What a great weekend!
We took a drive up North to see friends who invited us up for the weekend; Well, we left after my husband’s job Saturday night and returned home last night around 7PM. This friend is my husband’s bestie from HS, and his family house is up in Weld, Maine, about 3.5 hours away, which isn’t such a bad ride. This was our third time together up there, once when our kids were 3yr and 1yr, and then last year. We had such a great time last year, our kids especially. So much so, that we had to make this trip this Summer for the kids.
This trip was great. I never relaxed so much in such a short amount of time ever. Never. My only goal this weekend was to enjoy some downtime with friends, eat and drink like I was 26, and maybe, maybe, get a tan. We spent one full day there flanked by the two nights, and that one full day was literally the best Summer day! It started off cool but then progressively got warmer and sunnier, till it felt like 85 by 11 AM(though it was only 76~). Their house is right on Webb Lake, literally. You walk out the back porch to a ten foot patch of grass then boom there is the sandy beach overlooking this massively beautiful lake and mountains-scape. There were times Sunday that I was alone on the beach, just getting lost looking at the view; watching an eagle fly by or listening to a family of loons squawking in the distance. I’d then realize where I was and just get lost again looking at the sun glimmering off the water. JUST PERFECT
Here is a slide show of the weekend. You can click through or let it stream, that is up to you! 🙂
Next time you hear from me here I will be back to the Cape for one last Summer week away, ending the week with my husband’s big 40th bday party! Wooo! Then it is our last Summer weekend with Labor Day and then IT’S BACK TO SCHOOL! The girls go back September 7 this year. We haven’t had an after Labor Day start since my oldest started Kindergarten. Which is great! Except it’s my baby’s big tenth birthday on the first day, which she keeps groaning about. So I am going to try my best to make it the greatest first day of school ever for her. On the flip side, my oldest is going into her first year at the middle school, and she can’t contain her excitement. We literally haven’t had a day go by where she hasn’t talked about starting school- I had to take her supply shopping already!! (She is an academically inclined kid, very smart, so she keeps telling me in a sweet way how much she likes Summer, but can’t wait for school to start cause she LOOOOOOOVES school. Yes, she is my child!! tyvm).
I can’t believe I just talked about back to school, it’s still Summer here!! No more jumping ahead.
And.. Yup, I married a young one. :)~
Ok, tty all real soon! xxoxoxoxo
Back from our Cape vacation, sadly. :(((((
We had a blast even though the weather wasn’t totally cooperative the whole time. We started off great, with a super beach day… then the clouds settled in a bit. Our one rainy day opened up to sunshine, though! Which was great for go kart racing, arcades, ice cream for lunch and then a last minute beach day! But not for my hair.. my god the humidity and my hair do not mix. (You know I am Sicilian when the humidity comes around…holy white girl afro!)
This vacation, however, we tried to disconnect to unwind. Since my husband owns a business he can’t totally go off grid, people are always messaging him about stuff, but he did way better than me outside of his work. Me? Welllll, I didn’t fair toooooo well, but I tried a whole lot! haha Damn you snapchat!!
We did get very lucky to come home with toasty brown tans though (first time!), and lots of fun memories to boot.
So here is my pix rundown from this trip! Each one is captioned for your pleasure. hahah
We have a few other trips penciled in for this Summer…but … we will see you in August again my dear, Cape!
Onto our second day in La Fortuna..
This day we woke up later than normal, at 8:30AM, to a super cloudy day. As soon as we hit up breakfast at the Tres Cascadas the sun started to shine. We hung out at breakfast a long while, just soaking in all the beautiful surroundings. As we were joking around together, we decided that this was the perfect day to take advantage of the grounds of the resort then take an adventure in our car to find a chocolate farm we had researched before hand. We contacted the farm to make a reservation for 3PM. All was set.
The resort had the most awe-inspiring descending landscaping of pools along this mountain. The grounds were lush, the landscaping tranquil and the waterfalls a delight. The surroundings were meticulous in design, to say the least, keeping the natural feel of the rainforest. The part that was spectacular were the pools, they are fed directly from the thermal river of the Arenal Volcano, so they are naturally hot and mineralized. To keep integrity of the water, each night at closing the pools are drained, scrubbed, then refilled for 6AM, and they only offer one pool (the swim up bar one) chlorinated. The pools are situated in connecting trails, as I mentioned before, and they spill into one another to create varying degrees of waters. I just thought it was the coolest thing to notice, how they designed the pools to naturally be used and mixed with other waters to create these different temp pools. Functional beauty.
We spent most of our day swimming; watching the kids going up and down on the slide, trying out different stunts along with my husband. My husband might have loved it more than they did..ahem. But once we decided to relax together, which we did a lot this part of the trip, we spent time in the hot pools of the Perdido Springs area. This was the perfect spot because we could still watch the kids as we swam, cuddled and relaxed in the 99F waters. Utter paradise. But after about two hours of relaxing, we started to experience rain. Rain, hah..it was a deluge! We started feeling a light drizzle, that stopped. Then we felt a light rain, that stopped. Then we felt large drops of rain, that didn’t stop, but turned into a huge rainstorm! The girls ran up to us in the pools, then we took some shelter in the tiki bar, but that didn’t last long.. duh we were swimming! haha We all got into the hot pool and then the rain stopped just as fast as it started. Super cool.
Side note .. The warmth and minerals of the pools are not only therapeutic and relaxing, but to me, they had such a beautiful scent, too. My husband smelled it too, but I don’t know if this is a thing. The scent of the waters were dreamy; like a clean cologne. It made me so happy swimming around smelling so good. I am smiling just thinking about the scent..gah I miss this place!! 😦
Ok, so back to the trip!
Then we dragged ourselves out of the pools to get ready for the afternoon. I wasn’t really sure what we had in store so I made sure everyone dressed as comfortable as possible.. sneakers, shorts, and bring a rain poncho in case! The farm was located about 25 minutes away from our resort, not a bad drive at all since most everything is one straight shot through the center of La Fortuna. We found the residential area to be totally different from the downtown area. Lots of dirt roads, houses congregated together in a pod like formation with roads surrounding them. We found the chocolate farm, Don Olivo Chocolate Farm.
I LOVED IT!
This was a family farm, not a commercialized place. Super rustic with the drive way flanked with colorful carved trees and a quaint flat yellow house centrally located. This place was full of fruiting trees and wildlife.
Quickly we were greeted by the abuelo of the family. He greeted us so enthusiastically, telling us his son would be right with us. Super cute older man. We got to looking around a few minutes, and met the family German shepherds. The grounds reminded me of a version of campagna (the countryside) in Sicily, not the look but the vibe. Almost everyone in Sicily owns a family farm, a second countryside home. Some small. Some large. They grow so many things on their farms for their day to day lives, and they use the farms during vacations, holiday weekends, and some like to live there all Summer long to get out of the city.
The farm owner came out to greet us, all smiles, beaming in English. Very sweet guy. As he is talking to us about his farm, cutting down fruits from the trees to have us eat them ripe, another family shows up, unexpectedly, to take a tour, too! So we went on to the tour together. The farmer takes us on a tour of his fruiting trees, and like I said, he was literally talking and cutting stuff down for us to try them. Then a minute later, his father would come over with a machete slicing more fruit for us. It was awesome. We got to try star fruit, papaya, soursop, mango, green coconut water, peppercorns, spearmint, and so much more I can’t think straight. After we toured the front part of the grounds, he took us to his house’s porch to talk about sugar cane. He showed us how you take the stalk, beat it to loosen the fibers, then squeeze it to extract the juice. We tried it over ice, and it was yummy. Then because my husband loves rum, the conversation of rum came up and the father went into his private stash to let us adults take a shot of rum.
WOAH. I mixed mine with the sugar cane juice cause it was potent. haha
From here, the group was guided to the cocoa tree grove. A grove with a thousand trees! We learned so much about the history of the cocoa trees, amazing and ugly cocoa! hah We were then taken along the stages of the cocoa pods to cocoa beans to chocolate. As we were walking the rain came, but it wasn’t a big deal. It lasted a few minutes then the sun came out. Didn’t stop us from seeing all the trees full of cocoa pods. The pods grow in a few colors, brown, purple and yellow, but the pods inside are the same. The farmer grabbed one right off the tree, a yellow one, and smashed it open. We were allowed to try a piece of the interior fruit, which were white gelatinous blobs (to me, tasted floral and bland), these were raw cocoa beans. The cool part was the bite of one showed this vibrant purple color inside. The farmer then walked us over to his backyard covered patio, it was the coolest spot, where he showed us the process going forward
After the pods were opened, the beans are taken out and fermented for 5 days in a barrel. From this fermentation the pods turn brown, and they smell horrible! haha Then they need to be dried out in the sun/dry place for 15-20 days. He had a greenhouse full of drying beans we got to walk into, touch them and smell them. The beans are then husked by hand here. He had a large wooden mortar and pestle he uses to bang up the skins, then the breezes of the area naturally whisks the husks away. Then there is only the bean left, which is then ground by hand, which we all had a crack at doing. Then this ground cocoa is at the stage to be made into chocolate however you like!
It was so fun!!
The farmer had set up two large farm tables for us to enjoy some chocolate inside the patio. There were mugs, spoons, homemade sugar in the raw and cookies. His father cooked up hot cocoa for everyone with the grounds we all participated in grinding, and let us sample fresh 90% dark cocoa chocolates he made. YUM! The hot cocoa was delicious. Soooo rich and good! I could only take a few sips. Then afterwards his daughter came out with his wife, and we got to hang out together, talk and get to know what the culture of Costa Rica was really like. I LOVE TALKING TO LOCAL PEOPLE! The farmer’s daughter was so sweet. My gosh. She wouldn’t leave me alone, it was so cute. She pulled up her bunny chair next to me, talking and talking and talking. We exchanged a lot of Spanish together, and her mom. She was almost 3, but her personality was beyond her years. What a funny kid. She was so upset I had to leave. Good people there. So glad we went.
Then after we left there, we traveled to go eat in the center of La Fortuna at a chicken rotisserie place we researched, Pollo Fortuneno. We were happy to see it was right smack dab in the middle of the town as we drove in. We parked the car, went a little souvenir shopping, then made a bee line right to eat. The restaurant didn’t have a lot of tables, about 10 in total. We grabbed one of the large, grass thatched tables out front, and so glad for that luck! Because in minutes the place was chock full and a line started to form… I overheard one woman say that there was over an hour wait!!
AND THEN THE HEAVENS OPENED UP, ANOTHER DELUGE!! HOLY MOTHER OF WATER! Then again, as soon as it started it was over!
Thank goodness for the umbrella over the table!
The restaurant was a lot of fun. It is situated on a corner, with their large stacked rotisserie facing the street on a platform for show. It was the coolest thing to watch, all engulfed in flames, mesmerizing. The staff going up there to grab chickens was like some show. We ordered a few fun items, like chalupas, patacones, rosemary oil papas fritas, rotisserie chicken and pork ribs….can we say DeLiCiOuS!?! We had such a great time dining there. The wait for food was long, but that isn’t a complaint, more of a FYI. I personally love hanging out for a long time, no rush here! Bonus, we were allowed to bring our own beer and sangria, which was great. We left there happy and full.
Another great day spent in paradise. 🙂
Next up…our last full day in La Fortuna!
I have to split this second part of our trip out into separate posts because we did so many fun things.
So, the tour guide picked us up in Tamarindo around 10AM to take us to La Fortuna. La Fortuna is just under 4 hours East from Tamarindo. Our tour guide had shared so much of Guanacaste’s history, the province we drove through, and he also shared that the name of Guanacaste was an indigenous word for monkey ear, of the regional trees that grow all around. I love learning things like that. It was just such a real good idea hiring the tour guide this whole trip to get us from point A (airport) to point B (Tamarindo) then point C (La Fortuna) and point D (back to the airport!). His van was air-conditioned, large and clean, he spoke perfect English for my family, and had so many fun things to teach us.
We drove about an hour outside of Tamarindo before we stopped at this hidden gem, the Waterfalls of Llanos de Cortes. This place was AMAZING to say the least! We pulled into a very dust parking lot at the end of a long dirt road. The entry way to the area was flanked by two makeshift souvenir tables that lead to a tented entrance to the stairway. We had to trek down a ton of steep, but beautiful, stairs built right into the hill. Very windy. As you descend, you can hear the rumbling of water. So you hurry to try to get to it quicker. As the stairs end the ground opens up to this massive span of private beach with a ginormous waterfall. GINORMOUS!! I have never seen anything so beautiful in nature like this in my entire life…never. I was blown away, my kids were kicking off clothes faster than ever, charging towards the water, and my husband just was dumbfounded too. My mind is still reeling over the beauty. There were a few travelers too, not many for what we were seeing. We were there on a weekday, and learned that the locals like to go over the weekends to picnic, BBQ and stay the day there relaxing and enjoy the view. I WOULD TOO!
Our tour guide let us have as long as we liked there, so we swam and played for about an hour. The water was cool to the touch, but not frigid. I had never seen so many varieties of butterflies in one area like I had this afternoon there. I saw every size, shape and color imaginable. Birds too! After we hung out here, we headed 45 minutes to grab lunch at our tour guide’s favorite local spot. Food in Costa Rica is typical South American, beans and rice with every meal, chicken, beef or shrimp, lots of stewed foods..all so good. Like really good. So we enjoyed where he had taken us for lunch, it was clean and the food was pretty great…plus, I love arroz con pollo, that is something I could eat on the daily. Then we continued on our trek to La Fortuna.
This ride was beautiful. I know I keep saying that everything was beautiful, but it really was!! The drive through all the towns along Lake Arenal were spectacular. Lake Arenal is a man-made lake that has a dam. Lots of people boat and wind surf along the lake. Pretty rad if you ask me! So the ride…The colors of green and all the wildlife we saw were the best part. The one road leading to La Fortuna along the lake was the coolest. It went on for an hour, and was a slim road with a lot of curves. The craziest turns, hills, steepness, views of the Lake, lots of farmland, driving right through tiny villages..the views were something out of a travelers guide. Just perfection all around… it was all so much fun!
La Fortuna, in the province of Alajuela, is the town at the base of the Arenal Volcano; so cool, guys, I can’t even do the explanation justice. So we rented a car when we got there, this is where we asked the tour guide to drop us off. It sounds scary, especially if you have travelled to Europe, because the driving over there is crazy scary, but we found Costa Ricans to be cautious and respectful drivers. So we hopped into our 2016 silver Suzuki SUV, and drove onto The Springs Resort and Spa. Just 17 minutes outside of the main area.
We will catch up with our tour guide on our last day in La Fortuna to go back to Liberia’s airport.
The Springs Resort and Spa… holy wow! The drive to the resort off the highway is bumpy, they are having a dispute with the city to pave the road..but that bumpy dirt road ride is so worth it! You pull up in paradise. Romantic. Luxurious. The vegetation, the flowers, the landscaping and paths, waterfalls, ahhh it was so beautiful. Then you follow the driveway to the reception area where they take your car for you, not a worry to think about here from that second. You are brought to check in, then you are greeted by your own personal guide, who grabs your whole family drinks (ours with their traditional rum- tdf) and who takes you on a walking tour of the hotel. We were treated to our experience with Dixon, who was the cutest and sweetest kid. The kids liked him a lot.
HOLY WOW! The main part of the resort was breathtaking, at about 1000FT above the canopy, then the property cascades down to each level. There the main floor (reception), then the spa and gym floor, then the bar and restaurant floor with a kids sick game room, then there is the bottom floor that has locker rooms that spill out to the main part of the pools and swim up bar. From there the thermal river fed pools, YES THERMAL RIVER FED POOLS FROM THE VOLCANO, flow into each other. They created a system where the hottest pools flow into other pools, mixing with another system to cool them down to create a new pool cooler than the top one. If that makes sense… So the first area had three linked pools. The top pool was 99F. This pool flowed straight to the next pool that was a foot lower, but it was being mixed with a different stream to create a 94F pool. Then this pool flowed into the next pool a foot lower and triple the size that had a touch cooler water falling into it making it an 87F pool. It was like this throughout, even if the span from one pool to the next was further. SO COOL!
After the tour, Dixon walked us to our rooms where our luggage was waiting for us and he showed us all the fun things in our room…namely, that VIEW!
We were in room 103 of the Toucan House, which was the coolest room ever. We were ground level, so our outdoor patio was open to the grounds and the volcano..the VOLCANO WAS OUR VIEW! Lush right? Well, I felt so lucky to be there. The balcony had hammocks, a beautiful table set and rocking chairs. I loved it out there. The view was of large birds of paradise and the volcano..so close. The room itself was beautiful, and clean, and smelled so good. There were heated floors in the bathroom, and a jacuzzi tub as big as a pool! The bedroom was fixed with our kids bed, individually, in front of the massive window, so it felt like a tree house. So awesome.
The first night here we went to dinner on property at the sushi place, played in the kids’ game room for a bit, then hung out at the main thermal pools till they closed.
It was breathtaking, every turn, detail and the pools.
Next up, our first full day in La Fortuna at Sky Adventure…
As you may have noticed, we like to jet out of Boston during the Winter. It can be a cruel place here to us beach lovers, and the best way to get through the cold is.. to leave it!
This Winter vacation we decided to finally explore the beautiful country of Costa Rica. We debated again on hitting up either Hawaii or California for a big driving adventure.. but for some reason, sitting on a beach felt more like what we wanted to do..all of us! We ended up planning this whole trip ourselves..ok, my husband planned this whole trip with my little suggestions here and there. He really is quite a great considerate vacation planner! This trip we initially decided that we wanted a big relaxing beach vacation, just land and veg out for 7 days. But, as we started researching more and more, we decided to add in some nature and a little rainforest/volcano adventure, too. So. We fixed ourselves on staying 7 days, 3 nights at the beach and 4 nights in the rainforest. This time of year is the dry season, which is my favorite season of all! 🙂 This means that the rainfall is at a minimum, if it falls at all, and that it is their Summer. The beach area, on the Pacific Ocean side, got up to a dry 97F, but had the best breezes, so it never felt hot hot. The rainforest was about 80F most days, though it did rain once or twice a day in twenty min bursts, that was it. I wished we had more time to spend at both, because there was so much to see and do that 7 days just felt too quick.
We left at 8AM on Saturday, February 4 right out of Logan Airport. The flight to Liberia (the Pacific side of the country) was not terribly long, about 5h15m. The flight was smooth, and all went to plan..I took a quick nap, my kids were awesome and my husband talked to his seat neighbor and drew. 🙂
The one great thing that we did was hire a guide for our trips to each point. This way it wasn’t a taxi, it was spacious vehicles, and we could learn a few fun things about the country along the way. It was the best thing! We hired Maleku tours; found them through Trip Advisor. Top notch! The tour guide, the company owner, picked us up in Liberia then drove us 1h30m to the town of Tamarindo. He was a sweet man, very well spoken and full information!
Costa Rica translated from Spanish means the Rich Coast, and I now understand why. This country is rich with people, history, beaches, ocean, rainforest, volcanoes, mountains, animals, thermal pools, plants, trees, food, green energy, and whatever else I left out! It is sandwiched between Nicaragua and Panama, and is also known as “Hawaii of South America” to surfers. Costa Rica might be one of my top country picks for a family vacation spot. I have been to some amazing countries.. Japan, England, New Zealand, Jamaica, Grand Cayman, Canada, Italy, France, and Mexico, but Costa Rica was a combination of so many things wonderful that I love about traveling abroad.
Firstly, friendly people, that is a major bonus! Compared to cities like Paris, London or Los Angeles, there is no comparison. Wherever we went we were greeted, or whenever we had a question, we got friendly smiles and answers, like we were really guests there and not violating some code or something. Gosh, Paris has to be the worst city if you are looking for friendly help. The main language in Costa Rica is Spanish, but we found 80% of the people we spoke with (from the resort staffers to the locals, aka Tico) spoke English as a second language. We later found out that they start learning English in elementary school, but, if they go to a private school they have immersion courses in English mandatory.
Secondly, the changes in regions. What I mean is that, for example, the rainforest area compared to the beach area. Though there was only 3 hours between them, the changes along the drive across was so impressive and awesome (liTerally awesome). The way life went from dry, brown and arid to this expansive farm land of lush, green and vivid life, it was undoubtedly the most beautiful part of the adventure. What we were seeing was so inspiring that it just filled me full of joy.
Thirdly, the authenticity of the spaces around you. There are no skyscrapers, no bustling highway, no chaos. The roads were so natural, rarely any obstructions, and though the roads were sick windy, I enjoyed it to the tops. The views of Lake Arenal and the waterfall along the way, were beyond expectations. It was literally pura vida.
Pura Vida..the pure life. This was their motto, and salutation everywhere you go. It is something they say that means so much more than pure life..at least that is the feel I got. The lifestyle, simplicity, of places like Costa Rica is what makes traveling a beautiful experience. You have so much happening outside your windows and at your feet that you don’t really need much more to make an impact on you. The natural stimuli.
God, I miss it so much already. 😦
Tamarindo was our first stop out of the two. It is a sleepy beach town, where all the surfers hang out because the wave activity is off the charts. We saw waves as high as fifteen feet at times, which is huge for us because in Massachusetts that is not even a thought, especially on the Cape where we Summer vacation. Tamarindo is named after Tamarind. Namely because the sunsets that occur glow the same color as the pods. Costa Rica is only ten degrees north of the equator, so the sunrise and sunset is different from at home. Every day, no matter what time of year, the sun rises at 5:45AM and the sun sets by 6:30PM.
Tamarindo is quaint and did not feel dangerous at all. Lots of people, locals and tourists. We walked all over exploring the downtown. The downtown boulevard is a long dead-end where all the shops and restaurants are flanked on each side. Our resort was on the beach side of the street, Hotel Tamarindo Diria. We were in room 227 of the Oceanview section. This resort was absolutely beautiful. The grounds themselves were perfectly manicured, from the beach front grassy area to the pools on our side of the resort to the tennis courts and the pools across the way. They set up the resort in two sections, beach side and then across the boulevard for condos, adult only and family friendly pools. Both properties were magnificent, beautiful and private.
The beach side was very private along their grounds, but the beach itself was public. Which sounds like it might be an issue, but the locals and the few vendors were absolutely non confrontational or an issue at all. The resort was guarded, but it didn’t seem it really needed it because the people around were so chill. The resort had every amenity that you could need, and was easy to access from either side of the street. We spent a majority of our time at the main beach side but spent a whole afternoon across the street for the hot tub, swim up bar, and family pool. It was just beautiful! The large family pool was set up like an oasis, with private nooks and grass thatched umbrellas, if you wanted. The views were great. Very relaxing! (And that swim up bar’s bartender was super awesome! Best margaritas on the rocks!)
They had not spared a detail, even on Super Bowl Sunday! They set up their main dining room as their game room that night. They had a special menu with drinks, a projector screen and a large screen TV up. There were a lot of us there that night, and though we took off before the fourth for the kids. We watched the game from our room, where we cheered our asses off, celebrating with everyone else that left early! What a comeback!!
Tamarindo is definitely a fun destination that I hope we can go back to again. The beach life there was right up my alley! But the adventure in Costa Rica when we left Tamarindo was just beginning!
Stayed tuned for our time spent in the rainforest area of Arenal Volcano/the town of La Fortuna.
Here are pictures from that first leg of our stay in Tamarindo, Costa Rica.
Well, here it goes.. a very bittersweet end, though a long post, to a wonderful time with my husband, my children and my friends, who became like family. 😦
March 27- Disembarking a boat is super easy, it’s basically a waiting game for when they tell you to get out. The night before you are to leave you receive disembarking paperwork and you’re instructed to leave your luggage outside your cabin’s door. Within the disembarking paperwork you’ll find mail about your journey, numbered/colored luggage tags and anything else they want to notify you about. The colored and numbered tags are on a guide list on the back of the paperwork, it details what time you are to get off the boat. The list is long! Our luggage tags were PURPLE 5, and our friends had something like PURPLE 3 or 4. Which meant we were to get off the boat at 10:30AM, they were to get off a little earlier than us. At your designated time you are to meet in the Symphony restaurant to wait for the crew to let you know you are ready to go.
We hung out after breakfast in the Horizon Cafe to pass some time and fully wake up. When it was around our friends’ time to go, we headed to the meeting point together and were allowed to leave all together even though it wasn’t our designated time. When you get off the boat all the luggage is in the terminal sorted by your luggage tag color. So we snagged our bags from the marked luggage line up and went to wait for our car rental shuttle. WHICH FELT LIKE IT TOOK FOREVER!
Once we got acclimated into our rental cars, an hour or so later..no joke, we made our way to Orlando. It wasn’t a terrible trek, for us anyway, since we drive on the right side of the road. My buddy, who followed us and is Australian…well, he might have had an issue at first. The whole driving trip took about a 2 hour and 45 minute drive, and we did make a stop for lunch on the way. We arrived at the Hilton Orlando, happily, because it was a spacious hotel and we had rooms right near one another. I forgot to mention, that on the boat we were five floors apart.
The main reason we went on this leg of the trip was to surprise our little girls with a visit to Universal Studios Orlando since we would be in Florida; mainly for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. We didn’t tell them we were going, only our family and friends knew (and you guys), so they were under the impression that we drove up to Orlando just to hang out with our friends one more night (which was true, too).
The hotel was about 11 minutes from Universal Studios, and about 4 minutes from anything else you needed off International Drive. So convenient. It had a large pool area out the back that we visited on our second morning. It had a large main area pool that had a water slide, graduating entrance points, a Frog themed water fall and tons of lounge chairs! Behind it was a hot tub area, secluded with a waterfall and it faced the large lazy river that had so many fun components to it. It had water canons, trickling falls, a span of bubbling water, and lots of water shooting around; it was so much fun. Then beyond that there was a more secluded pool. We noticed a basketball court, billiards area and tons of fun games all around. Perfect for any family, single couple or group of friends. I will def be going back to this place.
So, how do you surprise two huge Harry Potter fans when you get to Universal and it’s all in front of you? Well, hope they are slightly oblivious like my two. hahaha
When we arrived to the hotel, around 4ish, we told the kids we would freshen up from the ride a bit then take a drive over to City Walk for dinner. City Walk is the Disney Springs (downtown Disney) of Universal, but it’s attached to their parks, unlike Disney. My kids, however, didn’t know this. So, we parked at the lot, which was an awesome $6 after 6PM, then trekked down the walkways to City Walk. The kids loved it. They didn’t realize we were making a straight bee line for will call to grab our tickets that we ordered online a week prior to leaving. We grabbed our cards, but had an issue with the set we got for our friends, so we had to talk to the ticket kiosk.
Still my kids had no clue what we were doing. It was about to be a super sweet moment telling them.
So. Then my oldest asked, “what are we getting tickets for?”. My husband replied, “well, we helped buy tickets for Pat and Mel to take the kids to Universal this week while we are back home.”.
The girls said nothing, continuing to bounce around playing with all the kids.
Then we walked to the turnstiles, gave each girl a ticket. They were dumbfounded, “what is this for?”, looking at us confused. My husband then replied, “They gave us four extra tickets by mistake, and we are going to see if they will get us in the parks right now. Do you want to see if they’ll work?”.
“YES! “. And the girls went into line with us, handing it to the ticket scanner. “It worked!”, my oldest daughter shouted to us, as she hand slapped her sister. But she wasn’t getting it. She thought they were for City Walk or something. So we congregated around her, and I asked her something like, “H, what if I told you that we were not leaving for home tomorrow, but in three days? And what if I said we are here to take you guys to see The Wizarding World right now?”. Our youngest daughter jumped cheering around, “I was hoping so, yay!”. As our oldest daughter broke down crying, from shock, she was saying how happy she was to be going to the parks, BUT she was real excited to be with our friends for three more days more than anything. She really got close to their kids. It was the sweetest moment that brought tears to most of our eyes, because she was just so sweet crying about this newly discovered secret we had been keeping.
We then zoomed up through all the other lands till we made it to the The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Hogsmeade side.
Just wow. That is all I can say about it.
We wondered for a little bit, just gazing at everything with our mouths wide open. Then we took a left to ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. No detail was left to the imagination, it was the most perfectly segmented waiting queue I have ever seen. The decor alone, not even the video projections, were out of this world. You really were engulfed into the world, no matter where you turned. We got off the ride to find the sun setting, so we went to grab dinner at the Three Broomsticks. They had a decent bar within. Just FYI, one drink per person with an ID. No carrying for anyone. Surprisingly, the food was actually good. Hard to believe, we were all surprised at how decent it all was.
After eating, we took a walk across the way to Ollivander’s Wand Shop. They put on a real fun performance that will get any kid excited, and maybe some adults, too. When you walk in, you are inside Ollivander’s Wand Shop lined up with adults in the back and children in the front, and then in the darkness comes the Wizard to help you find your wand… or the wand find you. At first the Wizard asks my youngest daughter if she needs a wand, and she shyly said no, burying her muzzle in my armpit. Then he asked her sister, who eagerly said yes, and was walked up to the desk. No one really knew what was about to happen.
It was so wonderful that it was her chosen for this experience: she is beyond a HUGE fan. A slew of magical happenings ensued while trying to find the right wand for her. The first wand sparked and blew off magic in all directions. One wand deflated his flowers that needed watering. Once the wand chose her, the room lit up, wind blew all around her to HP music. It was wonderful for her. Then you were directed to either buy the wand, and/or browse the shop..
We bought the wand.
I know, it’s $48.50 for the thing, but we planned on it ahead of time and at that moment it was her chosen for the show, and how could we wait till the next day? Exactly, we couldn’t. The wand has red light readers in it, my husband knows the technical term and wanted to turn her old wand into one..oye, but anyway. The wand is used around the parks, both parks, at designated magic areas that are marked with bronzed markers on the ground. The wizard’s wand performs “magic”. The wands came with a Marauder’s map that had diagrams for the gestures on how to make the magic work. You face the area, swish the wand, and it animates the area. It was a lot of fun going around to the shop windows, all the kids were able to share it, but I had more fun using it later in Knockturn Alley!! Like I said, who has more fun, my kids or me? hah
That first night we closed it out in that world.
March 28- The next day we went around the park a bit. We arrived together, then split up at lunch for an hour. They got to ride the train and we went on 1 Fish, 2 Fish. That ride was super cute, a lot like Alladin’s ride at Magic Kingdom. We met back up and wanted to ride a lot of things, but went straight to Popeye’s area to ride the river raft ride. I backed out because I didn’t want to get wet, my youngest daughter either, so we elected to take a pic of the crew at the bridge above while they were on the ride. Last minute, my husband backed out seeing everyone getting off the ride wet. So, the six went.
OH MY GOSH! They came off soaking wet! Some more than others, and you guessed it, my daughter from head to toe, including her sneakers and uhm, everywhere! So we had to run to wring everything out, but nothing dried well enough. They had dryers but let’s face it, people are hogs and this little girl was upset being soaked. We were dealing with wet clothes for a long time. So, I decided since the time was flying so much from us that we should split up the families so they could do what they wanted to do, as we got clothes for her up in the Wizarding World, where at least she could get something she wants rather than not. Then we got to spend more time up there. So that is what we did. We scurried up there, bought a top, then wrung out her clothes again and again, and she was good to go. We treated the girls to a frozen butterbeer, and then a butterbeer ice cream; that a waiter ended up getting us for free. Super score!
We spent the rest of the time up in Hogsmeade going around and enjoying some time, making magic happen with the wand. We hooked back up with our friends to take the train over to Diagon Alley. We were surprised at the details of King’s Cross station and the small area of their London; where my husband and I actually stayed before in the real London!
Wow, just WOW!
The night bus was a wonderful greeting. We then walked around a bit, looking at all the stores, making our way to Gringott’s ride. Which is an insanely good ride! I loved it so so so much. Rides sure have changed since I was little! Everything is tracked with an extension arm as you look at a domed screen. Super fun, but not for the faint of heart. We grabbed dinner at The Leaky Cauldron, which was a lot of fun for us as a collective group. We chilled a bit more up there, but we couldn’t make everyone stay up there all day, so we separated with our group again. So, we scurried down to MIB so the kids could get another ride in on what they wanted to ride and they ventured over to The Simpsons area.
Right after MIB we ALL met up with two of my high school friends and their families, while catching the movie water and fireworks show that closed out the park. I hadn’t seen one of my HS friends for 22 years! WOW, right? We are adults now, well, I am not. haha Her husband was so nice, and fit, holy cow! To say I felt physically inept next to him is an understatement hah. Her baby girl was so cute, she looked so much like her, and she was so well-behaved being out that late. Really, even my kids were talking about it! My other friend caught up with us a couple of years ago, and I have met up with her at a few lunches near my office. Her son grew up so much, not only was he was taller but mature. So handsome. Wow where did those two years go? My kids were happy to see him too, as they remembered our Animal Kingdom visit so well. It was wonderful to catch up and have everyone meet! Hopefully we can do that again, but for longer!!
March 29- The next day we hung out at the hotel pool. I liked the pool area so much, it was pretty and this girl loves a lazy river! 🙂 Then around 1PM, we decided to head to the parks. When we got there we grabbed lunch, then headed to the parks starting at the other park first. By the time we actually got to the parks the weather started to change, and the day turned rainy. Booo. By the time we got out of our first attraction, we needed to get umbrellas and rain hoods. Which, btw, this very prepared woman packed for everyone…except I left them at the hotel. hahah
So $40 later, we went around the parks trying to get on rides, but with the rain all the indoor attractions and rides were more than 100 minute wait!! So we went on as many outdoor ones we could without the heavy rain, and then to MIB, because the girls really enjoyed it..and me, too!
Nightfall came, and guess what? I was freezing.
But guess what else? My hoodie was at the hotel. OOFA!!
So, now $94 later, the two families decided to split up again because chasing down a decent looking hoodie took me forever..and I ended up getting one at MIB! haha So, everyone went to do what they wanted to. We went to, of course, The Wizarding World through Diagon Alley. We spent time going through all the shops, the detail was just so beautiful. We played with all the ‘magical’ wand windows, and stumbling upon my favorite area…Knockturn Alley. (mwuahaha! Yasss, I love the dark side 😉 )
It was all so much fun! We then decided to have dessert for dinner at the Leaky Cauldron, which is always a great idea. We decided to go on the train back over to Hogsmeade.
At that station, as you weave your way through the line, there is an area at the top of the stairs where if you look to the left across the line, you can see your friends walking ahead of you walking ‘through’ Platform 9 3/4. It was such a great add-on in the station. PLUS, the visuals on the ride back was so much more fun..because I like the dark side!
We ended up going through Hogsmeade at snail speed to soak it all up and enjoy the sites while grabbing some last-minute souvenirs. We then ran up to our last ride, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, that had a shorter wait…our first ride of the three-day trip. It was a great way to end our last day! We then met back up with our friends who were late night dining at Margaritaville, and went back home to the hotel.
The rain did not damper our last day!