Ensure Your Wizarding World Visit is Truly a Bucket List Experience

Family bucket list tripNext to Disney World, a trip to Universal Studios tops many family vacation bucket lists – especially with the addition and expansion of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in the last few years. And rightly so! Universal has come a long way in creating amazing experiences for their theme park guests.

UniversalSignSince our family enjoys Harry Potter, and our youngest, who is a big fan, was feeling left out of the fun after her two sisters had summer adventures (at camp and in Europe), my husband and I felt the time was ripe for a trip to Universal Studios Orlando. And while the trip alone would have been bucket list-worthy, we made a few key choices along the way to ensure it exceeded our kids’ (and our) expectations. And we made one or two goofs that I want to share about to spare you the same mistakes.

By the way, we’re a frugal family, and while theme parks don’t equate with small budgets, I did find ways to save significantly on this trip. I’ll share those tricks in a later post.

Here are the highlights of our Wizarding World experience (along with a few tips):

We arrived in Orlando during our kids’ second week of Winter Break. It also happened to be a lot of other schools’ winter breaks too, so the parks were crowded. At times, it was difficult to even walk through areas of Diagon Alley in Universal Studios or Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventure. We made the best of it, and generally were able to plan our tour of the parks to avoid the areas and attractions that were the most popular at the time (for example: on one occasion instead of waiting 60 minutes to ride the Hogwarts Express between parks, we chose to make the 15-minute walk). If crowds bother you, or you’ll only have one day at the parks, you may want to try to take your trip during a quieter season.

Girls at OllivandersWhen we entered Universal Studios Theme Park on the first day, after jumping into the line for Minion Mayhem (which turned out to be an excellent choice because we only waited about 10 minutes and never saw a line that short afterwards), we immediately went to Ollivander’s Wand Shop in Diagon Alley to buy interactive wands for our girls. Now you can either go directly into the shop itself to buy a wand, or you can wait to see a show in which the Wand Maker helps a wand choose a park guest. Since the line was short for the wand choosing show, we went to it –  but even so we still waited about 20 minutes. We enjoyed the show, but I wouldn’t suggest waiting much longer than a half hour. For our two girls (13 and 15 years old), finding wands on their own in the shop was much more exciting.

Bucket list tip for The Wizarding World: The interactive resin wands (either character wands or Ollivander’s “wood”)  are not cheap at $50 each for a wand and map of spell locations in a classy box. But all four of us agreed they added a priceless dimension to our visit. I’ve advocated before for strategic splurges that take experiences to the next level. The interactive wands would fit that category. Being able to “cast spells” to make it rain or turn on lights or reveal invisible ink (shh! that one is at a secret spell location), was cool! And the fact that the wands had to be swirled and flicked in just the right motions showed that Universal Studios knows their audience well.

KPygmyPuff

Pygmy Puff Naming Ceremony

Another tip: If you have a child who loves stuffed animals and they want to “adopt” a Pygmy Puff (and who wouldn’t, they’re so adorable!), make sure they go through the naming ceremony at Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes. Katherine, our fifteen-year-old did this and was enchanted by the process, and by Genevieve, her pink fluffy Pygmy Puff.

Our bucket list “miss” in The Wizarding World: We didn’t have our girls buy costume accessories early on. All throughout the parks we saw folks decked out in wizarding gear, some in full Hogwarts uniform, many others just in their house robes. Being surrounded by people in costume made the experience more immersive – being in costume herself would completed it for Evelyn, our Harry Potter fangirl. However, in our case it wasn’t until the last day that our girls chose their souvenirs. Evelyn bought the Gryffindor tie and headband, along with a patch for us to iron on robes we’ll sew ourselves ($110 for official robes was too much for her souvenir budget). If I had it to do over, I would have encouraged her to buy the accessories on the first day to wear throughout the rest of our visit.

What makes The Wizarding World of Harry Potter so magical is how immersive it feels. Both areas are fairly well hidden/shielded from the rest of the parks – Diagon Alley more so than Hogsmeade (we even had other park visitors stop us to ask where it was, when they had just been standing right outside it, unaware). Music from the movie soundtracks plays continuously in the background, one of my favorite parts of being in those areas, and no detail is spared in the buildings themselves. In fact, keep your eye out for actual props used in the movies. You can also eat in both The Leaky Cauldron (Diagon Alley) and The Three Broomsticks (Hogsmeade) – for sure you want to try the Butterbeer!

Platform 9 3/4If The Wizarding World is on your family’s bucket list, consider splurging on those elements that complete the immersion: buy the interactive wands (or one for the family to share), let the kids dress up in costume (save money by making or buying your own before you go), and have a meal in one of the Wizarding restaurants. You won’t regret it!

Editors note: You might want to hold a Harry Potter movie marathon in the weeks leading up to your trip. We did and it was great to have the scenes fresh in our minds to recognize the significance of everything we were seeing at the park.

31 Days of Everyday Adventure Recap

31-days-dated-logoWhat a month it has been! I had every intention of participating in The Goal List’s 31 Days of Everyday Adventure (you can read more about it here and here). And indeed, I looked at the list of small things to do every week and noted what I would do. Each week I accomplished one thing. But there were also a number of not-so-everyday adventures in our family that kept me from being able to catalog those adventures here. The month is not over though. I thought I would give a recap of what I did now, in hopes that you’ll be inspired to continue with your own everyday adventures in December (and beyond). And be sure to check out other 31 Days of Adventure Posts on McVagabonds and Life’s Simple Adventures.

Week 1 – Write a Gratitude List

I posted about this at the beginning of the month. I have to say that it helped me to keep a thankful frame of mind all the way into Thanksgiving week. I think it could make a good activity to start each month with a gratitude list.

Week 2 – Compliment Someone You Don’t Know

I always feel awkward handing out compliments to strangers. Like what if they think I’m being nosey or too personal? But most of the time I don’t let that stop me, simply because I know how good I feel when someone I don’t know notices something they like about me. In this instance, I was out shopping and saw a woman in a swingy long coat that had a very glamorous flow to it. It made her look confident and classy, but at the same time approachable. So when she passed me by I mentioned that the coat was very becoming on her. She smiled and thanked me and then flowed on her way. Maybe she didn’t need my admiration. Then again, I do think for us women it helps to be reminded that we should wear things that make us feel good. Because life is too short to always go out looking and feeling dumpy.

Week 3 – Go to bed early today, so you can enjoy tomorrow more.

I tend to get distracted with reading at bedtime, either a good book (I’m currently devouring my daughter’s copy of Cinder – we met the author this month, which of course is an out-of-the-ordinary adventure, not the everyday sort) or mindless Internet drivel. This often means I turn out the light later than I intended. But I did get to bed by 9:30pm one night. That’s early. And it felt like an indulgence. The next morning I asked myself why I don’t do that more often. I indulge in watching Netflix while I fold laundry (if you’re a Downton Abbey fan, you should check out The Crown). Why not indulge in calling it a night earlier at least once a week?

Week 4 – Meet Someone New and Strike Up a Conversation

This one feels a little bit like cheating. We were invited for dinner at a friends’ house along with three other families this past weekend. I had met two of the women before, but didn’t really know them. So it was an entire evening of conversation with new people. None of them were American born, so it made things even more interesting – learning about their countries of origin and what brought them to the United States.

Week 5 – Give Away Something You Own to Someone Who Will Appreciate It

I hadn’t set out to accomplish this adventure goal intentionally, but when the opportunity presented itself last night in my crawl space, I had to seize it. I can’t divulge what the item is, but while I was putting away bins from Christmas decorations, I came across a box in the crawl that happened to contain something on a family member’s Christmas wish list. It’s brand new and was given to us at a special event last year. We had tucked it away in the crawl, unopened, for the exact reason that we knew eventually someone else would appreciate it more than we did. And I had completely forgotten about it until I opened the box.

Have you participated in the 31 Days of Everyday Adventure Challenge? If not, what are you waiting for? Pick one of the adventures and give it a go. Shelly did a great job making the challenges doable and interesting. And many of them involve other individuals, which means you have the opportunity to impact someone else’s life for the better in the process. Which is what this season of year is about – bringing light and joy to others.

 

November Bucket List Life Dare: The 31 Days of Everyday Adventure Challenge

november-2016-bucket-list-life-dareThis month I’m honored to team up with Shelly of The Goal List in her month-long challenge: 31 Days of Everyday Adventure. Shelly and I share a very similar outlook on bucket lists – that not every bucket list experience has to be over-the-top expensive or in some way monumental. Adventure comes in all shapes and sizes. To illustrate this and help others learn how to embrace adventure in multiple forms, Shelly’s challenge contains “31 Small Ways to Bring Adventure Into Every Day.” From complimenting a stranger, to learning a new dance move, to being a tourist in your home town, the options are all doable. For many of them you may find yourself nodding along and saying, “I’ve been wanting to do that for a while now.” Let this challenge be the kick in the pants you’ve been needing.

Each week I’m going to share one thing I’ve done in response to the challenge. This week? “Write a gratitude list. Start dreaming by being thankful for what you already have.” It’s an appropriate start to the month during which we celebrate Thanksgiving here in the U.S. Here’s my list.

I’m grateful for:

  • the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series (how could I not be, as a lifelong Cubs fan??).
  • my husband who has put up with me for over twenty years now.
  • my parents, who I’m lucky to get to visit with every week.
  • my three girls, who are all fun and interesting in their own ways.
  • a job I look forward to going to every week, with great co-workers.
  • the community I live in, that often does live up to the name a customer service rep once mistook it for, “Neighborville.”
  • my writing coach and fellow parenting journalists, who all push me to take my writing to the next level.
  • the women of the Redbud Writers Guild, who help keep me keeping on in my writing journey while not forgetting the God who enables me to write.
  • Alex, the white schnozzle rescue dog who keeps me company when I’m home writing and makes us all laugh at least once a day.
  • the ability to pursue my bucket list dreams and help my family find adventures that fit them and their personalities.
  • the options and opportunities available to my kids in their education and extracurricular activities.
  • the small group Bible study that meets in our home and the couples we’re getting to know through that.

31-days-dated-logoI could continue on for a while. I have so much to be thankful for. How about you? Have you ever written a list of what you’re grateful for? If you haven’t, give it a try – you might be blown away. Or if that’s not your thing, sign up for the 31 Days of Everyday Adventure challenge for daily prompts throughout November. You don’t have to do them all (although imagine how adventurous your life could be if you did!), but I’m sure you’ll find at least one way each week to step into adventure.




Bucket List Bonds: Another Reason the Cubs Win Was Such a Big Deal

I have talked often about the way going after life goals brings connection (it’s the theme of my video course, Build Stronger Bonds Writing Bucket Lists). And usually I’m talking about connection in the present tense, with those in your life today. But this past weekend in Chicagoland I witnessed how powerful that bond can be even with those gone from our lives. Like my grandma.

bucketlistbondscubswinGrandma Seman loved sports. When she moved from her home in Hawaii to a suburb near ours a few years after my grandfather died, I got to spend a lot of time with her. On almost every visit to her house, her tv or radio would be tuned in to a Chicago sports game. To this day, I take great comfort in the hollow sound of a ball game on AM radio. Because it brings back those days at Grandma’s house.

While she enjoyed sports year round – football, basketball, and hockey, Grandma’s favorite team by far was the Chicago Cubs. She would sit in her recliner with a crochet project in her lap and give her own play-by-play of the game. She’d exclaim over runs scored and scowl at what she thought were poor calls. And more than anything, she’d talk about the players. Grandma knew each one by name, reputation and background. Andre Dawson and Ryne Sandberg came up most often. But she could chat just as fluently about Mark Grace, Shawon Dunston and other ball players. And like many Cubs fans before and after her, Grandma suffered disappointment after disappointment.

It’s hardly news that the Cubs finally had their day when they beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in the fight for the National League Pennant on Saturday. All over the Chicago Metro area longtime fans danced for joy, sang “Go, Cubs, Go!” and shot off fireworks. My own daughter shrieked and bounced all around the house (and she’s only waited 17 years, nowhere close to what others have).

My first thought was of Grandma. How thrilled she would have been to see her Cubbies get to the World Series. As she did with other Cubs’ wins, she would have talked like she never had a doubt they’d do it. Grandma always had faith that the Cubs could go far. Seeing them win the National League pennant would have been on her bucket list. Which made it a bittersweet day.

Turns out, a lot of other people were feeling the same way. That win brought back the memories of so many Cubs fans who longed to see their team go to the World Series. Social media lit up with people giving shout-outs to those they wished had been alive for that day. The connection in that moment of a long-awaited dream come true spanned generations and even death.

If you ever wondered about the power of a life goal to bond people together, talk to a Cubs fan about last Saturday. They know that power.

It also explains why Steve Goodman’s song, A Dying Cubs Fan’s Last Request, has such staying power. Take a look:



When Life Goals Yield Big Visions: An Interview with Bev Hawley

For the most part, a bucket list contains straightforward personal goals. But for some people visions for something beyond themselves come out of a bucket list goal – like a vision for opening a gallery to showcase a bucket list project.

Bev Hawley, a professional children’s photographer in the suburbs of Portland, Oregon, is such a person. Her Bucket List Gallery and Studio (The BL Gallery, for short) sprang from a bucket list project, called “Dogs Walk By.” Bev has been keeping and completing her list of life goals for years. I am excited to be able to share with you an interview with Bev. She’s adventurous, talented and inspiring.

Copyright Bev Hawley

Copyright Bev Hawley

You are pretty bold with your approach to bucket list goals. Not everyone will open a studio/gallery in order to accomplish a goal. How did you get to the place where you could do that? 

I think the boldness, if you want to call it that, has come from years of experience with this concept. When I wrote my first 25-30 items on a piece of paper it was more of a whim or just following something someone suggested. I spent very little time on it and very little thought. A speaker on Oprah said something to the effect of, “if you aren’t willing to commit your dreams to paper, why do you expect them to happen?” That made sense to me so I took a few minutes and jotted down a list and set it aside for several years only to discover the list with all of the things accomplished. Right then, I became a believer and have jotted down my hearts desire ever few years ever since. I don’t think it is a matter of boldness taking on some of these things it is rather just taking little baby steps that keep leading you along… I call it following your inspiration. The awesome part is how quite often it is strangers who come into your life totally out of the blue and help one accomplish their dreams, whether financially or just being the right person to take you to the next step.

Can you describe for readers your “Dogs Walk By” bucket list project? Why is that significant for you? How have people responded to Dogs Walk By?

Copyright Bev Hawley

Copyright Bev Hawley

My Dogs Walk By project I am currently working on came about because I longed to have a dog in my life and that wasn’t practical for my family. So I kept noticing other people walking their dogs and I found it very interesting how each owner and dog carried themselves so uniquely. I wanted to photograph the dogs without the person overpowering them, but still having the relationship there. I tried a few photographs but it felt a bit voyeuristic.  I needed a retail shop for credibility and a place with lots of dog owners who walked by.
Fast forward… I’ve been working on the project at my little leased studio/gallery for 6 months now and hope to have all of the images for phase one done by March 1. As I mentioned, the most amazing part of this project to me has been total strangers have volunteered an hour of their time and energy to help me accomplish my goal. I figured several of my friends would step forward and when I ran out of them I would be up a creek. But almost all of the people who have participated in this project so far have been total strangers who loved the idea and even though they didn’t at first know I could photograph anything…. because I had no work to show..they came anyway.  I love how this project has been evolving. I refuse to put it into an organized box and that has really given it wings. I’ll maybe be able to tell you what this is all about in a couple of years… it is truly a work in progress.

What other things are currently on your bucket list? 

Well, I keep that list close until it starts opening up and I need to make it public. I can easily get influenced  if others think the idea is trivial or stupid so that is why I keep my list under wraps.

Can you tell us about your favorite bucket list experience?

Oh my, that’s like asking me which of my children I love most. Each one has played an important role but let me just share a little of what I love about this current project. On my list alongside DWB was also: get out and be more a part of the community, have my white seamless background back in my life to photograph on, have a public window display to inspire others, have a little retail shop, photograph Santa illustrations again. Amazingly enough… all of these things are being accomplished in this little space in a community I had never set foot in, until this year. It would take too long to describe all of the little tiny steps and missteps that led me to this place. But it is following up on those little inklings that keep nudging at you and not outlining where they are taking you. You will be amazed at the ripple effect that starts coming into your experience.

Do you have any tips to offer to someone just starting out with keeping a written bucket list?

Allow yourself only about 30 minutes and jot down what is close to your heart. I wanted a few dollars in a savings account, a digital camera, two weeks alone, and to publish a book… you get the idea. Some felt very easy to do, while others looked magical. Make sure that the things on the list are measurable  and that you can accomplish them. I once wrote down…to love more… which was my heart but not easily measurable. So those type of goals are on another list for me. Don’t labor over your list…if it doesn’t come quickly to mind it shouldn’t be there. My bucket list isn’t a one time shot, it is something I work with when the thought comes to me…usually every couple of years. All of the things on my list are something I feel in my heart.

You can learn more about Bev Hawley on her website and on FaceBook (@theblgallery).

(Photos copyright Bev Hawley, used with permission).