We spent the last full day of our vacation at Universal Studios. It was the final park our City Passes allowed us into. I think I last went into the actual park during my freshman year of college. The last time I went to the City Walk was during my senior year for an Incubus concert. I met DJ Kilmore there prior to the concert. Anyway, there were two things I remembered distinctly before arriving at the park today. The first was the T-Rex on the Jurassic Park ride. The second was this:
Having been much younger when I spent any time at theme parks, I never noticed how important the physical layout of these parks are. Disney Land is money. It’s essentially a huge box with everything worth seeing on the walls on the inside of that box. Most theme parks use some variation of this map, but that’s obvious. The real challenge is how to place attractions in the center of the box and still make them accessible from as many angles as possible. Disney Land achieves this with two main techniques: multiple points of access into buildings and dozens of walkways. Sea World boasts the worst park map ever. It isn’t to scale and doesn’t account for all of its paths on the map. It is the only park we had consistent trouble navigating. Universal’s problem is geography. It’s shaped like a T on the side of a hill. What can you do?
Our first stop was Transformers 3D. I think it’s safe to say that Madison’s overcome the fear she displayed on the Bug’s Life ride. Perhaps all she needed to do was understand the concept because she’s loved every single ride since. She gets the 3D glasses and Lynnette has to repeatedly tell her “not yet” because she’s so excited.
Madison wasn’t tall enough to ride The Mummy or Jurassic Park, so we didn’t go to those, but that’s okay because Transformers was probably the best ride of our trip, a sentiment even Lynnette shares. “Mad, it’s going to be dark and loud and there are going to be robots fighting each other,” we told her in an attempt to warn her. She agreed to give it a shot. She loved it. There wasn’t much to not like; the 3D was fantastic, the motion was great, and it actually lasted for a while. My favorite part of the ride came when Optimus Prime and Megatron were beat each other senseless for the billionth time. Madison shouted “WHY ARE THEY DOING THAT?” “Because ‘freedom is the right of all sentient beings,'” I said. I giggled.
The escalators were the longest rides in the park, but prior to that, we endured our longest drive. It wasn’t so much the distance that turned poor Madison’s mind into mush, but the traffic which came with driving into downtown. “Are we there yet?” she asked. “How come there’s so much traffic?” she asked. “Why is it so far from Portola?” she asked. For those of you who are wondering, the correct answers to these questions are “No,” “That’s just how it is,” and “California’s a lot bigger than Oahu.”
We did manage to board the Simpson’s ride, the Shrek show, and the studio tour. It had been so long since I took the studio tour that the only thing I really remembered was the Jaws section of it. I must say, since the last time I took the tour was something like 25 years ago, I appreciate much more now. I’ve watched a lot of movies in that time period and the drive around the outdoor studio sets made me wonder how many times I’ve seen those exact facades while watching my crime dramas. Last night as Lynnette packed away our clothes for our inevitable departure from the needlessly maligned Portola Inn I sat on the bed watching TV. “Whatcha watching?” my beautiful wife asked. “I’m watching Necessary Roughness. I’m looking for the Universal Studios sets.” “Good God,” she said. Honestly, I don’t know if I have a good enough eye to spot them, but I’m going to keep trying.
There’s a lot of renovation going on around Universal Studios and it didn’t seem like there was much to do, really. Since Madison is 5, the highlight for her came in the expansive children’s play area in the middle of the park. The most visible area is a water playground complete with sprinklers, water guns, misters, and huge buckets of water that dump themselves out.
If you will be visiting Universal Studios soon and plan on letting your children play in the water area, here’s a tip: PACK SLIPPERS OR WATER SHOES OR SOMETHING TO THAT EFFECT. It is Universal Studios’ policy that children wear footwear in all three play zones. We packed a swimsuit, a towel, and extra clothes, but assumed she’d be good barefoot. Since we weren’t about to have her soak her light-up Princess shoes, we dished bought her slippers from a kiosk CONVENIENTLY LOCATED RIGHT NEXT TO THE WATER PLAY AREA. I can’t remember the name of the kiosk, it might have had the word “slipper” in it, but it might have also had the word “extortion” in it also.
The second play area is a dry, two-tiered structure that is essentially a bigger version of Thrill It. But this is where I almost had a heart attack.
We let Madison run off into the water playground. After 10 minutes or so, we no longer saw her splashing around. I went to look for her. I did a lap around the playground and did not see her. I walked back within sight of Lynnette and shrugged my shoulders. Now, I knew the likelihood of Madison disappearing was slim, and I tried to keep calm, but there’s a fear and paranoia that arises from two simple factors: you don’t know something you desperately need to know and you can’t do shit about it.
I walked around the set again and did not see her. I saw a series of ramps leading to the indoor playground and walked there. As soon as I entered, she was standing there collecting foam balls to put into the gun. As soon as she saw me, she knew. “What are you doing here?” I said. “I’m sorry, dad, I just wanted to play in here,” she said. “Where are you supposed to be?” I said. “Outside,” she said. “What are you supposed to do if you leave?” I asked. “I’m supposed to ask you and mom.” I must have been saying these things pretty loudly and angrily because I caught a few looks from other children who were nearby. They looked kind of scared for Madison. Good.
When we got back to Lynnette, she made the point better than I had. “How would you feel if you came back here and mommy and daddy were gone?” she asked Madison. “Sad,” she said. I let it go after that. I couldn’t do better. But I understand why my father wanted to kill Matty and I when we interrupted his Little League game because he had to take Matty to the hospital.
Long story short, Matty caught a baseball with his mouth during high school. I drove him to Halawa District Park where my dad was coaching his team. He saw me and knew something was wrong. He was in the third base box when he called time and walked over. I told him what happened. He said “You take him.” “I won’t be able to give them any kind of information,” I said. He growled, then said “You stay here.” And I did. It’s slightly different, but I think what happens is this: If you think your kid’s missing or hurt, this tension starts building. It’s made of fear and uncertainty and doubt and paranoia and it’s all balled up together. The longer the uncertainty lasts, the larger the tension builds. When I found Madison I was happy, but I yelled at her because I had to do something with that tension. The closest cathartic target was the “cause” of the tension. I have a feeling this is the nature of parenthood and will never end.
We unexpectedly added another entry to our Playground Tour. The third and final area was a shaded outdoor playground adjacent to the other two areas. It is easily better than just about any playground on Oahu, and the thing Madison enjoyed the most was the slider that allowed her to kick off from one platform and float to another while holding on to the sliding handle. Madison’s never played on one before, and the only one I’ve seen on Oahu is at Punahou – Madison played on that set when she was 2 or 3 and not strong enough for the slider.
Sometimes, I don’t even know why we bother with the Disney Lands and the Sea Worlds and the Universal Studios. Madison’s favorite attractions are always the areas where she can play and interact rather than sit and react. I’d have to give this playground an A grade because of all the novel components like the slider, the moveable tram in the background behind it, and the cargo net bridge. I swear, I wish Lynnette and I had won the California lottery or something, because the first thing we’d do when we got back to Oahu is open up some kind of Thrill It/indoor playground thing in Kapolei. I don’t know how or why no one’s attempted it.
Finally, we went to CVS last night after dinner (again at Panera Bread, so Lynnette could get her fix. We’re eating at In-N-Out one more time today) and Lynnette was shocked about the cheap price of the children’s Advil. As we stood in line to pay, this is the conversation that transpired:
P: This is dirt-cheap! (points to large Starbucks frap bottle for $1.99)
L: Go look at the milk, I bet it’s super-cheap.
L: I bet the Lactaid is like $1.99.
P: Wait, how much are the… (walks towards cigarette case)
I saw that my cigarettes were $4.60 a pack. I actually let out a Ric Flair “Wooooooo!” when I saw it. I couldn’t believe it. This is why everyone in California smokes; they can still afford to! I wanted to but a pack on principle. But I didn’t. To all my Words With Friends and Candy Crush friends. I’m sorry I’ve been away. I’ll be back soon, after I put the first load of dirty laundry in the washing machine. See you all at home soon!