How many photos of Hogwarts have you taken?? - June 8-11 TR

Discussion in 'Universal Studios Trip Reports' started by nouvellefleur, Jun 18, 2017.

  1. nouvellefleur

    nouvellefleur Earning My Ears

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    So we’ve just returned from a 4 day trip to Universal Orlando and I thought I’d try my hand at a first-timer’s trip report. :)

    Here’s the rundown:

    Park Dates: June 8-11 (Thursday-Sunday)
    Onsite Hotel: Cabana Bay Beach Resort
    Express Pass: Nope!
    Focus: Harry Potter
    The People: me, K, C, and R (and J, in spirit), all in our early to mid 30s and die-hard Harry Potter fans


    It all started years ago when K said she wanted the gang to get back together and meet up in Orlando to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter for her 30th birthday. We all went to college together but now we’re spread across several states from the Midwest to the East Coast, with some husbands and babies in the mix. Between jobs and the aforementioned babies, it took us a few years to get everything planned but at last everything was set - June 2017 was going to finally be The Year We Went To Hogwarts.

    Well, then my sister J got pregnant (a dearly wished for near-miracle, thank you Science) and had to drop out. We were down to four, but, with her blessing, we pressed on.

    I did a ton of research for the trip. So. Much. Google. My preferred MO for a vacation is to do as much research as possible before leaving and soak my brain full with preferences, tips, hints, tricks, and Must Dos. But I don’t do itineraries. I let the minutiae percolate in the background, go with the flow and let the day unfold. Then, e.g., if it’s lunchtime and we’re wondering where to eat, I can pull out some options from the percolator and submit them for consideration. It’s a little weird to try to describe, but I’ve learned that it’s the best way for me to balance over-planning vs under-planning, knowing where the good places to eat are vs staying spontaneous. It does mean that I obsess about a trip before I actually go, however.

    In any case, I've totally messed this TR up from the start by somehow accidentally posting with like half a title. So just in case we're stuck with this situation - here we go!

    When you get invited on a Harry Potter vacation with me, you get a notification via the Owl Post Forwarding Service.

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    Last edited: Jun 19, 2017
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  2. nouvellefleur

    nouvellefleur Earning My Ears

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    Editing ninja-like as I've now learned how to edit things on Disboards. It's almost like I'm a technologically competent adult...


    Wednesday June 7th - Travel Day


    The four of us were flying in from all across the country and meeting in Orlando, but we managed to get our flights to mostly line up with arrivals ranging from 5pm to 7pm. I actually connected with friend C in Minneapolis, as our flights had coincidentally aligned from that point on. It took us nearly 30 minutes to find each other in MSP, but we finally managed to connect and celebrated with an 11am prosecco and cheeseboard like the terribly classy adults that we are.

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    A thunderstorm in Orlando delayed our flight by around an hour, so we then decided to continue our celebrations with more prosecco... and french fries.

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    The thunderstorm in Orlando delayed everyone else too, so I wasn’t too fussed which is really a nice change from my usual travel mentality. The prosecco may have helped with that. We all managed to arrive in Orlando within 45 minutes of each other. We convened at the luggage carousel, sorted out the over-packers (*raises hand sadly*) from the light packers, and called for the airport shuttle.

    We were trying to plan this trip on as much of a budget as possible, so we decided to grab a $100/night airport-adjacent hotel on our first night. I used booking.com to reserve a queen suite at the Comfort Suites Orlando Airport.

    I only mention the website because after making the reservation, I heard several horror anecdotes from travelers who used Booking.com to book a one night hotel stay (like us, for airport access purposes before or after a theme park or cruise vacation); when they arrived, the hotel claimed that the reservation had been canceled or the hotel was overbooked, that even though the traveler had called to confirm the reservation it didn’t matter, they were totally screwed and had nowhere to stay.

    These horror anecdotes made me a little nervous, especially when the travelers swore on a stack of bibles that they’d done everything right, including calling and confirming the reservation.

    Well, all I can say is, I had no troubles at all. The front desk checked us in with a smile. The Comfort Suites Orlando Airport was reasonably clean, reasonably updated, and in a good location. The airport shuttle arrived in under 30 minutes with a driver who was pleasant and drove safely. The queen suite had two very comfortable queen beds and a sofa bed. The water pressure in the shower was pretty dreadful (we were on the 5th floor), but the room was spacious. All in all, I would recommend this for a single night pre- or post-vacation stay - if you're okay with ordering delivery, you have a car to drive 1-2 miles to a restaurant, or you're okay with taking an Uber/taxi 1-2 miles to a restaurant. There's no food in the immediate walking vicinity.

    We woke up absurdly early, grabbed some bagels at the free breakfast station (which, like most free hotel breakfasts is nothing to write home about, but if you stick with a bagel and an apple at least you won’t leave hungry), and requested an Uber to take us to Cabana Bay.

    Next Up: Hitting the Parks!
     
    Last edited: Jun 18, 2017
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  4. schumigirl

    schumigirl It's a bit of a roodie doodie word for lady parts

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    You had me at Prosecco.........:D

    Sounds an excellent trip.......looking forward to reading along with you......
     
  5. johnsonet

    johnsonet DIS Veteran

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    Prosecco and fries ::yes::
    Looking forward to reading more.
     
  6. nouvellefleur

    nouvellefleur Earning My Ears

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    Thursday June 8th - First Park Day

    Our Uber got us to Cabana Bay bright and early. Since not everyone overpacked like me and R, our accidental ordering of a normal size Uber vs an Uber XL was not a totally dreadful mistake. But it was still pretty tight. Four people plus luggage really calls for the UberXL.

    Upon checking in to CBBR at around 7am, we were all pleasantly surprised that our room was already available and we didn’t need to utilize the luggage services. Yay! I didn't take a lot of photos of the resort and no photos of the room since they're pretty well documented out there. But here's a photo from our first night while hanging at the pool:

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    As per the internet’s suggestions, we had reserved a Courtyard Suite and requested the Castaway building for its prime location (we were under the delusion that we might utilize the garden walkway from CBBR to CityWalk… spoiler alert: that was overly ambitious). We wound up in Thunderbird on the 2nd floor which worked out fabulously.

    Our view was of the parking lot, with a few glimpses of the backsides of buildings and rides. Room 2219 isn’t high up enough or to the left enough to get a view of Hogwarts, but I really appreciated the 2nd floor location - we only needed to use the elevator when moving our luggage around. The walk to and from the Bayliner Diner and the shuttle buses felt like it took forever when we were tired, but I timed it one night and it was only five minutes which, really, that’s not so bad, just suck it up.

    There’s a lot of Courtyard suite reviews out there, but here’s my two cents:

    It was pretty much perfect for us. The soundproofing was overall excellent. I really liked that the Do Not Disturb sign was a magnet (such a cute touch). We didn’t utilize the fridge and microwave as much as we thought we would, but they were nice to have. I did wish that the toilet and shower rooms would have had fans however, and that the mirror in the sink area was larger. We all managed to get ready in a relatively timely manner in the mornings, but there was quite a lot of maneuvering for mirror space.

    In college, the four of us lived with each other in dorm rooms and while studying abroad in London in a variety of different roommate combinations. We didn’t kill each other then but of course there was some young adult strife. As adults, with that experience under our collective belt, I think we all went in a little nervous and were all really happy at how well we were able to cohabit and function on our first big group, single hotel room vacation.

    We pretty much threw our stuff into the room, reminded each other about sunglasses, ponchos, water bottles, and room keys - and then we pretty much flew to the shuttles, through CityWalk, and into our dreams: Hogsmeade at Islands of Adventure!

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    Early Entry was at Islands of Adventure the entire length of our stay. It would have been more convenient if it was both parks - we ended up riding the Hogwarts Express from Hogsmeade to Diagon Alley roughly 800 times - but EE at both parks would have implied a higher expected crowd level, so ah well.

    I don’t know if words can really explain my feeling of walking into Hogsmeade for the first time, let alone seeing Hogwarts for the first time. I took over 400 photos in four days, not to mention 20-odd videos (primarily for my absent sister who was home with her newborn, my first nephew), most of them in Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. I didn’t cry, but I can’t deny that my voice caught several times as I was narrating some of those videos.

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    We spent all morning in Hogsmeade, riding Forbidden Journey (survived by the grace of scopolamine), Flight of the Hippogriff (loved, idc if it is a kids coaster), and Dragon Challenge (Chinese Fireball side). We popped into the Ollivander’s line and waited barely 15 minutes - and of course the show was delightful. We were so bright eyed and bushy tailed, it was so amazing how much we got done this first morning.

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    I also took the opportunity to send my new nephew his first postcard via Owl Post:

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    We had a very early lunch / second breakfast at 10:45 at the Three Broomsticks. I believe all of us got the Cornish pasties, haha. They certainly weren’t like any Cornish pasty I’ve ever had before (and I’ve lived in both London and Edinburgh for a short time, so I've had a few), but they were very tasty and a very nice light but filling option. I love food and reading food reviews and writing food reviews... but most of the time I don't remember to take a picture of my meal until after I've already taken a bite or two...

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    We spent much of the afternoon in Diagon Alley exploring, taking pictures, and riding Gringotts. It was raining steadily by this time.

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    We went back to Cabana Bay for naps at 2pm and had an early dinner/late lunch at around 4pm - the bacon cheeseburger with fries was acceptable though a bit on the bland side. Eating at CBBR at 4pm was great - it was practically empty and the lines went so fast. We ate at more “normal” times after today and the lines could get quite long at peak dinner hour.

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    We went back to Universal Studios, puttered around Diagon Alley some more and took about a thousand more pictures because the sun was out. We rode Men in Black on our way out. I loved walking through Springfield but none of us really grew up with it and none of us were that excited by the rides, so we mostly just walked through on our way in and out of the park.

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    We wanted to try something different, so we took the ferry boat to Sapphire Falls and then the garden path to CBBR. It was honestly very hard to find the garden path from SF to CBBR, even though I thought I’d researched it well before leaving. Some of our party were a bit less enthused about being “lost” than others... Finally back at CBBR (and it didn't take that long), we (well, three out of four of us) had a drink by the pool and some french fries. I can’t handle sweet cocktails when it’s hot out but the bartender made me a very nice highball. We got into bed around 11pm and immediately passed out.
     
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  7. warriorping

    warriorping Always Believe

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    Sounds like you are having a blast so far!
     
  8. nouvellefleur

    nouvellefleur Earning My Ears

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    Friday June 9th

    Since we had booked Universal’s Harry Potter vacation package, we had a Shutterbutton’s studio appointment planned for this morning. We knew that between the heat, humidity, and chances of rain, it would be best to make our appointment earlier rather than later so we scheduled for 9:30am.

    I don’t consider myself an early bird by any means, but apparently I’m more of an early bird than some of my friends when it comes to vacation days haha. I staggered out of bed, got dressed, and we made coffee… well, sort of. The room coffee at CBBR is not fantastic and, horror of horrors, they only provide powdered creamer. But I choked it down and chivvied everyone downstairs to the Bayliner for breakfast.

    I think we all got the bacon egg & cheese croissant sandwiches. We did a lot of twinning when it came to meal ordering. The croissants were a little greasy and a little bland but good value for the price and they didn’t sit too heavily in the flatout incredible heat and humidity.

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    We hit Early Entry right about as it opened, security was a breeze, the ticket turnstiles were a breeze, everything was a breeze. We never made it to the parks early enough to have to stand around waiting to get into EE, but Hogsmeade was never horrifically crowded during the EE hours and we started caring less and less about making the most of EE as the trip went on and we got more and more tired and footsore.

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    Hilariously, all four of us had curled or straightened our hair this morning, hoping it would stay attractive until 9:30. I knew I was fighting a losing battle by the time we got off the shuttles. So we said screw it, rode the Hippogriff twice and the Dragon Challenge once, and then took the Hogwarts Express over to Diagon Alley to see the nice wizards at Shutterbuttons.

    Shutterbuttons was so much fun. Our photographer’s camera was giving him some grief, and K had accidentally worn a green shirt - but luckily it was the wrong shade of green, so everything turned out okay and she wasn’t just a floating head. The purchasing options were very confusing. I’m still not entirely sure how they work. All I can say for certain is that our Shutterbuttons session booked through the Universal HP package did indeed come with one “free” copy of the dvd. We also bought a single copy each of our wizarding duel photos, which I believe were $20 each?

    We took the Hogwarts Express back to IoA, knowing that you must take the train both ways and hoping we might be able to get into the Raptor Encounter this afternoon. The Raptor Encounter line was insaaaaaaane so we had lunch instead - gyros and kebabs at the Fire Eater’s Grill and Doc Sugrue’s Kebab House. I love a gyro, and this was a pretty decent one considering it came from a theme park. It really needed some hot sauce though and I hadn't thought to pack any.

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    Our collective feet hurt so bad by this point and it was very hot and sunny, so we went back to CBBR and spent the rest of the afternoon at the lazy river. The Hideaway Bar wasn’t as well set up as the Atomic Tonic, I think. The Atomic Tonic had a nice “Order Here” sign which kept everything nice and orderly. The Hideaway Bar embraced the typical “everyone crowd around the bar and try to catch the dude’s eye” method.

    We gave into the inevitable and bought inner tubes. $9 for the tire-like tube, sigh. I’d thought about bringing a tube, but the prices for a tube out here in New York weren’t that different than the resort price and I was already overpacked. The lazy river is quite nice… as long as it’s not currently dominated by horseplaying children. I have nothing against kids, but I did get kicked a few times towards the end when the lazy river was pretty much bumper-to-bumper with tubes.

    Since we spent our nap time in the pool today and everyone was still tired and getting very hungry, we decided not to worry too much about getting back to the park and instead get a little dressed up and go have a nice dinner on the CityWalk. I hopefully asked everyone if Cowfish sounded good, and yesssss it was unanimous - we were going to eat at the one place I really wanted to try.

    We got to Cowfish at 6pm and there was no wait. Certain of our party were getting that hangry look behind the eyes, so that was perfect. We ordered some cocktails - I got the Buffalos & Bacon which was good, though a little on the sweet side. I saved the candied bacon for my “dessert” haha which worked out so well.

    We got the crab rangoon dip for an appetizer which was excellent. Everyone loved it. The fried wontons were warm and only lightly greasy. The light drizzle of the sweet plum sauce was perfect.

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    For entrees, I couldn’t decide so K and I decided to split a fusion roll (Mark’s roll) and a burgushi roll (Taste Explosion roll), while C got the sashimi and the King’s roll, and R got a bento box. As far as freshness and flavor went, everything was delicious. C is a bit of a foodie and approved of the quality of the sashimi. The only downside to Cowfish’s rolls is that their rolling technique leaves something to be desired.The rolls had a tendency to fall apart when you tried to pick them up, and most of the rolls were far too large to eat in a single bite so then they’d fall apart when you tried to bite them in half. It was delicious and I’d definitely go again, but I wish the rolls were a bit more tightly constructed. I hoped to go back and try one of their burgers but sadly never got the chance.

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    It was about 7pm when we finished so we moseyed over to IOA and the Hog’s Head. We had a pint of the Dragon Scale (quite nice) and took a bunch of pics in front of Hogwarts in the beautiful sunset light.

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    Another day fading, we realized with dismay that we only had two more days of vacation.
     
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  9. macraven

    macraven Proud Redhead Moderator

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    I'm reading along on this adventure

    Sounds like you all were having fun!
     
  10. Kivara

    Kivara DIS Veteran

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    I'm loving your trip report! It's a shame your sister missed out on the trip, but what an amazing reason to miss out...BIG congrats to her!

    I loved Cowfish as well (and had the same problem with my roll falling apart...I almost resorted to using a spoon...GASP!)

    Sounds like you guys are a fun group...can't wait to read more!
     
  11. SonyaShay

    SonyaShay Mouseketeer

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    joining in. can't wait to read the rest.
     

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