Tag Archives: Universal

New Year’s Eve in Orlando – Top 5 Ways to Ring in 2011

Of course there are many places to have a rocking New Year’s Eve in the Central Florida area. Most of the local clubs will be having parties, as well as all the theme parks, each ending in a fabulous fireworks show. But to narrow down your choices, here’s where we are recommending that will be sure to be a great end to 2010 and awesome start to 2011.

Long a favorite because of its party atmosphere, ring in the New Year with a concert featuring Bret Michaels!

From Universal's website

Picture nine different venues at this block party!  This is perhaps Orlando’s largest New Year’s Eve event, featuring an outdoor dance floor. Nice!

A repeat of last year’s theme, the Enzian always has plenty of character on-hand for a great time. Here’s a video to show what’s in store:
A true family event with activities for children, classic rock n’ roll, rides, and fireworks at midnight.

Another family place with great restaurants and shops, both open late for the party. And, listen to bands throughout the night, including VonRay and the Mo Geetz Band until fireworks at midnight.

VonRay

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Filed under family, Fun, Seasonal

40 Years of Florida Christmases

My readers may remember that I celebrated my 40th birthday this year (back in April) and I made my 40 for 40 promise, which, by the way, I am happy to report has continued on track!  Donating to Relay for Life on behalf  of fellow tweeter @JenVargas, fulfilling her birthday wish, was #32.

At any rate, as Christmas approaches and I went to set up my tree again this year, I realized that this is my 40th Christmas… so of course I knew I had a blog post in the making!

Florida Christmas in the 1970s

  • Opening of Disney World Resort
  • Opening of Sea World
  • Closing of McCoy Air Force Base

Now, my family actually goes back to the 1800s in Central Florida. In fact, here’s my grandmother fishing a snake out of Howell Creek when she was much much younger!

And, when my mother was a teenager, she wanted a horse, but the City of Winter Park did not allow horses inside the city limits. So, my family moved way out in the country (at the time) and bought some pasture land down a dirt road with beautiful goldenrod growing all over.  (This dirt road is now known as Aloma Ave. and that goldenrod pasture is marked by Goldenrod the road!)  But this Lazy 3 Ranch, where my mother grew up, is where I grew up too, at the same time as the city was growing up around us in leaps and bounds.

The Lazy 3 Ranch, corner of Aloma Ave. and 436

So, my memories of Christmas at this time were typical of most children: lots of 70s era toys!  Dolls and ride-in cars for me, Stretch Armstrong and army men for my brothers, a working Lionel train set for which my father spent weeks building and nailing down a track, and even chickens. Yes, chickens…we did live on some land, after all!

And, of course, Disney toys and theme park visits were very big with our family…we lived in Central Florida! (And, boy, do I remember those booklets of tickets…especially the feared E-Ticket!)

Christmas, 1975

A young Top 5 editor Bess Auer with her beloved "Big Red"

And as soon as we had our toys, we’d rush outside to try them out, riding bikes down the driveway, skateboarding around, climbing trees with GI Joe.

Christmas 1976

Florida Christmas in the 1980s

  • Space Shuttle program launches
  • Opening of Epcot
  • Domination by Miami football

By the 80s my brothers and I were getting into our teenage years, and Central Florida saw the launch of the first Space Shuttle as well as the opening of Epcot. (I watched the opening live while home sick from school…and classmate Jody Crane skipped school to attend the opening and was featured as the very first guest!  He got lifetime tickets or some such wonderful thing!)

At any rate, childhood toys at Christmas gave way to clothes and boom boxes.  And still, after unwrapping presents on Christmas day, we’d head outdoors to the yard to have orange and grapefruit wars, or to take my grandmother to Epcot, or even to head to the beach and lay out in the sun for most of the day.  Florida Decembers have certain advantages!

Christmas day - grandmother and her beloved dog at the beach in New Smyrna...look how uncrowded!

And then, as the decade ended and I was cheering in college, sometimes Christmas days were spent traveling to bowl games, like the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.  (Not a bad place to spend Christmas and New Year’s, by the way!)

Florida Christmas in the 1990s

  • Opening of Universal Studios
  • Domination by Bowden’s FSU football program
  • Closing of the Orlando Naval Training Center

This decade saw me getting married, buying my own home, and setting up my own Christmas tree for the first time.  I have never been a fan of traditional, so I bought silk flowers for my tree, which I still use nearly twenty years later!

Our Christmas tree

And then, as the second half of the 90s began, I became a mother, and Christmas suddenly was geared to children once again. Thomas the Tank Engine, Pokemon, and Legos were tops in our house, as Harry Potter paraphernalia soon would become, too.

Florida Christmas in the 2000s

  • Ending of the Space Shuttle Program
  • Opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
  • Domination by Florida Gator football and basketball programs
  • Rise to national prominence by UCF’s football and basketball programs

And so I have reached this latest decade. This one saw the passing of my brother, the continued growth of our children, and even some of the final flights of the Space Shuttles. My son has become the teenager, and iPods have replaced boom boxes, X-Box Kinect has replaced Atari.

My son does not rush out to the front yard to race around on his skateboard or ride his new bike, as my brothers and I did when we were young.  Instead he plops on the couch, puts on his headset, and connects with twelve different friends around Florida who all got the same video game to play online. It is a strange new world in which I live, one ruled by indoors, electronics, and air conditioning, but I wouldn’t miss it for anything!

Forty years of Christmases… what do you remember?

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Filed under disney, Just for Me, Sea World, Seasonal, Shuttle, Uniquely Florida

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!

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Filed under Education, family, Just for Me, 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!

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Filed under family, Fun, General Info, Only at a Theme Park, Tourist, 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.

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