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General Travel, Road Trips, Theme Parks

Plan for Spontaneity

Nothing kills a vacation quite like over-planning. Yes, you just heard that from a vacation planner. If you plan every moment, you will likely feel pressured to move quickly from one event to another. While some people love a fast-paced, well thought out day-of-fun, that perfect plan can make you forget that this IS a vacation and leave you feeling like the little girl below. Yes, that’s my little girl.

Some of my family’s favorite vacation memories came from impromptu adventures during some down time. This is especially true at Disney, where Imagineers have designed every square inch of the property to excite, entertain, and impress park and resort guests. A few years ago, my daughter and I decided to see if we could get in to Be Our Guest at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom without a reservation. We must have had a fairy godmother that night, because we achieved the impossible by scoring a last minute table. After we enjoyed the delicious dessert and took in the glamour of the restaurant, we went for a night stroll through the Beauty and the Beast inspired area. To our surprise, we were greeted by none other than the tall, handsome, and somewhat rude, Gaston. He spoke with us for a few moments, mostly about himself, and then my daughter Alyson posed for a picture with him. If we had planned our vacation down to every second, without allowing ourselves time to “taste the gray stuff” (which we have ALL heard is very delicious) we would have missed out on this magical evening!


On another trip to Orlando, Alyson and I took a day to explore Universal Studios. While making our way to the Harry Potter section of the park, we ran into the notorious Green Goblin. We took the time to have a stare down before we slipped off to the Three Broomsticks for a Butterbeer.


No matter how fun planning is, nothing can replace the special surprises or happy mishaps that can appear during your vacation. The next time you take a trip with the people you love, plan for some spontaneity!

General Travel, Shopping, Theme Parks

Don’t Believe Me? Ask the Dishes!

There are two things I need to share with you: 1) I’m a southern girl from a family of women who have what we like to refer to as a “dish problem”. Take us into any store and we sniff out the dishes like a bloodhound and then have to tell ourselves to back away because any one person only needs a certain number of dishes. 2) My favorite Disney movie is Beauty and the Beast – Belle is my kind of girl!

On one of our more recent trips to Disney World, I stumbled upon what might become the arch nemesis to me fighting my “dish problem” – Disney has produced a line of Beauty and the Beast dishes! I stood there, jaw on the floor, for what seemed like an hour looking at these beauties. It was love at first sight! My daughter was with me, and you might think she would pull me away, saying “Mom, you don’t need those dishes, let’s go ride Tower of Terror”, but she also is afflicted with the “dish problem”. If you are like me, and love dishes as well as Beauty and the Beast, check these gems out on your next trip! You can find them at several locations on Disney World property, but my favorite is probably the Disney Marketplace Co-Op at Disney Springs. It’s one of my favorite additions to this area since Disney reimagined what was formerly known as Downtown Disney into Disney Springs.

General Travel, Theme Parks

Don’t Miss These 10 Things at Universal Orlando’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter


Being serious Harry Potter fans, or Potterheads if you will, when we visit Universal Orlando and Islands of Adventure, we are drawn to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter! Having been there a number of times, we have taken some time to explore the areas and have found that there are a lot of hidden gems that people sometimes miss. Without doubt, the big thrill rides at both Hogsmeade in Universal’s Islands of Adventure Park (Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Dueling Dragons, and Flight of the Hippogriff) and Diagon Alley in Universal Studios (Escape from Gringotts) are not to be missed, but there are a few other jewels that any self-respecting Potterhead would not want to overlook:

  1. Be sure to locate and visit Knockturn Alley in Diagon Alley – Inside Borgin and Burkes, not only will you find some interesting merchandise, but you will also find the vanishing cabinet (go stand beside it and listen closely). While you are there, ask the clerk to see Lucius Malfoy’s wand. It is for sale, but I just enjoy looking at it.

knockturn-alley-diagon-alley  vanishing-cabinet-diagon-alley

  1. In Diagon Alley, go to the money exchange office and have a conversation with the goblin in charge.


  1. Watch for glimpses of the shadows of people you may recognize at The Three Broomsticks restaurant in Hogsmeade. Hint: Look up!
  1. Try the Butterbeer – you have some options! You can get it hot, cold, or frozen at several venues in both Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley, or you can get Butterbeer flavored soft-serve ice cream at Florean Fortescue’s in Diagon Alley (our favorite, by far!). You should know that Butterbeer is quite rich and sugary, so you might want to get one as a snack rather than as dessert or alongside a meal.

butterbeer-ice-cream-diagon-alley  florean-fortescues-diagon-alley

  1. Ride the Hogwarts Express in both directions as the experience is different in each direction. Also, be sure to pay attention to both what is outside the windows and what is happening in the hallway outside your compartment. I don’t want to give spoilers here, so just take my word for it!
  1. The queue at Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is as good as, if not better than, the ride itself. Brushing up on familiarity with the rooms and outdoor areas at Hogwarts Castle will make this experience even more magical! I suggest you watch the movies again before your trip. One of my favorites is found as you are getting ready to go through the turnstiles to get on the ride – you’ll see!
  1. Go inside the red telephone booth outside Kings Cross Station and pick up the phone and dial the number on the disc on the phone.


  1. Have a chat with the conductor and talking head at the Night Bus outside of Diagon Alley.
  1. While you are in the neighborhood of the night bus, look for Kreacher at Number 12 Grimmauld Place.


  1. Go to Olivander’s in Hogsmeade to watch a wand choose a wizard. Who knows – you might be the wizard it chooses!
  1. When in line at Kings Cross station, be sure to watch as the people ahead of you enter Platform 9 ¾.
  1. Be sure to visit Filch’s Emporium to the left of Hogwarts Castle. The Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride actually exits into this shop, but you can go in whether you ride or not. Look at the items for sale in the locked cabinets! You’ll find things here that you won’t find anywhere else! You’ll want to look at them, even if you don’t purchase them.


BONUS: By all means, buy a Park to Park ticket! It is the only way you will get to ride the Hogwarts Express.