Saturday, June 24, 2017

Paige and Ree's Epic Vacation: Part 4

*sigh* Sometimes I ask myself why I bother starting these things if I'm not going to finish until 3 months later...

Anyway, if you've been following along, you know that I've been documenting my trip to Florida with my bestie in March. We spent a week in Orlando: four days at Universal (Wizarding World of Harry Potter!!), one day at Magic Kingdom, and the rest of our time relaxing at our resort. This is the final part of this dragged out four-part saga. If you've stuck around, congratulations. I love you. You're a star. 

Ok, moving on! If you have read my other posts about this trip, you'll know that we had already spent three days at Universal and our day at Magic Kingdom, so all we've got left is one day at Universal, and our "going home" day. This post is mostly just talk and not too many pictures, I'm afraid.

Friday, March 31

So, as I mentioned, Friday we went back to Universal. We had decided ahead of time that we would save our last day for doing things we had missed out on, re-doing things we had enjoyed, and buying souvenirs! The shuttles always had to be booked 24-48 hours in advance, so we had figured that since we were staying later for the fireworks at Disney on Thursday, that we might want to sleep in Friday, so we booked the 11:15 shuttle to Universal.

There wasn't a whole lot else that we wanted to do in the parks. We had more or less exhausted all that we want to do in the Wizarding World, aside from souvenirs. And there wasn't much in the rest of the parks that either of us were very interested in. Except...

I told Paige that since we had one more day, and we'd already done the Wizarding World rides a couple times, and the rides at Magic Kingdom weren't terribly exciting... that I wanted to do one other "thrill" ride in the park, but that I would leave it up to her which one we would do. The options were:

1) Hollywood Rip-Ride-Rocket
2) Doctor Doom's FearFall
3) Jurassic Park River Ride
4) The Incredible Hulk Coaster

Neither of us wanted to get wet, so that ruled out the river ride. She also very quickly ruled out Doctor Doom because she couldn't do the drop. So it came down to the Rip-Ride-Rocket or the Hulk Coaster, and she decided that the Hulk was the lesser of two evils, haha! So we did that fairly early in the day. It was pretty awesome. We went the single-rider route, once again, so that we could get on faster. It was definitely a thrilling ride, and I'd have to give that one 10 out of 5 stars! It was great! I don't know how much Paige enjoyed it, but she didn't seem too traumatized. :D I didn't take any pictures of the ride, but here is a video of it from YouTube:

So we mostly spent the rest of our time wandering between the two parks, taking more random pictures, and buying up souvenirs. I was really hot that day. I mentioned in an earlier part of the saga that we had every intention of sampling Butterbeer in all available forms, so we went and got Butterbeer Icecream from Florean Fortescue's (it's pretty much just butterscotch soft serve...).

A cool Pumpkin Juice advert, and Florean Fortescue's Ice-Cream Parlour
Mmm... Butterbeer Ice Cream...

Even though it was wicked hot, we hadn't yet tried Hot Butterbeer, and we wanted to get some before we left. So we went to The Hopping Pot (because we hadn't been there yet), but they said it was out of season. What?!? How is that even possible?! We were so miffed. So instead, Paige got Otter's Fizzy Orange Juice, and I tried the Fishy Green Ale. Hers was a basic orange-flavoured carbonated drink. The Fishy Green Ale (I read about it on a blog and wanted to be adventurous) is a mint & cinnamon-flavoured drink with blueberry flavoured pearls (the "fish eggs") in the bottom. It sounds weird and gross and looks strange, and it was kind of good (well, it wasn't disgusting), but I could only drink about half of it, and that took me quite a while because I was only taking little sips (which is unfortunate since they cost enough...). I did quite enjoy sucking up and squishing the blueberry bubbles. :)

The Hopping Pot

Fishy Green Ale

It was a pretty hot day, and we decided that we wanted to have time to relax a bit back at the resort, so we had no intentions of staying until 7:15 to get the shuttle. So we instead decided to grab a taxi back around 5pm. It was handy and easily accessible, and an enjoyable ride, but, if I were doing things over, I would not do the taxi! It ended up costing a small fortune ($63 CAD). We knew it would cost a bit, but weren't quite expecting it to be that much. Had we made arrangements ahead to book a private shuttle, it would have cost us much less, but we didn't really know what we were doing. Oh well. Live and learn!

So once back at the resort, we munched on leftovers and all the snacks we had bought earlier in the week, hung out at the pool, packed our suitcases, and generally just chilled out.

Saturday, April 1

Paige's flight was around 11am, so her airport shuttle was supposed to be picking her up at 7:20am. This proved to be a bit complicated because the resort shuttles couldn't be booked ahead, and the office only opened at 7 (we had asked at the front desk a day or 2 before, and they told us to just call right at 7 and it should be fine). So she called at 7, like they had told us to do, and said that she needed to be at the desk at 7:20 to meet her shuttle. It apparently took them a really long time to get organized, and she had to call a couple times to remind them her shuttle was picking her up in X minutes, and let's just say she very nearly missed the shuttle, but thankfully the desk staff held off the driver long enough.

Unfortunately, my flight wasn't until 9pm, so I had most of the day to kill. Which would have been super fine, if I could have hung out in the villa, but I had to check out at 10am. So... I got a ride over to the main building with my bags, checked out and left my bags at the front desk (this was about 9:15am), then walked over to the commercial area to get breakfast.

Because my dad is an "owner," we were considered owners for being there in his place, but he hadn't given me his owner card (because they didn't tell him he had to), so I didn't have proof. This wasn't a problem during our stay because we had key cards to prove it. But once I had checked out, I no longer had a key card, and also didn't have my dad's owner card, so I couldn't prove "ownership" to get the discounts due me, so I had to pay a lot more for my breakfast than I should have. Not a big deal, but kind of annoying.

So, I ate my breakfast, then I stayed there writing postcards to my pen pals. That really didn't take very long, and I didn't feel comfortable staying at a table for no reason, so I went to buy stamps to mail my postcards. They sell stamps in a little dispenser machine that only takes quarters, and an International stamp is $2.50. (I knew this, but didn't really register it. In Canada, we have a national rate, a rate to send to the U.S., and another rate for International - I sort of assumed it was the same from their end.)

The postcards I mailed from Florida

After getting that all settled (and using up most of the American money I had left), I walked over to the main building to put my cards in the mailbox. I would have considered watching a movie at the little theatre, but the movies didn't start until afternoon. So I sat in the lobby and tried to read for a while. There were always so many people in the lobby, it's really not a relaxing place. It was very distracting. So I alternated between reading and people-watching. But then I just got sick of all the noise, so I walked back over to the commercial area, settled in on a bench outside in the shade, and read and people-watched some more, and surfed Facebook.

At some point I got kicked off the WiFi and couldn't get back on, so I had to give up on that. As it got closer to my shuttle pick-up time (4:20pm) I walked back over to the lobby, got my bags from the front desk, and found a table to sit at to try to read while I waited. It was a very long afternoon. Finally it was time, and the shuttle, and off we went.

It only took about 20 minutes to get to the airport, so I was ridiculously early, and I didn't really know what I was supposed to do. There was nobody at the Air Canada counter to ask, so I just checked in at one of the machines, and wandered out into a big lobby-area. I knew I needed to check my bag somewhere, but I didn't see any signs for baggage check (it had all been very straightforward and clearly marked in Montreal). So I asked a flight attendant where I was supposed to check my bag, and she was kind of confused and indicated that it would be at the airline counter... so I went back.

There was still nobody there, but somewhere along the way I had heard that the Air Canada counter would only be open at 6pm (because they only had 2 outgoing flights that day, ours at 9pm and another at 11pm), and by this time it was about 5pm. So... I took my place at the head of the line and waited! People eventually trickled in behind me, and I had the pleasure of telling them we had to wait until 6 to be served. Anyway... 6pm eventually rolled around, I checked my bag, and then hustled off to security and my gate.

After that, it was all pretty normal and straightforward and uneventful. My seat mate on the flight left her overhead light (which seemed to be pointed right at the top of my head) on for the whole trip, so there was no chance I was even going to doze. We got into Montreal right on time at midnight. Baggage claim took forever, it was 1am before I even got my bag, and everything just seemed to take much longer than necessary, but maybe that was just because I was sick of waiting. I think it was 1:30 by the time we left the airport (my parents were waiting for me), and with a few stops, it was 4am before I was home in my bed, and at least 6am before I was able to sleep. It was an extremely long and tedious day filled with so much waiting, but considering some of my other adventures, a rather routine and unexciting trip home. :)

Harry Potter souvenirs! Clockwise from the top:
Ginny Weasley's wand, souvenir Butterbeer mug,
Fizzing Whizbees, Chocolate Frog, Bertie's Every Flavor Beans,
Pumpkin Juice bottle, Ravenclaw sweater & pin, Ollivander's pin,
and Universal Studios magnet <3

So, that's it! It was an amazing and super fun trip. New York would have been fun, but doing the Wizarding World of Harry Potter was definitely the better choice, for this year anyway. Maybe someday we'll do New York - it's really not that far away.

I would most definitely go back to Universal at some point, but if I was going back to Orlando, I would probably try to get in more time at Disney World and only one or two full days at Universal. And as much fun as the resort was, next time I would probably seriously consider booking a complete package and staying on site and stuff. We thought that doing it this way was cheaper, but in the end... I'm not entirely sure that it was! I still haven't added everything up to see how I did compared to my budget... Another post, maybe.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Paige and Ree's Epic Vacation: Part 3

Hi there! If you haven't been following along, I have been recounting, in detail, my recent trip to Orlando with my best friend, Paige. You can read the story behind the trip in Part 1, and our first couple days in the theme parks in Part 2.

To summarize, just in case you haven't got time to read all that, both Monday and Tuesday we went to Universal (Universal Studios & Islands of Adventure) and did ALL THE HARRY POTTER THINGS!

Wednesday (March 29)
On Wednesday we took the later free shuttle from the resort, which left at 11:15am, and came back at 7:15pm - earlier in the week we had taken the 9:20am shuttles and found that we were exhausted by the end of the day and our feet were just killing us. It turned out to be a smart move, as having just a few less hours of standing/walking in the heat, we felt so much better at the end of that day.

By this point, we were still very much into the Harry Potter stuff (Harry Potter stuff can't get old, right?), and we decided to dedicate our time to experiencing again the Harry Potter rides we had enjoyed the most, and also using our wands. So we went straight to the Dragon Challenge ride, the most exciting one. We ended up on the second dragon (there are two tracks) so it was a slightly different experience, and we got split up so that we could get on the ride faster, and the line was still pretty short at that time of day (which was around 11:45-ish, although I don't think I ever saw the sign say more than a 20 minute wait for that ride). After the Dragon Challenge, we went through Hogwarts for the Forbidden Journey ride again. We went back over to Diagon Alley for lunch at The Leaky Cauldron again because we preferred the atmosphere and experience there over The Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade.

We spent the rest of the afternoon practicing our charms and spells in both parks. The spells in Diagon Alley (and Knockturn Alley) were fun & interesting, but we had a miserable time getting most of them to work for us! There are witches wandering about to help you, but there are only a couple of them, for a dozen spell spots, so we didn't get too much assistance. And there were tons of kids around lined up to take their turn at practicing each spell. So it made me feel a bit silly to be standing in line with a bunch of kids and then not be able to make the thing work. I tried very hard to leave behind my insecurities and just have fun, but this was one situation that I could not let go of.
Posing with wands for a double selfie is really difficult...
There were a few more spells to do in Hogsmeade, but of course that day, half the village was "jinxed" so nobody's spells were working, which was unfortunate. We did, however, have an amusing conversation with the Hogwarts Express conductor. There weren't really as many cast members around as I would have expected, and it wasn't clear with most of them whether they were actually in character or not, but with the conductor, it was very clear (once we caught on!)... We asked if we could take his picture in front of the Hogwarts Express, which he consented to. He said he hadn't known when he took the job that he'd become so famous, it was the train who was the famous one! He then asked us where we were from, so we said Canada, of course. And he confirmed that it was still pretty cold there. He then proceeded to ask us why we (and everyone else) were dressed in summer clothes when it was so cold? We especially, being from a colder climate, should have known to bring warmer clothes! He himself needed his longjohns and the fur liner in his coat to keep warm! We had a good chuckle! :) (Because the buildings in Hogsmeade all have snow on them, you see.)

After we had had our fill of spell casting, and as it was nearing the time for the shuttle, we slowly headed toward the entrance. Earlier in the week we had seen Toothsome Chocolate Emporium in CityWalk, and had taken a peek inside. It is a 19th Century steampunk-themed chocolate store, restaurant & bar - which is about as awesome as a thing can get! We had also seen a girl from our shuttle with one of their milkshake cups which we thought we ought to try, so that's where we headed Wednesday afternoon on our way to the shuttle. The milkshakes were an outrageous $13 USD (plus tax), but they were quite something. I got the brownie one, which had a huge fudge-y brownie on top with the straw stuck through it. The straw was actually full of brownie, though, which wouldn't budge and resulted in me spilling milkshake all over myself and my bag. They were pretty tasty, but sooo filling! While we were sitting on the patio enjoying our shakes, there was a lady in full steampunk costume (apparently called Professor Doctor Penelope Tibeaux-Tinker Toothsome, which I found out after doing some research once home) who walked around talking to customers... she wasn't talking to us, but her costume was awesome! I wish I had taken a picture. I wasn't feeling it too much at the time when we were there, but if I were ever to go back to Universal, I would definitely like to spend a little more time at Toothsome - get a meal and whatnot. :)

Thursday (March 30)
Thursday was Disney's Magic Kingdom day! We had decided before the trip that we would go to Disney on Thursday, as it's supposed to be a "less busy" day at Magic Kingdom. We knew that we wanted to stay later for the fireworks, and knowing how tired we had been earlier in the week, we decided to take the last shuttle that went to Disney, at 12:15pm, which came back at 10pm. If I were doing it again, I think I would put in a few more hours at Disney, especially because we were only there for one day. I was tired at the end of the day, but we didn't get to do everything we had wanted to, and it felt a bit rushed at some points during the day, so a few more hours could have been put to good use.

The shuttle from the resort actually only goes to Epcot Centre, so we then had to take the Disney Monorail over to Magic Kingdom. It was really hot that day! We had made a vague list of things we wanted to see/do, but of course had forgotten it behind at the resort. So, we started wandering, took the obligatory selfie-in-front-of-Cinderella's-castle pictures, wandered through shops on Main Street to get out of the heat, etc. There aren't too many "thrill" rides at Magic Kingdom, but there were a few we had in mind to do, so we headed over to Frontierland first (totally bypassing Adventureland, which is actually where Pirates of the Caribbean is and a few other things we wanted to see, so we never even saw those things, and didn't realize until we were back at the resort!!). On the way to Frontierland, were caught part of the Muppets' Memorable Moments in American History show in Liberty Square. Then we got in the long line for Big Thunder Mountain. There is entertainment along most of the line, and the ride was fun, but I think my childhood memories were more exciting. I'd probably give it 3/5 stars.

After we got off Big Thunder Mountain, there was a parade happening, so we had quite a time getting to where we wanted to go! But we eventually made it over to Fantasyland and did It's A Small World, Little Mermaid: Ariel's Undersea Adventure, and the Mad Tea Party. It's A Small World is one of those classic Disney rides, but in hindsight, we could have skipped it because it wasn't all that great. I don't think that the Little Mermaid ride was there when I was a kid, if it was I never went on it, so that was kind of cute, lot of music to sing along to. (Haha!) I told Paige that if we had time and it wasn't a ridiculous line, then the Mad Tea Party was a must because I didn't get to do it when I was a kid and it was a sore spot. ;)

Beauty & the Beast's castle!

We would have loved to eat at Be Our Guest,
but it was booked solid for the week!

Statue of Gaston
After those rides we got supper at Cosmic Ray's Starlight Diner in Tomorrowland, which was delicious! I got a pulled pork burger, and it was just amazing. After that we headed over to Space Mountain. It was a ridiculous wait time (80 minutes!) and while there were some interactive games along part of the path, for the most part it was just a lot of standing and shuffling a few paces at a time. We got separated on this one too so that we could ride faster. It was so exciting and exhilarating! I loved it! I think Paige liked it in the end... That one gets 5/5 stars, for sure. It was just as I remembered it as a kid!

Next it was time to do our souvenir shopping and find a spot for the amazing Wishes fireworks show! So we headed back to Main Street, spent an hour or more shopping, and then found a perfect spot for the show beside a super sweet young family. While waiting we got some snacks - we had both wanted Mickey straws but forgot to order them with our meals, so then we were running around Main Street trying to find some, but the best we could do was chocolate-covered marshmallows on straws. The Wishes show was a spectacular 15 minutes long and so beautiful! I am so, so glad we included it in our itinerary! Immediately after the show we headed out with the masses to take the monorail to Epcot in order to catch our 10pm shuttle back to the resort!

Part 4 detailing the last two days of our trip is up now!

Magic Kingdom souvenirs! <3