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Saturday, November 28, 2015

Websites and Apps for Awesome Travel During the Holidays

We all know that holidays can be totally stressful, especially when you ad traveling to the mix. As much as I love to travel, when the airport is just a crush of people and you are looking at a security line so long you can't even see the front it just doesn't seem all that enticing. Usually I enjoy the trip to the airport – yes, I know that makes me a crazy weirdo – because I love the excitement of being there, knowing I'm going to be jetting off to a cool place, eating at places I only get to visit a few times a year or shopping/browsing the unique stores and watching the planes take off and land before it's my turn. When the holidays come around, it seems like everyone is on edge and there's hardly anyone having a good time waiting to get on the plane. 

Helpful Travel Apps

If you want your holiday trips to be less stressful, or you just want to make your general travel more fun, I've rounded up some great apps and sites that will make you wish you'd known about them sooner. 


Get Away from Everyone
Can't fathom spending your whole stay with family? Get a vacation rental where you can retreat after you've had enough of the hundred people at the family host's house. I always love using Airbnb, but now you can also find rentals to fit your budget with Tripping, which compiles all the available rentals from sites like HomeAway, FlipKey and Roomorama, and Dwellable Vacation Rentals, which has over 250,000 listings in the U.S., Mexico, Europe and the Caribbean.


Make New Friends
If you aren't visiting family or friends, but want to make some and/or immerse yourself in a new culture, check out both BeWelcome and MealSharing. BeWelcome pairs you up with a host at your destination that will play tour guide for you, show you how they live and will also allow you to stay in their house. This is the perfect way to make international (and domestic) friends and fantastic for those that might like to travel solo, but don't want to "travel solo". 


MealSharing is an awesome site that matches travelers up with meal hosts. Maybe you'd like to have dinner with new friends or you'd like to invite others to your home when you aren't traveling. And, this year they are promoting their second annual ThanksSharing event, where they encourage others to spend Thanksgiving with others. Maybe you're traveling somewhere over the holiday and can't make your own feast. Why not find someone else you can celebrate with?
Do Something Completely Different
Want to see something other than the same boring tourist attractions? (I'm not knocking tourist sites, because I love them, but maybe you've already done them.) Let others give you cool new suggestions with the HeyLets app. The app is especially geared toward families with kids who enjoy doing something a bit different. Add your family's travel style to the app to get personalized tips on what to see and do. App users can add their own inspired activities to make the app even better and help other families travel better, too.


Where the Heck are the mashed potatoes?
Whether you're traveling to see family or they're coming to you, invite your family to join Cabin, where you can skip the multi-texts and phone calls while trying to organize everyone for the big day (or a vacation). With Cabin, you can send messages to all or individuals to make sure everyone knows when and where to show up, what to bring and more. Is Aunt Cindy not there with her famous green bean casserole yet? Cabin tracks where everyone is, so you can find out if she's on her way or just around the corner without having to call her every five minutes asking if she's lost or not. Imagine how easy this will make planning other family gatherings, too. 


Keep All Your Travel Plans in One Place
Not all great apps are about connecting with others. One of my favorites is TripIt. I use it online and as an app on my phone to keep all my reservations, confirmation numbers, important addresses and itineraries at my fingertips. If you are like me and hate to print out a ton of unnecessary paper, TripIt is the ideal travel app. Only print out the things you need to and everything else can live solely on the app for you to call up on your phone or computer when needed. it has saved us several times when we've needed an address for a cab driver or to get to on public transportation or to find the phone number to call and get directions or change a reservation.

Have you ever used any of the above apps/sites or do you have a favorite app or website that helps you travel or live better?

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

2015 Holiday Gift Guide for Travelers

It's that time again. Black Friday and Cyber Monday are here, which means gift-giving time. We all have that person on our list that is tough to buy for. They have everything or are super picky. Perhaps they are big on traveling and that makes it just a little bit easier to choose a gift for them. I've broken the list into three categories, depending on how much you can spend, with at least a few **suitable for packing in your carry-on** when you are traveling for the holidays and don't want to spend extra to check your bags or to ship ahead of time.

Splurge-worthy travel gifts

Splurge {$100 or more}

**1. Airline or Hotel Gift Cards: These technically can fit into any category, because you can get them in any denomination. You're basically giving them a discount on travel, which is always appreciated. 
**2. CityPASS: Another great gift for those that are traveling and you know their destination city. CityPASS can save up to 50% off attraction and activities. $79 and up at CityPASS
3. Anatomie travel clothes for women: Anatomie sells luxury travel clothing that packs light and flatters the boy without looking like travelwear. $100 and up at Anatomie
4. Anti-theft React Tote from Travelon: A good, sturdy carry-on bag is important. One that looks fab is a bonus. This one from Travelon helps you stay organized, has a padded laptop compartment an slides onto your roller bag. $110 at Amazon
5. Skyroll or Skyroll Spinner: When you travel a lot for business and need the convenience of a carry-on, with the functionality of a garment bag. These are great when you want to bring suits or formalwear, like going on a wedding weekend or on a cruise. The garment bag fits right around the main bag, making it the best of everything you want a carry-on to be. Original $149.99 at Skyroll | Spinner #299.99 at Skyroll

Moderate {$50-100}

**1. Bluff Works Work + Play Pants for men: Hate bringing dress up pants that you may or may not wear when you travel? Bluff Works look boardroom-worthy, but are made like travel pants, so they breathe and wick moisture, plus they don't wrinkle and resist stains. Wear them to a work function then out rock climbing. $93 at Bluff Works
2. Travelon 3 Compartment Crossbody: Need an attractive handbag that is secure and safe from thieves? Travelon has certainly hit the nail on the head with this handbag. All the features of a travel bag without looking like a tourist. $65 at Amazon
**3. HP Tablet 7: A tablet is the ultimate travel gadget. Use it to check your email, play games, watch videos and more. This one is affordable enough to get for the kids, but has all the features you need to get a little bit of work done, too. $99 at Amazon
4. TLS Mother Lode Weekender Convertible Junior: Got a real adventurer on your list? The Mother Lode goes from shoulder bag to backpack in just a few seconds. Perfect for camping near home, a weekend in Vegas or backpacking through Europe. With several compartments, everything is kept in its place and it even expands for when you make a few too many purchases and need extra room coming home. $79.99 at Amazon
5. Portachair Harness: Travelers with little ones can make sure there's always a seat at the table with the portachair. It works as a highchair, by holding your child safely in any chair with a back. It also makes for one less thing to rent at your destination and keeps them from having to use those restaurant ones that might be full of germs. $50 at Uncommon Goods
6. Noise-cancelling Headphones: The roar of the plane engine and the murmur of other passengers and the cries of that baby behind you can really make the travel experience suck sometimes. A pair of noise-cancelling headphones can help drown those noises out and help you relax. You can find many different types, like these that are $64.95 at Amazon
**7. Kindle Paperwhite: I am a big reader. Knowing I have a whole library at my fingertips is comforting and means I don't have to weigh down my bag with traditional books. yes, books, because I often finish one on my trip and then need a second one. This way, I have that option, and variety. $79 at Amazon
8. Chloe Hoodie from SCOTTeVEST: I'm always cold, but I like to be comfy and cozy. The Chloe Hoodie is my go-to layering piece, plus it allows me to carry everything with me without a purse. Perfect for your winter travels for warmth and security. You can also get a comparable hoodie with all the pockets for men as well. $90 at SCOTTeVEST

Budget {under $50}

We don't all have a ton of money to spend on gifts, especially if we have a lot of people to buy for. All these budget gifts can slip into your carry-on for wrapping when you arrive.
**1. I Was Here travel journal: I always wish I wrote down stuff each day I travel, but then I never do, because I don't have a journal. I have had this fantastic journal on my list for some time. I think I just might need to cave and get it before my next trip. As much as it's fun to add all your travel details online, nothing beats putting a pen to paper and writing down some travel reminders just for yourself. $13.56 at Amazon
**2. iGo multicharger: I hate to pack a million cords when I travel. My iGo goes everywhere with me, because it allows me to charge all my electronic devices - with the exception of my laptop - with one adapter, either in the car or at a wall outlet. You purchase tips for different devices, based on the type of plug it uses. I have a splitter for mine, so I can charge two items at once. $14.97 for wall charger at Amazon | $6.51 for car charger at Amazon
**3. Quik Pod Monopod: how many times have you gone on vacation and tried to get you and your partner or family in the same shot with no luck, so you end up never being in the photos unless you ask a nice stranger to take a pic? Quik Pod fixed this problem. We have two of these monopods and, though we may get some strange looks, they have helped us get some great photos. $27.05 at Amazon
**4. Crumpled city map: The absolute worst thing about paper maps is having to figure out how to fold it back up. Stop looking like a lame tourist with a crumpled city map. You never have to refold it. Just scrunch it up and put it in your pocket or bag. Awesome! If you know your recipient is going somewhere specific, get them one for their destination city. From $7.19 at Amazon
**5. Hoodie Pillow: Give them the best of both worlds when they travel. A hoodie to block out light and cold and a pillow to help them get comfortable and sleep without getting an achy neck. It's made of super soft material and you'll want one of your own, too. This is a perfect gift for younger recipients, like teens and college students. $19.99 at Amazon
**6. Travelon Convertible Crossbody Duffel: It's a purse. It's a duffel. It's both! This is a great gift for the shopper on your list or the active person who likes to go on weekend trips or hit the gym. It comes in fun colors and makes a great extra bag for traveling and bringing home purchases. From $27.34 on Amazon
**7. eBags packing cubes: Sometimes it is just nice to be organized. Also, if you're not good at packing light, limiting yourself to what fits in a packing cube set may be a lifesaver. These bags are breathable, lightweight and have handles, so you can just take them out and pop them into a hotel dresser drawer. $19.99 on Amazon

More Budget {under $50}

**8. Adult Coloring Books: It's the new hot thing in being a grown-up. You want to relax and do something different. These great books from Skyhorse Publishing are easy to take everywhere you go and you can color right alongside your children. $8-13 at Amazon
**9. Laken vacuum insulated thermos: I am not exaggerating when I say this is the best thermos ever. It keeps cold stuff cold for up to 24 hours and hot stuff hot for around 18. We took ours to Orlando and still had ice at the end of long theme park days even when it was 90+ degrees outside. They come in all sizes and colors, so you can find one that fits everyone's personality. $18-50 at Amazon
**10. CardNinja cell phone wallet: Keep all your cash, credit cards and ID in one spot with this fun little stretchy pocket that fits right on the back of your mobile or the case. It's perfect for travel days, going to the club/bar or for leaving your purse at home. $10-12 at Amazon
**11. Travelon RFID-blocking tri-fold wallet: Men love a good leather wallet. My husband has had his for over three years and it still looks brand new. He loves all the card slots and the dual pockets for cash, so he can separate his receipts, plus the RFID-blocking reassures him that his card info won't be stolen, especially when traveling to crowded areas. $14 at Amazon
12. Butterfly Twists Foldable Flats: A great pair of flats can elevate any outfit and can really save space in a travel bag. These foldable flats are stylish as well as comfortable to walk in all day. Everyone loves a great pair of travel shoes that they can wear in all situations with all types of outfits. $20-45 at Amazon
**13. Posh puzzle books: Logic problems are fun to me, but I know others like crosswords, accrosstics, word search or cryptograms. Whatever you like, there's a posh puzzle book for you. The small size makes them easy to slip in a pocket or purse and keep with you everywhere you go. These make great stocking stuffers, too. $6-10 at Amazon
**14. Universal 3-in-1 lens kit for cell phones: Sometimes you don't want to drag your camera around, and in some situations you might find your phone does a better job than your trusty point-and-shoot. Make your phone even more awesome with these clip-on interchangeable lenses that bring more to your pics. You get a macro lens, fish-eye lens and wide angle lens in this set. Great for Instagrammers and up-and-coming photography buffs. $10 at Amazon

Would you like any of these gifts for yourself?

Escape the Cold this Holiday Season: London to Miami, Florida

It keeps getting colder and colder nowadays in London. Cold winds and chills are daily circumstances you have to face. For those of you who yearn to shake off the winter chill, you can go and visit Miami. It is never cold in Miami, so if you want to take a quick escape then it may be the right choice for you. Here are some recommendations on what you can do and see when exploring this vibrant city.

Image Courtesy of www.flightsinternationaluk.co.uk

The Beaches
What’s better than escaping winter and going to a sunny beach? There are a lot of beaches you can explore in Miami. Miami Beach is one of the top tourist attractions to visit, but there are other beaches too. You can have a picnic, go surfing or windsurfing, read some magazines under the warm sun, and more. If you prefer to be near the beach, then you can stay at one of the many beach hotels. There are plenty to choose from. You can wake up in the morning and go directly to the beach in front of your hotel to sunbathe, which would be very convenient.

Vibrant Tourism
There are a lot of places to visit and explore in Miami. For example, the Art-Deco District brings memories of Florida's past. It is restored with 1930s Art-Deco buildings in pastel colors. These buildings and structures display neon signs and awnings that cover the outdoor dining areas. After visiting the Art-Deco District you can pay Ocean Drive a visit. Ocean Drive is a popular for some drive-by sightseeing. There are other interesting places to visit too such as Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, Little Havana, Zoo Miami and Jungle Island, Miami Seaquarium and so much more.

Top Restaurants to Try
There are a lot of restaurants that offer delicious food that will make you ask for more, but Joe’s Stone Crab is on the top of the list. The restaurant was opened in 1913 by Joe Weiss, and is a huge success. It serves magnificent stone crabs, as well as other tasty dishes, including fried chicken and Key Lime pie. You'll want to get there early though to avoid crazy-long lines because it is very popular. There are other prime restaurants tourists love to visit other than Joe’s Stone Crab. Check out Yardbirds, Estatorio Milos and the Bazaar.

Image Courtesy of throughmiami.com

Clubs to Visit 
As one of the world’s top party destinations, Miami is filled with bars and nightspots. Your trip to Miami would not be complete if you didn't visit some of the clubs in the city and, of course, sample some cocktails and champagne. You might want to try Brut champagne, as it tastes amazing, and you don’t have to worry about the Brut champagne price. In Miami, there are so many nightclubs it can be difficult to choose which to go to. Some recommended clubs are Chalk, Score, Mansion, Wall, Cameo, Nikki Beach and LIV. Don’t forget to visit at least one of them.



Those are just some of the things you can do and places you can visit if you are going on a quick getaway to Miami. There are a lot of amazing things you can experience, so rather than staying inside during this cold, windy winter, you can just pack your bag and enjoy the vibrant city of Miami.


Have you ever been to Miami? If so, what do you recommend for first-time visitors?

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

Let CardNinja Make Travel Less Bulky

Do you find juggling all your stuff when you travel difficult? I know I do. I have to have my ID out and my boarding pass, plus I like to have my phone on-hand to check my email, flight status changes and to take pics. I've always got a last-minute purchase to make; usually a bottle of water and/or some gum, and rummaging around in my purse to get stuff out multiple times is annoying. Of course, you could put it all in your back pocket, but chances are, at least one of those things is going to fall out and break or get lost forever. Not optimal.

Let CardNinja Make Travel Less Bulky

Want to make your travel days easier? CardNinja wants to help you out. What if you could keep all your important things on the back of your phone? Now you can! CardNinja is a stretchy little pocket that attaches to your smartphone (any smartphone) that holds your ID, credit cards, cash and more. I'm loving this idea, because I only have to take one thing out of my bag at any given time and everything is right at my fingertips. 

 

I mean, do you ever go through security, then throw everything into your bag, so you can send it through the X-ray machine and not have anything on your person, then panic later because you have no idea where it ended up? This happens pretty much every time I go to the airport. You'd think I'd come up with a better way, but nope. Frantically digging: "Where the *@#! is my driver's license!?" Every. Single. Trip. I finally ditched paper boarding passes and went with e-tickets, but that didn't keep me from misplacing my ID, again.


CardNinja solves my problem. I slip my ID credit card and cash into the CardNinja pocket - it has a textured inside to keep everything in place - and just have to keep track of my phone, through TSA checks, through security screening, through the airport shops, past gate boarding and right onto the plane. It's pretty awesome and I feel totally organized.


It is nice and snug, so you can just stash it in your back pocket without everything falling out or being all bulky. And when you're not traveling? Easily toss your phone into your purse, no matter how small, or your jacket pocket if you're not into carrying a purse. On your trips, you can still keep everything you need together. This is a perfect solution to keeping your tickets and ID together at theme parks when you have to show them throughout your visit. If you are the holder of everyone's tickets, you can hold them all together in CardNinja, because it's stretchy enough to hold up to 8 credit cards and cash. Even with the few items I had in mine, I turned it upside down and shook it vigorously. Nothing moved at all.


Another plus is that it doesn't obscure your camera or your speaker. You may need to take your stuff out if you want to use your flash, like I might on mine, but I hardly ever use that anyway, so it isn't that big an issue.


Want a bit of security? I don't particularly like to travel around showing people that I've got cash and credit cards on display. That's just asking for trouble really. Put a business card in front of the other stuff in there, so it just looks like you're ready to network at any point. 


As you can see, you don't have to apply CardNinja right to your phone. It fits nearly all cases as well and removes just as easily as it is to apply. The sticky 3M backing won't harm your device or take muscle to take it off when you change phones. CardNinja comes in a bunch of colors and styles to match your phone and/or personality, and the price is so affordable, you can easily buy these for everyone you know. They make great stocking stuffers.

More details:
Where can I buy CardNinja? On the Cubi website or on Amazon
How much is it? $9.95-11.95
What's it made of? High quality, spandex blend fabric with durable ultrasonic welding, so it holds it's shape over time and everyday use.

Think CardNinja is cool? Connect with them on Twitter | Facebook | Pinterest

Disclosure: I was provided with the CardNinja for the purposes of this review, but all opinions are 100% my own.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Jet Lag Is The Worst, So Don't Get It

If you're traveling across the country for the holidays, there's nothing worse than suffering from jet lag. It can ruin a day or more of your trip. It can also make you cranky when stress is already running fairly high. Here are some ideas on how to combat the dreaded jet lag, so you get to your destination bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, or sleepy and ready for bed if you get there at night. It can be hard getting into the swing of things at first, but if you get your internal clock on your new time as soon as possible, I find that's a good start.

Jet Lag Is The Worst, So Don't Get It
photo credit


On our first trip to London and Paris, I didn't try to acclimate myself to local time before I got there, we arrived early in the morning and the first day was a disaster, stressing me out even more. We spent our first two days in London, then took a three-day side trip to Paris. I fell asleep on the train and was pretty much useless for an entire day when we arrived, sleeping most of the day away. Since, I've learned how to deal with jet lag and don't push myself the first few days I'm at a new, far away, destination. Have you ever had a situation where jet lag ruined your vacation?

If you want some more practical tips for jet lag, see my posts here and here.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

How to Buzz Through TSA During the Holidays

The holidays are officially upon us and that means more travelers hitting the airport to visit friends, families or possibly just take advantage of a rockin’ travel deal. There’s no doubt that the airport will be crowded with travelers and lovely people picking up and saying goodbye, but the busiest place won’t be the stores or eateries, or even the waiting room, but the security line. No one likes to wait in it and everyone thinks it’s a hassle, even though it’s kind of exciting, because you’re going somewhere, hopefully, fun. While your airport might be more organized than some others out there, they still need you to do your part in making security an easier process for everyone. Here are some tips to help you get through security quickly and easily, even if they pull you aside and dig through your bag.

How to Buzz Through TSA During the Holidays

Have your photo ID and boarding pass in-hand – You can’t even get to the security conveyor belts and scanners if you don’t make it past the TSA agent in the line. Make sure to be prepared and keep the line moving, by having your photo ID (or passport) and boarding pass at the ready. Nobody wants to wait for you to dig around in your bag to find it and you will just make enemies of those people in line behind you. Even better, download the airline app and use the e-ticket to check in and get through security. You can use your phone to show the passes of everyone in your travel group, as long as they have their identification out.

Have your 3-1-1 bag out – Don’t wait until you get to the airport to start rummaging around in your toiletry bag and finding all your liquids and gels. Buy a TSA-approved 3-1-1 bag online or at the store or pick up a box of 1-liter zip-top bags and fill it up before you leave home. It will make you less stressed and you’ll know that everything fits in there.


Wear easy-on, easy-off shoes – Do you want to spend 20 minutes untying your hiking books to take off and put in the security bin? Probably not. Also, the people behind you do not want to wait for you either. Make sure you wear shoes that can easily be taken off and put back on, so you can make security procedures that much less painful for you and everyone else involved.

Do not wrap your gifts – TSA is all about seeing everything in your bag. Even if you only have one gift in your bag, don’t wrap it. You will have spent all that time and energy making it look pretty and then getting it into your bag, only to have an agent rip your paper to shreds to find out what you packed. Bring small gifts that can be packed without boxes and wrapping paper. By all means, bring those staples with you to wrap at your destination if you have room in your bag.


Make sure your laptop is easily accessible – If you’re bringing a laptop, netbook or iPad, make sure you can quickly access it and slide it in and out of your carry-on. It will make the security line that much faster when you have to dump all your individual things into a bin: shoes, jacket, purse, pocket contents, laptop, 3-1-1 bag. The quicker these things can be put into a bin, the faster you can push them towards the X-Ray machine and make room for other travelers’ items and bins on the counter.


Go to the left – Most people are predisposed to turn right, probably because they are right-handed, but that means the left lines are usually shorter at TSA. If you aren't being directed by a security person, try this, or look for the line with fewest kids. I'm not being ageist, but you know those harried moms and dads have to do a bunch of things to get their little ones through the line, especially if strollers are involved. They're going to hold you up, too.


Apply for Pre-Check – There's still time before Christmas hols to get on the Pre-Check list. Why is it awesome? Because you can leave your laptop and liquids in your bag, plus keep your shoes and jacket on. Remember when travel used to be so easy? Eric and I have gotten approved for Pre-Check and It's. The. Best. You save a ton of time, too, because the line is shorter and you don't have to do all that extra stuff. It costs $85, but it is valid for 5 years, so if you travel at least twice per year, or through really busy airports, then it's worth it.

If you're traveling for the holidays, where will you be headed?

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Eating at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

By now you've read all about my visit to to Hogsmeade, Diagon Alley and Knockturn Alley at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando. I saved the best for last, because the food is actually really delicious. I don't mean in comparison to theme park food. I just mean in general. Of course, most people come to Wizarding World with a singular food goal: Butterbeer. 

Eating at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Butterbeer is the iconic Harry Potter beverage. Despite popular belief, it is non-alcoholic (I mean, kids drink it). I'd had it in two forms the last trip I made and while at the Warner Brothers Studio Tour in London, but it's now available in a third delicious option.

Cold Butterbeer is highly popular, especially in Orlando. (Also, that chocolate trifle is fresh and delicious.) It's cream soda based, so it's sweet and frothy. Though yummy, cold Butterbeer is now my least favorite of the three.

If you're feeling really hot, frozen Butterbeer is where it's at. This is my second favorite form of butterbeer. It's totally refreshing and I could drink it all day, if it wouldn't make my teeth fall out. 


My favorite, and the newest form of Butterbeer is hot. It's like a latte mixed with hot vanilla milk. It may have been 85 degrees outside, but I was willing to make the sacrifice to be able to tell you how it compared to the other two. If you're here in the morning, which you should be, order this instead of coffee. You'll thank me. 

You can purchase Butterbeer at the Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade, The Hopping Pot, and the Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley, plus you can get cold and frozen at Butterbeer stands in each. 

Speaking of the Leaky Cauldron, I was really excited to eat there. I mean, everyone in the Wizarding world uses it as a gateway. This one doesn't have old Tom, but they have a fantastic dining room. You order at the counter, are taken to a table and served by staff that has these awesome hats. I tried to buy one, but they only had something similar in brown. Boo. They looked soft and comfortable, plus everyone looked fantastic in them.

We made a point to eat here twice, and I would have eaten there again if we had been there longer. Look at that Weasley-sized cauldron! You feel like you're really inside Harry Potter's world when you're here. Everywhere you look there's something to see, from the staircase leading up to the rooms above the tavern, to the crooked pictures along the wall and the fabulous high ceilings. There were also a lot of Brits there when we visited, which I though was pretty cool. They may have the Warner Bros. Studios with all the sets, but they have nothing on actually being inside the Wizarding World with the actual shops and wizards hanging about. 

First up, let's talk about their breakfasts. We made the mistake of ordering coffee, which was so hot that it was barely cool enough to sip by the time we were finished with our food. This might be how they get out of refills. What you should do instead is order a hot Butterbeer. Eric went for the pancake breakfast and totally snarfed it without a photo. It came with three buttermilk pancakes, bacon, sausage and a croissant. Obviously, he didn't have any complaints. I tasted the pancakes and they were pretty good. Not dry at all and flavorful. 

I wanted to try something different, but I didn't think I could handle the traditional breakfast, so instead went with the Egg, Leek and Mushroom Pasty. Oh. My. Goodness. was this good. As you can see it came with potatoes and a mass of fruit. I shared some of the fruit with Eric, but that pasty (pronounced pass-tee) was amazing. The flaky biscuit was full of the perfect combination of eggs, leeks and mushrooms and it totally filled me up. All the morning dishes, with the exception of the kids meal, are $15.99, but I thought it was well worth the price. 

Moving on to lunch (and dinner), we made another trip to the Leaky, because why not? They have some great traditional options here, instead of chicken sandwiches and hamburgers. It makes a nice change, plus gives you a sweet little taste of the UK. I love that they have a window that displays the food selections, so you can kind of make up your mind before you get in line and handed a menu. 


Eric went with the Beef,Guinness and Lamb Stew, which came with a side salad and I went big with the Ploughman's Platter, which claimed to serve two. I know Eric was torn between getting something else that came with a Scotch Egg and I wasn't starving, so a salad with cheese and bread sounded like a nice light option. We didn't make the mistake of not ordering Butterbeer this time, but to even it out, I tried the Peachtree Fizzing Tea. Make sure to ask for sweetener for it though, because it's not that fizzy and kinda blah without it. The stew was probably one of the best I'd ever tasted. 

My salad was good; however, some of the cheese was kind of flavorless. It may have been better with the mustard, but I don't eat mustard. Eric loves mustard and said it was too strong for him. It was okay, but I wouldn't get it again. If you're really hungry, this won't serve two of you.

Since Eric said we couldn't eat all our meals a the Leaky (I beg to differ), we compromised and went to lunch at the Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade. I had eaten here before and didn't get a chance to try everything I wanted. The tavern is attached to the Hogs Head Pub, which sells alcohol, like Firewhiskey, and has a giant hog's head on the wall behind the bar that intermittently snorts, which I find hilarious. You can hear it in the Three Broomsticks dining room. I love it.

Just as in the Leaky, you can view the foods served here in a window. We decided to save money and order the Great Feast, which serves two. We had also just had huge ice creams, so we weren't actually hungry enough to have our own meals. The Great Feast comes with ribs, chicken, fried potatoes, roasted vegetables and a giant ear of corn. It was perfect for our needs. We augmented with that lovely little trifle at the top. 


The decor is rustic and wooden in the Three Broomsticks, and exactly what you would expect. You order at the counter, pick up your food and drinks at another counter and then get taken to a table. I like that you're never on your own here. They also have outdoor seating that gives you a view of Hogwarts. 


Remember when Harry ran away from home, took the Knight Bus to London and lived in a room above the Leaky Cauldron before his third year? He spent his days studying(!) and eating free ice creams from Florean Fortescue's. Florean took a liking to him and gave him cones of sweet creamy goodness, like strawberry peanut butter. I would have tried that, but instead, I found two even better sounding flavors once we entered the delightfully pink ice cream shop. You can choose from soft-serve or regular ice cream and your cone comes with two flavors (you can also get a cup, but what the hey. Calories don't count on vacation.).

Eric went traditional with mint and chocolate soft-serve. Basically, it all starts out as vanilla and the flavors get swirled in. I'm actually surprised he didn't go for Butterbeer. I will have to try that one next time. I chose sticky toffee pudding and chocolate chili, because I wanted something entirely different. I debated over clotted cream and lavender earl grey, which I would have gotten had we made a second trip like we were planning. If you like spice, the chocolate chili is fantastic. it's sweet, but hot, which can completely freak out your taste buds. The sticky toffee pudding was just cold and sweet, but with chunks of cake in it. I was glad that one was on the bottom, to cool off my tongue from the spicy chili. 

In the Florida heat, it's important to keep hydrated. While in other parts of the park you can drink sodas all day long, you won't find any of that in the Wizarding World. The Hopping Pot serves up all three types of Butterbeer as well as alcoholic drinks, plus they have a lot of seating for you to relax at and just soak in the atmosphere. I mean, look at that photo and imagine it being even better in person.

One of my favorite drinks from the Harry Potter books is Pumpkin Juice. I've made some myself at home for parties and I could probably drink it all the time. It's not cheap to buy at the WWoHP, but it does come in this adorable bottle with a pumpkin topper, which I brought home as a souvenir. If you like pumpkin flavored things and enjoy juice in general, this is a must-try. You can purchase it at the Fountain of Fair Fortune.


Also at the Fountain you can find Gilly Water. Now, we aren't entirely sure what it is from the books, but here (and at my house), Gilly Water is just water. Universal makes it special by selling it alongside fruity flavorings disguised as potions, like the Draught of Peace. I know, it's a way to get more of your money, but you can also just buy the flavorings to use with your own water. Also, they're tasty if you are tired of boring old water. 

The Wizarding World has a good variety of foods and beverages and most are decently priced. Out front of King's Cross Station, you can hit up the potato kiosk that serves up jacket potatoes with all types of toppings. That's just a fancy name for baked potatoes. I regret I was never hungry enough to eat there as well, but there was always someone in line, so I'll definitely try one next time. All in all, I'd skip many of the in-park restaurants to eat at one of the restaurants in the wizarding parts of the parks. 

What have you always wanted to try from the Harry Potter series?


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Knockturn Alley

Okay, so we're onto part 3 of my trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando. If you missed the others, check out Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. After walking around in the blazing hot sun of Florida, even in September, the dark and cool Knockturn Alley seems like a great place to hide for a little bit. If you have an interactive wand, you can spend even more time here, as there are quite a few place to use it and use magic. Knockturn Alley, like you might expect from reading about it in the Harry Potter books, is everything that Diagon Alley (where it is located) isn't. Where Diagon is bright and vibrant, Knocturn is almost pitch black. Someone complained that there wasn't any seating here, but if there was, you'd almost certainly trip over it. 

Knockturn Alley Orlando

To get the feeling of being in a creepy wizarding alley, they've put Knockturn Alley inside, though with all the windows for store fronts, it feels as if you are still outside, but in a really shady neighborhood. There are two places you can slip into this dark wizard area, which may not be that easy to spot if you aren't looking for it.  

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Now, you may have figured it out already, but if not, I love Halloween and creepy things and I wanted to know more about Knockturn Alley when reading the books. I was intrigued by the kinds of macabre and evil things these shops were selling. I mean, that one witch was selling what looked like fingernails. What were those for? Well, I probably won't find out, but the wares of Knockturn Alley are varied and the windows are just as thought out and packed as in the rest of the Wizarding World. 


You'll find poisons, bat meat, skeletons, shrunken heads, insects and more within this small shopping district, though they are all just for show. There's so much to look at, even in the darkness, that you may spend even more time there to see what's actually on display.


Obviously, Knockturn Alley was built around that iconic dark wizard shop Borgin and Burkes. It's the only place to shop here, but there's so much to see that it's not disappointing at all. Almost everything on display is for sale, so you can pick up a shirt touting the dark arts, a hefty locket horcrux replica or even a skull for your personal enjoyment. Whether you're in the market for a dark artifact or not, you'll want to make a visit here just to see some of the things you've read about.

I kind of love the horned skull on display, but the Death Eater Masks and jars full of weird potion ingredients really gave me some inspiration for my own Harry Potter party decor. 


Remember the vanishing cabinet? It's here! Step a little closer to it and you can hear that little bird chirping away inside. You'll also see the fake Moody's seven-lock trunk. It's just rattling away under a table full of other great stuff and next to a cabinet full of a bunch of freaky artifacts. Yes, that doll's eyes did just move. Ever wondered what the Hand of Glory looked like? Well, it's in a different cabinet, along with a werewolf claw. Want to see that cursed necklace that Katie Bell somehow ended up with? It's here as well.

Don't forget to look up here, too. There's even more up there, like that hideous troll foot umbrella stand Tonks kept knocking over in Grimmauld Place. You want one now, don't you? I didn't ask if it was for sale, but I probably couldn't afford it anyway (or get it home on the plane if I could). This shop wasn't huge, but since every nook and cranny is full of crazy stuff, it actually felt much bigger than it is. 


Some of my photos are lightened up a bit to actually show you what the picture is of, because the alley is actually that dark. I probably wouldn't head in alone, because sometimes it's hard to just spot another visitor in the gloom, and I'm a wuss who's afraid of the dark. Aside from that, it's definitely a must-see, because you can totally feel how uneasy and lost Harry felt when he accidentally ended up in Borgin and Burkes instead of the Leaky Cauldron. Thank goodness for Hagrid! 

Knockturn Alley is a great respite from the heat and satisfies most of your curiosities about the darker wizarding shopping area. Next up, we'll be talking foodWhat were you most awed by in Knockturn in the books or movies?
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