The Universe Is Yours

I’ve discovered the secret to visiting the Orlando theme parks.

Sure, there are dozens of on-line forums about how to get the most from your stay and even dozens of books written on the subject. Yet while these resources contain useful information and tips for the first time Floridagoer, they are essentially misleading.

My discovery is not merely anecdotal but is based on hours of vigorous research. I’ll let you in on it, even though I could make turn a profit with the information because it would save families thousands of dollars and unnecessary hassle. But I will share it with you, right now, for free.

The trick to visiting the major theme parks?

Go by yourself.

I went alone to Universal Studios this week. I happened to be in the area for a conference and with an extra-half day, thought I’d go have some fun.

But in the process, I learned something: Alone is the way to go! Only $47.50 for a late day convention pass, you can eat for under $10 a meal, and you can go wherever you want! Forget trying to please a crowd of stubborn three-foot-tall people pulling toward rides in different directions. Forget needing to save up a few thousand just to cover entrance fees and a special stay on Disney property. Forget being told by your kids, “But I need the $7.99 Sponge Bob day-glow souvenir cup!”

A simple solution: Just go by yourself!

I wandered around Universal Studios blindly because I never asked for a map at the entrance (they don’t hand them out like candy anymore—trying to save palm trees). I knew I wanted to go see the Jaws attraction, because someone told me in 1990 that it was awesome, that you really felt like a great white was going to get you, and for 19 years I have wondered exactly how that could be.

But the first ride I came to was “Twister.” Love that movie! The park attendant out in front asked me, as I was heading for a line, “Are you single?”

Are you kidding? Was this pimply-faced royal blue shirted millennial really asking me out?

“Divorced,” I said, pushing past him.

He smiled after me. “This is a special singles-only line,” he said, pointing to the middle lane. “Shorter wait time.”

Seriously? The theme parks feel so compassionate for loners that they give us our own little lane?

In fact, every ride had a line for “Singles Only.” No more paying for an Express pass. No more hour-long waits stuck with the other regular peons in a winding chain maze. You can go in your own line, almost no wait, and march past the most smug Express pass holders. With the special single lane, my wait for each ride was approximately 1.2 minutes.

Sure, you have to squeeze under a pull-down bar in a car with complete strangers. But you can go on approximately 462% more rides this way!

I must note that I did not intentionally leave my son at home. (Although he loves the Simpsons, Ouch, and Jaws, Ouch again, and he’d have loved the ride where get to star in your own disastrous movie.) And I experienced the few moments of how-could-you-do-this-without-your-kid guilt. Rubbed a little pretzel salt in the wound when I saw Scooby-Doo and Shaggy getting their picture taken with another 11-year-old boy whose parents weren’t so selfish.

But then I thought, “Aren’t there PG-13 movies that I watch first to make sure they are appropriate for him?” “Don’t I check out songs he want to order on itunes to make sure the lyrics are okay before I let him buy them?”

I’m just checking things out, I reassured myself, to make sure that that Universal is worth investing an entire day of his school vacation week. Who knows? He might prefer Sea World, or Epcot, or the Everglades Alligator Farm. This park could be too babyish—they have that whole Woody Woodpecker KidZone section, and the dancing Dora the Explorer would most definitely make him roll his eyes.

My favorite attraction was Revenge of the Mummy (would have been his, too—oops!). It was a roller coaster, emblazoned with serious warnings: Bodies of certain dimensions might not fit in the cars; please try our sample car here. No pregnant women, no people with heart ailments. No people with Medical Sensitivity to Strobe Lights or Medical Sensitivity to Fog Effects.

Thank God, I don’t have MSSL or MSFE. A growing percentage of the population is developing these disorders because of parents taking their children to overstimulating theme parks. This topic, in fact, is a 2011 conference focus of the American Pediatrics Association.

But I went on Revenge of the Mummy twice anyway.

I also enjoyed Men in Black—an extra fun ride, due to plastic laser guns for shooting aliens. My car became “Galactic Defenders” because we broke 250,000 points in alien deaths.

Of course, our score was mostly due to the kid in the car, who racked up 149,524 of those points and put his mother and me to shame. But even his mother found some kind of mysterious bonus alien hiding in the fog that earned her an extra 17,000 points.

The best part was Will Smith’s parting words at the end of the ride: 

“Are we alone? Of course we are. The universe is yours.”