Monday 20 January 2014

Cruise Comparison

I was extremely fortunate to have the unique opportunity to sail on three cruises in the span of a year. These cruises were all Caribbean-based and took place on three separate cruise lines - Princess, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity. There are clear perks when you stick with one cruise line and keep sailing with that company - and due to that I wanted to do a personal comparison with my thoughts and opinions. Looking at a number of categories, I have listed my personal favourite out of the three ships. 

Staterooms: Princess 

Princess by far had the nicest staterooms - but that was likely due to our sailing on the mini-suite category. The sofa provided some extra space, and the overall room never felt cramped. As the bathroom had a tub, it provided additional space and I never felt claustrophobic as I have in other bathrooms. The balconies were a bit of a disappointment though, as people could lean down and over and see in. Celebrity is a close second as their balcony staterooms were great. The balconies were covered and private, and the inside of the staterooms also had a sofa making them roomier. The bathrooms were nicely decorated, and while on the small side, still not horrible. 
Royal Caribbean's stateroom bathrooms were awful. Very cramped, and plain. They seemed more like a bathroom from a medical or army ship - very sterile looking and not comfortable. The actual staterooms were also cramped and the walls thin enough you could hear the rooms beside you. The balconies were semi-private as people could look in if they leaned a bit. 

Staff/Service: Princess 

Everyone was incredibly friendly on Princess - no matter what area I was in, the staff and service was welcoming, upbeat and friendly. Celebrity's staff tended to be rude, often ignoring any requests or questions. The main waiter at dinner was awful to my mother and I, only giving attention to my father and husband. The overall atmosphere was the vibe that money talks and unless you were flashing tips around, you weren't worthy or service. Royal Caribbean had some great staff, but on the whole many seemed overworked. When we talked to our waiter and steward they mentioned staffing cuts which had left them with a lot of additional work and it was apparent. 

Pool area: Royal Caribbean & Princess 

Royal Caribbean had an amazing adult pool area, one that mom and I used daily. They also enforced the age minimum which was appreciated. The other pool areas also seemed great - there were special kids pools as well as a family one. Princess had two great main pools (the adult on was pretty small) but I found since the cruise line is aimed to older adults it didn't matter. Princess also had food service at the pool area in addition to the usual bars, that was helpful if you didn't want to go to the buffet but instead remain at the pool during lunch. Celebrity had a horrible pool area. There were just two of them, both very small, side-by-side, one adults and one all ages. Both filled up quickly, especially the all ages one, and many arguments broke out between staff and guests with children who wanted access to both. 

Bars: Celebrity 

Celebrity had excellent choices and variety. There was an entire bar devoted to beer, one to martinis, an ice bar (specializing in vodka) and a fancy wine tasting room. The other bars all offered an array of cocktail options and were decorated in various themes. The coolest bar was the Molecular Bar which had a ton of crazy cocktails - including one that had liquid nitrogen on top!  There was something for everyone - and the choices were endless. Plus the all-inclusive bar package applied to all of these areas. Royal Caribbean had some good options with different themes and decor, and they had Coke machines scattered around the ships. People with beverage packages could use a re-fillable cup and go around and get soda whenever they felt like it. The bars had a number of options and the varying bars had different options. The downfall was the beverage package which could only be purchased if everyone in the stateroom got it. This doesn't make sense as not everyone drinks liquor or soda.  
Princess was the most limited - the bars were pretty straightforward and boring and all of them included the same cocktail list and menu. There was a wine area, but that selection was also limited. They also didn't have any beverage package - besides a basic soda one. 

Ship Features: Celebrity & Royal Caribbean 

Celebrity had a large array of options - pools, casino, shops, multiple bars/clubs, art classes, and a lawn area that had a slew of activities. There were also a bunch of speciality restaurants and other classes/activities in a wide variety of subjects. However the costs attached to this was incredibly high - so many of these I didn't bother utilizing. Based on that Royal Caribbean would be my ultimate choice. They had a similar amount if these actives and features - and the costs were either low or non-existent. 

Casino: Royal Caribbean

I really liked the casino layout and variety on Royal Caribbean. They had some great choices for slot machines - and in differing denominations which is always a benefit. I don't tend to use the casinos too much - but I disliked the automated dealing of Princess and found the Celebrity casino had a ton of the multiple line penny machines - you think it's reasonable but when you play max bet (which you need to for any bonus features) it can be upwards of $4.00 a spin! 

Food: Princess 

Overall Princess had the best food - there was great variety and choice. Everything was delicious - and the main dining room, buffets, pizza area, cafe and burger place were wonderful. We didn't use any of the specialty restaurants but there were only two and it didn't seem to impact the main dining options. Celebrity however puts all the focus on the speciality restaurants which are additional costs. Many of the special dishes like lamb, lobster etc are not served in the main dining room - being reserved for the speciality dining. Royal Caribbean was  in the middle - the main dining room had good food at dinner, but the breakfast and lunch buffets weren't the greatest. We did use the speciality Italian restaurant twice which was an extra $20.00 each and it was incredible. But when looking at the food included in the overall cruise cost my pick would be Princess which was great overall. 

Activities and Entertainment- Princess or Royal Caribbean 

Both Princess and Royal Caribbean had a great mix of actives for all ages. Many of these were free or low-cost. Celebrity seemed to have more higher end actives - often which huge price tags. Bingo for example cost $45.00 for a round. In terms of Entertainment - Royal Caribbean's was amazing. Every show or act was enjoyable. There was also a variety of comedy, skating, music and dance. Princess had a good mix, and was mostly good. Celebrity however was a disappointment - I've never walked out a show on any other cruise. 

Overall: Princess or Royal Caribbean 

Going forward my first choice would be Princess as I was very impressed by them in many areas. While they do tend to geared toward an older crowd, the quieter pace is relaxing which is the main point of a cruise! I would also look into Royal Caribbean as they are a really great line as well and have fantastic entertainment in addition to newer ship designs. If it were up to only me, I wouldn't bother with Celebrity again. 

Tuesday 14 January 2014

Crown Princess: A Caribbean Cruise

We were up early on Saturday morning for the 4 hour drive down to Ft. Lauderdale. We loaded into the 12 seater van, and began our long drive. Between suitcases and 8 people we were loaded to the max. I was the navigator so I got to ride shotgun which was a fantastic way to make the trip! (I did offer to be navigator in the back, but everyone was fine with me staying up front). The first thing we did once on the road was get gas, the second was to find a Starbucks (thanks in part to me being navigator!) Once the truck was full of gas, and the passengers full of caffeine we set off along the highway. Pappy sort of second guessed my navigation at first as he was looking at a map which wasn't showing the way I had us going, but Google Maps prevailed and we eventually met up with the route outlined on paper. 

We stopped a few times at rest stops for bathroom breaks and such, but we made good time. Adam, Amanda and Brian slept in the back, while the rest of us listened to country music. We pulled into Fort Lauderdale around 11:30 and were at the cruise terminal fairly quickly. Adam, Amanda, Nanny, Pappy, Brian and I got out and headed for check in while my parents returned the van. The check in process didn't start until 12:00 so we didn't have to wait too long in the lines. By 12:30 we were boarding the Crown Princess, and by 1:00 met up for lunch. 

This was the first time any of us had sailed on Princes before - and was Amanda's first cruise. My initial impressions of the ship were that it was small, and I wasn't sure what to make of that. The rooms were ready as soon as we got on board which was a treat! Usually they aren't ready until an hour before sailing, so to be able to go directly to the room and drop off carry on bags was nice. Our cabin was also a treat - it was bigger then most, and had a bathtub. The balcony was a bit disappointing as none of them were private or covered meaning people could look down/over/up at you. They also didn't allow smoking on the balcony meaning Brian had to head back and forth to smoking sections. But the room itself was great! Two TVs, a couch, a desk... It felt roomy and comfortable. Nanny and Pappy had the stateroom category below us and found their room a bit cramped. I'd definitely stick with the same category next time. 

Our rooms were spaced throughout the ship, but it was small enough everything was easily accessible.  We met for lunch upstairs at the buffet and then each headed off to our rooms for the drill. I hate the drills and usually skip them but this ship scans your stateroom cards to keep track of who does/doesn't do the drill. I figured not going could lead to a hassle so we went, as did Amanda and Adam. My parents and grandparents all skipped it without problem... However I did have to show them where their Munster station was since at Day 3 they still had no clue! 

(I love my towel animals!)

There had been a whole bunch of drama over dinner time, as we all wanted the early seating at 6:00 whereas my grandparents wanted the later one at 8:00. We switched it for them and went late, but then they wanted it switched back to early after the first night! (Apparently 8:00 was too late for them because it meant even later shows. But we stuck with 8:00 and made the best of it - with some of us barely staying awake through dinner. *cough*mom*cough*. 

While I was initially unsure of the ship, the more I explored it, the more I enjoyed it. I liked that it was a bit smaller, as it was easier to get around. The restaurants and bars on board were all great - friendly service, good selection and great quality. The pools were also nice - the adult one was really small, so we stuck with one of the main pools. However this wasn't an issue as there weren't a lot of kids/teens on the ship - so the pool was basically an adult one anyways. The shops on board were pricy as most are, but there was some good selection. I didn't use the Casino but heard that it has gone to automated card dealing at the tables - so the odds seemed to be against you.

The entertainment was enjoyable - there were a few comics and some of the typical musical shows. We went to a few - but due to the late dinner seating a few nights we just passed wanting to head to bed. Brian wasn't a huge fan of this ship for a few reasons - the main one being the lack of smoking sections. There were very few of them, and offered no seating. He also tends to stay up late, and found that due to it being an older crowd most areas shut down by midnight. I have definitely come to realize that your cruising experience really depends on the person - what features/amenities are important to you plays a role in your personal enjoyment of the overall experience. 

(Golf at sea!)

This ship also does the whole "movies under the stars" thing and Brian, Adam, Amanda and I did that one night. They were playing Despicable Me 2 and it was a lot of fun. They have fancy deck chairs, blankets, and hand out popcorn and other movie snacks. It was a fun way to spend an evening and the movie was awesome! 

I had been to most of the ports that we stopped at, but it was a great mix. None of us got off the ship at Coco Cays, Bahamas. It is their private island, and like all others is basically just a beach and a few craft vendors. Instead we all stayed on board and enjoyed the pool which was much less crowded that day with most people heading off board.  

When we ported in St. Maarteen, Nanny and Pappy did a tour, Brian explored on his own, and Adam, Amanda, Mom and I took the water taxi over to the beach we found last year. We stayed there and enjoyed swimming, cold beers and the hot sun. 

(An amazing yacht we saw in port!) 

(Love the Christmas decor!) 

In St. Thomas, Adam and Amanda explored on their own, and Brian, Nanny, Pappy and I got off and went into town. It was a different port then last year, so we had to take a shuttle into the main area. Nanny and Pappy went back to the ship after about an hour, and then I went about 30 minutes later while Brian remained. It was a nice town, but very similar to all the other ports - basically they consist of jewellery store after jewellery store, with sales people standing on the street trying to entice you to come in. Mixed in are some souvenir shops as well as liquor stores. When you have seen one, you have seen them all. I did buy a pretty awesome multicoloured hat though. It was more expensive then the typical $10.00 ones you can find on the beach, but this hat is awesome! 

Our last port was Grand Turk, which I was excited for as it was an island I wanted to visit but never had. I had always heard of the sandy white beaches and crystal clear water. We had an option of an excursion to another beach, but it was $45.00 a person. Where the ship docked there was a cruise terminal that had a beach, shopping village and a Margaritaville with a really cool pool. We opted to stay there instead - but the water just wasn't the nicest. Not very clear, with a lot of seaweed and a bit rocky. Still it was enjoyable. Pappy, Dad, Mom, Adam, Amanda, Brian and I all came off the boat. Brian explored for a bit and then joined us at the beach. Pappy went swimming for a bit which he loved. He had wanted to swim in the ocean but Nanny had been concerned because he tends to swim far out ignoring any warnings. She worried less when he chose to come with us. Afterward he met Nanny and they did a trolley tour of the island. Dad headed back to the ship, and Adam, Amanda, Brian, Mom and I went to Margaritaville. I love Margaritaville! They are such fun places - especially in the islands where they tend to include pools, live entertainment and games. I got a chance to browse around the shops for a little bit, but again it was a lot of the same stuff. 

(My awesome St. Thomas Hat!)

Our trip home was mostly uneventful. Nanny and Pappy were on a different airline so we dropped them off at a different terminal and split up. Our plane was delayed due to problems at the Toronto Airport (there had been system problems and weather delays). When we got to the check in area we had awful customer service from one of the women working. She was without a doubt the rudest and most awful woman I have ever encountered at an airport. She was yelling at everyone, cutting people off and just generally being horrible. When we confronted her on her behaviour she just yelled "my job is stressful" and that "I'm doing the job of 3 people" and stomped away. Finally we got through the check in process (an hour later) and had another 2 hour wait. Fort Lauderdale airport is probably one of the worst to be stuck in. There is hardly anything there, and the most uncomfortable seats. The plane ride home was really rough with the airline stewardesses being seated for almost half the flight. It was a huge relief to finally touch down safely at home. 

Overall it was a really great trip. The weather wasn't always the greatest - we had a few moments where it was cloudy/rainy but the sun usually came back soon. The weather did make the ship really rocky, the motion actually got so bad at times that the pools turned into wave pools with the water swishing back and forth. The service was great - everyone was very friendly and helpful. The prices for drinks, games and any extras was also reasonable unlike the cruise the year before. I would definitely cruise with Princess again. 

It was also great doing a family trip. We tended to split up and do our own things, but we'd always run into each other throughout the day either at the pool, buffet or other areas. Nanny, Pappy, Brian and I did a wine tasting one afternoon. The wine was awful, but they had excellent cheese! Nanny and I also had time to hang out just the two of us, which was fun! I loved being able to spend all this time with everyone - and hope to do it again soon. 

Monday 13 January 2014

Orlando, Florida

In the fall we started planning a family vacation for the Christmas holidays. The initial plan was always a week in Florida and then perhaps a cruise. Originally we hoped there would be about 16 of us, but the number went done to 12. A few months prior to our departure the number decreased down again to 8 leaving our group consisting of my parents, grandparents, brother and his girlfriend as well as Brian and I. Arrival dates were all over the place, but from January 1st until January 11th we were all together. 

My parents, Brian and I arrived in Fort Lauderdale on December 29th. The first week was being spent in Orlando and the second on a cruise leaving from Fort Lauderdale. Rather then deal with multiple airports and multiple rental car locations we chose to fly in and out of Ft. Lauderdale and then drive to Orlando. So Sunday was a long day, leaving the house at 3:30am, arriving in Florida at 10:00am and then embarking on a 4 hour drive. The car we rented had to be big enough so it was an 11 seater Ford. I recently read a biography about the Von Trapp Family Singers and being all piled in this large van made me think of their recollections about riding a school bus around the USA. Doing it twice was enough! We arrived at Bonnet Creek in the afternoon, and spent the evening gathering supplies at the local Wal Mart, which was a HUGE mistake. The last thing you ever want to do is shop at the local Walmart (close to numerous timeshares) over Christmas break. It was much worse then our Black Friday experience a few weeks earlier. We got a few things but ended up at a Publix shortly after. 

After unloading all our stuff and stocking the fridges with enough food for breakfasts and dinners we were wiped and retired for the evening. The next morning Nanny and Pappy were arriving, so it was back to the airport to pick them up. They opted to fly directly into Orlando as to avoid a portion of the long drive. Monday was a pretty lazy day - Nanny and Pappy were tired from their travels and we were tired from ours the day before so everyone just sort of relaxed in their rooms until dinner. The benefit of the condo type timeshare is they have kitchens so meals can be cooked inside rather then having to eat out. We had dinner together, but Brian and I rushed off as soon as it was done to catch the last shuttle to Downtown Disney. 

Downtown Disney is this really cool area around the parks that has a bunch of stores, restaurants, shops, bars and entertainment venues. I first went back in 2001 a few years after it opened and instantly loved it. There is just this fun unexplainable vibe down there - with lots too see and do. I went back in 2008 with Aunt Honey, Uncle Beau, Connor and Paige and then again in 2009 with Brian but on that trip we didn't do much due to my sprained ankle. This time I found a few things different but everything mostly the same. The biggest difference occurred in the middle section. The area is built into three sections called Westside, Pleasure Island and the Marketplace. Each section wraps around the lake and has water taxis that go in between. 

I have always started on the Westside right near the House of Blues and the Cirque du Soleil venue. As you walk along you pass Disney Quest, a huge AMC theatre, a bunch of shops, restaurants and food trucks. There is a really cool looking bowling alley I have always wanted to check out, as well as some interesting looking restaurants. Problem is every time I have been the area has been packed and everything is expensive. I have come to learn that if the name Disney is anywhere in the title or description it's price is likely to be heavily marked up. 

The whole area was decorated for the holidays which was gorgeous. There were lighted Christmas trees, Christmas lights and people dressed up like angels and nutcrackers. Holidays down south always seem a bit strange to me because I am so used to holidays being associated with cold weather, cloudy days and snow. Down south it's typically bright and warm giving off a whole different Christmas atmosphere. 

We stopped at the Candy Cauldron a really awesome candy store that makes the best candy and caramel apples - these are a work of art! Such cool Disney designs are created and they look amazing. Brian took a number of photos of them making these so one day I am going to attempt to recreate it! I got my usual Minnie's Bakeshop Cookie - a white chocolate and raspberry cookie. I am not at all a fan of white chocolate or fruit in cookies but for some reason back in 2001 I tried one of these and loved it. So now every time when down there I have to get one. I also picked up some chocolate peanut butter fudge for Nanny. We walked past the hot air balloon ride (not something I would ever go!) and posed for a photo in front of the blue and silver tree. We then crossed over the bridge and into Pleasure Island  which was completely different then I remember. Years ago this was the adult/party area of Downtown Disney. A bunch of nightclubs and bars lined the streets but over time these started shutting down. 

According to Wikipedia "Pleasure Island was primarily a nighttime entertainment complex with two comedy clubs and four dance clubs. These clubs closed permanently on September 27, 2008. New shops and restaurants were planned to open to replace the closed clubs, but the economic recession of 2009 delayed plans. Only one new restaurant has opened to date. While the Village/Marketplace and West Side have always been free to enter, Pleasure Island required the purchase of admission and was closed during the day. Beginning in summer 2004, Pleasure Island became free to enter, and only those guests entering the nightclubs were charged admission. On November 18, 2010, Walt Disney World Resort announced a project named Hyperion Wharf, which was planned to replace the Pleasure Island complex. Pleasure Island would have undergone extensive renovations and re-theming to transform into the early twentieth century wharf-themed entertainment area. New shopping and dining locations would have also been added. In July 2011, it was announced that these plans have been delayed. These plans were later cancelled in favor of Disney Springs." (

I remember Pleasure Island the way it used to be - bars everywhere, the sound of loud music carrying outside and outdoor bars and patios all along the path. Now it was very quiet - only with one bar and the whole area mainly being used as a connection between the Marketplace and Westside. We crossed over to the Marketplace and of course had to stop at the Lego store. I made the mistake of splitting up with Brian here and "misplaced" him for about 30 minutes. I have since learned to never let my husband in the Lego store alone! We wandered in and out of a bunch of the shops and just enjoyed the overall atmosphere. We spent about an hour in the huge Disney store just being silly and trying on hats and sweaters. I did end up buying this super soft and comfortable pink sweater which I love. But I made the mistake of not buying a hat I found, however I am hoping my aunt and uncle can pick it up when they are there in March. 

We took the water taxi back across to the other side which was fun especially since I'd never done it before. Since the whole area was all lit up and pretty with Christmas decorations it that made it extra special in my mind. The only downfall was Santa had gone back to the North Pole, so we missed the opportunity for another Santa Photo (which I think Brian was secretly happy about!). Next time we visit Downtown Disney I want try Disney Quest, the bowling place and some of the bars and restaurants. It was just too crowded over the Christmas break to do any of that without encountering lines and crowds. So it's on the list for next time! 

Tuesday was New Years Eve and also my grandparents 58th anniversary! We started off the day with a huge breakfast compliments of Pappy. When my dad took Pappy, Adam, Uncle Remo and Uncle Beau to Vegas for Adam's 21st birthday Pappy would cook the guys breakfast everyday, so Pappy was designated the breakfast chef for the Orlando portion of the trip. Afterwards mom, nanny and I went shopping. We started at one plaza where we spent about 2 hours and then headed to the Orlando Mall where we spent another 2 hours. It was a very successful shopping day for all of us, as we each bought new clothes and other items. I know Canadian retailers often hate "cross border shoppers" but I am proud to be one. Until Canadian stores get the products and prices I find in the US, I will continue to head south of the border for most of my shopping needs. We had a quick stop at the M&M store which was super awesome!!! 

When we got back to the condo we had a bit of time to relax and have a late lunch. At 9:30 we all piled into the van to head out for dinner. Every year Nanny and Pappy spend NYE/Anniversary at a local dinner dance with friends. I tried finding one in Orlando but everything was mostly theme park oriented or $300.00 a ticket! So I suggested dinner at the Melting Pot - something Brian and I always do when we are in MD for NYE. The Melting Pot puts on a great NYE menu with champagne, photos and countdown. Mom isn't really a Melting Pot Fan (either is Brian) but they agreed once my grandparents expressed interest which was delightful to me as it's one of my favourite places! I had arranged for the table to be decorated for the occasion and it looked stunning with rose petals and balloons. The staff was excellent - making it extra special for their anniversary. My grandparents hadn't had fondue in ages so they particularly enjoyed it, and it was just a wonderful evening. It was a lot quieter then Nanny and Pappy are used to, and I know they missed their friends, but it was really enjoyable! 

On Wednesday we had another Pappy breakfast, but a later one due to the lateness of NYE. Then Pappy, Dad and I headed back to Downtown Disney to catch a movie at the AMC. We saw "American Hustle" and it was packed! I ended up sitting alone with them a few rows back. The movie was just okay in my opinion, but not really worth all the Oscar hype. Funny story, because Nanny didn't come with us she didn't really realize we had seen it. We mentioned what we thought and talked about it a little in passing, but 2 months later she had forgotten. So she took Pappy to see it. He didn't realize it was the same one until it started and when he told Nanny he had seen it she argued with him! She was all "you never saw it! You couldn't have seen it! You are mistaken!" It wasn't until the end when Pappy finally said "I saw it with Chantal!" Did Nanny realize her mistake. LOL, poor Pappy as it wasn't a movie I'd want to watch again. 

We had dinner in the early evening, and then Brian, Dad and I headed back to the airport to pick up Adam and Amanda. Adam had wanted to be home for NYE to spend it with friends, hence their later arrival. Adam was just delightful (sarcasm) when he arrived likely due to a late NYE and the day of traveling. But he got better later in the evening when Brian and I ran into them outside. The weather in Orlando was cold and rainy, so we only really used the pool and not tub once or twice at night. It was unfortunate as Bonnet Creek has the coolest pool/lazy river that I was excited to swim in. Instead we stuck to the pool closest to the building which was heated and the hot tub. But I ceased using the hot tub after a bunch of drunk twenty-something went up to the top floor and started throwing limes down at the hot tub when we were in it. Getting hit with limes wasn't my idea of a fun vacation. 

On Thursday morning we had to be up early as Adam, Amanda, Brian and I were going to Universal Studios. The tickets had been a Christmas gift to us from my parents and was something I was super excited for. I always loved Universal Studios and really wanted to see Harry Potter world. However January 2 was said to be a very busy day, and I was warned that Harry Potter world would get closed once it reached a certain amount of people. So I made everyone get up at 7:30 so we could be at the Islands of Adventure Park the second it opened. Adam was again a bit of a grump (mornings aren't his thing) but he did get better as the day went on, and that was the last we saw of grumpy Adam during the rest of the trip! We got to Harry Potter World early enough that we breezed through the rides. The main ride through the castle I opted not to due because I don't like most rides and it was very motion-oriented. Instead I did a castle tour which let me see most of the attraction. Afterwards the three of them did a smaller roller coaster, but I stayed behind and watched. 

We wandered through the Harry Potter village section and it looked just like the books and movies! The stores were awesome - I loved how they themed everything to be authentic to the franchise. I didn't go into the Wand store because the line was crazy and I had no desire to spend $100.00 on a piece of wood, but everything else was fun. I could have stayed there for hours! I did try Butterbeer which was delicious! It tasted like butterscotch sugar cookies and came in a souvenir mug. Our next stop was to Jurassic Park where Amanda and I decided to go on the water ride. Brian and Adam told us we were silly and that we would get soaked, but we ignored them. I don't like most rides, but I do love water ones and this one was fun. The drop at the end was a bit scary, but still enjoyable. We got wet, but not soaked so we laughed at the guys having missed out. We were really lucky to have the express pass on our tickets - the park got really busy but we were able to breeze through lines and wait no more then about 10-15 minutes. 

We had a really early lunch since we skipped breakfast, and then headed toward Toon Town. There was another water ride Amanda and I wanted to do - Popeyes Raging River so we figured we may as well do it while we were still damp from Jurassic Park. Again Brian and Adam told us we were crazy and would be wet and miserable for the rest of the day, and again we ignored them. As soon as we were seated I realized we made a mistake. The three other people in our "boat" had ponchos on and told us we would get soaked as they had done this ride before. It was too late to do anything about it, so we were stuck. And wow, did we ever get soaked. This ride is like going down a rapid river, so water was spraying up on us, it also had portions of falls we went through and water canons people could shoot at us (Which of course Adam did). The ride was really fun, but when we got out we were completely soaked. It was as if we had jumped into a pool or something. Naturally when we walked back to meet the guys they were laughing hysterically. I will admit it was a bad decision, a fun one, but not one I would make again. The weather was okay, but not sunny or hot enough that we would dry out especially since we were wearing denim so we were left having to buy clothes. Amanda found a dress, and I found a pair of sweatpants. I had brought an extra shirt, so I paired that with these kind of ugly orange/pink pants which amazingly enough matched the shirt. The pants were a size smaller then I would have preferred but my choices were limited, so I made them work. I also grabbed a pair of flip flips since my sandals were also soaked. I will be honest, it was a truly horrible outfit and not something I would ever choose to wear. It reinforced what a bad decision going on water rides without a poncho or a full change of clothes had been. 

We went on a few 3D/4D rides like the Superman one, as well as a X-Men themed knock off of the Disney tea-cups. We wandered through Who-Ville and the kids coaster. Since Paige wasn't there, I got out of going on the coaster. The last time we went to Universal, Paige was about 5 or 6 and asked me to go on that ride with her. As I said, I hate most rides - even some kids ones - and this one terrified me likely due to the high height of it. She picked up on my terror and has spent the last 5 years laughing at it! When we first talked about this trip she made me promise to go back on it with her to prove it wasn't scary. As much as I missed not having them with us, that was one experience I was fine with getting out of! 

We walked over to the second park and spent some time going on those rides. They are more along the lines of 3D experiences and interactive shows which was fine with me. The park is pretty outdated in terms of rides, and Adam even remembered some from the last time he was there which was in 1995! Around 3:00 a thunderstorm hit which again got us wet. At this point Adam and Amanda decided to head back to the hotel, and Brian and I opted to stick it out. We wandered into a few more areas and attractions but the rain kept worsening. Initially we planned to stay for awhile and have dinner down at Universal Walk (their version of Downtown Dinsey) at Bubba Gump, but I was again soaked and he was getting wet so we changed our plans. We decided to head back to hotel and order pizza. 

Despite the rain, it was a great day at Universal Studios. The four of us had a lot of fun, and it's a theme park I would definitely go back to (with a change of clothes!) Brian and I spent the evening watching TV, reading and enjoying our dinner of Papa Johns pizza. It's his favourite pizza place but there isn't one near us, so he was especially happy. It worked out to be warmer and cheaper then Bubba Gump which was a positive. 

Friday was another horrible weather day, so I opted to go shopping with Dad, Adam and Amanda. We spent a few hours at the outlet mall (an hour of that was spent trying to find a parking spot) and then a couple hours at a strip mall near Universal. I didn't really find anything, which was fine as I bought enough when I was shopping a few days before. I mainly went to keep them company. Afterwards, Pappy and I went to Downtown Disney to see Cirque La Nouba. 

Pappy had expressed interest in seeing it, but no one else was interested. I was semi interested so I said I would go. I am so glad I did! The show was fantastic! We started by having a drink at House of Blues where I nearly lost my moms phone. Mine had died and I didn't have time to charge it, so I borrowed hers so we would call when the show was over. Just before we we ready to leave, I left it on the table when I went to the washroom, and Pappy met me by the entranceway. It wasn't until I was sitting down at the Cirque show and went to check the time that I realized it was gone. I had about 10 minutes before the show, so I bolted across the street back to House of Blues where thankfully they had it. I also made it back just before the show started so it all worked out! 

The show was really impressive! An amazing mix of acrobatics, comedy, stunts and dance. There were people doing tricks on bikes, people flying through the air on silks and tightropes and these amazing young girls doing acrobatics. It was a great mix, and just a really fantastic experience. I'm so happy we went! 

The rest of the night was spent packing up our stuff for the next part of our trip!