Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Universal Studios Florida and you're Harry Potter Experience

Universal Studios,what can I say about it...only that it's fantabulous! (That's my new word; it's a mixture of fantastic and fabulous, don't you just love it?!)  But I didn't have to tell you that right?! You already knew! You probably already know this place is a visit MUST  and  NOT a place to visit in just in one day, right? 

 Of course.

Harry Potter fan? Well of course you are! You came here, right? Of course you did and you'll be glad that you did. Why you ask...?  I too am a big Harry Potter fan! I know, I know...that's so surprising! Just too fantabulous, right?! ;0) And being that I'm a fan, of course I would want to visit the Wonderful Wizarding World of Harry Potter just like you!

OK, but seriously... I have visited Universal Studios Florida and several times. We bought the annual pass and if you're a Floridian, its worth the cost. It's not much more than a three day pass.  I visit Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley each time I go and I definitely ride the Hogwarts Express back and forth a couple of times too.
 (First Tip: You need to have a pass to both parks to ride the train)

The tips don't stop there, I have more tips for ya and you'll want those tips because everyone likes tips, especially if it enhances that fantabulous Harry Potter experience. (ok, I will stop using that word)

I have these tips because before our inaugural visit, I did my own research looking for tips just like you and Pintrest offered a plethora of them!  I went to each and every blogs, got the advice and made my itinerary.

I now share all those tips I gathered with you and you get them all at one stop! Hip Hip Hooray!

First thing's first, if you are staying at any of the Universal hotels, you get to get into the park an hour before anyone else does. If you are an annual pass holder (recently in effect summer 2016) you too get to get into the park an hour early. As an annual pass holder you pay for parking the first visit, but after that you park for free. If you want preferred parking, you only pay the $10 dollars to upgrade (covers the day, you pay this each visit). I recommend the preferred, it parks you closer to the entrance. You don't get the way top in the sun, so you're in the shade, close to the escalators and you're feet will thank you later.

Feet: Oh my goodness...thank you!
You: Why you're certainly welcome.

Now here's where you want to go first:

Image result for diagon Alley

Olivander's Wand shop
They have one at Hogsmeade (Islands of Adventure) and Diagon Alley (Universal Studios), but you'll want to go to Hogsmeade first, and here's why-  the sun. If you are visiting during the summer time, it gets pretty hot in Florida, humid too. There's not tons of shade in Hogsmeade, so you'll want to get all of the sights in that section done first and then go to Diagon Alley (tons of shade). 

Image result for universal studios florida islands of adventure map
The quickest route is going through Seuss Landing (veering right) and heading right over. Going the left route takes longer. Everyone goes to Olivanders first because they want that fun experience of the wand selection ceremony. You can visit Universal's Harry Potter site to learn all about Olivanders and the other shops at both Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. Its an interactive tour. It's pretty cool. 
Summer, early fall, late spring are the busiest of times for Universal, here's their crowd calendar to figure out the best time for you to visit.

Tip 2: If you...er... I mean you're child wears a robe, the odds are ever in their favor on getting selected by Olivander for the wand selection ceremony.

Tip 3: The robe. If you want the park robe, be prepared to pay $100 dollars for it. It's a nice robe, don't get me wrong, but there is an alternative to save you money-  buy it on Amazon. It is a downgrade, but I ordered a few and and I am happy with the quality. There isn't much of a difference between the two (I compared) besides length and fabric. My Amazon robes survived the wash and there is even a wand pocket inside the robe just like Universal's.
Tip 4: Get yourself an interactive wand. This is the wand that you can use at the windows and have your own fun yelling out spells to make things move. We bought one, the "family" wand, and each took turns. You use it at Diagon Alley too. The interactive wand was about $45 and the basic ones were $35. There is a map that goes with it to find the window locations. Look for the gold star on the ground, that's what you stand on.

After Olivanders, check out the shops. During busy times at the park, the stores will be packed with other muggles and wizards doing their shopping, so be prepared for difficult shopping. Try the Butter Beer, you can't visit and not try it. Its good both cold and regular, but I tend to like it cold better.  You can purchase at the Three Broomsticks or at a cart (you'll see them along the walk).  

Tip 5: There is a collectible butter beer mug, but there is no discount on butter beer refills when using the mug. One blog had tipped that, it's no longer in effect. I think the mug was $14.99 (comes filled with butter beer)  and butter beer is $6.99.

Honey Dukes
Oh my goodness!!! They have it all! Bernie Botts ever flavor beans, chocolate cauldrons, frogs and wands, even Professor Dumbledores favorite: Lemon Sherbets! Have to try the cauldron cakes and the butter beer fudge. MUST TRY! They are so good...  At the shop you can fill a jar or a bag full of the beans or other candies and price is based on the lb. I believe it was $3.29 a pound.
Inside Deverish and Banges, you'll find the monster book, the Firebolt, robes and ties, all your wizard wardrobe needs.
Don't forget to visit the Owl Post, there you can get some quills and stationary. If you want, you can buy a post card and they even have Harry Potter stamps( they cost more than the average stamp).

If you are wanting to try it all, then visit the Three Broomsticks. The food is delicious! The City Walk offeres wonderful meals as well, so don't be leary to try there. I highly recommend Cow Fish. Burgers are so big and juicy...and they serve sushi! We love it so much, we go often. Prices are very reasonable, you get your bang for the buck for sure.

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
This ride is great for the whole family, but you must be at least 48" to ride. It's not jerky or fast and mostly a motion simulator ride. It's so fun! We ride it every time. Don't forget to pose for the camera, its right after the spiders, before the whomping willow.
Tip 6: if you are a annual pass holder, I recommend getting the photo package. Right now it's for $99 and this gives you unlimited photos at every photo op place inside the park all year. You get two free printable photos with the offer. I would definitely utilize one for this ride.
Flight of the Hippogriff
This is a roller coaster, but a more tame one. This is great for those who aren't heavily into roller coasters.
The Dragon Challenge
This is a good sized coaster, my kids say a long one and not so scary, but if you get queasy easily, you may want to pass. They loved this ride.

When you're finished, head over to Kings Cross Station and ride the Hogwarts Express on over to Diagon Alley. You can take a photo with the Conductor in front of the model train just before you enter the station. Inside you'll get a fun show looking out the window. Ride it both ways, the show is different each way. 

Ohh, one more thing...

Moaning Myrtle

If you need to stop to use the restroom, you'll want to listen out for Moaning Myrtle. Yes, she's still complaining...

Diagon Alley

As I said above there is an Olivanders shop here too that also does the wand selection ceremony. I have to say its fun and it sure tapped into my inner child (Olivander picked me!)  Yep, I bought a wand that day.

The best part of Diagon Alley is the Dragon over Gringotts Bank for sure! I believe every 15 minutes the dragon spews fire, so have your camera ready!

Madame Malkins

In here you can purchase uniforms, robes and other clothing as well. Must stop inside for the mirror, its honest, so be thick skinned (wink).

Quality Quiddich Supplies

Every Quiddich player or fan has to stop here. This is where you can purchase quiddich uniforms, a bludger and even a snitch!
Weasly's Wizzard Wheezes (betcha can't say that three times in a row!)

They have all kinds of goofy stuff! if you remember the Weasly twins and what their shop carried, you'll find it here too. There are even Pygmy Puffs in which you must adopt one. There is even a naming ceremony. You name yours let the shop keeper know and they will ring the bell and announce your adoption and name of your pygmy puff. The kids love this. Look up and you will see Professor Umbridge balancing the scales of justice on a tight rope.

Speaking of looking up...

Tip 7: Look up and around yourself as you visit both the Harry Potter worlds. Especially in the shops. A lot of effort and detail went into these places and you will amaze yourself on what wonderful things you will find. Look at all the decorations and advertisements and look inside all the shop windows.


This place too is worth a stroll in. This has your wizarding equipment. Telescopes, hourglasses and magnifying glasses. Definitely look around at the decor, very nice.

Florean Fortesques Ice cream shop

Must stop in for some ice cream. They have some interesting flavors. Butter beer flavor was good, but intensely sweet.

Leaky Cauldron

This is another place you can buy butter beer and British meal favs. The interior is nice in both eateries. Lots of detail. We tried the toffee pudding inside here; it was divine!

Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts

This ride you can ride at 42" and above. There is a drop on this ride that teases at the belly, but not too bad. This is also a motion simulator ride. We love this ride as well. 
Tip 8: If you have a family with young children, definitely utilize the child swap. This helps with having to stow away your goods in lockers.

Outside of Diagon Alley go visit the Knight bus. Chat with the shrunken head and the driver. Take a photo too! Call the ministry of magic from the phone booth and don't forget to look into Sirus Black's house; upper right window you will see creature his house elf. Use the bathroom inside Diagon alley too, it's just like the one that leads to the Ministry of Magic!

Image result for diagon Alley sign

Knockturn Alley, the dark alley. It is dark, nice and cool if your visiting during the hot season (which is almost all year round in Florida, right?!). Here you get to visit Borgin & Burkes. Look all around this shop for cool decor and pieces. Inside this alley there is an interactive window as well. Again the interactive wand comes with a map that shows you each place to go and most places you'll have a wizard to assist you if you are having troubles with your wand waving.

Tip 9:  Be careful with your interactive wand, the tip can get broken if dropped or hit, but don't worry, take it to either wand shop and they can repair it right there on the spot for ya.


Both Hogsmead and Diagon Alley have shows. There is the Frog Choir and Triwizard Spirit Rally in Hogsmeade and Tales of Beetle the Bard in Diagon Alley. The puppets are fantastic! Well crafted!

Now for some other tips for your Universal experience:

Buy a popcorn collector container. Its $5.99(comes full of popcorn) and refills I believe are $1.29. Buy the regular popcorn with the container, its $1 less than buying with the caramel popcorn ($6.99). You can refill with the caramel popcorn for the same price as the regular popcorn later.

Food- If you're not wanting to spend alot of money on meals, you can do this:  
Eat a big breakfast outside of the park. Next, you are allowed to carry in small packs into the park. My family packed PB&J sandwiches, granola bars, protein bars and beef jerky. We carried in our own water bottles (hydrate, especially during summer time, don't go so much for soda) and clipped on our bags with those mountain climbing clips you can buy at Walmart. You can get free ice from the coca cola machines, but have to refill water at the water fountains. You can find them near bathrooms. We fueled on this until 4 pm and then ate a large dinner. This is where you can try out the City walk places or Harry Potter food. Burger King and Panda Express prices are increased at the City walk. It's worth dining in. Bubba Gumps was pretty good. As I said above, my family really loves Cowfish. Oh, did I mention they  have kid chop sticks?!

The refill soda collector cups, the refills are only good for one day, so the next day you will have to purchase just so you know. I think it was $9.99 for  a cup and 1day of refills. We never purchased, did the water/gatorade thing. (BTW, Gatorade has packets you can add to water, need those electrolytes!)

Wanna ride the rides more than once/ shorter lines: 

Universal has an app that you can download onto your phone. Tells you the wait times of each ride and updates every 15 minutes.  Click here to get the app. This makes for great strategy on getting the most out of your visit.  If you loved the Harry Potter rides, wait till after 6pm and your chances of shorter lines increases. (kids are tired and ready to go home about this time)
Single rider line:
If you don't mind riding alone or split up, you can go through the single rider line. You're pretty much together until the ride. The Express pass helps with lines (much shorter), but the price for this pass changes day to day, depending on the season and how busy. If you are going on a down time, you may get the express pass for less than $100. I believe this is on top of your ticket price.

I think that's about it! Thanks for dropping in and have a magical time!!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Harry Potter Tree Skirt DIY

It's been a bit of a stretch of time since I last blogged. Been a busy gal, but I'm back and why not start up with a great Christmas DIY share. Christmas is my favorite holiday and I think we can all agree it is for a lot of us. Nothing like putting out the tree,stringing the lights, decorating it with garland and strategically placing the ornaments. Add a star or an angel, and you just can't go wrong. The Christmas tree is our canvas. What we put on it makes it our masterpiece and the tree skirt is that finishing touch. Speaking of tree skirt... This year, I felt like making a change to my masterpiece with a new tree skirt. I pondered between purchasing a new one or making one. A fan of DIY I decided to take a scroll down Pintrest lane to find some inspiration. And find one I did! The perfect one, a Harry Potter tree skirt!
From the creative mind of Randi from Sowdering about in Seattle I found this great inspiration and just had to make one of my own. And so I did...
I took a different approach than Randi. I wanted square rather than round, used canvas fabric instead of sheet, skipped the tea stain and added a little more detail. My "details" came from inspiration elsewhere and I must give credit where credit is most certainly due- SamanthaFay1987's Marauders map art from deviant art.com. I am loving my tree skirt ( I added my kids to step around the map with Harry, Ron and Hermoine) and am thankful for the creative minds of Randi and Samantha for helping me make my finishing touch for my "canvas" this holiday. Happy Holidays!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Moms Come Hither - Hands Free Mama - The Important Thing About Yelling

I came across this post via the lovely Face Book shared by a friend from familyshare.com.  The important thing about yelling. I think every Mama has yelled at her kid(s). I have yelled at my kids. I admit it. Guilty. And I hate that I have. I try hard not to. Try VERY hard not to. It's not often that I do, but those few times that I do, I HATE that I do.

So, when I came across this, again shared by a wonderful friend of mine, also a Mamma, I had to read it. I think every mother doesn't desire yelling at her kids. One, it tears them down. Two, it makes them afraid of you and three, you just feel horrible doing it. Not in the moment. I get why we do. You are exasperated, spent, stretched and in a moment of weakness, you com bust.

Rachel Stacy Mafford seems to have a plan on how to stop the yelling. It started with this:

"Releasing myself from the unachievable standard of perfection and societal pressure to "do it all."

Rachael decided to become a Hands Free Mama. This is a wonderful article and you can read in detail how Rachael did just this by clicking here. Rachael has a blog of her own where she continues to write about on being a Hands Free Mom. Rachael even has created a lovely hands free pledge letter you can purchase in her store to hang on your wall to help remind you how to be a hands free mom. Click on image to go there.

image from handsfreemama.com

Rachael even has a book out that goes in further detail about being a hands free mama,  how to stop the yelling and to stop saying hurry up.

"Rachael Macy Stafford's post "The Day I Stopped Saying Hurry Up" was a true phenomenon on The Huffington Post, igniting countless conversations online and off about freeing ourselves from the viscous cycle of keeping up with our overstuffed agendas. Hands Free Mama has the power to keep that conversation going and remind us that we must not let our lives pass us by." 

--Arianna Huffington, Chair, president, and Editor-in-Chief of the Huffington Post Media Group, nationally syndicated columnist, and author of thirteen books. http://www.hufingtonpost.com 

image from Amazon.com
Her book Hands Free Mamma : A Guide on Putting Down the Phone, Burning the To-Do-List, and Letting Go of Perfection to Grasp What Really Matters! is available in the Kindle Store, in paper back, audio CD and audible.

Thanks for the drop by!

Monday, June 30, 2014

My Blueberry Picking Adventure and What I Took Away from it (Besides the Berries)

Nature, at it's finest, is when it produces produce- At least I think that. I know,I know, there are more things to Nature besides the yummy fruit, but hey it tops it. Organic, for me, well... you can't come any closer to organic than to pluck the fruit yourself (not using pesticides plays a factor too-I know) but let's carry on.

This past Saturday, my husband and I and four of our kids went to a local farm and picked some blueberries. We did it twice last year and this was our second time this year. We're going again next Saturday too. Love it. Fun, you get to pick and eat and get great berries at a reasonable price. We're also helping support a local farmer. You just can't beat that.

We went early, before eight, the morning so far was cool and the kids were in a picking mood. Yes, there is a picking mood. Kids have to be in this such mood or you get this- "Mom, I'm hot." or "Mom, my legs are tired." or better, "Mom, the grass is itchy and my bucket won't fill up fast like yours and I don't like the bucket tied around my waist, so can you carry mine for me. Look you can tie it right here next to yours..." It goes on.

And I still love it all. And yes, I would do it again.


I smile.

I would do it again because regardless of the whining, the itchy grass, the heavy buckets or even the biting bugs (not a problem so far, I remembered the spray), I'd do it again for the quality of time. Life gets busy sometimes. Or maybe we just let ourselves get too busy. Life is as busy as we let it. It also can fly very fast if we let it do that too. So moments like this. Berry picking moments like this, I savor. I savor it like garlic butter on a nice piece of steak that you don't get to eat very often because you are a mother of six plus one and so you are always too broke and can only eat steak about twice a year. Hamburgers are our finest otherwise and that's ok too. I've got a lot of fine memories over hamburgers.

Memories. Key word. Memories are the best. They are those special stories planted in our heads to savor like that nice piece of steak covered in garlic butter to enjoy over and over whenever we want and not just two times a year. (I really am OK about eating steak two times a year, it's just funny to reference:0) Get pictures of those memorable moments and it gives visuals to it. Plus it's fun to look back in time. It also comes in handy for later, much later when your memory starts to fail you. I recommend keeping a journal. Writing those stories down to share with the grand kids later. I cannot go on enough about how much I loved hearing the stories my parents and grandparents shared with me in their lives before me.

Memories are important and you don't have to go on the most supreme adventures or go broke to create a memorable moment. A cardboard box, scissors and a permanent marker has built a few great memories for my children and who would have believed it?! It's not what you spend or where you go, its how you use that time. That's what matters. Not everyone can do the theme parks. Not everyone can afford the vacations twice a year. And that's ok. People were making amazing memories before those kind of vacations or parks. Go somewhere local. Go to the beach. Go to a park. Go to the pool. Just go somewhere together.

Going blueberry picking with my family, I not only created a memory, got my pictures (cause I just love taking pictures of my family:0) and gained some juicy berries, I got that togetherness. I slowed down our lives just a little and got to spend some quality time with the ones I love. Family is  essential to a quality of life. Humans are not meant to be alone and no family isn't just blood related. Friends are family. The craziest of friends make the best type of family.

So get together with someone you love and go blueberry picking. Or not. It's your memory:0)

Thanks for dropping by!