Saturday, December 31, 2016

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from the Rea Family!

Each year the kids get older Christmas becomes more and more exciting.  I couldn’t wait for Christmas morning to see the excitement on Max’s face when he saw what Santa (and Mommy & Daddy) had brought. 

Train Ride & School Concert

Before Christmas could come, there were holiday activities to be done.  I was on top of things this year, so I was able to log on at exactly the right time and get tickets to the Niles Christmas train.  This steam train is a favorite of ours and at Christmas it was simply magical.  They did a really good job with decorating the cars, pictures do not do it justice.  The kids enjoyed the hot chocolate and cookies and Mom and Dad enjoyed the ride until the sugar kicked in and the kids went crazy.  Note to self, sugar on the ride back not out.

It was also time for the annual holiday concert at school.  This year Jesse was too young to participate this year (only infants and 2+) but Max's class was included.  This year he is a Bumblebee.


This year we were traveling on Christmas day, so we pretended that the 24th was Christmas.  At 3 1/2 and 1 1/2 the kids didn't know any different.  (Though I was told that it wasn't Christmas because there was no snow on the ground.)  The night before we set out cookies, milk, and carrots for Santa and his reindeer.  Of course they loved them.

The leftovers and a thank you note.

Christmas "day" Eve

Our big gift this year was a new kitchen set from Mommy & Daddy (Santa doesn’t get all the credit in this house).  I had got a good deal on the kitchen back in March so it had been sitting, unopened and unassembled, in our garage since then.  Of course we waited until the last week to put it together, but at least it wasn’t the night before: 5 hours and 100 parts later.

Another big item of the year was a Spiderman watch, which was the only thing he wanted from Santa and now chooses not to wear it.  “Saving it for later,” he says.  I think he’s scared to wear it that it may get lost or messed up. 

Other hot items included play food including cupcakes and a toaster for Jesse, puzzles and a Bucky pirate ship for Max, and a Space ship for the two of them.  Max picked out a ball for Jesse when we were at Disney and Jesse got Max a new Curious George book (with some help).  Mommy got some new food coloring (Chef Master), socks, and an aero press with coffee and a grinder.  Daddy got a yard stick, avocado oil, almond oil, and a fit belt.  Hey, coming up with gifts for each other is hard!  And yes, the yard stick was Jeremy's favorite gift.  

Mommy, Daddy, and Santa weren't the only ones brining gifts on Christmas day.  Since we wouldn't be seeing Grandma and Papa for another few weeks, their gifts arrived on Christmas day too.  Max was pretty excited about his new "fire" Big Wheel, which he took on a nearly 2 mile ride today, and Jesse loves his own little Dyson vacuum.  They also both love this little truck that you can assemble/disassemble with a toy cordless drill.

After a long day of presents, the boys crashed out hard.  So hard that I couldn't bare to wake them up to go to midnight mass.  Though I appreciate more than I can express Jeremy's willingness to do so.

Christmas Surprise

Christmas day we awoke early and headed to the airport.  It was time to fly to Ohio to see Grandma and Grandpa Rea and surprise them!  For the last few months we had been telling them that we were coming to visit on the 26th, but we informed the cousins and Jeremy's brother of our real plans, which were to surprise them at Christmas night dinner with the whole family.

The flight was uneventful but long.  I brought a few small gifts for them to unwrap to keep them occupied: barrel of monkeys for Jesse and a card game and magnetic play set for Max.  Jeremy's cousin, Bethany, was nice enough to pick us up from the airport and we made it to Jeremy's aunts house just 15 minutes after everyone else had arrived.  A knock on the door and a bit of waiting finally revealed the surprise...


 What was really sweet was how all the cousins welcomed us into their home and let us join them in the festivities.  I know that for years Jeremy has wanted to take the boys back for this, so he was pretty happy that we pulled it off this year.

After the insanity of Christmas we spent the next 4 days laying around Grandma and Grandpa's house in the middle of nowhere.  Really, it's not close to much and you're lucky to get some, slow, internet.  But after a very hectic Thanksgiving/Christmas season, that's just what we needed.

Of course there were more presents to be opened too: spiderman pj's, underwear, and every other type of shirt/pants/clothes you can imagine, more play food: pizza and breakfast basket, spiderman Duplo's for both, big spiderman book which Max loves, coloring books, and an awesome mask/cape set with 4 superhero's.  Max loves to be superman with spiderman clothes on.

There were many adventures had during the week, including riding the Ranger utility vehicle, playing on Grandpa's big tractors, and going skiing with Mommy!

I'd been wanting to take Max skiing this year, trying to figure out how to make it happen near Tahoe without breaking the bank (ha), and about a day into the trip it dawned on me that any little ski area in Ohio would be perfect.  Turned out there was one about 1.5 hrs away that had a ski school and a 5 run sledding hill.  Max's cousin Zaly and her mom, Angela, joined us for the fun.

The ski school was supposed to run from 9 - 1, but the kids weren't really thrilled with the idea and both were too scared to ski without us.  Fortunately we had been watching on/off for the first hour and I soon saw they weren't having fun.   Max agreed to try skiing with me and we did 4 beginner runs.  I could tell he was starting to have fun, but 2 1/2 hours is along time for a first try and they were both ready to go in.  Max told me he had fun but would ski more next time.  He was done for the day.

After skiing we hit up the sledding hills.  Now this was more up his alley.  He loved it!

We had a great trip to Ohio and it was nice to un-connect and unwind for a while.


Saturday, December 10, 2016

Disney - Part 3 - Epcot & MGM

We didn't make it over to Animal Kingdom this trip, instead opting for 1 1/2 days at Epcot and 1 day at MGM (Hollywood Studios, but it'll always be MGM to me).


First day at Epcot was okay, but after having a day at Universal and Magic Kingdom, Max was fairly disappointed by the lack of rides.  Epcot is different with a 3 year old.  Jesse didn't care about visiting the countries, but Max was clearly bored out of his mind.

We did catch some quality time with some characters: Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto.

Max, Grandma, Papa, and I also did Soarin, which was fun, and we also hit up some of the others in the area like figment.  The one we missed was Turtle Talk with Crush, but we'll do that next time.

The first night at Epcot we ate dinner in Canada at the Le Cellar steakhouse.  This has been on Papa's wish list for as long as I can remember.  I was so glad to be able to get reservations and fulfill this desire of his.  As steakhouses go, I have to say, this is one is top notch.  Very small, intimate, and very very good.  I loved being there at Christmas time too.  Thanks for dinner, dad!

Beach Club

If you've been reading along, we've now finished: day 1 - Universal, day 2 - Magic Kingdom, day 3 - Epcot, and day 4 - Magic Kingdom.  On day 4 we left the Port Orleans at 6:30 in the morning to head over to the Magic Kingdom.  After a very long, but awesome, day we took the bus, not back to Port Orleans, but to the Beach Club!  The Beach Club has long been a favorite of the Stortz family and we were happy to be able to stay here for a few nights.

When my parents arrived, which was around 11pm, they quickly noticed they were given the wrong room.  A long story short, even though we reserved a roll in shower over 6 months ago, they screwed up and gave them a regular shower.  My guess is that someone else had reserved a regular handicapped room and the staff switched them without verifying their reservations sheet. Of course they were completely sold out so the only option for a roll in shower was to move to the Yacht Club.  Not acceptable.  After some back and forth with the manager, and politely explaining to him that this mistake was far larger than simply being given a king vs. queen bed, we were able to get them to comp my parents 50% of their entire stay plus breakfast with the characters at Cape May restaurant.  Not too bad.

That debacle left a bad taste in our mouth, but after a decent night sleep, things started to turn around.  Over the next two days I was reminded why I love this hotel so much.  We didn't have to get on a bus to go to MGM or Epcot (walking and boat options for both), the pool is ah-maze-ing, and the hotel is just so special.  I personally love the chocolate carousel in the entryway.   I will say this trip we stayed at the Disney Villa's, but in the future I'd make sure we were in the main building.  Simply because the rooms are more standard and larger, I think.

MGM (aka Hollywood Studios)

Our 5th day was spent at Hollywood Studios.  We got a late start since we didn't get back to the room until nearly 2am.

I was nervous about spending too much time over here, simply because a lot of it is for older kids/adults and also because much of MGM is under construction for Star Wars.  However, I was pleasantly surprised with how much there was for the kids to do.  In fact, there were a few shows that we didn't even get to see that I would do if we came back.

We hit up Toy Story Mania first, which was awesome, very well done, and then headed over to meet some characters.  My mom laments that all the old school characters are no longer present in the park, the Queen from snow white for example, which is true, as the park is now filled with more Disney Junior and Star Wars.  Max got to meet one of his favorite characters, Jake, from Jake and the Neverland Pirates!  As much as I would have loved to see Malificent or the Queen, I can assure you Max was way more into Jake.  Not only did we meet Jake, but we also watched the Disney Junior show.  Max was soooo into it.  Jesse fell asleep, as did Papa, I'm sure.

Much to Jeremy's delight after watching Disney Junior we headed over to visit with Chewbacca.  See, I don't wake my children up to only see my favorites, I woke up Jesse to see Chewbacca too.

Speaking of interesting characters, we also got to meet fancy Minnie and Sorcerer Mickey!  How cool.  Jesse also spent some more time hanging with Pluto and Chip and Dale at random times throughout the day.

These days there aren't may rides at MGM.  At least for the little ones, it's mostly shows and characters.  As mentioned above, Max seemed pretty content watching Disney Junior, but he also liked watching the Star Wars Jedi training.  Earlier in the week we talked about signing Max up for Jedi training, which you have to be there at park opening to get signed up for, but we decided he was probably still too young.  Also why we opted, after much deliberation, to not get him a light saber on this trip.  I suppose a 3 year old is too little to be responsible with a light saber.

Because we arrived later in the day, and MGM is a short day, with a 7pm closing, we didn't really do much.  Going back I would try to see the Frozen and Beauty and the Beast shows, and perhaps find a way to squeeze in Tower of Terror.

This night we ate at Mama Melrose's italian (while both kids slept in the stroller!) then we strolled around for a bit before going to see Fantasmic!

On the way over to the evening show, I saw a street cart selling some bubble wands.  I was skeptical, but knowing how much Jesse loves bubbles I had to check it out.  Turns out you can turn these things all different ways and they won't leak out.  At $20 a pop, I decided one would be fine and they could share it.  HA!  What was I thinking.  Not even 5 minutes later and we owned two.  They are really cool, and looking back I'm glad I got two because after transport home one is already temperamental.  Boo.  WTH Disney.  I suppose I should use my degree and fix it, which I probably will someday.  Good thing Santa may bring some other bubble toys for Christmas.  Overall I think it was still the best toy we got there.

Last day: Character Breakfast, Pool Time, & Epcot

We finished off our trip with a character breakfast at Cape May inside the Beach Club.  This really brought back some memories.  For as long as I can remember, we've eaten breakfast at Cape May.  Not only do they have a really good breakfast, like Crystal Palace, but if you're staying at the Beach Club it's just easy.  That's probably the biggest reason we didn't do Chef Mickey's, just too much trouble to get over there on such a packed trip.

Having an early reservation, the restaurant wasn't that full and we were able to see the characters at our table 2-3 times each.

The day before, as we were walking to MGM, Max saw the beach club pool and flipped is, well you know.  "I want to go there!"  Given how un-amused the kids were with Epcot a few days back it seemed like staying at the pool for the day was the perfect option.  Plus, after paying so much per night for this place, it seemed like we had to take advantage of the pool.

First stop, gift shop.  How can you play at a beach pool with no beach toys.  Amazingly the castle buckets came with shovels and were only $6.95 each.  Perfect.  Oh, and they had a bathing suit for Jesse because apparently this sweet little boy is now wearing the same size suit as his 3 1/2 year old brother.

The beach club pool is, in a word, awesome.  It reminded me so much of being in Cancun.  We spent at least 3 hours here.  First in the shallow sandy beach/pool area, then over in the big pool with the BIG water slide (adults need to duck), and then in the lazy river.  Max loved his new freedom of swimming by himself while wearing a life vest.  (As it not holding on, obviously not alone).  Mom, dad, and Papa enjoyed the drinks from the bar.

After pool time we headed over to Epcot for the night.  In keeping with our theme of packing as much as we could into one trip, we booked a dinner package for the Christmas Holiday Candlelight Processional.  Again, probably overboard.  But the show is so great.  We've seen it before and it is really good.  Plus Whoppi Goldburg was narrating!

Now, you don't technically need to get a dinner package to see the show, but it does get you guaranteed seating so it's worth it, otherwise you're waiting in line for 2+ hours.  What I didn't know was that the restaurant in Morocco costs so much.  And somehow we paid for separate meals for both Max and Jesse at an insane rate.  The food was good, but not for the price we paid.

After the show, which both kids seemed to like, we headed to our final ride; test track.  Max could barely stay away, but loved it so much he rode twice.  We never did make it on Mission Space.

That night it was so hard to say goodbye to Grandma and Papa.  Walking back to the room after we left them, Max said to me "We are lonely."  Aw.

We had a wonderful trip and I can't wait to go back!  Next time 1 day at Universal and 6-7 days at Disney to allow for more pool time, Downtown Disney time, mini golf, and an Animal Kingdom day.  I'd also cut back Epcot to one day and do 2 1/2 at Magic Kingdom.

For a full set of pictures from the trip, click HERE.

Disney - Part 2 - Magic Kingdom Days

During our 5 days at Disney we spent two full days at the Magic Kingdom.  Looking back I'd probably opt for a 3rd day as well and spend it as a half day at the pool/park.  Or, if it were Christmas again, I'd skip the normal park ticket and opt for an evening ticket to Mickey's Very Merry Christmas party while spending the morning at the pool.

Day 3 - Magic Kingdom

Our first day to the Magic Kingdom we got there around 8:45 to watch the park opening ceremony.  It's really awesome and if you haven't seen it before, I highly recommend.  These days it does take extra time to get through the turn stiles, so plan accordingly.  Between bag check, extra security, and moving a family of 6, it was quite hectic.

For those considering renting a car to do Universal, I'll mention here that 5 of us took the bus from the hotel to the Magic Kingdom while Jeremy took the car back to the Car Care Center for dropoff.  From there he took a shuttle to the ticket and transportation center and then a monorail to the park.  He was able to drop off the car at 8am and meet us at the park for opening by 8:45.  Done and done.

After opening we hung out in the square for a bit to meet Pluto and Minnie before heading back to some favorite rides.  Because Max was 40" he got to enjoy some of the attractions he hadn't done before.

This is where fast pass really comes in.  Yes, the week after thanksgiving is generally not as crowded, but to avoid those 70 minute waits on some of the more popular rides, you'll need Fast Pass.

This first day before nap we hit up: Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (1st time riding, pretty cool, but not as "wow" as I expected), Peter Pan (always a favorite), Tomorrowland Speedway (Jesse got to drive too!), Teacups (like 3 times), Mickey's PhilharMagic show (awesome as usual), and maybe one or two others.

Jesse and Max LOVED the teacups.  Spinning rides are a favorite in this house.  They couldn't get enough of them and every time we'd get off Jesse would say and sign 'more'.  Fortunately teacups is one of those rides you don't really need fast pass for because the wait was never more than 10 minutes.  After 3 times in a row mom, dad, and papa couldn't keep up.

After several rides the kids crashed out and Jeremy and I got to do Space Mountain.  Always a favorite and still as fun as ever.

I started to loose track of the rides we did on which days, but I know after naps we hit up Adventureland: flying carpets, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Splash Mountain.

Splash Mountain is one of my favorite rides at Disney and after 2 days, I can tell you it's Max's favorite too.  He rode it 5 times over the course of the trip.

The first night we ate dinner at Cinderella's Royal Table.  Because I had booked the trip 6 months out, I was able to get dining reservations early at all the restaurants that I wanted.  I kept going back and forth on this one, but I knew that we wouldn't be back to Disney for a while and I knew this trip was special with Grandma and Papa, so I figured lets do it.

Overall it was good, and if you have little kids who are into princesses, then this meal is for you.  Otherwise, I'd say my kids weren't into the princesses and for the cost, the meal was only okay.  The ambiance is well done, but I feel it's dated and not up to the same standards as their newer restaurants such as Be Our Guest.  It also didn't help that Jesse was cranky.

After riding a few more rides, we headed to the main square to grab some seats for the nighttime festivities.  Unfortunately there were no night parades going on right now, but there were two evening shows.  10pm was Wishes fireworks display (amazing as always), and at 10:45pm there was a new show displayed on the castle called Once Upon a Time.  It was, in a word, AMAZING.  So well done and so awesome.  I was very impressed.   A must see for anyone traveling to Disney.

The first night the park closed at 11pm, right after the show, so we headed out.  Max stayed awake through 11pm to see the castle show and Jesse crashed out just before Wishes.

Day 5 - Magic Kingdom #2

Keeping this posting to just the Magic Kingdom, I'll jump ahead a bit.

Our second day at the Magic Kingdom we got up early and arrived at 7:30am.  This was long before park opening at 9am, but we arrived early because we were fortunate to get 8:15 breakfast reservations at the Crystal Palace.  These coveted reservations are awesome because you get into the park early, before opening and before thousands of people line the streets.   Unfortunately you also get all the other Disney fanatics and at 7:30am they can be quite crazy.  People were pushing everywhere to be the first ones through the line and into the park.  Insane.

The awesome thing was that we were able to get some great pictures of the family in front of the castle.  (Not that Jesse was that into it)

Crystal Palace is one of my favorite places to eat breakfast.  The food is good, the characters are fun (Winnie the Pooh themed) and it's just relaxing.  At least I think so.

Today's park day was much like the others.  Breakfast first, rides for a bit, nap time, more rides, dinner, more rides, eventually sleep.  Ha.

This day we met a few more characters: Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, Tigger, Chip, Dale, Talking Mickey (yep, he interacts and talks with you.  It's so awesome), Donald, Goofy, Santa and probably some others that I can't remember.  I couldn't believe what a big hit Santa was.  Max was really into meeting him and told him all about the Spiderman bracelet with clock on it that he wanted for Christmas.  He also told Santa that Jesse wanted a ball.  Not sure where that came from but he's been saying it for a while, so we actually let Max pick out a ball for Jesse later in the trip and we will wrap it for Christmas.

As a side note: Talking Mickey is another one you'll want a fast pass for.  Two years ago it was easy to get in line and see him.  This trip the line was never shorter than 70 minutes.  I would say the kids loved interacting with him, but probably just the same as they did for any other character.  They talked to them all.

During the day we also stumbled onto one of the afternoon parades: Move it! Shake it!  Chip and Dale were there dancing with the kids and Max and Jesse went up and danced with them.  With Mom and Dad of course, but it was so cool.

The popular rides of the day were: Splash Mountain (of course), Big Thunder Railroad, Main street railroad, Buzz Lightyear, people mover, magic carpets (Jesse more so than Max), and Barnstormer.  Because my 'little' Jesse is 36" tall at only 18 months he was able to ride his first roller coaster!  The Barnstormer!  This short little ride is zippy and was one of Max's favorites.  Although Jesse enjoyed it, he loved the spinning teacups more.

Because grandma wasn't able to ride many of the rides, we were able to use her magic band, which you can swap between family members, as an extra Fast Pass for Max.  So he'd typically ride a ride with Jeremy or myself then ride again with Papa.

That night we had dinner at Be Our Guest.  As I mentioned above, the ambiance here was amazing.  We sat in the main ball room and it just felt like magic.  The food is so-so, but at least the price was more reasonable.  Next time we go, I'll book dinner here again, but skip the castle and opt for something more reasonable for that night.  It also happened that this trip we decided to go all out on a few other meals too, so looking back I can't believe how many fancy meals we had in one vacation.  I'm not admitting that we went overboard, but I'm saying it's possible.

As the night approached, Jesse crashed out by 9:30.  Max was still holding on so he could ride Splash Mountain two more times, but his heavy eyes got the best of him and this little boy couldn't hang any longer.  Around 10:30 he crashed out in the stroller.  By this time Papa and Grandma had retired to their room and Jeremy and I walked quietly down Main Street.  We stopped to get some coffee, watched the ending of the castle show and sat on a curb and people watched for the next half hour while the kids slept in the stroller.  It was the perfect way to end our time at the Magic Kingdom.

Next up: Epcot and MGM  (HERE)

Disney - Part 1 - Universal

Disney was awesome and whirlwind of a trip.  For so many reasons, it's so different visiting with two little kids.  There was a lot of wrangling, but it was so worth it.  The kids had a blast, the parents had fun, and I think the grandparents did too, although they are still recovering.

We spent one day at Universal and 5 days at Disney.  For the Universal day we rented a minivan from the airport and returned it the day after to the Disney Car Care Center.  For the entire trip we rented a side by side City Mini GT double from Magic Strollers.  Since our stroller is a front/back it wasn't convenient for the bus system.  The kids loved riding side by side and I will say although it is large, for the park I really enjoyed the ease of using it over the front to back.

Day 1 - Pool time & Downtown Disney

After some very early flights (5:30am) we arrived in Orlando and Grandma and Papa met us at the gate!  "Papa!" Max exclaimed.  Immediately followed by "Where's grandma?"  haha.

From the airport Jeremy went to pick up the rental car (a minivan) and the rest of us took the Disney Magic Express to the Port Orleans, French Quarter.  Kids loved riding on the bus, and having the car allowed Jeremy to stop by the store for some essentials: cheerios, milk and goldfish :)

We spent the morning wandering around the Art of Animation hotel.  I really debated on staying here in one of the Cars suites, but after visiting I'm glad we didn't.  The hotel is very well done, and very animated, but it's also very large.  So many people.

We then headed back to the hotel for some pool time.  Max was very excited to ride the big slide and they have a new kid area for little ones too.  While not exactly warm out, the water was bearable for the 30 minutes or so we hung out.  Mom and Dad may have even had some fun on the slide too.

After swimming it was time to head to Downtown Disney (aka the new Disney Springs).  This was a bit hard for me, as I'm used to doing all my shopping after the parks.  It just feels weird buying stuff before you're in the full Disney spirit.  Of course that didn't stop me :)

For dinner we ate at T-Rex.  I really like this restaurant and the way it's done up.  Very well done.  My only complaint would be that it's very loud.  I didn't notice this the past few times we visited, but this time we had some trouble actually hearing each other without yelling.

After dinner max crashed out hard.  6:30pm and the kid would sleep until 6am the next morning!  The rest of us walked around and got a few items before heading back to crash after a long day.

Day 2 - Universal Studios

We visited Universal Studios first because it was easiest to rent the car from the airport to get to/from Universal and then return it the next morning before the Magic Kingdom opened (the Car Care Center has a few shuttle but taxi's are also easy to use)

We arrived 30 minutes prior to opening and after a not-so-quick stop at Starbucks we headed for Spiderman.  Max was SO excited.  Also, he's now 40" so he could ride some of the bigger rides!

He did great on the spiderman ride, but said it was "a little bit scary" and wasn't interested in a second ride with Papa.  For Jeremy and I it was awesome.  Very well done.
He then got to meet Spiderman!  Not only did he meet him, but there was no one else in line, so Spiderman spent a good 10 minutes with us talking to Max.  He was a great Spiderman and very animated.  Max was beside himself with excitement and awe.

We then spent a bit more time over at Islands of Adventure hitting up rides such as the "spinning ride" (honestly can't remember what it was called), Hulk (thanks grandma and papa), and the rides in Dr. Seuss land.

As nap time was approaching it was time to hit up the Hogwarts express!  TRAIN!!!

This is where they get you.  If you want to fully see and experience Harry Potter you need to buy a park hopper ticket... for a mere $165/pp.  Ouch.

Was it worth it?  YES!  Very much, yes.  I would do it again tomorrow.

I will say now that the rest of our day was spent pretty much seeing both Harry Potter worlds.  The train ride is awesome.  It's so well done, and the handicapped car is even well done.  From the inside you wouldn't know it wasn't a normal car, as the seats/walls/doors seamlessly move out of the way for the scooter to get in and out then close back up.

As you ride the train from Hogsmeade to Diagon Alley the windows display an outside world just as if you are traveling through the world of Harry Potter.  Shadows of Harry, Hermione, and Ron are cast on the car doors and you can hear and see them talking as if they are right outside your train car.

Once we arrived in the other park, Universal Studios, Max quickly crashed out.  This made exploring Diagon Alley a bit easier.  Funny part is we almost missed the whole thing.  We came out of the train and walked around London a bit, wondering "Where's the rest of it?"  Finally Papa saw some people coming out of a little alley and said "what's that?"

As we walked inside we were instantly in awe.  Wow!

We had butter beer (kinda tastes like butterscotch and delicious), walked through the iconic shops, and checked out every nook and cranny.  Keep your eyes open because there is something literally in every corner like the larger-than-life talking Nagini and the large fire breathing dragon on top of Gringotts bank.  The detail is amazing and nothing is left untouched.  My favorite was the way they did up the newspapers with live action pictures the way you see them in the movies.  Oh and don't forget to walk through Knockturn Alley!

Because Grandma and Papa joined us at Disney we had someone to watch the kids while Jeremy and I rode some big kid rides!  Just as Jesse was going down for his nap in the stroller, Jeremy and I headed to ride Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts.  It was really really cool.  Easily my favorite ride at Universal.  It's so well done and the ride is super fun.

From here we headed back to Kings Cross Station and platform 9 3/4 to board the train back to Hogsmeade.  The coolest part of this station is the effect of walking 'through' the platform.


Back in Hogsmeade we checked out the town and Papa and I rode Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey while Jeremy took the kids for a bite to eat.  Just like Escape from Gringotts, this ride was awesome.  Max also rode the Flight of the Hippogriff several times before we headed out.  Looking back I know there was so much more we didn't even get to see and I can't wait to go back.  Can you believe I took this picture of Honeydukes cellar but then forgot to go in!

After spending several hours at Harry Potter world I really want to go back and re-read all the books again.  Hum, let me see when I can find time for that.  Ha.

After a full day at Universal, we grabbed a bite to eat at the Chocolate Factory.  The restaurant opened only a few months ago and you could tell.  They were fairly disorganized and our 40 minute wait turned into over an hour.  The salad that Jeremy got was really good but the rest of the food was only so-so.  We thought about getting dessert but we were told it would be another 20+ minute wait as the dessert kitchen was backed up.  As it happened, the manager was walking around and happened to stop by and ask us how how things were going.  We were honest with her and she was so apologetic that she gave us 60% off our bill.  So they have some growing pains to get through but I think it could be a good restaurant in the future.

Next stop: Magic Kingdom!  (HERE)