Monday, November 24, 2014

Harry Potter World

Hola from sunny South Florida. 
It's a balmy 84 degrees outside. Can't complain about that November weather.
Last month we had our first big FL adventure, and we also had our first FL visitors!!! Andrew took the day off from school so we could head up to Orlando and hit up Universal Studios.
Universal Studios has two parks, the main Universal Studios and then Islands of Adventure. We asked around to see which was better, but we decided that it was worth it to go to both! I'm glad we did. They were both super fun.

If you are going anytime in the future, here's my two cents:

Islands of Adventure definitely has more rides to do, but they are all pretty intensive roller coasters/3D adventures. Universal Studios has more to see and "experience," there are more shows, shops, and random character encounters. You can easily do both parks in one day if it isn't too busy. There are park hopper passes (and you get to take the Hogwarts Express from park to park), but the single park passes were a lot cheaper, so we just did one park per day.

We went mid-October, and didn't wait more than 15 minutes for any ride. The parks are open all day (8 AM- 9 PM ish), but by 5 PM, we had done most rides multiple times and were ready to be done. A few times when the lines were longer, we asked the express line person if we could take a short-cut, and they ALWAYS said yes! So don't be afraid to ask. The longest line we saw was the Gringotts Bank ride, so we went single rider on that one. If you don't mind going by yourself, single rider is an awesome option for all the rides with longer lines.

If you are going for Harry Potter, you should do both parks. Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventure has the Castle and has three rides, but is smaller and there is less to see. Diagon Alley in Universal Studios is a lot bigger and definitely has more to experience, you can go into a ton of different shops and eat lots of Harry Potter treats, but it only has one ride. So, if you can only choose one park and you LOVE Harry Potter... I would probably recommend Diagon Alley. The Castle ride is really neat (even waiting in line is a cool experience), but it's lots of spinning and turning, and it made Andrew super sick. And the Hogwarts Express is awesome if you can do it, but not worth the extra money of a park-hopper pass if that is the only reason you get it.

The Parks were both clean, food was pretty average theme park food, crowds and lines weren't bad. I would definitely recommend Universal for families with older kids. Both parks did have a few rides for younger kids, but there wasn't much to do. Disney is a lot more geared to the younger crowd. 

If you want to do the water rides in Islands, bring an extra pair of clothes or wear a bathing suit! You get soaked. We skipped them. All the roller coasters offer free lockers while you ride the rides, which is awesome, but the water rides do not. To get to the two parks, you have to walk through the Universal City Walk, which had a cool vibe, but it was mostly restaurants that were pretty expensive. 

Would I go again? If people were visiting and wanted to go, yes! By ourselves.... probably not. It was definitely a great experience, but if you know me, you know I'm a Disneyland lover, and Universal didn't quite have the same magic, ya know? If you LOVE roller coasters, then you will love Universal. If you LOVE Harry Potter, then you need to go at least once. It was amazing. And that butterbeer. Still can't stop thinking about it!

Okay that was a lot, but hopefully that was helpful for someone. Now for a million pictures:

Our first visitors: Nathan and Katie! We had a blast exploring the park with them.
So. Many. Laughs.

We did all the big rides and then headed to what we were all looking forward to the most: Harry Potter Land! There is a bridge leading up to Hogsmeade where you have a great view of Hogwarts Castle. We seriously were on the bridge just taking it all in for about 20 minutes! 
Seriously. We were so pumped.
And of course the first thing we see when we finally pass through the gate is a big ole Butterbeer stand! So naturally, we spent another 20 minutes in the entrance of Hogsmeade drinking Butterbeer and Pumpkin Juice and loving life.
When Jenn and I were little, we would play Harry Potter. We would have my mom dye our milk orange, and we would pretend it was Pumpkin Juice. When I saw that they had the "real deal" here, I had to get it. It lived up to its name, but the Butterbeer was the real winner. I would definitely suggest the specialty mug. It makes it that much better.

The line for the castle ride was awesome! Seeing all the details was so fun. I definitely need to reread all the books again. This part of the park definitely did have that "magic" feel. 
P.S. The Hippogriff Ride... all I can say is it reminded me of the Go Coaster in Toon Town... 
Chocolate frogs! Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans! Fizzing Whizzbees!

Gotta love carrying around your Butterbeer mug the rest of the day!
So fierce right now.
Nothing like hangin' with your cousins.
Thanks Nate and Katie for coming to visit us!
After we left the park, Nate recommended that we try 4 Rivers Smokehouse. Holy Cow. It was SUCH good BBQ. If you are ever in Orlando, please go!
 We stayed at this kinda sketch hotel called the Monumental Movieland Hotel that was across from the water park. Classy, right?
It was super cheap and had lots of creepy movie posters, so I guess it was a good time.
Our room was right by the N*Sync poster, so I felt really good about that.

Day 2 at Universal Studios!
Our first ride of the day was the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit. First thing you do is go straight up at a 90 degree angle, and it was definitely one of the freakier things I have ever done. You get to choose what song you want to listen to. Of course I picked Glamorous. 

They actually video tape you the entire time, and let's just say our video was pretty hysterical. I wanted to buy it so bad, but it cost 40$.... not quite THAT worth it.
Super sweet free locker access by finger-print. Don't forget your locker number though...
Is it just me or does Andrew look extra tall in this pic?
The Knight Bus
 Gringotts Bank and a fire-breathing dragon, NBD.
Just cruising around on Hagrid's motorcycle.
We had lunch at the Leaky Cauldron, and it was a blast. In true pub fashion, I had a Cottage Pie and Andrew had a Banger Sandwich. 
Unlike Hogsmeade, Diagon Alley is completely separate from the rest of the park. All the details really made it feel like you have stepped into Harry's world. I loved it!
Diagon Alley at its finest.
 Couldn't resist another one.. or two.
We had to try the Butterbeer ice cream too, of course.
 Somehow we lucked out and got to ride the Hogwarts Express even though we didn't have park hopper tickets. Because we headed to get one last Butterbeer before we left the park (it was closing early for Halloween Horror Nights), we managed to get these wristbands that would let us stay an extra hour in Diagon Alley. If we decided to stay, we would have to take the Hogwarts Express to the other park to exit... Sounds good to me!
 We almost didn't stay because the line for the train was supposedly 90 minutes, but I really wanted to go, so we decided to stick it out! The wait ended up being closer to 45 minutes, so that was a nice surprise.
It was worth the wait!

 We ended up in a car with some LDS folks from Springville, UT. So random.
Even though we had free access to the other park, we were both pretty tired and had gotten a good fill of Universal. Like I said, there isn't tons to do, but what is there is great.
 All-in-all, it was a wonderful weekend. Nathan and Katie came over for Sunday dinner the next day and we had a great time together. I loved having visitors, and I loved getting to explore a little piece of Florida. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

A Little Life Update - The Sunshine State

Admittedly, the transition to life here in the Sunshine State wasn't just sunshine and happiness. Andrew started school right away, and once Steven left, I was left to my lonesome. It's taken some adjusting, but I've started to really love life here. Though we are about as far away from home as we could get, it's definitely an adventure.

First day of school!

Andrew has class from 8-12 Monday through Friday. On Mondays, he shadows a family practice doctor from 1-6. Tuesdays is Anatomy day, and his morning is spent dissecting a cadaver. The real deal. Thursday afternoons he has a class where he learns "How to be a Doctor". He's typically on campus until 5 most days, just studying. 

When tests come around, he definitely studies more, but for the most part it's a lot like an 8-5 job. He could be studying more, but right now, it's nice to have a chance to do some fun things together. Andrew passed both of his first big tests and is loving school. I'm glad he loves it because he worked so hard to get here!

One of the highlights thus far was definitely Andrew's White Coat Ceremony. It was SO fun to see him receive his White Coat and to finally feel like all of our hard work and stress over the past year had paid off! The White Coat Ceremony is a lot like a graduation... except before school instead of after. There were speeches, processions, lots of parents taking pictures.... You get the idea.

Andrew is one of 64 students in the fourth class of the FAU Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine. It's a new school, but there are lots of really cool opportunities that he wouldn't have had other places. Like getting to shadow a doctor right away!

I was just so proud to see him in his white coat. I love this doc of mine!

When Andrew isn't studying, you can usually find us eating or at the beach. It is seriously SO fun getting to experience the place where Andrew served his mission. He has shared so many fun memories and lots of tasty food! I finally got to have my first real baleada. Holy cow. So delish. If you ever find yourself in South Florida, please please please have a baleada. 

Going to the beach sometimes involves avoiding monstrous spiders. The insects and wildlife here definitely take some getting used to. I typically find at least one lizard in my apartment every day. There are three that just like to chill right outside our door. 

Speaking of apartments, we live in this sweet 55+ community. Technically we aren't supposed to be living here, and everyone is surprised that they let us. We just got lucky I guess. A typical day involves running into our perma-shirtless neighbor, getting asked to the pool by my favorite gate guard Stan, and avoiding dirty looks from grumpy old lady drivers.

All in all, Tuscany D has been good to us.

 Just another day in the life.

A lowlight (??) of our time here was when Andrew's doctor told him he had to cut his hair. Yeah, it was getting pretty long... and he probably does look a little more professional now, but I was pretty bummed to cut off all of the blonde. We had lots of fun before the fateful day though!

Since living here, I have become an aunt, twice. Okay, technically once. My sister-in-law Avery had a beautiful baby girl, Emmaline (on the left). But, my BFF cousin Mallory ALSO had a beautiful baby girl, Kennedy (on the right), so I'm pretty much considering myself an aunt to her too. Hope that is alright. Unfortunately Google Hangouts and FaceTime just aren't as good as real life. One of the not so great things about living in the bottom corner of the country. 

In between pool days, temple nights, football games, and getting super cute packages from friends (thanks Kayla!), I'm actually pretty busy working two jobs! Yep. Two. It took me a while to find a job, so I ended up just going to the mall and applying at a bunch of places. Gotta work retail at some point right? That's how I ended up at Bath and Body Works.

Yep, I rock the gingham apron.

A few days ago at BBW a 16 year old boy came up and handed me this. I've still got it, folks.

When I'm not at BBW, which is most of the time, I'm working at a start up SEO company here in Florida called LoSoMo. It's kind of crazy how it came to be. Andrew worked with someone in Utah who randomly moved down here to FL and started an SEO Company. We ran into him at Stake Conference right when they were looking for another person to help them get their business going. 

I'm really loving it because I get to do a little bit of everything! I'm learning lots about web design, adobe illustrator, account management, and what it takes to start your own business. The balloons were for an community event we had a few weeks ago.

I'm also serving in the Nursery at church (for a whopping 3-5 kiddos) and I'm in charge of the primary program (for a whopping 11 kiddos). We're in a really new ward that has TONS of new members, so it's an exciting place to be.

As you leave the Boca Raton ward building....

 Welp, that's the latest and greatest!

It's hotter than heck. It rains every day. It's far from family and friends. But it's home, and I love it.