You are looking at Hogwarts Castle, as conceived by the builders of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal's Islands of Adventure park in Orlando. The pictures don't begin to do it justice. It is breathtaking in both its scope and its detail, as are the buildings in Hogsmeade, through which you walk to get to the castle.
We had a lot of fun at Universal Orlando, and I'm glad we took the boys. My favorite parts were Hogsmeade, especially Olivander's Wand Shop, the Disaster Movie ride at Universal Studios, the ET ride (an old favorite from the Hollywood studio), and the Men In Black Alien Attack ride.
But there are three things I really don't like about Universal Studios Orlando. One is that the layout makes you spend an awful lot of your time and energy walking. It's a very long way from your car to the entrance, and there is no tram. And once you get to the entrance, you have to walk through Citywalk to get to either park. And the parks themselves are laid out in curcles with water in the middle so there's no way to cut across and get somewhere fast.
The second is that (and I'm sure this is not unique to Universal) I'm kind of tired of having to get whipped around and turned upside down just to see the cool stuff there is to see on the rides. I get get a rush by looking at something really amazing; I don't need to pump adrenaline, or get dizzy or sick to my stomach to get a rush. Even the kids' rides sometimes have too much bumping and spinning.
One thing I really loved about Disney's Epcot Center, which I have not seen in a dozen years or more, is how much there was to see, without having to go on a thrill ride. I also have fond memories of the Universal Studios tour in Hollywood, that was just a tour of the backlots and some demonstrations in the sound stages. It's one of the things that made me fall in love with making movies.
And third, and then I'll stop whining, is that Universal seems more bent than even Disney on picking your pockets at every opportunity when you're in the park. The food ranges from very expensive to outrageously expensive. And those of you who've been to Disneyland and used FastPass to move through the lines might be surprised to find out that they have something similar at Universal--but you have to pay for it. Even the very first thing we went to see at the Studio park, which was touted as a magic show, is actually a pitch to sell overpriced magic tricks. In this economy, this may eventually backfire on them.
Okay, rant over. Everyone had a great time. The travel wasn't actually very stressful, thanks to some lucky breaks on the schedule and the good folks at JetBlue, who make flying easier than anyone else we've flown lately. And the boys really enjoyed being able to swim in an outdoor pool in January.
Can't beat those smiles! We also had the special treat of eating at one of only four Sizzler restaurants in the entire state of Florida. We don't even have any in New Hampshire, and we always loved their Malibu Chicken, and the wonderful buffets we used to enjoy at the location in Sunland, California. The Sizzler in Kissimmee did not disappoint.
Now I need to go to bed, because I have to shovel more snow tomorrow. Guess I should try to have some warm Florida dreams tonight.