Reply Thu 29 Dec, 2011 08:51 pm
OK so!

Took way too long to update this.

Amazing thing #1: Sozlet was actually surprised!!

This took a long time to plan, and there were all kinds of emails about it (with the travel agent, who turned out to be a gem), and I was doing all kinds of research on the computer, and I was making the actual Hogwarts letter, and...

I tried to be careful about filing away all of the emails as they arrived and clearing my history (we are a one-computer household, and she uses the computer often, and is a natural-born computer wiz), but I just couldn't be sure.

Grandparents were asking for ideas for her birthday and since she really didn't want much of anything (except for super-big things like a puppy, a trip to "Harry Potter World" [which is what all her friends call it], a trip to Paris, that sort of thing), I suggested money to buy souvenirs there. But I told them that any references to the trip should be coded as "the book." As in, "Wow, Sozlet will really enjoy reading that book!"


Morning of her (11th!) birthday, I set up the letter (in an envelope addressed to her) at the bottom of the stairs, where it would have come out of the mail slot.

This is what it looked like (some identifying info smudged out):

She came downstairs, sleepily, and slowed as she saw it. Reached down and grabbed it, a confused expression on her face. Opened it. Read it. No reaction at first. Read it again, smiled. Still not the reaction I expected. Looked at me happily. Didn't seem to get it. Saw my expression, read it again. Still not quite there.

Then she gasped -- finally got it.

HUGE grins. Some flapping of hands. Disbelief.

She basically didn't stop grinning for about three days straight.

The trip itself was AMAZING. I'll talk about it a little more in the next post. (I need to get going.)
Reply Thu 29 Dec, 2011 09:25 pm
Yea! Updates!

That letter is so cool!

I'm so impressed that you pulled it off as a surprise. (We're trying to surprise Mo for his upcoming birthday but the dog kennel call back tipped him off and now he's insane with trying to figure things out so I know how hard it is to keep such secrets.)

You rock!!
Reply Fri 30 Dec, 2011 01:45 pm
Yes! (Tough to keep it a surprise!)

It also included keeping her off of this thread, since she's an incorrigible over-the-shoulder reader and I don't always know when she's there since I can't hear her coming. (We call her hovergirl.) I tried to not open it at all when she was home.

(What's Mo's surprise?! Now I'm curious.)

OK so to continue with the update....

Amazing thing #2: No lines!!

The time we went -- between Thanksgiving and Christmas -- was chosen specifically for being a slow/ off-peak time. Sozlet missed two days of school but that turned out to be trivial, she did all of her homework for the two days she'd miss in school before she left, and didn't get behind at all.

I put a fair amount of research into the timing so it wasn't random or anything, but still, the sheer lack of crowds was amazing and wonderful.

I also got early admittance (I think CJane was the first to bring that up? may have been boomer, at any rate, thanks), it came free with the hotel we stayed at. So there were not many people to start with AND we arrived an hour early.

Our first morning dawned crystal clear and 45 degrees! In Florida!
On the walk there.

If we were going to the beach that would suck, but it was great for going to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, not least because of the winter theme of Hogsmeade.
Sign says "please respect the spell limits"

An aside -- I went looking for pictures of Hogsmeade online since I figured they'd be better than my photos, they all were defaced by huge crowds! Which brings back the amazingness of how un-crowded it was for us. The whole attraction is pretty small and gets PACKED.

At any rate, the weather was actually gorgeous for us, coming from lower temps but not nearly as much sun. It was nice to not be sweltering as we looked around at the lovely snow-topped roofs and Christmas decorations.

And the cold air was a lifesaver once we stumbled out of the incredibly stomach-churning "Forbidden Journey" ride. Holy cow. I was trying to figure out where to barf so that it wouldn't fly on sozlet by the end of it. It was AMAZING though. Sozlet proclaimed it the awesomest thing ever.

And after several deep breaths of fresh cold air, we were both fine.

But getting a bit ahead of myself.

The line for that ride wends through Hogwarts because the line is typically 1-2 hours long. There is a ton to see -- Hogwarts castle is really amazingly well done, tons of detail.

But we went zipping through because there were, all together now, NO LINES!

Really, it was crazy.

We went back the next day and took the separate tour -- not the line for the ride, but another route -- and again had the whole place to ourselves. Took our time and really looked around, it was awesome.

From the outside (later that afternoon, after clouds had rolled in):

The weather ran the gamut on that first day -- cold and clear in the AM, warming up to low 70's in the afternoon, then cloudy and cool in the late afternoon.

Winged hog at the gate (in the morning):

The only other ride we went on was the Flight of the Hippogriff, and that one we went on about a million-billion times (it was exhilarating without being scary and we'd just keep looping back because, right, no lines!). Here's a picture of Buckbeak bowing to us, randomly snapped over my shoulder as we took off. (All photos taken with my Blackberry, quality isn't great but for convenience -- all I took with me the whole time was the BB plus $$, credit cards, tickets and hotel room cards -- it can't be beat.)

The shops were a lot of fun too, Dervish and Banges, Zonkos, Honeydukes, etc. Sozlet spent her birthday money and got a bunch of small presents for friends.

First day's haul:

Clockwise from top left: Acid pops (evil evil evil), Bertie Botts' Every Flavour Beans (and they're actually every flavor, the "vomit" ones are FOUL), postcards (got them stamped at the owl post!), Fizzing Whizbees, pink Honeydukes bag with berry candy in it, new wand (Narcissa's), chocolate frog + chocolate frog card (Helga Hufflepuff -- hologram!), and then tickets and the letter (with some smudging -- second line is "Room at the Top of the Stairs") in the middle. She also got a Gryffindor shirt.

Next: Seaworld and the Dolphins Up Close tour!
Reply Fri 30 Dec, 2011 01:54 pm
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Reply Fri 30 Dec, 2011 02:16 pm
Are those the jellybeans with skunk spray?

Santa brought Yaya some of those since she's been so fascinated with Harry Potter. (So far, we've only let them read the first book and see the first movie.)

I actually thought the vomit ones tasted like Parmesan cheese.
Reply Fri 30 Dec, 2011 02:17 pm
And the whole trip looks awesome. From the letter to the lack of crowds.

I may steal the entire idea when Yaya turns 11.
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Reply Fri 30 Dec, 2011 02:20 pm
These tasted like vomit.

And smelled like vomit.

Didn't see any skunk. The weird/ non-standard ones were:


That's all I can remember now.

She gave about a dozen jellybeans in little packets to a bunch of friends, at least one "weird" one per packet. A friend got vomit and we warned her that it was really horrible and that she should just throw it away but she thinks she's tough and tried it. Started out OK full of bravado and then totally crumpled. I had a an empty glass for her to spit it out into and a glass of water to swish with and a nice fruity one to cover the taste, and she survived. Really icky tho.
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Reply Fri 30 Dec, 2011 03:17 pm
How cool! Sozlet won't forget this trip ever! You did an awesome job and put much effort into this, sozobe, kudos to you! I bet your little birthday girl had the time of her life.
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Reply Fri 30 Dec, 2011 05:41 pm
Wow! That sounds like a fantastic trip.

No lines!? Heaven.

She'll never forget that trip. I can't wait to hear about the rest of it.

We're going to that new Disney resort (not theme park) in Hawaii for Mo's birthday this year. We got an offer from them last summer that if you booked then, before the hotel opened, they had an incredible deal so we booked it for the week of Mo's birthday. None of us have ever been to Hawaii so we're really looking forward to it.
Reply Sat 31 Dec, 2011 11:05 am
Oh my gosh! That sounds amazing. Congrats on the incredible deal!

OK so before moving on to Seaworld -- we spent most of our first day in Florida at Universal and Wizarding World of Harry Potter, but we also meandered around the whole Islands of Adventure. Most of it was meh by comparison, with the exception of the Jurassic Park section.

Sozlet's been a dino freak since she was tiny, and so she loved this. We got to watch a baby dino "hatch" (all very well done and realistic, with a scientist in a lab coat behind glass explaining the whole thing). Lots of hands-on exhibits, etc.

Eventually we decided to go on the ride, which I thought was the most fun ride of the whole trip. It was genuinely scary without being stomach-churning. You get in this boat and go on a tour of Jurassic park post- dino breakout. Very realistic animatronic dinos are everywhere. Then you (not me, but sozlet told me) hear the roars of a t-rex. We're in a dark misty area and it's hard to know where he is. Then suddenly he's right there in front of you, looming out of the mist!!!! At the moment you think there's no way he's not going to eat you (wait this is Jurassic Park, she), all of a sudden the bottom drops out from under you and we go plunging down an 80-foot waterfall drop and get drenched.


The official photos throughout the park were larcenously expensive but we had to get this one because it's so hilarious. It was taken as we started the drop (outside), after dodging the T-Rex. Five people in our boat. Sozlet and I are in the first row. I'm screaming my head off but in a happy way. Sozlet is cowering against me in pure terror, funniest expression ever (she had a ton of fun too, just doesn't look like it at that moment!). There is a couple behind us, also both screaming their heads off. Then in the back row is some sort of geeky fanboy who has probably been on this ride a thousand times, smiling mildly.


I mentioned already that sozlet got money for souvenirs from some grandparents for her birthday -- I suggested to my mom that she sponsor a Dolphins Up Close tour at Seaworld as her present, and she thought that was a great idea. (Harry Potter, dinos, and dolphins, three of sozlet's very favorite things in the world.)

I love dolphins because a) they're dolphins, what's not to love and b) when I used to volunteer at the zoo, I'd arrive very early because my mom had to drop me off and then get to work. The zoo people were OK with that, and I loved it because I had free reign for about an hour before my duties started. One of the things I loved best was to swing by the dolphins, because they were always bored and eager for interaction. The approach was first underwater (a glass viewing area), then I'd go around and be above water. They'd see me underwater and get all happy and frisky and grab various toys, then when I emerged by the side of their tank they'd throw balls to me and stuff. Best thing ever.

So for this tour, first we fed mom and baby dolphins at the nursery.
The way this one kept popping up as we were waiting reminded me a lot of "my" dolphins at the zoo.

Once we moved into the feeding area, with fish, a bunch of them came over and made it clear that they were ready for the feeding to commence already:

The babies were super-cute, I didn't get any pictures though.

Then we went over to another area to work with a trainer and a pair of dolphins. These were our guys:

We learned commands and then gave them to the dolphins (who listened!) and pet them a lot. Incredibly soft skin.

One more leaping dolphin pic :

Then after the tour we just explored Seaworld in general, pretty impressive. The Blue Horizons show was AMAZING, the Shamu holiday show was so-so. (Shamu = big! Other than that, a bunch of saxophone playing and foofaraw.) Some of the tanks were smaller than I would have liked. The sting rays were packed in this little donut, going round and round. I fed one a shrimp and it was totally freaky. I didn't expect it to have such an aggressive gobbly fleshy mouth. Sozlet tried and startled and the shrimp went flying and lodged itself in the stingray's nostril. Oops.

Our last day was rather truncated by sozlet's motion-sickness-induced nausea (the "Polar Express Experience" at Seaworld was the culprit, avoid at all costs), actually that whole adventure sucked majorly but I won't go into it. We did manage to get to the Ripley's Believe it Or Not Odditorium which was totally worth it. Motion sickness aside, sozlet is un-gross-out-able. There were some really out-there things.

Then we went home!

Over too fast but so much fun.

I was more impressed with Orlando in general and Universal specifically than I expected to be. This was intended to be a once-in-a-lifetime sort of thing but I would really like to go back!
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Reply Sat 31 Dec, 2011 12:23 pm
Great report! It looked like you had marvelous weather too - the pictures are so vivid and inviting. So far, everyone I've talked to has been very excited about Disney Orlando and their themes park. Having Sea World and Disneyland practically in our backyard, we probably won't ever make it to Orlando, but I love to see the pictures and hear the reports.

@ boomer
wow, that will be such a memorable adventure for Mo. Hawaii in itself is
amazing, but this resort will take the cake. I can't wait to hear about it and
see the pictures!
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