Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Summer in the Park

"This is my new all-time favorite thing, ever!" Number One Son was practically bouncing off the walls with excitement as we walked out of the Monster Live Rock and Roll show. We'd fueled up with cheeseburgers and onion rings at Mel's (yes, you do sense a habit here) before going, and all that energy had found its outlet. Who knew eight-year-olds could appreciate Motley Crue (somewhat modified a-la-Monsters, but still)?! Good stuff. The singing and dancing were definitely aided by the on-stage pyro, too.

Little did we know how soon the all-time favorite thing would be updated. Our next stop was the Waterworld show. "Mom, did you SEE that?!" Followed closely by an ongoing interrogation best summed up as "How did they DO that?!" My boys may not be quite old enough to watch the original Waterworld movie just yet, but they definitely enjoyed the action.

Younger Son was not to be deterred or distracted from his favorite show either. It was a long walk past lots of other interesting-looking attractions, but he still managed to lead us to the Sesame Street 4D Movie Magic show without a wrong turn. There was hardly any wait before we were inside, soaking up the air-conditioning. This had to have been at least the third time the boys saw the Sesame Street show. But familiarity in this case just makes it all the more fun. "Here come the bubbles, Mom!" Even simulated cockroach invasions garner only giggles.

The hot afternoon took its toll, but after a short break in the simulated Central Park (which was mostly spent picking up pieces of that big confetti from the 10th Anniversary show--again), we managed to catch two more short performances.

The first was the What's Up street performance, with an actor somehow ("It's magic, Mom!") floating in mid-air with just one hand placed against a wall for support. Other guests took turns getting their photos taken while standing under the actor's legs. I'm sure we weren't the only ones wildly hypothesizing about how he did it, but in any case, it was a good trick.

Then, just around the corner, we came across a Hello Kitty music and dance performance just getting started. The songs weren't familiar, but the cheerful beat soon (predictably enough) had both boys dancing. Younger Son was especially impressed by how fast Hello Kitty and the other dancers managed to change costumes behind hand-held curtains. He even zipped around to the side of the little stage to see whether he could figure out how they did it. His only comment, though, was just an appreciative "They're so fast!"

So, various mysteries remained unsolved on this visit. But I suppose that just means we have a good reason to come back for more--and to see whether we can discover yet another "new all-time favorite thing, ever!"

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Tale of two visits...

First, a few confessions…

I’ve actually been to USJ twice in the past month or so. The first time was just a short, after-school jaunt that was spent almost entirely in the Snoopy indoor play area. Very relaxing—so much so that my inner procrastinator took over and I didn’t get around to writing till now, some four weeks later. Ooops.

But that particular trip was just what the boys and I needed that day. It was a Friday at the end of an especially busy week. We got to the park just two hours before the scheduled close at 6:00 pm, and that turned out to be just the right amount of time to try all the playthings in the Snoopy area, plus make some new Print Club stickers in the adjoining shop. I sense a tradition in the making… Without the stimulus of thrill rides or bright shows or parades, our short visit turned out to be a great way to wind down the week.

We put a lot more energy into our next visit just a week ago. After several tense and helpless weeks watching news of the devastation wreaked by the earthquake and tsunami, we happily got to play host to a cousin of mine who had just begun working as a teacher in Sendai when the disaster struck. She and her school were largely unscathed, thank goodness. After helping with some initial relief efforts, she came out to Kansai for a week’s break before heading back to Sendai to start the new school year.

I had been a little concerned that a visit to a frivolous, noisy park might somehow be inappropriate or unpleasant. Quite the opposite. Our afternoon and evening at USJ turned out to be just the sort of healthy, fun release we all needed.

In spite of our best intentions, we didn’t end up arriving at the park till almost 3:00 pm. Fortunately, though, that meant we got to save on entry fees by using the more affordable twilight pass tickets.

And we’d planned ahead by bringing our souvenir popcorn bucket for a refill. Properly provisioned, we quickly found the site for the afternoon’s big 10th Anniversary show. The singing and dancing were predictably good, but everyone’s favorite was by far the acrobatic display put on by three performers on this three-cage Ferris wheel contraption. With the big wheel turning the whole time, the acrobats leapt in, out, and on top of their cages, jumping rope and looking like they were basically immune to gravity. Very cool. They boys were also really excited by the confetti (giant, floaty pieces of tissue paper and mylar in different shapes) and by colorful beach balls the performers launched out into the audience. No luck snagging one this time, but Rey has sworn to get one of his own on our next visit.

With the help of Express Passes, my cousin and I both got to zip past the waiting crowds and ride the Hollywood Dream: The Ride roller coaster. My hands-down favorite, absolutely. And on busy days the Express Passes are a worthwhile investment.

We finished out our visit with Backdraft and then a walk over to the viewing point at the end of the Jurassic Park ride to watch as the boats splashed down and drenched their riders. Vicarious pleasure, yes, but we were having a difficult time convincing the kids to actually ride the ride. Another thrill to save for another visit.

All in all, another great day at USJ. Stay tuned for updates on whether Rey scores his beach ball, and other fun happenings!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

At Long Last -- My Reporter Debut!

First a busy summer overseas, and then a busier return to work and school--we've had a great year so far, but all that activity has kept me from contributing a proper report till now. So here goes ...

A half-day off for my boys last Friday meant we could splash out with a day at USJ. It just so happened that our nano-vacation coincided with my birthday, so that was even better. We stopped in at Guest Services once we got to the park to pick up a Happy Birthday sticker. It was huge! But having Snoopy on my shoulder all afternoon meant that I got told "Happy Birthday!" more times than in the entire past decade. A little embarrassing, yes. But very cool... especially since I didn't have to actually report my age.

We arrived without having eaten lunch, so once I got that sticker (did I mention that it was huge?) we made a beeline to Mel's Drive-In. The cheeseburgers are pretty massive, so my two sons (ages 4 and 7) split one, and it was still enough to charge them up for an active afternoon. My favorite was the onion rings--only managed to fend off my excited children by saying, "but it's my birthday!" A little guilt won't hurt 'em, right?

Anyway, once we were fueled up and had a potty stop (yay for family-friendly restrooms with seat adapters for child-sized bottoms!), we headed right over to the Land of Oz. There were quite a few people lining up at rides like Jaws and Jurassic Park, but the wait for the Magical Oz-Go-Round was less than 10 minutes. Classic carousels are great fun for little ones, and we had our choice of magical frogs, ostriches, elephants, and more. Smaller son insisted on the safe option of the non-moving, Tin Man-decorated bench, so our ride was very... stately. Still, immediately post-cheeseburger, the Oz-Go-Round was just right.

On the way to find a good place to watch the Parade de Carnival, the boys got to go trick-or-treating. They found three different park staff members holding baskets full of candy, and discovered that by duly saying "trick or treat!" they could score a piece of candy each. Now to get them to remember to say "thank you" once they do...! The trick-or-treating should be on at least till Halloween, though, so I imagine they'll get another chance.

The parade was a definite highlight of our afternoon. There were lots of colorful costumes, and it was fun to try to catch the mardi gras bead necklaces the New Orleans float people were tossing out. No luck this time, but just wait till our next visit!

After the parade we enjoyed a good, long play session in the Snoopy's Sound Stage Adventure play area. This has been a favorite with both boys since they were a lot smaller, and they love to sort of "check in" with familiar attractions. We made a new discovery in the shop just off the play area, too--there are instant picture booths for making stickers! We couldn't resist, and now have our very own USJ Halloween-themed self-adhesive stickers. Very cool...

We took a break outside on a bench overlooking the big lake in the middle, enjoying soft drinks and some popcorn. Even though the Boardwalk Snacks restaurant was closed, we were able to relax on the picnic tables just outside--an unexpectedly quiet place on what was a relatively crowded afternoon.

Recharged enough for a final round of play, we headed over to the Bert & Ernie Prop Shop Game Place to play some carnival-style ball games. We did end up with some "thanks-for-playing" tin Sesame Street character badges (which both boys were delighted with, immediately pinning them on their t-shirts). But to our amazement, one of those silly balls actually stopped where it was supposed to--and we went home with a brand new Elmo toy!

Before heading home we took a little time to peruse the array of Spiderman products in the Amazing Spider-Man Store--and the "amazing" probably refers to how many different kinds of key chains they carry. Truly. Some of our favorites were the flattened snow-globe with a Spider-Man mask inside (yes, really), a Spider-Man head that opens up to release a tiny, dangling Spider-Man body, and a clear Lucite cube with a Spider-Man head inside. I never realized how iconic the Spider-Man image is. Now I do.

That was pretty much all we had energy for this go-round. But we'll be back before too long--for more trick-or-treating, to catch some party beads, to eat ghost-shaped cake, and more...

Till then, Happy Halloween!