There is a lot of tragedy and sadness in our world. I would be remiss to write a post about our time in Orlando, however brief, without taking a small moment to pause and reflect on what occurred there just days after we left. I don’t feel like I really have the words to write anything that could be more poignant and eloquent than what I’ve already read; the stories and posts on the news, Facebook and other social media are much better equipped to comment on everything that happened. I just want to acknowledge the shooting and urge anyone who stumbles upon this post to hug their loved ones and reach out to anyone in pain.
Our visit to the Orlando area was full of family, love and a lot of laughter. I want to share this, because there can never be too much of any of these things in the world.
A few years ago, my Aunt and Uncle decided to pack up and move from Pennsylvania to Florida. My side of our family is quite small, and over the last few years we have all really spread out. I have a cousin in San Diego, one in Denver, some family in Delaware and my Aunt and Uncle in their new home. Lucky for us, they agreed to host us for our longest stop on our trip, four entire days!
They live in an area of Florida called The Villages. If you’re like me, you probably have zero idea of what it’s like. I thought of it as a retirement community, possibly with some houses and bigger apartment complexes. What it actually was is my idea of paradise. There are town squares with nightly, live entertainment, lakes on lakes on lakes, golf courses aplenty and recreation centers complete with tennis courts, pools, and corn hole. While we were staying with them we road around on their golf cart, ate too much delicious food and had some seriously good family time, watching movies and just hanging out at home. There’s something to be said about hanging out with family, especially as adults who can now participate in conversations, no longer relegated to the kid’s area. It was honestly our favorite part of the entire road trip!
While we were in Florida, we also made two separate trips to Orlando, once to go to dinner in Disney Springs and once to spend the day at Universal Studios. And when I say Universal Studios I actually mean The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, because really, the rest of the park meant nothing to me.
I remember the day my mom came home with the first Harry Potter book. Back then I was a shy, young kid who didn’t exactly have a large circle of friends; I knew everyone in my small town, but I had only a few friends. I read the book in one day, wishing I was at Hogwarts with Harry, Hermione and Ron. I would snap twigs in half, pretending a piece was my wand while I ran around, a sheet trailing behind me as a makeshift cloak. I could play Harry Potter for hours.
The love of Harry Potter followed me through my high school and college years to today. As an adult I try not to fan girl too much, but I have to admit it’s hard. I reread the books every year starting on September 1st, I’m always cruising Etsy for HP-themed presents and forever willing to watch the movies. At one point in this trip, while we were somewhere in Arizona, I joked that it was becoming my pilgrimage to Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I’m not ashamed to admit this, but it was definitely true!
The morning of our visit to Harry Potter World, we woke up early to get there as close to opening as possible. Both my Aunt and my Uncle are season pass holders, so they know the ropes; we made it to the park in great time and soon found ourselves joining the masses heading toward the entrance. My Uncle had the entire day planned out for us so that we got the most of our trip there and could just enjoy our time there.
Walking through the bricks into Diagon Alley gave me chills. CHILLS, you guys! You walk around the corner, listening to the sounds of the bricks moving, and you’re transported into a whole new world, a world full of magic and possibilities. Words really can’t do it justice, and I’m not even sure the phone pictures I took can. It’s a place you have to see to believe.
We rode Escape From Gringotts, which had such a cool walk through leading up to the ride. It was like a ride within a ride!
We caught the train from Kings Cross to Hogsmeade. My dream of finally going to Hogwarts was coming true!
Once in Hogsmeade, we stopped for a snack before heading up to the castle. By the time we made it there, the wait for the HP and the Forbidden Journey was a good hour. We could have gone single rider for this ride, but part of the fun was walking through the castle and seeing the door to Snape’s classroom, the entrance to Dumbledore’s Office and the Defense of Dark Arts classroom. We made the decision to wait it out and ride all of the other rides as single patrons the rest of the day.
We made sure to ride the Flight of the Hippogriff and Dragon Challenge (fun fact: I remember riding the dragon ride when it was still Dueling Dragons located in the Lost Continent area, before Hogsmeade was built). Ryan and I made a stop at Honeydukes for some candy while my Uncle found us some butterbeer before we headed back to the train station to catch the Hogwarts Express back to Diagon Alley.
We had just enough time before lunch to do a little shopping in Diagon Alley. I wish I had more time to browse, but at this point in the day I could tell that everyone was getting hungry, and as closer-to-30-than-20 year old woman, I felt a little silly demanding that we stay longer so I could buy a wand and some robes. And perhaps some socks and stationary supplies. And a mug. And maybe an owl or cat.
The rest of the day was spent in other parts of the park, enjoying such rides as Transformers, E.T. and The Mummy. We had dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe, a tradition my Aunt and Uncle started, complete with a photo to commemorate the occasion. Tired, smelly and a little bit sunburnt we headed home, stopping at Donut King along the way for some fresh donuts. True to my family name, I would eat my body weight in donuts every day if I could. It was a perfect ending to a perfect day.
We’re on the home stretch now! I have one more stop on this road trip to share with you. Reliving everything has been so much fun, I kind of can’t believe it’s almost over.
Until next time!