Sunday, March 2, 2014

Universal incident

I have been asked by many people exactly what happened at Universal Studios March 1st. Some people just seem to want to know the details while others accused me of being unreasonable for my anger and disdain for the situation. I will admit in the heat of it I got worked up (as do many people) but now I've had a chance to decompress and analyze the situation I do feel Universal generally responded promptly to the situation but largely neglected the people affected.

But I will give you an unbiased play by play of my experience as close to the actual times each event happened so as to give you the clearest picture of what transpired. I cannot account for other people’s experience nor can I account for things I did not see. I can only account for what I heard and saw. At the conclusion you can make your own decision on what happened.

So March 1st we decided to take my 18 week old daughter to Mardi Gras for her second trip. Her first trip she slept through the entire parade so we wanted to give it another go.  Well this time went well and she really enjoyed it. We promptly followed the King Gator float out like we always do and made our way back to the garage.  We snapped a few cute pictures of my daughter holding a strand of beads she held all the way there.

We arrived at the 4th level Kong parking at roughly 8:00 PM. This was determined based on a post my wife made to Facebook. There was one parking attendant standing on row 411 that we really didn't notice until he spoke to us.

“Excuse me folks, we've had a medical emergency in the garage and we ask that you kindly wait by the wall until the matter is cleared. It shouldn't take long.” He stated. I glanced over in the direction of our car and saw police tap. I immediately thought that was a falsity as there were no medical vehicles and, at the time, I saw no police or anyone beyond the tape.

 As he was explaining the situation, another family came up. They heard what he said. They inquired if they could go to their car as it was before the tape. He agreed and they went to their car and left.  We asked if we could look and see if our car was before the tape and he agreed so long as we didn't pass the tape and we came right back if it was beyond the tape. We agreed and went down the row pressing are lock button so the car would sound.

As we walked someone appeared at the tape looking like they were ready to dissuade us. As the car did not sound we turned around and headed back to wait by the concrete wall at the front of the parking lot. There we sat. My wife posted her post regarding her displeasure in being detained at 8:16 PM.

We sat for a good long while, alternating between entertaining our daughter, feeding her and carrying her around to keep her from fussing.  By 8:54 PM she was asleep (based on a picture we took of her) and around 20 families had joined, multiple police officers moving about, and some men in vans that said health services. No one other than the original parking attendant has addressed the crowd. People who were not behind the tape were allowed to leave.

We spoke with a few of the other guests to past the time found that one family was from the UK and were in the same boat as us (with a small child). In fact there were multiple children, toddlers, and infants in the growing crowd.  Many people were getting restless. We heard various emergency vehicles passing on the street (police, ambulance, and fire trucks) but all we saw were the police and health services.

At 9:31 PM I snapped a picture of all the police, health services, and universal employees standing there at the behest of a Facebook friend. This was the point when 6 or 7 firemen showed up with axes and slowly made their way towards the general direction of our cars. People were very agitated at this point. This included me. For us, it was 1.5 hours without any direction sitting on the uncomfortable cold concrete.

At roughly 9:40 PM we were told to evacuate the 4th floor and move to the rotunda by a lady who was a representative of Universal. Many people confronted her on what was going on.  She attempted to smooth feathers and advised that they were in safe mode and the safest thing was for people to do as she requested. At this point I told my wife that I believed it was a snow job and that they were sending us there to forget about us.

We moved towards the elevators and sat there waiting for them to come up. We were then yelled at by one of the health services people to go downstairs. I yelled back we were waiting for the elevator (we had a stroller). The health services representative then stated the elevators and escalators were offline. We struggled down the escalator with the stroller and the baby. I noticed a woman in a wheelchair and wondered how she would get down.

We found a bench and sat. At 9:51 PM, through several friends on FB, I found out that the bomb squad, hazmat, and swat were on the scene. I also heard a suspicious device was found in a suspect vehicle on the fourth floor. I was also told the vehicle was painted with various “911 graffiti” and emitting “nauseous smells” that knocked out a Universal attendant.  I was told this info came from police chatter, the news, and personal witness.

We sat and waited for some kind of statement or direction and searched the web for info. I also went around and told other detainees what I had heard. They were thankful as no one had heard anything official.
At 10:01 PM I was told by someone that the van owner was taken into custody.

At 10:38 PM I was told that Universal was paying for cab rides home. But I hadn't heard anything and honestly it was not really a valid option. I live roughly an hour away and have to have a infant car seat.

At 10:41 PM I took a picture of some of the waiting people, again at the behest of a FB friend.

At this point, I decided to look for some answers because, as I had thought previously, no one had addressed the situation. I went to the wheel chair rental and found the attendants in a heated argument with a lady who had a crying child. She was demanding answers and a room as she and her family were cold and tired. The attendant was on the phone with someone as he was talking to her and I heard him state that he didn't know what was going on but that she should make other arrangements to get home. She was furious and demanded a manager. I walked off as I clearly wasn't going to get an answer at that time. I went in search of some answers elsewhere while I kept my baby entertained. I shared the news I had heard with more detainees until I found a Universal security guard. I asked him when would we be addressed and he stated that it would not be long, that the issue will soon be resolved, and that they will go around to the guests and let them know when they are free to go.

I went back to the wheel chair rental spot and found that the manager had arrived. He did not have answers.  In fact I told him what I knew and he had no idea. Disgusted at the lack of organization and that no one seems to have any answers, I made my way back to my wife an informed her we should just call her parents (who live over an hour away but have an infant car seat).

My wife tried one last time at about 10:45 PM to ask some police officers what we should do. They stated they didn't know if the device was biological yet and it could take a long time. He advised to find another way home.  My wife asked when we would be OK to get the car. He told her to watch the news.

At this point, we headed to guest services to see what they could do if anything. At 10:52 PM  I was advised that guest service managers were down by the taxi pickup addressing people on a case by case basis. We headed their only to find a massive line of over 100 people who were very angry. I attempted to talk to the Universal personnel at the head of the line just to find out what I needed to do and I was yelled at by some very angry detainees to get in line. The universal employee was overwhelmed and just advised me to get in the line. I then took a picture of the line at 11:05 PM.

My wife and I stood there flabbergasted as to what to do. We decided that Universal wasn't going to do anything that was beneficial to us and called her parents to pick us up at about 11:10 PM.
So we waited in the cold while my in-laws drove to pick us up. My daughter was a real trooper but at about 11:30 PM she started to get fussy. It was well past her bedtime and she had been out all day. I did my best to calm her by walking around, signing to her, feeding her, etc.

At about 11:45 PM I noticed a pregnant lady who was clearly in distress. I asked her if she was OK and she said no she was stressed and starting to feel a lot of pain in her stomach. Her husband then explained to me they lived in St. Augustine, no one could pick them up, and that they needed to get her out of the stress. They began to call the hotels (who did not know of the situation either) and they eventually got a room comped at the Royal Pacific but it took them a lot of calls and arguing.

At about 12:00 AM we ran into half of the British family we had seen hours ago. One of the ladies explained that part of their group had taken the taxi ride and had planned to come back to pick them up. However, she stated that upon arrival the taxi service demanded payment, stated they had not heard of any arrangement, and called the police on them when they argued with him. The police then told the family they must pay for it and take it up with Universal.  They were still waiting when we left.

At 12:15 AM A Universal rep came down to the taxi area and stated that level 3 guests could leave but that level 4 could not.

At 12:28 AM  We finally left. We arrived home at about 2:36 AM (we stopped for food as we had missed dinner) .

At roughly 3:00 AM I heard that a few minutes prior the level 4 cars were allowed to leave.

So that was the entire fiasco. If they addressed anyone it was not me or anyone in the rotunda. These were the explicit instructions we were given and the promise of info was never delivered. I have many major concerns over the entire process but my biggest gripe was that I was left to fend for myself. My family was left out in the cold literally. We were never offered a warm or comfortable place to wait, any food or water, or (most importantly) any answers. I've been told I was being unrealistic. I do not see how my expecting that they would treat me like a human being is unrealistic. I do not see how expecting some consideration for the well-being of your guests is unrealistic. I do not see how expecting a simple apology (at the very least) and some information on what I should do is unrealistic.

I have been a longtime fan of Universal. I have had annual passes for 8 years, I moderate a website dedicated to their Halloween Horror Nights event, and I generally go to all their special events. But after the appalling treatment I was given I’m starting to reconsider my enthusiasm.   

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