Sunday, October 17, 2021

Fall Break 2021: Orlando, Florida

My brother and I are both huge Harry Potter fans, and last Christmas we got to talking, thinking we wanted to visit Harry Potter World at Universal. Since I have a week off for fall break in October, we decided that was prime time! Turns out, we were right!

 Wednesday, October 13, 2021

My brother flew into Nashville to meet me on Tuesday and I took him downtown on Broadway for his first time. We ended up staying in a hotel near the airport that night so that we wouldn't have to drive down for our 5:45A flight. 

I ended up waking up at 2:40A, which worked out well because it had us out the door by 3:30A. I was glad we left early because I could NOT find the parking lot that I had made a reservation at! The one I use to use has been closed for at least the last six months, and now I try a different one each time I fly because I can never remember what I used the time before. We drove by the lot three times before I called to find out what they were located by. Turns out we LITERALLY drove right past the entrance, but the sign light was not on, so I couldn't see it's location!

We flew from BNA to Charlotte where we had enough time for Cinnabon for breakfast before boarding our connection to Orlando.

The flights were uneventful (which is always good), but when we went to get the rental car they didn't have the Corolla that I wanted. They "upgraded" us to a Jeep Compass (I know most people would be thrilled about this but I was NOT!). THEN we got the parking space where it was suppose to be and it was empty! We went to the desk in the parking garage and they found us a Mitsubishi Outlander Sport which I was still not thrilled about (give me a Toyota!!), but also I was just happy to have a vehicle! I had booked a rental vehicle ahead of time through Budget because I know there have been a lot of vehicle shortages lately; despite that I was still a little nervous they wouldn't have one for me! 

From there, we headed out to Kennedy Space Center.  They had little kiosks at the entrance to buy tickets at. At first none of them had tickets available for the day which made me mad, but then we found one kiosk that did! No idea why it worked that way, but I would definitely buy a ticket in advance next time. I wasn't sure if we would make it or not which is why I didn't, but now I know! 

A lot of the information presented there I already knew, but I did learn some fun facts about the Vehicle Assembly Building! There is a flag painted on the side of the building that doesn't seem to take up that much space BUT the blue part alone is the size of an NBA court! Each star is six feet across. You could fit the Roman Coliseum on the top of the building with room to spare for parking, and you can fit 250 BILLION ping pong balls inside the building! I know it has to be huge to assemble a rocket, it just doesn't seem THAT huge when you drive by it!

After Kennedy, we headed down to Cocoa Beach to stick our feet in the ocean before heading to the hotel.  We ordered pizza from a shop down the street called
Giordano's and it was pretty good! Definitely hit the spot after a long day of traveling. We were ready for bed that night. Especially poor Ike who is use to going to bed at 3AM after work rather than waking up at that time!

Thursday, October 14, 2021

I had all intentions of "sleeping in" this morning, but was still up by 5:40 AM. How this happens when I have LOST an hour due to the time change from Central to Eastern is beyond me! After getting up and getting ready, Ike and I drove to Universal Studios Florida about 7:30. The park was only a couple miles from our hotel which was awesome. Also, we learned that they tend to open the gates 10-15 minutes before the time posted so after parking, we were able to get in right away around 7:50! 

We headed straight to Diagon Alley to get on the
Escape from Gringotts ride since we knew it would be one of the busiest rides.  It said the wait time was 45 minutes when we got in, but we were on the ride with only a 30 minute wait. From there, we got butterbeer! It is basically a cream soda drink with butterscotch foam added on top.  

We rode
The Simpson's Ride which I think I remember from the last time I was at Universal, but it had a lot of humor that I don't think I understood before! There was no wait for the Simpson's Ride, nor for Men in Black - Alien Attack which we rode next. I was a little disappointed in this one. You had to shoot monsters, and in the beginning you "practice" shooting at target monsters that have little green dots on them that turn red once they've been hit. Once you get in though, they don't have the dots, so you can't tell if you've "hit" them. 

From there we immediately got on the Revenge of the Mummy ride with no wait (shockingly, because it was really fun!) before waiting in line for 50 minutes for the Hollywood Rip Ride Rocket. Other than the Gringotts ride, this seemed to be the most coveted ride at Universal Studios - probably because it was the only actual roller coaster. It was also the only ride that I couldn't wear my fanny pack on at this park. I do like how they offer free lockers to store your belongings in when you go on rides that you cannot carry them on with you. This ride was fun because you got to choose the music you wanted to listen to when riding - I chose No Doubt because I've been on a Gwen Stefani kick lately! The downside to this ride was that my head banged all over the place and so I had a slight headache afterwards!

From there we went to Shrek 4D so my head could calm down. I definitely remembered this show, but it was still fun! It only had like a 15 minute wait, and was nice to spend some time in the AC. 

After that we did the Fast and the Furious - Supercharged ride which we got on right away. With the majority of the rides on our list checked off, we headed to the Leaky Cauldron for lunch. It only took about 15 minutes in the line to order. Then staff seats you immediately and brings you your food which also only took maybe 10-15 minutes. I had the Lamb, Beef, and Guinness Stew which came in a bread bowl with a side salad. Ike had the Cottage Pie which also came with a side salad. It was all delicious!

We wandered back out to the main drag just in time for the two o-clock parade, then headed to Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon, which only had a 5 minute wait. Our last ride was Transformers: The Ride 3D which we waited 20 minutes for. We did some shopping before heading back to the hotel.

By this time my friends from Minnesota had arrived, so I sat and chatted with Ashley for a couple hours before we packed into my rental car and headed down to Icon Park for dinner. We ate at Ole Red (the Blake Shelton inspired tavern) which has always been delicious in Nashville and was no different in Orlando! I had the Dive Bar Tacos with fish and BBQ street corn and it was wonderful! I've rarely (if ever) cleared my whole plate at a restaurant, but I did this night! 

We wandered back through the park to the car, stopping in a shop and admiring the huge 450 foot tall swing ride. We made bets on how high it went and were all shocked that they actually took the riders all the way to the top! A woman about our age walked past us and said, "I've seen way too much Final Destination to ever do that!" to which I said "Yes! What she said!" which made her laugh.

I was really impressed with our Universal park experience today. There wasn't an overabundance of people and other than the one roller coaster, we hardly had any wait for anything. The weather was perfect - hot but had enough cloud coverage to keep us from overheating and we were in the rides quick enough that we really didn't spend an abundance of time out in the sun.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Today was another successful fun-filled day at Universal's Islands of Adventure.  We woke up about the same time today, despite Islands opening an hour later than Studios.  Parking was a breeze yesterday, so we wanted the same ease today.

Once we got to the parks, we waited in line for a bit, but since the park officially opened at 9, they began letting us in at 8:45AM. We headed straight back to Hogsmeade (along with everyone else!) Everyone was rushing back there to get on Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure.  We were going to wait for my friends who were taking a Lyft in, so it was prime time for photo taking since no one was wandering Hogsmeade yet (and good thing we did, because it was JAM PACKED later!)

They changed the wait time from 30 minutes to 60 minutes for Hagrid's ride, so I told Ike we'd get in line and find our people later.  Luckily, we only ended up waiting like 35 minutes.  I can see why everyone goes there first - it is IMPOSSIBLE to get on later in the day.  It was also way more fun than I expected it to be!

We wandered Hogsmeade a bit then met up with Ashley and friends.  We all headed to the Flight of the Hippogriff next (which turned out to be a pretty tame kiddie coaster, but that was okay!) While we waited in line for that, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey opened up after being delayed so we headed to that next.  We probably waited at least 30-45 minutes for this ride, but the line had you walking through the castle, so that was cool. I did NOT like the ride however! You got in a chair thing with a total of four people and it twisted and turned to simulate the rider being on a broomstick racing through the Hogwarts grounds. My stomach was all sorts of twisty after that! (If anyone has recommendations for motion sickness meds, send them my way! I am NOT ready to give up rides!!)

Ike and I split from the group at this point as they were going to spend more time in Hogsmeade and we were ready for the real coasters. We headed to get some popcorn and water to settle our tummies while waiting in line for the Jurassic World VelociCoaster which was HANDS DOWN my favorite ride here! I liked that they had the lockers to put your stuff in closer to the end of the line. Since the line was probably a 45 minute wait, it was nice to be able to eat/drink/have our phones, etc. while we waited.  My head hurt a little bit from jostling around on the coaster, but not too bad.  We immediately hit up the The Incredible Hulk Coaster next, which was the only ride other than VelociCoaster that I had to put my fanny pack in a locker. It was fun and took spot #2 in my list of favorites at Islands. 

At this point it was about 2PM and we were ready for lunch.  We headed back to Hogsmeade to eat at the Three Broomsticks. I'm a big supporter of doing the things you're suppose to do in the places you're suppose to do them, hence my need to eat at the Leaky Cauldron yesterday and the Three Broomsticks today. It took us about 15-20 minutes to get in and order. Unlike the LC, you had to wait for your food to be ready, then go get seated, but seating was immediate. I ordered the Rotisserie Smoked Chicken with roasted potatoes and corn on the cob and Ike ordered something similar except with ribs in addition to the chicken. I also got a Chocolate Trifle for dessert! I was very impressed with the food from both places. I thought that it would be bland since they have to make SO MUCH of it in bulk, but it was actually REALLY tasty! The potatoes were seasoned so perfectly I could have ordered just a big plateful of those!

We decided to take another walk around the park while our stomachs settled to see if there were any rides that wouldn't make us
nauseous while we digested. We ended up going on The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman ride before walking BACK to Hogsmeade for frozen butterbeer. It was good, but I liked the regular better! We went on Skull Island: Reign of Kong next before doing some shopping back in Hogsmeade.

We did not get to ride the
Hogwarts Express because you had to get the park-to-park pass which cost more and didn't seem worth it when we bought our tickets back in July. Next time, I would definitely do the park-to-park pass. I would like to experience the Hogwarts Express, and also that way I could do some of the rides more than once. I wasn't feeling the coasters more than once today, BUT had I done the park-to-park I could have done them both days which I would have liked.

Exhausted from early mornings and walking around the park eight billion times, we grabbed Panda Express to go from the City Walk on our way out and headed back to the hotel. I can tell that I'm getting old because though my feet were NOT sore from all the walking, MAN does my back hurt from the coasters!

Masks were NOT enforced anywhere at the Universal parks, but they WERE recommended when you were inside. I'm glad I chose to wear my fanny pack at these parks since I could wear it on almost all rides. You can have bags, but I think it would have been more of a hassle than it would be worth, having to store them frequently. 

Saturday, October 16, 2021

We woke up bright at early at 5AM (on purpose!) to see the launch of the Lucy spacecraft! Lucy is going to spend the next twelve years exploring the seven Trojan asteroids that live in Jupiter's orbit of the sun. While I hope to someday see the launch of a manned space mission, this absolutely made my day! I found out only a week earlier that they would be launching when we were down there, but didn't know for sure if we'd be able to see it. We drove to the top of the parking garage in Icon Park and sure enough the skies were clear and at 5:35 AM we saw a big flaming ball blast off into the sky! I tried to take photos but with my iPhone in the dark it just looks like an orange dot in the sky! Regardless, it was AWESOME!

We headed back to the hotel afterwards hoping to get more sleep since Epcot didn't open until 10AM. Ike was able to snooze a bit, but I didn't have the same luck. We headed down about an hour before opening so we could get good parking and start our food tour ASAP! When we originally planned this trip, I just wanted to go to Epcot to see the world showcase. When I found out that the International Food and Wine Festival took place during this time frame I was ecstatic! My favorite part of travel is the food, and this was the perfect way to try new foods in small portions (though to be honest, I could have eaten some of these as an actual meal!) Before leaving I researched the menu and made a list of everything I wanted to try (because as spontaneous as some of my travels are, I am still Type A at heart!) 

As soon as we got in, we headed straight to Mission Space. I wanted to get the rides in before food, lest I be too full for rapid movements. We did the orange mission (the more intense version) to Mars. I remembered this ride from when it first came out! It was fun! Then we headed straight to Test Track which read a 70 minute wait, but was only 40 minutes. It was just as fun as I remembered as well!

Because my eyes are bigger than my stomach, and I am a total grazer, we had to eat at a couple countries, then go on a ride, then eat, then ride (or shop), etc. Other than Mission Space and Test Track, I made Ike go on the Frozen ride (which honestly seemed to have the highest demand!) and was also kind of fun because it was on a boat, the Nemo ride, and Spaceship Earth (once in English and once in Spanish!) It was SO hot on this day that the little kiddie rides were nice because it let us sit down in the AC and chill for a bit. Masks WERE enforced in all indoor areas of Epcot - including on rides/indoor ride wait lines.

And now, the food!

SHIMMERING SIPS: Shimmering Strawberry Soft-serve in a Waffle Cone (5/5⭐)

MEXICO: El Tigre Margarita - Ojo de Tigre Mezcal with Pomegranate, Prickly Pear, Pineapple, and Ginger Juices served on the rocks with a Hibiscus Salt Rim (3/5⭐)

MEXICO: Capirotada de Chocolate - Abuelita Chocolate Bread Pudding served with a Chocolate Creme Anglaise (4.5/5⭐)

CHINA: Pan-fried Chicken Dumplings with House-made Sweet and Spicy Sauce (4.5/5⭐)

INDIA: Korma Chicken with Basmati Rice, Crispy Chickpeas, and Spiced Yogurt Sauce (3.5/5⭐)

BELGIUM: Beer Braised Beef served with Smoked Gouda Mashed Potatoes (4.5/5⭐)

GERMANY: Roast Bratwurst in a Pretzel Roll (3.5/5⭐)

REFRESHMENT PORT: Traditional Poutine: French Fries, Beef Gravy, Boursin Cracked Black Pepper Crumbles, and Cheese Curds (3/5⭐)

CANADA: ”Le Cellier” Wild Mushroom Beef Filet Mignon with Truffle Butter Sauce (4.5/5⭐)

ITALY: Mezzelune Croccanti: Crispy Half-Moon Breaded Mozzarella-filled Ravioli with Pomodoro Sauce (4/5⭐)

ITALY: Bomboloni: Cream-filled Italian Doughnut with Raspberry Sauce and Powdered Sugar (4/5⭐)

Fun shirts I saw at Epcot:

"I only had one drink! (at 11 different countries)"


"World Drinking Tour" with all the countries from the World Showcase listed on the back with Mickey Mouse heads as bullet points

The International Food and Wine Festival was really neat, and I would LOVE to go back again someday. I wanted to try SO MANY more things, but just couldn't fit anything else. We left around 6:30 or 7, even though the park was open until 10. If we didn't have to leave so early for the airport the following day, or even if I hadn't gotten up so early that morning, I MAY have been able to stick it out until close, but to be honest I'm still full the next day! 

I wore my fanny pack today with no issues, but I think if I go back I will bring a backpack or drawstring bag. It was SO hot, so we bought A LOT of water. It would have been nice to pack a Yeti water bottle with ice to fill up at the fountains and save some money on water. I could have just re-used a bottle at the fountains, I know, but I like my water COLD. I am glad I wore my Chacos though. 23+ miles walked in the last three days and my feet don't hurt a bit!

Sunday, October 17, 2021

This morning was another early 3AM wake up so we had time to fill up the gas tank on the rental, return the car, and get through security before my 6AM flight. On our way back to the airport we stopped at a 7-Eleven to get gas at Exit 8 which I do NOT RECOMMEND. I filled my tank and pressed "get receipt" when I was prompted to go see the cashier for the receipt. I went to the door, but despite the lights being on, I didn't see anyone inside and there were crates and stuff barricading the OUTSIDE of the door. Another car had been sitting there idling the whole time but the windows were tinted so I couldn't see inside. About this time another car pulled up to get gas, and he was also confused. I just said forget the receipt and took a picture of the gas pump just in case I needed it for the rental agency. As we left, a guy had pulled up near the dumpster and stood outside his car between the car and the dumpster while we drove around to the other exit. It was all very bizarre. 

We returned the car and got through security quickly. I figured we would but since I'd never been through the Orlando airport on my own before, I wasn't sure what to expect. The downside is it was 4AM and we had to sit there for two hours! Poor Ike had to sit there until 8! 

I flew from MCO to Miami, then back up to Nashville and was home by noon. It was such a great trip, but I will be thankful to sleep in my own bed tonight!

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