Category Archives: Universal

Draco Malfoy Visits the Wizarding World

Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) visited with the Beauxbatons at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter during his recent visit to Universal Orlando Resort.

First Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, and now Tom Felton (the actor better know as Draco Malfoy) has made his way to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. He’s one of our favorite “bad boys” and what fun to see him here in Orlando. He was present at the Grand Opening, but it’s nice that he’s come back again.

Leave a comment

Filed under Only at a Theme Park, Universal

Hollywood Glamour Meets O-Town!

How fun!  Celebrity sighting in Orlando: Academy award-winning actors Michael Douglas and wife Catherine Zeta-Jones along with their children flew over The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and past Hogwarts Castle while riding Flight of the Hippogriff at Universal Orlando Resort.

 

Photo credit: Matt Stroshane, Universal Orlando Resort

Fans of the Harry Potter books and films, the family also sampled Butterbeer, got fitted for wands at Ollivanders and toured Hogwarts Castle while on vacation at Universal Orlando over the Thanksgiving holiday. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is the most spectacularly-themed entertainment experience ever created that was inspired by J.K. Rowling’s compelling stories and characters.

We hope the celebrity family enjoyed their time as much as the Top 5 did when we got our sneak peek back in June before the Wizarding World officially opened.  At any rate, it’s nice to see a bit of Hollywood glamour here in O-Town!

2 Comments

Filed under Celebrity, Fun, Only at a Theme Park, Universal

The Deathly Hallows: What a Joyous Memory!

Yeah, we’re big Harry Potter fans in our household. As an English teacher, I know the value (and power) of reading and so I started reading aloud to my son when he was in utero. (Really.)

When he was old enough to want to tackle Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, I dutifully read aloud each night until we finished the book. This blossomed into us standing in line awaiting each new release–my husband even grabbed one early in New York one time and brought it home as an early birthday present–and produced many fond memories. I smile when I think back to the third book, The Prisoner of Azkaban, when my son was so scared of Sirius Black and so he would make my hubby sit with him as I read aloud.  Good times!

My son as Harry Potter

And, once the movies started coming out we were in line… and then once again as Harry Potter’s Wizarding World opened. So, as the film series is finally winding down, with the Part I of the last movie opening today, it is with bitter sweetness that I post this new video below… enjoy!

Leave a comment

Filed under Education, family, Just for Me, Universal

Greenwood Cemetery: Orlando’s Most Exclusive Gated Community

With all the terrifyingly thrilling buzz about Universal Studio’s Halloween Horror Nights XX and Sea World/Busch Garden’s Howl-O-Scream, the Top 5 is embracing the spooky season… we’ve dusted off our collection of Edgar Allan Poe tales, along with Washington Irving‘s ghost stories. (Yep, we’re kind of geeks!)

So, when Don Price, the sexton of the Greenwood Cemetery–the City of Orlando‘s only cemetery–invited us for a Moonlight Walking Tour, we jumped at the chance to stroll among the headstones and crypts, and ponder the souls that dwell there.  So, into the car we went and bravely made our way to the Greenwood Street entrance, where a set of intimidating wrought iron gates lit by flickering lamps awaited us.

With a sardonic smile, Don greeted us, along with a few other unfortunate souls from the Orange County Convention Visitors Bureau and the Orlando Arts Magazine, and so our small pack followed our fearless leader armed with a single flashlight into the night.  Dark clouds masked the eye of the moon and from time to time helicopters cryptically flew overhead as if searching desperately for someone or something. Other than that, the grounds were quiet as we were followed by our own footsteps. Silent owls swooped and the whisk of bats’ wings could be heard. I, of course, shivered despite the heat and humidity, and was fully prepared for a shadowy figure to be stalking us.

What I found instead, was a truly refreshing new look at the city I call home.

The first grave we happened upon was that of July Perry, a black man who in 1920 was stabbed, shot, and then hanged on the property of Orlando judge  John Cheney as a dire warning.  (I had no idea the namesake of Old Cheney Highway had played such a large part in the racial tensions that historically plagued the South!) During the time of the Jim Crow Laws, Perry had been denied the right to vote, and Judge Cheney was attempting to aid Perry, by sending him back to the voting precinct to get the names of the men denying him.

Perry made the ill-choice to return with a friend and a shotgun for support. In Ocoee later that night, retired sheriff Sam Salisbury would be shot in the right arm as he was attempting to serve a warrant on Perry, and things quickly spiraled out of control resulting in a lynch mob, as well as 25 black homes, 2 churches, and a masonic lodge burned to the ground.

Perry was laid to rest in the “black part” of the cemetery, and ironically enough, I discovered the cemetery was segregated in many more ways:  “Union” vs. “Yankee” soldiers,  the “in” crowd and the “out” crowd, the “English” colony vs. the “Americans.”

I had studied Florida’s past, hadn’t I?  Why was all this missing from the history books!

It should be noted we later crossed near the grave of Sam Salisbury, the retired sheriff who got shot while serving a warrant on the tragic July Perry. Karma apparently has a way of finding itself and its unknowing victims…Sam’s right arm was left paralyzed as a result of the gunshot wound on election night in 1920.  However, 54 years later, Sam tripped down the stairs, and the gun he had tucked in his belt went off, killing him with a bullet to the head!

Continuing to meander through the stones, Orlando’s streets came to life as we were told stories about their namesakes.  We met Samuel Robinson, think Robinson Street, who served as county surveyor for 16 years. In his travels across Central Florida, he gathered a large collection of gold and silver ornaments from Native American mounds, a collection that now belongs to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. And, it should be noted that Sam Robinson chose the highest point in Central Florida for his gravesite.

Samuel Robinson's "terrazo stone" marker.

We also heard about Aaron Jernigan, Orlando’s first settler and the city’s original namesake. It would be called Jernigan until the name was changed to Orlando by Judge J.D. Spear. Spear was a great fan of Shakespeare, and relished the performances of Shakespeare among others at the Orlando Opera House, and so it is rumored that he chose to name the city after one of Shakespeare’s characters from As You Like It.  (This would make sense with Rosalind Street, Orlando’s love interest.) However, other rumors of the city’s naming center around an unconfirmed account of a heroic soldier named Orlando Reeves.

Orlando Opera House

We also heard about other city founders and pioneers, including Holden, Delaney, Gore, Leu, and Beacham.  (I remember my mother telling me stories about the old Beacham Theater.) Apparently, Beacham teamed with J.F. Ange of the Angebuilt Hotel across the street. It turns out, there is a tunnel running under Orange Avenue connecting the two, so Beacham’s actors could make their way to and from the theater in secret. (Yes, the tunnel is still there, although bricked up on either side.)

We ran across other names, fixtures in Orlando’s history, albeit not quite as famous as those with streets named after them. We saw the grave of Ruth Pounds, of Edgewater Drive’s Pounds Dance Studio, where generations of teens have been sent for ballroom dance and etiquette lessons. (Your Top 5 editor is included in this! I spent every Monday night during 7th grade at her dance studio…)  We saw the headstone of Chauncey Boyle, at one time the strongest man in the world.

Strongest man in the world, as shown by the barbell on his headstone

We also saw the grave of Delta Burke‘s father. Apparently she visits fairly often, casually chatting a while with Don and the other caretakers at the cemetery.  (My hubby liked hearing about this as Delta was a companion of his mother, when they both were in their pageant days!)

And then we saw the grave marker of Francis Eppes… who is he?  He is Thomas Jefferson’s grandson (he was even born at Monticello) before making his way to Florida. Want to know why else he’s important? He founded the Florida State College for Women… now known as Florida State University! (Hmmm…shouldn’t we ship him back to the panhandle or something?)

Francis Eppes, Founder of FSU

We also saw large crypts, straight out of H.P. Lovecraft‘s “The Outsider.” (By the way, if you’ve never read this tale, it is my all-time favorite!) The Wilmott family, who owned the Tremont Hotel, has a crypt with a curious window of orange glass in the back, and on certain days of the year, when the sun is just right, the entire crypt is aglow with the eerie orange color.

On certain days, this glows orange

Another crypt, hand-built by its owner, mysteriously has no death date. It simply reads “1836  – 19–”  This leads many a mischief-maker to light candles on the doorstep, in hopes the still-living undead might make an appearance. (Apparently the owner died with no heirs to pay for the remaining numbers, thus it is not quite as mysterious as it appears!)

So as we made our way around in the dark listening to Don spin his sinister stories of Orlando magic, I found myself reflecting on this wonderful city of ours.  It is thrilling to now understand that we have an actual history–one that is great and turbulent and full of true characters that forged us into “The City Beautiful.” (Yes, we also saw the grave of Jessie Branch, the lady responsible for giving Orlando this motto.)

I believe we should all come to understand the factors that led us to today, we should embrace both the warts and the beauty marks. If we don’t, how can we truly appreciate all that Orlando has overcome to be “The City Beautiful” it is today?

Mrs. R. Greer - Orlando's first professional painter

Don retold history in such a respectful yet intriguing manner, that he rivals any professional story-teller. So, in between your trips to the theme parks this Halloween season, make your way to the 100 plus rolling acres near downtown where Orlando’s most exclusive and famous residents now call home. You will be glad you did!

4 Comments

Filed under Celebrity, Convention Center, Education, Fun, General Info, History, Just Plain Weird, Seasonal, TV Fame, Uniquely Florida, Universal

Sneak Peek Part 3: Ollivander’s, Butterbeer, and More!

So after the Forbidden Journey ride in Hogwarts Castle, my hubby needed to rest his stomach a bit, so he found a seat in the Owl Conservatory. Owls of all sizes roosted in the rafters of this open seating area…but since they were animatronic, there was no owl poop! Nice!

My son J was dying to go on Dueling Dragons, now appropriately part of the Wizarding World, and so he got in line for that. I wasn’t too keen on a rolling roller coaster so soon after flying about on a broom, so I found my downtime at Ollivander’s Wand Shop.

There was a line to get into Ollivander’s, which made me wonder why Universal designed such a small gift shop! But the line moved quickly, letting in groups of fifteen to twenty people at a time, and I soon found out why…Ollivander’s is actually a show! A very, intimate, quaint show that gives the place a very authentic feel. As I entered the wand shop, there was shelf upon shelf of wands, all stacked together as if they had been there for centuries! As a collector of old books, I loved the musty-dusty feeling of the place, but yes, it was a tight fit for all of us in there.

Then, a wand keeper started the show by calling forth a boy from our group. After some clever dialogue, he had the boy try a wand or two, creating some magical effects along the way. (See the video below.) After a few minutes, the show ended and we were ushered into the real wand shop/gift shop to pick out a wand. Here’s mine:

A quick gripe: This real gift shop still left me wondering why on earth Universal designed something so small! It was nearly impossible to navigate through the crowded, tiny space to find the perfect wand or anything else for that matter. You could purchase a celebrity wand (Dumbledore’s, Draco’s, He-Who-Must-Not-Be Named’s, etc.) or you could purchase one based on your birthdate. I went for my birthdate and got that kooky striped one that seemed perfect!

Another quick gripe: Yes, I willingly paid my near $30 for the plastic toy in incredibly nice wrappings (love the box!) but it would have been a much better effect if they had included a simple slip of paper that told a bit about my wand. For example, does it have a unicorn hair in it? Or a dragon heartstrings? Or a phoenix’s feather? When was my wand made, etc.? This would have added greatly to the fun of my fine wand made just for me! Oh well, maybe that touch will be forthcoming.

At any rate, all griping aside, I highly recommend Ollivander’s at it was my favorite thing about the attraction!

After that, my son and I reconvened with my hubby, who still was a bit disoriented, and we all tried a bit of butterbeer. It is extremely sweet and the froth on top is extra yummy! I do not recommend the regular, though, as it reminded me of day old sticky root beer that has sat in the Florida sun for too long, but the frozen butterbeer is infinitely better…YUM!

So we ended our big morning at Universal by heading to Hard Rock Cafe. (Where else!?)

All in all, we’ll be back after the crowds from opening day die down a bit. I highly recommend you go see it, especially all you Harry Potter fans out there. Here’s hoping the magic is real!

2 Comments

Filed under family, Fun, General Info, Only at a Theme Park, Tourist, Uniquely Florida, Universal

Sneak Peek Part 2: Hogwarts Castle

So, after we made it into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, we then bee-lined for the main attraction: Hogwarts Castle!

From the outside, it is fairly intimidating. It looks like a real castle and appears to have the same overwhelming dimensions as that in the movie. It sits atop a craggy mountain and its towers soar into the air impressively. There was hardly any line for most of it, thanks to our 8:00 a.m. admittance, so we snaked through the queue pretty quickly. The neat thing about the castle is that it is actually two attractions in one.

Getting ready to go in...

You find as you wind your way through very dark castle passages, that the queue itself actually is a show. Here you see all sorts of appropriate Potter memorabilia: large statues from the houses, the grand stairwell where portraits talk noisily, as well as a peek into the headmaster’s private office, where Dumbledore himself greets you. And, thanks to modern technology, he actually looks as if he is really there!

Greetings from Dumbledore.

Talking portraits.

Then you wind your way into the Defense against the Dark Arts classroom, where all sorts of telescopes, potions, and such are overshadowed by the skeleton of a dragon hanging from the ceiling.  Here, you wait while Ron, Hermione, and Ron sneak into the classroom under the cover of their invisibility cloak. Once they throw their cloak off, they look every bit as present in the room as Dumbledore did!  After some dialogue, Ron accidentally makes it snow, which is a fun touch. (Unfortunately, the ride broke down at this point, so my hubby and son and I saw this little skit twenty or so times…more than enough snow for a Central Florida summer day!)

Harry, Ron, and Hermione.

The Dragon.

Once we were moving again, we passed by the Fat Lady’s portrait as she lectured us about Harry Potter getting into trouble (or something like that) before we saw the Sorting Hat. This was a very cool and welcome effect, as you can get very close to the hat, watching it realistically drone on about safety on the ride.

The Sorting Hat.

And then, you could see into the Great Dining Hall…well, kind of. It was actually a fairly small area where you boarded the ride, but the magical effect of lights, faux candles, and mirrors made it seem passable for the Hall. Here’s video of our adventure. (I had to tinker with the lighting and exposure due to the entire video being black when I started out!)

We loaded four to a “car” where we were strapped into individual seats and then took off as a unit in the simulator. As we moved, my seat tilted backwards, forwards, and swung around mightily. I saw a combination of amazingly realistic green screen images of the outside of the castle, while flying on a broom behind Harry and Ron, and actual mock ups jumped out at me as I “rode” by.  I was chased by dragons, spiders, and dementors and got to swing through a Quidditch game… it really was fun!  And, yes, I did forget there were other riders in the “car” beside me. I felt alone on my boom!

All in all, this was well worth the wait during the delay. My son and I loved it…my hubby, however, who is sensitive to motion sickness on such rides, was done for the day! So, be warned, o ye of sensitive inner ears, this ride is definitely topsy-turvy and very capable of making you feel like you are really flying!

Be sure to check back later for Sneak Peek Part 3: Ollivander’s and Butterbeer!

2 Comments

Filed under family, Fun, General Info, Only at a Theme Park, Uniquely Florida, Universal

Sneak Peek at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter!

So, Harry Potter goes way back in my family… ever since my son J and I devoured the first books together. When he was little, we would sit on the couch and I would read aloud to him, page after page, and we relished every word. (During the reading of the Prisoner of Azkaban, J was so scared of Sirius Black, he made my hubby sit with him while I read! *Muhahaha*)

Not only did we read the books, but my son loved all things Potter, every magical toy manufactured to having a dragon painted on his bedroom wall!  He even dressed as Harry Potter for Halloween… probably more than one year running!

Then came the movies and eventually word about the theme park, which we breathlessly awaited…until this morning!  We got a sneak peek! So how did we manage it?  Well, we heard via Twitter that guests staying on-property were being allowed in, while regular park guests were on stand-by. Well, we wanted to be sure we gained access, so we made reservations at the Royal Pacific Hotel, which had a lovely Asian aura to it.  It was recommended by the concierge that we pick our tickets up that night, as admittance to the Wizarding World was before Will Call opened. So, we took the cool transport boats to City Walk, ate at the Latin Quarter (Chilean Sea Bass…yum!) and then went to get our tickets. The tickets with our resort key were our passport to Hogwarts!

The ticket lady told us to be at the entrance to Islands of Adventure by 7:30 for an 8:00 a.m. opening for resort guests. (Virgin Atlantic had a special going where the Brits got in at 7:30 a.m.! Good marketing!)  So, we got the early wake up call and then headed out on foot to the park…too early for the transport boats to be running!  We made it there by about 7:20 and were about tenth in line. Not bad, or so we thought.  Hundreds filed in behind us and by the time the gates opened at 8, there was a mad rush for the ticket takers.

Be warned Florida Residents!  Our tickets showed up as expired (much to the lady’s despair in line behind us because we slowed her down) and so we were taken to Guest Services who explained that Florida Resident tickets must be used the same day, lest we pass them along to a non-resident. (Wish the ticket lady had told us this the night before! She cost us precious minutes in getting to the WWOHP!)

So we switched out tickets and were back on the run for the entrance…and boy! was the wait worth it!  The first view of the snow-capped rooftops as you scanned the area was breathtaking! It was just as I imagined it should look!

So, here’s a short video of the first part of our sneak peek. (I’ve got two other videos I will be posting shortly.)  Enjoy, you muggles!

Remember to check back for Parts 2 and 3.

6 Comments

Filed under family, Fun, Just for Me, Only at a Theme Park, Tourist, Uniquely Florida, Universal