Sunday, June 27, 2010

Harry Potter Florida!!!

We just got back from Universal Orlando where the new Harry Potter exhibit opened last week - all I can say is if you are a HP fan (and frankly even if you're will become one while you're there!) - you will be blown away (as we found out - figuratively and literally)!! Make a point of getting there - it is that cool and that unbelievable!!! The exhibit is so incredibly true to the books and the movies that you feel like you are stepping back in time and space to the hinterlands of England, to a world inhabited by magical witches and wizards in flowing cloaks and pointy hats, singing frogs, flying dragons and bowing hipppogriffs, owls that bring mail, and all other kinds of things you can't explain but can only appreciate. Take it all in as I try and bring you along on a magical mystery ride through Hogwarts and Hogsmeade....

As you enter the park at the City Walk, your first sight of the Hogwarts castle is breathtaking - it is perched atop towering rocks across a still lake visible through a strategically placed clearing (the only thing weird are the palm trees in the foreground - all HP fans know the castle is situated in cold northern climes!)
Hogwarts Castle from the Park Entrance
As we (and thousands of our newest bestest buddies) made our way around the park to the HP exhibit, the excitement continued to build - everyone around us sported the crimson and gold of Gryffindor, the green of Slytherin or other HP attire (we were seriously underdressed - although given the heat, I was seriously questioning some of those in Hogwarts colored scarves!!) We passed through Toon Town (complete with the Incredible Hulk roller coaster (can you say not in a million years!)) and Jurassic Park.....and then we were on the bridge with Hogsmeade laid out before us - the slanted roofs of the stone Hogsmeade village were even covered in snow. TOO KEWL!!
The Bridge into Hogsmeade
The Archway into Hogsmeade
As you pass through the stone arch, you can bear left towards the castle or right into the town of Hogsmeade. The castle is amazingly imposing with it's stone hog gargoyles guarding the gates to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry so of course it was there that we went first - to experience the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride.
The Castle
The Guardians of Hogwarts
Before we got to the castle though we were serenaded by the Hogwarts' frog choir and regaled by the Flight of the Hippogriff roller coaster.
The Frog Choir
Entrance to the Castle
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

Your entry into the castle is in the dungeons where you experience the dark, dank, drafty stone corridors that are home to the potions classroom where Snape tormented Harry for so many years.
Entering the Dungeon
Potions Classroom
You see the mirror of erised, various gargoyles and the kitchens where Dobby labored as a free elf once Harry rid him of the Malfoy family! You emerge from the dungeons into Professor Sprout's green house (which is all part of the waiting line - but once you reach the castle, the line moves pretty well) - you see the mandrake plants that played such a role (once their acne cleared up) in the Chamber of Secrets as well as other plants maybe only Neville could name.
The Mandrakes
When you finally enter the castle proper, immediately inside the door is a statue of Albus Dumbledore, the greatest wizard of all time,
Statue of Albus Dumbledore
followed by the columns registering the score in the house cup (Gryffindor is ahead!!).
Gryffindor Winning the House Cup
Ahead of you is the phoenix that guards the stairs to Dumbledore's office
Entrance to Dumbledore's Office
- we mentioned the password (which is lemon drops or fizzing whizzbies - depends on Dumbledore's mood) and we were allowed to enter his office where we saw the portraits of all the former headmasters (the pictures even move and talk!! Salazar Slytherin and Godric Gryffindor argue over muggle borns and half-bloods!!)
Talking Headmasters
Dumbledore greets you as you wander past Fawkes and his gadgets including the pensieve!!
Dumbledore's Office
Next it is on to the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom where Harry, Hermione and Ron greet you
Defense Against the Dark Arts Classroom
- seriously weird stuff is strewn around the room - just as you pictured it in your mind!!
Dark Arts Stuff
Dark Arts Skeleton
You pass the portrait of the fat lady
The Fat Lady Outside Gryffindor's Common Room
and the sorting hat which warns you of the terrors of the upcoming ride
The Sorting Hat
and then it's time to strap everything down, buckle up, and hang on tight for the ride of your life!!!!!

There are no pictures of the ride itself because, let's be real, you are moving so fast and half the time you are upside down or spinning around being scared out of your mind by huge spiders that spit liquid at your face, dragons that breath hot fire at you (OK not real fire but it's amazingly lifelike in that it's hot smoke!), towering black dementors that exude cold air and try to suck your soul out your mouth, a giant basilisk that stares at you from huge red eyes, and a whumping willow that aims for your head - all while swooping steeply up, over, around, down and through the castle, playing quidditch while followed by a rogue bludger, and following Harry down through the Chamber of Secrets that is collapsing.....getting it yet?? You are flying along with Harry, Ron and Hermione on a broomstick ride through their seven years at Hogwarts!!!! One ride is just not enough to take it all in - especially since for half the ride, your eyes are closed (especially if you are a wee bit nervous about heights...not mentioning anyone by name!) WOW!!!!

I don't know about you, but I'm thirsty just reliving it - think how we must have felt having lived the real thing!! Off to Hogsmeade we went in search of the Hogs Head tavern - we needed real beer not just pumpkin juice or butterbeer!! Passing Ollivander's wand shop, Dervish and Banges and the Owl Post,
The Owl Post
we spied the Hogs Head up a bit from the Three Broomsticks.
The Hogs Head Pub
Inside the Hogs Head Pub
A couple Hogs Head ales sitting out on the terrace overlooking the castle in Hogsmeade was the perfect thing
Beers at the Hogs Head
The Three Broomsticks
to get our courage up enough to try the Dragon Challenge roller coaster ride - are you kidding me????
The Entrance to the Dragon Challenge
Well - we did it (and no one hurled!!) As Triwizard champions
A Triwizard Champion
we passed the magical Weasley muggle car,
The Weasley's Magical Car
signs for the Hungarian Horntail and Chinese Fireball we would face and prepared to compete -
The Dragons
I'll let the ride picture speak for itself (obviously that's not us but it's the ride we went on - once!!!)
The Dragon Challenge Ride
Feeling more than a little queasy (although very proud of ourselves), we stumbled over to Honeydukes sweet shop - it just wasn't the same without Bob and Stephanie.
Inside Honeydukes
They would have been in heaven with all the chocolate frogs and Bertie Bott's every flavor beans (no, we didn't find any boogie or vomit flavored ones although we ran into a couple people who had!!)
Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans
Now that's a candy store!!! Right next door was Zonko's joke shop - but we couldn't find any extendable ears or Peruvian black out powder - cool nevertheless although we're sure Fred and George's soon to be opened joke shop will rule!!!

Finally needing a little easier ride, we headed back through Hogsmeade
sampling the butterbeer along the way as we passed the Hogwarts Express
The Hogwarts Express
- believe it or not, butterbeer just may be better than beer (did I actually write that - or even think it??) Butterbeer is THE nectar of the gods or at least the absolute best thing that magical witches and wizards could invent!!! Part cream soda, part caramel slushy, part whole fat whipped cream, you can get it cold or frozen - we of course had to sample both!!! Then it was on to the Flight of the Hippogriff
The Flight of the Hippogriff
where we passed Hagrid's home
Hagrid's House
and bowed to Buckbeak.
After two hair-raising rides, this one was just plain fun!! Well hopefully I've brought the wizarding world of Harry Potter to life for you a little - you really need to see it to believe it though. We planned on heading back the next day to once again ride the Forbidden Journey - this time maybe with our eyes open!!

But the day was not done - we had to work our way back to the park entrance so we figured we might as well take advantage of the rides along the way. It being hotter than Hades in the park, we chose to partake of many of the water rides. First the Jurassic Park river ride where we battled stegasaurus, raptors and the iconic T-Rex chased us over the falls for a dramatic (and very wet) plunge down into the river. Next it was on to Popeye and Bluto's Bilge Rat Barges ride - they warn you about getting wet, but not enough!!
Bluto's Bilge-Rat Barges
The Ride
We could not have been wetter at the end of the ride, had we jumped in and swam back to the park entrance - not that it wasn't tons of fun and not that it didn't feel good enough for us to turn around and do it again!!!!!
A Drowned Bilge Rat
Sopping wet we passed up the rides in Toon Town for happy hour at the Lone Palm Airport, part of Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville - his plane the Hemisphere Dancer is part of the scenery! What a day!!!!
Hemisphere Dancer at Lone Palm Airport

Back to the park bright and early the next morning we made a beeline for HP and the Forbidden Journey - what an unbelievably cool ride (even better when your eyes are open - although the spitting spiders still freak you out!!) There is so much going on in the castle and the ride that you see new stuff each time (yes we went back the third morning for yet another go - it's really that cool!!!!) More Hogs Head ale, butterbeer, etc - you get the picture!!!
Got Butterbeer?
This time though we were treated to the march of the Triwizard Champions from Durmstrang and Beaux Batons - each decked out in full costume performing their school routines. Fleur and Viktor Krum never looked so good!!!
Durmstrang and Beaux Batons
Beaux Batons
We decided to forego the wettest of the rides the second day as we wanted to watch the US world cup match - OUCH!!!

Anyways - no need to bore you with the rest of our rides, snacks, etc but suffice it to say that Universal and Island of Adventure are two seriously cool parks. We have FL resident annual passes so I see many return trips to Hogwarts and Hogsmeade in our future - whenever we need a HP or thrill fix!! At our new home in Aventura, we're 3 1/2 hours to Orlando and 3 1/2 hours to Key West - decisions, decisions, decisions...... Time for me to sign off as I have an overwhelming urge to re-read all the HP books - Sorcerer's Stone here I come!!!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Aventura - Our New Home

I know, I know - a blog is seriously overdue!! We are safely ensconced in our new home at Turnberry Isle Marina - Gypsies is tied up in her cement dock cocoon and Bootsie is a very happy girl since the boat no longer rocks and rolls with the Biscayne Bay winds and chop. In fact we are so well protected that we barely move at all - while we miss some of that sea breeze which used to cool things off in Coco Grove, we do have the pool to cool off in here - point to Turnberry! We are fairly comfortable that we can ride out a hurricane if we have to - let's all hope and pray we don't have to!!!

Life used to be so simple when we were cruising - at least we had it down pat after a couple years on the water. When we wanted to go somewhere, we just threw off the lines and went - no muss, no fuss. Not so anymore - when we wanted to leave Dinner Key Marina we had to figure out what to do with the new car (not just load the scooters on the boat which we had already figured out in KW but which is still a real pain!) - no now a car was involved! So after trying to figure out the public transportation situation between Aventura and Coconut Grove which we determined was abysmal (4 buses were necessary), we decided that Doug would single hand Gypsies while I got stuck motoring the car up to our new home. Doug has only cruised on Gypsies once without me and that was only across the Chesapeake Bay from Rock Hall to Baltimore (a pretty easy straight stretch) when I had flown to MA for a visit and Mother Nature had prevented our move of the boat while I was still there. Can I tell you how weird it was for me to throw off Gypsies' lines but stay on the dock??? I watched her cruise out of the marina and into Biscayne Bay until I couldn't see her any longer - despite knowing we'd be reunited in a couple hours, it was very strange - there was our home, with Doug and the Bootser, leaving me behind....way weird!
Doug Took Gypsies Out the Port of Miami and Back in Bakers Haulover Inlet
It Was a Busy Day Out on the Water
Gypsies Approaches the Turn into Turnberry Isle Marina
Gypsies Approaches Her Slip

Driving in traffic is something I definitely didn't miss while we were out cruising but just another thing we are having to get used to again in our return to the real world! After a 30 mile trip up the macadam highway (which took me 1/2 an hour but which took Gypsies several hours, time I spent lolling by the pool), I met up with Gypsies by jumping aboard at the fuel dock - with no current and not a lot of wind, Gypsies easily slid into her new home slip with the help of a great dock hand. I must say that all of the people here at Turnberry have been fantastic - incredibly welcoming, friendly, helpful and they know how to run a marina (how refreshing after our KW experience!!!)

The past couple weeks we have spent acclimating ourselves to our new home - we have liberally taken advantage of the pool which is rarely inhabited by more than a couple people at a time and we have gotten our bearings by finding the local Home Depot, West Marine, the grocery stores, Walgreens, the library, the mall and most importantly good Chinese food!! And of course we have taken advantage of the beach club which is amazing - gorgeous long stretch of sandy beach with beach loungers, towels, umbrellas and crystal clear water that is actually warm enough to enjoy (much more like the Bahamas than Maine)!! Think we're going to like it here!!
The Beach and Water View from Our Beach Chairs
The Beach
Doug Relaxes on the Beach
There is also a great 3 mile long exercise path that rings the golf course here - it is a wonderful spot for people watching as it sports bikers, walkers, runners and rollerbladers (we're getting ours out next visit to the pod for sure!) but also to see some fun wildlife. The same weird and ugly ducks that populate KW are up here - maybe it's FL that creates these mutant ducks!! But they sure do love the golf course - they are everywhere!!
The Mutant Ducks
The Mutant Ducks Walk Across the Green
The coolest sight on my first walk was a real live flamingo - not being from down here, I don't think I've ever seen a real one - way too many plastic ones in people's driveways or yards (what is up with that really??), but a real one - nope. Cross that off my list - they are very cool! Beautiful and graceful - even when cleaning themselves - check out the pics!!!

Our second weekend here was our first road trip - yippee!! September Song was back from the Bahamas and in Fort Pierce. Did you really think we'd miss out on seeing Stephanie, Bob, Cassie and Godiva??? Guess the car isn't such a bad thing since we didn't have time to take Gypsies all the way up to Ft Pierce (going 7 knots when you have time constraints can be a problem! funny how it never was when we were cruising!) Anyways....we had a great reunion!! We were welcomed by Cassie and Godiva on the dock - big hugs all around! Their grand-daughter Brianne is traveling with them so we had the added bonus of being able to hang out with her as well. Drinks and apps up on the flybridge to try and catch up were followed by a great dinner of wings and coldies up at the tiki bar!!! Just like the old days!!!
Cocktails and Apps on the Flybridge
Dinner at the Tiki Bar
The gang was all back together even if just for one night - have we always laughed like that - yup!!
And We Laughed and Laughed...
The next morning we woke up to the best farmers market ever - Bob was all but salivating at the thought of all the warm baked goodies awaiting him!!
The Farmers Market
Last summer when we cruised with SS we had discovered this same farmers market and had been dreaming about it - we weren't disappointed!! After scoping out all the offerings (and after Bob had scored his first chocolate something!),
Bob's First Chocolate Something!
we munched on breakfast while the sun shone brightly and the band played its Latin rhythms. Life is good! The farmers market is always a great place for people watching (or in this case dog watching - is that really a dog or is it a pony??)
and the vendors all have such a sense of humor - witness a few of these signs.

Next it was on for a quick provisioning trip - although cruisers are pretty self reliant and walk with backpacks to get most things, when a car is available, you take advantage of it!!! Even provisioning can be fun when you're with friends!! We hung out for awhile up on the flybridge because none of us wanted to say goodbye again - way too short of a visit!!! From the flybridge we had a great view of the boats coming in and out of the marina - it was Saturday so we saw boats with palm trees,
boats filled with grass skirted, coconut bra wearing parrotheads (no not us) and fishing charters filled with wanna be anglers!! But too soon we had to trek home to feed the Bootser - when you get to be a 24 year old cat, you deserve to be waited on and even spoiled and September Song was leaving the next morning for points north!! Before saying goodbye, we all promised to figure out a reunion sometime this summer halfway between Aventura and Georgia where Bob and Steph will be - whenever and wherever it is, it will be fun - you can count on that! Thanks guys for such a great time .... as always!!!

Back on the home front, Doug and I have both been busy networking our you know what's off - Doug in his new role at Tatum and me to get my butt back to work. Once you make the decision to head back to work, you want to just jump right back in - unfortunately it doesn't happen like that but hopefully something will shake out. A really fun part about the past week has been re-connecting with so many old friends and clients - the best email I got to a linked in connection request was "holy *#@! - where the hell are you?" WE'RE BAAAAACK........