Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Care for a Bit of... *Magic*?

So, yeah, I went to Hogwarts.


Definitely an amazing experience. I only wish The Wizarding World was bigger! I did explore the rest of the Islands of Adventure, but honestly the rest of the park seemed kind of run-down. Clearly all the recent $$$ has gone to Harry Potter.

Let me start at the beginning. My sister and brother and I got to Universal bright and early and headed straight for The Wizarding World. We hung out there in the morning and then later on in the afternoon. Here are the highlights.

 HOGWARTS CASTLE Oh my, I could not take enough pictures of this place. The sky was so blue and the buildings were so awesome. I kept staring up, up, up at the castle like an idiot. We headed to the castle straightaway to get in line for the ride. The queue wound through the castle (finally, after we waited outside in the heat for forever) and we saw talking portraits that looked so REAL and Dumbledore seemed so real and Harry, Ron and Hermione were there and it SNOWED and the Sorting Hat talked to me and there were hallways and the Pensieve and I loved every minute, OBVIOUSLY.

THE FORBIDDEN JOURNEY RIDE This was definitely the best theme park ride I have ever experienced. I could have ridden it 17 more times in a row. Now, let me first say that I was a bit nervous since I knew the ride would simulate some crazy movements. I was thinking of Soarin' in Epcot, which I really didn't like as it gave me vertigo. However, it turned out I had nothing to fear; I loved the exhilarating feeling of zooming through the air with Harry and Ron! The world was so familiar, and the mix of projection screens and animatronics seemed so real and so perfect. The "Hogwarts students" do a good job of getting people onto the ride quickly ("Watch your step, Muggles!"). I saw Aragog, I came thisclose to Dementors, and the Whomping Willow sent me reeling! Yes, I did scream out "Expecto Patronum" during the ride. It seemed like the right thing to do. Loved it. Pretty sure I beamed through the whole thing. Especially when Draco "saw" the riders and shouted, "Showing off for your Muggle friends, Potter??" I did get to ride it twice; the second time I went in the single rider line (tip: zip in through Filch's Emporium) to get there faster since I had already seen everything in the queue.

BUTTERBEER Yeah, had to get the butterbeer! I heard that the frozen butterbeer was a little too sweet, so I went with regular. It was really good, like cream soda with a sweet foam on top. I'm not a huge fan of soda, though, so I got kind of sick of it after drinking about half. But refreshing on a hot day!

THE SHOPS Definitely very fun to poke around in. However, why do they have to be so crazy small? I guess I know why: authenticity. But you would think that efficiency would trump that when it comes to a theme park world that everyone knew would draw a gazillion people a day. Definitely hard to maneuver around in the shops, but fun to see the extravagantly priced Bertie Bott's Beans and chocolate frogs. I tried on Gryffindor robes, waved Bellatrix's wand, even peeked at the Monster Book of Monsters (looked vicious). I didn't purchase anything as my vault at Gringotts is rather empty currently.

OLLIVANDER'S This was for sure one of the most magical experiences of my life. I had to wait for 45 minutes outside in the hot sun to get in, but it was so worth it. I stood with a small, hushed group of people as the wandkeeper chose out a young girl to participate. He gave her several wands to try. She waved a few with semi-disastrous results as things crashed around the shop. Finally, a wand chose her. A light shone on her, wind blew through her hair, music swelled (those effects!)...yeah, I definitely got goose bumps. It was a short five-minute experience, but I was completely transfixed. You could have heard a pin drop as everyone watched breathlessly. We were then let out into an actual shop where you could buy any wand you wanted. Only $30, which seemed reasonable to me. You could definitely buy any character's wand. My brother got the Elder Wand. I resisted. SO MANY people buying wands though, seriously. 

So that's it! If you are a Harry Potter fan and you ever get the chance to visit, go for it! You might want to wait a bit, though, as Universal is adding a Harry Potter world in their other park, Universal Studios. The Hogwarts Express will connect them. How rad is that??

Monday, July 15, 2013

Who Wants to See Vacation Slides?

I could definitely write 100 blog posts about my Disney World vacation.

The best food (Nutella waffle sandwich, Dole Whip, Norwegian school bread).

The best rides (Expedition Everest, Toy Story Mania, Star Tours, Tower of Terror).

The best experiences (Beast's castle and all of New Fantasyland, countries in Epcot, Jedi Training Academy).

And on and on and on.

Instead, I will just show you a few pictures. And soon, you'll get a more descriptive post all about the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (!).

Then I'll move on for real, away from vacation and back into the grand adventure that is my life.


Flags outside of Expedition Everest rollercoaster in Animal Kingdom

Up close and personal with all kinds of animal on Kilimanjaro Safaris in Animal Kingdom

Breathtaking performance in France, Epcot

Cloudy, rainy, wonderful day in Epcot

Couldn't help letting out a scream as Darth Vader appeared during the Jedi Training Academy, Hollywood Studios

Leaving Hollywood Studios on another perfect Disney day

Gaston's Tavern and fountain in New Fantasyland, Magic Kingdom

Tangled rest area, complete with tower and lanterns (and poster of Flynn Rider) in Magic Kingdom

Small Minnie statue after a typical Orlando rainshower outside Cinderella Castle, Magic Kingdom

Gargoyle outside of the Beast's Castle in New Fantasyland, Magic Kingdom

Gate entering Be Our Guest restaurant in the Beast's Castle, Magic Kingdom

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Vacation: Strategy is Everything

Let me just start out by saying that my family takes vacations very seriously.

What? This is oxymoronic, you say? Vacations are not serious?

Well, you have never been on a vacation with my family.

Some people enjoy sunbathing on a beach for a week, occasionally strolling on a boardwalk or getting an ice cream cone.

Not my family (well, we do get ice cream).

It is not a vacation to us if at some point we are not planning, making lists, and powerwalking.

And let me tell you, Disney World is perfect for those OCD planner types. Yes, I got the Unofficial Guide. Yes, I came up with a plan of attack for each day in the parks. Yes, I researched the best foods, the best rides, the best tips and tricks to get the MOST out of our time in Orlando.

So worth it! We don't exactly live next door to Mickey Mouse, you see. We had to travel many miles to get there. I didn't want to leave without experiencing the best of everything. Also, waiting in line for 2 hours is for the weak!

Strategy is everything!

As you may be able to tell, I loved it. I loved poring over the book and researching Disney World food blogs. I loved planning out exactly what we would do as soon as we got into each park to maximize those key morning hours. I loved barking orders at gently leading my family.

Best. vacation. ever.

Happy 4th of July everyone! Stay safe and enjoy your family and friends.


I am proud to say that no one in my family wore a fanny pack. I cannot say that about the last time we were in Disney World.