Growing up in a Northeast Ohio suburb, Christmas lights were all over the place. I remember going to visit one street every year because the decorations were such an attraction. All the homes on the street were decorated to the fullest. The sidewalks had arches framing them for spectators to walk through.
But the house I remember was the one on at the center of the cul-de-sac. There was a train running in the front yard and music playing to set the mood. The lights were timed to the music and there were endless places to look. It was a winter wonderland all on one street.
I may remember one street, but there are so many amazing developments in the region that take their holiday decorations seriously. Take a look at this comprehensive list and stop by some of the places if you’re in the area. All the credit for this list goes to NortheastOhioFamilyFun.com and for the I say thank you!
Photo credit: Downtown Cleveland Alliance Blog
It’s getting chilly in Cleveland! But don’t think that means nothing is happening in the city. If you’re a local Clevelander or someone passing through, here are some events happening this weekend.
1. Disney’s Newsies – Part of the Broadway Series that comes to PlayhouseSquare every year, the Newsie’s is supposed to be spectacular. If you’ve never been to PlayhouseSquare, I highly suggest attending a show. The theater is a staple in the city and the architecture is stunning. And who doesn’t love seeing some broadway talent?
2. Broadway Buzz Pre-show Talk: Disney’s Newsies – Are you a die hard musical fan? Do you like hearing the behind the scenes information about how a show of this level gets put on? Sit down with Joe Garry for a free discussion before the show to hear some insider information.
3. Ohio Independent Film Festival – Movie buffs, come on down! It’s the 21st annual festival where you can see movies of all genres from around the world. You’ll have four days in your element. The festival runs from November 6 through November 9 and costs $10 per film event.
4. Alton Brown Edible Inevitable Tour – On November 7, head over to PlayhouseSquare to share some laughs with Alton Brown.
5. How We Got On – Stop by the Outcalt Theater to see this play from the Cleveland Play House, one of the oldest regional theaters in the country. You’ll be impressed with the intimate venue!
6. An Evening with Scott Hamilton and Friends – Who doesn’t love a little ice skating? The Cleveland Clinic Foundation is hosting Scott Hamilton for a night on the ice at Quicken Loans Arena on Saturday, November 8.
7. Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons -Yes. Does this need a description? Just go check this out on November 9!
This post is long overdue. Part of me feels that I was lost in a whirlwind of Harry Potter heaven to really give this section of Universal Studios Orlando a recap, but I think that sums up the experience well. For those of you who are HP fanatics, you must get here if you haven’t already.
Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
All I have to say is wow. I think this new ride gives Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey a run for its money. The talk I heard throughout the park was that the Forbidden Journey was the winner, but it really comes down to personal preference. So let’s talk specifics.
- Atmosphere: Gingotts Bank is exactly how you would think of it. You see it in the movies, but walking through the main hall of the bank is awe inspiring. You’re flanked with goblins working away on your left and right. As you continue to move forward through the line, you feel yourself moving deeper into the bank. Then you enter an elevator that makes you feel like you are moving into the depths of Gringotts. Can you imagine your excitement building at this point?
- On the ride: Grab your 3D glasses and get ready for some fun. Going into the ride, I didn’t know what to expect. Was it going to be like the Simpsons ride or like Revenge of the Mummy? It’s more like the latter but surprisingly even better. I won’t spoil the ride for you but do know that this is a roller coaster, although a family friendly one. It’s not like Rip Ride and Rockit. Final advice: Sit front row at all costs.
- The best part: There is a fire breathing dragon on top of the bank. Every 15 minutes, the dragon lights Diagon Alley up with flames. How cool is that?!
This section of the park is all about the shops. How can it not be? Diagon Alley is where Harry and friends went to shop for their upcoming year at Hogwarts. Some of my favorite shops are the following:
- Florean Fortscue’s Ice-Cream Parlour: If you want to be boring and have normal ice cream, they have it here. If you want to try some fancy HP inspired ice cream, they have that here, too! Like soft serve? Go with the Butterbeer soft serve ice cream. Really, you can’t go wrong with ice cream.
- Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes: You can’t come here and not go into this store. It has such a strong presence in the books and movies — and now in Orlando. Go in and see what kind of tricks you can take back home with you.
- Gringotts Money Exchange: This is something you may overlook. It doesn’t look impressive from the outside, but I highly recommend heading inside for a treat. There is an interactive goblin that works at the exchange. Take a stroll inside and ask him a few questions. You can try: Where is Harry Potter? How much money do you make? Who’s your favorite wizard?
The hidden gems
Did you expect Universal to put everything out in the open for you to easily see? This place is all about magic! Here are some hidden gems to look out for.
- Secret spells: You heard it right. There are secret spells throughout the park. Use the wand you just bought at Ollivander’s and use the swish-and-flick motion you learned from Hermione. Look for little metal markers in the ground that will signal you can do a spell. Note: If you purchased a wand during past visits at Hogsmeade, your wand won’t work with the new interactive spells.
- The phone booth: It looks like a simple phone booth, but there is something special about it. If you go into the phone booth and dial M-A-G-I-C, you’ll get to hear a message from the Ministry of Magic.
- Hagrid’s motorcycle: Want to sit on the bike the delivered Harry Potter to the Dursley’s? Don’t miss the chance! You’ll find this across from the ice cream parlor and next to Gringotts.
- Knockturn Alley: This isn’t necessarily hidden because people know it’s here, but be sure you head down to the dark side of the magic world. What’s cool is that this area of the park is always colder than the rest to set the tone that you’re heading somewhere chilling. The workers down here stay in character. I wondered if I was going to be kicked out because of my Gryffindor shirt!
- The Knight Bus: This clearly isn’t hidden. It’s big and you can’t miss it. But be sure to stop there when the conductor is there. The guy who plays this character is awesome. And, don’t worry, you get to talk to the shrunken head too!
I’m sure you’ve noticed that one major important piece of the puzzle is missing. The Hogwarts Express. I was here for a special event and they did not have the Hogwarts Express running. Needless to say, I was sad. I got to look at King’s Cross Station, but not enter. I guess that gives me even more reason to head back.
Until then, here are some questions. Leave your answers in the comments!
1. What was your favorite thing about Diagon Alley?
2. Which ride is better: Forbidden Journey or Gringotts?
3. Was there something missing at Diagon Alley you thought would be there?
I love Ancient Rome and its ruins. I don’t think this picture needs any words.
I love the perks that come with the onsite hotels at Universal Orlando. Back in my cheerleading days, we had competitions at Universal Studios/Islands of Adventure. Because of this, we stayed at the park hotels. Which hotels, you ask?
1. Hard Rock Hotel
2. Loews Portofino Bay
3. Loews Royal Pacific
The prices at these places can be a tad pricey during peak season. But, the hotels come with a list of perks that I believe are worth the price.
- Free Express Pass to both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. This pass allows you to skip the long lines and join the lucky people who have the fast pass. If you were to purchase this pass, it costs $89 (on top of the normal ticket price of $136 per person for a one day pass).
- Early admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. You get in an hour before the crowds. With the new addition of Diagon Alley, these areas in the parks get swarmed with crowds fast and early. The line for the new ride, Escape from Gringotts, can be upwards of a five hour wait.
- Priority seating at CityWalk restaurants. After a long day at the park, who wants to stand in line to wait for dinner? Yes, dinner. The restaurants at CityWalk get packed. Your stay at one of the above hotels gets you on a short list for dinner. If you love food like me, this perk is pretty amazing.
- Complementary water taxis and shuttles back to the hotel. If your feet are sore and your legs are tired, take one of the complementary means of travel to your comfortable bed.
- Prime location. You’re right by the parks and attractions. You want to go to CityWalk? It’s a short walk, bus or boat ride away. You won’t waste a lot of time traveling to your destination and paying for additional parking.
These are just the major perks that come along with staying at a Universal Resort. If the early admission and fast pass doesn’t make your mouth water, I don’t know how else to entice you!
If you don’t want to pay the sticker price of the deluxe hotels, Universal Orlando just opened up a budge resort for patrons as well. Welcome to Cabana Bay Beach Resort! If you stay here, you will lose some of the perks. You will no longer have priority seating or an express pass for the rides.
When planning your trip, it’s all about preference. Do you need the fast pass? Does the priority seating mean that much to you? If not, Cabana Bay sounds like it could be a good fit for you. It will keep you close to the park and other attractions. If you’re a hardcore thrill ride fan, the fast pass is 100% worth it. The lines can be terribly long and, if you’re traveling with kids, the wait can feel even longer.
Take a good look at what you want to accomplish on vacation and see if a Universal Resort is right for you and your family. The price may be worth it!
There’s a saying: Everything is bigger in Texas. When it comes to Halloween, I’d say that everything is bigger in Northeastern Ohio. Homes across the region put up large displays that draw hundreds, probably thousands, of people each year.
Take a look at this list from Northeast Ohio Family Fun: Must See Halloween Displays in Northeastern Ohio.
If you live in the region, stop by and see these awesome displays. I support you getting in the Halloween spirit! :)