Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Universal Studios Orlando

Universal Studios was completely different from Disney World, but had some very fun things to see and do. Since Disney was more important to us, we went to Universal on the days when we had less time to spend in the park. That means we actually missed quite a bit, but I don't think the kids were disappointed at all. There was an entire section of the park that where everything was straight out of  Dr. Seuss and we just had to walk right through it in order have enough time to see Harry Potter world.
Right as you get out of the parking garage there is a large atrium with some kiosks selling Universal products. Of course, our kids loved the Minion merchandise. I thought the banana hat was the funniest on Chris. We went and did the Minion ride, which was very fun, especially since Leah and Shannon were sitting next to me giggling like mad the whole time.
 Next we pretty much headed straight for Diagon Alley in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. First we saw the Night Bus. The shrunken head really freaked out Chris, so he isn't in these pictures.
 
This is pretty much the first thing you see once you enter Diagon Alley. The Weasley's store and a long, narrow alley of wizard stores.
video
The Owlery
Other shops
With Gringott's bank at the end. 
video
 The dragon on top of Gringotts breathed fire about every 15 minutes.
video
We went into just about every store there, and it was amazing! We looked at wands, because Shannon had her heart set on getting one as her souvenir. We didn't buy one yet, because we hadn't even been to Disney World and we thought she might change her mind. We were right.
This is a terrible video because it's so dark, but the kids liked this part so much that they have reenacted it several times at home, with special effects and everything.
video
We found Knockturn Alley.
It was dark and blessedly cool, so we liked it. We watched some kids use their interactive wands to make a skeleton move and turn some lights on. Chris was scared, but this wizard found him and made him happier. Just an interesting side-note--I asked this wizard if Harry Potter was around, and he got out of character for a moment (which I thought was a no-no) and told me that J.K. Rowling had an agreement with the park that none of her characters would be personified. She wants to leave them to our imaginations. He said they aren't even allowed to tell people that they know Harry or any of the other characters. They are just random wizards and witches.
 Borgin and Burkes shop. Very much like I imagined it.
 A really cute corner shop. I love that turret!
Then we left Chris with the grandmas and took the girls on the Escape from Gringotts ride. It was actually pretty intense! Enough to knock my camera out of my pocket, anyway. Luckily there are enough honest people in the world and the seats were deep enough to keep it in the car that I got it back in about 20 minutes.
As you walk into the bank to get to the ride, you are treated to this:
We got to pass all of the people you see in the above picture. It was pretty awesome! The goblins look very real and even move!
video
On our way out for the night we passed a giant Optimus Prime.
 And got the obligatory picture in front of the globe.
The next time we went to Universal, we headed up the opposite side of the park (actually, it's a separate park called Islands of Adventure, and you have to have a park-hopper pass to get in) and went straight to Hogsmeade.
Of course, we had to try the butterbeer and pumpkin juice. The butterbeer was slushy and delicious. The pumpkin juice tasted mostly like apricots and was not that good, but it will make a great Halloween decoration!
Waiting to board the Hogwarts Express, Grandma snuggled and sang to the boy.
Platform 9 3/4
There's the train!

This was what happens during the ride. This might have been my favorite thing there. The dementor was so cool! Christopher obviously thought it was real.
video

Friday, June 19, 2015

Give Kids the World

There are SOOOOO many pictures of our trip! I'm dividing them up into several blog posts just for sanity's sake. To begin with, we got to the airport at 5:00 in the morning only to discover that we had been bumped to a different flight that was two hours later. Luckily, the kids had carry-on bags full of things to keep them busy. Shannon wasted no time getting out her paper dolls.
Finally on the plane.
We had a short layover in Houston, then headed to Orlando. All three kids did really well on the trip. My kids are great travelers.
Finally, we arrived in Florida. We had a greeter meet us with a baggage cart and a cute sign. She helped us get our rental car (a Chrysler Town and Country--my dream car!) and gave us a map and sent us on our way to Give Kids the World. 
We would have a picture of us around this sign at night when we got there, but it was raining and we were already getting wet.
Our villa:
Here is the girls' room. They shared with Grandma Lauritzen. Their bathroom was gigantic and had a big jetted tub.
This was the living room and kitchen, equipped with everything we could need. They even delivered food right to our villa!
We had rocking chairs on our porch and a beautiful hibiscus bush and ferns.
Chris loved eating pizza for breakfast. He also liked wearing Nanny's wig.
Early the day after we arrived I went to the House of Hearts for the orientation while everyone else slept. This is where they explained how to use all of our passes to get free pictures and parking, and they gave us tickets for three days at Disney World, two days at Universal Studios, and one day at Sea World (which we didn't use).
They fed us three meals a day. We loved the ice cream shop the best, because we could get a quick breakfast, then get some ice cream before we headed out for the day.

Christopher said he wanted an ice cream cone. What we didn't know was that he just wanted the cone. He didn't eat the ice cream.
The other place we ate at was the Town Hall.
The tables are decorated with thousands of real peppermint candies.
The Gingerbread House was closed for renovations while we were there, so we didn't get to eat there, but it was such a cute building!
For breakfast one morning there was a balloon artist there. He made these Mickey ears for Christopher.
There were so many things to do at Give Kids the World. Christopher's favorite was the merry-go-round. There were never any lines, so the kids could ride whenever they wanted, as many times as they wanted.

 
The merry-go-round was a giant mushroom.
There was a train, which I didn't get any pictures of the kids on because I didn't have my camera on me.
Saturday morning the girls got to ride some horses.
The pool was Leah's favorite.
We found where the mayor and his wife live (they are bunnies).
There was a beautiful garden around the tiny house.
I think this was a plumeria. It was gorgeous!
There were pineapples growing! So neat!
We saw Mickey, Goofy, and Mary Poppins.
Just walking around this place was a treat. There were the most beautiful trees, flowers, and all kinds of critters.
Leah loved the giant pine cones. I was really surprised by the amount of pine trees in Florida. For some reason, I thought those were mountain trees.
The magnolias had just finished blooming when we got there, but there were a few blooms left.
There were two white squirrels living on the property. That was something else I had never seen before. They were very friendly, too.
We don't know what kind of tree this is, but there were a lot of them, and they were beautiful.
These little lizards were everywhere. I love them!
Even the garbage cans were fun! This sucks in paper and makes a noise when you put garbage in it.
Sunday night we played a life-sized Candy Land game. 
Christopher was given a star to write his name on and was told to take it to the Castle of Miracles, where the Star Fairy would take it and add it to the thousands of other stars on the ceiling and walls.
First he put it in the treasure chest, then after the box is closed a fairy appears on the screen behind it and flies into the box. The box shakes, and when you open it the star is gone. We were given the exact location of the star so that we can find it again if we ever go visit. We have been invited to go back once a year for the rest of our lives. I really hope that we can someday.
This is the inside of the tower, and hundreds of stars. Christopher's is up there somewhere now.
More stars
The kids were all invited to make a pillow in the Castle of Miracles. Leah got to do this part.
She looked in that hole and pushed the button, then shook the vine and that made the tree shake. That made the magic pillows fall into that little stump. It was pretty cute.
The throne room in the Castle of Miracles.
And the magic wishing well.
Just a few more random pictures from around the village. Horton was there.

Alvin and the Chipmunks were in the movie theater.
The outside of the movie theater.
A giant chocolate covered strawberry and the kids holding their magic pillows.
You could either walk from place to place or ride this.
Give Kids the World alone would have easily made this trip worth while. It is really a magical place. For every 1 employee, there are 30 volunteers who put in about 1400 hours a week. We saw church groups, seniors, wish family alumni, and people who just wanted to help. If you want to learn more about it and how it began, there is a book about its founder, Henri Landwirth, called Gift of Life.