Monday, May 8, 2017

Paige and Ree's Epic Vacation: Part 2

So, as described in Part 1, we arrived at the resort around mid-day on Saturday, March 25th (Paige a little later than me). We were at Westgate Vacation Villas and Resort in Kissimmee. It is a huge place! Our villa was a 5-10 minute walk from the main building. They do have a little shuttle and golf carts to get you around the resort, if ever you don't have a car (which we didn't) and have stuff to lug around because it's quite a big place. The villa was really nice, basically a small apartment. There were two bedrooms, one with two double beds, and the Master bedroom with a King size bed. There was also a pull-out couch that makes a Queen size bed in the living area. There was a fully equipped kitchen, washer/dryer, dining area, living area, and patio. The Master bedroom had an en suite toilet, shower, and jacuzzi. The other bedroom had access to another washroom with toilet & tub/shower. So we each claimed a room and had our own bathroom, which was nice.
The resort offers a free shuttle service to SeaWorld, Universal, and Disney's Epcot Centre, so Monday and Tuesday we reserved the earlier (9:20am) shuttle to Universal, which came back at 7:15pm. We were kind of grumbling thinking that that wasn't very convenient hours, but we quickly discovered that that is a long day of walking around in the heat! The temperature over the week varied from 29-33 degrees Celsius, which is not much different than summer here, but I, for one, wasn't ready and didn't handle it very well.

So here's a somewhat condensed overview of those first two days in the parks:

Monday (March 27)
We went to Universal Studios first, and pretty much made a bee-line for Diagon Alley (basically the whole reason for this destination was our mutual love of Harry Potter). That first day we wasted a bit of time just being so in awe of everything and not quite knowing where to start. Before you enter Diagon Alley, you see King's Cross Station (where you go to take the Hogwarts Express), the Knight Bus, and Grimmauld Place. We were so lucky to get to Grimmauld Pace right when Kreecher made his appearance in the window! Then, upon entering Diagon Alley for the first time and soaking in those first few sights, the dragon breathed fire and we were in a perfect position to capture pictures of it! It was totally awesome!!

So, after getting inside Diagon Alley, and taking pictures of nearly everything we saw, the next thing we did was get in line for the Escape from Gringott's ride. It was a long wait (I believe it was 60 minutes - which really isn't bad in theme-park terms), but the line moved pretty fluidly so it didn't feel so long. The line winds all through the inside of Gringott's bank, which made it an interesting wait. Such beautiful things to see! We didn't have our phones because you are supposed to secure all loose belongings in a locker, so we didn't get any pictures inside. We saw lots of people had smuggled their phones in, but we didn't think it worth the risk of potentially dropping them while on the ride. The ride itself was fun and exciting, but not terribly memorable, and the ending was kind of abrupt and disappointing - we both kind of expected a bigger finish. I give it 3.5 out of 5 stars.

After that, we had lunch at The Leaky Cauldron - fish & chips, of course (so good!), with Butterbeer. It was our intention to try Butterbeer in all it's forms offered in the parks, so that first day we tried the cold version. Delicious, but very sweet. (I've been asked about this a lot, so I feel it necessary to explain: Butterbeer is a non-alcoholic beverage referred to in the Harry Potter books, which has been recreated for the parks! It is most often described as butterscotch flavour, but the cold version is kind of like cream soda with butterscotch "foam" on top.)  We also bought our interactive wands at Ollivander's right away, with the intention of using them throughout the week (we had decided ahead of time that we would only buy any real souvenirs, aside from our wands, at the end of the trip).

Lunch at The Leaky Cauldron, Ollivander's Wand Shop, some of the other shops

We had bought park-to-park passes specifically so that we could ride the Hogwarts Express, which is so much fun and a must do! The line on the Diagon Alley side meanders through King's Cross Station, bringing you through the wall to Platform 9 3/4! That first time we went through, I didn't see the wall, but I caught a quick clip of it later on. The train itself is such a good replica, so cute. The cars hold up to 8 people, and the windows/door have projections, and it's a different animation in either direction you travel. So well done! Except that the voice of Hermione is not Emma Watson's, which seemed odd...

We didn't stay long on the Hogsmeade side that first day because there were so many more people, and it was hot, and just... Yuck. So we just had a little sit-down, got some cold drinks, had a quick look around, and then took the train back.

Back in Diagon Alley, we did the Ollivander's wand experience. When we first went to the shop to buy our wands, the line for the experience was huge, but when we went back later in the afternoon there was nobody! That was such a fun experience! I'll talk more about that in a later post...

If memory serves, that was pretty much all we did that first day. Before leaving the park to wait for the shuttle, we stopped at a little snack kiosk to get pretzels, and they were totally gross and disappointing and a waste of money. Once back at the resort, we hopped in the pool, ordered a pizza, watched TV, and generally just relaxed after a super fun, magical first day in the parks!

Tuesday (March 28)
Back to Universal on the 9:20 shuttle. This time we started off on the Islands of Adventure side, and again went straight to the Harry Potter section, of Hogsmeade. We decided to get some rides out of the way first, because things had seemed to get busier after lunch the day before. So we did the Forbidden Journey ride. Once again, the wait was entertaining, and didn't seem as long, because the line went around the inside of the Hogwarts castle with lots of interesting things to see. Again, we had to secure everything in a locker, so we don't have any pictures inside :(, but trust me when I say that it was awesome! The ride was a lot of fun, very exciting and entertaining, and seemed a decent length. I'd probably give that one 4.5 out of 5 stars.

By the time we got done with that ride it was around 11:30, so we went to get lunch at The Three Broomsticks, and got in just before the lunch rush! We still had to wait, but not nearly as long as we had the day before. I got the Shepherd's Pie, which was quite good. Paige tried the frozen Butterbeer this time, and I had a taste. It was basically a caramel flavoured slush. We sat there for a bit enjoying the air conditioning and letting our food digest... And then got in line for the Flight of the Hippogriff ride.

Oh my gosh. We were expecting the Dragon Challenge ride (we were confused!), and the line for this Hippogriff ride was super long and not that interesting, and then the ride itself was so short, and fun, but not really that exciting. It was definitely only 2 out of 5 stars for me, pretty big disappointment. The best part of the whole thing was walking by Hagrid's Hut in the line, and the animatronic Buckbeak.
The Three Broomsticks

Lunch at The Three Broomsticks

Hagrid's Hut

So after that, we got in the actual line for the Dragon Challenge ride, which was only a 20 minute wait! And boy, it's not called a thrill ride for nothing, let me tell you! The line took us through... well, I'm not sure what, actually. It's as if you're going down into the castle dungeon or soemthing? Anyway, the ride was full of twists, turns, climbs, drops, swinging sideways and upside down... it was AWESOME! So much fun! 6 out of 5 stars, definitely!

Poor Paige hadn't done many rollercoasters before this trip and so she didn't know if she would like them or not... This ride didn't help her choose! Haha. We were so dizzy after, and I didn't have my head against the seat as you're supposed to, so I got a headache from getting knocked around a bit, so we went and got some refreshments and had a short rest.

The rest of the day was spent wandering through the rest of the Islands of Adventure: we did some of the kiddie rides/attractions in Seuss Landing (Caro-Seuss-el, High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride, and walked through the Truffula tree forest) and watched The Eighth Voyage of Sinbad (kiiiinda lame, but kinda fun :D ). We also caught the Universal Superstar Parade, which was... well, it was a something. Hah! I'm sure it's much more interesting/exciting for little kids.
Part 3 and Part 4 are live now!

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