By Ellen Snortland
I am blessed with long-standing friendships from my school days and was overjoyed when one of my besties from high school visited this past week. Genice Winter Rodne lives in South Dakota, where we both hail from, so I wanted to give her a vacation as far removed from the prairies as possible. It would also be a great excuse to revisit some of my favorite places after more than a year of mostly staying home.
Our first stop: dinner at the outdoor terrace restaurant at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. Try the lobster bisque, a truly erotic experience for the palate. The opulence is so not what either of us grew up with.
On Saturday, we drove to Tijuana to have lunch at Los Arcos, my favorite restaurant there. After lunch, we went to Rosarito to shop. It was the nearest town to me when I lived in Mexico for two and a half years. I wanted to see if Rosarito had survived the pandemic. Lots of stores were closed, but many were open, too. All in all, I was encouraged.
We hit Universal Studios on Monday, as it had just reopened a couple of weeks earlier. Genice was excited to go, and I hadn’t been there in years. People were not allowed in unless they could show proof of vaccinations and stay masked. Sounds fair. Even with that and it being a weekday, there were a lot of people! Contrast and compare with the Great Plains: not even close, except perhaps for the Great Pains we would endure.
Things started out well enough: We boarded the studio tram tour after only a 30-minute wait. The tram is always a hoot and a perfect fit for anyone who loves the movies. We were shaken, jolted and splashed. The venerable Animal Actors show is also a guaranteed crowd pleaser. We were part of the socially distanced audience laughing and clapping for the various animals and the super bad jokes.
So far, so good… until we lined up for the “The Simpsons” ride. We were 30 minutes into a 75-minute wait when an announcement said, “We’re having technical difficulties. Feel free to leave the line and follow one of our associates, or stay in line if you’d like.” Being the gamblers we are, Genice and I decided we’d wait it out.
After more time in line, the PA again came on with, “Please leave the line.” Argh! With almost half the day gone, at this point, I’m mentally calculating what our hefty admission fees actually bought us so far: the tram and Animal Actors. That’s a lot of money for two theme park experiences.
Genice and I are mature people and know these are first-world complaints. But now it’s getting hotter, with temps hitting the mid-90s. Genice stands in line to get us some soft drinks and, after more time goes by, discovers she’s in a beer line. The place is totally disorganized, and orders are glacial. Are the employees trainees? Plants for some bizarre sociology experiment? Theme park dissidents? Because our increasingly expensive park time is whizzing by, we opt for the quickest lunch options.
The park has an app that shows wait times, so we chose the newest attraction that also has the shortest wait: “The Secret Life of Pets.” This ride also broke down — twice! And no wonder it had a short wait: It’s so lame it should be called “The Secret Strife of Guests.” After all the C.Y.A. warnings about possible heart attack, motion sickness or epileptic triggers, I would’ve had more excitement if Genice put me in a grocery cart at Ralph’s and pushed me around while yelling, “Here we come!”
With time running low, we found the recently built Harry Potter area and were awestruck by the grandeur of Hogwarts Castle, which is masterfully spooky both inside and out. We decided to try and get on the “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey” ride. We couldn’t believe our luck: We actually walked right in and got on! The ride itself was exhilarating — a perfect blend of fantasy and adventure and worth the price of admission.
After we exited, Genice and I looked at each other. “Again?” “Yes!”
Here’s a tip: If it’s a scorching day and you are prone to heat-related illness, which I am, don’t go on a ride that throws you around a lot, or you may be throwing something back. At the very end of the second go-around, I had my own Expelliarmus moment as my lunch explosively flew out of me — and it was not pretty. I was mortified, but the staff assured me it happens all the time. In fact, they took me to a private room and provided me with complimentary shorts, a T-shirt and flip-flops. Well done, Universal Studios, well done — you have redeemed yourself.
And that, my friends, was Ellen and Genice’s Excellent Adventure. We’ll be reminiscing about it for years to come.
Ellen Snortland has written “Consider This…” for a heckuva long time, and she also coaches first-time book authors! Contact her at email@example.com.