Category Archives: travel

RANDOM TIPS for UNIVERSAL STUDIOS, ISLANDS OF ADVENTURE AND THE WIZARDING WORLD OF HARRY POTTER!

Here are some of my tips for Visiting Universal Studios Orlando and Islands of Adventure!

For more tips or just fun stuff about this magical place, check out my other blog posts, and YouTube videos on the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Hard Rock Hotel, and other fun stuff at the parks!

RANDOM TIP #1: BRING SHORT PEOPLE WITH YOU.¬† THEY’RE FUN! ūüôā

…if you don’t have any of your own, borrow some! Be the bestest Aunt or Uncle alive!!!

…and they FORCE you to ride the Hulk and other fun stuff like that…

…they also enjoy all the small details of the place ūüôā¬† and seeing their joy is priceless

AND, if they’re under 56″ tall, you can join them (one adult per kid under 56″) on Pterandon Flyers and see super cool sights like these from above!!!!!

Skull Island, Reign of KONG…I took this while riding Pterandon flyers with my nephew (note: you’re not really supposed to take pix from up there, but….)
Super fun play area in Jurassic Park that is best enjoyed with the little ones

RANDOM TIP # 2: Head from Universal to Islands of Adventure during the sunset….soooo pretty!

Absolutely EVERYTHING at Toothsome Chocolate Factory is DELICIOUS, even the Brussels Sprouts!!!! …AND if anyone in your party has a peanut (or other allergy) the chef comes to visit your table to discuss your options and it certainly feels good to know that he’s aware of the allergy! it STAYS PACKED here, though, and always on a wait. The best time to come is right when they open. if it’s just one or two people, try sitting at the bar and eating.

yes…the above picture deserves posting twice ūüôā

RANDOM TIP #3: DO THE RAPTOR ENCOUNTER! It’s so cool and well worth the wait…and you can watch the raptor attack children while you wait, which is very entertaining!¬† The “trainer” is hilarious, AND if you hand them your phone they will take video AND pix for you!!!

By the way, I challenge you to come up with a better pose than this ūüėČ

RANDOM TIP #4: RIDE THE MUMMY!

WHAT a FUN roller coaster!!!!! its so cool how it gives you little breaks and scary interactions in between the screaming fast roller coaster!¬† Even my 7 year old nephew loved it.¬† Also, the line is usually super short (a hidden gem?) and I didn’t know it at the time that this picture was taken, BUT NOW I know that after you are in the room where there’s fire-literally- on the ceiling, then you go down a drop, that’s where the pic is taken -to your right…so you can pose for it!

RANDOM TIP #5: Buy some reflective sunglasses.¬† I mean, you’re in Florida, you NEED sunglasses….then you can take much cooler pix than this one that I took while waiting in line for the Flight of the Hippogriff (….the kids LOVE this ride, so be prepared to ride it like 26,397 times!!!!)

RANDOM TIP #6: STAY AT THE HARD ROCK HOTEL! The Hard Rock Hotel is one of the 3 hotels that gives every member of the family Unlimited Express Passes for their entire stay (including the day that you arrive, and the day that you leave).¬† Those suckers are worth $89 per person per day.¬† It’s worth it. period.¬† THEN you can spend the day RIDING RIDES versus WAITING IN LINES!!!!

The pool is super awesome, has a fun slide, AND has speakers under water so you can hear music underwater while you swim.
Watching a Harry Potter movie at the pool is just one of the many, many, perks!
Speaking of perks…for a deposit–that you get back–you can have an electric guitar during your stay!
so when your niece becomes a famous musician, she can give you all the credit for getting that guitar and she’ll probably buy you a house to live in when you’re not on tour with her band ūüôā
the kids LOVE it…..and, dude…you only live once, and those Express passes are GOLD. (side note: my nephew Sebastian wrote this in his cute little 7-year old handwriting and signed his sister’s name…I’m sure she would want ya’ll to know this… )

RANDOM TIP #7: Visit the Knight Bus. Just because….

RANDOM TIP #8: Get the short ones to dial 62442 (M-A-G-I-C …on an old school phone…you know you remember those!) in this phone booth to reach the Ministry of Magic

(Is Sebastian not the CUTEST little Harry Potter EVER?!?!?!??)

RANDOM TIP #8: Get an interactive wand.¬† LOADS of fun (…and sometimes frustration when the little muggles can’t get the spells!). this map comes with it, and if you go to Knockturn Alley you can hold the map under the blacklight at the entrance to illuminate all the spell locations. It’s a blast. trust me.

The blacklight highlights all the spell locations in the area on the right…you can just barely see it in this pic.

 

While you’re in Knockturn Alley, check out the Vanishing cabinet in Borgen & Burke’s. You can hear what’s inside it!

RANDOM TIP #9: **ALWAYS** buy a “park-to-park” pass so you can ride the Hogwarts Express back and forth from Islands of Adventure to Universal Studios and vice versa…it’s a different ride each way and its just a MUST.¬† If you don’t get this you lose major brownie points and coolness status, just saying….squib.

RANDOM TIP #10:  The Hogs Head Pub has beer.  This is an important fact. Riding the Flight of the Hippogriff 10,567 times will make you want to visit this establishment.

This is my sister. She needs this place after riding the Forbidden Journey ride ūüôā Look how happy she is.

This is inside the Hogs Head pub. that hog is an Animatronic. super cool. Dragon Scale beer is good.

This is the wizards version of Immodium AD. I’d probably need this if you could ever get me to eat the black pudding they have at the Leaky Cauldron. black pudding! do you know what that is? google it. I.can’t.even.

Get your kids some robes. not Slytherin though. are you sure? yes. anything but Slytherin.
Random fun fact: Luna is one of my FAVORITE characters.
as a side note, THIS is how a Harry Potter book should look…

AND LASTLY….have fun and STAY SILLY!!!!¬† (or stay, silly)

St. Niklaus to Zermatt, Switzerland – Day 6 of our Haute Route via Mountain Bike trip

On August 6, 2017, we began a 6 day mountain bike trip with¬†Alps Mountain Bike¬†Guide Company¬†starting in the amazing, adorable, adventure wonderland of Chamonix, France and ending in Zermatt Switzerland.¬† The trip was tough and included lots of steep climbing and hike-a-bikes and super technical descents, but it was super fun.¬† The weather not always kind or¬† forgiving, but the scenery, food and little towns that we would have never visited otherwise were awesome! Apologies as this post is not full of bike porn pics, but mostly scenery, buildings, etc. BUT as soon they’re up, I’ll add links to Dave’s GoPro footage of the mountain biking for the day here:

AND, you can also check out my¬† super cool “relive” video¬†using this link:¬†https://www.relive.cc/view/1128518849

Day 6 was the final day, in which we rode to Zermatt Switzerland.¬† Since there are no cars allowed in downtown Zermatt, that meant we would have had to stay in the outskirts of town…and be further from Geneva for the next day’s transfer, SO at the end of our ride, we rode back to the same hotel in St. Niklaus to stay for the last night.

This was awesome because, for once, we didn’t have to pack our suitcases and load them onto the van before taking off for the day!

It was a sweet little break.

This time we were SO prepared for the cold, wet weather.  We had a complete change of clothes over-stuffed our camelbacks, to the point of bursting seams,  and, of course, a rain fly covering the packs.

We took a shuttle ~halfway between St. Niklaus and Zermatt then rode a semi-flat, just slightly uphill trail towards Zermatt where we went to the train station to view the webcams of the Matterhorn.

So unfortunately, the weather was super cloudy and overcast and even snowing at the top.¬† ¬†We never did even see the Matterhorn,¬†but I imagine it was up there, being as beautiful and breathtaking as ever.¬† And we posed in front of a billboard with the Matterhorn on it, so that’s close enough, right?

Normally, we would’ve taken a gondola or funicular up to near the top of the Matterhorn and rode our bikes down, BUT due to the snow, we had to discuss alternate routes.¬† This snow meant¬†that the trails would be completely covered at the top and very hard to navigate and the rocks would be especially treacherous.

So instead we rode about ~3,000 (elevation gain) up a winding jeep track, into elevations where there was first a light dusting of snow, then complete cover!!!

A little snack break and yoga

Here is a link from my YouTube channel of a cool little time lapse of the inside of this tunnel :  https://youtu.be/KsUnJQg0fUY

Once we were at Sunnegga, we built a snowman, then bought warm soup and changed into warm dry clothes for our fun, sometimes uber technical, descent in the snow!

It was the first time that I ever rode in snow!!!!…. so at least THAT was SUPER cool AND could be checked off my 50 before 50 AND my bucket lists!¬† Bright side, kids, bright side….

As we rode down the mountain, the snow was gone again, and we stopped for another snack break and cool pix of the little neighborhood below us:

This is our guide, Thierry!

We then rode up another climb for about 1,000 feet elevation gain to this area…

So that we could FLY downhill on a nice SUPER flowy, SUPER fun, bermed and pumped track and then rode into Zermatt!!!

Oh I wish we could’ve stayed in Zermatt WAY longer! My pictures don’t come close to doing it justice!!!! it was an AAAAMAZING town!!!!!

We finished our day, AND our 6 day tour with a ride all the way back to St. Niklaus, where we had dessert…

OF COURSE we had dinner first though!!!!

This is a picture of our EXCELLENT group, who were all kind, friendly, fun, super interesting and great riders from Finland, Spain, Quebec, Brazil, and of course, the States!

YAY!!!!! WE DID IT! WE COMPLETED THE HAUTE ROUTE VIA MOUNTAIN BIKE!!

Although I was bummed about the weather, and recovering from an ear and sinus infection, etc. , it was, without a doubt, an AMAZING trip.¬† I’m so glad that I was able to see these little villages of Switzerland that I would never have seen otherwise!

The food was incredibly delicious, perfectly portioned, and WAY more healthy than typical American meals.

The technical aspect of the trails was an AWESOME and a SUPER FUN, monumental, challenge and although I was slow, I was still proud of myself for all the climbing that I did throughout the week!

The downhills were absolutely epic.

I am sooooo jealous of the people who live in the areas that we rode!!!!!!¬† I can’t believe they get to ride that all the time!!!! aaaaggghhh…so jealous.

I learned so much, not only new biking skills and interesting new ways of teaching and awesome drills, but I learned how to cuss in Finnish (now I can proclaim “Pashka” in front of children and not get into trouble!!!)¬† and where Game of Thrones Dragonstone castle is (near one of the guys in the groups house!!!) and maybe, just maybe, I learned how to be a little bit tougher in cold, wet, weather!!!!

(i’m a Florida girl, born and raised, and for LIFE when it comes to temperature….if it’s below ~75 I’ll even ride with long sleeves!)

I’m forever grateful to our group and guides for being so awesome!!!¬† …and also for the ability to go on this amazing trip!

Here are some pix that I took JUST outside our B&B right before leaving St. Niklaus ūüôĀ *sniff sniff*

Our “Haute Route” Mountain Bike trip- Day 5

On August 6, 2017, we began a 6 day mountain bike trip with Alps Mountain Bike Guide Company starting in the amazing, adorable, adventure wonderland of Chamonix, France and ending in Zermatt Switzerland.  The trip was tough and included lots of steep climbing and hike-a-bikes and super technical descents, but it was super fun.  The weather not always kind or  forgiving, but the scenery, food and little towns that we would have never visited otherwise were awesome! Apologies as this post is not full of bike porn pics, but the weather was so nasty-There will a link to some beautiful and gnarly GoPro footage a couple of paragraphs below as soon as Dave uploads.

This is what day 5 was like:

The weather was crap-nasty ūüôĀ

My ankle was still swollen, but felt much better, but I still wanted to bail on this day so badly…but I didn’t!!!

(*pat on the back*)

Since the weather was so bad, we were dropped off on a peak in order to avoid a climb in the cold rain.  There were two restaurants there.  I went into one and it had amazing decor and ambiance.  I think a pic of the bathroom in this place was practically the only pic I took unfortunately, because we were in a rush to get started while the rain was still super light.

I wish I would’ve taken more pix but we were so rushed all the time it felt like…I mean, nobody wanted to wait in the cold rain, so I get it…

The riding was wet and cold.¬† even the easy downhill sucked for me because I got so much mud in my face, and dripping down into my eyes…not even my glasses helped.

It took us 2 hours to cover ~5.6 hours before we were finally picked up by the shuttle van and¬† were taken to St. Niklaus to our B&B for lunch.¬† Since the rain cleared up, Dave and Toumas and one of the guides went on a little ride after lunch while a couple of us toured St. Niklaus in search of an ATM and newspaper to help dry our shoes. Dave has some beautiful Go Pro footage from this, which i’ll insert as soon as it’s up!!!

PRO TIP: When I later told my chiropractor, (who was also a mountaineer who had spent most of his life from birth in Geneva),  how unkind the weather was to us on this trip,  he said that the trick was to ALWAYS PLAN TO GO TO THE SWISS ALPS DURING THE FULL MOON.  He said that the weather was always clear during that time frame.  Man, I wish I had consulted in him BEFORE we planned the trip!!!!

No pix riding, but at least i got some pix from St Niklaus, below:

Evolene, Switzerland to Beautiful Grimentz- Day 3

On August 6, 2017, we began a 6 day mountain bike trip with Alps Mountain Bike starting in the amazing, adorable, adventure wonderland,  Chamonix, France and ending in Zermatt Switzerland.  The trip was tough and included lots of steep climbing and hike-a-bikes and super technical descents.  The weather not always kind or  forgiving, but the scenery and little towns that we would have never visited otherwise were awesome!

…and here’s what happened on Day 3.

There will be no bike pix from me (see link for Dave’s footage once he’s uploaded it, below)…I woke up that morning, feeling HORRIBLY due to my sinus/ear infection and I looked at the radar, which showed a HUGE green and red blob COVERING practically the entire country AND a forecast high of ~37 F on the higher elevations.

So, I felt like pashka and it was absolutely inevitable that a VERY heavy cold rain would be falling on the group the entire day, so I had to bail.

Anyhow, I figured this would be just as good for the group as it would for my healing.¬† The ride that day consisted of climbing up, to the “Col de Torrent”, the highest pass of the trip (elevation 9,567 feet), then about the same distance descent to get to Grimentz.¬† The total ascent for the day was ~5250 feet, and¬† I did not want to have the group wait for me during that climb in the horrible freezing rain, and I needed to rest and get better!

Fortunately there was a doctor in the group who gave me some GOOD antibiotics, that actually WORKED, so I took those and SLEPT in Evolene until housekeeping kicked me out of the room at about 11:30AM.

I went downstairs to the cafe where Martial had been busy working all morning (our other guide, Thierry, was leading the group).¬† It wasn’t long before Martial got a call…”MERDE!” he said.¬† Apparently the group was getting HAILED on and the weather was so miserable that the group would not stop for lunch or any breaks, but would just plow through as fast as they could down to the next town, Grimentz.

We needed to be there and have their rooms and luggage all settled and ready for them when they came in, so we rushed by van over to Grimentz.  Ugh, I wish I had taken more pix of the INSIDE of SUPER COOL little B&B we stayed at! It was like a cave on the inside!

The group came back FROZEN! SHIVERING! BLUE!

I made a damn good choice.

Zero regrets.

You can see Dave shivering in his Youtube video.  I will attach the link as soon as he gets it up.  He did say that he learned a little trick for riding in cold weather: put one hand in your pants to keep it warm and ride one-handed, then switch (obviously not on the super technical gnar), but lol!

After an amazing fish dinner, we all crashed and i woke up early to tour Grimentz in better weather so that i could take pix!