Friday, September 5th, 2008

After the long day of sightseeing the day before, pulling myself out of bed wasn't easy, but I knew that Universal Studios was on the plan, so I managed to get myself up. After showering, I finished up the last of the spaghetti and the Fruity Paradise (I didn't finish the Fruity Soda...it was some weird grape taste). We were out fairly quickly since we wanted to get a good jump on the park.

We took the train from Shinsaibashi up to Umeda station, then transferred to the JR Yumesaki line to the Universal City exit. We had to wait through a couple of trains in Umeda since not every JR Yumesaki train stops at Universal City. But it was pretty obvious which one was going to Universal City since that is the one that the entire platform of people got onto. Much the same, when we arrived, the entire train emptied out at the Universal City station, so we didn't have to watch too closely to make sure we caught our stop.

You arrive at this park much like you do in the US parks, at the far end of CityWalk away from the actual park entrance. From just looking at Citywalk, it looked a lot like the Hollywood park, only, y'know, more Japanese hehe. The stores were all completely different, and included numerous Takoyaki restaurants, which I deftly avoided like the plague!


Kevin poses with the Takoyaki man

They even had the King Kong hanging off the side of the building like in Hollywood, except it is on the opposite side of the street in Japan.


I'm as happy as a jester pumpkin to be at Universal Osaka!


Universal Studios #3 for me...that's every one in the world (so far!)

When we made it up to the ticket booths, they were mobbed! We knew that this didn't bode well for the state of the park, but this was the only day we could go, and we knew it would be fun even if we didn't get to ride all the rides we wanted. The wait to get tickets only took a little over 15 minutes, but it felt like an eternity! This was the most expensive park of the trip, outdoing Disney by a long shot!

When we got inside the park, it didn't seem to be too crowded at first glance.

This park has a covered main street much like Parque Espana and Tokyo Disneyland, and taking a right off this street leads you to the area with Hollywood Dream. When we passed, Hollywood Dream was listed as a 75 minute wait...eek! So we decided to pass on it for a while and go on to something else. As we went over towards the Snoopy Studios, we passed a tip board, and every ride was clocking in with huge waits! It looked pretty daunting! So we pulled out the park map and flipped to the Express Pass information page. They had three different Express Passes, and each included different ride options. Considering the lines in the park, and the fact that we had no clue when the next time was that we'd be visiting, we decided to go ahead and get the set of 7 Express Passes. That is a decision I would NEVER make in the US since I can go to those parks (relatively) any time I want. But hey, we were in Japan! Bring on the Express Passes!

We backtracked our steps up to the Studio Store and found the register where you buy the passes. It was a very quick process of getting them, and we each walked away with a small booklet with seven tickets, each one for a different ride. The cost was $37 I believe, which again, I would never spend in the US, but didn't mind spending in Japan.

With our booklets in hand, we promptly went to Hollywood Dream for a ride.


On the way, we spot an employee drawing characters with a water sprayer! Cool!

When we approached Hollywood Dream, they had us put everything of ours into a locker since you aren't supposed to have stuff in your pockets when you ride. Luckily I still had on my money belt (which I wore every day of the trip) so I had a place to stash my Express Pass booklet while on the ride. All we did was tear out the little ticket that said Hollywood Dream, Shrek 4D or Sesame Street 4D, handed it to the ride op, and we walked past almost two hours worth of line! We had almost no wait for the ride, which almost made the $37 seem worth it right there! The ride was really nice...not insanely thrilling, but a very solid, fun ride. Kevin made me laugh when we were boarding and he said that he didn't like the clamshell restraints on B&M hypercoasters. If it was up to me, every coaster would have clamshell restraints! I love them because they don't feel restraining at all, which is exactly the reason he gave for not liking them!

When our ride was done, we retrieved our bags and headed over to Snoopy Studios, which was by far my favorite part of this park!

I love...LOVE...Snoopy, and I thought everything about this pavilion was so adorable! My "awwwww" reflex really got a workout! The first thing we did was catch our Snoopy's Great Race credit.

This was probably the best themed roller skater I've ever seen. It had a Charlie Brown snowman and a big TV camera that turns as your train passes it, and it had light and sound effects as you passed certain spots. So adorable! I also thought the restraint was ingenious. It was a lap bar with a large pad on it to restrain small kids, but the lap bar didn't go straight through the middle of the pad. It went through on the edge, so you can roll the pad downward to fit snug on a little kid, or roll it up above the bar for an adult to fit. Seemed like a much more secure option for a coaster like this.

After the coaster, we started to wander through the rest of the sets.


I finally get the psychiatric help I need from Lucy


Me with the Peanuts gang


Good grief! It's almost noon!

They were so cute...but everything Peanuts is cute in my opinion! We found Charlie Brown with his kite getting eaten by the kite eating tree. We found a schoolroom where you could stand behind the teacher's desk, and a desk full of the kidís science projects. There were also lots of speech bubbles you could stand under to make it look like you were saying stuff like "Good grief, it's almost noon!" Luckily they were all in English, though I must admit that it would be pretty funny to have a photo of me with a kanji speech bubble coming out of my mouth! It was all just so cute!

When we were done ohhhing and ahhhing over all the adorableness inside Snoopy Studios, we went into the neighboring Land of Oz.

This was another really cute, very well done land, though it didn't inspire quite as many awwws as Snoopy Studios did.

The first place we stopped was at the Oz-go-round, but we didn't get to ride because the ride broke down right as it was our turn to board. The ride op started talking to everyone and making an X with her arms, then everyone started to turn around and walk away, so we got the picture!

We had planned on riding some more rides before seeing any of the shows, but Wicked was right next door and starting in just a few minutes, so we decided to go ahead and stop since this was a "must see" on both of our lists (but more so on Kevin's than mine!).


Kevin says "Wicked?? In a theme park?? I've gotta see this!

On our way in, it was swelteringly hot, so I stopped the employee at the entrance, motioned at the drink machine then as if I was walking inside, as if to ask if I could bring the drink in. She said yes, so I went and grabbed a Coke before we went in.

It was HOT inside the theater since it was open on the sides, so the Coke was a great relief. I also had my little fan from Harajuku Daiso the previous week, so that helped too. The show was great, and seemed very well done and well acted. I couldn't follow all of the storyline, but Kevin filled in the blanks for me since he knew the story ahead of time. The girl who played Elphaba didn't appear to be Japanese, and she sang the English parts without an accent, but we couldn't tell if she was American/Canadian/English whatever. The show was just a lot of fun, and sort of made me want to see the Broadway version.

When Wicked was over, we left the Land of Oz and went to catch a ride on the E.T. Adventure. Thanks to our Express Passes, we bypassed the entire line and walked straight up to the preshow loading area. After the preshow (where Steven Spielberg was speaking Japanese haha) we got to bypass the entire interior line as well and went almost straight up to the loading area. This ride is very similar to the Florida version, but not exactly the same. The same characters are there though, and the feel is the same. We were both surprised when E.T. said our names at the end since they were English names! I really enjoy this ride, no matter what language E.T. speaks hehe


Kevin tries to phone home. Unfortunately, he can't figure out the international calling codes or how to use the Japanese phone!

After E.T. Adventure, it was almost time for Fantastic World, which seemed to be a show that took place right on the sidewalk in front of E.T. Adventure. We didn't have to wait very long for it to start, and we got great standing room spots under the awning of the E.T. gift shop, to the left of the stage. The show was ok, but was very much not the kind of show I care to watch. I can't give it more than "ok" though. I thought the best part was watching this one western dude who was on the end of the stage near us.

He was doing everything so half-heartedly that it was funny, and he really seemed like he didn't want to be there! So I ended up watching him for most of the show. I thought it was funny when he started his ribbon flyer routine and was acting all smug and confident, only to fall and bust his butt, and have to stand there rubbing his thigh for the rest of the ribbon flying segment! hahaha Thanks to him, it made the show interesting! Otherwise, I'd have probably snuck inside the giftshop for some shopping.

After the show, we went into said gift shop and did a little browsing. Neither of us got anything, but we did manage to take the time to take a few silly hat photos. When we were done there, we moved along and decided to ride Spiderman since it was nearby.

Again, we used our Express Pass and bypassed the entire line, and basically walked right into our SCOOP. This ride is exactly the same as in the US, except for the language.

We were starting to get hungry, so we wandered around a little bit more and decided to stop in a pizza place for lunch. They had a cute "monster's eye carbonara" on the menu, but it had some type of mystery meat in it, so I passed!

Kevin and I both got one slice of pizza and a drink, and it cost nearly $10 each!! And just to kick us while we were down, Universal decided to make this pizza on the thinnest crust I've ever had! So it's not even like it was filling you up with bread. It was like pizza on a cracker. I commented that this was like Six Flags pricing, but I think it's even worse than that!

After lunch, we wandered over to Terminator II 3D. There was no real line, so we decided to go into the normal entrance and save our Terminator Express Passes as souvenirs. The show was just like in the US, including the obnoxious chick in the preshow. And she did seem just as obnoxious, only in Japanese hehe The show proceeded as normal until the very end, when the lights came on and the doors didn't open. The ride op was spieling something in Japanese, and all the other people in the theater were just sitting there. We had no clue what was going on, so we just sat there too. The first thing we thought of was that maybe there was an earthquake or a tornado warning and that we needed to stay inside.

So we sat, and we sat, and we sat, and the employees just kept spieling and spieling in Japanese. At one point, they even started bring people from outside into the theater, which confused us even more. Finally we managed to find an employee who spoke enough English to muster the word "thunder" and make a raining motion with her hands. We assumed it must have been really bad outside, but then wondered why some people were being let out of the back of the theater, but everyone else was just sitting there. Finally after 45 minutes of sitting in the T2 theater, we decided, to heck with it, lets go and just walk in the storm if we have to. But when we got outside, it was barely raining!! What's up with that? Terminator is a ride that should be eating up the crowds when it rains, not a ride that gets shut down!

Once we were outside, Kevin bought another umbrella (souvenir umbrella #2 from the trip!) in a nearby gift shop and we headed out. As we walked, we realized that EVERYTHING in the park was closed! We passed a tip board at one point, and everything was listed as closed, including rides like Back to the Future and Backdraft, which are completely enclosed and perfectly able to operate in the rain!

More than that, there were employees all over the place, yelling something I couldn't understand which seemed to equate to "Stay on the sidewalks!" Any time people started to walk in the streets, they'd be yelled at and (presumably) be told to get back up onto the sidewalk. It was very strange, especially considering that there was nothing slick at all about the sidewalks!

I mentioned that I'd like another bite to eat, and that some ice cream would be nice. We spotted a place in Amityville that served ice cream, but when we arrived it was closed, despite being well within its operating hours. Come to find out, all the restaurants were closed too!! WTF!! What park closes restaurants in the rain! That would seem like the best time to have them open since you'd have a captive, hungry audience that's not able to ride the rides! I truly don't understand at all why you would close all the restaurants.


Kevin thinks "Well, at least the 'Take a photo with the Gorton's Fisherman' attraction is open in the rain!"

After wandering around a little more and taking some photos, we decided that since the skies were starting to clear, we would just wait at the entrance to Jaws until it opened. We didn't end up waiting long at all before they opened up the queue. We used our Express Pass just because we had it (not because we needed it, really) and didn't have to wait at all for our boat. The show is almost exactly the same as the US version, including the boathouse, the fuel barge and the electrical barge. It was funny to see it all in Japanese though!

Leaving Jaws, we quickly made our way over to Jurassic Park. Again, we used our Express Passes, which cut the wait down to almost nothing. I'm not a big fan of this style of drop ride since it just feels too close to freefall to me, but I decided to give it a go since I had the Express Pass for it. The ride is pretty much like I remember the one in the US to be, though I haven't ridden it in years, and my memory of it may be foggy. The drop was still uncomfortable to me, but I survived! When we were done, we perused the gift shop a bit, then decided to go see/ride Backdraft.

Backdraft in Hollywood was ok, but not one of the better rides/shows Universal has, I think. It's not on par with something like Jaws, though I guess it's ok for what it is. Kevin had never seen it, so I didn't want to make it seem worse than it is. I think part of what I don't care for is the two preshows...this just seems to make the whole thing drag, much like Earthquake. The show itself isn't bad, but seems anticlimactic since it's all just fire.

After Backdraft, we decided to see if we could find any food places that were open now that the rain had stopped. The first place we found was a waffle shop, and it smelled heavenly so we stopped there. There was a long line, but it moved quickly since there were only four menu choices.

Kevin and I both got chocolate covered waffles, then took them outside to eat at a table. Kevin was done before we even sat down! But I took a few more minutes to rest and enjoy my waffle. It was great, and hit the spot perfectly.

When I was done with my waffle, we went almost directly next door to ride Back to the Future. I really don't like this ride, and even passed on riding the one in Hollywood since rides like that tend to make me motion sick. But given the fact that I was in Japan, and that I had spent $37 for the Express Passes, I decided to give it a go. We got to bypass a lot of the line, though we did still have one switchback to wait in before we got inside the building. Then, of course, you have the preshow in the big room with all the lanes, then the preshow in the tiny little claustrophobia room with only the 6 or 8 people in your vehicle. The show was exactly the same as in the US, but was dubbed into Japanese. Which of course meant that I didn't like it all that much, and had to close my eyes by the time we got to the dinosaur part so I wouldn't get motion sick. They had a LOT more fog in this version than in the US...so much in fact that the room was completely whited out and the fog was choking us at a couple of points. Thankfully I was able to keep from getting motion sick, else the night would have been shot.

It was getting dusky as we left, and we'd done almost everything that we'd wanted to do in the park. The last thing on the agenda was the Sesame Street 3D movie, so we walked up toward the front of the park. On the way, we passed a Blues Brothers show, which included two African-Americans in the show...a very rare sight in Japan! hahaha They were all great though! When we arrived at the Sesame Street theater, Kevin decided to get some caramel popcorn.


Kevin is super excited about his caramel corn!

I took some photos while he bought the popcorn, then we went inside (with his popcorn...because Japanese people are courteous enough to not dump their popcorn everywhere, so they have the privilege of taking popcorn into shows).

The Sesame Street show is in the same theater as the Shrek 4D movie, which means Shrek 4D plays in the morning, and Sesame Street plays in the afternoons. Truth be told, I don't really remember much at all about the show except that it only used the 4D effects a few times, and only moved the seats once. It was ok for a Sesame Street show I guess hehe When we left, it dumped us into a gift shop via a few street sets from Sesame Street. They were so cute! And you could get close enough to look like you were standing next to the stoop the characters sit on...

...and in front of Hooper's Store. It was adorable, and we both lingered until an employee came and shooed us off so they could empty the next show.

After browsing some of the merchandise in the Sesame Street/Shrek gift shop, we decided that we were done with the park, and that we should grab some dinner somewhere in CityWalk. We walked through the Studio Store one last time, but neither of us found anything we particularly wanted to spend money on. Emerging out into CityWalk, one of the first places we spotted was the Hard Rock Cafe. Kevin suggested having dinner there, and I agreed since we both said that we were pretty much over the novelty of eating Japanese food in Japan.

There was a wait to get in, but I don't think it was more than about 10 minutes long. We were seated in a window seat that faced out the front of the building towards some escalators that we'd taken upstairs to reach the Hard Rock Cafe entrance. The menu seemed fairly standard for Hard Rock Cafe...lots of burgers, salads and stuff you would find anywhere, plus a Japanese menu. Kevin and I both ended up ordering burgers that clocked in at a whopping $20 each!!! But my burger had to be one of the better burgers I've eaten!

It had spinach artichoke dip and salsa on it, and it was incredible! The burger was enormous, but it was so good that I ate every bite! It was one of only a few times during the trip when I felt truly stuffed to the gills, and I didn't even finish the fries! Mmm, it was so good, and tasted like home!

When we left Hard Rock Cafe, we decided to stop for some ice cream (I know, piggish! But I'd been wanting ice cream all day!) I got a chocolate cone, and we continued walking, looking at the stores. On the way in, I had spotted a store that was entire comprised of capsule vending machines, so I HAD to stop there!

The store was so awesome...just rows and rows and rows of vending machines, all selling all kinds of little random junk! I only ended up buying two items...one was a keychain that plays the JR Yamanote line train jingle from Tokyo station, and the other is, get this, a miniature version of a capsule machine! I could have bought a ton more stuff, but all I had left on me was a 10,000yen note ($100 bill, basically) and the place didn't have a counter where I could break it into smaller bills and coins.

When I was done in the capsule store, we decided to go ahead and head back to the hotel. It was easy to find our way back, and once we got to Shinsaibashi station, I mused about how difficult it was for us to find our way out of the station the first time we were there, and that now it was old hat and we didn't even have to pay attention to get to the correct exit! Funny how you can become to accustom to a place in only three days! When we got back to the hotel, we decided to do one more load of laundry so everything we had would be clean when we arrived in Kyoto. I checked my email while I waited for the laundry, and tried a Match Match soda. It was kind of like a lemon flavor, but not quite as good or as lemony as Lemon Fanta.


"Hey Kev, wanna be photo #1500 of the trip?"

When laundry was done and folded, I headed back upstairs to catch some Zs.

Go to Day 10 - Kyoto, Sanjusangendo Hall, Kiyomizu Temple, Gion Corner
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