What you really need to know about Harry Potter World: a realistic view of the park

Everywhere you look there are pins and posts about the “25 Things You Have to Know About Harry Potter World” or “What only True Harry Potter Fans Notice.”  It’s true there are minute details all over the park, but in reality it’s too crowded to see everything unless you have weeks to spend at the park. (So congrats all of you people that have season passes and live locally). I however had 3 days, 2 kids, and 1 husband that’s not a Harry Potter Fan. So I had limited time to fit everything in, but being the super nerd I am I wanted to hit all the high points.

Let me just say– it is amazing. It took me 10 hours to get there stuck in a car with a 5 and an 8 year old and it was worth every second. It looks just like how I imagined it and everyone that works there does a great job staying in character. We went straight to Olivanders and got our wands, but even though I thought I’d researched how it all worked it was super confusing.

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What’s awesome

You get to go through and meet a wand maker and a couple of lucky kids get chosen to select a wand. For an adult this feels slightly cheesy, most the of the dialogue is straight from the book, but the look on my kid’s faces when they though the wands really were doing all of that was priceless. We went out into the main store and quickly threw down $50 a wand for interactive wands (btw some of the wands they sell don’t activate the special stuff they have set up throughout Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade– they don’t explain that well).

What could make it better

The kids that get chosen have the light shine on them and the wind blow a little and my kids were a little disappointed that when they chose their wands the same didn’t happen to them. Now I know it would add another line, but maybe just in the Olivanders main show they could have an area where you could “check” your wand to see if it was a good fit. To go along with this vein of though it would be super helpful if you had a short (optional) “class” to learn how to do basic spellwork (aka how to activate the special areas throughout the park). I spent $150 on wands and then had to stumble through a few attempts before someone who worked there gave us a 20 minute tutorial.

Also those areas are crazy specific. You can see the sensors if you know where to look and you have to point your wand very specifically at them and then move your wand in the exact precise way that the medallions show. That’s great for a 32 year old (although even I had trouble at a few spots), but my kids had issues getting them to activate. They weren’t the only ones and that caused long lines at every spot.

Come on Universal– an “intro to spell work class” would be yet another attraction and the people you’re paying right now as already doing this on a much smaller scale.

After we got our wands we wondered around Diagon Alley for a while and I got some Wizards Money (which wtg Universal on that idea

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 Then we watched the Dragon on Gringotts breathe fire a few times, looked at robes, but I couldn’t bring myself to throw $100 each at robes when I could totally make my own– you know in the event that I need robes– which might 100% happen (plus it was wayyyy too hot to wear the robes around the park at this point), then after a quick trip to Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes (which was cool to look at, but didn’t have as many practical joke items as I expected) we decided to take the train over to Hogsmeade— after a photo with the Knight Bus.

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That was really well done and my daughter totally wanted to get a shrunken head like that (which I would have gotten her if it was available– once again Universal– sell that crap in Knockturn Alley with maybe a few Hands of Glory.

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The Train was evidently the hottest ride in the park as it was the lonnnnngest line we encountered the whole time we were there. After about an hour wait we finally made it to the train (there was even a snack bar set up mid line– really??) and the train ride was cute. It helped make the trip over to Hogsmeade much more magical than just walking (which is what we did the other days after that wait), but I was sad it wasn’t really a steam train. It’s just a coaster track with a fake train that makes synthesized train noises. Which if you’ve never seen a steam train in person you’d probably not notice the difference, but I’ve been to Dollywood too many times to be fooled. A real steam whistle is a beautiful thing that you feel in your core when it goes off.

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It was really cool though getting to board the train and ride it to the station. It did sound like they didn’t get Emma Watson to do her voice for the sound work on the train though which was odd.

We were worn out at this point (did I mention that I have 2 small kids? Yeah they can only do so much and slow everything down) so we went back to our rooms to get to bed early so we could take advantage of our early entry passes (that came with our room package). We stayed at Loew’s Portofino Bay Hotel which was gorgeous and we spent the extra to get the minon suite for the kids (it was our 10th wedding anniversary vacation so I didn’t want to have to sleep with my 5 year old every night) and that was also worth every penny. The kids were thrilled with their own private space.

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We tried to have a nice dinner that night too, but the service at Mama Bella’s was so insanely slow and half our food was cold when we got it. Not what I expected for a $150 meal. Then after waiting an hour for food the kids fell asleep right before the food got there. Really made me wish we’d just grabbed a sandwich as we were leaving the park.

The next two days we tried to cram as much Harry Potter fun (and we explored the rest of the park too because my husband for some reason thought we came there for more than just Harry Potter– weirdo). The greatest thing we got that I didn’t realize we needed was the Express Pass. It came “free” with my hotel room and we rode rides multiple times in the time it took the regular line to get on the ride. I think they are about $60 extra, but it allowed us to do the park much quicker and was amazing since we were cramming everything into 3 days. Also you totally need the lanyards, but unlike all the “25 ways to do Universal on a budget” I don’t think you need to buy those ahead of time. They are only $10 or so and I totally bought mine before and left them in my sewing room so had to buy another set when we got there. I don’t think I saved any money on Amazon anyway.

Off to Hogsmeade this area was just as amazing looking as Diagon Alley, but didn’t seem as fleshed out. There were multiple store fronts that were just false fronts. but I hope that Universal plans on filling those up eventually. It looked like a nice large area, but in reality there were just a few shops and a lot of the wand stations (with long lines of people having issues making them work).

The most amazing thing there of course though was the Castle. This was a long line too, but you don’t really notice the line since you’re busy looking at all the set dressing. The ride itself was cool although if that’s how hanging out with Harry goes I totally want to just hang out with Luna and talk about nargles.

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 Of course I didn’t visit Harry Potter World without trying the Butterbeer. The books make it sound delicious and I have to say it looked good so I ordered a cold version and a frozen one. Verdict? The Butterbeer was disgusting. It wanted to be good– the cream on top was yummy, but overall it was nasty. Never fear though! A few of us get together every few weeks for Harry Potter Trivia nights (proof of this) and my friend Heather makes an amazing Butterbeer and a Butterbeer milkshake that will make your head explode. She follows this recipe which is supposedly modeled after Universal’s, but actually tastes really good. For the milkshake version– add ice cream before putting on the topping. Believe me it’s life changing.

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I do now own 2 Butterbeer mugs though which makes drinking the nasty version worth it.

I may have lost control in Honeydukes though and bought way too much candy. The candy did not disappoint in anyway though.

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The Sherbet Lemons were delicious, the Fizzing Whizzbees I expected to be gross, but the mixture of pop rocks and chocolate was actually really good, and my son thought the jelly beans were hilarious. I was really impressed. Whatever I felt Universal was lacking they definitely made up for in the candy department.

 So totally read all the posts about all the little details you “can’t miss”, but just enjoy the park. Also don’t be those adults that crowd the little kids out of the way so you can try out your wand. I had a couple do that to my kids a couple of times. Seriously– I understand you have your wand and your robes, but dude you’re 30 and my kid is 5– it’s going to take her a sec to make the water shoot out of the fountain.

Pay the extra for the Express Pass– or stay on site, it’s totally worth it.

Relax and have fun!

I look forward to going back in 5 or so years, or whenever they add the Ministry of Magic with it’s ride that you enter through the toilets and exit through the fireplace (I totally made that up, but it’s the next logical step). Ohhh or Grimmauld Place that is full of moldy furniture, a creepy Kreacher, and dark magical objects everywhere. The cave to get the horocrux with Dumbledore will probably have to wait until they can add another water ride like the Jurassic Park one. But I’ll be back when my kids are older, or when they add one of these rides. Whichever comes first.

The Flash: Can Spin offs ever be any good?

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The world of TV is filled with spin off shows: The Originals, Angel, Teen Mom, Maude, The Legend of Korra, NCIS, NCIS:LA, NCIS:New Orleans. . . etc.  OK so NCIS kinda got out of control, but the others show that the love people have for some shows and the desire to see more expands into a whole new series.  Sometimes this is great (Angel) and sometimes you end up with L.L. Cool J. licking his lips while solving crimes and Chris O’Donnell trying to forget that he ever played Robin.

The CW had most recently had the spin off of The Originals which is an even more melodramatic version of The Vampire Diaries so although I had high hopes for The Flash because of what I’d seen on Arrow I was somewhat wary that they might take a more early Smallville teen soap opera-y vibe instead of a balls to the wall all the way superhero series.  I’m happy to say that I feel like they are going with the second option. Barry Allen has a real reason and motivation for being a good guy that is out there helping people.  The actor is cute enough to be a great leading character, but not so good looking that he’s distracting.  We’ve gotten to know him a bit on Arrow so there isn’t a lot of awkward getting to know you crap mixed in the pilot. There is some unrequited romance (plus the promise of the full story of him and Felicity Smoak) and a mystery to be solved in what happened to his mom as well as who Harrison Wells really is.

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I’m not going to pretend that I know everything about The Flash comics so I know there are a ton of Easter Eggs in this episode that I didn’t get, but I do have a few subtle (or not so subtle) things that I appreciate.

  1. They took the time to really tie into Arrow by having him become a reoccurring character months before The Flash so when he tries to decide how to use his abilities it doesn’t feel strange that he would run to Oliver for advice. Crossovers between the shows look like they are going to be awesome.
  2. John Wesley Shipp is playing the dad.  For those 5 people that are unaware JWS played the Flash in a doomed (but good) 90’s series. Think Lois and Clark, but without the viewers (really it was a good show and shouldn’t have been cancelled).
  3. The surrogate dad Det. Joe West is played by Jesse L. Martin who was a cop on Law and Order for years which I feel like adds a level of legitimacy to his role.  Many people will tune in and recognize him as a cop. I know it’s not a big thing, but I like it.
  4. Lastly superhero costumes can be comical.  What someone draws on a cartoon character is often hard to translate into real life (as cosplayers all over the world know). So the firefighter uniform makes sense and the lightening bolt accents although they could be cheesy are played off as an overly excited tech maker’s signature on his device.  Plus it ties into how he got his powers.

I look forward to seeing where this new series is going to take us and unlike the rather slow start that Gotham is having for me  The Flash will be a show that I not only want to watch, it will also be a show I want to watch live (which isn’t something I do much).

What did you think?

Game of Thrones, Breaker of Chains: Tyrion in the Courtyard with the Poison

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We got to see a good many things last night and many scenes that will change the way we think about characters from here on out.  Below are mine and Cathy’s thoughts, suspicions and theories.  Cathy’s words are in normal typeset and mine are in bold.  Enjoy and as always there are spoilers galore (both from the show and from the books– I try to give extra warning for book spoilers).

This season is quickly shaping up to be a gigantic game of Clue. We know the weapon, poison.  We know the where, the wedding reception. We don’t however know the who.

The Suspects:

Tyrion: Cersei had Tyrion arrested at the end of episode two. He handed Joffrey the cup of wine which is presumably where the poison was. Joffrey pointed to him while he was dying, but being one of the only people in Joffrey’s direct line of sight, that’s not unexpected.  My favorite scene from last night’s episode was the scene between Podrick and Tyrion. We now know for sure Tyrion had nothing to do with Joffrey’s poisoning, he says so himself. I believe Tyrion is one of the few characters we can fully believe. Podrick fills Tyrion in on who has been appointed judges for his trial, and confesses that he’s been offered a knighthood if he’ll testify against Tyrion, but staying true to his Lord, Podrick refused. Fearful for what they’ll do to Podrick, Tyrion tells Pod to testify against him, that he doesn’t want Pod to potentially be killed for him.

Cersei has hated Tyrion since their mother died giving birth to him (or did she?  As in perhaps Tyrion was the result of an affair and Tywin– this is a long shot, but I’m still throwing it out there).  As both Cathy and Tyrion pointed out though if Tyrion was going to kill the King he would have done it in a way that didn’t implicate himself.  Tyrion is smarter than that.  Oh and I second the statement that the best part of the episode was the scene between Pod and Tyrion.

Olenna Tyrell: Grannie’s been maneuvering her house up through the ranks. Her house is considerably more important now that her granddaughter married the King, and she helped finance part of the war. Now that Joffrey’s dead, she’s protected her granddaughter from a hellish marriage. The only sticking point is Margaery’s status as Queen. The marriage wasn’t consummated yet, so is Margaery really queen? If Olenna was behind the murder, one would think she would have waited and poisoned Joffrey’s breakfast the next morning.

OK I’m going to disagree a little with Cathy here.  This is who I think killed Joffery (if only there was an envelope full of cards I could check).  She knew what Joffery was and his death BEFORE consummation leaves them in a strong position to negotiate a marriage between her and Tommen.  Margaery was able to marry Joffery because her marriage with Renly wasn’t ever consummated and it would be even creepier than it already is for her to marry Tommen if she’s already had sex.  Of course we haven’t found out exactly who did this in the books yet so it’s anyone’s guess.

 

Oberyn Martell: The Lannisters’ men killed his sister. He made it clear from episode one that he wants revenge for his sister’s death. We learned last night that he studied poisons at the Citadel. Did he use his knowledge to kill Joffrey and avenge his sister? He told Tywin he wouldn’t be that obvious, but Joffrey certainly would be a wonderful way to hit the Lannisters where it hurts. In a surprising turn of events, Tywin offers an alliance to Oberyn; however we never see them agree to it. Did Oberyn accept Tywin’s offer, we’ll have to wait to find out.

Oberyn has a serious ax to grind, but I also don’t believe that he would kill Joffery in this fashion.  I see him more as someone who would derive more pleasure out of stabbing someone through the heart.  Also they Martells hold Cersei’s daughter in Dorne so could inflict more pain that way.

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OK I’m going to add some suspects that Cathy didn’t mention.  

Mace Tyrell: In the books it is implied that the poison was contained in a hairnet that Sansa got from her fool and that the stone with the poison was removed during the wedding feast and slipped into Joffery’s drink.  But what if the poison was in the cup all along, but was covered up by something that had to slowly dissolve?  Mace gave him the cup (in the show– I don’t really remember this from the book, but I might have just forgotten this).

 

Margaery Tyrell: She also knew who Joffery really was and didn’t want to marry him.  I feel like she was at least complicit in his murder even if she didn’t put the poison in the cup herself.  Of course she came out smelling like a Rose no matter how you look at this.

Littlefinger: Varys once said “Littlefinger would burn the kingdom down if it meant he could sit on a throne of ashes.” Petyr wants power, and we know he’s not afraid to play both sides to get it. I’ve always believed he’s a character that should never be ignored. Even his absence in the story is important. He’s ALWAYS up to something. We learned last night he was behind Dontos sneaking Sansa out of the party. How did he know that something would happen at the party to allow for Sansa to escape? I don’t believe for one second he really cares about helping Sansa get to safety. He has a plan to use her in some scheme to help him get closer to the throne.

Littlefinger is someone that I really really dislike.  Every now and then he does something awesome (cause in reality Sansa probably would have died if she had stayed in the capital and then later he will do something with a Moon Door that I also approve of). Mostly everything else that he does is super creepy or to further his own agenda.  The show has touched on it, but he was super duper in love with Catelyn and is now trying to fulfill his fantasies through Sansa. 

Sansa: Joffrey has terrorized her for years. Did she finally snap? No. She’s an idiot. I feel bad for her, but Sansa’s too stupid to have orchestrated the poisoning. If you’ve read the books, you’ll know what I’m talking about. The show makes her look halfway intelligent. The “real” Sansa is a spoiled moron. She’s definitely been used in the plot to kill Joffrey, she just doesn’t realize it.

Seriously she’s an idiot. I think the reason that watchlings don’t release how horrible she is is that it’s hard to convey that those tortured looks she has are because she’s feeling sorry for herself.  Since Arya disappeared she’s spent maybe 30 minutes worried about her and hours and hours blaming her for things.  She was sad about her Dad, Mom and brother, but not too bothered.  She’s weak.  She’s annoying and doesn’t seem like she’s ever going to die.

Is the killer one of these people, a combination of these people, or someone entirely different? One thing’s for sure, it wasn’t Colonel Mustard in the library with the candlestick.

There is more to the world than that’s going on in King’s Landing. We see Jon taking more of a leadership role at the wall; Arya’s brief feeling of camaraderie towards the Hound has gone; and Daenerys is off freeing slaves. On that note, let’s all give a slow clap to Daario for his sweet moves last night.

 

Yummmmmm. For those of you that don’t know Daario Naharis’s knives have naked women on the hilt and he likes to rub and kiss their breasts which Dany finds sexy.  I can see why she’s attracted to him. Jorah now?  Poor Jorah.

And the only only other thing I can say about Dany is enjoy the story line now because it’s about to get boring. 

Also for all you non-readers out there:

Major Character Deaths: 0

Boob Count: 2 pairs (it seemed like more though didn’t it?)

EDIT!

WARNING– EXTRA SPOILERS

One last thing I forgot to mention.  I was disappointed in the scene where Jamie rapes Cersei.  In the books it does in fact happen much like that except it is consensualJamie has changed a lot since he was captured and then released by the Starks.  This scene with Cersei was kind of a goodbye to his love with her.  Also in the books this happened right when he got back.  Joffery died during his journey with Brienne so there hasn’t been all this tension between him and his family.  That comes later. I just feel like the added rape seriously damages his character.  True he’s already thrown a small boy off a tower, but this has jacked it up a notch.  I actually felt sorry for Cersei and believe me no one should sympathize with Cersei right now.