Our whole reason for choosing Orlando for our family vacation again this year was the boys' desire to see the Harry Potter world at Universal Studios and so that had to be our first stop on our trip.
They have been talking about the rides, the wands, the robes, and the Hogwarts Express forever. We couldn't wait for our day to start. It's our vacation but that doesn't mean the kids aren't learning.
Reading and Geography at Breakfast:
I'm not teaching; but they'll still show me over and over again how much we learn just by living life and experiencing new things.
We headed out to breakfast at IHOP first and Evan was trying to read the words on his menu, the window and his mug. He's starting to pick up on so much of the environmental print and has finally admitted that he's reading a little and it's not just guessing.
We noticed mini flags etched onto the glass and Ian, Alec, my husband and myself tried to identify them all. I joked we were doing geography while eating but really we were.
The boys got to try some new syrups too. Alec and Evan loved the strawberry syrup the best but Ian stuck to the old fashioned maple. We got into this whole discussion about Maple trees and where they grow, reminding the boys of their trip to the sugar shack last year. Ian commented that the people in Yukon Men probably didn't even know what maple syrup tasted like because he figured it was too cold for maple trees to grow that far north in Alaska and since they live off the land there would no way for them to get maple sap. We agreed that was probably true but that some of the people had moved there from other parts of the United States and therefor would probably have had a chance to try maple syrup. I just never know when these mini lessons are going to crop up!
Time for Harry Potter!!We headed to the park, bought our tickets and walked all the way to the back of the park right to the Harry Potter section without stopping. We looked at all the other rides and attractions as we passed but no one wanted to stop.
The park had opened almost two hours prior (I forgot to check what time they opened and thought it was at 9... but it was 8. Ooops!) and yet it wasn't crowded at all.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter was marginally more crowded but nothing too bad. We immediately got some frozen butterbeer and all agreed it was amazing! I tasted like liquid butterscotch- yum!
We watched a small stage show of the Hogwarts choir, complete with singing frogs while we drank.
|Arriving in Hogsmeade|
|Trying some Butterbeer|
|Listening to the choir|
We had some problems with rides since we had an unequal amount of kids and adults and none of the kids wanted to ride anything alone. My mother in law always come with us on vacation but last year spent a good portion of the time waiting for us because the boys DID want to ride alone and so decided to stay home this year; go figure!
The boys compared the movie sets with the replica's in the park and they were excited to see Buckbeak tied to a nest near the roller coaster. My husband commented that it was "wicked awesome" and since Alec noticed the roller coaster had a wicker look he corrected my husband and told us it was all "wicker awesome".. than asked "Do you get it dad? Wicker!" It was cute. They're really big on playing with words lately.
Next we went through the castle for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Evan was not tall enough to ride and Alec didn't want to ride but we all walked through the castle anyway since I had read that it was worth the walk through & you can exit without riding.
The details throughout the entire wizarding world were amazing and the castle was no different!
We walked through the dungeons, Professor Sprout's greenhouses (complete with Mandrakes!), we saw the entrance to Dumbledore's office but "lemon drops" was not the right password I guess. Luckily, we found a back way to his office and still got to see him, his instruments, and the pensive. We saw the portrait of the fat lady, the hallway with the moving staircases and all the portraits and even Harry, Ron and Hermione warning us against Professor Binn's class. It was great!
|Professor Dumbledore's office entrance|
We stopped for some yummy snacks at Honeydukes. My only minor complaint was that things were expensive but I've gotten to the point where I almost expect that at an amusement park.
After careful deliberation and a bit of negotiation Ian settled on a chocolate wand, Evan bought rock candy (since we've never gotten ours to work at home), and Alec chose mint chocolate frogs. No one wanted to try out the dragon challenge roller coaster and so we boarded the Hogwarts express back to London.
|Walking the town|
|Checking out Honeydukes|
|boarding the Hogwarts Express|
The train ride was amazing! It looks just like the train in the movie and the windows in the compartments are like movie screens. You see the scenery change from Hogwarts, where Hagrid waves goodbye to the forbidden forest, to the country side to the outskirts of London right into the city center. We saw the Knight Bus driving through the streets of London and Mad Eye Moody.
The doors to each compartment are frosted and occasionally you'll hear Harry, Ron and Hermione walk by; one time we even saw Ron's face peeking in and he said we all looked like first years. The kids were so enchanted with everything we saw.
In the public restrooms we could hear Moaning Myrtle, the workers were all dressed like Hogwarts students or witches and wizards and they'd grumble about our muggle plastic!
I knew it was supposed to be amazing and I had seen lots of pictures on-line but my husband and I were blown away by just how detailed everything was.
Once off the train in London, we had to walk through the train station to get outside. There were posters of famous London buildings and travel England pictures too.
A small part of Universal Studios Florida is set up to look like London right down to the roadside vendors selling Union Jack souvenirs.
We got to see the Knight bus up close too!
We found the entrance to Diagon Alley and after walking through the brick walled opening found ourselves in a world unlike anything I imagined. Weasley's joke shop, Gringotts bank (complete with a huge fire breathing dragon perched on top!), and streets upon streets of wizarding stores.
|The Knight bus|
|Weasley's Joke Shop|
We ended up heading for our last Harry Potter ride of the day; Escape from Gringotts.We walked past goblins counting money and under huge chandeliers, we walked past some rather large vaults filled with gold bars and sacks of galleons. We were next in line for the ride when it broke down. After waiting a while for them to fix it and being talked to several times by the workers who realized we'd been waiting a long time for the ride they finally issued us a one time express pass to come back and enjoy the ride again later in the day or on another day in the next month. We were disappointed to miss the ride but happy with how it was handled. I also thought it was great that they provided lockers free of charge for us to use while riding. They just thought of everything.
Not really realizing it we walked into a show area for Ollivander's instead of the store and Ian got picked to participate!
The boys wanted to go to Ollivander's wand shop next and buy their wands.
Just like the scene from Harry Potter where Harry goes into Ollivander's to try out his wand Ian was given wands to try and when he killed the flowers instead of watering them it was decided that was not the right wand, the second wand he was supposed to move the ladder closer to him but instead all the drawers went haywire and banged open & shut; that too was not the right wand. The third wand Mr. Ollivander gave him brought up a slight breeze and a bright light shown down on Ian; the wand had chosen the wizard. An oak wand with a phoenix tail feather.
It was a great show and Ian did get to purchase the wand he ended up with. The other two boys picked out their wands too. Alec went with Ginny Weasley's wand while Evan chose an Ollivander's original wand, like Ian.
|Mr. Ollivander measures Ian|
|Finding the right wand|
|Helping Alec chose a wand|
Every wand comes in a long box and is complete with a map of both Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. Set throughout the streets of these sections of Universal Studios are hidden interactive displays in the store windows and fountains. We spent the rest of our time in Diagon Alley watching the boys cast spells.:
- They flushed the toilet in the display window of Weasley's Joke shop
- They set off the water fountain near the blacksmith shop and even got the bellows to move up and down.
- The boys made a feather fly using Wingardium Leviosa, and unlocked doors down in Knockturn alley.
We walked through the Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes, Borgin and Burkes, Magical Menagerie, and Quality Quidditch Supplies shops. Each shop has special things inside it too:
- In Madam Malcolm's robe shop there is a mirror that tells you to tuck in your shirt or straighten up, in Borgin and Burkes you can hear the little bird fluttering around inside the vanishing cabinet, in the Magical Menagerie there is a giant cage suspended from the ceiling with a huge white cover over it and you can see shadows of mice moving around.
The boys cast all the spells they could and they really wanted to head back to Hogsmeade to do all the spells there too. We had planned to finish the rest of the park and not head back on the Hogwarts Express but they were having so much fun we decided we'd let them be in charge of our time at the park.
|Alec casts a spell|
|Ian detects dark magic with his wand|
|Trying out Hagrid's Bike|
|Evan casting spells|
It was getting a lot more crowded in the Harry Potter areas of the parks but he boys really wanted to try and cast a few more spells.
We agreed but told the boys we were going to stop and eat at the Three Broomsticks first.We had to wait in line to get back on the Hogwarts express and coming from London to Hogsmeade we got to pass through the barrier onto platform 9 3/4. We got to see Harry Potter's cart with his H P trunk and Hedwig in the cage. Hedwig's beak and head moved around. The boys were just enraptured.
We had a delicious, albeit late, lunch once we got to the Three Broomsticks. The younger two boys got regular Butter Beer and we all tried it too since they were nice enough to share. They decided they liked it even better than the frozen kind.
By the time we finished eating we decided that Hogsmeade was just too crowded to really enjoy anymore and talked the boys into seeing some of the rest of the park before it closed. There were long lines at all the spell casting spots and it was hard to walk around.
We only had a few hours until closing and I was seriously starting to wonder how our two day pass was going to be enough.
I know the younger two boys were happy with just seeing and experiencing Harry Potter but I thought Ian would want to see the rest of both parks.
I needn't have worried; in those last few hours of the day we managed to cover the entire rest of the Islands of Adventure.We skipped some of the more extreme rides we would have had to ride a few years ago when Ian was big into roller coasters and thrill rides but he doesn't enjoy them anymore and so we skipped Hulk and Dr. Doom's Fear Fall.
But we did ride:
- The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman
- The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride
- Ian and my Husband went on the Jurassic Park River Adventure
- We all got soaked on Popeye & Bluto's Bilge-Rat Barges.
|Evan touches a dinosaur egg|
|Watching a dinosaur egg hatch|
|Taking a dinosaur quiz|
|How did they see?|
|Jurassic park flume ride|
|Bluto's rat barge ride|
|Ian checking to make sure we'll still behind him on the High in the Sky ride|
We got back to our car and while waiting to get onto the highway we saw all sorts of waterfowl along the pond. We saw cranes, herons and cormorants. We watched the cormorant dive for fish and watched for him to surface again. We saw other cormorants flapping their wings to dry them so they could take off in flight again. We saw all sorts of flies and bugs on the surface of the water making ripples too. It was a great way to pass the time in traffic.
Once back at our hotel the boys all took showers, ate some ice cream and watched an episode of Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe. Ian loved having the animal planet channel on our hotel TV so he was able to watch some of his old favorite TV shows like Dirty Jobs and River Monsters. It was a nice quiet night and all the kids were ready for bed after walking all around the park for the whole entire day.
All in all it was a pretty perfect start to our vacation.
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