Tuesday, September 30, 2014

There is no soda in The Wizarding World-we go to Hogsmede

If joy visually emanated from our bodies like large sparkly purple clouds, then everyone in a 5 mile radius would have been enveloped in a gigantic purple cloud of sparkly joy as I approached the entrance to Hogsmede.   

My excitement was so visible that while posing for this picture

a passerby in a very genuine shout of geeky excitement solidarity, exclaimed,
“You made it!” And so I had.

I made it to see the owlery.

I made it to see the Hogwarts school choir.

 I made it to finally see Hogwarts castle.  After years of longing, I was finally here.

Close to the entrance of Hogsmede (the entrance on the Lost Continent side) I found the conductor of the Hogwarts Express. He is a kind, jovial soul.  I wondered what it must be like to know that you are a part of thousands of people’s vacation photos. 


In my opinion the best shop in all of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando is Honeydukes. 

It is the shop that made me believe that I had actually fallen through the pages of the book. There were candy items that could only be purchased in the Honeydukes store. There were a lot of things we wanted to get/try, but the heat made melting an issue.
The guy behind me is totally stealing my thunder in this picture

In case any vampires visit the parks
While we were in Honeydukes we chatted with a shop employee named Emily.  She was very nice and was sincerely interested in whether we were Harry Potter fans, whether we were having an awesome day and if we thought the Harry Potter section was cool.  It was nice to see that Universal seemed to make sure that the staff working in The Wizarding World were fanboys and fangirls.  The employees working the rides seemed to take a special pleasure in calling guests muggles

 I will say that I did find the souvenir merchandise in the Wizarding World lacking.  I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I think I expected to find some pretty unique things and most of the stuff was your basic house themed scarves, wands, quills. The same stuff was in store, after store, after store.  Don’t get me wrong, the area is fangirl worthy, and the theming of the stores was impressive, 

but I wanted some sort of super cool headband or unique bag, or a t-shirt you couldn’t find anywhere else, and they did not exist. 

There are a few missed opportunities as well, because there are many store fronts that are not actual shops, but if they were real, they would be brimming with people handing over their hard earned dollars. 

How cool would it be to sit in Madame Puddefoot’s and have tea, especially if it was perpetually decorated for Valentine’s Day?

The main quick service eatery in Hogsmede is The Three Broomsticks

which is connected to The Hogs Head.  We ate food from The Three Broomsticks, though we ended up sitting in The Hogs Head. 

I had the fish and chips and Shannon had the pasties with salad.  

Out of the meals that we ate at the Universal parks, The Three Broomsticks was the best.  The fish was good quality, it was crispy and not too heavily breaded, and my wedge fries were hot and fresh cut.  

 The theming in The Three Broomstick and the Hogs Head is amazing;

the head of the hog behind the bar in the Hogs Head snorts and moves every few minutes. No Aberforth or goats though; probably a good thing.

While we were eating we saw a group of adult ladies all dressed up like comic book characters. They were having a few drinks in the Hogs Head to celebrate a birthday.  They were kinda my heroes, especially the lady in her Wonder Woman outfit.  I wish I could have gotten a better picture of them. 

Of course it seems like sacrilege if you don’t get a Butterbeer (in case you don’t know, Butterbeer is a sweet butterscotch flavored beverage that does not contain any actual beer)  while you are at The Wizarding World. You could get one with your meal at The Three Broomsticks, but in my opinion, Butterbeer is more a dessert than a drink you would have with your fish and chips.  Hogsmede has two Butterbeer carts . One cart is near the back entrance where you cross the bridge out of Hogsmede; the other is near Honeydukes. You can get a regular Butterbeer or a frozen Butterbeer. We decided to split a frozen Butterbeer, but before we partook of our frosty beverage I wanted a special picture with the cart.  I am a regular consumer of fancy coffee beverages, beverages that I am used to tipping towards me to bring the straw to my mouth, beverages with lids.  Here is your warning kids, Butterbeer does not have a lid.  As I tipped the straw to my mouth, I spilled Butterbeer down the entire front of my body. I’m not gonna lie, it was pretty embarrassing.
At least it didn't stain my cool Snitch t-shirt
 I ended up having to visit Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom to clean up.  The bathroom is fun because you hear Myrtle moaning overhead saying Myrtlish things like, I hear you making fun of me. 

Once I was satisfied that I was no longer in danger of sticking to everything around me for the rest of the day, I asked Shannon to take a more dignified photo of me sipping my Butterbeer.

There was a sunny piece of wall in Hogsmede that we enjoyed sitting on to rest and people watch.  There was a cart near the wall that sold beverages.  Time after time people would approach the cart and ask for a soda and the guy working at the cart would say,

“I’m sorry, but there is no soda in the Wizarding World.”  

People would just stand there stunned. Sometimes they would laugh nervously, trying to figure out if it was a joke. They seemed visibly upset as though they were sure that there was some sort of grand anti-soda drinker discrimination conspiracy.  One guy grumped,

“Well my son doesn't like pumpkin juice or Butterbeer, what am I supposed to do?” 

 The nice man at the cart suggested a bottle of water. There is water in the Wizarding World.  I wanted to point out that he and his son were in a theme park, a large theme park, and if he only walked twenty steps in the opposite direction he would be in a non-wizarding section of the park, a section that I am sure is abundant with soda.  It’s probably a good thing that I don’t work at that cart.

Flight of the Hippogriff

 Flight of the Hippogriff is a kiddie coaster, though I will say that the second time I road it, the train was mostly filled with fangirls in their 20s and 30s. 
The queue for Flight of the Hippogriff is the place where you will get the best view of Hagrid’s hut.
 As you ascend the initial coaster hill an animatronic Buckbeak, who is hanging out in his Hipporgriff nest, bows to you, giving you his okay to enjoy your ride. 

The coaster is not at all intense, but it's still fun. It is extremely short. Just as you really get into it, it is over. As the ride pulled back into the station, most people exclaimed,
“That’s it?”

 While on the ride I did throw out a few boisterious Wooooo-Wooo-Hooos, just like Harry does when he soars over the lake on Buckbeak in the Prisoner of Azkaban movie. 

 The Forbidden Journey

Set inside Hogwarts castle,
 this was the best ride in The Wizarding World, and my favorite ride at the Universal parks.
The queue is amazing. From the moment you walk through the entrance, if you are of the Harry Potter fandom, you will descend into a mess of overexcited fandom squees.  You are essentially wandering through Hogwarts School and around every corner there is something new to discover.

From the entrance to Dumbledore’s office,
 to paintings that move and talk,

to the Pensieve, you get to see it all.
The only issue is that it is very dark in the castle, which makes taking good pictures difficult. It would have been one time when having a bit of a wait would have been nice because in the off season the crowd moved swiftly so I either had to let tons of people pass  by me, or try to snap a few hasty pictures before I became a nuisance.
The ride is a continuously loading ride that you load onto from a moving walkway. The ride vehicles seat 4 people.You are harnessed in from above with your legs freely dangling.It doesn’t really matter who you sit next to because once seated, your view on either side is blocked. It helps to make the experience more immersive because you are not distracted by the others in the vehicle.  

The premise of the ride is that you want to go to the Quidditch match, but you are running late, so Hermione bewitches your bench so you can fly thus getting you to the Quidditch pitch faster.  The initial flight out of the castle is cool. It really does give you the sensation that you are flying. Then suddenly everything goes awry. From this point it is difficult to remember what happens in what order because it happens so fast.  You end up in The Forbidden Forest at one point with giant animatronic acromantulas looking to have you for dinner.  My favorite part of the ride is when your car moves so that you are flat on your back and it looks like the giant animatronic whomping willow is about to whomp you, but you escape just in time.  There is an animatronic dragon that breaths fire at you and dementors who attempt to suck out your soul.  You end up in the chamber of secrets at one point in the ride and you get to fly around on the quidditch pitch with Harry. It is so much fun, but it moves so quickly that it is all a blur. You need to ride it more than once to catch everything. I think the reason why I liked it best over Gringotts was because Gringotts is primarily 3D scenes with screens while Forbbiden Journey is a mix of a few screens, but a lot of actual flying through real life replications/sets of parts of the grounds and castle.  It felt more immersive, like you were really there.  Also the flying sensation with your feet dangling was exciting.  I’ve heard people say that they thought this ride was a bit too intense, but I’m a pretty big chicken and I thought the ride was amazingly fun without being too scary. We rode it twice and wanted to ride it a third time, but we ran out of time on our last day.

The third ride in Hogsmede is the Dragon Challenge coaster.  It is made up of two different intense upside-downy roller coasters.  I sat the Dragon Challenge out, but my husband rode both coasters and said that they are a good ride (though not as good as the Hulk coaster).  He was nice enough to take a picture of Mr. Weasley’s car in the dragon challenge queue. 

I savored my time spent in Hogsmede.  If I was of the single persuasion and if it was at all possible, I think I would love to occupy a little flat above one of the shops and live the rest of my days in  Hogsmede. I think I could live without soda.

It started to rain one day while we were in Hogsmede so of course I had to make the obligatory joke about how Universal was taking their theming to a whole new level.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Geeky Awesomeness Comic More - IOA the non-Potter parts

 *Spoilers-I will be talking about details of specific rides*

On the first day we arrived to Islands of Adventure we found the crowd sparse.  Actually we found all of the areas of Islands of Adventure sparse during our trip with the exception of Hogsmede.

We breezed through the comic book area and walked right onto Spiderman, a ride that would kick off the fall off a tall precipice and think you’re going to hit the ground except someone saves you at the last minute series of simulator rides.  I know that we are not going to hit the ground, but I always flinch the first time anyway.  Good thing Spidey, Optimus Prime, Bill Weasley, etc... is there to save the day.

The geek in me loves the comic book section of IOA, 

but I must admit that I wish that it could be more, so much geeky awesomeness comic more, especially after seeing the Harry Potter section and knowing what Universal is truly capable of.

One of our main goals while at IOA was to ride Popeye’s Barges in the Toon section.  On our last trip it was closed.  We didn’t have time to ride our first day this trip, and on our second day we arrived to the ride an hour before the park closed only to find out that the ride shuts down an hour before the park closes.  Thwarted. 
We finally got on Popeye on our 3rd day. We road it first thing twice in a row.

  It’s a great you get absolutely soaked ride.  Probably a better rapids ride than Kali River Rapids.

IOA now has people dryers in case you don't want to walk around wet for hours.  

They cost $5.00 so we figured we would save our money and dry off the old fashioned way.

My favorite non-Harry Potter related section of Universal is Seuss Landing. 

  The theming is filled with fun and whimsy, and is completely underrated.  Also reading is fun!

We rode The Cat and the Hat. Thing 1 and Thing 2 are the best part of the ride. 

We rode the sky train where you can get some great views/pictures of the park, 

and this time around, I did not have to ride the CaroSeussal alone.  

Shannon rode it with me.  

There were no lines at all in SeussLanding so we breezed through rather quickly.  

At one point during our trip we walked through the Jurassic Park area and found that we were the only people walking through this mostly deserted area of the park. It was slightly spooky like maybe dinosaurs really ate everyone and we were the only humans left.  If you need a break from the hectic jam-packed Potter areas, the Jurassic Park area is a nice, lovely area, with plenty of shade to relax in for a bit. 

We enjoyed our time at Islands of Adventure, especially since it wasn’t crowded, 

but it does feel like it is missing something, or it needs more of something... I couldn’t quite figure out what.  If you go on off season you could probably zip thorough Islands in a day, maybe even half of a day if you don’t care about Harry Potter.

I decided I want the Islands of Adventure entrance over the inside of my front door so I could read it every day and feel inspired to make every day an adventure.

Monday, September 22, 2014

A little Skinny on Universal Orlando

 Before I delve into our specific time spent at Universal Studios in Orlando, I thought that I would share some general information about the Universal parks. 

I know people often say that you can’t or shouldn’t really compare Universal and Disney, but you really can’t help but compare the two, especially when you spend time at both parks within the same week.

Is Universal worth visiting?
I would answer yes.  We did have fun during our time at Universal.  If you like roller coasters and more thrilling rides, Universal delivers.  If you are a geek for things like comic books, Transformers, and Harry Potter, you really should go there at least once. 

I purchased our tickets through my work.  We got a 3 day pass because it was only $4.00 more than the 2 day pass. We weren’t sure we were really going to use the 3rd day (we did end up using it to kill time before our plane ride home) but for $4.00 we thought it was nice to have the option.  We got the park-to-park option on our passes which means that you can move freely between Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios during each day.  It is important to know that if you don’t have a park-to-park pass, you will not be allowed to ride the Hogwarts Express.  I know people who only got a one day Universal Studios pass to see Diagon Alley and were either deeply disappointed at finding out that they couldn’t ride Hogwarts Express, or they had to “upgrade” their current pass for a price that probably would have been less if they had purchased the park-to-park pass ahead of time.

Express Pass
Express pass at Universal Studios allows you to get ahead of those in the “Standby” lines for attractions.  It is somewhat similar to Disney’s fast pass plus, but unlike Disney, you have to pay for the luxury of an express pass, or be staying at a Universal Resort, and it is important to note that the express pass does not work for either of the big Harry Potter rides.
I would highly recommend waiting until you get to the parks to feel it out before you invest in an express pass.  For the time of year that we went, it would have been a complete waste of money as we were able to walk on most rides with barely a wait.  If during the day it starts to get too busy for your liking, you can always pick up an Express pass at plenty of locations in the park.

Single Rider Lines
Something that Universal does really well is having a good amount of rides with single rider lines.  This includes both big Harry Potter rides.  We rode Gringotts twice using the single rider line and never waited more than 20 minutes when the standby queue wait time was usually 45 minutes.  Both times we still ended up riding together.  Both a positive and a negative about single rider lines is that you bypass the elaborate queues and pre-shows.  Now it is worth walking through most of the queues once, but for some, like Men in Black, once is enough, so if you want to ride again, and again (like we do), skipping the elaborate queue and pre-show is an excellent option. 

Universal is very picky about you not bringing any bags or loose items with you on attractions.  There are some attractions like Forbidden Journey that are understandable (it would totally ruin someone else’s ride experience if they had to stop the ride to retrieve your sunglasses), but for something like Men in Black, we were a little surprised.  Also perplexing was that the water rides, like Popeye’s Barges where you get soaked, did not provide lockers where you could stash your stuff to keep it from getting wet (Kali River Rapids at Animal Kingdom did have free lockers). 

 The lockers located near or at specific attractions are free for a time frame that appears to be based on the particular attraction’s wait time. If you go over the time frame, you then have to pay to get your stuff back.  

When you enter a locker area you will spot kiosks with screens (these areas tend to get very crowded and claustrophobic depending on the ride) where you submit your finger print, it assigns you a locker, you throw your stuff in, and once you close the door it locks.  When you get off the attraction you go back to the kiosk, type in your locker number, submit your fingerprint, and the locker opens.  One of the biggest issues is that you are putting your stuff in lockers over, and over, and over again.  By the seventh locker you come back and say,
   “It was locker 816 right?”
   “No, 816 was the last ride.  This was 132…no that was two rides ago. 262!”  We always ended up remembering our locker number, but we saw plenty of people who either forgot or didn’t pay attention in the first place and had to get an attendant who then had to open every locker until the park guest recognized their stuff.  If you bring your phone with you on a ride in a secured pocket it might be a good idea to take a picture of your locker number if you are forgetful.

Other Guests
We could never quite figure out why, but the other guests at Universal just seem to be less polite, less considerate, and a little rougher and ruder than the guests at the Disney parks. 
   One thing that continuously annoyed us was people standing in the ride entrances.  It appeared that they were waiting for someone to join them who was several miles away in a different section of the park.  They would just gather and stand in big groups in the ride entrance completely blocking anyone else from getting on the ride and when you tried to politely say excuse me and get by them they would give you the evil eye like you were the one who was completely inconsiderate. 

Universal seemed very popular with sorority groups (while Disney seemed popular for bachelorette celebrations).  There were a lot of young sorority girls wandering around the parks while we were there.  This group of lovely young ladies accosted Shannon and asked if he would take their picture. 

People at Universal were also more likely to mow you down, push into you, jump in front of you, and so on and so forth, so the environment in general feels more hectic, chaotic, and you leave the parks feeling more weary, drained, and less relaxed at the end of the day.  After two days in a row at Universal, we were more than ready for a break. So head there, but be sure to pack a good dose of patience.