Tag Archives: travel

the boy who lived [universal studios]

21 Jul

I still remember when we first met.

I was probably in second grade, and as an avid reader was perusing the many aisles of books in my elementary school library. As I scanned the multi-colored shelves, a glint of gold lettering caught my eye. “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”, the title read. It looked as good as any of the books I spent my time poring over, so I checked it out.

A few weeks later, in our class library session, the librarian pulled it out to recommend it to the class. Some years later, the book exploded with a popularity unlike any I’d ever seen. Some fourteen years later, I sat in tears as the curtain closed on the final installment of the movie series.

I could sit here and talk about the movie and the books coming to an end, but let’s be honest, everyone else has already done that. Did they cut some things that I wish they hadn’t? Yes. Did I love it anyways? Of course. And did I feel like some part of my childhood was coming to a close as I saw my favorite characters projected into the future with children of their own, and careers? Yes. But ultimately, the magical creations of J.K. Rowling will live on in the books and movies for more people to enjoy, & rather than bore you while I wax poetic about what a genius that woman is, I’ll just show you some pictures of my OWN trip to Hogwarts. :)

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Orlando

The humidity also gave me Hermione-hair… fitting, right?

I’m not the hugest fan of Universal Studios in general; it lacks the attention to detail and overall magical aura of its Disney counterparts. Their homage to Harry Potter, however, was rife with such detail and, as such, attracted zillions of people. Yes, zillions. Technical term. We were there right as the park opened and within 30 minutes the most popular ride already had a 45 minute wait. Of course, the line is actually vaguely entertaining as it takes you on a tour through Hogwarts, but still.

The dilapidated buildings and cobblestone streets all look perfectly straight out of the movies and books. Zonko’s is fantastic, with the shelves piled high with all sorts of useless but utterly amusing toys & tricks.

The adjoining Honeydukes is similarly colorful, and they do sell every-flavor beans & chocolate frogs.

However, it’s all rather small. There are only 3 rides, the main one being “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey”, housed in the replica of Hogwarts castle.

But the admission to the park is totally worth the one ride; it’s unlike anything I’ve ever ridden. You’re basically attached to a robotic arm that swivels and takes you through scenes from the movies, sometimes in physical form and sometimes projected on a big screen. You actually feel like you’re darting through the castle on a broomstick; it’s absolutely incredible. As mentioned, the line is obscenely long (2 hours at its longest when we were there) but you can get on within 30 minutes on the single-rider line, though this does mean you miss the tour through Hogwarts.

I will say that the “storyline” of the ride is a little unclear; it basically just feels like you’re following Harry on some nameless journey going through a few of the scenes. But it’s all still fairly magical, so it’s forgiven.

My parents fail at focusing with my DSLR…

The other ride worth mentioning is the Dragon Challenge. It’s a moderately intense roller coaster where you’re hanging DOWN from the tracks rather than riding on them, which also lends itself to a feeling of flying. I really enjoyed it, though a lot of the views you see are just industrial buildings (which doesn’t really add to the aura much). Still worth riding. We didn’t even do the Hippogriff ride; it’s basically just there so the little kids have something they can ride and isn’t anything particularly special.

I did get a chance to try both pumpkin juice AND butterbeer; normally I’m not big on park food (not tasty, and exorbitantly expensive) but I was DYING to try both, so I did. :)

I loved both, and kind of want to try and make some form of Pumpkin Juice myself.

The Butterbeer tasted like a butterscotch candy in liquid form. Yum.

Overall, I loved the park, especially when it wasn’t overly crowded in the early morning (by afternoon there were lines to get into shops). Oh, and I guess there’s something cool at Ollivander’s wand shop but we were too lazy to wait in the line, so I’m not even sure what it is! I would say that I wish it were bigger; I think there’s a lot more room to expand and create all kinds of different rides and experiences and my head was spinning with new ideas as I left.

Recommendations: Get there early & go through a somewhat shortened version of the Forbidden Journey ride, then go back for seconds & thirds via the single-rider line :) And fork up the money for some pumpkin juice!

Other notable attractions at Universal are the E.T. ride in the main part of the park, and the whole Dr. Seuss section which was freaking adorable.

Yes, I AM four years old.

Thoughts on Universal Studios?
Who here is a Potter fan? :) I’m actually not a die-hard… read all the books at least once or twice, and LOVE them, but I’m not obsessive. I do think J. K. Rowling is ridiculously creative though; how she came up with all of those details is totally beyond me!

WIA[WDW]

19 Jul

a.k.a. What I Ate at Walt Disney World!

I’m a few weeks behind (um, obviously) but I figured I’d do a special WIAW post on how to eat at Disney. :)

Note: We were fortunate enough to have a full kitchen at our hotel, which influenced the way we ate somewhat. I’ll still chat about some of the park options though I definitely didn’t photograph everything we ate! Also some of the photos are of less-than-stellar quality since I took them with a camera phone… sigh.

Breakfast:

Not photographed, but I basically had oatmeal every single morning; I had the foresight to bring some packets with me, and when we went to the grocery store we stocked up on a canister of oats for my dad & mom. If you have a microwave in your hotel this is a much cheaper, healthier option than eating at the parks!

Lunch/Dinner:

Usually we ate one meal at the park and one at home (which was usually some variety of sandwich, often with boiled eggs… I would have loved to actually cook something, but we didnt’ want to buy cooking spray/oil or furnish the kitchen for 10 days, so we stuck to some simple stuff).

Animal Kingdom

We ate at Pizzafari and I got some kind of salad that had a bunch of random stuff on it… including salami, which I gave to my father (I was trying to not make a huge fuss and just go with the flow, but I wasn’t really interested in cheese pizza).

Epcot

Epcot DEFINITELY had the best options. My favorite was inside “The Land”; there was a little “food-court” type area called Seasons that had a variety of vegetarian options and was generally much healthier than the rest of the food in all of the parks.

I had a fabulous vegetable soup with a cracker.

My mom had a grilled veggie and hummus pita (well, I helped :) )

My dad had a beet & feta salad… and a huge piece of chicken but I left that out.

There were fish options, stir fries, and a cold case full of different to-go wraps and even some gluten-free bars.

Definitely the most health-friendly spot I found.

Epcot’s World Showcase

This had the most INTERESTING eats, though we barely touched most of it. The World Showcase has mini areas devoted to a number of major countries, and each one has restaurants for that particular country’s cuisine. All of them looked fantastic, and if I’d had loads of time I probably would have gone through methodically and sampled a bit of everything on different days. As it was, we just wound up eating at the French bakery one day.

While they didn’t really have a vegetarian sandwich, they did have a cheese plate that came with a loaf of bread… Not exactly the most balanced meal in the world, but it worked.

Of course we saved room for dessert. :) We actually saw a few families walk out with trays FULL of desserts as their entire meal… I wish ;)

I love berries. And my camera lens. Swoon.

Personally I wanted to eat some of the falafel in Morocco, but we never got a chance. Oh well!

Magic Kingdom

We ate at the Columbia Harbor House, which was probably the best option within this park that I found… They had a good Hummus sandwich on thick, hearty bread. It had a kinda weird broccoli slaw, but it was still pretty good (if not photogenic).

Universal Studios

I originally wanted to partake in Harry-Potter themed goods at their restaurant, but none of the options looked especially good, so we wound up walking out of the park to Moe’s at citywalk where I had a delicious taco salad (I’m obsessed with salads with beans & tons of salsa!)

Other goodies

I just love going around to all of the bakeries and admiring their beautiful cupcakes & cookies & caramel apples. We didn’t really have any, but they’re so colorful & fun!

We did, however, end up going to Ghirardelli for ice cream on our final day, at Tara’s recommendation. :)

And one of my personal favorites are the chocolate covered frozen bananas they sell throughout all of the parks, though I didn’t ever photograph any of them!

General recommendations:

  • If you have a fridge, go out and buy some bread & cheese/peanut butter and bring sandwiches some days. It gets extremely expensive to just eat at the parks; each meal is $8+
  • If you DO have to eat exclusively their food, look into the Disney Dining Plan. We didn’t use it, but it seems like a decent deal.
  • Go to a grocery store and stock up on some easy snacks. The Publix that’s 2 miles away had really great prices, while the other grocery store (Good’s?) that was closer was unkempt and exorbitantly expensive.
  • Only semi-related, but drink lots of water! Preferably by reusing waterbottles; there are plenty of drinking fountains.
  • It’s kind of hard to find healthy food or vegetarian food in all of the parks. A lot of the salads have chicken, though you might be able to ask them to leave it off. I’ve heard if you’re on top of things you can call in advance and they’ll accommodate almost any dietary restrictions, but we basically played it by ear. It turned out okay, but there weren’t a ton of options.
  • At Universal, they have a special key for restaurants with healthy/vegetarian options. Unfortunately, their idea of a healthy option is a Ceasar salad. And vegetarian = cheese pizza. Sigh.
  • If you get a chance, eat your way through Epcot. LOTS of options there, and the food is not just typical-park-food. :)
  • It’s easier to eat 1-2 good-sized meals rather than lots of mini-meals like I’m used to, and ends up being less expensive. You’re on vacation and walking a TON, so give yourself some slack and enjoy what you eat! :) My general thing is if I’m going to be spending lots of money & eating more calories, I damn well better be eating something delicious ;)
  • Try eating at some places outside of the parks themselves, as I think a lot of times they’re a little bit cheaper. HOWEVER, do not deny yourself the experience of having a truly Disney-ish meal; I think having at least one sit-down dinner in the parks is fun & worth the money. Might as well do it while you’re there! :)

Any experience eating out at theme parks?

How do you deal with eating “healthy” on vacation?

walt disney world: epcot’s future world

14 Jul

Hi, sorry I’m still failing at posting regularly. To be honest I’m in a bit of a funk (Disney withdrawal? :P haha) but I’m trying to revive my motivation. :)

Boys on the bus!

Our first full day at Disney was spent mostly at Epcot.

EPCOT originally stood for Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow; apparently Walt Disney wanted to create a small utopian society and dabble in city planning. What we ended up with is a fusion of “Future World”, which features a bunch of techy & space stuff, and the World Showcase, which is a tour through some major countries in the world all within one park (which will be covered in another post :) ).

We started our morning out with Mission: Space.

See, none of us knew that this was probably the most intense ride at Disney; it’s a spaceship simulator involving a centrifuge. It was incredibly realistic-feeling (not that I’ve ever actually been launched into space) but I was definitely weaving a bit afterwards and my stomach was less than pleased. Still worth trying, but there’s a lighter version if you’re not up for the crazy spinning.

Of course, we also did Spaceship Earth (as photographed above, that big ole ball!). It goes through a bunch of animatronic scenes in the history of our planet and then speculates about the future. I just love animatronics, so while this is decidedly not a thrill ride, it’s still beautifully done and I enjoyed it. At the end there are also lots of techie futuristic toys and such you can play with…

Brother is focusing intently on racing.

But I just took pictures. :) Typical.

Similarly, there’s a place called Innoventions that has a bunch of different geeky things, including one of those design-your-own-coaster contraptions (though this one features physics), and a place where you can record your body movements and make a video game with yourself as the main character.

Play mine here! haha :)

Nifty, right?

Also within Future World is a little section called “The Land”

This is kind of their “agricultural-hippie” section, but it also features the ever-popular “Soarin’“.

What I liked best was my dad and brother’s worst nightmare… A little boat ride through some of the agricultural research labs they have onsite.

They were growing all kinds of vegetables and fruits and apparently experimenting with state-of-the-art technologiest, all of which was pretty neat to see.

It also ended up on my plate at the “Seasons” food court door (but food will be covered in another post… but here’s a sneak preview :) ).

And for the little ones, there’s THE CUTEST Finding Nemo ride… which I may have gone on twice.

My little cousin is adorable… and a GREAT excuse to ride all the kiddy rides ;)

So here’s the general breakdown.

Most popular (aka get a Fastpass or get there early!): Soarin’, Test Track (which was a lot of fun but I didn’t really get pictures of it).

My Highlights: The Seas with Nemo, Spaceship Earth, Test Track, Living with the Land (that boat tour)

Lowlights: Captain EO. Great dancing (Michael Jackson), decent special effects (Spielberg), apparently NO screenwriting/plot.

Recommendations: If you want to go see Soarin’, get there early. Even Fastpasses go REALLY quickly. Also, Test Track closes when it’s raining, so you’re probably better off doing that fairly early too. And Epcot has the best food. At least in my opinion. :)

Any fun experiences with EPCOT?

Do you use your younger relatives as an excuse to go on kiddy rides? I totally do… But I also shamelessly go on them myself anyways. 

disney shenanigans: the beginning

11 Jul

You want Disney? You got Disney. ;)

On Friday or Saturday I finally got through all 1900 of my pictures and somehow selected only 400 to put up on Facebook (I’m atrociously indecisive, okay?). Don’t worry; I won’t bombard you with ALL of them.

I’ve decided to mostly do it by park (though some parks will take more than one day), and my Disney posts will be somewhat interspersed so I can pretend like I’m still a “food” blogger (but what’s in a name, really?).

We’re going to get the boring-er stuff out of the way, so some of the logistics and my first day of Disney magic!

The Trip

I woke up at 3:30 to get on a plane at 6:30. Only for Disney, people.

Probably the best part of the flight was seeing the gorgeous mountains out my window when flying over Washington. What a lovely state.

The worst part? No food for, like, 8 hours. Well, we bought overpriced snacks on the airplane (no free pretzels or anything, American Airlines is no fun!) and our connection Dallas was INCREDIBLY tight. So no food there either. Not the most fun I’ve ever had on a plane, but I was asleep for a lot of it so I couldn’t hear my stomach gnawing itself to pieces.

The Hotel

After a nice little thunderstorm as we were landing (definitely saw a lightning bolt from the plane…) and a pit stop at a trashy, cheap gift shop for a Disney princess lanyard (completely necessary), we finally arrived on Disney territory.

We stayed at Disney’s Old Key West Resort. The line the buses always played when we were getting there like to say something about how it “brings the gingerbread architecture and whimsical charm of the Conch Republic right here to Central Florida.” (Can you tell we rode the buses a lot?)

It was rather cute though, I’m not going to lie. And there are lots of benefits to staying in a Disney hotel, even if it is more expensive (we have a timeshare thing that we exchanged for part of the price, or something to that effect). Namely that you can get in for early and late hours at different parks, you have an easy bus ride to all the parks, oh and there are random Mickey Mouses everywhere.

And the best part? They’re villas. Which means there are kitchens.

We didn’t do a whole lot of cooking, mostly just sandwiches and boiled eggs. But it was nice to be able to buy yogurt and such.

First Night Out

Even though I was positively exhausted, we wanted to make the most of our vacation and decided to head out to Magic Kingdom for a few hours that night (we had “Extra Magic Hours” since we were staying at a Disney hotel, so the park was open later for us… until 3 AM.)

Oh, did I mention it was pouring rain? Hello ponchos.


Florida rain is DRASTICALLY different than Seattle rain. I actually much prefer the warmer, denser rain in Florida to the cold nagging drizzle in Seattle. Much better to dance in. :)

After a rather annoying 30-minute wait for the bus, we FINALLY arrived at the Magic Kingdom!

I’ll go into excruciating detail about the absolute wonderland that is the Magic Kingdom at some point (I have 474 pictures of that park alone), but that’s a whole post of its own. Mostly I just adore my the castle. Oh, to be a Disney Princess…

Yes, this was my favorite park. :)

Do you like flying? I go back and forth. I HATE how dry it is in planes but it’s so fun to see a birds-eye view of everything… Assuming it’s clear, that is. :) And I hate being hungry, soooo the lack of even pretzels on a 4-hour flight was not my cup of tea.

Thunderstorms: yay or nay? I like them well enough, except that stuff shuts down. Like I said, though, the really intense summer showers are amazing; they have them in Brazil too and dancing in that kind of rain is SO much fun, and you don’t feel like you’ll freeze afterwards!

tourist-ing: pike place market

16 Jun

Or: I am the worst tourguide ever.

I told you earlier in the week that I had some friends staying with me. Of course, this meant getting in some of the Seattle essentials… particularly Pike Place Market.

We literally left their luggage with my mom, hopped on the lightrail, and headed straight downtown from the airport…

Lightrail shenanigans.

And didn’t even get lost on the INCREDIBLY long (sarcasm) way from Westlake to Pike Place!

Here’s the thing, though. I’m kind of a little country bumpkin. Okay, not really, but I live on the Eastside for those of you who know Seattle, in a teensy little suburb about 30 minutes outside of the city. And there just aren’t that many occasions for me to go to the city. So when I actually DO take friends tourist-ing, I typically end up learning as much as they do.

Hard to tell who’s more of a tourist…

Fortunately it’s hard to mess up Pike Place… except when you go the wrong direction to Starbucks.

Yes, visiting the first-ever Starbucks was essential. As a former barista I’m kind of a groupie. Don’t judge.

Me, friend, camera, phone, & Starbucks… perfect :)

Of course, the plethora of delicious foods at Pike Place more than made up for my relative lack of knowledge. I distracted them with samples so they wouldn’t realize I had no idea what to do or where to go.

First stop was “Sotto Voce”, home of ridiculously delicious balsamic vinegars and oils. Oh, and bread. I love bread.

Then, as we waited for my other friends to join us (read: waited for my friends who actually live in Seattle to help me navigate) we took pictures of the beautiful water.

This (and a few pounds/my love of carbs) is why I will never model.

After they got tired of taking obviously flattering pictures of me (ha), we moved towards the market & loitered there while sampling many other goodies.

As my friend pointed out… I WOULD take a picture of the sign that says “produce”

Not sure what in this picture is nuttier…

FINALLY my friends arrived and directed us towards lunch: CREPES.

We weren’t terribly hungry after eating far too many different flavors of hazelnuts and almonds so we all split a salmon crepe and a peaches & creme crepe. Both were absurdly delicious.

And apparently my guests still had room for the infamous mini-donuts…

Personally, I didn’t want any. Unfortunately, I had no say in the matter and had powdered donut shoved in my face.

Again, model status…

We then wandered down to the gum wall. It’s super amusing, and I realized when I was there that I’d actually never seen it in person. Seattle-ite failure? Yes, yes I am.

There were also some fun beer names…

I always liken Seattle to that one homely girl in high school who pulls out all the stops for Prom and somehow looks like a princess. 90% of the year, my little city is covered in clouds and rather homely. But when it’s sunny? There’s nowhere that’s quite as beautiful.

After a little jaunt along the waterfront we arrived at the entrance to the sculpture park and my dear, sweet friends nearly pushed me into a fountain.

Laughs & smiles were had. Probably at my expense… Oh well.

All in all, ’twas a good day… followed by a few more good days (including a visit to a chocolate factory) that will be documented later :)

Ever been to Pike Place? Tell me your stories! :)
Are you a good tourguide? Slash when can I come visit? ;) I’ll bring cookies… Promise!