Category: Universal

Spring Escape Pt 6: CityWalk

By , April 23, 2010 9:21 pm

Pt 6: CityWalk and the Coolest Movie Ever

Friday, April 23

OK, I admit it. I’m really enjoying sleeping in. The thing about staying at Marriott our first week is that because I can’t use the pool and you have to drive to go anywhere, I really enjoying just hanging out in the villa during the morning. We always manage to run around at all hours at Disney but here offsite it just takes too much effort to go anywhere. And the villas are very spacious.

Between GM and I we’ve turned the entire 6 person dining room table into one large desk. It’s the only thing we leave messed up in the apartment. My room has suitcases all lined up on the sofa and his holds his duffel bags on the chaise lounge.

The weather has gotten downright hot. GM’s wound has healed enough (and he’s pathetic enough) that my sister and I give him the all clear to get wet. So he spends the day at the pool getting sun. Meanwhile I watch some Doctor Who documentaries and nap.

Breakfast is on the patio. Lunch consists of leftovers. We finally get around to going out at rush hour. Our destination: Universal’s CityWalk.

We haven’t been to Universal since my mom was with us. That’s about 9 years. I wasn’t really that impressed with it, but we promised we’d return as soon as Harry Potter World opened. Well that’s not for another month, so we settle for dinner at CityWalk.

I tell Dave the navigator where we want to go and ask for the shortest route hoping he’d give us a shortcut away from the traffic. He sends us up International Drive, through the Convention Center into places that are barren. I-4 is jammed but we’re making good time.

We arrive in the parking garage and the land of chaos. Seems everyone has lost their cars and is using the panic button to sound the horn. Add a small motorcycle club and it is the noisiest place on Earth. Not a good sign.

But we travel on across the bridges, passed security baggage check, across another bridge and into Citywalk. The place is alive with neon lights, rock music and people everywhere. The first thing we notice at the entrance is the AMC Theatre on the right and Bubba Gump’s on the left. The theatre marquee shows a late night showing of Avatar 3D and Rocky Horror Picture Show (Live).

For a minute I’m thrown back to my halcyon teenage days and wishing my sister was here. I still remember her going off to Rocky Horror with her bags of stale bread, uncooked rice and that unpopped red balloon. Alas I was too young to ever go to a live Rocky Horror and by the time I was old enough they stopped showing them in my town. The crowd got too crazy. As fun as my dad is, it’s just not something he’d ever enjoy. Too silly.

Instead he’s intrigued by the late night showing of Avatar. It’s in Imax 3D. The movie is out on DVD this week but we never got to see it in the theatres back home. He’d really like to see it in its full cinematic glory. If only we can stay up that late.

We make our way into CityWalk debating where to eat. Pick up a guide map and survey the area. A crowd is leaving the parks for the day. Across the lake is Hard Rock Café. We ate there 9 years ago. Across the way is Jimmy Buffett’s Margeuritaville. We ate there too. We want something new. So we settle on Pat O’Briens, the New Orleans place up by the dance clubs.

But just when we round the corner we run smack dab into a security line and a sea of teenagers. Hundreds of them are streaming in direct from parking to Islands of Adventure. Seems we’ve run into a Grad Bash night. (Ah, so that’s why there are live showings of Rocky Horror.) The lucky teens from Jacksonville have the park to themselves till 2am. An event guide tells us the way to the clubs should be cleared out in under an hour. So we go for a long stroll around the lake.

We watch the boats ferrying people out of the parks. The sun sets and neon lights get brighter. And the music seems to get louder and louder.

Eventually we’re just too hungry to wait so we head back to Bubba Gump’s instead. Check in at the desk and they ask our favorite singer. I give them Sinatra, assuming that’s an unusual name to be heard tonight. While we wait, I pop over to the AMC to see if Avatar is sold out. It isn’t, so on a whim I buy a couple tickets. That leaves us about 3 ½ hours to eat.

We’re seated in under 15 minutes. Not bad for a Friday night. Inside resembles a shrimping shack. Very casual and filled with Forrest Gump memorabilia. On each table sits a couple of license plates. Blue saying “RUN FORREST RUN” and red saying “STOP FORREST STOP”. Our waitress tells us if we need anything just flip to the red plate and someone will be around in a snap. It’s a nice system.

We start with drinks (a Jenny’s Favorite Strawberry smoothie for me and coffee for GM) and appetizers (hot, soft hush puppies for me and shrimp/crab bisque for GM). Then we move on to entrees. GM orders the crab-stuffed shrimp over jasmine rice. I’m not much a shrimp fan so try Mama’s Best fried chicken, smashed potatoes and corn. Our food comes out quickly but it seems GM has lost his fork. No problem, just flip the red sign. 30 seconds later a waitress stops on her way by. Before she can return with the fork and we can flip the sign back to blue a waiter stops also to ask what we need. Man, I like that sign system.

We each pack up half our leftovers and leave a little room for dessert. We get one of the little mini desserts… a cup of flavored mousse pudding with graham crackers. I get a chocolate raspberry and GM gets chocolate & peanut butter.

Our dinner finished we look at the clock. It’s only 9:45pm. We have over 2 hours to kill before the movie. Maybe I should rethink this.

GM’s cold, so we decide to journey back to the car and pick up our jackets. Along the way, his doggie bag dinner flips over and off his scooter basket to be ground under his wheels. So much for making a meal stretch. It looked good as we scraped it off the pavement and tossed it in the trash can. Fortunately my dinner remained safe. We leave it in the van for safekeeping and come back to kill some time before the movie.

What followed was probably the longest 2 hrs I’ve ever spent. We looked in all the shops (all 3 of them), walked around the lake multiple times looking for a quiet spot. We even checked out the Blue Man Group box office and watched the grad night teens go around the Rock It Rollercoaster. I’m afraid this is where my ultimate opinion of CityWalk is formed.

The place has some nice restaurants but nothing about it feels or looks like Disney. It’s so loud and the music more punk rock than pleasant rock. People smoked everywhere and it all seemed very small. No matter where you went you heard competing music from the restaurants, from the loud speakers and from the stage show across the lake. There was no division, no quiet place. It made Downtown Disney look so much better.

Finally it was time for the movie. We went in, had to find our way to an elevator buried in a back hall and were handed our Bug’s Life type 3D glasses as we entered the theater. It’s stadium seating and the accessible seats are right below the screen. Great. I guess I’ll have to look up all night. Clearly this theater was built a long while ago.

I thought we’d be miserable and this was a huge mistake. But fortunately James Cameron’s movie is so engrossing you quickly forget whatever bothered you. Being so close to the screen we felt like we were in the movie. GM, that 78 year old man who’s usually snoring loudly by 11pm, is wide awake for the next 3 hours. The sound is amazing. You feel every burst of gunfire in your chest, hear ever soft note of soundtrack on the tip of your ears, see the tiniest detail of those little alien seed pods gently floating in the air around you. This is the way to go to the movies and worth all $27 of the ticket fee.

The movie let out just before 3am. Only a skeleton crew of security and janitors remain. Even that horde of Grad Bash teenagers has left the park. We’re one of the last ones out of the parking lot. Dave directs us home by even emptier streets. We make it back to our beds around 4am. Just enough time for a nap before our early call tomorrow. We have breakfast at Cape May… if we can get up.

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