My cousin got married last month, in her new hometown: Orlando, FL. Naturally, that meant the clan planned a fabulous vacation around our gala. I am one of the odd birds out there who was never really interested in visiting Florida, except to see family that is, and I had been putting it off. The wedding made for the perfect excuse to go, finally. I am so glad I partook in the festivities.
Not only was the wedding everything we dreamed of, and more, but we all had a delightful time enjoying the city of Orlando, and surrounding environs. Okay, so my mother and sister did not enjoy driving in Orlando traffic so much, but everything else was delightful. On my first day there, my sister chose St Augustine as the place she wanted to explore for her birthday. What an unexpected treat. St Augustine is charming. We enjoyed an authentic Mexican meal at Playa Chac Mool. If you go, I can recommend their chicken flautas. Very yummy. Our service was impeccable. After lunch, we enjoyed a walk on the beach and St Augustine Pier. This was my first time seeing pelicans up close. I had no idea they could be so charismatic. Having worked the night before, then taking an early flight from Milwaukee, I was too pooped to climb the St Augustine Lighthouse, but there was plenty to do and see on the grounds, in the Keeper’s House, and in the gift shop.
After St Augustine, we headed to my aunt’s house in Altamonte Springs. We had a nice spaghetti dinner to celebrate my sister’s birthday. By the time we got back to our time share, I was ready for my pajamas.
Aside from the wedding, Wednesday was the highlight of the trip for me: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I had heard so many good things from friends and family, that I just could not wait. I really must give a shout out to Ms Brenda Wheeler. Without your generous gift of complimentary passes, I would never have been able to afford this dream come true. I don’t think you understand what a Harry Potter fan I am, or how perpetually poor I am. Now that I think about it, I may never have had this experience without your help. So, I thank you, and my family thanks you, for your hospitality.
Wizarding World. Wow. Where do I even start? I must remember to add pictures to this post later, once I get them transferred from my phone. The rest of my party had been to Wizarding World once before, so they were anxious to see the new addition. I could not be more happy with that choice. I feel as though I began my wizarding adventure the same way Harry Potter did: In Diagon Alley. Universal Studios treated Harry Potter with such love and attention to detail. To say I am impressed with the hard work Universal put into making the park a wizarding experience, would be to sell it short. Everywhere you go there are sights and sounds that make you feel as though you could really be a witch or wizard. The quality clothing you can by in the park only add to the experience. People of all ages don their robes immediately. If they have purchased an interactive wand, the set off casting spells at cleverly arranged points throughout the parks. The result is a park full of witches, wizards, and muggles having a grand time interacting in every way with the park and the park’s staff. Seeing my 20-year-old Hufflepuff niece cast Wingardium Leviosa for the first time is one of my all time favorite #proudaunt moments. #badgerpride
Lunch at The Leaky Cauldron was fantastic. I know I have never had food nearly as good in any theme park. I forget the name of the chicken sandwich I had, but it was very good. The Butterbeer’s reputation is well earned. Now I see what all the fuss was about. It. Is. Delicious. My sister had a shepherd’s pie that I think I might have to go back for. The highlight of The Leaky Cauldron is really the staff. Yes, the food is great, and the atmosphere is spot on, but the staff works so hard that they don’t even look like they are working. They all seemed to be having a great time making sure we had the best experience possible.
Diagon Alley was such fun that we actually spent most of our day there. No one was in a hurry to leave the wand shop despite the crazy crowd in there. You want a wand? You got it. Name someone from Harry Potter. Their wand is there. You could spend a long time there trying to think of obscure characters whose wands you know Universal would not bother making, but don’t hold your breath while doing it. You will lose that game. If you do not want a character’s wand, but instead prefer to get the wand that would choose your wizarding self, Universal has that covered, too.
I heard a total of two complaints the entire time I was in the park, and they were not lines and crowds. One Hufflepuff girl I happened to be shopping near complained to her boyfriend that the Hufflepuff clothing is all gray. After visiting a few shops, my niece and I could see her point. There were many shirts that were gray with black and yellow designs, whereas the other houses all enjoyed clothing that were house colors. Hufflepuffs want black and yellow, Universal. If it has to be gray, then perhaps something more like a charcoal would work better. That plain gray was, well, plain. Hufflepuffs aren’t that boring. That, as I said, was one of two complaints I heard. The clothing choices are in all other ways outstanding. I mean, really, you can buy a wool sweater with an H on the front that you would swear Molly Weasley knitted with her own wand. The other complaint, I think actually speaks well for the parks. Most of the shops are actually facades, false storefronts that guests are no meant to enter. They are decoration. While I thought they added to the imagination of the place, and enjoyed thinking about what the wizarding community might buy in those shops, the more action-oriented people in my group were frustrated by these locked doors. They were that enticing. Personally, you can’t prove to me that these are simply doors that are locked to Muggles and Squibs.
My favorite moment happened outside one of these shops, actually. I was pondering the window across from Ollivander’s when two ladies rolled a cart past. They looked like they were on a mission, and the dramatic music only added to that feeling. I thought surely something was about to happen, but it turned out it was a merchandise delivery to the clothing shop. That my head made an exciting adventure out of something I would not have even noticed somewhere else was highly amusing. But soon, I was truly in awe as the dragon atop Gringott’s breathed fire over us.
A trip to Diagon Alley needs a stop at Knockturn Alley, naturally. I was impressed with the creepy vibe. It certainly felt like someplace naughty. Of course I bought a lovely Dark Mark scarf there. I love that I could wear it out and hardly anyone would notice I was sporting Potter gear.
The longest line we waited in that actually felt like a line was for the Hogwarts Express. There were seven of is in my group, and we were still all having so much fun, that it didn’t even matter that we were in line. We were at King’s Cross, in line to get on the Hogwarts Express! There was a moment, just before reaching Platform 9 3/4 that helped restore my faith in humanity. The people in front of us noticed that Universal had set up an optical illusion. From the spot we were standing, the people ahead of us just seemed to disappear when they got on the platform. Our neighbors said we needed to do it better than those people, who just walked through the wall like it was no big deal. We played it up for the people behind us. Do the people behind you a solid. Act nervous about what is ahead, and then “do it at a bit of a run,” like Molly Weasley taught us. Or do whatever. Just don’t walk through like it’s just a tunnel. You’re part of someone else’s experience at that moment.
The Hogwarts Express could have just been a fancy tram to get you from Diagon Alley to Hogsmeade, but no, Universal turned this into an impressive ride. Your windows will tell you a fun story and then before you know it you are there. Hogsmeade. Honeyduke’s. The Three Broomsticks. Shopping galore. Here we split up for a while. My mom, my nephew, and I were ready for a rest and some refreshment, while the others went in search of a ride. You may prefer to hear about the ride, but trust me when I tell you to treat yourself to apple pie and ice cream at The Three Broomsticks. The pie itself is good, but the pile of brown sugar and cinnamon crumbles on top is ridiculous! It’s a pile of delicious that makes this a dessert you will have fun sharing as you make a mess attacking it with spoons.
I’m a postcard fan. I send postcards to myself and a few others whenever I go away. If you would like to do the same, bring stamps to the park. You can send mail from Hogsmeade Owlry. Just drop it in the mailbox.
As most of our day was spent in Diagon Alley, we went right to Hogwarts to take the tour. Really, you are in line for the ride, but it is set up like a tour, and things happen along the way. Characters talk to you. You don’t have to ride the ride. You can go through the tour and then bail out, but unless you get motion sick, you want to ride the ride. When else will you get to fly around Hogwarts’ Quidditch Pitch with Harry? Be warned. There is a dragon (yea!) and some rather large acromantulas after you (boo!). And they spit. I screamed. I can admit that. Bags of any sort are not allowed on the ride because you will lose them as your car throws you this way and that. There are lockers. The locker room is a madhouse, but the cast makes sure it’s a controlled chaos. As with any good ride, you exit through the gift shop. If I were a wealthy woman, I would have gone crazy in all of these stores, I am telling you!
My nephew wanted to see Jurassic Park before we left for the day. He kept dropping clever hints at The Three Broomsticks. “You’re a Lizard, Harry,” may have been his best line of the day. We exited The Wizarding World. With Hogwarts still in view, we were at the impressive gate of Jurassic Park. Alas, the light was not with me, and my party was in a hurry, so I could not get a picture with the castle and the gate in it. Certain things were already closing up by the time we entered Jurassic Park, but that was alright with me. We split up again. The others went off for some more adventure while Mom and I rested and took some refreshment.
Once rested, Mom and I ventured into Marvel Superhero Island (I hope I got that name right). I am a Marvel fan from way back, despite the Green Lantern t-shirt I am wearing as I write this. I was happy to get myself a handsome new Spider-Man mug for my morning tea, which I used several times before even leaving Orlando. I will remember by trip with fondness whenever Spidey and I have tea.
It is getting late, and I have been pecking away at this travel log here and there for most of the day. I do have more to share, but it will have to wait for another day. Or maybe it will be years before I blog again. One never knows.