Brace yourselves, friends: this one has a lot of photos! But they’re all super fun, at least if you like Harry Potter (and who doesn’t?). We took an actual family vacation recently, our first real vacation in about three years. The kids and I are HP nuts, and I really wanted to take them to the theme park at Universal Studios before the girl grows up and moves out. She’ll be a senior this year, so my time was limited, and I managed to convince the husband that we should do it this year. We kept it short (only three days in Florida) but managed to pack a TON of fun into those three days.
I wanted to make the most of the experience and do the whole typical tourist thing, so I chose a hotel onsite. We stayed at the Cabana Bay Beach Resort, which was a super-fun 60s-themed hotel with bright decor, mid-modern furniture and oldies playing in the lobby. There was even a bowling alley and a diner. The kids and I loved it, but found out why it was the cheapest onsite hotel: despite being advertised as “within walking distance”, it was about a mile away. And when you’re walking all over the theme park, you don’t want to walk a mile to and from your hotel. Thankfully, there was a fast and free shuttle that got us there easily. The first two days were spent almost completely at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter!
We got a first glimpse of Hogwarts as we entered the park, and it was awesome! We started at Hogsmeade and went to Ollivander’s to watch the little show there: Ollivander chose a boy from the audience and went through the wand-choosing with him. Then we went into the shop, where we were overwhelmed by the sheer number of wands to look at! None of us could decide right away, so we moved on. There were a ton of fun storefronts, plus several real shops where you could buy any kind of souvenir you wanted. We went to Honeydukes, had lunch at the Three Broomsticks, tried Butterbeer, had drinks at the Hog’s Head, and rode the rides, and the girl discovered she loves roller coasters! Even the boy rode them, and enjoyed them! I discovered I don’t like scariest ones as much as I did in high school. The Quidditch ride in Hogwarts was scary but fun, the Flight of the Hippogriff was tame but my favorite, and the Dragon Challenge coaster was terrifying for me. I kept my eyes closed and was too scared to scream; the girl and the husband ended up riding it three more times!
A short ride on the Hogwarts Express took us to London, where there were intriguing (but sadly fake) bookstores. We saw the Knight Bus, caught a glimpse of Stan Shunpike, and tried the door at 12 Grimmauld Place. We looked around but didn’t see Diagon Alley, but we did see people going through an alley next to a brick wall…
And there was Diagon Alley! It was amazing! I loved it even more than Hogsmeade. So much attention to detail, so much like the movies. I just wanted every single storefront to be real. We did go into Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes, Ollivander’s, Florean Fortescue’s, and Madam Malkin’s. I wanted the wool store, with the window display of self-knitting needles, to be real, but alas it wasn’t. By then the girl had chosen her wand (Luna Lovegood) and she’d gotten an interactive one to be able to do spells throughout the park.
Diagon Alley was even more impressive at night, when the lights came on and the dragon atop Gringotts roared. The Gringotts ride was fun, but only good enough to ride once. We definitely preferred the rides at Hogsmeade. Still, it was so fun to go through the bank and see the lobby and the chandeliers and the goblins!
Over the two days, we went back and forth several times. I finally chose my wand (Cho Chang) but also came home with a beautiful Death Eater wand. We ate all the food and bought all the souvenirs and candy, and walked until our feet were ready to fall off. It was marvelous.
The last day in Florida was planned for the husband, as a reward for being a good sport about the theme park. We spent most of the day at the Kennedy Space Center, and we all ended up loving it.
My favorite part was seeing the actual Atlantis shuttle. It was immense; I still can’t fathom how things so huge get into space. The husband was in his element, more excited than he’d been at any point at the park. He spent just as much money there as I did at the parks! It was all fascinating, so many shows and exhibits, and we learned a ton about the space program. The girl and I were too scared to ride the launch simulator, but the boys loved it. My only regret is that we didn’t have time to do any of the bus tours. I can see another trip in the future.
From there we drove to Cocoa Beach to see the Atlantic Ocean for the first time.
I took a ton of photos but none of them capture the magic of the ocean so I’ll just share these two. None of us are water lovers, but we all wished we had suits so we could frolic in the water, which was warm and soft and inviting. We learned a very important lesson: when going near the beach, always bring swimsuits just in case.
We’re settled in back at home now, but I’m still wishing I could go back.