Thursday, March 31, 2016

Our EPIC Harry Potter Adventures {2016}

And when I say EPIC, I do mean EPIC!  Even if you don't love the Harry Potter books, I can't imagine you wouldn't be impressed with Universal's Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  It is just so impressive and well done down to every little detail.  Evan and I were in Harry Potter heaven.  Universal Orlando has both sections of the Harry Potter world at their two parks.  In Universal Studios, there is London's Diagon Alley, and you can board the Hogwarts Express at London's King's Cross Station to journey to the village of Hogsmeade and Hogwarts Castle.  Trust me, it is amazing.  I will let our pictures tell the tale of our epic and magical adventures.

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We arrived in London, and the first place we spotted was No. 12 Grimmauld Place where we knocked to try to gain entrance to the Order of the Phoenix headquarters.  Apparently, mean old Creature wouldn't let us in. 

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Then, we were greeted by the friendly Knight Bus driver and his sidekick, the talking Jamaican head.  And yes, the head really talked to us in his infamous accent. 

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Evan and Brody tried to gain admittance to the Ministry of Magic, but I guess they didn't know the secret password.  Daddy and Mattox enjoyed strolling down the streets of London. 

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Then, we found the secret entrance in the wall into Diagon Alley.  And that big dragon on top of Gringott's Bank really did breathe fire!

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The wall opening to let us in and some magical shops to be explored. 

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But first, we needed a good English breakfast at the Leaky Cauldron...complete with some Butter Beer.  Yum.  I went hardcore and got the English breakfast.  

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The boys and I enjoyed sampling our butter beer and showing off our frothy mustaches. 

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Had to get a picture in front of the big cauldron. 

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The all important stop at Ollivander's to find our perfect wand.  Evan decided if you are going to get a wand, you might as well get the best one so he chose Professor Albus Dumbledore's famous Elder wand.  The wands are pretty special because they work spells all around Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade.  Evan tries his first spell in the dark and spooky Knockturn Alley where he makes some bones dance. 
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Exploring Knockturn Alley.  Eddie tried so hard to get a picture of the dragon breathing fire, but we were just never in a good place for the shot.
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Of course, one of our favorite rides was Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringott's.  The long line was made more pleasant by walking through Gringott's Bank.  Those goblin bankers looked so real as they looked around and moved.  I loved the big chandeliers.  Has anyone else noticed how they cleaned up the bank from the first movie to the last one?  In the first movie, Gringott's was all dusty and cobweb covered, but in the later movies when Harry returned to the bank to find the Horcrux, it was all clean and shiny.  Haha!   Guess the goblins hired a maid service.  

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Evan and Brody standing before the Head Goblin. 

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After a long and tiring day, the boys and I enjoyed a cool treat from Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour.  Chocolate Chili, anyone?   I don't know why I got no pictures of anyone else eating ice cream, but Mattox sure looked cute helping me with my ice cream cone. 


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These spells were really cool.  The first one Evan performed turned the lights on in the lighting shop.  The second one made it rain and thunder around that umbrella.  There are apparently sensors on the wands that react to some sensors in various spots.  The wands come with maps telling you where to do the spells. 

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We tried to go back to No. 12 Grimmauld Place that night, but old Creature just looked menacingly at us from his window.   He looks out the window when you knock on the door loudly. 

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The next day, we headed to Hogsmeade for more adventures.  I just love the look of Hogsmeade village.  Can I live there?  

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So excited at our first peek at Hogwarts castle.  We decided to try to hit this ride early before breakfast because we knew the lines would get very long.  We enjoyed our walk through the castle on the way to the most amazing ride, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.  

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The first thing we spied when we entered the castle was the Mirror of Erised which showed Harry his heart's desire of seeing his family for the first time.   It was showing images, but the flash on my camera didn't allow the holographic images to appear.  Then, we spied the Potions classroom.  So glad we didn't run into Professor Snape.  We then headed for the entrance to Headmaster Dumbledore's tower with the Phoenix at the entance. 

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In the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, Harry, Ron and Hermione made an appearance.  We also tried to gain admittance to Griffindor, but the lady in the painting wouldn't let us in because we were muggles.  We loved all of the paintings on the walls that moved and talked, and I loved seeing the sorting hat come to life.   Eddie, Evan and I really loved The Forbidden Journey which took us on a fast paced broomstick flying adventure through Hogwart's which was under attack.  I got a little dizzy after some crazy flying around the Quidditch field.  Apparently, I was so out of it after that that I missed almost being struck by the Whomping Willow.  Evan said it came very close to us, and I didn't even remember it.  Ha!

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Since Brody couldn't ride The Forbidden Journey with us, he and I enjoyed riding the Flight of the Hippogriff coaster.  

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Then, we headed to eat breakfast at The Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade.  I enjoyed a more American breakfast of pancakes that day. 

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Evan did some more spell casting after breakfast.  He made a flower open at the flower shop and made a snowman move on a cake at the bake shop.  The little medallions on the ground told them how to do the spell. 
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Then, we all enjoyed Honeyduke's candy shop, and I loved seeing Hermione's pretty purple dress from the ball in Goblet of Fire.   Evan cast a spell at the toy shop that made a rocket shoot up. 

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Then, we all enjoyed watching him cast a spell to make a giant chocolate frog box open and the frog croaked to life. 
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We had to buys us some chocolate frogs and Bertie Bott's every flavor beans.  I was thinking I would be "disappointed" if there were no yucky flavored ones, but I think I could have lived my whole life without tasting vomit.  Haha!  I nearly gagged when I put that yellow and red speckled one in my mouth.  That one got spit out immediately.  The earwax and booger ones weren't too bad.  Ha! I can't bring myself to try the rotten egg ones.  Yikes!
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He made this pot tip over to reveal some evil looking creatures inside. 

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Almost ready to ride the Hogwarts Express. 
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We arrived at Platform 9 3/4 in London, and Evan attempted to go through the wall.  Haha!

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Yay for the Hogwarts Express!

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I wish I had better pictures of us inside the train car compartment on the train, but I was too busy enjoying the ride.  Daddy took these shots on his phone.  While riding the train to and from Hogsmeade, you can see the countryside outside the window and get to wave hello or goodbye to Hagrid and other friends along the journey.  Then, outside the compartment window, you hear and spy Harry and his friends walking down the aisle as Ron eats a chocolate spider that someone let get loose. 

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We were back in the London station here so we had to get a picture with the Platform 9 3/4 signs.  We spied Harry's luggage and sweet Hedwig on the platform.  While in Diagon Alley to ride Escape from Gringotts one more time with a fast pass that Eddie and Evan got for being stuck on another ride, Evan got to perform the Wingardium Leviosa spell to make a feather float.  

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I swallowed my fear to brave the Dragon Challenge and ride a blue Hungarian Hornback.  Yikes!
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And now, Brody tells everyone he meets about the Patronus he made.  He loved his puppy dog, and Evan loved his Otter.  Eddie was not as impressed with the goat he made, and I wasn't too happy with my cat.  I am a rabbit person so I think I would actually make a bunny patronus which was an option.  The girl at Shutterbutton's photography studio "chose" our patronus.  We just bought the boys' for a keepsake and got our special keepsake DVD of our moving picture video. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Universal Studios & Universal Islands of Adventures {2016}

After our first day at the park (St. Patrick's Day), we were exhausted from staying at the park late to try to accomplish everything we wanted to do.  I knew that Islands of Adventure probably had more rides and things we would want to do so I foresaw it taking us most of the next two days to accomplish it all.  However, I did plan on leaving the parks earlier so we could get a little more rest and enjoy our resort more.  Much like Epcot at the Disney Parks, I think Islands of Adventure is the more scenic park at Universal.  The boys really loved this park primarily because of the Jurassic Park section and also the Dr. Seuss section.  Of course, I am still saving our favorite parts of both parks for another post.  Here's how we wrapped up two more days of theme park fun:


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The entrance to Islands of Adventure is a lot more visually pleasing, and I love the whimsical tower at the entrance.  It kind of makes me think of Rapunzel's tower.  

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After entering the parks, we were making a very quick walk through and around the park to the "special" area I will show later.  But I just loved everything about Seuss Landing.  How fun would it be to live in a world like this?  

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Later, we went back to Seuss Landing for further exploration.  We met some fun characters, including the Grinch and one of the Who's. 

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The boys went for a ride in a police car on Mulberry Street. Oh the things we saw on Mulberry Street!  
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Then, we took a ride on The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride.  I was disappointed Mattox couldn't ride this one.  I had assumed most of the Seuss rides would be younger child friendly.  He did get to ride a couple though. 

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All of the boys did get to enjoy the Seuss Carousel.  I hate that Daddy couldn't get a shot of Mattox's face on the ride, but he loved it.  Silly Horton's ear was blocking him.  Of course, I had tried to get Eddie to get on the ride to take pictures, but he had disappeared from my sight when we were getting in line.  Sigh. 

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We enjoyed eating lunch inside the Circus McGurkus tent. 

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Then, we all got to ride the One Fish Two Fish ride.  It is kind of like the Dumbo ride at Disney, and the fish spray you with water as you get to move your fish up and down.   You can just barely see Mattox's little head sticking up beside me. 

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Brody enjoyed visiting The Once-ler from The Lorax. 

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And we got to meet The Lorax and that silly Cat and his Things too.  

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I thought the Lost Continent part of the park was really neat to see.  We saw the Poseidon's Fury show which was inside what looked like the ruins of an ancient Greek temple to Poseidon.  

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The show took us on an exploration expedition where an archaeologist had recently disappeared from the site so we had to help solve the mystery.  Then, we got "trapped" inside by the evil spirit who wanted us to find Poseidon's trident for him so he would have his power.  Thankfully, we found the trident and returned it to Poseidon who helped us get free.   

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After an early dinner at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., we made it back to the hotel in time for a little swim.  The boys got to enjoy the waterslide and loved it as usual.  I went down it the first time to make sure Brody was okay to do it, and then the boys couldn't stop for the rest of the night. 

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Here comes Brody!

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All smiles and so proud. 

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The next day, we started our park tour on the opposite side of Islands of Adventure and walked through the superhero and comic book side.  These boys loved this cool futuristic police car. 

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Although Evan didn't know all of these characters, he does love the Avengers.  The boys struck superhero poses for a picture. 

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In Toon Lagoon, I enjoyed seeing some of the characters from the old comic strips I used to love reading in the Sunday paper.  I kind of hate that I don't get the newspaper anymore so Evan can enjoy reading the comics. 

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Brody is drawn to a water fountain because he can't resist any water, and Evan can't resist a cannon or any kind of gun. 

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I was sad this ride hadn't opened yet.  It looked really cool. 

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The Jurassic Park River Adventure was probably Brody's favorite ride.  He loved when we almost got eaten by a big T-Rex at the end and barely escaped from his jaws to come out with a big splash. 

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Yikes, that big T-Rex almost got us!

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Then, we went for a high flying adventure soaring above the park on these Pteranodons.  The boys enjoyed playing in Camp Jurassic. 

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The boys enjoyed these water shooters made from the heads of those creepy little dinosaurs from the first Jurassic Park movie.  You know the ones who kill the guy trying to steal the dinosaur DNA. 

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They would have played all day in this play area and not cared about riding any more rides.  

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Coming out of the T-Rex skull's mouth. 

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This one was a bit of a challenge.  Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls is a little like Disney's Splash Mountain as it starts out slowly going through the stories of this funny cartoon character, but then you go down this big drop to get really wet.  It was already a cooler and wetter day with rain showers off and on so I knew I wouldn't dry out as quickly and would likely be pretty cold afterwards.  I made Evan change into his swimsuit, and I invested in an overpriced poncho.  Of course, it didn't help my head.  Then, to add insult to injury, you get sprayed in the face when you round a sharp turn after the big drop.  Sigh.  

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Oh my, these guys were really hungry!  They wanted to eat all of Wimpy's burgers. 

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So we decided to go eat a real dinner at Mythos Restaurant back in the Lost Continent area.  It was voted best theme park restaurant for many years and has a really cool look inside of the mountain carved with the faces of the gods.  This was our "fancy" dinner night although we didn't get to change our clothes like I had hoped.  I did enjoy a fancy drink though.  

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I let Daddy take one for the team and take Brody on the Twirl 'n' Hurl because Brody needed a special ride since there were a few rides he wasn't tall enough for.  He loved this one.  He also loved the Men in Black Alien Attack ride so we rode it twice for him.  The boys did their best MIB agent poses. 

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Sometimes, it pays to not have a plan.  We hadn't planned to end up back in the Universal Studios park that day, but we had went back over there for dinner and to ride a few more rides that Brody requested.  We ended up leaving the park at about the time the special Mardi Gras night parade started.  We couldn't really leave because the streets were blocked so we just enjoyed the show.  The boys enjoyed getting to experience their first Mardi Gras celebration.  Apparently, since the park spends so much money on these awesome floats, they celebrate Mardi Gras for over a month.  

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The floats and costumes were so neat. 

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And yes, we got lots of beads too!  Can you imagine how many beads are thrown out at these nightly parades?  

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