Next morning we head out in search of breakfast. We are given some advice on the elevator to stick to McDonald’s as the breakfast over hear is not that great and to save the $$ for dinner. We heed the warning and go in search of one. Along the way, I get side tracked at a little bakery and pick up some goodies, cheese scone and chocolate hazelnut muffin. They are amazing and this spot becomes my favourite breakfast stop for the rest of the trip. We decide it’s a day for strolling Central Park so we head in that direction. Ayrlie spots it first and lets out an excited squeal. It’s the horse and carriage rides. Looks like we will be crossing off the second thing on our to do list. She picks the prettiest carriage, white with flourishes of purple. The pony even has purple feathers on it’s head dress. We snuggle under the blanket and set off around the park. We get a quick tour with some of the sights pointed out, trump ice rink, Central Park zoo etc.. we even see some more squirrels much to the kids delight.

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The temp is dropping fast and we realise we aren’t dressed warm enough so head back to the hotel early. Being such a big place you’d think you could find somewhere for dinner easily, nope it takes two hours but we settle on sushi. Luckily we find a place just around the corner. It ends up being lovely and we chat to the ladies beside us while we eat. They are a grandmother with her two grand daughters and she is completely taken with the kids. When they are leaving, she comes to the table and explains that she is Jewish, and that they celebrate Hanukkah. She then gives the kids the Hanukkah gift of money so that they will remember her. It’s a super touching moment. With promises to save some and spend some of the money, we finish our meals with good feeling in our tummy. We decide to go see the famed tree a the rockefeller centre. It’s not to far but with the night crowds takes an hour to walk there. Finally we arrive and are completely underwhelmed. It’s just a normal tree that someone stuck lights on. No decorations, no star on top, just some red and green lights. My tree at home looks better! The ice skating rink is not much bigger than a tennis court and the line up is hours long. Well that’s not happening! We get bailed up by a security guard whom is again taken by the kids and he proceeds to give them a ‘life lesson’ talking to. The kids are told to work hard, not be lazy, and do as they are told. He tells them that he comes from Romania, grew up very poor and knows what he is talking about. After promises to slave at learning with no fun ever, we escape back to the room to snuggle with hot chocolates and a movie and to wonder why the hell we decide to spend 5 whole days here! 😳

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New York
We arrived in NY around 1.30pm but it took another hour in a crazy cab ride to get to our hotel (seriously, it felt like we were back on a Tuk Tuk in Bangkok) Our rooms not ready so we go find some lunch. It’s 8 deg but feels way colder, closer to 4. We are staying at the Belvedere and it’s a far cry from what we have just came from! Back to sharing a single room with no kitchen.

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We do some light unpacking, chill for a bit and head for dinner. We are noticing the streets are quite dirty…. and particularly stinky! There are bags of rubbish lining the streets. Not sure if it’s like this all the time but it’s not a pretty sight. And it’s busy, really busy. We tick the first thing of our to do list when we find a NY pizza cafe. The pizza is massive and Benjamin thinks he has died and gone to heaven 😂. It’s good too and we inhale all but two pieces.

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Next we take a walk down Times Square. Not quite what we were expecting considering the hype. We agree Vegas was better and more visually appealing.

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It’s getting late so we head home for some shut eye.

 

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So you are probably wondering if there is anything else other than Harry Potter going on at Universal. Well there is a ton! Firstly, I am a huge Jurassic Park fan so that ride was high on my list of priorities. You slowly start by riding through the ionic doors, then gently sail through jungle, dinosaurs, a destroyed Raptor enclosure before plummeting down a steep drop off! It’s not my video but it was the best one I could find that shows the full ride. That drop off is really steep!, and you get wet. Another reason why it’s not my video :).

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Another cool ride was Kong – Skull Island. We were told it was a kid friendly ride on a big RV and you didn’t even need your seat belt……hmmm, I think we all would have preferred one! This was another full on 4D ride complete with ‘real’ bug guts splattered in your face. There is a fight between Kong and a T-Rex where the truck you are traveling in gets thrown off a cliff. Ayrlie found it a little intense but Benjamin just loved it (after the initial freak out waiting moment).

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Now Popeye and Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges are another story. We were thinking it would be like Dreamworld’s Thunder River Rapids. We love that ride and you don’t get too wet so we thought we would be good to go… how wrong we were!. It’s cool, so I’m in jeans, jumper, kids have their jumpers on. We take the first corner and bam! Full bucket of water straight on our heads! There are water cannons on top of the barge around the next corner and kids (and adults) are able to fire them at you as you float past and they are way to accurate for my liking. Tho the kids loved having their turn when we hopped off.  It went downhill from there and we came off looking like drowned rats! Completely soaked and very cold. It was a fantastic ride, but they need to give people some notice.

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There were a ton of meet and greet opportunities the favourite being Shaggy and Scooby. The Minion ride had been talked up on some of the blogs I had read and we were really looking forward to it. Unfortunately it didn’t quite live up to the expectations. It was rough, real rough. You were thrown around, bumped and bashed. We noticed a lot of the rides were this way. Although the 3D effects were something else, most rides were similar in their execution.

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With 54.5 hours, 58.9km of walking and countless rides/photos and experiences to remember, we can officially say we loved our time in Orlando!

 

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For those of you that don’t know (like I didn’t) Universal Studio’s is broken into two parks. Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios. To ride The Hogwarts Express, you need a park to park ticket. That way you can visit both parks in the same day and ride between them as the experience is different each time. Firstly to go from Diagon Alley to Hogsmead, you need to head to King’s Cross Station where you will pass through the magic wall onto platform 9 3/4. (sorry my phone was not co-operating and was a bit fuzzy for the start of the video). The affects they have used here are really cool as from our side, it really looks like the kids are disappearing into the wall! From the other side (as you can see in the video) it looks normal so I really wish they video’d everyone walking through so you could buy it.

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Once you step through, you arrive at the platform. They have even nailed the details here with suitcases and Hedwig waiting on the slide for collection.

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You sit on the train and they close your cabin. Your window then comes to life with scenes of hagrid, countryside and finally Hogwarts. The door freezes when the Dementors turn up and when you come back the other way, the shadows of chocolate frogs, Harry, Hermonie and  Ron appear. Again, it’s done perfectly. At Hogsmeade you are greeted with snow capped buildings and the smell of Butterbear. This you can have hot or cold but since it was still a coolish day, we opted for the hot version. It is amazing! All butterscotchy with a cold marshmallowy foam on top, super moreish and I could have had 4 on the spot.

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After working our way around, completing spells we were lucky enough to be able to head inside the castle for a self guided tour. It was officially closed for maintenance, so we couldn’t do the ride but as it was a bit quiet they were letting  a few people in.  We were surprised at how big it is inside! I was thinking the size was more for show but it actually too 20 min to walk through and we were being rushed by the crowd. Again, the detail is amazing. My favourite was definitely the rooms with the moving and talking paintings. I really couldn’t tell you how they have done this! It fully looks just like any other painting, and then it moves, talks and people even walk out of frame. The projections of Dumbledore, Harry, Hermione and Ron in the hall are great and the kids were thrilled to actually see them, as if they were really alive and talking to them.

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After the tour we hit Flight of the Hippogriff, a roller coaster aimed more at the little ones. This was a big hit so we lined up and did it again…. and again, just for good measure. It’s a great way to see Hagrid’s house and of course the Hippogriff.

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After watching the frog choir and chatting with the hanging head on the night bus our day was done. Tomorrow, maybe we will see something other than Harry Potter… but I’m not holding my breath 🙂

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The day had finally arrived. The one that the kids and I have most been looking forward to. Harry Potter World! Another early morning to make sure we could get a spot for the escape from Gringotts ride. We were sprinkled with some more pixie dust when a staff member let us in at 8.15 instead of 9. (It was reserved for resort guests).

Diagon Alley is AMAZING! OMG! If you are a Harry Potter fan, then let me say, you need to visit here. You first walk through the brick wall, which has been opened already as unfortunately, here in the muggle world, we don’t have real opening brick walls. You are greeted with cobble stoned streets and towering crooked buildings. Every light fitting, ornate sign and shingle is an exact replica of the movies.

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It’s very authentic. Directly in front is Gringotts Bank and perched on top, is the fire breathing dragon. Once inside, you walk the impressive hall, lined with goblins. Hard at work, only pausing to give passers-by disgusted looks. You then walk the passageways, deep underground until you are greeted with a cavernous opening, complete with stalagmites. Ayrlie was rightly freaked out by now but we were being reassured by the young girl behind us that there is only one big drop and that’s right at the beginning. Nothing could prepare us though for just how thrilling the ride ended up being!. There was no way I was able to record it with my phone (as I wanted to) because you were so fully immersed in the moment. You plummeted down the track, screaming most of the way before stopping at Bellatrix Lestrange and Voldemort. You are identified as being an intruder and blasted off by Voldemort into another tunnel of turns and drops. The trolls grab the carriage and you go tumbling off a cliff. By now, your truly can’t distinguish between what’s real and what’s not as the special effects are like nothing you have ever seen!.   Finally, Harry, Hermione and Ron guide you out of the bank through collapsing walls and exploding bridges.  Mark exclaims it’s the best ride he has ever been on. He isn’t easily impressed so that’s saying something.

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After pulling ourselves back together, we head out into the sunshine on Diagon Alley and into the heat of the Dragon. Every so often you will hear a rumble, and feel the sidewalk move slightly underfoot. Then you feel the heat from the fire breathing dragon on top of the bank. The video doesn’t do it justice. It’s really impressive and everyone stops to witness it.

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Next up is the all-important interactive wants. You can’t be a wizard and witch at Diagon Alley without a wand. So we head to the only place to get one… Ollivanders. You step inside the dusty shop, stacked to the ceiling with wand boxes. We first witnessed a wand choose a wizard before the kids searched for their own.  Scattered throughout both Diagon Alley and Hogsmead are interactive stations where you can ‘wave your wand, recite the spell and watch as the magic unfolds’ (quote from Universal). Which is exactly what happens! You can make feathers float, umbrellas rain and turn on water fountains. It kept the kids entertained for hours.

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After purchasing some chocolate frogs from Honeydukes, checking out the jokes at Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes and having lunch at the Leaky Cauldron (unfortunately not the best) we headed over to King’s Cross Station to platform 9 3/4 to catch The Hogwarts Express to Hogsmeade.

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But that is a post for tomorrow…

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