Last weekend we went to Florida to celebrate our nephew's sixth birthday! It's been years since I've been and a great deal has changed since the last time I was there. Katie and I flew in Thursday and were immediately treated to a wonderful dinner of fish tacos at my brother's new house. Both he and his girlfriend are conservation-minded marine biologists so we had high confidence that the fresh fish we were eating were sustainably caught. To add to the enjoyment, we drank some very good Bordeaux and were serenaded by our nephew's burgeoning piano skills!
Friday morning, while our hosts were at work / in school, Katie and I borrowed a car and headed to Orlando for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter! I didn't have high expectations for it as I generally find theme parks to be cheesy, poorly detailed, over-commercialized places filled with too-long lines of screaming kids (basically the same way I feel about Vegas). Still, it was clearly something I had to check off my bucket list, especially when so close. Katie was a little more optimistic, caring less about the Wizarding World of Harry Potter's execution and more just about riding roller coasters for the first time in years.
We got a late start, arriving at Universal's Islands of Adventure more than an hour after opening time. At least we had bought our tickets online in advance so we could bypass the entrance lines. We made a bee line for the Harry Potter section and started with the piece de resistance, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. This ride takes place in a mock-up of Hogwarts Castle. They did a good job of recreating the castle, but the exterior facade was so small that it kind of ruined the effect.
While waiting in line for the ride we passed through several Hogwarts rooms, which were pretty faithful to the movies. They did a good job with the talking paintings and several other effects. Our wait was probably only half an hour but, on days when it's multiple hours, these extra effects would surely help alleviate the burden of the line.
The ride itself was really cool, a combination of cool chair/arm technology and cooler multisensory A/V effects. Unfortunately it was over after just five minutes, which would be hard to swallow if we had waited much longer!
By the time we exited the ride, the line for The Flight of the Hippogriff was already 60 minutes long. Given that it looked like a kiddie coaster, we opted to skip it. Thank goodness for the digital displays at each ride that estimated the wait time - bravo, Universal, for that!
We moved on directly to the Dragon Challenge, which appeared to be a more serious roller coaster. The wait for this one was only 10 minutes and it did not disappoint! Jam packed with loops, rolls, and drops, it was a 2.5-minute adrenaline rush - lots of fun! If we did one roller coaster over and over (as my brother and I used to do at King's Dominion), this would have been the one!
Having exhausted the Harry Potter rides, we made our way to the re-creation of Hogsmeade Village. Most of this comprised touristy shops that didn't interest us but the effect of snow-covered roofs was well done - even in the Florida heat! We stopped by The Three Broomsticks pub for an early lunch. The food was predictably "meh" but the butterbeer was a very worthwhile bucket list item.
So, as expected, the Harry Potter section of the park was pretty cheesy, but I'm glad we visited it at least once. For my money (and time), though, I'd just as soon play Harry Potter video games if I want to wander around Hogwarts Castle. Or, better yet, re-read the books!
As we didn't need to be back for another few hours, we dallied a bit and checked out some other rides on Marvel Super Hero Island. This began with the Spider Man ride, which was similar to the Forbidden Journey ride we did earlier, and ended with The Incredible Hulk, which was fun but not so much as the Dragon Challenge. Having then satisfied our roller coaster fix, we headed back home.
Friday night we had another great dinner with more great wine - Italian on both accounts! As the girls got sleepy and headed off to bed, my brother and I devoted ourselves to a much worthier cause - EPIC PING PONG! The last time we played ping pong together was probably sometime in high school so this was a fun trip down memory lane.
Saturday began with a morning jog followed by breakfast at the farmers market - what a way to start! The rest of the day was taken up by my nephew's birthday party. It was super hero themed, which meant that the house was decorated with super hero paraphernalia, the kids customized their own super hero capes, and many super hero games were played, including red-light/green-light/kryptonite and tug of war against evil villains (us adults)! The entire ordeal was great fun . . . but exhausting!
Due to an early Sunday obligation we had to hop on a Saturday night flight back to Houston. It was just a quick trip to Florida, but what a blast. It was so great to see my brother and his family settling in and thriving. Add excellent food, wine, company and magic rides to the mix and it was a heck of a weekend!