Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Post 1

Apparently there is a limit to the number of pictures you can add to a single post, and I have reached it. I have tons more pics, but will have to do multiple posts about Harry Potter.

As I mentioned before, we had a special Harry Potter package. One of the benefits to having this package deal is that you get to enter the park an hour earlier than the general public. This is HUGE!!! This, in my opinion, is worth paying extra to stay on site, versus other accommodations. However, that is just my opinion. But I think Scott would also agree.

Since the park opened at 9am, we were allowed to enter at 8am, which meant we were up by 6:30am and out the door by 7a so we could be first in line. We were among the first people in line both mornings we went. A small sacrifice to pay to get to do the things we wanted.

One thing I didn't understand, the first morning we went, is that they opened the gates about 15 minutes before the park opened, only to hold everyone up not too far inside the park, behind another barrier. I'm not sure why they do that? In my opinion, it just creates a bigger mass of people and more opportunity for people to get hurt. It kind of reminded me of Black Friday shopping, except that people were a little less crazy and I didn't see anyone get knocked over or trampled.

Once we got through the 2nd barrier, we walked VERY FAST, to the Harry Potter theme park. It was so thrilling to me when we got to the entrance. I was actually overcome with emotion. We waited so long and worked so hard to save the money to do this and WE WERE ACTUALLY THERE! I had tears welling up in my eyes and I had to take lots of deep breaths so no one would think I was hurt, or worse yet, crazy! I was thankful that I was about 10 strides behind Scott and the kids so I could regain composure! ;-)

The Hogwarts Castle! This is where you get your true "Harry Potter experience". We didn't actually get into the castle on day 1. We had read in our book "Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids", that there were 3 attractions that were a MUST DO first thing in the morning, otherwise the lines were so long that you wasted alot of time just waiting. Our plan of action was to go to Ollivander's Wand Shop the first morning and Hogwarts the 2nd morning. Hind sight is always 20/20, but we actually could have managed both attractions both days. Part of our problem was that we weren't oriented to the park and didn't realize where everything was at first.

Because I have so much trouble getting the pictures on here, then getting them in chronological order, I'm just leaving them where they fell at random.

We loved "Hogsmeade" which is where all of the shops and stores are located. They had everything designed with such great detail, it was amazing! Here at "Scrivenshafts" they had Quills writing on parchment paper in the windows. You couldn't actually enter this shop, it was just window displays.

Scrivenshafts - Finest Parchments, Inks and Quills.

GladRags Wizardwear contained the dress that Hermione wore in one of the movies. Or at least that is what I am told by Gage and Emma. ;-)

This Dogweed Deathcap shop had screaming Mandrakes in their window display! They were terrible on the ears! In the movies their shrieks bring death to anyone who hears them.

This is the entrance to The Three Broomsticks, which is an English Tavern. We had reservations to eat breakfast here on our first morning!

Even the public restrooms were designed in great detail! You could even hear Moaning Myrtle inside. She is only in the Girls restroom in the books and movies, but the Men were not left out here.

I think Honeydukes was one of our favorite shops. It was very vibrant with color inside, which was one reason I fancied this store.

Not to mention that they had many DELICIOUS looking desserts like these Caudron Cakes. Unfortunately everything was quite spendy, so we didn't sample much. We did leave with a couple of Chocolate Frogs, some Bertie Botts Ever Flavour Beans and Pepper Imps. ;-)

Right next door is Zonkos Joke Shop. Emma liked all the Pygmy Puffs on display.

Wizard Chess, anyone?????

Our first morning, after visiting Ollivander's Wand Shop, and riding Flight of the Hippogriff, which is a fairly tame roller coaster, we decided to try Dragon Challenge. You can't really see much of this roller coaster from the outside, except for right here in this spot. We didn't actually see this until AFTER we rode the ride. We had read in our book that the best spot to ride is in the front row, so you can actually see what is going on. Because we didn't know what we were getting in to, we got in line for the first seat. The red coaster is the Chinese Fireball and the blue one is the Hungarian Horntail. Gage wanted to ride the Hungarian Horntail, so that is what we did. Although now I look back in our book and it says "coaster loonies hype the front row of the Chinese Fireball and last row of Hungarian Horntail, the Unofficial crew unanimously prefers the Hungarian Horntail. We were in the front row of the Hungarian Horntail, so maybe that's why Gage was screaming, "GET ME OFF OF HERE! GET ME OFF OF HERE!" and Scott was thinking, "I AM GOING TO DIE! I AM GOING TO DIE!" LOL! I could hear Emma screaming at the top of her lungs and I just kept praying that I wouldn't get sick. I have always LOVED the big thrill rides. Now, not so much. Don't get me wrong, I still enjoy the "thrill" of the ride, but my body doesn't agree with my brain much of the time. I did actually make it through this ride without much trouble, other than I was shocked at how stupid I was that I didn't realize what a "thrill" this ride was! Needless to say, when I asked Gage if he would like to try the Chinese Fireball side, he replied with a quick "NO!" This ride has actually been at Universal for a long time, it was just rethemed as Harry Potter. How convenient that was for the park designing engineers!!

There were a couple Butterbeer stands within the park. You could choose regular or frozen. Frozen wins best drink, hands down, by the Stephens family! However, at about $21.00 for 2 frozen drinks in souvenir mugs, we didn't sample too many of them!

Hog's Head

This picture is pretty self explanatory! ;-)

The Hogwarts Express!

The Hogwarts Express Conductor. I loved all of the uniforms the staff wore throughout the park. You definitely felt like you were in the movie!

We waited in this area for 2 different shows that were scheduled. All 4 houses were represented. Griffyndor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff and Slytherin.

We watched the Triwizard Spirit Rally which was a show of Beauxbatons and Durmstrang students as they lead the excitement for the Triward Tournament.

A Durmstrang student up close and personal!

The show was quite enjoyable to watch.

The Beauxbatons put on a ribbon twirling show which was also fun to watch.

Who knew that being a ribbon twirler could lead to a job at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter!!!!

This show certainly would have gotten us excited to watch the Triwizard Tournament!

After the Triwizard Spirit Rally, we stayed to watch the Hogwarts Frog Choir. This was a great presentation of songs by a small choir of Hogwarts students, accompanied by their large croaking frogs. It was quite warm out on this day, and those costumes looked HOT! I felt sorry for the Ravenclaw student (in the blue robe) as he was very hot and his face was dripping with sweat!

It was fun to listen to the choir. And now, when we watch the Harry Potter movies, we recognize the songs and remember seeing the choir singing it. ;-)

The choir director was very excited about their performance. Is this a future job for Emma???

The Hogwarts Choir.

After the performance, the kids got to pose with them for pictures!

Stay tuned for more pictures from our adventures at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter!!!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Hard Rock Hotel - Universal Orlando Resort - Florida - March 25-26, 2011

My most sincere apologies for taking so long to get this post finished. I have been having all sorts of troubles with blogger. I am wondering if this is a thing that has been happening, as some of the blogs I follow are changing sites. Maybe they are getting tired of the problems? Hopefully I will not have so many troubles in the future.

I decided that before I could post Harry Potter pictures, I needed to do Hard Rock Hotel pictures first. We stayed on Universal property for 3 nights and went to Islands of Adventure 2 days in order to go to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. We had a special Harry Potter package, which is why we stayed at the Hard Rock Hotel.

The hotel was very nice, but I don't think the kids could really appreciate how nice it really was, since we haven't stayed in many hotels. They didn't have much to compare it too.

We were so very excited to see this sign. Before we exited off the toll road, I had entered Hard Rock Hotel into Scott's iPhone navigation system. It took us on a wild goose chase which ended up in a residential area. It works much better when you insert an actual address!!!

After we arrived, the service was first rate. I'm not really good at being "pampered" and felt weird about the hotel staff carrying out luggage to our rooms. It makes me feel like I must think I am better than them, to make them carry my bags. However, that is how they operate, so I did the best I could. After they took our bags, Scott took the rental car to the parking lot. The kids and I were going to go find our room. We knew the room number, and thought we knew the floor as well. We were lost and going up and down the elevator trying to find the correct floor. Finally, as we made it back to the ground floor, we saw our bags being taken to our room, so we followed the bags. Whew! I felt like a country bumpkin at that point. Our concierge, Eggy, arrived at our hotel room and we weren't far behind. He was very nice and gave us all kinds of information. It took Scott awhile to join us, and after Eggy left, I asked him if he had troubles finding our room. I felt much better when he said that he had been all over the place trying to find it. I didn't feel quite as stupid at that point. Scott does alot of traveling, and is good at that sort of thing, so I know I wasn't just me. He just didn't have the luxury of finding our bags enroute to our room!

This picture is the backside of Hard Rock Hotel. The path leads you to the water taxi which takes you back and forth from the different hotels on site to the parks. We were thankful for this service at the end of the day!

I had to take a picture of this pillow. I didn't notice it at first. Not until I saw Emma tracing the words onto a sheet of paper in her travel journal. I definitely agree that, "Sweet dreams are made of this!"

The Hard Rock Cafe was located between the Hard Rock Hotel and Universal Studios. We ate here one of the evenings and enjoyed it. You can't stay at the Hard Rock Hotel and not eat at least one meal at the Cafe!

Soon after we arrived at the hotel and got all of our things organized in our room and figured out where everything was, we went down to The Kitchen to eat supper. Calamari was on the appetizer menu so we had to order some. I had never had calamari until I went to New Orleans on the Mission Trip with our church last Oct. I actually liked it, so wanted the kids to try it. They loved it! I never would have even thought of eating squid, as a kid, so I was excited that Gage and Emma would try it! They are much more adventurous than I was!

Gage ordered steak from the menu. He ate it all too!

You see in the bottom left corner what Emma ordered. She is the mac and cheese queen. It doesn't matter where we go, macaroni and cheese is always her top choice.

We had a magician come to our table to do a few card tricks. I think he was unimpressed with us as one of his magic tricks didn't work. Not because he performed it wrong, but because we didn't remember the cards that we were supposed to remember. I guess that's what happens when you are up late, up early and kayaking for miles in the Everglades! LOL!

The waiter brought us the dessert display to see what we wanted. It was hard to resist when you can see them all in person!!

I can't remember the name of Emma's dessert, but it was a raspberry chocolate cake. It was very RICH, but that didn't stop her from nearly devouring the entire dessert! Scott and I did get a bite, but one bite is all I could take as it was too rich for me.

Gage picked this S'more Cheesecake.

How cute is that, with the roasted marshmallow on top. It had a graham cracker crust and it really tasted like a fancy s'more!

It tasted as good as it looked!!! After supper we headed to our hotel room to get rested up for our big morning at Harry Potter world!

We ate lunch the following day at the outdoor cafe which is right next to the swimming pool. It was a beautiful day and we couldn't resist.

Emma casts a spell with her Ginny Weasley wand as we wait for our lunch to arrive.

I couldn't resist the frozen strawberry daquiri. It looked better than it tasted though. It was a little too strong and a little too sweet for my liking. However, that didn't stop me from drinking it! ;-)

While we were waiting for our lunch to arrive, this juvenile great blue heron decided to visit.

He didn't stay long as he discovered we didn't have any food to share with him. This was up close and personal!

The kids had fun playing in the hotel pool when we took an afternoon break.

Emma does some poolside hula hooping.

They had an air guitar contest that Gage participated in. It was a girls against boys competition and Emma didn't want to join in the fun so she watched from the pool. The DJ had them doing all sorts of crazy moves and here is Gage, strumming behind his head. LOL!

After the boys were finished, the audience in and out of the pool voted for who they thought did the best. The DJ declared a tie. In order to break the tie, he asked for Mom and Dad volunteers.

Don't bother looking for me in the line-up of Moms. If Emma didn't have to play, then neither did I! ;-) Whew! I was glad I didn't make her after I saw this!

Scott gets the "Dad of the Year" Award! Yes, that is my hunk-o-burnin'-flesh out there in the camo shorts and long blonde wig. I only got one photo because I spent the rest of the time taking video! ;-) I will be posting that at a later date. ;-)

Here is another picture of the Hard Rock Cafe lit up in the night as we ride the water taxi back to the hotel.

We most definitely enjoyed our time at Universal Studios and it would be close to the top, if not #1 on our list of what was the best part of our trip!