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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Florida – Making the Most of Not Enough Time

florida cranes

The Silver Bullet is coming up on her first birthday. With me, anyway. Last year, the man-of-the-place purchased a truck bed off Ebay, and decided for the price of shipping, we could go to Florida to pick it up and have some fun while there. It also provided an opportunity to test out the new-to-me truck, pulling the trailer on a long drive. She did very well, by the way.

truck, bed, trailer
Silver Bullet, carrying truck bed, hauling trailer.

Although the trip was way too quick and not scenic enough, (we stayed on the interstate) we were in a time crunch, to not spend too much time away from the abuelo. From Colorado, we made dry camp in a parking area outside Amarillo, Texas. The following day we stopped to have lunch at Cracker Barrel with my brother and his wife.

cracker bqrrel checkers

After our lunch date, we zipped along into Louisiana and stopped near some train tracks, where we could put the slide out and cook some dinner. Another early start. Another long driving day and we made it to Florida. We parked it at a farm, thinking it was the one we were headed for, but it was next door. Luckily the guys were friends and were very patient with our goof.

tropical palms florida

After picking up our merchandise, we treated ourselves to 2 nights in an rv park (which we got for ½ price with our Passport America Membership) and went to Harry Potter world at Universal Studios. Had a great time.

harry potter dragon

While in Kissimmee we also did the brakes and enjoyed the pool at the rv park. Very much.  Then it was back to long driving days.

tropical palms pool florida

We zipped through Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, getting introduced to boiled peanuts on the way – yum! Rivers and swampland were visible from the interstate, but we didn’t get off to explore. Sheets of rain slowed, and at one point completely stopped our progress for a while. When we finally emerged, we were grateful for dryer weather. Even though fuel prices were significantly lower in the southern states.

gas price mississipi

This would be a great trip to do again, sometime. With plenty of time to explore, and no torrential rains or potential floods to contend with.

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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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Hiking the Cumbres – Red Lake Trail #733

hiking the cumbres

We left at 8:30am to go to Cumbres Pass, Colorado, just past Las Mangas Pass, at an elevation of 10,230 feet.  A few miles up a dirt road is the Red Lake Trail. There is a good size parking area and a hitching rail. Yes, this is a popular horse trail. About 3 miles up is the lake. I did not use my fitbit to track it because it sucks up my battery and I wanted to take lots of pictures, but I did verify, on the Forest Service website, that the loop is 5.2 miles. The trail is fairly well marked, with cairns set up where it might get washed out. The ponds and streams were very low or dried up this trip. The trees seem to be suffering as well.

red lake trail 733 stream

We only saw 2 other small families all day. One we kind of hiked up with, a mom, dad and teenage girl with their grandpa, and 2 scottie dogs. Grandpa had been up this trail 5 times in the last 2 weeks. At 73 years of age. They only stayed at the lake a couple hours then left, but must have been somewhere in the area, because their car was still at the parking area when we came down. The other family was a grandma, grandpa and grandson backpacking up to spend a couple of nights. We saw them on our way down.

red lake fishing

The trail was actually moderate, but I took it very slow due to being out of shape. Just needed to stretch my lungs and my legs and boy, that felt good! Took a nap up at the lake while the guys fished. No catches today. Did not get my bug lotion made, so had to use some poison with DEET. Pretty much kept the mosquitoes away, however I did get a few bites. Because I did not give any thought to sunscreen, I am now paying the price. Face and neck very burned, insides of elbows burned, ouch! Good thing everything else was covered. Now slathering with aloe gel and lotion, after relieving the sting with apple cider vinegar.

rio grande nf co

On the way down, the man of the place took us through a marshy area with a bunch of sink holes. I did not much like that. Had to make sure the boy watched himself to not fall in. Even though we found the trail, still the man insisted on taking a different route. Got us pretty much lost, so I just headed toward the vicinity of the trail and kept downhill and we finally ended up back on trail. Never trust that guy and his shortcuts. My knees were pretty sore by the time we got back to the trail but I finally figured out to lock them so they would not be bearing my weight while bending. That is what stresses them. Ended up with no pain or swelling. The man was wearing new boots and his feet hurt like crazy by the time we got to the car. The boy was just plain worn out.

From Chama, NM travel about 24 miles north east on Highway 17, entering CO. Turn west on forest road 114, and continue approximately one mile to trailhead parking.

 

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