Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Orlando, Florida

People don’t even understand how much being HERE means to me. 

I was introduced to Harry Potter when I was a sophomore in High School, which was in 2001 and back then only four of the seven books were published. I was an instant fan and watching these characters grow in each book, parallel to my own personal growth, I felt bonded to the characters and their journey. I was there for every book release, every film release, and every website launch. So naturally, I always wanted to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando. Since we planned our trip to Disney World we left a day aside to dedicate to this little adventure.

You have to start your journey in Universal Studios at the Diagon Alley park. There, you can explore some of London’s muggle locations. Once you take in all the landmarks: Grimmauld Place, Kings Cross, the Knight Bus. You can go through the red brick wall into Diagon Alley. Your eyes open wide as you try to take in all the beauty that is the world of Harry Potter actually come to life. Your excitement shoots through the roof at the sight of Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes and the alley of shops including Ollivanders, Flourish and Blotts, Gringotts Bank, and the ever-dark Knockturn Alley. There are countless other shops and stands, all influenced by the world of Harry Potter that everyone can enjoy.

Some of the main things to do is visit Ollivanders to choose your wand. You can either purchase a wand pertaining to one of the many characters in the novels or purchase any of the unnamed wands by reading the descriptions of the properties of the wands and choosing the one you feel will fit you most. I purchased the Elder Wand – the most powerful – which was also Dumbledore’s wand. All wands are about $50. The wands have a sensor at the tip that make their use through the park interactive. The park has markers on the ground with an inscription of an incantation and wand movement that you can replicate. The signal from the tip of your wand is picked up by a receiver in each location, if the wand movement is done correctly~~ something magical happens.

You can also experience a wand choosing the individual in a short performance inside a secret room in Ollivanders. Small groups are taken to a back room resembling the same room Harry got his wand in the movie. They choose an individual in the small group, they ask you questions, lights change, sounds come on – it’s pretty cool. 

There is only one main ride in Diagon Alley which is the Gringotts Bank ride. It’s a rollercoaster/3D/simulation ride. For these rides, guests aren’t allowed to bring in bags, wands, etc. They have set up lockers conveniently next
to each ride. You rent a locker for free using your fingerprint as your ID, which allows you to open and close your locker. The ride itself was AWESOME!!!

I normally don’t do well on simulation type rides, I often always get motion sick but I managed to survive this ride.

Once you are ready to move on, you can enter King’s Cross Station and catch the Hogwarts Express on Platform 9 and ¾ and experience a real train ride that drops you off at Hogsmeade Village. For this, you have to have your two-park hopper ticket ready. To experience this ride you are leaving Universal Studios and making your way into Universal’s Islands of Adventure park. The train ride is cool because the window in your car turns into a screen displaying a “movie” of sorts and displays scenery from the films and has a whole bit about Dementors boarding the train.

Once at Hogsmeade you can enjoy a few more rollercoasters and another simulation type ride located at Hogwarts Castle. Unfortunately, I was not able to survive the Hogwarts ride, I felt motion sick for about 40 minutes after. We found a quite resting area with tables and benches and I was able to lay down and wait for the sickness to pass.

Apart from the rides you can enjoy other shops like Honeydukes or catch some lunch at the Three Broomsticks. 

We tried BUTTERBEER! Yass!! It was good, it tasted like a cream soda (rootbeer) with a frothy whipped cream topping. I’ll admit, although it was not too sweet we were unable to finish ours. It would have been better to share one. Especially since each one was $6, a little more if you buy the frozen version.

Everything translated into an amazing experience and I was so happy to have been able to visit. Especially having a husband that indulged me and didn’t care that I wanted to stop in every single shop and look at every detail. Love him.

Disney World May 2015

I think by now people get that Jabi and I enjoy Disneyland. Well, this year we decided to step it up a notch and we went to Disney WORLD! – It was amazing.

We were there for three days and managed to visit the main four parks: Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom and Epcot. We skipped the water parks.

We didn’t stay in a hotel on the Disney World grounds; we stayed in a hotel on the outskirts of the park. Looking back I think that was our biggest regret. Although it can be expensive to stay in a hotel in Disney World (they have MANY) we stayed in a friendly neighbor hotel because we were able to get an amazing deal of $27 a night through a time-share membership belonging to my dad. It was our regret – ONLY because to get in and out of the parks was the biggest headache of our visit.

According to Google maps our hotel was a supposed five minutes from the main gate – WRONG!!! It felt like 15 to 20 minutes – plus, for Magic Kingdom they can’t just drop you off near the gate. Nope, you have to arrive at Epcot and take a monorail to Magic Kingdom, then take a SECOND monorail or FERRY boat to get to the Magic Kingdom gate. We had no idea it would be such a journey to get into Magic Kingdom.

We left our hotel thinking we would return midday and take a nap and refresh (since we were on about five hours of sleep) – no! since it took us so long to get into the park, we decided to tough it out. We spent almost 16 hours straight at Magic Kingdom. We were beat, but we made the most of it, took our time, took breaks throughout the day and just kept a positive vibe.

Back to the transportation headache, our hotel provided a shuttle service, but their pick up times didn’t always correspond with park closure times so we would miss the shuttle pick up. We figured we would take a bus or Uber – although we managed it, we missed the correct bus drop off by a couple of miles and had to call Uber. Then the other days when we managed to get Uber from the parks, sometimes they couldn’t find us right away. Disney World has an extensive shuttle system for guests staying at their hotels or for those who want to maneuver from park to park. It all takes a while to understand it and we didn’t really figure it out until our last day there.

Apart from that, I loved how bigger Magic Kingdom felt in comparison to Disneyland. The streets were wider which meant a less crowded feeling. It was nice to see the differences in attractions the two parks share, so if you enjoy Pirates of the Caribbean you will enjoy seeing the differences in the attraction at Disney World. Also, each land was slightly more bigger and offered more to look at or experience. In Fantasyland, for example, they had a small replica of Tangled’s home land created as a rest area for guests. Also, they had the new Beauty and the Beast addition which included the super popular Be Our Guest Restaurant which I managed to score reservations for, and they had Belle’s village.

I managed to score reservations to the Be Our Guest Restaurant about a week prior to our trip through the Disney World Go App which allows you to make reservations, manage your itinerary, choose and organize your fast passes, plus so much more. I was checking restaurant availability daily leading up to our trip and when the opening appeared I snagged it! The food was top notch quality and the restaurant itself was grand and beautiful!! Never pass up an opportunity to dine there.

Ceiling in the Grand Ballroom

Magic Rose in the West Wing

Try the Grey Stuff it's Delicious!

The other parks, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom and Epcot we managed to experience in half day increments. After our Magic Kingdom marathon we did sleep in the next day and didn’t make it into Hollywood Studios until noon. The day after, we split Animal Kingdom in the morning and Epcot in the afternoon. If you can, try and avoid doing two parks in one day.

All in all, Disney World is a must for the Disney lover. However, I highly recommend if you have smaller children to visit Disneyland instead. It’s just easier to get around, and you can walk across to California Adventure if you wanted to hop parks. You could easily go back to your hotel and rest and go back and not feel like you have lost hours of your day. If I have children I would wait until the kids are at a age that they don’t require naps so they can keep up with the demands and reality of visiting such a huge theme park.

Hello Again

I’ve been gone a long time.

Time flew by and a huge part of that was because I was busy – trying and failing to have a baby.

My one year mark of trying naturally came in November and then I was finally able to see a fertility specialist. I had to wait a year because of my age – I guess I’m “young” in the fertility world but in MY world I’m OLD. To make a long story short (in the future I’ll share more of my experiences) my husband and me did six months of fertility treatment ranging from pills to daily injections and it just didn’t happen. It has all been an emotional rollercoaster and after our last treatment, I decided that we should take a few months off to “rest” and just try to relax, focus on our marriage and ourselves.

One thing I wanted to focus on again – is writing and blogging. Stay tuned!! 

Labor Day Holiday – Disneyland and California Adventure Trip!

We’re at it again! We decided to take advantage of the long weekend and take a mini trip to Disneyland for Labor Day.
We were a bit skeptical about congestion when going around the holidays, but surprisingly both parks where not packed with people! We had been used to not buying the hopper pass anymore because it was always so busy, that going back and forth between parks in one day was not worth it. The only thing I wish I had known prior to our trip was that Monday (since it was a holiday) they did extend the park hours to Midnight, on Tuesday, Disneyland Park closed at 8pm! I didn’t realize the park would close early due to it being low season and it being a weekday. I suppose in the summer the weekday are extended. Since the park did close at 8, that meant there were no fireworks show or Fantasmic shows. Those experiences are important if you haven’t visited Disneyland in a long time, but for us the tradeoff was well worth it. The wait times for attractions were very reasonable and the congestion was minimal. The whole atmosphere was more pleasant and less hectic, which is always nice when you are on vacation.  
On Monday (Labor Day) we drove down from the San Francisco area and arrived at the park by 1pm. We spent the rest of the day in California Adventure. We enjoyed a few rides and decided to indulge in our never to be missed Ghirradelli sundaes! I had the Peanut Butter chocolate sundae and Jabi had the “Treasure Island” sundae – both had vanilla ice cream, whip cream, chopped nuts, hot fudge, and a cherry! The only difference was that I had peanut butter and he had a warm chocolate brownie to top his off. 

For dinner, we decided to check out the Pacific Warf Café. I opted for the clam chowder soup in a bread bowl and Jabi had the Chicken Apple and Walnut Salad that also came tossed in its own bread bowl. The café also provided an array of other soups, sandwiches, salads, along with sweet treats and the biggest cinnamon rolls I’ve seen in a while! Since we had the sundaes earlier we passed on any desserts that night. 

On Tuesday morning, we had breakfast at the always-delightful Carnation Café. Jabi enjoyed a Ham and Cheese omelet with a side of chicken apple sausage and potatoes. I had the Classic Eggs Benedict with a side of fruit and potatoes. Before Lunch I managed to sneak in a Dole Whip float – located right next to the Tiki Room in Adventureland. 

For lunch we made it to Café Orleans – and it was a winner. Jabi had the “Crescent City” Salad with Blackened chicken and I enjoyed a cup of the New Orleans Gumbo made with chicken, Andouille sausage and Tasso Ham, mixed in with some dirty rice! It was delicious and had the right amount of kick to it, not overly spicy. Along with that I also ordered the famous Monte Cristo Sandwich, which is turkey, ham and Swiss cheese fried together in a corn-like batter, dusted with powdered sugar and berry sauce. This sandwich can easily fit any breakfast, lunch or dinner category- definitely a must try!

Some simple tips and tricks to remember for your overall Disney trip is: 
1.        Bring panchos - for the wet rides! Yah it’s fun to get wet, but sometimes it’s easier  to wear the pancho and avoid having to wait for your clothes and shoes to dry off. You might get some people calling you ‘cowards’ (playfully, of course) but who cares! They’re just mad they didn’t think of it! Typically Disneyland does sell panchos but I’m sure you can save yourself a few bucks if you purchase the non-fancy panchos from Target for $1.99.  
2.        Single Rider is the way to go! Even with the downsized crowd because it was off season, there were still some rides with a 20-30 minute wait time. The still popular ‘Cars’ ride had a 30+min wait time. Jabi and I always go single rider when possible, for the Cars ride, we used single rider waited a short 5 minutes and still ended up in the same care but just in different rows. A good majority of popular rides have the single rider option; you just have to check in with the cast member at the beginning of the ride. Sometimes single riders are given a bright ticket identifying them as single riders. Sometimes the ticket isn’t necessary, for example Splash Mountain, you just follow the exit back to the canoes and wait in your own little line.

3.        Lilly Belle Train Car - Don’t waste your time asking if you can experience a ride in the train car – they will say NO. According to the captain of the Mark Twain Riverboat, Disneyland closed the cart to the public due to disrespect from guests. It was a combination of guests not appreciating the importance of train car and spilling food and drinks while on board. I totally understand.
4.        Mark Twain Riverboat – if you want to ride in the wheelhouse ask the cast member left behind to close the gate as the boat is leaving. When you see the boat sailing off ask the cast member if you can visit the wheelhouse for the next tour – this ensures you are the first to ask. Then you have a short wait for the next tour to roll around. The wheelhouse is not that big, but enough to fit a couple of adults and one or two small children. Our captain allowed us to ask ALL and ANY questions relating to the park – so if there are things you are curious about, here is your chance to get the answers. Last but not least, you are able to sign the captain’s log and you get your own souvenir sailing license.

5.        Disneyland Railroad Train – the ‘tender seat.’ You need to ask a cast member at the Main Street train station. The time I did it, they were training a new conductor so they asked if I wouldn’t mind coming back after a certain hour so I could do it then. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to go back.    

Lastly, let loose and have fun!!

*all opinions are my own*