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Hey guys! I’m back! Technically, I have been back since Tuesday afternoon, but Andy and I had to hit the ground running to play catch up so things like unpacking and going through pictures were put off until this weekend. There are some specific things I can’t wait to do posts about, but I figured I’d kick things off with a general trip overview.
Our trip to Chicago was interesting to say the least. The initial trip to JAX was uneventful and our flight, while packed, was fairly smooth until week got to Chicago. There was a horrendous storm over the city (think lightning and hail) and O’hare wasn’t letting anybody in our out. They had our flight circle Gary, Indiana until we ran out of fuel and then diverted us to Indianapolis. This was the point in the trip where we found out that I have panic attacks. While trying to set our plane down, we hit some pretty intense turbulence and the plane dropped dramatically not once, but twice and that ended with me shaking, short of breath, and crying uncontrollably (albeit quietly). Fun stuff. After all of that, United still wasn’t sure if we’d be flying into Chicago or not that evening, so Andy and I let the gate attendant know we weren’t going to be getting a back onto the plane and rented a car to take us the last 3 hours to Chicago. Of course that couldn’t be the end of it, we hit horrible traffic and the drive that should have taken 3ish hours took closer to six. But we made it safely and in time to watch the sunset amidst the skyscrapers. The rest of the family arrived on Friday so the day was spent doing a little sightseeing and catching up with everyone as they arrived. It was a little over cast, but that just made for some wonderfully cool weather, which was much needed after the oppressive humidity of our home state. You can’t see it in this picture, but someone had left an entire hotdog in the foo dog’s mouth. For some reason it was really funny at the time. Also, I saw so many beautiful neighborhoods as we walked around and I now feel like I need to own my very own ivy covered townhouse. Not usually a city girl, but this place really stole my heart. The happy couple tied the knot at this beautiful location above. A little further down their were people sitting on the rocks reading and sketching. Two things I could absolutely see myself doing if I lived down the road from this place. As it was, the only reason I didn’t try it was because I was 90% certain that if I tried I’d end up wet or somehow destroying my dress. My brother-in-law and his fiance had, what I think, is one of the coolest rehearsal dinners I’ve ever been to. They rented out the party room at George’s Ice Cream, kicked things off with amazing Mediterranean food from one of their favorite local spots and then finished with build your own sundaes. The entire shop smelled incredible, like vanilla and their house made waffle cones. If I could have bottled the scent, I would wear it every day. The ice cream itself was some of the best I’ve ever had and I am sitting here regretting that I didn’t eat more when I had that chance. Since the bride and groom postponed their honeymoon until the spring, we were lucky enough to get to spend some extra time with them before heading home. On Sunday night, we all went on an architecture boat tour. It was a perfect blend of fun and informative and had the added bonus of getting to watch the sunset from the river and the whole city light up. There will be a whole post on this later, but one of the most interesting things we did on this trip was go to Lincoln Park. Not only do they have gorgeous green space they have a conservatory and a zoo which are all free to the public. Free. F-R-E-E. Which blew my mind because they were so extensive and well kept. I would definitely play a little more in local taxes if it meant creating resources like this in Tallahassee. Just saying.
Before boarding our entirely uneventful flight home(thank God), Andy and I took one more stroll down Miracle Mile and I visited the Cloud Gate(silver bean) in Millennium Park for the obligatory Instagram photo. All in all, an excellent trip, and I am already bugging Andy about when we can go back.
The view from my bedroom window is looking a little plain today, guys. Sure, the sun rises in Tallahassee just like it does in Crescent Beach – I mean, there is a sun, and it does the whole “going-up-y rise-y” thing -, but it’s just not the same. Do you know how I definitively know it isn’t the same? Because I don’t have any desire to pour my hot mess of a self out of bed at ten till five to go on a sunrise walk. Oh yeah, I totally did that on vaca. I did it twice, but I went back to bed the second time because my husband was all “we have a long drive today, and I don’t feel like swimming”, pffffft. Why didn’t I go by myself you ask? Because I’ve seen Jaws and I am 708% convinced that if I ever decide to go swimming in the ocean by myself, I will die a horrible B movie death, and all that will remain is a sparkle flip flop and a tuft of pink hair.
That’s right, there were rays! Glorious insta-worthy pink rays.
You can’t see it very well, but this board walk goes over the protected dunes, and you know what lives in those? Adorable brown bunnies and gopher tortoises that like eating left over strawberry tops.
Like a beautiful beach post card.
If you take a look in the right lower corner of the photo above, you can see sea turtle tracks. Below is the close up of the flipper marks. Turtle went up into the dunes and then back down. We didn’t get too close since there was the possibility that eggs were laid and we didn’t want to do anything that could compromise the nest.
Real life is stupid; I don’t want to be responsible. I want to be back at the beach. Stupid Tuesday, stupid.
You guys got to hear all about Hogsmeade last week, so now it’s time for Diagon Alley. First of all, I have to give the Universal people serious props when it comes to giving you the most “realistic” experience possible. After a short train ride from Hogsmeade, you find yourself exiting the wizarding world and into modern day London. Granted, the Knight Bus is parked right outside the station, but as we all know, muggles can’t see it anyway so it isn’t like it matters. From there, you walk down the street past a record shop and what I believe is a book store and then you make your way into what looks like, to me at least, a nondescript public restroom alcove. Duck around the corner, and you’ll find yourself in Diagon Alley.
As you enter, you’ll notice the Leaky Cauldron to your left and Weasley Wizard Wheezes on your right. Straight ahead will be Gringotts Bank; just look for the dragon, it’s hard to miss. Depending on how he is feeling that day, the dragon may or may not be sending a plume of flames onto the streets below every 10-15 minutes, just for funsies. Head down the way to your right and find yourself in the right place for a tasty brew or a sweet treat or two, even though it’s still no Honeydukes. Watch out for the fountain though; sometimes it likes to spit at passersby. Talk about resting bitch-face, right? Okay, now I have to warn you about something. Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour is super dangerous. We tried the Earl Grey & Lavender ice cream the first day, and we had to go back every single day we were there. We even got one to eat as we were walking out of the park. I feel like no other ice cream is ever going to be as good. Seriously, I have three pints in the freezer right now, and when I see them, it’s like “why bother?”
Also dangerous, and not pictured, are the damn Pygmy Puffs. Those fluffy balls of pink or purple made the cutest little coo-ing noises, and Andy had to physically make me leave the store because I was getting upset about not being able to take them all home. What if I picked the wrong one? What if one of them was broken and couldn’t find a loving home? I couldn’t pick between the colors, that would be racist (puffist?). It was a thing. It shouldn’t have been, and looking back now I don’t even understand what happened, but standing in the pet store, I seriously almost cried over a stuffed animal. Something I missed on my first trip last year was Eternelle’s Elixirs. This stand offers chilled Pumpkin Juice, Gilly Water, and a quartet of delightful elixirs you can infuse your drinks with (I’d stick to the Gilly Water for the base since the Pumpkin Juice doesn’t mix well). I chose the elixir to induce Euphoria, I mean it is vacation after all, and my mom opted for the Fire Protection Potion, something to do with avoiding sunburns I think. Both were highly concentrated, so we only needed have an elixir each. I was only mildly impressed, but my mom went back the following day to procure two more to take home as souvenirs. We did nip down and around to Knockturn Alley to get out of the sun for a bit, but lighting is a bit dodgy and not at all conducive to photo taking. Our last big stop was Gringotts bank; we briefly considered exchanging some of our muggle money for wizarding coins (seriously, there is a set you can buy), but we ultimately decided that dollars and cents would be an easier way to pay for things once we were back in the park.
As most of you know, I celebrated turning thirty last year by taking my very first trip to Universal/Islands of Adventure. As you’d imagine, I had an absolute blast. So much so that I knew I had to take my mom there ASAP. It took me a year to get things figured out and set up, but by the end of last month, my mom was in Florida and we were loaded up and heading to Orlando. We spent two and a half days running around from park to park, so for the sake of not completely oversharing in a single post, I’m highlighting what were her favorite parts of the parks in two posts. First up is Hogsmeade.
If you get the opportunity, you should absolutely take advantage of the “magic hour.” Hogsmeade is the most popular thing at Islands of Adventure, and later in the day the lines are maddening. However, during that hour, you can literally walk on to any ride available. Plus, the lines for the shops and the pub are much more manageable. As Andy and I are now seasoned pros at this whole theme park thing (insert eye roll), we decided the very first thing we needed to do was procure a wand for my mother. We went to Olivanders, watched the sorting ceremony (with plenty of elbow room since the “show” was only half full), and then ducked in next door so she could make her selection. In my opinion the interactive wands, while a bit pricey, are the hands down best souvenir you can buy if you are a Harry Potter fan. Not only does it look spiffy on display when you get home, you can use it to cast “spells” at dozens of locations in Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. It takes the world immersion to a whole new level and is fun for any age. We also took advantage of the smaller crowds and headed to the Three Broomsticks for breakfast after the business with the wand was squared away. I highly recommend the Traditional Breakfast (full English breakfast). While it might seem a bit strange at first, we thoroughly enjoyed it, and for you meat-a-vors, it has three different types of breakfast meat. Andy and my mothers generously split mine and compensated me with some fresh fruit and additional sautéed mushrooms. Andy went nuts for the ham, which he said tasted more like a “flat pork chop” than the salty variety we’re more familiar with. Don’t rush this part of the park; the world building is incredible, and there are so many cool things to discover if you take the time. Peer into shop windows and down alley ways; one of the best views of the castle is on the back porch of the Three Broomsticks, and both times we went out there, we were alone. Honeydukes is another must see for this area. It’s a great place to find unusual sweet for yourself as well as anyone back home. We always make sure to pick up a chocolate frog and another story themed treat to try out. Something else I’d like to note is how many of the rides have walk through options. My mother and I both get motion sick very easily so we can’t always do a lot of the larger park rides, but with the way Hogsmeade is set up, we were able to use a whole other “line” and walked through at our leisure. Then we just stepped out a side door and headed into the inevitable gift shop at the end of the ride.
Hogsmeade is solidly my second favorite place to hang out in the Islands of Adventure/Universal Studios parks. Next up with be my absolute favorite, Diagon Alley.
As I mentioned in my previous post, although our Orlando trip was technically a “Universal/Islands of Adventure” trip, we did manage to squeeze in a quick visit to Disney Springs on Thursday night. 1 – because I love Disney Springs and 2 – because my mom hadn’t been there since it was Downtown Disney. #2 was basically an excuse for me to indulge in #1.
One of the things that had to happen was Andy & my mom experiencing the delight and sheer wonder of the the Sprinkles Cupcake ATM. Although they missed the best part because they turned around to excitedly tell me it was working and missed the whole camera to the cupcake robot part of the transaction. *Sigh* It wasn’t disappointing enough to buy another $6 cupcake though. There really should have been an in between shot with the actual cupcake, but it seems when you put a single cupcake in front of three starving adults it doesn’t last long…… And of course we had to make sure we picked up some candy from The Ganachery “for later.” If you get the chance, do yourself a favor and try the Dark Chocolate & Orange and the Dark Chocolate & Pistachio. You’re welcome.
Even though we were there for several hours, there was a ton we didn’t see, and we just quickly ran through a lot like the Undersea Bar at T-Rex. And then spent way to much time in others like the new fascinator/corsage area in the Co-Op (completely my fault). I’ve also new decided that I need a large bow hat with feathers. I’d wear it to afternoon tea and the grocery store. You know, the important things. I’ll do a full post on our vacation dining choices later, but the chandelier at Frontera Cocina was too good not to share. It reminded me of all the lanterns they released in Tangled. We wrapped up the evening with a visit to Amorette’s Patisserie to procure some pretentious pastries, also for “later”, and to admire the prep work the the pastry chefs were already undertaking to garnish the desserts for the next day. I found out that they offer (for a fee of course) a class where you can learn some decorating techniques and walk away with your own Mickey butt cake. I’ll need to do a bit more research, but I might have to try it the next time we visit.