Monday, December 5, 2016

A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE CASTLE


"Harry had never even imagined such a strange and splendid place. It was lit by thousands and thousands of candles that were floating in midair over four long tables, where the rest of the students were sitting. These tables were laid with glittering golden plates and goblets... Dotted here and there among the students, the ghosts shone misty silver. Mainly to avoid all the staring eyes, Harry looked upward and saw a velvety black ceiling dotted with stars. He heard Hermione whisper, 'It's bewitched to look like the sky outside. I read about it in Hogwarts, A History.' It was hard to believe there was a ceiling there at all, and that the Great Hall didn't simply open on to the heavens...The Gryffindor first years followed Percy through the chattering crowds, out of the Great Hall, and up the marble staircase. Harry's legs were like lead again, but only because he was so tired and full of food. He was too sleepy even to be surprised that the people in the portraits along the corridors whispered and pointed as they passed, or that twice Percy led them through doorways hidden behind sliding panels and hanging tapestries... At the very end of the corridor hung a portrait of a very fat woman in a pink silk dress. 'Password?' she said. 'Caput Draconis,' said Percy, and the portrait swung forward to reveal a round hole in the wall. They all scrambled through it -- Neville needed a leg up -- and found themselves in the Gryffindor common room, a cozy, round room full of squashy armchairs." ~ Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, by J. K. Rowling


I've always found that the problem with really good books is that the movies which follow can never quite live up to the images you have formed in your own head while reading them. Which is why I was so very pleasantly surprised when the first Harry Potter film finally came out, and everything was exactly as I had imagined it. Our first visit to Hogsmeade and Hogwarts Castle, at Universal Studio's Wizarding World of Harry Potter, was yet another such pleasant surprise.


Careful, this book snarls and snaps its teeth if you get too close!
The castle tour involves first standing in a regular outdoor line -- a quick-moving one with shade and fans, thankfully -- then the line takes you through the castle itself, where the people in the portraits actually do speak to you and move from one frame to another, and where you can see many of the important settings and features from all the different books. Last of all is the ride, one of those 3D/4D rides I believe, which involve both motion and virtual reality. No babies or bags or backpacks are allowed on those rides. The neat thing, however, is that they allow you to do a baby-swap, where you all go through the line together. Part of you go on the ride while the others wait with baby and his bags (everyone else has to stow their bags in lockers before getting in line), then you trade off and the others get to ride. However, we never quite made it that far.

You see, the only thing we weren't allowed to bring with us was the "pram", which had to be parked outside. So I was carrying our hefty Little Goober all through the line (the reason I took no pictures inside the castle) and just as we were about to get to the indoors part, I noticed that my tummy felt very warm all of a sudden. I held Goober out in front of me and looked down. Yep, both he and I were covered in pee. Coulda' been a lot worse, right? The thing is, there was no where to set him down for a diaper change, and we had to keep moving with the line. Our only choice was to do a mid-air change, with one guy each holding head and feet, one gal whipping out the drippy diaper and the other trying to place a new one on our very squirmy baby. And we did it too, without holding up the line! I'm surprised the people around us didn't burst into applause afterwards.

So, we did get to enjoy the inside of the castle/school, though there are no pictures to share with you, but by the time we reached the ride part our baby was getting pretty fussy, and we were all happy to skip the ride. Especially me, since I am prone to motions sickness, and some of those 3D/4D things can really do a number on you!


Goober, Gramps and I then rested in the shade with a cool beverage and enjoyed some excellent people-watching, while Lex and Nate took a whirl on the Double Dragon roller coaster, in the background above.


Best of all, I think Goober now has his first official family story -- of the sort which will surely come up at every family get-together.  For the rest. of. his. life! "Remember that time Goobs peed all over Mima at Hogwarts?"

Maybe now we can retire a couple of mine!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

EXCELLENT ADVENTURE: PASSION SPARKED


We had taken the Hogwarts Express over to Hogsmeade with the intention of touring the castle itself, but by the time we arrived the wait had jumped up to at least 45 minutes, (turns out there is an app for your phone that not only helps you find your way around the park, but also tells you approximate wait-times for each ride) and we were just too tired and hungry for that. Fortunately, Lex knew just the place to go for a rejuvenating lunch experience -- a steampunk chocolate emporium! On our way there, we had to pass through the Dr. Seuss section of Universal Studios, and that's where it happened. That's where my hubby got struck by some kind of creative lightning bolt!


I took several pictures myself, just because it was such a wild, color-mad place...



A Cafe Serving Green Eggs and Ham
but with him it was something different, more like an obsession -- so much so, we thought we'd never tear him away! Same thing happened the other two times we had to pass through.

Below is just a first sampling of what resulted from this compulsion and, let me tell you, I can't wait to see the rest! 



They've got me to wonderin'... how fun would it be if we transformed our basement guest room and man cave into a Seussical-themed grandkid suite?

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

EXCELLENT ADVENTURE: RIDING THE HOGWARTS EXPRESS

 
When we had seen all there was to see in Diagon Alley, we decided to take the Hogwarts Express over to Hogsmeade, the little village that sits nestled below the castle where Hogwarts school is located.  As I'm sure you must know, we boarded the train here.




The train does actually move from one park to the other, but the stuff we saw through our windows? Well, that was something else altogether...



though it wasn't until I heard Harry, Ron and Hermione talking just outside the door to our compartment -- about the Dementors heading our way -- that I actually figured that out.


Oh No! What's happening in the hallway?


Is that Hagrid I see?


Whew! We made it!


Our first glimpse of Hogsmeade.



Tuesday, November 29, 2016

EXCELLENT ADVENTURE: DIAGON ALLEY

On Friday we took advantage of the "early entry" privilege you get from staying in hotels there on the park grounds, and headed to Diagon Alley. Good thing we did, because once the park opened to the masses, we could barely squeeze ourselves into any of the shops, much less a stroller! The first thing we saw upon entering Diagon? This!


Gringotts Bank, guarded by a dragon who actually shot fire from his mouth on a regular basis!  Lex and Nate went on the ride that is inside, while we entertained Little Goober, then it was off to find Ollivander's wand shop, since the boys were both determined to purchase one of their own.

The geniuses behind The Wizarding World of Harry Potter have come up with at least a million ways to rid you of every last cent you have. One is shops that sell school robes and sweaters and ties that let you identify with the Hogwarts house of your choice.


The Mirror Talks!
Expensive? Yes. But I must say, seeing all the kids wandering around in their school robes and ties certainly did add to the atmosphere and thus, to my enjoyment!

Then, of course, there is the Butter Beer, both warm and frozen...

Beware of Butter Beer Farts
and all the tricks and treats to be found at the Weasley brothers' candy shop.



Then there are shops where you can exchange your Muggle Money or even purchase an owl for delivering your mail.


However, the most ingenious scheme by far -- one even a grown man finds difficult to resist -- is the one involving these magic wands.


You don't choose the wands. The wands choose you.  They come with maps showing you all the spots in the park where you can use them to make something magical happen, as long as you know the right words and motions to perform.

Making the Toilet Flush
Fortunately, there is usually a friendly witch or wizard around to assist those who haven't quite got the hang of it.


Highlight of the morning? Having a group of tweens in school robes come over to tell me "We've been over their gawking at your baby's awesome Toothless hat, and just had to come say something. It's soooooo CUTE! 


Oh yeah, and then there was this.

The Night Bus!

Monday, November 28, 2016

OUR MOST EXCELLENT ADVENTURE: PLANES AND TRAINS

Well, we made it back from our trip to Universal Studios in Orlando, where we had a most excellent adventure with our daughter and her little family, going back and forth between both sections of Harry Potter World -- the original Hogsmeade and Hogwarts Castle section, and the newer Diagon Alley section -- via the Hogwarts Express. What a hoot! But first, let me say a word or two about  another new-to-me experience, and that is flying on Jet Blue Airline. Wow. Just, wow!

Little Goober and Mortimer Moose, Ready to Take Flight
First of all, we were able to book a non-stop flight to Orlando, which means we got there in just over two hours, instead of it being an all-day ordeal. A HUGE plus when you are traveling with littles! Second, when we went on-line to check in the day before, we were given the option of upgrading to the seats with extra legroom for a modest fee, which also entitled us to be among the first to board, and put us towards the front of the plane -- first to be served and with easy access to a restroom. As if that weren't enough, it also entitled us to go through the pre-check security line at the airport, which was super-speedy and meant that we didn't have to remove shoes, belts or light jackets. What a deal, and as close as I will ever come to flying First Class!

Oh yeah, and did I mention that, though Thanksgiving in general is the busiest time of year at airports and theme parks, Thanksgiving afternoon, when everyone else is sitting down to their turkey dinners, is actually the slowest afternoon of the year? Not only was the airport a ghost town, the plane was half empty too, and we were able to spread out. When's the last time that happened? The only downside was that all the people who flew out that morning and the day before took up practically all the parking spots in all the lots, and if we hadn't come to the airport hours early, we probably wouldn't have been able to find one. Note to self: Next time, reserve a spot well in advance!

So, we were already in a pretty good mood -- especially since Lex knew from past experience to arrange for a private shuttle to pick us up from the airport -- when we arrived at Cabana Bay Resort. It's one of the newest "economy" resorts on the property, with a Vintage 50s theme, consisting of four separate buildings placed around two giant courtyards filled with pools and slides and bars and grills and lazy rivers and outdoor movie screens and fire pits for s'more grilling. In other words, kid paradise!




When checking in, Lex and I walked up to two separate stations, having made our reservations separately under different names, on-line and weeks apart, and we both end up getting our bare-bones rooms upgraded to "family suites" with kitchenettes and living areas, at no extra charge.  But wait, there's more!


We end up in adjoining rooms! As in, we left the door between us open most of the time, making it one ginormous suite.


 



Now that's the way to start a vacation off on the right foot!