Trip Report | Islands of Adventure, Universal Studios, Magic Kingdom & California Grill Review

Islands of Adventure

This morning we were off to Islands of Adventure to ride some water rides! We arrived bright and early before park opening but unfortunately Popeye and Bluto's Bilgerat Barges wasn't scheduled to open yet so we had to alter our plans a little bit.  It's a shame as had we known earlier we would've made our way over to Diagon Alley to ride Escape from Gringotts again first. Instead we walked on to The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman which is always a favourite especially since they've updated the visuals. We then made our way round to Toon Lagoon and walked around the whole queue for Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls only to be told it was broken down as we were about to board! As we weren't going to ride Jurassic Park River Adventure and get soaked without being able to do the other too rides we carried on to Hogsmeade as Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey had only a 10 minute wait. 

By the time we came out of Hogwarts the water rides had opened so we walked straight on to Popeye's and of course we got drenched. There really is no other rapid ride like it, water just pours in at every opportunity! No content with one soaking we then walked on to Dudley's which is a really fun and silly log flume and the girls in front kept informing us that it wasn't the big drop yet right until the end! Finally it was time to ride Jurassic Park which I find a little more intimidating but I love going through the gate and seeing all the more peaceful dinosaurs with the theme music as you enter. After a near miss with a T-Rex we got soaked for a third time but luckily it was looking to be a hot and sunny day so we dried off in no time.

After all those rides we were getting hungry so we grabbed a quick slice of pizza with salad and a breadstick at Cafe 4 ($14.28) and then exited the park through the huge giftshop. It has a ton of Harry Potter merchandise if you happen to forget to pick up your souvenirs while in the Wizarding World! On our way over to Universal Studios we took a look inside the new Toothsome Chocolate Emporium but which had some really interesting looking sweets and gifts packaged to look like different concoctions. 

On our way though Universal we spotted the Blue Brothers performing on their stoop so we stopped to watch their set and see everyone shake their tail feathers until they drove off in their car. We also had a look at the construction for the new Fast and Furious ride which hadn't got too far yet except for the graffiti on the construction walls. 

Next we headed through the brick wall into Diagon Alley to ride Escape from Gringotts again. I really like this rollercoaster as I think the effects are really well done and keep you immersed in the story so I prefer it to Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey in that respect.  

We also finally got to see the Gringott's Dragon breathe fire although it happened a bit too quickly for us to catch it on camera! I'm not sure if we were just unlucky but we were only able to see it go once during our trip. There's so much to see at Diagon Alley though so we spent some time looking in the shops again but it's difficult when they get so crowded. 

Once we'd left Diagon Alley we decided to head out of the park as all the lines were quite long and we'd done everything we wanted to do except Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit. I'm too scared of that rollercoaster because of the vertical lifts and drops so I sat it out while Harry got in the single rider line which actually worked out longer than the standby. You can choose different songs to listen to while you ride which sounds like a lot of fun and Harry says it's pretty awesome.

Magic Kingdom

Back at All Stars Movies we shared a chicken nugget meal and swapped the dessert for a side of chilli-cheese fries (so much food!) at the World Premiere food court ($18.48 inc. drink) before having a quick swim in the Mighty Ducks pool and getting ready for dinner. We had some time to kill before our California Grill reservation so we parked up at the Contemporary and walked down the pathway to Magic Kingdom for a little while as it was closing early for Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party.

We arrived just as it was getting dark so all the lights were on giving off a magical twilight glow which is probably my favourite time of day to visit. Being a party night lots of people were leaving for the day but it was also busy with new guests just arriving.

We'd managed to get a Fastpass+ for Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin but I was still struggling to aim properly so my score still wasn't great. We also decided to visit the Haunted Mansion, as the wait time for standby line wasn't too long, so we got to play with some of the interactive elements in queue while we waited. I never used to be that interested in this ride but it's now one of my favourites as a Walt Disney Imagineering classic.

With both the MVMCP and our dining reservation approaching we just had time to get a Photopass picture next to the castle in our fancy clothes before leaving Magic Kingdom. I'd have gone to the park just to get a photo even if we hadn't been able to do any rides!

California Grill

When we arrived at the Contemporary Resort we saw that they'd already started preparing their gingerbread display for Christmas. This years theme is the castle from Frozen but none of the characters were out just yet. 

The check-in desk for California Grill is actually down the escalators from the main lobby and it has it's own private elevator to take you up to the restaurant on the top floor of the hotel. When we checked in the hostess noticed our two buttons and presented us with some Just Engaged buttons to replace them! We were really excited as you can't get them anywhere now so we spent the remainder of the evening wearing three buttons each.

We had a little while to wait until our table so we grabbed a seat at the bar but it wasn't long until we were called. California Grill actually has a lounge seating area so anyone can go up there without a dining reservation and sit in the lounge if there's places available. The whole outside wall of the restaurant is glass so there are panoramic views over Magic Kingdom and across the Seven Seas Lagoon to the Grand Floridian. Our table wasn't window side but it didn't matter as we could still see out of the window and we were right next to one of the observation decks.

Once we were seated we were also brought out two glasses of bubbly to celebrate our engagement! As you can probably tell our opinion of California Grill was shaping up to be pretty good so far and the food only made it better. It was the best meal of our whole trip. We were given sourdough rolls and lavender focaccia to start with and then I ordered the Pork Tenderloin and Harry had the Filet of Beef. Mine was amazing, I didn't know pork could taste so could it was practically steak! It was served with pork belly and polenta. Harry's steak, served with potatoes, was also fantastic, even better than the ones we had at the Yachtsman.

For dessert we got the Banana Buzz and the panna cotta both of which came with a little plaque of chocolate with 'Congratulations from California Grill' printed on them which was a really nice touch ($277.78 + tax & tip). We still had a bit of time after we'd finished eating so we sat and relaxed with our drinks before we headed out onto the deck to admire the view.

Watching Holiday Wishes from the top of the Contemporary was amazing. The music comes though the speakers so you can follow along with the fireworks and although they are a little off centre you get a much broader view than you do in the park. I also didn't know before that the firework displays during the parties have 180 degree perimeter fireworks which makes them even more magical. The view is so special and romantic without the hustle and bustle of the Magic Kingdom crowd around you. 

After the fireworks we walked back through California Grill to the observation deck on the opposite side to get a closer view of Cinderella Castle and Space Mountain. On the other side we could also see all the way across to the Orlando Eye and Fun Spot which were lit up again the night sky and, although we couldn't actually see it, we could also hear the Electrical Water Pageant! It was such a special evening dressing up, celebrating our engagement, eating some delicious food, and having a spectacular view of the fireworks so I can't wait to do it again in the future. 

Steps: 29,155
DDP Credits Used - 1 QS (12 Remaining) // 4 TS (6 Remaining)
Total Cost (if not on DDP) - $310.54 + tax



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