Family Travels: Florida Part DCCXV

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We’re finally back from vacation! And by finally, I mean we’ve been here for like a month but I’ve been too lazy to do anything productive. Three cheers for procrastination!

Seriously, I feel like a bum, it’s terrible. But at the same time, it’s ok! Want to know why? Because I don’t feel too guilty about it. Sure, you guys have probably been wandering, lost, and scared without my ramblings. But I’m sure you were able to find your way after the 2nd or 3rd week. Look, point is, I’m back. And I know it’s not a recipe but I need to ease back into this whole cooking and baking thing. I almost burned bacon last night so I do not need to be taking pictures while I’m fumbling about.

We had an awesome time in Florida as always. Went to a few theme parks, had fun with family, relaxed a bit more compared to previous Florida trips, it was cool.

Now, I was going to do something new. I figured you guys got tired of seeing my insanely long vacation posts with 348 pictures to go through. We’ve gone to Florida so many times, they should just start giving us free stuff when we cross the state line. So instead of the scrolling torture, I was going to set up some slide shows, and only talk a little about whatever we did. Problem with that is, I started setting up the slideshows and I got annoyed with how tedious it was since I want to have everything in a certain order, and I wanted to make sure you saw certain things at certain times. So I said screw it, they’re getting another long post, this is my blog, if they don’t like it, tough cookies, they know where the door is. So here we are, let’s get it going! (I’m just playin’ about that tough cookies, door stuff, please don’t stop reading and unfollow me, I like you guys, I was going for a dramatic effect. Cool? Cool.)

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We started off Monday in SeaWorld. Not only was it the first full day of the vacation, but it was also Lucas’ birthday! He turned 2 and since we had nothing else planned and had the season passes to Busch Gardens (which includes SeaWorld), we spent some time there.

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“…and no one ever heard from or saw Angela again.”

Got to see some dolphins, and sharks, and whales, and penguins; the kids always love it. We spent about half the day there and then went to my parents house where my mom baked Lucas a Mickey Mouse cake (using a Wilton pan, but who asked? Did you ask? Nobody asked. Forget I said anything. What did I say? That my mom used a Wilton pan? Oh yeah, fuhgettaboudit).

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We sang happy birthday, had some cake, hung out for a few, and called it a night. The next day we decided to hit up SeaWorld again since we didn’t have anything really planned till Wednesday. And, well, because we could.

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LOL Should’ve left a little sooner, dude.

I think it was here we discovered the polar bear wasn’t in his enclosure. We asked and it turns out he died of old age. My wife then asked curiously if they’ll ever get another polar bear since we love us some polar bears. The worker then said in a nice, loud voice so those around can hear.. “Oh, no, we at SeaWorld don’t go out to the wild and capture animals to bring them back here. We wait until one needs to be rescued or a smaller zoo asks if we’d like to take an animal.” Hahaha, geeze, lady. My wife was trying to explain that’s not what she meant, but I’m sure the lady knew that and had to clarify it anyway. I wonder how many times they have to deal with those types of issues. She was real nice and helpful, but her saying that made me laugh. And no, I don’t want to get into that debate, thanks.

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Killing time in SeaWorld was quickly overshadowed by our awesome day at Universal Orlando on Wednesday. We got a hook up from a friend of a friend and took advantage. As it turns out, Seb is a huge fan of Universal! He loves the different rides and things to do as oppose to Disney and what they have.

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I swear, I can hear the music playing right now.

We were in both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, and we got to do all the must-do’s. Personally, my favorite spot has always been Jurassic Park. Being a huge fan of the movies, I always get tingly when I walk through those gates. So many great things going on in there if you’re a fan.

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“Hey.. umm…. WTF is that?!”

While in Jurassic Park, I told Seb the Jurassic Park River Adventure was just a tour where you see robotic dinosaurs.

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Felt kinda bad he believed me so just before he got on we told him the truth. He braved it and did it anyway and wound up loving it! Actually went on it again, it was great. Another great thing we saw here was the brand new Raptor Encounter!

Now, if you recall, we had a run in with a raptor in the North Carolina Zoo. I absolutely loved it and was impressed. This one though? This one blew me away. I loved the set up and how they executed everything. I took the video above just before we got in line. Sadly, we waited in line for like 20 minutes only to be told the raptor wasn’t behaving (technical difficulties with the sound). It sucked, but at least we got to see it in action a little bit. And man, I was impressed. Great job by them! We also got to shoot aliens, ride with E.T., save the day with Spider-Man (my favorite), I’m telling you Universal is an awesome place.

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But, as great as it all is, there’s one thing that tops it off… The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I hope you guys are ready because I’m about to go pic crazy. I don’t care how many times I go, it always feels like the first time. If you’re a fan of the movies/books, then I’m sure you feel the same way. Don’t laugh… It’s just magical.

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I said don’t laugh, I’m serious! Something about seeing and being in the middle of that world is just amazing. This is our first time going since they opened Diagon Alley and I was blown away again! Walking around the regular course of the park you can see 12 Grimmauld Place in all its glory.

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Complete with a creeping Kreacher in the window, the Knight Bus across from it, the entrance to King’s Cross Station, it’s awesome.

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I was taking pictures out there like a mad man when my sister who came with us told me “you know there’s more right..?”

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We walked through a brick wall and it was freaking glorious. All the shops, the shop signs sticking out in this narrow little street, it just felt so authentic (minus the dragon).

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And it all fed down to Gringotts where a massive dragon was sitting on top.

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It breathed fire from time to time but I wasn’t able to catch it in a pic. We were walking around at a snail’s pace thanks to my constant picture taking when we decided to have lunch at The Leaky Cauldron.

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We spent a good amount of time in Diagon Alley. It rained, it stopped raining, and then it rained again, but it didn’t slow us down. We tried some Gilly Water which looked insanely cool set up as a potion stand.

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You buy the bottle of water, and a little bottle of elixir then you mix it together yourself. For kids, it looks and sounds awesome, I’m sure. But the dream broke for us when we discovered we paid $8 for a bottle of Harry Potter kool-aid. It’s all good though.

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We continued on, riding the Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts ride a few times which was pretty damn exciting (though I’m still partial to Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey in Islands of Adventure). Then my sister took us through a dark opening to her favorite spot – Knockturn Alley!

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It was dark, it was spooky, and it was cooooooooooooool. Absolutely loved the atmosphere and the way it was done. It felt like a place for dark purposes.

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We went into Borgin and Burkes where they had a crazy amount of dark wizard stuff. It was so great, I loved it.

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Tons of stuff in there that are cool to look at and experience. I can see why my sis loves it.

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Then after what seemed like 15 minutes to me (and 3 1/2 hours to the wife) we decided to get over to the other park. How would we do that? Well, by taking the Hogwarts Express, of course!

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Before, we’d have to walk around the entire park, exit, walk over to the other park and enter it through the main gate. Not anymore! Thanks to some crazy magic and genius thinking, you can show them your 2 park pass, and you can ride the Hogwarts Express from Diagon Alley in Universal Studios over to Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventure!

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C’mon, how crazy is that?! It’s not just a train ride either. It’s set up exactly like the ride they take in the movies, so I’m sure you’re picturing it now.

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The window in your little compartment is a screen that shows you the countryside and various other awesomely cool things in your short 4ish minute ride across property. When you get out and you’re greeted by Hogsmeade with Hogwarts sitting in the background, you feel like a freaking kid again. They really outdid themselves in connecting these 2 experiences and if I lived there I’d be willing to get season passes just to hang out in Harry Potter Land all freaking day.

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Oh! When we got to Hogsmeade, my sister wanted to buy Seb his own wand. So of course, we went to Ollivander’s. They have a little show they put on where they pick a few kids from the small group that can fit in the small shop, and Ollivander comes out and tries to pick a wand for them. They go through a few, testing them out, having stuff fly across the room making the kids think they’re actually doing magic, it’s great.

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So Seb, my sister and I are in there, and Seb is 1 of 3 kids in the group. I thought he had good chances for getting picked, but they chose the other 2! Seb was watching the fun and magic contently, and when they were done they were ushering us off into the actual store where you buy the wands.

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Well Seb, being my son, couldn’t keep his mouth shut. Walked by Ollivander and said “Can I do magic?” Ollivander called him over, and shooed everyone else away.

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I look and it’s only Seb, my sis, and I in there along with Olli and his assistant. He was talking to Seb about magic and wands and how the wand chooses the wizard, all that jazz.

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Then he looked at Seb like he realized something, turned around, grabbed a box, gave Seb the wand and boom! Light shined down, dramatic music played, it was freaking AMAZING.

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Ollivander then took the wand back, threw it back in the box, gave it to his assistant… and we were taken to the register where we had the option to buy it.

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“Now, young one, this wand has chosen you. You can be a great and powerful wizard with it……. if your parents love you enough to purchase it in the store behind those doors, thank you, come again.”

Ahhh, the magic had to end somewhere, right?! But still, it’s a good thing my sister was planning to buy him one because if she wasn’t then I would’ve had very different feelings towards Olli and the kind of shop he’s running.

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The wand is interactive too! They have a bunch of spots around the 2 Potter areas where you can stand on a marker which told you where to point, what to say, and the motion to move your wand, and it’ll do something insanely cool like open boxes inside windows or make things move.

It was an experience! A freaking awesome one, at that. Last year he got to fight Vader as young padawan, and this year he’s a wizard. And you wonder why we love theme parks.

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Sadly, as the note in that window read, “a charm has been placed on this window which blocks all magic.” Basically, an awesome way of saying it’s out of order.

Not much else was done in Universal. Or the next day for that matter. Friday though, we headed to Hollywood Studios for another Star Wars Weekend!

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Something about Star Wars Weekends has been lacking for me. We’ve gone every year for the past few years, and we always enjoy it. But that first year… no other year can compete. There were more characters, more Storm Troopers, more everything.

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They had Troopers patrolling the top of the main gates, for Yoda’s sake! I don’t know if they still do that, but the days that we’ve gone it just doesn’t feel as over the top. Still though, as I said, we still enjoy it.

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Going to a place where loads of Star Wars characters can be seen and interacted with at any time is a fanboy’s dream. Last year Seb got to fight with Vader, I mean c’mon, that’s absolutely insane for a kid!

"Where's my lightsaber, I could take him on my own!"
“Where’s my lightsaber, I could take him on my own!”

He’s been on a Boba Fett kick so we stood in line for close to 45 minutes to see him (yeah.. Disney.. lines..). It sucks that Boba and Jango switched every so often, so by the time we got up there we got the off chance of Jango. But he still enjoyed it!

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Also got to ride the Star Wars ride a few times, that’s always awesome. Though, we always get pod racing. Always.

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Out of the dozens and dozens of combinations of different places and things you do in that ride, we always get pod racing. Again, if we lived in Florida, we’d have passes and we’d be in the Star Wars area every day riding that thing. So much love.

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We did a few other things in Hollywood Studios, but really, the next big thing that stood out to the wife and I wasn’t even a ride… It was a store!

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Wait, it wasn’t even a store.. it was a freaking window to a fake store! We’re huge fans of the ABC show Once Upon a Time, so when the wife looked over to a corner of one of the streets in the park and saw Mr. Gold Pawnbroker & Antiques Dealer, we both freaked out like little fangirls.

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We stood there, looking in the window for about 10 minutes. Combing through the insane amount of cool items, objects, and trinkets that are from the show.

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We were able to see a bunch of cool stuff we were familiar with and the way they just casually made this little storefront made us so happy as fans.

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So many things – the story book, Rumple’s dagger, the tea set complete with Chip, Aladdin’s lamp, the sorcerer’s hat – sooooooo many things.

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And we were the only ones checking it out for the whole time we were there. It wasn’t until we were leaving that other people started noticing it and taking pictures.

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I’m glad the wife saw it because as fans of the show, it really became a highlight for us that we really appreciated.

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The next day we did our usual trip to Downtown Disney. I don’t know, something about that place just draws us in. I’m pretty sure it’s just the Disney vibe you can feel at the price of free. Seb loves going there so we braved the horrendous traffic we’ve encountered the past few years.

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They’re building these ugly parking garages in the parking lots of Downtown Disney. It’s been going on for a few years now and every time we go there it gets worse and worse. Everyone is parking everywhere, you have to walk from across the huge, busy intersection to get to and from your car, it’s just absolutely terrible. I can totally see the dollar signs in the eyes of whoever came up with the idea.. “oh, let’s build these giant parking garages so we can fill up Downtown Disney with even MORE people and make it uncomfortable and unpleasant for 4 times as many guests!” Ugh, gets me mad. I used to work in Downtown Disney. I loved the atmosphere, the area. But man, they are messing that place up right now.

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Anyway, we went with my parents and walked around some. Seb loves to go to the Lego Store and whatever else they have around there and just play with stuff. He made that Darth Tater all by himself, and tried to make a Storm Trooper but they didn’t have all the parts, so he and my father improvised.

IMG_9047The wife and I love to go to the World of Disney store and the little trendy places around there – which by the way, holy crap!

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There’s this new place called Marketplace Co-Op, and they have this huge selection of awesome Disney themed house stuff.

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Boy, oh boy, if we had money we would’ve probably blown it all away in that one spot.

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Just loved everything that was there (except the prices).

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We saw some other cool stuff walking around that store. I’m glad the wife and I share that love for Disney. We totally geek out over the coolest stuff, it’s great.

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After all that we ended with our annual ice cream at Ghirardelli’s. Whenever we’re at Downtown Disney with my parents we always get ice cream here. It’s become a tradition at this point and I’m glad. So damn good, I could go for some right now.

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That about wraps up the trip. We did all the usual family tour and hung out doing other little things like dinner’s and driving around. We went to Chuy’s for the first time and it was aweeeesoooome. Great Tex-Mex if you’re around one. Plus these crazy cool and sweet shirts! A wall of them hit you when you first walk in and they dance on the thin, fine line that separates them from lawsuit after lawsuit of copyright infringements. I picked up the Jurassic Park one and then in another Chuy’s recently (because we couldn’t stay away when we saw it), I got the Juan Solo one. So freaking good. #TshirtAddict

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So yeah, that’s it. I know, I talk too much. I blame Harry Potter, really. I was/am too excited about that stuff to not geek out.

I also know it’s been a long time since I posted something. I think now that I have this post done, I can get on with some other stuff I had planned. I knew I had to do this “back from vacation” post, and I knew it was going to be insanely long, so I was dreading it. I have a few things lined up and waiting to get out before fall comes, which by the way, is in a few short months! Freaking time, I swear.

Oh, and if you follow me and you’re into gaming, stay tuned for a nice little project I’m working on with a couple of friends. It’s going to be epic! Trust me, you’ll go bananas.

Adios, till then.

 

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