Monday, September 14, 2015

Goodreads Giveaway: Two copies of Finding Angel up for grabs!

OK, folks, I'm running another giveaway on Goodreads! Please enter, and share the link to this post!


Goodreads Book Giveaway

Finding Angel by Kat Heckenbach

Finding Angel

by Kat Heckenbach

Giveaway ends September 30, 2015.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter Giveaway

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Tips for Visiting The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

When you have been to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter as many times as I have, you come home with only about four new pictures on your camera. My last trip--which will literally be my last for a while because our passes are expiring and we're switching to Busch Gardens--ended a few days ago, and I realized I dragged my camera around needlessly. Oh well, fun was had.

So, instead of sharing images of my trip (although I'll include a few) I'm going to give you some tips:

1-- Ride the train both ways. If you have passes to both parks, you can ride the Hogwarts Express back and forth between Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. The train rides have their own form of entertainment, including a view out the "window" and some cool stuff that happens inside the train as well. These are different each way. If you want the full experience, ride both ways.

Side note: the line for the train in Hogsmeade Station is pretty boring, but the line in Kings Cross Station is really cool.

2-- You can take food and drinks on the Hogwarts Express. You know how when you get in most lines, some costumed person tells you that you have to finish your drink before you get on? Well, not on the train. You can bring open drinks and food right on, even beer. Actually, in the line at Kings Cross there is a small store that sells snacks and drinks (including beer), although I've found it closed more often than open.

3-- In Diagon Alley, you don't have to wait in that horrendous line for Butterbeer ice cream. There is a place called The Fountain of Fair Fortune right next to the ice cream shop (Florean Fortescue's) that serves Butterbeer and regular beer, and if all you're getting is a Butterbeer ice cream in a cup (not cone, and not any other flavor), they have a secret little door they go through to get it for you. Shhhhhh......

4-- Speaking of secret doors, there are actually three entrances to Knockturn Alley at Diagon Alley. Let's see if you can find them.

5-- Actually, let's see if you can find Diagon Alley. For real, it's not marked, and once you know where it is and how to get in, sit outside the entrance and watch all the noobs with their maps and their confused expressions walking right past. It's true entertainment.

6-- Outside Diagon Alley sits the Knight Bus. Everyone lines up at the front of the bus to get pictures with the snarky talking head and Stan Shunpike. You need to go to the back of the bus. There are steps that lead up to where you can see into the bus really well, and you can't see inside from the front. The detail is amazing. I even smells like an old bus.

7-- Universal Studios got it ALL WRONG when they put Ollivanders in Hogsmeade. Any true Harry Potter fan will tell you that. They sort of fixed that by putting an Ollivanders in Diagon Alley, but most people don't realize that it's there, or that it's much bigger than the other one. The line is shorter because there are several wand rooms there. Also, there's more inside waiting room, and in Florida that means air conditioning! So, do yourself a favor and go to the real Ollivanders, and maybe people will think you've actually paid attention to the books and movies as well.

8-- You can buy interactive wands at either Ollivanders, and use them at various places in both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. You probably know that. What you may not know is that there are secret, unmarked places where the wands work. They are not marked on the map you get with the wand, nor is the ground marked where you stand. You have to find those places, and the local wizards and witches are generally more than happy to help you.

9-- Some of the coolest interactive wand sites are in Knockturn Alley. Some of the coolest witches and wizards are back there, too. Watch out for the creepy ones....they'll follow you around.

10-- Some of the coolest Harry Potter merchandise isn't actually sold in the Harry Potter areas. If you can't make it into the shops in Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley--and that's quite possible, as they are far too small (poor planning, dear Universal, poor planning)--you can still find just about everything, and some stuff you can't get in the HP sections, in the big stores up in the fronts of both parks.

11-- Honeydukes sells candy by the pound, and it can often be a bit less expensive than the prepackaged versions. This includes Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans. That one in particular is a big savings. So if you've already splurged on the packaged one, and gotten the flavor guide, hold onto that paper and just buy the beans next time. (That said, I have bought so many glass jars of candy there because I love the jars. I use the empties for all kinds of things, like toothbrush holders.)

12-- Saving money on merchandise is easy if you have an annual pass. The Preferred Pass and Premier Pass get you 10% off all food and merchandise. ALL food, and ALL merchandise. The only thing it doesn't apply to is alcoholic beverages. Also, it includes parking, which is normally $17. If you're a Florida resident, though, I recommend having one family member get that pass, so you get all the discounts, then have everyone else get the Power Pass, which does have black-out dates, but who the heck wants to go during the hottest and most crowded times anyway?

13-- For you foodies: The Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley has a significantly bigger menu than The Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade. (Although we like the atmosphere at Three Broomsticks better.) Leaky Couldron also has a full breakfast, which is really good. Fun tip: let your kid order the breakfast with black pudding and don't tell him what it really is....bwahahahahaha....

14-- For you crafties: Beer, that is. Hogsmeade has their own brew, the Hogshead Ale. Diagon Alley has their one as well, Dragon Scale red ale, each of which can NOT be found at the other park. Don't even try. I promise, they are exclusive.

15-- Some miscellaneous ride and hotel stuff:

  • If you stay at a Universal hotel (other than Cabana Bay) your hotel key card is an express pass, from the day you check in until the day you check out. 
  • You also get in an hour early to one or the other Harry Potter section (they let you know which according to which day) and it is totally worth it to be able to walk around and get on those big rides that don't take express passes, like Gringott's and The Forbidden Journey
  • The Hippogriff is a cute ride, but it is really short. We don't even bother unless we've got express passes.
  • All the big rides have walk-through lines that let you see the really cool stuff--and there is REALLY COOL STUFF--without having to go on the ride. This is worth doing even if you want to ride, because you get up close and personal to take pictures without having impatient people behind you wanting to get to the ride.
  • Some of the rides have size limits. No, this is not Univesral's way of fat-shaming. The rides fling you about, and they can only make them so big or we'd be losing our children on the rides. 
  • For the rides where bags are not allowed, if you have a fanny pack (hip pack, whatever you call it) that buckles around your waist, you can wear that on the ride and not have to get a locker. The only exception is The Dragon Challenge. That one actually makes you go through a metal detector and you can have *nothing* in your pockets. 
  • If you AT ALL suffer from motion sickness, reconsider whether you really want to go on The Forbidden Journey (the ride at Hogwarts). I know so many people who get sick on that ride. It doesn't bother me, but be forewarned.
  • To alleviate the above, some choose to just close their eyes during the video segments of the ride, and only open them during the animatronic segments.
  • There are giant spiders (that spit) in The Forbidden Journey. I forgot to tell my arachnophobic friend about that and I suffered such wrath. Again, you have been forewarned.
And....I think that should do it. It's plenty for you to remember if/when you make it to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Oh, wait! One more thing. See the puppet shows on the open stage in Diagon Alley! They are amazing!!