It’s the classic struggle between a spinach-eating hero and a bearded bully to win the irresistible and scrawny damsel-in-distress, but this time there is a lot of water involved. Popeye and Bluto, beloved cartoon characters since the thirties, are at it again when Bluto kidnaps Olive Oyl and tries to hide her within a “barge wash.” As you rush past scenes of Popeye’s struggle to rescue Olive, your raft spins its way through rough rapids, sudden drops and leaking pipes. Everyone in your raft gets drenched. There is no hope of anyone remaining untouched. You are guaranteed to get as wet as a sunken barge.
I recently rode this attraction with all three of my children. Each loved the ride in spite of our differing approaches to theme park attractions. Between the four of us, there is a span of nearly three decades in age as well as a wide spectrum of personalities. This is our family’s take on one of Universal’s wettest attractions – Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges.
Elle is 10-years-old and a bit of a daredevil. Very little frightens her. In fact, she takes pride in her ability to venture where others turn away. She practically raced through the line to get onto this ride. Her curiosity was piqued when she saw throngs of guests walking away from the attraction, soaked to the bone. Much to her delight, she soon became one of them.
Elle described the ride as “definitely wet” with “twisty turns,” but she also clarified by saying, “It’s not scary.” In fact, she laughed her way through the entire attraction as water was poured on her from overhead. “There are a lot of pipes,” she relayed, “and they spill water all over you. And there are parts when you are going straight, but there are little [drops]….when you are going through [those], the water comes up through the sides and it splashes inside the boat. It is really fun!”
Miller is 13-years-old and takes most things in stride. He doesn’t seek out thrills, but he doesn’t run from them either. His strength is being able to “bend in the wind” in most situations. However, there was no indifference with this attraction. Miller clearly was looking forward to getting on Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges whether others wanted to join him or not.
When asked to describe the ride, Miller actually chuckled as he recalled the experience. “It is super fun! You start out in water, and you do some drops. Then it incorporates the story of Popeye chasing Bluto….” He emphasized that the ride soaks you entirely, but that it is worth every drop. In truth he said, “I would go on this ride again and again.”
Margeaux is 15 years old and is timid about attractions that tend to frighten. In general, she despises rides that drop you or place you in the middle of a harrowing situation. While she can appreciate a thrill or horror story, actually experiencing one is not something for which she volunteers. This ride, though, somehow didn’t upset her. She seemed ready for the experience.
Margeaux got very descriptive with her depiction of the ride. “You get in a little, circular raft, and unless you are in a really big group, you are going to be seated with other people. You go down a very wavy river with lots of chances to get splashed on….waterfalls, water spouts….You get shoved around by the water a lot too. You get very wet.” The part of the ride she liked best involved going through a cave with an octopus, a can of spinach, and a waterfall. And when asked if she would repeat the raft adventure, there was no hesitation as she enthusiastically nodded her head and said, “Oh yeah!”
I am the mom of this brood and a thrill seeker at heart. Scary things, fast things, and “bragging rights” have always appealed to me. In spite of all that, I don’t enjoy being doused with water. I can tolerate a good misting and even being sprinkled, but when my hair and make-up are threatened, I, myself, feel threatened. For this reason, I became less enthusiastic about Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barge with each poster that warned of waterlogging.
When I boarded the raft, I was relieved to find a covered bin (placed in the center) that kept loose items dry. I was, however, also thankful that I had brought along a zip-lock baggie to ensure our electronics would remain untouched. By the end of the ride, enough water had still made its way into the compartment to present a problem had I not been prepared.
As we sloshed throughout the beginning of the ride, I prayed for a miracle (as if some divine force field would descend upon me and shelter me from the deluge ahead). My prayers were in vain. Each person on our raft was drenched just as we had been cautioned, and when I say drenched, I mean that even our undergarments were soaked. My best defense was to curl up in my seat, hide my face to save my mascara, and scream as cold water hit me from all angles.
In hindsight, I felt some strategy needed to be in place for Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges. First, the attraction either needed to be experienced early in the day to allow for hours of drying in the sun afterwards, or it needed to be done right before exiting the park when a fresh set of dry clothes awaited us. Also, it was wise to not wear white due to the fact that our wet, white clothing would have revealed what was beneath. Lastly, it would have been best to remove shoes and socks and place them in the dry bin on the raft. This would have prevented the inevitable “prune feet” that resulted from walking around in saturated shoes and socks.
The saving grace of the entire situation was that the children were elated by my squeamishness. And once I realized how ridiculous my own behavior was, we all had an incredible laugh together for the rest of the ride. We emerged with a clear understanding of how the attraction got its name, for we all looked like drowned rats from a bilge. However, we were the most cheerful drowned rats you can imagine, and we giggled the entire way back to our home.