Trip Report: Orlando, FL & Universal Studios – 2014

Orlando, no doubt the tourist capital of the Sunshine State, home to Walt Disney World, Sea World, and Universal Studios. Also a favorite travel destination of mine, mostly due to the distance and travel time, around 2.5 hours. While I’m not a fan of Sea World (not for popular reasons, I merely prefer a proper aquarium), I love Universal Studios and enjoy Disney World, in small doses. Orlando’s Mall at Millenia and I also go way back, having been a frequent flyer in the Apple Store before Jacksonville’s location opened.hogwarts-hogsmeade

We usually make a pilgrimage to Orlando a few times a year, usually to visit the world class spa at the Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes Orlando, but this time around I was keen on visiting the new Diagon Alley at Universal Orlando’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter. We’ve been to Hogsmeade, and aside from the Butterbeer, it’s kinda meh. As you may know, they took an area of The Lost Continent, Merlinwood, and converted it into phase 1 of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, aka Hogsmeade. I say “meh” because it’s the same Islands of Adventure area with a Harry Potter facelift. Same rides: Dueling Dragons became Dragon Challenge; Flying Unicorn became Flight of the Hippogriff. Color me excited!

Of course, there is Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, a new ride inside Hogwarts castle. Unique in many ways, but I won’t spoil it. We found it to be just “meh”, the screens were dark, things were hard to see, and it was far less thrilling than it should have been. Face it, Revenge of the Mummy is the best coaster at Universal, perhaps a close tie with Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit. Revenge of the Mummy is fast, but not overkill, it’s surprising, thrilling, and most importantly, in my opinion, has an indoor waiting area with A/C. Bonus: The ride is indoors which means it’s also enclosed in sweet, sweet, A/C. As far as I’m concerned, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey should/could have been like this – a proper indoor coaster, perhaps with 3D or 4D elements, if necessary. The ride as is, is underwhelming and you’ll find more of a thrill on Flight of the Hippogriff, sadly.


The Hogwarts Express is, in a word, amazing. Incredibly detailed, authentic, Universal’s team went out of their way to have this magnificent transportation “ride” crafted for them. 6 people per cabin, jfyi. Unless you’re in a big group, you’ll sit with people you don’t know. Which isn’t all bad. HP fans are a talkative bunch and very nice if you engage with them.

The Hogwarts Express ride does have some special features, I won’t spoil them for you, don’t worry. Let’s just say, it’s with the theme of the Gringotts ride. Coming off the train in Diagon Alley, you enter spot-on replica of Kings Cross Station in London, an amazing feat. Of course this is in the Universal Studio park, right next door is MiB and across the water, The Simpsons.

From here, turn right to enter a very non descript hole in the wall (no, not that one, that’s just after the non descript one) and like magic, you’e in Diagon Alley. A gallery is below:


[Best_Wordpress_Gallery id=”13″ gal_title=”Universal New HP Area”]

The new ride, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, is much better than Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey at Hogsmeade. It’s a indoor 4D ride on a motion track. It’s not as intense as Revenge of the Mummy, but it’s similar. No loops or upside downs though. It’s 3D, so you will wear glasses. The waiting area of the ride is also neat, as they have replicated Gringotts inside complete with mechanical goblins. I’d highly recommend riding this a few times!

[Best_Wordpress_Gallery id=”14″ gal_title=”Universal – Grigotts Ride”]

All that glitters is not gold, however. While we were staying at an excellent hotel, The Westin Imagine, we will never stay with the property again. It’s unfortunate, because the hotel comes up often in Priceline’s Name Your Own Price system. What happened? I’m sure you’re probably curious.

On the eve of Monday, September 29th, we left for dinner and I requested with the front desk staff they ask housekeeping come up and change our bed linens. I like to sleep in fresh linens almost nightly, and in a hotel this is easy to do.

When we returned, this had been done, however, the next day was checkout. On gathering our things we noticed 2 items were missing:

  • A bag from the Apple Store with a blue iPhone 6 case inside.
  • A gift bag from the Ritz-Carlton Orlando with a Archipelago Botanicals Havana scent candle inside.
  • Total value of these items pre-tax was $70.00, mind you; not a lot.

At first, I didn’t think much of it, as I believed it may still be in the car. However, This was not the case. Later that day, I realized I didn’t see them on the table as we came back from dinner (after housekeeping had came). I called the hotel and reported the missing items (theft) to their security team who assured me by the next day I’d receive a call from the “Director of Rooms”, we’ll call him Flounder. This didn’t happen…. as predicted I’d have to chase these people down. Fortunately, we were still in Orlando and I was able to reach out to the proper people. Flounder was off on Wednesday so I spoke to the front office manager. Let’s call her Cinnamon. Upon visiting the hotel, I was informed she was in a meeting with the housekeeper who serviced the room on the night in question and would phone me later. She made good on her promise but induced a storm of rage in the process.

Cinnamon informs me she (exact quote):

"doesn't believe the housekeeper stole from us, but doesn't believe I'm lying, so she's in a difficult spot. If she gives me a check for the $70.00 (missing items), it will be like admitting they've done something wrong, which she doesn't believe they have. But if she doesn't give me a check, she's unsure we (the hotel) can retain my business.".

She’s right about that, even with a favorable outcome, any future business between this hotel and me (or anyone I can convince not to stay there due to what happened with me) is lost. I can assure you of that. I pressed her for a solution, which was “we aren’t going to do anything at this time” and informed her I would be turning around and would meet her plus the Orange County Police Department (or City of Orlando Police, whomever has jurisdiction in that area) in the lobby to file a police report, and would follow her all the way thru small claims court. I re-iterated to her it was a blatant violation of my privacy and disrespectful to have such a nonchalant attitude. I implied she could make this go away by just cutting me a check, to which she responded:

"If all you're after is a check, I can give you $70 from petty cash, if you'll come get it today."

As I was already on my way, I agreed to this “resolution”. It’s unfortunate it ended this way. Especially after I arrived at the hotel to pick up $70.00 and Cinnamon didn’t have the nerve to greet me. One of her front desk agents had to deal with it.

As someone who works in Customer Service, Quality Assurance, and as a good person over all, this woman was/is worse than useless, at the very least in regard to the way she assists customers. She never apologized for my situation while we were on the phone, instead she deflected it by stating “their hotel never had a theft” (right, and women don’t fart). Here’s a tip: Giving someone a check for “missing” property isn’t an admission of guilt. It’s a goodwill gesture to apologize to a customer for a bad experience. Ultimately, it’s no different than Chili’s comping your cheesey nachos and chili because it wasn’t any good. It’s “money” in the end, and businesses have realized this goes a long way to customer retention.

On the other side of the coin, not apologizing to customers, being a curt, insensitive creature on the phone, and making it difficult to achieve even an amicable reaction, only coming to a solution when court and the police are threatened is horrible customer service. No customer should endure this.

In their defense, I could understand if someone’s high dollar item went missing, such as a Louis Vuitton bag, laptop, smartphone, etc. It’s logical to have a hotel do a proper investigation to ensure the guest isn’t attempting to scam them. But to fight me and be so rude/condescending and mercurial over $70 is ridiculous.

In the end, I received my money and have passed on feedback similar to the text above this to the hotel manager and Starwood Property management. I haven’t heard back.

Aside from the hotel theft, the trip was a success. We dined at Aashirwad’s, possibly the best Indian restaurant in Orlando, as well as Fogo de Chao, a must if you are a carnivore and don’t mind a bit of a pricey meal. In the theme part, we dined at the Leaky Caluldron, and aside from it’s exorbitant pricing, it’s pretty good. Though do note, the seating is socially oriented. You may sit next to someone you don’t know. If you’re not a social person, beware.