Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Trip to Remember!

Back at the beginning of December, my mom, my sister, and I spent a week in Orlando visiting Disney World and Universal Orlando.  Now I know that there's a lot of people out there who don't see a trip to Orlando to visit themeparks as a good adults-only vacation (like my husband who absolutely refuses to go to Disney World before we have kids to bring), but I have always been obsessed with Disney World, and I was also super pumped to visit Universal's Islands of Adventure because of their new Harry Potter section (Harry Potter is another obsession of mine).

Just to warn you, this post will have nothing to do with my cooking, but it will have some food related stuff in it because I have some pictures of a few of my favorite things that we ate while we were there.  I'm already ready to go back to Orlando for another visit, but unfortunately I'm going to have to wait awhile for that.

With all of my Disney and Harry Potter gear packed, I flew to Orlando on the morning of December 4th.  If you are not familiar with the crowd levels at Disney, we went at a great time because December is relatively uncrowded until schools let out for winter break.  Since I'm now a teacher and will have to plan my vacations around when school is out, this trip was probably the last time I will visit Orlando when the ride lines are pretty short....but oh well. 

We stayed at the Boardwalk Resort which was not only a very nice hotel, but also has a perfect location because you can walk to both Epcot and Hollywood Studios.  Here's a picture of my mom and me standing out on our huge balcony before heading to the parks (and in case you're wondering - yes, we are wearing matching shirts in different colors haha):

We decided to grab some lunch @ the Boardwalk Bakery before walking to Hollywood Studios.  We were on the Disney Dining plan so we got dessert with every meal!   I ended up ordering a cheesecake brownie because well, it looked pretty freaking awesome (and it can never go wrong with something that is part cheesecake):

I won't give the full play by play of what we did each day, but I will write about a couple of my favorite Hollywood Studios, I have to say that Rockin' Rollercoaster is for sure my favorite ride because of the initial launch and the music.  I think I could ride it 20 times in a row and not get sick of it!

I rode Toy Story Mania for the first time ever, and it is definitely a great new addition to the park.  It is insanely popular, and I think that first afternoon the stand-by wait was almost 2 hours (which is crazy, and I would never wait that long in line for ANY ride....even Harry Potter)!  Luckily, we had all volunteered for Disney's Give a Day Get a Day program so we were able to get instant fast passes for a bunch of rides, including Toy Story Mania.  Here's the shot I got of my mom and sister:

That night, we saw Fantasmic! which is my favorite park closing show at Disney :)  The next morning, we were up bright and early to make the 8am rope drop at the Magic Kingdom!  If there is one tip I could give to anybody visiting Disney World, it would be to wake up early and be at the parks by rope drop (Disney lingo for when the park first opens for the day).  Even though you might think it sucks to wake up so early, you will be able to ride so many rides with little to no wait.  On the morning we were there, it was completely deserted (I think because Disney changed the opening time to 8am instead of 9am just a few weeks earlier so a lot of people didn't realize Magic Kingdom was open before 9am).  It was amazing because we rode everything we wanted to multiple times that morning.

Magic Kingdom has so many great rides, but if I had to choose a favorite, it would be Splash Mountain.  It is just so Disneyish...I just love it!  Since there was nobody around when we rode it the first time I was even able to sing along throughout the whole ride (yes I am a total Disney dork.....I'll admit I even wore a fanny pack....totally embarrassing but so much easier to carry than a purse or a backpack and I'll never see anyone there again).

For dinner that night, we headed to World Showcase in Epcot.  We ate at Le Cellier, which is a steakhouse in Canada.  I started off with this fun looking martini:

I enjoyed eating my filet mignon with cream cheese mashed potatoes before ordering this chocolate "moose" for dessert:

The next morning, we were at Animal Kingdom by 8am for extra magic hours.  We rode the safari first and saw a ton of different animals.  It was fun, but on that morning a cold front hit Orlando, and it was seriously 35 degrees and freezing!

We saw the Festival of the Lion King show, which in my opinion is the best themepark show there is.  We also saw Finding Nemo:  The Musical, which is really good too.

Before heading to the Magic Kindom that night for evening extra magic hours, we ate at O'Hana, which is at the Polynesian Resort.  They serve the meals family style there, and you get coconut bread, a salad, potstickers, Asian chicken wings, sesame noodles, and some meat and shrimp on skewers, but the real star of the meal here is the dessert....bananas foster bread pudding.....amazing!  I really want to recreate this dessert at home someday...

The next morning, we actually slept in (well, until around 9am).  We spent a little bit of time getting some rides in at Hollywood Studios before heading to Epcot for the rest of the day.  That night, we ate dinner at the relatively new restaurant in Italy called Via Napoli, which specializes in wood fired pizzas.  Here are the ovens where the pizzas are cooked:

We tried a couple of different pizzas, but my hands-down favorite was the wood-fired pizza with fontina cheese, melon, and prosciutto (this is another thing I want to try and recreate at home sometime).

As full as I was after the pizza, I saved room for dessert.  I ordered the zeppole which are fried ricotta fritters with chocolate sauce for dipping.....I figure why not go all out since I was walking about 10 miles every day!

That next morning was our last day at Disney, and we arrived early at Epcot for rope drop.  We were at the front of the crowd walking to Soarin' and we got on the first cycle of the ride :)  Soarin' is definitely my favorite ride and Epcot (and usually the ride with the longest wait so it is best to do this one early or grab a fastpass for later). 

After Soarin' we did a bunch more rides in Future World including Test Track and Mission Space.  A lot of people got sick from Mission Space right when it first opened so they have 2 versions of the ride - the original version plus a more tame version that doesn't spin.  My mom and I had some time to kill while we were waiting for Kristen to finish riding the more tame version (because she gets motion sickness and we didn't want want to risk it), so we tried on a few hats in the gift shop haha:

After awhile, we headed into World Showcase for lunch.  We couldn't leave Disney without having a beer and brat in Germany so that was where we stopped first.

I had a snack credit to use up before we left Disney, so I got a chocolate and caramel covered strawberry at the new caramel shop in Germany.

After one last ride on Spaceship Earth and Soarin' we headed back to the Boardwalk to meet my dad and then head over to Universal.  We stayed at the Royal Pacific Resort, which I really liked (but if you're wanting to stay on-site at Universal, all three of their hotels are very nice).  PS - wearing heavy winter coats in Florida is kind of a bummer, but what can I was cold!

Since we were staying onsite, we got early access to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which I fully intended to take advantage of!  The next morning, we woke up early (and I put on one of my favorite Harry Potter t-shirts) and were at the gates of Islands of Adventure before 8am.  When the gates opened, we went straight to Ollivander's for the wand show since the lines get insane later in the day.

In this show, the shopkeeper selects just one person to get fitted for his or her wand.  Everybody can then purchase their own wands in the connecting shop after the show.  Supposedly there is sometimes some drama because lots of moms get pissed when their kid doesn't get picked.  We were in the first show of the day, and the shopkeeper picked the biggest Harry Potter fan in the room....ME! 

Sorry kids, I didn't feel bad when I got picked over you because I am such a huge fan and being picked made my whole trip!  The whole reason why we decided to come to Orlando was pretty much because I desperately wanted to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter so we decided to do a Disney/Orlando combo trip.  I have read every book dozens of times and seen the movies so many times that Kevin can't stand watching them with me anymore because I can't help but say the lines outloud during the whole movie. 

What I am saying is yes - I was totally psyched when I saw the shopkeeper come down the stairs and make eye contact with me because I knew I was getting picked.....I even got a little teary eyed like I was a teenage girl meeting Robert Pattinson or something.....but I pulled it together and got fitted for my wand.  When I found the right wand, the whole shop lit up and started playing the Harry Potter music that plays in the first movie when Harry gets his wand.....pretty freaking awesome!

Okay so after that life-changing experience (haha just kidding), we headed to the Hogwarts castle to ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.

This ride was completely amazing.....the best ride I have ever been on at any themepark.  It was so great for me as a Harry Potter fan, but even non Harry Potter fans will enjoy this ride.  If you're interested in reading a play-by-play description of this ride, here is a good link.  Some advice - after seeing all the cool elements of Hogwarts in the regular queue once, try out the single rider line for shorter waits......I rode Forbidden Journey probably 15 times in the three days I was there because of this.  Some other advice - don't bring any bags into the themepark (except a fanny pack, haha) because you will have to wait in a line to put bags in a locker which is a huge pain and wastes time.

We explored the rest of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter by riding the other two rides (re-themed rides that were already there, but nothing special) and shopping in each of the shops (totally great theming!).  After that, we stopped at the Three Broomsticks for lunch.  Food was pretty good (but not great), and the theming is awesome.  If you want a beer, try the Hogs Head is pretty tasty and you can get it at either the Three Broomsticks or at the Hogs Head Pub (shorter line).  You can also get butterbeer ( at either place or at the Butterbeer cart outside.

Being the huge Harry Potter fan that I am, I really wanted to love butterbeer....but I didn' was just too sweet tasting for me.  I did like the frozen version better, but it was so cold outside when I had it that I couldn't enjoy a frozen drink.  I will try the frozen version again next time I'm there when it's warm outside.

Over the next couple of days, we explored the other stuff at Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios, and I came back to re-visit the Wizarding World each day too.  The merchandise in the stores is great, and I spend a little more money buying stuff than I meant too (not gonna lie....I did buy some Gryffindor robes to wear as a Halloween costume next year haha).  There are two mini shows that they perform every half hour (the Hogwarts frog choir and the Triwizard show) that I enjoyed watching.  Overall, I thought the theming of the whole area was fantastic....Universal did a great job creating the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Sorry for the crazy long trip report, but we just packed so much into a week!  This was a great trip, and I can't wait to go back sometime :)


  1. "Sorry kids, I didn't feel bad when I got picked over you"

    Haha! Totally true, you deserved it more than anyone there! The sad part is that both mom and I got a little teary-eyed for was a proud moment! :)

  2. Kellie,

    I am so glad that you updated the blog. I truly enjoyed the Disney/Harry Potter Posts, to the point that I am laughing out loud! I am so glad that you got picked to have the wand. I need to join your Disney trip next time you guys go, Rich and I going together was just not the same experience that you guys had lol!!
    Can't wait for Kristen's wedding.
    -Jenna B.