We left the farm and drove to Florida last week.
Our minivan, with over 200,000 miles on it, drove our family of four through four states.
And stopped when we got to Orlando.
We didn’t travel to Florida this time to see a mouse and his friends at Disney World , but instead we saw a Wizard at Universal Studios.
Our entire family has read all 7 of the Harry Potter books (the youngest is on book 4) including all available supplemental material, we have seen all 8 of the movies and since we own them all, we watch them numerous times a year.
So, we are real Potterphiles.
It was a great trip and we really enjoyed ourselves. The weather in Orlando was good. I gave it an 8/10. We only had one day of rain. I wear Crocs which are made out of rubber so the rain doesn’t bother my feet. But a few in our party tromped back to the car with very soggy feet.
We spent four days at Universal and went to Downtown Disney (which they now call Disney Springs) one evening. The last full day in Florida was spent at the beach. We drove an hour to the east coast so that the kids could play in the ocean at Cocoa Beach. Both kids were very young the last time we swam in salt water and the youngest didn’t realize how salty the ocean would be.
The animals at the farm were taken care of by my parents who live down the street. We did have a tragedy the morning we woke up to leave for Florida. I’ll be writing about that later this week.
My aunt graciously offered her timeshare to us to use in Orlando and it helped us save a lot of money and we were so close to everything.
Universal Studios consists of two parks. It’s much smaller than Disney World. We didn’t really need to spend four days there, but our tickets were a Buy 2 Days-Get 2 Days Free deal, so four days it was!
We had Park-To-Park tickets which meant that we could ride the Hogwarts Express numerous times…this is the train that Harry Potter and his classmates rode to school on each year…they would embark on their journey at Kings Cross station in London and go to platform 9 3/4 to catch their train. Platform 9 3/4 is located between platforms 9 and 10 at the train station. Wizards in training can magically go through the brick wall to find this specific platform. The Hogwarts Express took us from London to Hogsmeade. Or really from Universal Studios to the adjacent theme park titled Universal Islands of Adventure. We rode the train twice a day instead of walking from park to park. It was a nice cool reprieve from the heat.
Man-Farmer and the sisters are BIG fans of The Simpsons. We saw quite a few characters from this show at Universal.
Universal in Orlando is home to the most realistic versions of the villages and storefronts from the Harry Potter books. This is the entrance to the village of Hogsmeade, the village near the school of Hogwarts that Harry Potter attends. The roofs of the buildings are snow covered and the snow magically does not melt in the Florida heat!
Another character from The Simpsons, Bart Simpson’s best friend Milhouse.
And Duff Man, he is a beer Superhero (sort of!) on The Simpsons.
Man-Farmer and I in front of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. There’s a super fun ride housed in this building. It’s called Harry Potter and the Forbidden Forest. I actually screamed a few times when some giant spiders seemed to be very close to me!
This is the Hogsmeade again. A nice lady took a picture with all four of us in it. We bought the sisters interactive wands. Wizards in training need to practice their spells and the wands they got allowed them to practice casting spells at specific locations throughout Hogsmeade and also over in Diagon Alley. Diagon Alley is the hidden wizard street located in London that houses various stores for wizards of all ages.
This is Diagon Alley. This is the main thoroughfare. There are shops that you can enter and buy merchandise relating to the films and other shops that are just for you to enjoy visually. There was a lot of attention to detail in each shop and it was quite impressive. There’s a smaller street to the left up ahead called Horizont Alley when you get to the Dragon on the top of the bank. Go right at the Dragon on the bank and there’s a 4D ride and another street called Carkitt Market where you can enjoy drinks and live musical entertainment. Tucked behind a wall on Horizont Alley is an area called Knockturn Alley. It’s a dark and spooky area that houses some spell casting sites and a shop to buy and look at Dark Magic items.
About the dragon…in the books this dragon is kept as a guard/slave in the caverns of the Gringotts Bank. The Gringotts Bank is owned and operated by goblins. Very short and very greedy creatures who wear suits and ties.
Harry Potter and his friends, Ron and Hermione, help this dragon escape from it’s slavery at the bank. It’s a marvelous piece of craftsmanship as it sits high above the streets of Diagon Alley. It is supposed to breath fire, though. It NEVER did the ENTIRE time we were there. And we spent a lot of time in Diagon Alley. I guess it wasn’t working. It was very cool nonetheless. Right next to the Dragon on the bank is a ride called Escape From Gringotts. You sit in a cart that takes you into the depths of the cave-like bank. You wear 3D glasses and can actually feel the heat from the dragon as it spews fire towards you. There are also water effects on the ride and you feel splashes making it very realistic. We had heard from many people that the rides at Universal can make you a bit nauseous as they are mainly 3D/4D rides. We had zero problems with nausea and really enjoyed everything we rode. Since we were there for four days, we rode many rides (including The Harry Potter rides, Men In Black, Despicable Me, The Mummy, King Kong, a Jurassic Park water ride, and some red roller coaster) more than once!
This is a motorcycle and sidecar that one of the main characters from the books (and movies) drives. His name is Hagrid and his mother was a giant and his father was a human. How that worked out is still a mystery to me! This prop was not there the first three days we were in Diagon Alley and then, just like magic, there it was!
We also saw other sites not related to Harry Potter while at Universal. We saw a Horror Movie Make-Up Show. My family, especially Man-Farmer, are big fans of horror movies and this show was right up our alley! It was very funny and we learned many “tricks of the trade” including that the blood scenes in the Alfred Hitchcock movie Psycho were actually chocolate syrup!
Universal Studios is home to many Steven Spielberg movies including E.T. (we rode a very cute ride based on this movie) and Jaws. The Universal Jaws ride in Orlando is no longer around, but the shark is still hanging about.
Now, for a few things we learned while on vacation…
1. No one drives the speed limit on America’s highways. No matter what state, how much traffic is surrounding them, or weather conditions. No one except that family in the blue minivan with Illinois plates and the Totoro sticker on the rear window. And that guy in the pickup truck who had his windows down during a rain storm in GA. Everyone drives 15-20 miles over the posted limit.
2. Landlocked people (i.e. pale white people from Illinois) can become very sunburned while frolicking in the salty Atlantic Ocean. Even if their mother/wife applies sunscreen numerous times to them.
3. Dessert is calorie-free while on vacation. Especially when your step counter on your phone logs 14,000-20,000 steps a day! We had many Butterbeers (a trademark butterscotch drink from the Harry Potter books)
Butterbeer ice cream
Vivoli il Gelato whose trademark shop is located in Florence, Italy!
And giant milkshakes from Toothsome Chocolate Emporium.
4. My kids do not enjoy pulling off of the side of the interstate so mom can see new and different things. I had seen on my map that The World’s Largest Peanut would be two seconds off of the highway as we passed through Georgia. It certainly wasn’t as big as I had thought it would be. It was just poised very high in the air.
And Ruby Falls at Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga, Tennessee is not accessible unless you pay money. Because it’s in a cave. I thought it would be just a regular waterfall and I LOVE a good waterfall, but no one wanted to wait around for a tour down into a cave to see it, so this is all we saw after we drove halfway up to Lookout Mountain.
I couldn’t get anyone to agree to stop at the Jack Daniel’s Historic Distillery or the Towing and Recovery Museum.
5. The last road trip we went on, which was to Houston, we started this game. It’s the traditional license plate game that families have been doing for years as they travel across the good ol’ U.S. of A. We used the same map (printed at home from this website) that we used when we traveled to Texas. When we see a license plate on a car from another state, we color in that state on our map. We saw a few cars from Ontario, Canada so I just colored in the entire top of my map to say that I saw a car from Canada. We saw almost all of the states this trip! We came home with only 6 states missing.
6. As much fun as we had at Universal, we decided that we all like Disney World better. The Harry Potter sections of the parks were top notch, but they were small. And the rest of Universal had a Six Flags type of feel to us.
Everyone who worked at Universal was super nice. The parks were clean. The food was good…we ate at a fabulous Harry Potter themed restaurant called The Three Broomsticks.
We found the loaded baked potatoes at the London Taxi Stand outside of the train station to Hogwarts to be a delicious deal. We had somewhat good gyros and chili-cheese dogs at a quick service restaurant called The Fire Eaters Grill at Islands of Adventures, and we had a REALLY GOOD full sized pepperoni pizza in Universal Studios at a large and quick to serve joint called Louie’s.
If you like Harry Potter I highly recommend going to Universal in Orlando. Two days should be plenty of time to get your Potter fill.
Thanks for reading…stay tuned this week for a post about our ducks. We had something significant happen right before we left for Florida.