My Life and Other Stuff

Our next stop was Orlando, Florida.

Yes, that's where all the theme parks are.

Our motel wasn't too different from the other ones we stayed in before. The only difference was that our room had a kitchen sink and cupboards.

The inside of the building where the Transformers ride was.

On our first day, we went to Universal Studios. It has 2 parks: Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure. The second one has mostly roller coasters. Since me and my mom don't really like roller coasters, we spent a lot more time in the other park. We went on a lot of 3D and 4D rides. I loved the Simpsons ride so much that we kept going on it until my mom got motion sick! On the Spiderman ride, we felt like we were falling off a skyscraper! We talked to the Knight Bus driver at the entrance to Diagon Alley. We had Butterbeer at The Leaky Cauldron. We took the Hogwarts Express from Platform 9 3/4 to Hogsmeade. We walked through the halls of Hogwarts, and imagined Professor Snape brewing his potions, Professor Binns entering class through the chalkboard, Professor Sprout tending to her Mandrakes, the ghosts of Hogwarts roaming through the halls, and the students hurrying to their next class. We felt like we were in the story ourselves!

In other words, we had a blast!

Finding Diagon Alley (which is in Universal Studios Florida) isn't an easy task. You have to know where to look. You know you're near the entrance when you see the Knight Bus across from a brick wall. A person in a bus driver's uniform always stands next to the Knight Bus and you can talk to him. The shrunken head hangs in the window and breaks into a scream every now and then. If you turn to that brick wall I mentioned, you'll see that part of the wall is set back. When you come closer, you'll see that the set back part of the wall is really another wall behind the front one, as if there was a small room with the front wall missing. When you enter that room, you see that there is an opening on the left. That back wall continues and curves around, creating a small tunnel that leads to an archway made out of uneven bricks, just like in the movie. The archway leads to Diagon Alley.

Diagon Alley comes complete with Gringott's and the Leaky Cauldron. A huge head on top of Weasley's Wizard Wheezes makes a rabbit appear and disappear out of a hat. People stand in line to buy light-up wands from Ollivander's. If you buy a certain wand, you can wave it in certain spots and make something happen: a fountain will start, music will play, an exhibit in a shop window will spin, or something else like that. I didn't buy one myself, but I saw kids walking around, waving wands and making things happen. Some of them were wearing wizard robes. Diagon Alley looks just like it does in the movies! You feel like you're part of the story yourself!

At the end of Diagon Alley is Gringott's Bank, with a dragon on top, which will roar and flap its wings from time to time. The bank hosts the Escape From Gringott's ride. While we were in line for the ride, we walked through the entire Gringott's Bank. Goblins shook their heads at us from their desks, Sirius Black cackled at us from a newspaper, and a portrait of a goblin warned us not to go exlporing at Gringott's. It almost felt real!

When we came to the place where the ride started, it was like a vault with carts coming and going. We were seated onto a cart, and the journey began. It was like we were taking the cart down to the vaults, only to be attacked by Bellatrix and Voldemort. They controlled our cart down to a cave, where Harry Potter and his friends appeared and defeated them. They hopped onto a dragon and flew out of the cave. We were supposed to ride out of the cave with them, when the ride and the music stopped. I looked to the right and saw a big white wall that wasn't there before. I took off my 3D glasses and realized what had happened. The "wall" was really just a section of bare screen that had no image projected onto it. One of the projectors had probably broken down. The other projectors, however, were still running, projecting images on the rest of the screen. As a result, it looked like there was a plain white wall in the middle of the cave. It was really interesting to get a sort of behind-the-scenes look at a 3D ride.

Ten minutes later, the ride was fixed and we rode out of the cave and into the top floor of Gringott's.

After exploring Diagon Alley, we boarded the Hogwarts Express, bound for Hogsmeade. On the Hogwarts Express, the windows are actually screens. While you ride, you see the Weasley twins flying by, Hagrid waving to you from the end of the platform, centaurs galloping into the forest, and more cool stuff. What exactly you see depends on which way you're going.

When we got to Hogsmeade, we wanted to explore every inch! Giant lollipops stood in the windows of Honeydukes. People sold butterbeer at stands. Toys danced in the windows of Zonko's. It was kind of strange looking at the snow-covered gable roofs and huge icicles under them with Florida's sun shining brightly as ever. We bought some mint chocolate toads at Honeydukes and headed toward Hogwarts, which was close by.

Inside Hogwarts is the Forbidden Journey ride. We walked through the entire building of Hogwarts. We saw the garden, the house point counters, the different classrooms and other stuff. When it was our turn to ride, we were seated into a sort of row with 4 seats. We were lifted into the air and taken to the next room, where we were suddenly in the middle of a Quidditch game. We zoomed through the field, our feet dangling in the air. It felt like we were flying with Harry Potter! The ride took us through the air, through the stadium stands, through caves and through dark, stormy clouds. There was a moment where we were brought into a dark room where Dementors flew at us. We were flipped on our backs and I got motion sick. I threw up twice that day.

We spent three days in Universal Studios. On our last day in Orlando, we went to Epcot, a park in Disneyworld. My three favorite rides were the Test Track, Soarin', and the Sum of all Thrills. On the Test Track you get into a "car" and ride along a railtrack to see how the car would perform in different situations: sharp turns, bad weather, sudden stops. Then, the ride takes you outside onto a road-like track that's suspended above the ground. You ride very fast along all the twists and turns, but there are no drops like on roller coasters. It feels like a real racecar track!

On Soarin' you are suspended high above the ground in front of a huge screen. The screen shows the sights you would see if you were flying from Florida to California. The sights are breathtaking!

The Sum of all Thrills is a house with 6 huge robot arms. Each one is holding a two-seat cabin with a screen in front of each seat. You come into a room next to the arms and program your ride. For example, you can choose how "fast" you want your ride to be, how high, or how many twists and turns it will have. When you finish programming the ride, you get inside one of the cabins on robot arms. The screen gives the illusion that you're sliding (or flying) along the track you programmed. It's really cool!

Once, we made the mistake of going on the Figment ride. Sure, I loved it. Or, rather, I would have if I was about 5. The ride was all about imagination and how you should let it loose.

I also remember a pavilion with Coca-Cola products from different countries. I didn't really like any of them.

We also went to areas set up like different nations across the world. They were set up in a half-circle around a small lake. Across the lake, you could see the rest of Epcot. We watched a short film about Canada in the Canadian pavilion. In the evening, we watched the fireworks from the Japanese pavilion. They were spectacular! A lit-up sphere just like the Spaceship Earth one glided across the lake and dispensed fireworks. There was also music playing.

The next morning, we packed our things and drove to St. Augustine, our last stop in Florida.