Thursday, August 25, 2016

hello, hogwarts!

maybe a not-so-new confession:  i'm not into harry potter.  like, at all.  i've tried time and time again to get into the books, and i just get bored.  and if i don't care about a book, i don't typically make much of an effort to see the movies.  aside from the fact that you can't really escape the bazillion references to it, the girls and i caught the last half hour or so of the final movie a couple of months ago and so i know who the characters are and the basic gist of the story.  the old lady loves the movies, and the bean is pretty much like me on the subject.

either way, they'd both been angling to go to universal studios to check out the wizarding world of harry potter.  when we had our season passes a couple of years ago, they'd just started building the new area and we could just catch glimpses of it through a wall here and there.  at first i tried to impose a "read at least one of the books and we'll go" rule, but with summer winding down to a close and my own growing interest in seeing what universal had done with the space, i gave in and we hit costco to buy our tickets.

they'd installed a long row of metal detectors since the last time we were there.  in this regard, they have disneyland beat - it was a relatively quick process.  disneyland only has like two metal detectors on each side of the entrance.


the tv show "extra" does their filming here now, having moved from the grove awhile back.  nothing was happening yet when we arrived, but they were setting up.


obligatory front gate selfie.


while the security check flows nicely here, their actual gate entry does not.  we stood in a long line for a really long time before we finally presented our tickets, pressed our thumb down onto the fingerprint scanner, and finally went through the turnstile.  as we made our way through the crowds, we took a peek at the sign that showed the current wait times for the most popular attractions.


our first stop was to say hello to gru and his minions.


it was a pretty warm day, and we'd had the bean come prepared with a bathing suit on under her dress.  the water area just outside the minion ride is a favorite spot.


and there are fun photo ops here:



as we headed back out to wander the park, we came across this, which had really long lines (and which none of us were interested in seeing).


the girls loved "the secret life of pets," so they stopped willingly for this:


and then we finally got our first look at the world of harry potter.



the main attraction for me was this - a taste of the famous butterbeer.


i've seen a number of recipes floating around the internet for this stuff.  the one here was okay - you could either order it over ice or frozen, like a slushy.  and to be honest, i wasn't a huge fan of it.  it just tastes like a slightly flat, not-too-sweet cream soda to me, with a dollop of some extra sugary foam on top.  i wondered what this tasted like too, but i didn't indulge...this time.


we wandered around for a bit, looking in the stores selling tons of potter-themed merchandise, and then ended up in the simpsons' "springfield," where we stopped to grab some lunch.



from there, it was a natural progression to the simpsons ride.  another thing i appreciate about universal is how they offer lots of shade in the waiting areas for their rides.  misters are a nice touch, too.


afterwards, we noticed that the line for one of the harry potter lines wasn't too long.  this is the first outdoor roller coaster ride in this park.  it doesn't go particularly fast, and it's not a very long ride, but it was fun for everyone.



not too far past this gate, we found the shop where you could choose your very own magic wand.  by this time, i was pretty thoroughly sucked into the spirit of the place and was all about all the fun merchandise.  and so, not knowing a ton about it, we joined the line to get in (it was so crowded in there that they were trying to let people in as others exited).



if you're coming to universal and really want one of these magic wands, a tip:  they sell them at kiosks throughout the area.  you don't have to brave these crowds to get one.  we, of course, found that out much later.  also, be warned:  these things are $50.  yes.  FIFTY DOLLARS FOR A WAND.

but she adored it.  you can take it to a handful of spots in the park (with the map in the box as your guide) and wave it a certain way to make magic happen.  and the smile on her face when she made it work was totally worth every penny.



 in the lower lot, we found a play area for her to get the wiggles out.


and by then, it was late enough for the "night tour" on their famous backlot tram ride.


we met marilyn:


visited amity island:


and said hello to jaws.


the last thing we did was the third harry pottery ride.  the wait time was down to 45 minutes, which wasn't bad considering it was up to twice that during the day.  the theming is so well done in here, with lots of things to distract you as you wait in line.  i'm bummed that it was too dark to get any decent pictures.


we all hated that ride, by the way.  the motion of the ride itself wasn't too bad - i'd thought it was going to be a simulator like a lot of their other rides, but it was on a track that took you through the castle.  it didn't move very fast, but you swooped up and swung down and almost flipped over a few times.  but the scenery that you experience as you ride was scary and creepy and the stuff nightmares are made of.  i'm glad we tried it once, but i'm pretty sure we'll never do it again.

and of course, the girls got a chocolate frog to share.





it ain't disneyland, but it's a pretty good time.  i'm sure we'll hit it up at least a couple more times between now and next summer.

and maybe i'll finally get through those movies by then.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

storymaking at the spectrum

a pop-up hello kitty cafe opened down in the OC recently, at the irvine spectrum.  it's scheduled to be there for a whole year, and i'd seen reports during the first few days of business that told me that it would definitely be a while before i attempted going.  they would sell out of things within a couple of hours, the lines were insane, pretty much what you'd expect from anything hello kitty-related.  i don't really get how they don't anticipate that and realize that they need to prep appropriately, but hey...i'm not in charge.

anyway, one day we found ourselves with nothing to do and decided to head down to check things out.  there's always other fun stuff to do at the spectrum anyway, so even if we didn't make it to the cafe i knew we'd find other distractions to keep us busy.

just as i suspected, there were some crazy long lines for good ol' hello kitty.  but the cafe was super cute, and the offerings were pretty simple and reasonably priced.  it's mostly a bakery, with cakes and donuts and macarons with a handful of beverages to wash them down with.  you order on one side, pick up on the other and if you're lucky, you find a table to sit down and enjoy.


then i remembered that i'd seen something on one of the OC real housewives' instagram (shut up) a few months ago.  i slipped away to check it out, leaving the girls and MIL to see how quickly that line moved, and made my way around the corner a short distance away.  i found the storymakery shop pretty easily, and was happy to see that they weren't very busy.  i texted the others to tell them where to meet me, and then i went inside to see what it was all about.


this is basically a fun kids' creative writing activity - they start in the character studio to create their main character:


then they can come to the idea trees for some storyline ideas.  there are lots of suggestions here to get those minds working:



in the writing studio section, they sit down with their "author," who helps them flesh out their story.  they come up with their plot, conflict, resolution - well, you remember all that stuff from english class, right?  anyway, this is where most of their time is spent.


then while the author is putting the finishing touches on the written portion, they get to sit down and work on illustrations.


all that thinking and creating and writing is exhausting, and the other staffers in the shop are always willing to play a game with the mini authors to get them up and moving a little before they sit back down to finish their stories.


after they're completely satisfied with the story and the illustrations and the whole bit, it's off to the printing room to assemble the book.


the entire process takes anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half, and when you're done you get to take home a poster of the character you created, plus a copy of your very own story.  look at my little published author!


with big crowds waiting for tables at pretty much all of the restaurants, we put our names in at one with an hour-long wait.  to kill time, the old lady and i sent the bean and MIL over to take a spin on the ferris wheel.


while they did that, we thought we'd give the hello kitty cafe line another try, since it was a bit shorter than it had been before.


alas, this is the closest i got before we were called back to the restaurant to be seated for dinner.


oh well.  i figured it was a long shot anyway.  after all, i've got till next july to make it happen!
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