Day 31 – iFLY & Universal

Thursday 13th September 2018

Once again, Sandy and I managed to slip out of the house for a bit of us time this morning. I think we had finished our Waffle House breakfast and were already on the way back before either of the kids even realised we were missing in action.

Today was to be our second day at the iFLY wind tunnel. Yes, we enjoyed it so much the last time that we re-booked on the spot for a second go around. This time though, Sandy elected not to fly, instead offering herself for the team so that someone could collect some GoPro footage of the flights. That meant Joey, Jennifer and I had ten individual sixty-second flights to share between us, which we split up four to Jennifer and three each to Joey and me. Just like the last time around, we all had a thoroughly good time with our flights. We had the same flight instructor that took us into the wind tunnel the last time. He progressed with the various skills we were learning, so that was a nice bonus. Jennifer is a complete natural. Joey thoroughly enjoyed it and I…flailed around like a wet salmon, but I had no less fun. It seems my body shape doesn’t lend itself especially well to aerodynamics. Sandy was on point with both her phone camera as well as the GoPro.

Once we had finished sucking the enjoyment out of the iFLY wind tunnel, we stopped off once more at the phone repair place on I-Drive, but it was once again closed. With our flights not scheduled until around 3pm, we still had plenty of time to kill. We had previously spotted what looked like the mother of all MacDonald’s restaurants. Since it was just up the road, we thought it would be a good idea to stop in and check it out.

The mother of all MacDonald’s was indeed the right description. The place was huge. It’s spread out over a wide area and has two floors. The ground floor is where the kitchen and registers are. There’s also an exhaustive soft drink serving station, where you can choose your poison from a touch screen and dispense accordingly into your wax cup below. They even have a large food preparation station, complete with pizza oven and staff to construct your pizza, spaghetti bolognaise or whatever you desire on the spot. Upstairs, there’s a truly huge multi-story kids climb/play area as well as a good-sized arcade. Some of the seats/tables/booths even have touch screens on the wall, where you can order or play games. Seriously, I think we could bring the kids here and spend the entire day without seeing them. I loaded a token card each for the kids and let them go off and burn some money to see how many tickets they could accumulate. Unlike the Tunz-a-Fun arcades we’re accustomed to in Australia, both kids actually managed to score enough tickets to win something coming close to the value they spent to begin with. At the Australian arcades, you might spend a small fortune just for the benefit of winning an individual lolly. The kids just loved it there. I daresay we will go back there before we’re through. Both kids have a stack of tickets still on their cards anyway, so we’ll have to go back at least once.

Sandy and I both decided we wouldn’t eat at MacDonald’s. Sandy was still pining for the Chili’s she narrowly missed out on last night as the result of Jennifer insisting on her Daddy/Daughter time. Since there was a Chili’s just up the road – and one that takes our discount card no less – this became our next stop.

History will record the next series of events differently depending on who recounts them. The Weather Bug app that we have thus far been quite impressed with insisted there was to be little to no chance of rain or severe thunderstorm this evening. I have the screenshots to prove it. Armed with that information, ‘we’ decided to head into the Universal Islands of Adventure park for a couple of hours.

Upon entry to the park, we stopped at the shop where the photo passes are managed. Earlier in the day, I had called Guest Services. Sandy had bought that photo pass a few days AFTER we had started visiting the parks. There were a number of photos that were taken of us in the various rides and I wanted to know whether those were secure now that we had the photo pass. The assistant at Guest Services thought that was the case but recommended I stop at the photo shop to find out for sure. I wanted specifically to make sure we could retrieve the photos from our time at Volcano Bay yesterday. When I discussed all of this with the manager, I learned that it didn’t work the way I had anticipated. There’s no linking of the photo pass to the theme park tickets like there is with Disney. In order to secure a photo, you have to scan your photo pass at the end of each ride with the photo pass card specifically. This in essence meant that none of the photos taken of us up to the point the photo pass was purchased are now retrievable. Buggar! I asked about the photos from Volcano Bay yesterday. Those were retrievable with a swipe of my theme park ticket at the end of the day, so I had high hopes those could at least be linked to the photo pass. The manager said he didn’t have access to the Volcano Bay photos but that he would contact the manager over there and see what he could arrange. He said it might take a while for the message to get through, but we could come back at the end of the night to check.

The clouds above us were dark but there was still no sign of rain…at this point. So far, so good.

One of Joey’s many eccentricities is that he prefers not to wear anything on his feet. It’s a constant bugbear of mine and we often duel over it. I’m not just talking about in and around the house or in the car. No, he’ll much prefer to go the entire day with nothing on his feet – even if we’re in a supermarket, shopping centre, theme park, wherever. For the sake of a quiet life, I’ve been doing my best to look the other way as much as I can. There are times, however, when it’s just not acceptable to go barefoot. The level of Joey’s resistance to conforming to the norms of wearing footwear are directly proportionate to his frame of mind. If he’s in a good mood, I can usually get him to put something on. If not, it’s much more of a challenge and there are often tears involved – sometimes his, sometimes mine. Today the unstoppable force met the immovable object. Joey was in one of his characteristic bad moods for reasons unclear (we don’t always know what the trigger is). The first thing we all did after entering the park was to head over to the Spiderman ride. I had explained to Joey it was very similar to the Transformers ride he liked so much from the other day. They use the same vehicles in fact. Good, so we’re all going to do that ride. I told Joey he would need to put the sandals he was carrying on his feet. He wasn’t having it. I told him he wouldn’t be able to go on the ride otherwise, as the attendant wouldn’t allow it. Secretly, I’m hoping he’ll be allowed on without anyone noticing anything. There’s technically no real reason not to go barefoot on the ride as you’re in an enclosed area. The only reasons I can think of are A) this is America and the land of the we-don’t-dare-allow-anything-remotely-questionable-for-fear-of-being-sued and B) in the event the ride breaks down, you’ll need to walk through the structure to safety and would need shoes on for that. Wouldn’t you know it, since there were so few people in the park this evening, there wasn’t a big enough crowd to obscure the fact that Joey was walking barefoot. The ride attendant noticed. Naturally, he called it out and said Joey had to put something on his feet. Fair enough. I can’t really argue with them about this, so I insisted Joey put his sandals on. Joey refused. I’m the grown up, I insisted even more and won this round. The winning, however, was at the considerable expense of now having to deal with an extremely grumpy and non-compliant child for the next couple of hours at least (it often takes that long for him to climb down from one of these events). I’m more than happy for Joey to be grumpy but it takes a significant toll on how the rest of the family enjoy their time. It means he won’t follow instructions. He won’t walk where he’s supposed to walk. He generally makes life difficult for everyone. When Joey is unhappy, everyone else tends to be unhappy as a result. Up to this point, I harboured some glimmer of hope for a romantic evening with Sandy. This incident, and the resulting turmoil it generated, may very well have put that idea to bed (see what I did there?).

Ok, so the main idea behind coming into Islands of Adventure today was to spend time in the dinosaur section of the park. We had mentioned a few times that there was the Dinosaur Discovery Centre, where we felt Joey in particular would enjoy spending time. The humidity by now was making everyone clammy and uncomfortable. Joey was being miserable and rapidly bringing everyone else down with him. The dino section of the park is about as far away from the turnstiles as it could be, so we’re all lethargic from the walking. Sandy’s mood was dropping faster than you can say ‘headache’.

Jennifer and I decided we’d walk on a bit and try to water ride in Toon Lagoon. When we got there, we were informed the ride had been closed due to inclement weather. It was dark and, yes, there were clouds above us, but my Weather Bug app was still telling me it was at best a 20% chance of precipitation. The cloud cover was still quite high, so I still had faith the rain would hold off.

I SMS’d Sandy to let her know about the closure of the ride. She, in the meantime, was trying to corral a still extremely non-compliant Joey, which was steadily and systematically destroying her own enjoyment of what was to be a pleasant evening. Not even a photo opportunity with Spiderman himself managed to solicit a smile from Joey for the camera, much to Sandy’s further chagrin. If there’s one thing Sandy can’t abide, it’s a lost photo opportunity with a character. Shit!

We agreed Jennifer and I would press on to the dinosaur section of the park. If nothing else, Joey would be happy once immersed into that environment. That would give the rest of us – Sandy in particular – some much-needed respite.

Jennifer and I passed a few different attractions as we progressed around to the rear of the park. It didn’t bode well that all the outside attractions were closed due to bad weather. It was STILL not raining at this point. So far, so good still and my marriage remains intact for a little while longer.

Then the bombshell struck. I was devastated – mortified even. Not for me but for what I knew this would do to Sandy’s already frail disposition. The Jurassic Discovery Centre we had trundled all the way around the park for is an indoor interactive play centre. There’s lots of things to see and touch. There’s even a dinosaur egg hatchery where you can interact with a dinosaur expert. They use a combination of puppets and misdirection to make the kids believe they are watching an actual dinosaur egg hatch. This was our one opportunity to put Joey into a happy place. The time was 7:20. The park doesn’t close until 9pm. Wouldn’t you bloody well know it? The Discovery Centre shuts at 7pm. Shit, double shit and triple shit. This could blow my chances of a romantic evening for the next decade at least. Much more of these types of situations and my right arm is going to be completely knackered. I called Sandy and told her the bad news (always a good tactic to get it out in the open as soon as possible I feel). There was no initial response. I think the disappointment, mixed with a healthy dose of anger – towards me, of course, suppressed Sandy’s autonomic responses, preventing her from making any vocal sounds. She said she was taking Joey into the Kong ride and hung up. Hmmm. That’s not good. I did already try to tell her the other day that Kong is a very intense ride that Joey probably wouldn’t like very much. Quadruple shit!

Ok, so this was a bad situation and progressively getting worse, although it still wasn’t raining, so I at least had that in my back pocket…or so I thought. I sent a text message to Sandy telling her Jennifer and I were doubling back to the Kong ride. I figured I’d be able to convince Sandy not to take Joey in or at least swap with her, so I would bear the brunt of his subsequent behaviours instead of her. Too late. They were already boarding the ride car. Double-quadruple shit! BUT, it was at least not raining, right? Haha.

Jennifer and I wandered around a little, but only long enough to realise that the only things now open were the shops and Hogsmeade. We wandered back to the Kong ride and parked ourselves just inside the exit tunnel. There was at least some cool air coming from the building. That was a welcome relief from the humidity, which was by now like breathing underwater…but still not raining.

Sandy and Joey eventually emerged from the exit tunnel. I held my breath. And then it came – Sandy’s complaints about just how much this ride was NOT suitable for Joey. I listened to her, with as much empathy as I could muster, I should add, tell me all about how they should have posted warning signs and not allowed small children onto that extremely intense ride. I suppressed all the urges to utter ‘I told you so the other day’. I felt my restraint in this regard was unparalleled. After all, even a 0.00135% chance of a romantic evening was still not zero, right?

With the skies continuing to darken, there were now but two options for us. Either we would continue on to Hogsmeade or turn back and head for the park exit. Sandy insisted it was going to rain. She wanted to leave and head to the park exit already. I felt we could at least salvage the evening with some light entertainment in Hogsmeade, where the kids could practice their wand skills. My weather app kept telling me it wasn’t going to rain. I pointed to the sky and said the cloud cover was too high. In retrospect, I think that was the moment that actually sealed my fate. Sandy and Joey went in to the Jurassic Park shop. We weren’t planning on buying Joey anything – especially given his behaviour this evening – but it would be at least something for him to look around the shop. Jennifer and I pressed on in the meantime to Hogsmeade. It was approaching the time of night they perform the light show on the castle and there was still enough time for Jennifer to grab herself a Butterbeer (she just adores it) and wave her wand around a bit.

Because of the light show, one of the paths to Hogsmeade was closed off, sending us the longer way around. When we arrived, the first of two light shows was under way already. There was quite a crowd so they cordoned off the area where you could stand to watch the light show. The idea was that those already there would be allowed to enjoy the first show and those that were waiting behind the corner (including us) would then be allowed through after the first throng had finished their enjoyment and left. In the meantime, Jennifer wasted no time in locating a cart selling Butterbeer. The attendant actually convinced her to try an iced Butterbeer today, which she did. She rather enjoyed it in fact. As we were waiting there in the crowd for the first light show to conclude, it happened. That one thing that had been threatening to happen all evening. That one thing that would drop my chances of a romantic evening to zero or worse. My weather app failed me. The promise of a dry night that brought us all here now came crashing down around us. The heavens opened up and dumped a shit ton of water, thunder and repeated lightning bolts directly on to us. It pissed down so much I felt like I was bloody SCUBA diving.

The rain continued to fall, steadily intensifying. The lighting strikes got closer and closer. Eventually, they were striking right in the theme park. We were directly under a supercell. It was unleashing its pent-up fury with a vengeance. Like the hundreds of other sheeple, Jennifer and I huddled under an eve in our ponchos for as long as we could. After a while, we chanced our arm at doubling back to where Sandy and Joey were in the Jurassic Park shop still. There was no way we were going to see the next light show even if it did go on. It was now closing time for the park anyway. If we went back, we’d at least all be together. I could relieve Sandy of the burden of dealing with whatever Joey was throwing at her by now.

In hindsight, I don’t think it was a good idea to walk back to where Sandy and Joey were. The rivers formed by the sudden emptying of a supercell directly above us meant we were walking in ankle-deep water for pretty much the entire journey. One good lightning strike near our position and we’d have felt its full brunt. We arrived and made it safely inside the shop, although this particular shop didn’t have any wall to close it off from the elements.

We found Sandy and joey there along with about thirty or so other park guests also caught in the storm and flash flood. The look on Sandy’s face is one I won’t forget in a hurry. If her eyes were daggers, she’d have blinded me with her stare. If her heart were a cannon, she’d have shot it at me with such force it would have sent me clear across the other side of the park. Just as we made it inside, a bolt of lightning struck very close to the shop. It couldn’t have been more than about 20-30 meters away. The bone-shattering thunderous crack made everyone jolt, sending them all scurrying farther into the depths of the shop.

Initially, there was only a bit of water coming in to the shop. The staff were pushing it out with a sort of mop thing. After about half an hour, however, the entire surface of the shop floor was under inches of water. All of the staff’s efforts were fruitless. I kept shifting Joey, who was of course still barefoot at this time, towards a section of the shop that was still dry. Eventually, there was just nowhere to go. Everyone was standing in a pool of water up to their ankles. I asked one of the staff members if this was normal. Evidently it is. It wasn’t even the worst they’ve seen. They’ve had it flood up to their knees before. We used to live in Florida and we’ve seen our fair share of flash-flooding. This was the worst I’ve ever seen. It wasn’t so much the flooding that was the concern. It’s only water and warm water at that. It’s the crashing lightning bolts that were concerning me. Even the staff were jumping out of their skin each time one landed close by – which happened several times while we were there.

The thunder and lightning did eventually ease after about forty-five minutes. The park was by now well and truly closed, of course. Sandy’s ability to keep standing was reaching her limit and she decided it was time we made our way back to the car. The rain hadn’t yet stopped but was continually easing. It stopped altogether by the time we were half way back to the entrance turnstiles.

We did stop in at the photo shop to ask about those photos at Volcano Bay, but the manager said the staff over at the water park hadn’t yet responded. He gave me a receipt with a phone number on it and suggested I call them in the morning. He seemed fairly certain the photos I was looking for would be retrievable.

The walk back to the car was one of the longest I’ve experience. I felt like a dead man walking towards death row. Sandy wasn’t saying anything. I think I would have been happier if she were yelling at me. The kids were awfully quite as well. I kept mulling it all over in my mind. Was there some way all of this could NOT be my fault? Hmmm. Doubtful. I may just have to suck it up and take this one for the team.

We finally made it home. Could this evening have possibly gotten any worse? Well, actually, yes. I emptied the car, like I normally do. I then went to get the cameras and GoPros so I could offload their payloads, like I normally do. All of this was done in an eerie silence that had not lifted since we first left the Jurassic Park shop to walk to the car. One of the GoPros – the more expensive one – was missing. Shit! I went back to the car to make sure it hadn’t fallen under one of the seats. It wasn’t there. I checked the boot and looked under all the towels and ponchos. It wasn’t there. I checked and re-checked the bags and backpacks to make sure it wasn’t in a hidden enclosure. It wasn’t there. Not only was this a $500 piece of kit (not including the handle, memory card, battery, etc.), it also had all the video footage from the iFLY wind tunnel experience from earlier in the day. Sandy joined the search…in silence I might add. We retraced our steps in our minds. Where could we have left it? Was it at the iFLY? Was it at the MacDonald’s where the kids had eaten? Was it at the Chili’s where we had eaten? Was it in the park? Did it get stolen from the car? We just didn’t know. We made a few frantic phone calls but none of the places we reached reported it having been handed in. The only place we hadn’t been able to reach was the iFLY business, but that was closed for the night. Could that be where it is? We’d have no way of knowing until the morning. We all went off to bed. Nobody said anything. I slept lightly…alas, all the way through to morning.