Tag Archives: universal studios

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!



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.


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!


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 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?