Universal Studios and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

hogwarts express

Our trip to Florida was much too rushed, but we thoroughly enjoyed our day at Universal Studios and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

The rides:

Hogsmeade – The Hogwarts express sits just inside the gates, awaiting passengers to be ferried between Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley (requires a separate ticket or park-to-park admission. We felt the park-to-park admission was worth it for the day).

Tour Hogwarts Castle while you wind through the line for The Forbidden Journey. The Dragon Challenge seemed a bit too extreme for us, but the Flight of the Hippogriff was loads of fun, soaring past the pumpkin patch and Hagrid’s Hut.

Hogsmeade Station experienced a brief shut down as the train underwent some minor difficulties, so we continued to tour the town until we were able to board the Hogwarts Express. We love trains, even if it is just for a 5-minute ride to the other Universal Park.

 

diagon alley

Diagon Alley has quite a bit more shopping and a few more rides than Hogsmeade, but it also closes up earlier, so get there with enough time to enjoy all it has to offer.

 

escape from gringotts          harry potter dragon

Diagon Alley – Escape from Gringotts is rollicking fun. Atop the bank is a fire breathing dragon. Inside is an opulent reconstruction of the movie set, designed to entertain you as you wind through the line for hours awaiting your 2-minute experience. We were lucky. The longest lines we had to wait in were about 30 minutes. Without the express pass.

 

knight bus            grimmauld place

Other fun highlights outside Diagon Alley include the Knight bus (outside only) and 13 Grimmauld Place (outside only).

nine three quarters

Kings Cross Station – entering platform 9 ¾ was not as exciting as we had hoped, but we got over it, as the excitement of boarding the train mounted.

The food:

 

leaky cauldron

In Diagon Alley, traditional pub fare is available at the Leaky Cauldron, along with pumpkin juice and butterbeer. We had lunch at the Leaky Cauldron, with butter beer and pumpkin juice. Altogether too much sugar! I got a tummy ache.

Carts throughout Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley purvey bottles of ice cold pumpkin juice (be ready for the $7.50 price tag) and mugs of butterbeer.

The shopping:

 

magic knitting needles

Ollivander’s wand shop offers instruction in choosing wands – economy or deluxe. The deluxe version allows the wizard to perform magic at several spots in the wizarding world. Got wands for me – Molly Weasley, of course; the boy – Sirius Black (who knew?!), and my daughter – Snape.

Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes offers just about everything it does in the movie and more. We made sure to get a chocolate frog, peppermint toads, and some other delectables. Quite a few visitors toured the park in Madame Malkin’s “bespoke” robes. Luckily for my wallet, I had made us robes a few years ago, which were still quite serviceable. No wonder I identify so closely with Molly Weasley. It was great fun going through the shops and looking at all the wizarding items. Borgin and Burkes’ shop is as creepy as it was in the movie.

The rest:

raptor

Back in Hogsmeade, we decided to explore other areas of the park and made our way to Jurassic Park, where we narrowly escaped being lunch for a “friendly” velociraptor. Jurassic Park was exciting, especially since we had recently seen Jurassic World in the theater.

By the time we made it to Marvel Super Hero Island, it was raining. Not wanting to crush our belongings in ride lockers again, we took turns under the umbrellas with the backpacks.

spidey ride

Adventures of Spider-Man in 3D is thrilling. The close calls really get the adrenaline going. Storm Force Accelatron is a good old fashioned spinning ride.

At the end of the day, it was relaxing just to sit and enjoy the atmosphere of Hogsmeade – something we should also have done in Diagon Alley.

hogwarts castle

Note that Universal does not allow guests to bring in coolers and the lockers are quite small. Certain rides have lockers available for personal items, but they are also very small. Free for the duration of the ride, though.

My notes for future visits – keep backpack light. Just a few snacks and water. Shop just before leaving – your wands will get crushed in the tiny ride lockers. The “all day” lockers are not much bigger than the ride lockers, but if you must bring additional items, they’re a good option. they are located in the Marvel Studios area of Islands of Adventure. Also nearby are the cell phone and tablet charging lockers. This was a new feature to me and seemed like a very good idea. Though I carry my own power pack, there was a time I didn’t, and phone and camera batteries can get used up quickly on trips like these.

 

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5 Steps to Avoid Altitude Sickness

red lake trail 733 stream

We normally reside at about 7500 feet, but even then, at above 10000 feet I notice the effects of the altitude. Cumbres Pass is over 10,000 feet in elevation. When we went on our hike, I noted several symptoms of altitude sickness in myself and immediately took steps to prevent it.

Drink lots of water

water bottle walking stick

As we started out on our hike, I felt a dull headache. Dehydration happens fast at this elevation. I was not even thirsty, but with a simple pinch test (pinch the skin on the back of your hand. If it doesn’t immediately return to normal, you’re getting dehydrated.) I could tell I was definitely needing water.

Consume extra protien

I also indulged in the salty snacks and made sure I consumed some extra protein. Thus, I did not suffer any nausea or other symptoms of altitude sickness, as I did the last time we made a jaunt to the high country, in Leadville, CO.

Breathe deeply

One of the reasons for altitude sickness is the lower levels of oxygen present in the air at high elevations. Slow down and breathe deeply to help your body adjust.

Take a nap

sleeping on bench

While the guys were fishing, I drowsed in the sun, enjoying its warmth after too many months of winter.

Acclimate slowly

Most people will adjust to a higher altitude within 2-3 days. When we went to Leadville, I didn’t realize I was suffering from altitude sickness until it was well underway. My headache persisted through the weekend, and nausea made me lose my appetite.

Move to a lower altitude

If all else fails, head back down to lower ground. As soon as we were back to the car and driving down the hill from Leadville, My headache began to subside. Once we got home, it was gone.

More info on moderate to severe altitude sickness see: http://www.traveldoctor.co.uk/altitude.htm

 

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What’s in Your Day Pack?

tote bag day pack
me with my tote bag day pack

A light, but well-stocked day pack is essential to an enjoyable hike. Snacks, first-aid supplies, water, camera, notebook, rain poncho – these are just the basics. Most supplies are small and light, so you don’t have to carry a heavy or bulky pack.

After hiking the Cumbres, my new plan is to walk or ride our bikes into town every day and go hiking at least once a week. Not sure how that will work out, because the forecast is for rain every day for the rest of the week. But that usually happens in the afternoon and evening, so maybe if we can get it done before 2p.m. we should be okay.

day pack contents
contents of my daypack

I have made a list of stuff I need to replenish, and in addition, we each definitely need a decent day pack. My tote bag straps and the boy’s string back pack straps cut into our shoulders and hence, are very uncomfortable. Not sure if I’ll make padded straps or just fork over the $60+- for a  good day pack or two from Costco (if they still have them). I will check the local thrift stores in the meantime.

 

Some items I did not have with that I intend to put in my day pack kit:

  • waterproof matches/lighter

  • hand sanitizer (left it in the car)

  • collapsible cup (for scooping water to drink with the life straw)

  • plastic bags and trash bags

  • flatware

  • sunscreen and bug lotion

  • life straw for the boy

  • small stool for sitting up off wet ground (must fit in daypack)

Items I did have that came in handy or would have:

  • hand lotion and lip balm

  • flashlight

  • rain ponchos and emergency blanket

  • electrolyte powder

  • toilet paper and feminine products

  • umbrella (doubled as walking stick, very handy for sore knees)

  • scarf and fleece jacket (nice to sit on and wear on way out)

  • pocket knife

  • life straw

  • water bottle and extra water in car

  • insulated lunch bag with high protein snacks, fruit and ice pack

  • potato chips

  • napkins

  • sunglasses

  • camera and gps

  • pen and paper

  • small sewing kit

Choose multi-purpose items wherever possible, not only to cut down on space but also weight. For instance, a large 30 gallon garbage bag can be used as a rain poncho, ground cover, and, well, a trash bag. An ice pack in a lunch bag can also be used to treat a sprain or bruise. Hand sanitizer can also clean a wound, if it contains alcohol.

My list varies with the season and location, but most of the basics are the same. Sometimes I put unneeded items in a ziplock, so I can quickly remove and replace them if I need the day pack for something else.

So what’s in your day pack?

 

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How to Use a Life Straw

life straw

One of the best portable water filters you can get is the Life Straw. We love ours. It does take a bit of practice to get used to. You could end up very thirsty before you figure it out.

Our hike in the Cumbres gave us the perfect opportunity to practice with the life straw some more. The boy’s had disappeared, but we shared mine. Of course, Life Straw says every one should have their own personal life straw. Unfortunately, we did not find a place to get one on the way there. I like to scoop water into a cup and then suck it through the straw.  The guys prefer to lay on their bellies and put the straw directly into the stream.

The trick is to fill the body of the straw, which contains the filter. Then you can start drinking. For me, this means suck up a cup of water to fill the straw, then refill my cup and drink (through the straw). After each session, blow what remains out of the straw. Also, it is a good idea to let the straw sit out for a day or so, to let it dry out completely, before you pack it away. This avoids any junky stuff growing in it – mold and such.

At about $20 each, Life Straws may seem a bit pricey, but when you consider that one straw will filter approximately 264 gallons, one straw will last quite awhile. We even bring ours with us when we know we will be at the mercy of city water. Life straw filters out most of the bad stuff – bacteria and protozoa, but not viruses, chemicals or heavy metals. However, the company does offer the Life Straw Steel, for $55, which will filter those things as well. Click on the links to read all the technical mumbo jumbo.

We love our Life Straws and they suit our needs. We bought them directly from the company, but there are numerous places to get them, now. Nope, we didn’t get paid for this, and I don’t have my Amazon affiliate links live, but if you want, you can make a donation to our “Movie Night Fund” at right.

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Ray’s Boathouse and Cafe, Seattle, Washington

Ray's Boathouse, Seattle
Ray’s Boathouse and Cafe on the waterfront

After Ballard Locks, we asked for a recommendation of where to eat for fresh seafood. Ray’s was mentioned. We drove downtown and found it on the docks. The outdoor seating looked appealing, but not on this chilly, overcast day. Our table inside had an outstanding view of the ocean. The seafood did, indeed seem very fresh. Steaming bowls of white clam chowder, accompanied by a shared seafood salad and a shared plate of Alaskan King Crab legs filled us up.

The quality of the food was exactly what you would expect from a high-end fresh seafood restaurant. Our budget is certainly not high-end, but by sharing 2 entrees among the 5 of us, and partaking of the cafe menu, we were able to enjoy a classy dining experience. We always enjoy waterfront dining and Ray’s is definitely tops on that list.

fishy bike rack
There’s something fishy about this bike rack.
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