Saturday, February 6, 2016

Our winter vacation - Day 1

It wasn't an easy decision this year, planning what to do during our winter break. I have been looking forward to a road trip, to explore some places we haven't yet seen, in this vast country that is the United States. But this year, again, it did not materialize. When Universal Orlando got the slightest mention in our house, everyone was sold. Three excited kids and an excited dad... how could that enthusiasm not rub off on me?! So it was settled, Universal Studios, Orlando. Sounds kind of crazy, doesn't it? A theme park during Christmas? Could be very chaotic. Just think of all the time that could be spent standing in line; waiting, waiting for our turns on the rides. So, of course, we had to account for that.

As usual, I am the designated travel planner in the house. Once the destination has been determined, all family members turn to me to smooth out the details. so I got to work, exploring the various options we had available. With the goal of making this vacation more play, less wait, I decided it was important for us to splurge a little, and go for the express passes. We planned a stay at the Embassy Suites near the theme parks, and purchased park-to-park tickets. Wise move.

When the departure date arrived, Zakir and I split the nine or so hours of driving down to Orlando. We got there at a decent hour, check in to our hotel, and very soon were headed out for dinner. The plan was to hit the parks early the next morning, hopefully while many tourists were still snoozing. Not exactly what you'd call a relaxing vacation! So we set our alarms, got up early and still had time for a leisurely hot breakfast at the hotel. Them, we headed to parks.

This is where we ran into a little trouble. We took our confirmation email to the will call kiosks to print the tickets. Four tickets printed, and before the fifth (the child's ticket) could print, the computer froze. So we had to go to the ticket counter manned by a real person, and ask them to print the fifth. Unfortunately, the very pleasant lady at the desk couldn't do anything, since the computer still showed us logged in at the kiosk. We politely expressed our disappointment; what is the point of coming to the theme park early, if we are stuck at the gate? She reassured us that we would be taken care of, and we took that as a positive sign. Twenty five minute late, we all had our tickets, and we finally able to enter the Islands of Adventure, equipped with a complimentary express pass..... one that could be used at the most coveted Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.

And so, the adventure begins....
The express pass was great, since by the time we arrived at the entrance to the ride, there was already a 60 minute wait to get in. We breezed through the line, thoroughly enjoyed the ride, and were able to enjoy the remainder of Hogsmeade, while the park started to fill up with more tourists.

The best thing, we learned, was that Bilal is now tall enough... and adventurous enough, to go on any ride in either of the theme parks. Quite a difference from when we visited 5 years earlier.

This time, he even rode one of the coasters in the Dragon Challenge. While Hamza and I rode both... twice! After the rides it was time for some Butterbeer, that sweet, frothy, caramelly drink, that is hard to exactly describe.

Got Butterbeer?

After Hogsmeade, we headed to the ever colorful Seuss Landing.

Safa, of course, had to pose with her Seuss-themed shoes that she painted herself. Fit right in. Oh the Places You'll Go!

This photo is also a sharp contrast to our trip five years ago, when Bilal wanted nothing to do with those scary looking dinosaurs. He gladly posed in front of one:

Safa, on the other hand, looks a little more spooked, haha!

We were surprise how much of the park we were actually able to cover, using the express passes, and were even ready to take a break in the early afternoon.We headed back to the hotel for a little rest, and came back in the evening for some more fun, this time to Universal Studios. Diagon Alley by night was very impressive. It really felt like we were in a completely different world.

After roaming the park and going on some of the other rides, we called it a night, planning to start back at Universal where we left off, the following morning.


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