Second Annual Winter Escape

Around Christmas time, Jason and I started talking about an extravagant vacation to see both Scotland and Ireland in one go. We’d found touring companies and compared their itineraries to our list of must-see places, and ultimately decided we’d want to rent a car and set our own route (with a little help from their routes).

Then Jason told me that maybe 2016 wasn’t quite the year for this trip: we needed more time to figure out exactly when & where and all of that. So I said, “well, we gotta get the hell out of Minnesota soon.”

The next thing I knew, I was completely obsessed with visiting Harry Potter world at Universal Studios in Orlando. A couple of my coworkers had been there previously and they only fueled my desire. Then I found the online vacation planner for Universal Studios — you can get airfare + hotel + park tickets in one convenient package! I researched possible dates and compared hotels and all of that… then clicked the ‘buy’ button!

Opposites Day?

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We left Minnesota on Valentine’s Day. Before our trip, I was joking that Jason’s Valentine’s Day gift to me was letting me take us to Harry Potter world. It’s kinda true, but I knew he’d be having just as much fun as I was going to have.

After our much longer than anticipated shuttle ride from the airport to the hotel, and a snack at the attached TGI Friday’s, we got ourselves over to the parks.

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We had a three-day park-to-park pass, but decided we were going to use our first afternoon/evening as one of our days because Barenaked Ladies was actually performing at Universal Studios that night. (Jason is a somewhat retired groupie who used to follow them around the country.) We decided to start slowly at U.S., just taking in the sights and figuring out where things were since we didn’t have a ton of time.

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Then we passed the Terminator 2 3-D ride, which Jason wanted to try out right away. It was fun: you get crammed into a waiting room with all of the people and you watch a performance that included a real actor and a short film that sets up the story of the ride. Then everyone gets funneled into a large theater, where you pick a seat and put on your 3-D glasses. It looked like it would be pretty boring. The show started with some real actors, then turned into a combination of real people and film. That was fun, but then the chairs started jittering and jumping. The 3-D was pretty good, too (yes, I flinched and threw my hands in front of my face a couple of times), and we even got splattered with water when one of the terminators exploded (simulating the feeling of being showered by liquid metal). Ok: it was a good place to start our adventure!

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We continued walking afterwards, passing some Back to the Future relics and seeing the Simpson’s own amusement park, Krustyland.

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It was getting to be a bit dark when we reached Diagon Alley for a quick preview visit.

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Guess who was excited?

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I knew that we’d be visiting again, but I still felt like we needed to be properly introduced to butterbeer right away.

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Verdict? Totally delicious. Let’s just live here, please.

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Alas, we kept walking to see a few more things before BNL took the stage.

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U.S. has a great app that gives all of the current wait times for any given ride, so we found the one that was the shortest line and was closest to where we wanted to be: and that was the Shrek 4-D ride. The idea behind the ride was very similar to the T2 ride, except the seats moved quite a bit more. It was funny, but made me a little worried that all of the rides would be in a sort of theater setting.

When we got out of that ride, we found a spot to watch the Mardi Gras parade. We caught a lot of beads — many of them sort of by accident because I was trying to protect my face from getting pelted by them.

Excellent haul of beads from #UniversalMardiGras - fun show!

The costumes and floats were really impressive, too! I couldn’t see too well because I am short and there were a lot of people who were more pushy than me, but it was an alright time.

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After the parade passed through, all of the people ever crammed into the area in front of the music stage. I don’t know why we didn’t think this would happen, but we were both a little overwhelmed by it. We had actually given up on seeing the concert. Instead, we went on the Revenge of the Mummy ride (fun, and finally more of a rollercoaster-style ride through an enclosed track with real sets and recorded videos) and found some food.

We actually had found an alright place to stand and watch the BNL show from afar via jumboscreen, but that wasn’t really very fun. After a little while, we both decided it would be okay to call it a night and we started to leave… but then we found a little open pocket at the back of the crowd where we could stand comfortably and still have a good view of the stage! So I finally saw BNL perform live, with a crazy rollercoaster full of people screaming behind them the whole time.

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After the concert, everyone got kicked out of U.S. and we made our way back to our hotel. We actually had enough of waiting for shuttles, so we opted to walk back to the hotel. I’m glad we did, because it was actually quicker to walk than it was to ride! Finding that route also meant we’d be more in control of our mornings, instead of having to adhere to the crazy schedules of the free shuttles (which required ticketed reservations!).

So it was a good first day! But day two was even more amazing: we had decided to focus on doing all things Harry Potter. Huge amounts of nerdy excitement forthcoming…