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Day 20 to 25 Florida 2017

Well the weekend just happened, and the rain came down. It waited until midday, when everyone had trusted the sun and wore next to nothing to take up their days activity, be it golf, theme park, shopping. Then 2pm. Boom! The heavens opened, and down came the rain. Rain like I’ve never seen in June. If i check my blogs from last year, which was about this time to the day, its sunny, I’m saying how warm it is, and having to cover up, but this year, well this week, its all a bit cloudy. It’s still 92*, but its cloudy.

My clinical mind says that the rain is not simply a coincidence, its not down to El Niño, nor the fact that its hurricane season. This is the universe punishing the theme parks in this area for the astronomical price increases over the last few years. Have you been here recently? Have you been here in the last 25 years? Read on….

Years ago, the crowds were drawn to the greater Orlando area due to the theme parks. People came to see Mickey Mouse at Disney, and use any one of the parks available then. There was Disney World, Universal Studios, Sea World and Gatorland. Attendance at these parks was anything between $15 and $19, and parking was free. People flew from all over the world to see the attractions on show. I’ll give you an example of stuff available, 20 years ago, and I’ll use Universal Studios.

Parking was free, in a massive multi story car park. The sections were divided into characters from films: Jaws, King Kong, you get the idea. You knew where you parked, because ET was plastered everywhere. You walked to the park entrance, went to a ticket booth and paid your $25 entrance fee (or $15 for kids) and in you went. The rides available were all positioned around a lake, that every few hours had a Miami Vice style boat chase with explosions. There were shows available, and when you entered the park, you had a timetable of when they were showing, so you could time your day and not miss a thing. What rides were there? Well, ET, Jaws, King Kong, Blues Brothers Review, Earthquake, Back Lot Tour, Terminator 3D, Back to the Future and a Monster Make up Show. These were later joined by Men in Black and Twister. The prices started to rise, and over the years, so did the parking charge. $5, $10, up it went. So did the price of your admission, and the way you entered the park. No longer did you park and walk, you now parked and took a moving walkway to the City Walks, which is a shopping and restaurant extravaganza designed to help you spend money. Not only that, but over the years many companies have jumped on this bandwagon, and put their mark on City Walks. Hard Rock have a concert venue, NASCAR and NBA have restaurants, Jimmy Buffett (had a minor hit once in the 70’s) has an alcohol themed place, and even our favourite Forrest Gump has a place. Once into City Walks, you choose left or right. Right takes you to Universal Studios, left now takes you to Universal Islands of Adventure, which, when opened 20 odd years ago, had the roller coaster type rides like Dr Dooms Fear Fall, Spiderman, The Hulk, Jurassic Park, Dudley DoRight Falls, and Cat in the Hat. Oh the choice! Not only that, but Universal introduced a multi park ticket, so you could have one day at one park, and the second day at the other for half the price. In fact, less than half the price! Wow! What value…..Now, lets fast forward to today….

You park in the same car park, still at ET, but now it costs you $20, unless you want to use preferred parking at $40 (this gets you 100 yards closer to the entrance). You access City Walks via the same walkway, and walk past the same restaurants you did 20 years ago. You then choose the park you want to visit. Only this time its going to cost you $138 per person. EACH!!!! I know what you’re thinking, entertainment and ride development, its not cheap, and the updates they have to make must cost money. Yes, you’re right, so lets pop inside and see what’s changed. ET is still there, King Kong has gone, and come back. Terminator is still there, the Blues Brothers still do their show, and Back to the Future, which was a moving car in front of a screen type ride, has been replaced by The Simpsons, which is a moving car in front of the same screen type ride. They’ve added Transformers, which is a carbon copy of Spiderman, and announced the soon to be opened “Jimmy Fallon” ride. Yes, i know.

Now, lets do the sums, or as the Americans say, the Math. The car park, which is bigger than any other car park in America, can host 23,000 cars, so, at capacity, and at a minimum of $20 a car (or $30 for SUV’s and Campers) and not counting Preferred parking, that’s half a million dollars a day. A car park makes in a day more than you and me will in 10 years plus. Just to make you feel even better, that same lump of concrete makes a staggering $168 million a year. Now through City Walks and into a park. Now, on average 22,500 visit either park every day, that’s 8.3 million visitors a year, per park. Each paying an entry fee. Wait for it….that’s $1.14 billion a year! And still they put the price up year on year. “But surely Glyn, we must see the benefits of this price hike?”. Well, upon entry you can still ride ET, Terminator 3D, the Blues Brothers still potter around, and despite closing King Kong down, they’ve brung it back. (To not-so-good reviews). There’s a Rock n Roller Coaster (over 10 years old now) and Jaws has gone. Oh, Men in Black is still there……where has my money gone Universal? And why do you still insist on rising the cost of parking? It’s the same car park you built 20 years ago, the same one that has been paid for now over 5000 times, the same car park that nets Steven Spielberg a staggering $40 million a year, thanks to a lucrative deal. And yet you ask them why, as I’ve done, and you get the “Running costs” “Research and Development” style answers, and not really an answer. And when you complain, and insist on a refund, as I’ve done, you get “How dare you criticise our park, we get 8.3 million visitors a year”. Well, I’ll answer that. People don’t complain. A lot of visitors are first time visitors, and haven’t seen the lack of development over the years, haven’t witnessed the price increases imposed, and have saved for years to go there, so, they’re going to make the most of it. No one says “ET….well its a nice ride but the film was 40 years ago” “Men in Black was a shit film, so why keep that ride and get rid of Jaws?” and “I’m not from America, who is Jimmy Fallon?”. They just get on with it, and tut occasionally.

I realise this blog has been a rant on behalf of the Talbie party, but why do we put up with it? I’m appealing to everyone to email Universal complaining about their lack of consideration for their customers. Let’s see what happens. Tell it like it is, tell them you want a refund. (Just to let you into a little secret, after three emails and a call from customer services, i did manage to get free tickets for the family, simply by saying “its not good enough”).

Oh, and one more thing, back to driving. A bit of rain brought the I4 to a standstill. From Universal back to Champions Gate, a 25 minute journey on a normal day, took forever. All because of rain. It’s not like it was a surprise. It’s rain, and were in Florida. Still, undeterred, and here’s a tip, avoid the queue on the I4. Take the airport toll road to I-Drive. Pop down past Sea World, and to the 535, then go into the Disney Parks. Follow signs for the 192, and out you go! Avoids the I4, avoids the jam, and no tolls paid. Took 3 hours, but at least we were moving…..

…And one last thing. If anyone indicates in a car in Orlando, it doesn’t mean “I’m moving over into your lane if that’s OK”. It means “I’m cutting in front of you, and I’m doing it now whether its safe to do so or not. Fuck you”. If you get a flash of headlights, or are let out of a junction, its usually from a fellow Brit, and never from a native. NEVER! And if you get a wave, it wont be a wave of thanks, it’ll be someone waving a gun, saying “I’ll fucking shoot you and your family if you dare question my driving ability”.

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