I have been incredibly blessed to have celebrated 31 wonderful years with my family and friends. I have had some truly incredible birthday celebrations in those years and even more wonderful birthdays since meeting my amazing husband. We were engaged on my birthday after an epic vacation at my very first WonderCon convention. Last year, I ran a marathon, got a makeover on National Television and fell in love with San Francisco. This year’s birthday celebration was no exception to the awesome birthdays I have gotten used to enjoying while in his company.
I WENT TO HOGWARTS! Or, more appropriately, since we visited the Hogwarts side of the park a few years ago while planning our wedding, we visited Diagon Alley (and Hogwarts). Pretty much as soon as we knew we were moving to Florida, we knew we were going to buy season passes to Universal. It was the one indulgence we wanted to give ourselves after moving so far away. My birthday was the perfect chance to finally get the tickets. The prices are amazing for season passes and right now, a can of coke and Florida resident status earns you an extra three months free! Score. When we got to the park on St. Patrick’s day (the day before my birthday) I was given a birthday button and they told me to wear it with pride for the next two days!
Boy, did that little button come in handy. A few ride attendants put us through to the express line as they wished me a happy birthday, I was given free drinks multiple times, and was even picked at Ollivander’s wand shop to have a wand choose me! All birthdays should forever be at Universal. We had a great time exploring the front half of Universal, while resisting the urge to run straight to the Harry Potter section of the park. We knew once we made it there, we might not do anything else. 🙂
We also enjoyed an obligatory St. Patrick’s day beer at the Irish Pub located in the New York section of the park.
We were given the glowing green necklaces for ordering the Guinness!
My fashion for the day can be described as Theme Park comfortable meets St. Patrick’s Day Festive meets Harry Potter! I probably looked like a crazy person running around in my handmade (I made it) St. Patrick’s day skirt, shamrock headband and Hogwarts school crest T-shirt, but I didn’t care one bit. I never apologize for my geeky fashion. 🙂
The San Fransisco area of the park was particularly enjoyable after actually visiting last year (for my 30th birthday). It was a nice bit of nostalgia. After crossing out of the San Fransisco area (about half way through our day) we finally made it to London!
I was wished a very happy birthday by the conductor of the Night Bus!
My husband’s fashion choices for the day also included the Theme Park comfortable theme, but he went Star Wars with his St. Patrick’s day Boba Fett Shirt, argyle shamrock socks, and green Slytherin hat. After the Night Bus, we saw Kreacher checking out things from a window inside 12 Grimmauld place.
Probably the coolest thing of all, was entering Diagon Alley and seeing the majestic, magical, sprawling streets laid out in front of us.
It was such an incredible sight for us, that I really cannot put my emotions into words. It’s one of those moments that I don’t think I’ll ever forget, nor will I forget the joy that filled me.
We found a Firebolt for sale, but as the price was unlisted and probably would have cost all of our gold in Gringots, we passed. 😉
Weasleys Wizard Wheezes was a particular favorite of ours. I just wish you could actually climb the spiral staircases and head up to explore. We were starving by the time we left the shop, so we headed to the Leaky Couldron for lunch. I ordered the Toad in the Hole, mainly because it was the cheepest thing on the menu, but I adored the dish!
The two sausages were encased in Yorkshire pudding and served with a rich, dark, and flavorful gravy. The dish (which came in under $9 bucks) also included English peas, tomato, and a perfectly cooked veggie blend. So yum. Mark got a banger sandwich, which was also superb.
We loved the Leaky Cauldron. It looked so authentic, had moving photos on the wall and all the decor was just how I had envisioned it. It was far bigger than I would have assumed from the books, but as the line to get in was pretty long, I wouldn’t have wanted it any smaller.
After lunch we somehow ended up down Knockturn Alley.
Borgin and Burkes was pretty awesome and sufficiently spooky. The decor was awesome and they sold a really eclectic mix of items ranging from dark arts memorabilia and clothing, to Deathly Hallows gear, to wanted frames for Sirius and Bellatrix.
Mark’s favorite thing on display was definitely the hand of glory.
After we found our way out of Knockturn Alley, we made our way over to see Mr. Olivander to find a wand.
I was so nervous/excited when I was chosen out of the crowd. Olivander gave me a few wands to try with near catastrophic results, before my wand finally chose me.
Call me crazy, but my wand (hazel and dragon heartstring) actually seems to fit my personality. Also my eyes are hazel so it seemed like fate. 🙂
My husband bought it for me as my birthday gift and I was ready to start practicing magic.
As a part of the Diagon Alley expansion, new locations were placed around Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley, where new witches and wizards could practice real magic with their interactive wands (regular wands were still available for purchase at a slightly cheaper cost, but they won’t do any magic). As my wand was interactive, it included a map of locations to use it, and the names of spells and the unique wand movements necessary to complete the spells.
Fail to do the movement properly, and you can be certain that the magic won’t work. 🙂
After getting my wand, we set off to do more exploring around Diagon Alley. We didn’t really have much money to spend, (thank goodness or we may have gone crazy) but we had so much fun just looking at everything.
We will certainly have to come back to, uh, finish decorating our room once we have settled in a bit and have some more money to spend. 😉 After we finished exploring the front half of Diagon Alley, we made our way over to Gringots.
The cue line for the ride was super interesting, with all sorts of interesting items and memorabilia to look at. Gringots itself, was right out of the movie!
The Goblins looked incredible.
The ride was awesome! It was Spider-Man meets Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and once again Universal showed that they have the market on this particular type of ride cornered. It really is what they do best. After the ride, we headed to the Gringots money exchange to cash in my muggle money. It’s free to change ($10 gets your $10 of Gringots money) but you get to keep the awesome money envelope the cash comes in which is a fun and free park souvenir.
Mark wanted to try a Gilly water mixed with a flavored elixir. We picked green, of course, because of St. Patrick’s day.
Unfortunately, it was pretty gross. Sickeningly sweet and a pretty terrible flavor. We ended up dumping out (the $8.00 drink) and refilling it with water. Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees took the main stage in Diagon Alley and Mark and I watched the whole show.
It was really good, and definitely rekindled my desire to work at a theme park (I worked at Island’s Of Adventure before I moved to Los Angeles and it is still probably my favorite job that I have ever had). After Celestina, we took off and headed to the Simpson’s ride. Mark is a huge fan of the show and that part of the park looked really awesome. It was another great ride and lots of fun. We especially loved Moe’s Tavern.
We decided to finish the full loop around the park after leaving the Simpson’s. We had spent almost the entire day at one park and had not even made it through all of the different lands and areas. Hollywood was a little cooler to visit and explore after having lived there for almost 9 years, and Mark had not ever seen this section of the park before.
It is sort of cool to see things recreated in Florida that we had seen almost every day of our lives in LA. I actually drove past Mel’s Drive In every day on my way to work.
The Five and Dime shop was a favorite for us, as they sold fun nerdy clothes and items from numerous fandoms. We spotted Star Wars, DC comics, The Walking Dead and Doctor Who, among others.
They even sold Her Universe, which (as you probably already figured out) is one of my favorite clothing lines (and Stephanie’s as well). I’m sure it comes as no surprise that we made it back around to Diagon Alley pretty quickly. Our goal was to hop aboard the Hogwarts Express to head to Hogsmeade, but we hadn’t realized that the second park closed an hour earlier than Universal. It would have been a waste to head over, because we would have needed to turn around and come right back immediately and that would have made for a crowd of people making a mad dash to get over as well.
So we had a drink at the Hopping Pot, and watched an improv troupe act out the Tale of the Three Brother’s at the Diagon Alley main stage.
I was also finally able to get a photo of the fire breathing dragon that had taken over Gringots.
I had been trying to get the photo all day. Before leaving for the day, Mark purchased an Ireland Quiddach team pin for me as a secondary birthday gift.
He couldn’t think of a better time to buy it than on St. Paddy’s day!
We had a great first day at the park and a wonderful St. Paddy’s day in Orlando.
We walked back to the hotel (past the world’s largest Hard Rock Cafe), and had a drink in the hot tub before turning in for the night. I normally like to party it up on St. Patrick’s Day (as the official kick off to my birthday) but we were both so excited to get up early for day two at the park, (and the Hogwarts Express) that we just wanted to go to sleep and dream of another awesome day! To be continued …