud pots; some were rolling in the dirt, others were mothers caring for their young. And then there were the males trying to find a mate. Not only were they chasing down females but they were battling other males. One gentleman even chased the others over the boardwalk, right in front of us! We were about 15 feet away from being trampled by 3 angry, horny buffalo.

Being this close and scared out of our sneakers we were wary about continuing around the loop. We could see others up ahead close to the boardwalks and both Molly and I were hesitant to approach not knowing if they were males or females, nice or angry. The crazy ones had run off in that direction as well so in all it was a nerve-wracking experience navigating our way back to the car. We made it and that was the last of the boof-falo...til next time.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

saw the ghost of elvis...down in the jungle room

Upon choosing Memphis as one of our destinations, Graceland instantly became #1 on our to-do list. First because Molly L went through an Elvis stage in high school and still has a love for "the King." Second, it was the only tourist site we knew of in Memphis off the top of our head. Anyway, we started off our one day in Memphis with a tour of Graceland and the accompanying exhibits. We got our ticket, hopped on the bus, received our audio guides and enjoyed the short ride across the street and through the gates of Graceland.

The tour happens every 10 min or so with groups of 10-15 people, each with an audio guide (automatically included with the ticket purchase). It's pretty much self-guided except there are people standing by doors and herding each small group into the rooms as they finish taking pictures  and listening to the information. No visitors are allowed upstairs because that maintains the "private" area of the Presley family. The first room to the right has the longest couch EVER. It's like 15 or so feet long. And white.

I'm pretty sure each room hasn't been touched since Elvis passed away in 1977. Nothing has been updated in terms of decoration and such things like carpet have been meticulously maintained and cared for. After the living room you get to see Elvis' parents' bedroom, then the dining room. You pass through the kitchen which looks like it was taken straight from the 1970s, appliances included. Then you get a glance of the Jungle room before being led downstairs to the basement where all the recreational/party rooms were.

There is a room with mirrors on the ceiling and 3 different TVs all playing separate stations because Elvis liked to watch the news on every channel. There's a bar and then the next room includes a billiards table and the walls and ceiling are covered in an interesting and expansive piece of fabric.

Led back upstairs, you arrive in the Jungle room. As we finish the tour of the house I think about how its called Graceland Mansion but it doesn't really feel that big. Felt like a typical size Cohasset house to me.

The rest of the tour consisted of going through all the buildings Elvis had on his land. There's the office in the back, and fields where horses still roam, another building with a whole museum inside consisting of jumpsuits, memorabilia, merchandise, records, Grammys and a whole lot more. And finally the barn which has another lounge room where Elvis spent his last day and a huge room full of records and more outfits.

Last but not least you're led to the poolside graves of Elvis, his mother, father and grandmother. There's flowers galore and plenty of color from posters and tributes and gifts left behind by fans. There's even more posters alongside the paths to the bus stop where you finally get a good view of the mansion from out front. Back at the main complex there's a plethora of gift shops, places to eat and even more exhibits highlighting Elvis's fame, his foray into the movies, love of automobiles and all sorts of other things. You can also walk through his plane which like the mansion is a step back in time.