Next stop? Platform 9 3/4

Happy Wednesday everyone! I hope you are all enjoying your week so far. If you read my last post, you may have noticed that I completely ignored my entire trip to Universal. I did this so I could make an entire post dedicated to Universal Studios and all of its glory!


My family and I arrived in Orlando Sunday night (after driving from St. Augustine), checked into our hotel room, went for a dip in the pool, and then hit the sack to save our energy for our 3 days at the parks.

My Monday morning wake up call was about 5:30 (thanks dad) so that we all could shower, eat, and chug some coffee and still get to the park at 8am when it opened (we got early entrance because we stayed on a Universal resort… highly recommend!!)

First and best view

The first thing we did was head to Diagon Alley to ride Escape from Gringotts. Another thing I would totally recommend doing first thing in the morning (honestly just do both Harry Potter Worlds first because it gets SO crowded later in the day) because the line was a breeze so early but we went back later and the line was much MUCH longer.

Entrance at Escape from Gringotts

Since we were running to the roller coaster, I wasn’t fully able to appreciate Diagon Alley in its glory, however, when we emerged from the ride (as a changed woman I might add because it was INCREDIBLE) I was completely in awe of Harry Potter world (and was still in awe each time we came back after). The attention to detail, how interactive the whole park was, and how I actually felt like I was getting ready to go to Hogwarts; after I bought my books, wand, and robes of course.

After we had thoroughly explored Diagon alley (don’t you worry we come back 2 more times), we took the Hogwarts express to Universal’s Island of Adventure, which held Hogsmeade. Just as Diagon Alley had done, I felt submerged in Hogsmeade. They captured everything, from the snow and icicles adorned by each building, to the various characters, to Moaning Myrtle in the bathroom, everything felt, looked, and smelled real.

There were 2 rides in Hogsmeade, The Forbidden Journey and the Flight of the Hippogriff (nothing special… just your typical kiddie ride). We rode the Forbidden Journey first. This ride navigates you through Hogwarts, where you can see Dumbledore in his office, moving pictures, the Gryffindor common room, and Harry, Ron, and Hermione sharing a bit of information about what the ride will entail. Once aboard the ride, you begin soaring through Hogwarts (you’re told that you’ll be watching a Quidditch match), battling dementors, seeing dragons, dodging the Whomping Willow, and getting an earful from Draco Malfoy. This ride is pretty much stationary, tilting you up, down, and every which way, moving when scenes change to shake it up with real-life figures (dementors, trees, etc.). Finally, you make it through the ride where Dumbledore and the entire Gryffindor Quidditch team thank you for helping them with the game. This ride was my personal favorite across the 2 parks because of the tilts, turns, movie screens along with actual moving parts.

Hogwarts!

Once we mustered up the courage to leave Harry Potter World (you wouldn’t want to either… trust me) we explored the rest of the Islands of Adventure park, riding the Jurassic Park water ride (kinda cool kinda scary and I didn’t even really get wet), seeing lines quickly getting longer before we decided to just ride the rest of the rides in this park early the next day, grabbed lunch, and then heading back over to Universal Studios.

Once back at Universal Studios, we explored LA, New York, London, and San Francisco (the park is divided up into cities) before going on the Race Through New York ride (hosted by Jimmy Fallon), a 3-D ride where you literally do not move but it 100% feels like you’re bouncing around New York streets, rocketing to the moon, and falling from 75 story buildings. To finish off this day at the park, we went on the Shrek 4-D ride where Lord Farquad somehow comes back to life ????? and we have to kill him again ???? before retiring to our hotel, grabbing dinner, waited for the pool to reopen post lightning scare, and then hitting the sack early for a long day ahead of us.


Tuesday was definitely the longest day of activities for us (I walked more Monday though because of all of the exploring we were doing). Our day started out once again at 5:30-6:00 with our assembly line of showers, teeth brushing, getting dressed, coffee drinking, getting HYPED for my birthday, etc.

For my birthday, I requested that we eat at Harry Potter World (because if you’re going to have your birthday at Universal, you might as well have it at the best part) so we ate at the Three Broomsticks at Hogsmeade. We had a cute little bird join us for a few minutes, who finally left after she figured out we weren’t going to feed her. I tried pumpkin juice for the first time (very good BUT SO SUGARY) and enjoyed a nice first meal of my day.

Well what did you expect? Pumpkin juice?!

Right after breakfast, we hurried around the park trying to get in all of the rides we wanted to ride but didn’t want to wait long for. These included the Kong, Fast and the Furious, and Hulk rides. The Kong and Fast and the Furious rides were basically the same just different plots. You’re on a bus, there’s a conflict, and the driver and you have to save the day. Neither were that great to me. Had we waited 85 minutes for the Kong ride the day before, I would have been highly disappointed. The Hulk coaster was definitely very cool. Your standard roller coaster: first drop, upside down, corkscrews, a photo taken at the WORST second, etc. It was nice to ride a real roller coaster in the midst of all of the CGI and 3-D features.

We were then taken back to our childhood days as we visited Dr. Seuss’ world. We rode all 3 rides (carousel included), visited all of the shops, and reminisced about the good old days. We were the only group there without a kid under the age of 10 but we didn’t care.

By this time today, our feet had begun hurting again so we took the Hogwarts express (the only way to get from park to park without leaving) to head back to Universal Studios.

There, I had my first legal drink in San Fransisco at a wharf-style restaurant, before returning to our hotel for some more drinking and a dip in the pool.

Once we were feeling up to it we headed back to Universal’s city walk for dinner. We ate at the Cowfish (contradictory since I’m vegan I know), a restaurant with the most amazing black bean burger and veggie sushi I’d ever had! My mom then proceeded to tell the wait staff (without my knowledge) that it was my birthday so I was sung to in front of the whole patio of people. Was I embarrassed? Yes. Will I remember it forever? Also, yes. Happy 21st birthday to me!


With much chagrin, my time in Universal had to come to an end. That morning, after packing up our car and checking out of the hotel, we got into the park early so we could ride Escape from Gringotts again only for it to break while we were on it (we got to ride it again). We took the Hogwarts express one final time to Islands of Adventure where we ate at the Three Broomsticks again (my mom bought us a meal plan for the trip and we’d only used half of it so we had to spend it all today and that restaurant accepted it), rode The Forbidden Journey again, explored the rest of what we hadn’t seen, including a SpongeBob store and an E.T. ride (which was actually super adorable). We completed one final lap of the park, grabbed some Ben and Jerry’s and a few trinkets before making our way out of the park.


Have you ever been to Orlando? What parks did you visit?

❤ Alicia ❤

Road trippin’

Happy Monday everyone! As most of you know, I spent 2 weeks ago in Florida. What some of you may not know is that my family and I road tripped there, making a couple stops along the way to Universal and one on the way back! I’d never been to the three cities we visited so I wanted to share my road trip experience and the places we visited.


Chatanooga Tennessee

While I’ve driven through Tennessee many times (on trips to Florida) + I’ve visited Graceland in Memphis but I’d never been to Chatanooga. My parents always remarked on the “Come visit Ruby Falls” signs when approaching Tennessee but we never decided to pay it a visit. However, on this road trip, we wanted to see what Ruby Falls was and if it was worth the extreme advertising.

So, after 9 is hours of driving ( and lots of bathroom breaks) we made it to Chatanooga and headed over to Ruby Falls.

Ruby Falls is a 145-foot high underground waterfall inside of Lookout Mountain. It was discovered by Leo Lambert in 1928 while drilling.

After taking an elevator down 100 or so feet, we walked through this cave (guided by our very southern tour guide Doug) for about a mile seeing various cave structures before reaching Ruby Falls, which was definitely worth the extensive advertising. Once at the falls, we watched a light show which lit up the waterfall which played along with some music!

Sadly, we had to walk back to the elevator an head back up into the heat. However, despite having to re-enter the 90-degree weather, we were able to see lookout mountain which is basically just a deck that looks out to all of Chatanooga.

We only had one night in Chatanooga, so after leaving Ruby Falls, we ate dinner at the Waffle House, swam in the hotel pool, and hit the sack for another long day of driving Saturday.


St. Augustine, Florida

Driving to Florida from Chicago is honestly one of the worst things ever. You start driving at 4 am, don’t stop until it’s dark, and then finish however much more the next day. Not this time though!

We drove about 9 hours day one, and about 7 hours from Chatanooga until we reached St. Augustine, the oldest (colonized) city in the United States.

We arrived in St. Augustine at about 5 or 6 in the evening on Saturday, so we opted to relax in our hotel and just swam and ate dinner to gather up our energy for another long day on Sunday.

Sunday morning, we packed up our stuff and headed to the heart of St. Augustine. Initially, we thought we would be visiting the Spanish Fort, but found SO much more.

The Spanish fort was incredible, made of coquina (Spanish for small shells), and aged wonderfully. I loved learning about how so many tried to take down the Spanish, yet the coquina held up and no one succeeded in entering the fort.

Once I’d had my history lesson for the year, my family and I all wanted to see more of what St. Augustine had to offer so we decided to take a trolley tour of the city. The trolley tour is something I would 100% recommend to anyone who visits. On this tour, you’re carted around St. Augustine for about an hour, seeing historic buildings, museums, Flagler College, plantations, restaurants, specialty (chocolate factories, wineries, boutiques) shops and so much more! I wished we had more time to hop off at every stop to see everything St. Augustine had to offer. If I ever go back, I’m definitely going to make sure I spend at least 2 whole days to see everything (and eat everything!). Sadly, our time in St. Augustine had to come to an end. Onto Universal!


Sarasota, Florida

Something I never wanted to do was leave Orlando. Universal was all I could have hoped for and more (in my opinion better than Disney World) but eventually, we had to part ways. On the way back (well sort of out of the way) we visited Sarasota for a few days to visit some friends of ours. They retired to Florida a few years back and they are loving the laid-back atmosphere of Florida, and so did I. Their house was cute and cozy with a lovely lanai off the back. To top it off, they have 2 Shih Tzus and they’re both vegan (for health reasons) so needless to say I was in heaven! We spent the first full day there just relaxing, swimming in their community pool, and eating good food.

We were exhausted and had hurt feet so doing nothing was the only thing on our agenda for the day. However, we ended up going to the beach to see the sunset, shelling, and taking really cute pictures!

Day 2 of our visit we woke up bright and early, hit the Dunkin Donuts drive-thru, and drove about an hour to Myakka River State Park see some alligators! At the State Park, we took an hour-long airboat ride around the river and got to see so many birds, fish, and alligators.

My sister and I agreed that we hadn’t picked enough shells the night before so we wanted to go to another beach to find some. This next beach we visited, however, had a rather pathetic selection of shells and it was excruciatingly hot so we decide to head home, pack up our stuff, and hop in the pool to prepare for the 20-hour drive that would happen over the next 2 days.


Have you guys taken a road trip lately?
❤ Alicia ❤