Thursday, May 29, 2014

Janelle's Visit: Fort Lauderdale Beach

After spending such a crazy girls weekend up in Orlando, both Janelle and I were very glad to spend our next couple days of Janelle's visit relaxing!  Daxton and I showed Janelle how we do "Beach Days."  We set up our beach tent, umbrella, chairs, sand toys, blankets, cooler, and lots of sunscreen and settled in for the day.  We ended up spending over 6 hours playing in the sand, sun, and waves and had a BLAST doing so.  There was a bit more sea weed along the edge of the beach than I prefer, but the temperature was perfect and the light breeze was heavenly.  We also found a fun sand bar that went out into the ocean quite aways, so Daxton was able to play safely in the water with minimal waves.  We were all in heaven!!

Our beach camp

Cheesy curly haired beach bum!

Daxton loved having Auntie Nellie to play with.  She was so patient with him and built sand castles for over an hour.  He couldn't have been happier!

We were sitting next to a really sweet Latin family with a couple small kids that Daxton became buddies with.  Their grandpa had brought a kite for them all to play with and they let Daxton have a few turns flying it as well.  He became best buddies with their grandpa and even gave him a hug goodbye when they left.  It was pretty cute!  I love how kind everyone is down here.

Flying kites

"Flat Katrina" joined us in the sun and sand.  Daxton was pretty funny trying to play with her all the time.  She definitely got some love while she was with us!

We left around 3 in the afternoon after arriving that morning.  We were covered from head to toe in sand, sunscreen, water, and smiles!  I love living so close to the beach.  It still amazes me how beautiful of an area we live in.  

I feel so incredibly blessed to call this home!

I wish I could put into words how wonderful it was to have Janelle visit us for a week.  Her friendship means the world to me and I wish there was some way to live closer to each other (or a quicker cheaper way of visiting!)  It meant the world that she would come all this way and go on so many fun adventures while she was here. I love her to pieces and am already planning for the next time she comes...Florida Keys and swimming with dolphins!!??
Love you so much, Janelle!
Thanks again for the fun week!

Janelle's Visit: Harry Potter World

Our last big adventure in Orlando, while Janelle was visiting at the beginning of April, was going to Universal Studio's Islands of Adventure, home of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (Harry Potter World.)  I will forever think of my Sunset View Elementary friends when I think of Harry Potter.  Every time one of the movies came out we would be at the midnight showing...even if we had to teach the next day.  Several years we dressed as JK Rowling's characters.  So many fond memories with incredible friends over this series.  Dallas laughs that I love it so much and yes even own an Elder Wand, but it's not just the story, it's all the memories it brings up with these amazing people over the years.

After checking out of our hotel, we headed to Islands of Adventure.  Universal has two parks; Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure.  In order to get to either of these parks you have to meander through their Universal Walk which is their version of Downtown Disney; lots of shops, restaurants, theaters, etc.  I have to admit that I've become a total Disney snob.  I'm no where close to the crazy Disney fanatics that own all the paraphernalia and frequent so many times they know all the secrets.  But I have become very accustomed to the efficiency and incredible guest services and hospitality that Disney offers.  I forget how wonderful it is until I go to another theme park, such as Universal, where things just aren't done as well.  The lines were at least twice as long, if not more, the customer service was severely lacking, and things just weren't run as smoothly.  You can tell that over the years they've tried to emulate some of what Disney has, but they haven't quite got the hang of it.  Having said that, I still love Harry Potter World.  It's such a fun experience to dive into an entirely different world that you've been imagining for over a decade now.  It is even more fun to go with true Harry Potter fans, which is why I haven't been here with Dallas yet!

Entering Universal City Walk...

Entering Islands of Adventure...
As we made our way through Dr. Seuss's kiddy area to Harry Potter world it was cute to see the different signs pointing our way.

Our first glimpses of the Hogwarts Castle...

Entering Hogsmeade...
As you can see from the pictures below, it was packed!
I was so glad we didn't have Daxton with us.  First of all there are no rides for little ones available, but also the crowds were so crazy that I just kept thanking that I didn't have to maneuver them with a stroller as well.  Whats crazy is that we went a good two months before the summer grand opening of the Harry Potter extension "Diagon Alley" into the other Universal Studios theme park.  I can't even imagine how insane the crowds must be now and through the summer!

In front of the Hogwarts Express...

We loved the construction of Hogsmeade and the illusion that the buildings are actually bending and twisting.  I also love the touch of snow.  Weird to see snow around you and still be sweating in the Florida humidity!

We thought they did really well with all the detailing in the windows of the different shops.

Owl Post

Quidditch store, which matched Janelle's new bracelet I got for her.

And of course...
Hogwarts Castle!

The first time I visited Harry Potter World, with my good friend Tracy, we found out about the Hogwarts Castle tour.  Most people don't realize that you can walk through the castle at your own pace, in no lines, exploring the different rooms and detailing.  It's pretty cool and you can take your camera (whereas when you're waiting in line to get on the main ride you've put all your belongings in a locker downstairs.)  It's also nice because you can take as long as you want.

Janelle and I decided to do this first.  We loved watching the different paintings come to life.

Inside Dumbledore's Office there is a magical book that floats and switches place, the penseive, and Gryffindor's sword.

Some of the other fun details...
The looking glass, house points, quidditch lockers, entrance to Dumbledore's office.

After our walk through tour of the castle, we went on the ride "Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey" inside the castle.  It's my absolute favorite and has a good mix of real and digital effects that make me squeal every time.  We also decided to do the single riders line, which cut the wait time to less than 20 minutes!

After the ride, we headed to the Three Broomsticks for lunch.  We ate yummy salads, drank sweet caramel "Butter Beer", and rested from our tiring morning.

After lunch we explored more of the details of Harry Potter World.  We loved that the ATM machine was a "Gringotts Bank" ATM, that the bathrooms were designed for witches and wizards, and we loved all the little shops.

The first time Tracy and I visited, we somehow missed the Weasley's car, so I made sure to find it this time.  It was hidden along the "Flight of the Hippogriffs" ride path.

Ollivander's wand shop was pretty cute and had a little presentation about a boy choosing his first wand or getting "chosen" from his first wand.

We also loved Honeydukes sweet shop!
So many fun candies and pastries.  I fell in love with all the color!

Janelle got a chocolate cauldron for us to try, which was super yummy.

And of course...
Another round of yummy "Butter Beers!"

We went on a couple more rides and explored every bit of Harry Potter World, before heading back.  After such a crazy couple days at Gatorland, Downtown Disney, Epcot, and then Harry Potter World, we were exhausted by 6pm!

To get out of some of the crowds, we left the parks and ate dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe in Universal City Walk.  It was the perfect ending to an insane and exhausting weekend away.  After dinner we made the three hour drive home to Fort Lauderdale and I was SO glad Janelle was with me to help keep me awake and entertained.  I sure do love that girl!
It was such a fun weekend!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Janelle Visits: Disney's Epcot

As I mentioned in my previous post, while Janelle was visiting at the beginning of April, we were able to sneak up to Orlando for a couple days for a girls weekend.  It was so much fun to have quality time with Janelle and not be distracted by the needs of my little guy.  We were able to pack a ton into our two and a half days.  It was pretty weird to not have Daxton with us, but I loved not having to push a massive stroller around Disney.  Our first day we drove up to Orlando, explored Gatorland, and then shopped and ate at Downtown Disney.  The next day we decided to spend the whole day at Epcot Center.  I was super excited to go since it was the International Flower and Garden Festival.  Disney always does such an incredible job and this festival did not disappoint!

One of the things I loved was finding all the topiaries spread throughout the park.  There were over 100 designed after different Disney characters, each covered in beautiful colors, flowers, and greenery.

(Warning this post contains a lot of pictures :)
The entrance to Epcot with Goofy, Daisy, and Donald catching butterflies...

Even though we arrived close to opening, there were already lots of people (the joys of doing Disney during spring break!)  One of the rides that didn't have any wait time, was "Living with the Land."  Even though I had been to Epcot several times, I had never ridden on it and I was very surprised by how much I enjoyed it.  It's slow moving in a boat and teaches you about preserving our Earth and new ways of safe agriculture.  I kept thinking how much my dad would have loved it, since it was so interesting. 

Next we had fast passes to the Finding Nemo ride.  It's one of my favorites there, because Daxton loves it so much.  We also explored the different aquariums afterwards.

Everywhere we looked there were gorgeous, vibrant flowers.  So many different kinds!  It made me actually want to garden...for about a minute or two...

Pluto, Mickey, and Minnie topiaries
I loved that Minnie's bow on her head were actually two lady bugs.  Such fun details!

Goofy and Donald soccer topiaries with different soccer teams from around the world represented.

Looking out at some of the colorful landscaping throughout the park...

We loved walking through "Tinkerbell's Butterfly Garden."  It was beautifully done and housed several butterflies.  We had visited Butterfly World just a couple days earlier, so we were underwhelmed with the amount of butterflies, but we were still able to see several.  What I loved most were the Fairy houses hidden throughout the gardens.  Looking closely, I was shocked by the painstaking detail that went into building these little homes.

Such impressive detailing!

After exploring the Butterfly Garden, we made our way over to Disney's Fast Track ride, which is my favorite at Epcot.  The past few times we've visited we haven't been able to ride on it, since Daxton is too little.  Janelle and I had a blast and were VERY grateful for our fast passes!

Afterwards we started to make our way to the World Showcase and found several beautiful topiaries along the walk...

Lightning McQueen and Mater (Daxton's favorite)

Phineus and Ferb

An entire scene of Fantasia was designed into several topiaries as well.

Making our way around the world showcase, we started with Mexico and ate some very yummy tacos, empinadas, and churros.  

Then we moved on to Norway, which is now where Elsa and Anna from Frozen are located.  It was crazy to see how long people were waiting in the line to meet them.  Especially since if you stand in the far side of the gift shop you can see them both perfectly.  I might feel it worth it if I had a daughter who was obsessed with them, maybe...

After Norway we walked down to China.  We lucked out with arriving just in time to see the Chinese acrobats perform.  It was crazy how tiny they were and what amazing things they were able to do with those tiny bodies!

After China we found some fun Lion King topiaries.  We loved the mane on Mufasa!

In Germany we found Snow White and her dwarves...

Kermit and Miss Piggy topiaries

This shot depicts perfectly why I was so glad to not be pushing a stroller!  I vow to never do Disney during Spring break again.  Way too many people!

When we arrived in Japan, three girl drummers had just begun their performance.  It was pretty amazing and took some serious arm strength with the moves they were doing.

The Kingdom of Morocco has always been one of my favorites.  I love all the tile and intricate detailing.  Plus they have great shopping.

The nerdy teacher in my came out when we passed the garden below.  I so want to plant in clear boxes like they did so Daxton can see the roots.  It's a great science experiment!
We also found Woody, Bambi and friends, and Mary Poppins as topiaries...

We found Sleeping Beauty in France...

And almost the entire cast of Beauty and the Beast as topiaries (my favorite.)
Belle and Beast

Sleeping Beauty and Prince Phillip and Cinderella and Prince Charming were dancing topiaries found on both sides of the bridge when we left France.

We also found Winnie the Pooh, Piglet, Eeyor, Rabbit, and Tigger near England.

One of my favorites turned out to be Peter Pan standing on the top of one of the buildings in England.  Most people would walk right by or simply notice Captain hook and Tick Tock Croc below.

Having fun in England and then Canada!

Right as we were leaving we found a super fun Monsters University themed playground which Daxton would have loved.  The lighting is horrible in the below pictures, but Mike and Sully were pretty awesome as massive topiaries.

We were able to do basically everything by nightfall.  It was an exhausting day fighting crowds, but it was so much fun having Janelle with me.  I didn't mind waiting in lines, because we were able to talk and we didn't have a crazy toddler we were trying to keep calm.  I sure do love her and am so glad she was up for so many adventures on her visit!

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