Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Travel Tuesday: Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Right before Mike left, we managed to squeak into Orlando to take the kids to Universal Studios. They are all nuts about Harry Potter, though the younger ones have been shielded from the later, darker movies in the series.

Fortunately there's rides for even the three youngest, namely the hippogriff one, which is is disappointingly short, but you can't get much out of a roller coaster that lets kids that little on. I ran into a small snag when Mike took the twins on one of the big coasters and I took the rest. It seems you can't let two small children ride together, so I had to grab some nice looking strangers getting in line and ask them if they could split up and ride next to Natalie and Nicholas while I went with Miriam. It worked out.

Waiting for the hippogriff ride.

Still waiting.

The Hogsmeade Village has all the landmarks- Honeyduke's, Zonko's, Ollivanders (must just be a branch because that's technically in Diagon Alley), the Three Broomsticks, and several shops for clothes and other Hogwarts gear.

Most shops had a line to get in so they could keep them from getting too crowded, but it never took very long. Carts on the streets sell the more common wands and wizard snacks and butterbeer so you don't have to wait long for just those. What does butterbeer taste like? Sweet cream soda with thick, butterscotch foam. Yum!

We had lunch at the Three Broomsticks. Is there anything cuter than Miriam and her butterbeer? I'd venture to say the list is pretty short.

Unfortunately for us, we had to forgo the coolest ride- the flying one through the castle. Only the twins were big enough to get on, and the line was never shorter than 90 minutes. It didn't seem fair to dump the 3 younger kids on one parent for that long, and waiting in line with them to ride swap was even worse to contemplate. Universal doesn't have parent swap passes or fast passes like Disney where you can get a ticket and come back 2 hours later and wait 10 minutes. They do have the option to buy a fast track ticket which puts you in the head of the line at every ride, and they run about twice the price of a regular admission. You can guess we skipped on that. However, the guy selling wands on the street tipped us that the switchbacks wind their way through about half of the things to see in the castle, so he advised we get in the fast pass line and mosey through it all at our own pace. Then, once at the head of the line, just explain and they would show us the exit. So we did see the classrooms and the Gryffindor common room and Dumbledore's office, but they didn't photograph very well.

Not sure what was up with Nicholas and all the karate poses.

As can be expected, we came home with lots of choice souveniers. I recall looking at a large wall of the mythical creatures- unicorns, hippogriffs (we have both of those now), Hedwig the owl, and even Scabbers the rat. I picked up Scabbers to give him a closer inspection- he was a high quality stuffed animal, but still a mangy, toe-missing rat. I placed him back on the shelf and wondered who would want one of them. No sooner had I brought my hands down and begun to turn away, a five-year-old redhead shoved one in my hands. "This is what I want."


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Travel Tuesday: Wonderworks in Orlando

Despite what you may have come to believe, there's a lot more to Orlando than the theme parks. For example, there's Wonderworks, a children's science and fun museum. It's actually chain of sorts with other museums in Myrtle Beach, SC, Pigeon Forge, TN, and Panama City Beach, FL.

As you can see, the building is rather unusual. They say a tornado dumped it upside down in the city.

There's a huge variety of activities inside. If you go during the school year, it might be worth the effort to call ahead and see if there are schools visiting that day.

All manner of ways to discover the senses and some simple aspects of physics. There's a roller coaster of sorts where two people can ride in a simulator capsule that goes upside down several times. The weight limit is something like 200 lbs per person, and they will put you on the scale even if you obviously weigh less than 100. Whatevah. You've been warned. You also have to be 48" tall. Nicholas was devastated, but he cheered up when he got to do the 2-3 story harness obstacle course. One per general admission is included, and you can stay up pretty much as long as you want.

The boy's a natural.

A flight ride was also included in our tickets, but Miriam was too small to go. That combined with having to watch all the other kids climb above her led to the inevitable meltdown, but I pacified her in the arcade. The classic rip-off of $5 of tokens and you get some tootsie rolls with your tickets. Consolation doesn't come cheap, but she had fun.

My personal favorite was the mega-bubbles. I could have stayed there all day.

Okay, that picture looks more than a little obscene. But it was cool.

The biggest weirdness for me was the complaint rock they played over the loudspeakers. Don't get me wrong, I would pick it over Kids Bop, but Alanis Morriset and Nirvana in a place primarily designed for kids under 12? Maybe they were really trying to appeal to the parents.

There is a cafeteria/snack bar that sells pizza and chicken fingers, etc. They also offer a magic show dinner theater, which we didn't do, but we did hear very positive reviews of it. If you are in the military, you can buy discounted tickets through your MWR/ITT office.