Foxes in Paradise & A Blizzard Wedding

Howdy folks! I’m back from my honeymoon, well-rested, relaxed (well, sort of), and — by some miracle! — actually a little bit tan! Sean and I escaped the 2 – 3 feet of show that Winter Storm Jonas dumped on the DC Metro area and spent 3 days traipsing around the Florida Keys, a day in Miami, and then 7 days aboard the Norwegian Escape!


We spent some time with Hemingway’s cats in Key West (they have thumbs!), ate lots of delicious seafood all throughout Florida, drank LOTS o’ drinks (exhibit A below), got some time in the sun, and just spent time enjoying being husband and wife (which is still SO weird to say, not gonna lie.)


The Norwegian Escape is a brand new cruise ship that sailed to St. Thomas, Tortola, and Nassau. I’d never cruised on Norwegian before, but I found a really great deal and what with it being a shiny new ship, I’m glad we gave it a try!


It was a lot of fun — the boat was definitely constructed with families in mind, so it had waterslides, a ropes course, and some really great shows. All of which I took full advantage of, heh. The boat had a capacity of over FOUR THOUSAND passengers (crazy!), plus something like 1,700 staff, but it definitely never felt like there were that many people on board. Thank goodness.


Overall I had a really great time: our room was nice, the excursions were good, the staff was friendly, and the ship was beautiful! We went snorkeling and beach-dwelling in St. Thomas & Tortola, we got to spend a lot of time in the sun, and the food was pretty good on the ship.


However, there were definitely a few things I didn’t really like — when I booked, the casino on board was supposed to be smoke-free (hooray!), but apparently NCL changed their minds at some point and it definitely was NOT. And because of the casino’s location right in the center of the main Atrium area, three whole levels of the ship basically smelled like smoke all the time. Which especially sucked, ’cause it was one of the most beautiful parts of the ship!


Also, one of the restaurants on board the ship was supposed to be included as a complimentary option, but before our sailing, they changed it to be priced a la carte. Which I don’t really care that much about since there were plenty of free options on board, but it just seems so sketchy for a huge company to constantly be going back and forth and changing their minds. If I had my druthers, I’d probably still prefer to cruise Celebrity, but who knows? Maybe I just need to take a few more cruises to really decide. ūüėČ

Now, since Winter Storm Jonas decided to crash our wedding and  we got hit with what some dubbed the Blizzard of the Century (still a little early in this century to make that call, in my opinion, but whatever), I feel pretty confident in saying that we earned our honeymoon.

Especially considering the state of things when we left. Feet of snow, unplowed neighborhoods (ours didn’t get touched ’til Monday!), slick roads. Oy. I had to walk half a mile in the snow from the closest cleared road just to be able to get to the house to pack for our honeymoon!


But, let’s be real, it’s kind of a miracle that Sean and I were still able to get married at all — never mind the fact that it was a legitimately awesome party and aside from the whole missing half our guests thing, it couldn’t have been more wonderful.

See, the week before Winter Storm Jonas hit the Eastern seaboard, most people were making emergency trips to Trader Joe’s, purchasing extra snow shovels from Home Depot, and waiting in line to fill up their gas tanks. Me? I was preparing to get married.

Yep, out of all the days in winter that could have been hit with a mega-blizzard, OF COURSE it was on my wedding. As my uncle, who officiated our wedding, so eloquently quoted, “If you want to make God laugh, make plans.

Our venue, the morning of the wedding.
Now, I chose a January wedding date in the first place, so I can’t really say that I wasn’t prepared for a snowy wedding day. I mean, c’mon, I had the boots, I had the faux fur coat… I just wasn’t prepared for THAT MUCH snow. But even with #Snowzilla crashing the wedding, I knew, without a doubt, that I wanted to get married to my love if at all humanly possible.


Canceling/postponing didn’t really feel like an option, since by the time the storm was looking like it was definitely happening and that it would be as bad as folks were saying, many of our family members had already arrived in town. Some of our vendors had already canceled on us, but our venue, caterer, coordinator, photographer, and videographer never did (because they’re the BEST), so we figured at the very least, there would be some great food at a beautiful spot in Old Town Alexandria, and we’d be able to capture the experience with the folks who were able to make it.

For the most part, we just proceeded as if there wasn’t a world-ending blizzard about to rain (well, snow) on my parade. We got our manis + pedis, we worked on the flowers (well, my amazing super-bridesmaid Holly did most of the flower arranging while I cried quietly in the corner), and we just tried to make the best out of what was turning into an increasingly more insane situation.

When we realized just how bad the storm was looking, my family hastily worked to book ourselves and the wedding party at the Hilton Old Town Alexandria, located just half a mile from our venue for the weekend. So on Friday, just before the snow unleashed itself upon the greater DC area, we all packed up and headed into Alexandria.

Thankfully, many of our family members were already staying at either the same hotel or one just across the street, and the rest of my extended family members immediately jumped on rearranging their travel plans, rebooking flights that got canceled and driving many hours so they could beat the storm. It was incredible — almost every single member of my family who had RSVP’d yes was able to be at the wedding, and I was so, so touched.

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So Friday evening we headed over to the Memorial for our wedding rehearsal — the snow was already coming down pretty hard at this point — and were met by a WUS9 reporter who wanted to do a story on our wedding! So that was fun, and you can check out the video here, hehe.

Friday night was our rehearsal dinner, which — again, thankfully — Sean’s parents were hosting at the very same hotel. So there were no major worries there, thank goodness! We had a traditional Chinese tea ceremony as part of the festivities, ate lots of food, drank, and all had a damn good time because, hey, it’s not like any of us were going anywhere that night!

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It was kind of a blessing in disguise, really, because I have some really awesome friends who changed their plans and hung out with us a day early so they wouldn’t miss the wedding, so I got to spend extra time with them. That was kind of a theme throughout the entire weekend, in fact: blessings in disguise. People really reveal themselves during a crisis, and I am so fortunate to be surrounded with people who sacrificed their weekends, changed their plans, and never complained for a second that I was forcing them to deal with a blizzard.

Right, so, Saturday. The Wedding Day.

Obviously, things didn’t run quite as smoothly as they might have sans-blizzard, but as you already know, all’s well that ends well. Even though everything went basically as smooth as it could have, especially given the circumstances, I spent a lot of the morning pretty stressed out because I kept thinking that worse things were going to happen. At this point, our hair & makeup folks had already canceled on us, and the DJ wasn’t able to make it either, but I think I was half-expecting for the caterer to call and say they couldn’t get there, or for the venue to call and say they were shutting down. We put up our photographer, videographer, and coordinator in the hotel with us, so that was comforting, but without the caterer and without the venue, things would have been a very different situation, so I was still anxious.

But of course, I had no real reason to be! Aside from our timeline getting a little bit skewed because we all had to do our own hair & makeup, and us having to change our first look from outdoors to indoors because, well, obviously, things went relatively smoothly. Remember that thing I said about how certain people reveal themselves to be absolutely amazing in a crisis? Well, I’ve got a lot of those people in my life.

When we decided to move our entire encampment to Alexandria on Friday, my parents’ next-door-neighbors amazingly agreed to look after all five of our family’s dogs (yes, FIVE). They even ended up shoveling my parents’ walk AND shoveling out some of the back yard for the boys. I was incredulous. When I forgot one of my makeup bags, my friend Megan walked ten blocks IN A BLIZZARD to Walgreens to pick up supplies so that I could do my own makeup.

My wunder-bridesmaid Holly stepped in — after already spending the night before making boutonnieres — to do my hair on the day of the wedding, and it looked amazing. My friend Breanne helped the rest of my bridesmaids with their hair + makeup. And the groomsmen stepped in to create a wedding playlist when we found out that the DJ wasn’t going to make it.

Originally, I’d had all kinds of grand plans to be able to set up a lot of the decor and stuff myself, because I had a very specific vision of how I wanted everything to look. I wanted to provide examples of the centerpieces and stuff, because, you know, I’m a crazy person. Well, with having to move everyone over to the Hilton and do the rehearsal and not collapse into a pile of tears and everything, that obviously didn’t happen. But, again, it didn’t matter because my coordinator Caitlin and her assistant executed every detail wonderfully.

They spent extra time over at the Memorial ensuring things were all set up, coordinating with the vendors, coordinating with my bridesmaids, and I never knew any of it was even going on. She’s good, folks. She is good.

After we were (finally) ready, I went down to the hotel lobby to do my first look with Sean. Then we headed over to the Memorial nice and early to take more photos. Originally our plan was to go around Old Town Alexandria to take photos but, of course, that was one of many plans that had to change. Which was not a big deal, as it turned out, because the wind and snow at this point was so intense, it was like you were being shot with tiny little icicles all over your body. Brrrr. This shot that Sean’s brother captured sums it up pretty well:


I will tell you, I think the thing that provided me with the biggest sense of relief that entire day was just physically GETTING to our wedding venue. Until I actually walked through that door, I felt like there was still a chance that this wasn’t going to happen. And since I ran into another bride in the lobby of the hotel whose venue had cancelled on her, it wasn’t until I was on-site, with my groom, my officiants, my parents, my wedding party, and my awesome vendors, that I really knew, 100%, that this was happening.

Sean’s brother also captured this moment of joyful sobbing that happened when I found out that my friend Chad had literally walked 2 miles to play our ceremony music. Hey, 1/4 of a string quartet is a pretty good turnout when there’s a blizzard going on outside!

Unfortunately the weather outside was too severe at this point to do any more photos outside (Sean and I tried, haha), so took some wedding party photos and family photos indoors while folks were arriving. Before we knew it, it was time to start the show! And amazingly, we still started the ceremony almost exactly on time!

Our wedding ceremony was filled with love and joy — we followed a traditional Episcopalian liturgy, but added a few personal touches, including exchanging some personal vows. Sean’s vows were amazing, and unshockingly, I basically cried my way through the entire ceremony.

And when all was said and done, we were MARRIED! Mr. & Mrs. Fox, at your service!

TIME TO BOOGIE!!!!!

We had a pretty traditional wedding setup — with the ceremony, then cocktail hour, then dinner, dancing, and debauchery.

We may have had half the amount of people, but they partied twice as hard! Almost all the guests who couldn’t make it were locally-based. With the Metro shut down Friday night, I think the amount of snow was just too intense for people to even get out of their neighborhoods. So a HUMONGOUS MOUNTAIN of bonus points goes Anne & Matt and Lara & Jim who win the Ultimate Grand Prize as our only friends who made it to the wedding despite not staying at the hotel the night before. They’re crazy. I love them. 

Photos stolen from Anne ūüôā
It was a ridiculously good time. DJ Ben (my bro) & DJ Brett (Sean’s best man) kept the tunes spinning and folks were gettin’ down on the dance floor, and it was a pretty amazing night.

After Sean and I had finished eating, we slipped away to take a few more photos and shoot some video together, and when we came back it was party time!


Mia was the real star of this wedding, let’s be honest. ūüėČ

My friend Megan brought her sweet Fuji Film Instamax camera (basically an even more awesome Polaroid), and captured some great shots throughout the day too.

Obviously, this is really just a brief overview of everything that went on throughout our wedding weekend, and there’s so much more to dive into, buuuuuut this post has already been ridiculously long, haha. So prepare yourself for more posts to come, as I’ve got lots of details to show you, stories to tell, and there are lots more photos to come from my awesome photographer, too. And I can’t WAIT to see my wedding video! There’s still so much to relive from this awesome, momentous, historic, wonderful, wonderful day.

Lovelovelove,

Gretchen Fox <3

“Welcome, Harry, to Diagon Alley.”

In February 2012, I took a trip to Orlando, FL with the express purpose of visiting¬†The Wizarding World of Harry Potter¬†at Universal Studio’s Islands of Adventure. It was, without overstating it, the best trip ever.

That is, until this one.

Because this time, I not only got to go back to Hogsmeade, but I also got to visit Diagon Alley, the newest part of Universal Studios Theme Park and without a doubt¬†the most magical place on Earth (take that, Disneyworld!). Now, most of you know that, if we’re putting it mildly, I [email protected]#%-ing love Harry Potter, so consider this your warning that things are about to get real nerdy real fast.

It. Was. Glorious.

I feel it is important to note that Diagon Alley is not visible from the streets of Universal Studios Theme Park. Rather, when you enter what is clearly marked as “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley” on the park map, you find yourself standing in a London street.

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It’s all an homage to HP, of course, but it really does have that¬†London feel. They even have a stand selling England-y¬†things set up right outside — union jack t-shirts, “Keep Calm and Carry On” mugs, etc. Looking around, you’ll see the entrance to the Leister Square Tube stop, King’s Cross Station, and, of course, Number 12 Grimmauld Place.

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The Knight Bus is also set up right outside, complete with conductor extraordinaire Stan Shunpike and his little shrunken head sidekick who yells things at people walking by. It’s pretty great.

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Then, you walk through an inconspicuous-looking opening, around a corner, and suddenly find yourself gazing upon that magical brick entryway…

And there it is.

First off, it absolutely feels like you’re stepping into a different world, because you’re basically BEHIND the main street of the park. You can’t really see any of the other park areas once you’re inside Diagon Alley, which is awesome in and of itself.

And it’s just perfect. You walk down the lane¬†and it’s ALL there. On the right, Quality Quidditch Supplies, where Harry first laid eyes on the Nimbus 2000 broomstick in the window display.

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On¬†the left is the back-entrance of The Leaky Cauldron, where you can grab a bite to eat… and where we did just that. Obviously. The food was actually really good! Expensive as all get out ($70 for lunch for 4 people, oyyyy), but still pretty impressive both quality- and variety-wise.

Walk a few steps further, and there’s¬†Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, complete with a giant Fred or George raising his top hat to everyone passing through the Alley.

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Further down the way lies Madame Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions, where Harry bought all his school robes (and where a very generous Sean bought some for me, heehee!) Hufflepuff reppin’, yo!

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And that’s not all, by far! I haven’t even mentioned the Magical Menagerie, where Hagrid bought Harry his very first birthday present ever — Hedwig. Or Flourish & Blott’s, complete with moving poster advertising Gilderoy Lockhart’s latest book (of lies).

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There’s Florean Fortesque’s Ice Cream Parlour, where Harry, Ron, and Hermione spent many a final day of summer enjoying ice cream after a long day of school supply shopping. They offer both hard-packed and soft-serve ice cream in flavors like Earl Grey & Lavender, Clotted Cream, Sticky Toffee Pudding, Apple Crumble, and, of course, Butterbeer. Plus normal ones like chocolate and vanilla for boring people. ūüėČ

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Of course, there’s another Ollivander’s here (the REAL Ollivander’s), and the park peeps clearly learned a lesson from the Hogsmeade side of the park, because instead of having to wait in the sun while 20 or so people went in group-by-group, they built several wand rooms into the Diagon Alley attraction, so there was literally no wait time at all for us.

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Best of all, OLLIVANDER CHOSE ME THIS TIME! I mainly credit the hair for getting her attention (it was a lady Ollivander, heh), but then again, it might have been my huge dumbfounded grin. So I got to try out several different wands to find The Wand, and then OF COURSE I had to buy it since it was, you know, the wand that chose me! Duh!

Luckily, I was planning on buying one anyway, since one¬†new feature that they added since I last visited the park are that they now sell interactive wands, which allow you to “cast spells” at various locations throughout¬†both Harry Potter parks. So you can walk around and¬†cast Wingardium Leviosa on a sign, or ¬†Aguamenti on a water fountain, or Tarantella on a window display to make a puppet dance, etc.

I tell ya, these park people really know how to get suckers like me to part with their hard-earned Galleons. ūüėČ

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And speaking of money, right at the end of Diagon¬†Alley is Gringotts. Yes, Gringotts Bank in all its glory, complete with fire-breathing dragon perched on top. The dragon breathes fire about once every fifteen minutes and it’s hot and it’s loud and it’s fun and you seriously never get tired of it. It’s awesome.

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This is also where the new ride, Harry Potter & the Escape from Grigotts is located. The ride actually broke down right when we first got in line but don’t worry guys, I only hyperventilated a little. And thankfully it was back in working order¬†with even shorter lines just an hour later! Also, the ride is really great, in case you were wondering. It’s pretty much what you’d expect if you’ve watched Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt 2 and saw¬†what happens when they try to break into Gringotts and secretly wished it was a ride. Well, now it is!

Some people might be surprised to learn that Harry Potter & the Escape from Gringotts is the only actual “ride”¬†in this entire part of the park (if you count the Hogwarts Express as more of a transportation attraction than actual ride.) Yep, just the one. But honestly, there’s so much to see and do you’ll barely even notice. I’m just as happy¬†sippin’ on my Butterbeer and watching Celestina Warbeck & the Banshees perform, or one of the park’s puppet reenactments of the Tales of Beedle the Bard, as going on thrill rides. Just sayin’.

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It really is just astounding how MUCH there is. They even have Knockturn Alley ready and waiting for all you dark wizards and/or people who can’t correctly pronounce “Diagon Alley” when traveling by floo powder. I swear, they must pump in¬†cold, clammy air as you make your way down to Borgin & Burkes, because it event¬†felt creepy.

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And of course, who can forget about the Hogwarts Express? You need a Park-to-Park ticket to ride it, since Diagon Alley is located in Universal Studios park and Hogsmeade is located in Islands of Adventure, but it’s so, so worth it. The Hogwarts Express functions as both an actual train ride from one park to the other, and as a little interactive movie-type thing, where you get to see various things out of the window and happening in the hallway as you travel to and from London/Hogsmeade.

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Honestly, I could probably write an entire post JUST on the Hogwarts Express/King’s Cross Station. There are so many awesome little details that they put into what is basically a shuttle! As you enter King’s Cross, there are fake muggle billboards advertising things like “Magic, the Perfume”, piles of luggage strewn about (including one trunk I spied with the initials H.G. on it), and a little snack shop that carries¬†ALL BRITISH FOOD AND DRINK ITEMS. Stuff like Prawn Cocktail chips — sorry, I mean, crisps — and REAL Mars Bars that you can actually buy while you wait in line.

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There also is a really special way that they did the entrance to Platform 9 3/4. I SO wish I’d gotten a picture of it, but basically they have a pane of glass up that works like a hologram and makes it really look like the folks in front of you are disappearing through the wall between platforms 9 and 10! Ungh, it’s sooooo gooooooddddd.

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So yeah, for those of you who might end up¬†debating¬†about whether to get a Park-to-Park ticket, if you’re any kind of Harry Potter fan you’re definitely going to want to do it, even JUST for the experience of going through the Hogwarts Express stuff. Plus, c’mon, are you honestly telling me that you’re gonna go all the way to Universal Studios as a true Potterhead and NOT get the park-to-park ticket?

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I mean, at the very least Hogsmeade still has Hogwarts, amiright? And I’d been to the Hogsmeade side before and it was still just as great the second time!¬†They also made a couple of¬†changes that helped space-wise, like moving all the merchandise that used to be at Zonko’s Joke Shop over to Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes,¬†which left a much more open, easier to navigate space inside Honeydukes. And that really worked out well for me when I decided to peruse the shelves¬†at Honeydukes because, well, I just hadn’t spent enough money yet.

You’re looking at¬†$40¬†worth of candy that will probably never be eaten, FYI.

And so, my friends, that about does it. There are more than a few things that I left out because I A) definitely didn’t take enough pictures (too busy stifling my tears of joy) and B) there is just SO MUCH it would literally be impossible to describe within the confines of a single blog post.

But, hey, I tried. And anybody who is planning a trip down to Universal Orlando in the future, I’m more than happy to answer any questions you might have! I know it basically seems like I spent every minute of my time at Universal immersed in Harry Potter World, and while I may have¬†wanted that to be the case, we did manage to fit in some other stuff too:

Universal Collage

So, yeah, best trip ever still seems to sum it up.

Slytherin Hair, Hufflepuff Spirit

Those of you who have been longtime readers of this blog know that at one point in time, I was a daily blogger. Yes, every single weekday, and even some weekends if there was anything particularly exciting to report, I would open up a fresh post page in WordPress and type, type, type my heart out. I would detail everything from my latest weigh-in what I made for dinner the night before, to what I had been up to that weekend, to just all of the random thoughts that ran through my noggin.

Of course, part of the reason for that daily blogging was the accountability I so desperately needed to keep myself on track with weight loss, but¬†another (rather sizeable) contributing factor was the fact that my job, well, let’s just say it didn’t exactly keep me busy 100% of the time. And during the rare¬†times when I was busy, I was doing things I wasn’t exactly jazzed about having to do. So¬†what better way to keep myself from going cuckoo behind a cubicle than to take to the magic of the world wide interwebs, right?

Well, as it turns out, me running to this very blog on an almost-daily basis was the very thing that honed my writing and social media skills to the point where I was able to land a full-time job that took advantage of those very things. A job that honestly felt tailor-made for me. My dream job. (I know how obnoxious it is that I still say stuff like that, but, hey, honest is as honest does!)

But, of course, suddenly having a job that not only required more of my time, but that I also¬†wanted to devote time to, meant that I found myself starkly lacking in that ho-hum, what-to-do-what-to-do downtime where I was able to do a lot of my blogging. And so, those daily posts suddenly dropped to a few times a week. Then maybe once a week. And now… well, I think we all know I’m not the greatest at updating frequently.

And the funny thing about blogging, for me, at least, is that the longer you stay away, the harder it is to jump back. Logically, you’d think it’d be the opposite scenario. I mean, I have so much to report on, so many things to tell you about, so many photos to embed, I¬†should¬†be cranking out post after post, right? But it’s actually more like, there’s so much to say, I don’t really know where to start.

Funny, right? When I was writing at least 5 times a week, I rarely struggled to come up with content, and yet here I am with a multi-part dream vacation, a very stressful and frightening¬†hospital stay¬†for my dog Harry (don’t worry, he’s okay now, thank goodness), a friend’s wedding,¬†and tons of events, cooking expeditions, and restaurant recaps stirring around in my brain, and I hardly even know where to start.

Well, I guess I should follow¬†Fraulein Maria’s¬†advice and start at the very beginning, eh?

A couple of weeks ago, Sean and I headed down to sunny Florida for a vacation¬†that basically consisted of all the best possible things in life: my niece Mia, Harry Potter, Disney, a cruise, Sean’s birthday, the Kennedy Space Center, and, of course, more Harry Potter. (Duh.)

It was a pretty long trip and as you can see, we did quite a few different things, so I’ll try to tackle this chronologically.¬†The trip can essentially be broken up into thirds. Part I consisted of being together with my sister, brother-in-law, and Mia, who drove over from Georgia to visit¬†Universal Studios and Disney’s Magic Kingdom with us!

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Mia’s first trip to Disney, though she will not in any way, shape, or form remember it, was so much fun! I’m sure I would have still had fun even if it was just us “grown ups” touring Magic Kingdom, but I have to admit that it’s all the more special with a little princess in tow.

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And even though I’m sure parts of it were really overwhelming, I think Mia really had a great time! We basically had to pry her off of the teacups, and she was so excited to meet Belle, well, see for yourself. She was literally head over heels for her. ūüėČ

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I will, of course, do a much, much (much much much much) more detailed post on Diagon Alley, the newest part of the Universal Studios Theme Park and literally the most magical place on Earth, but for now, suffice it to say that it was absolutely amazing and perfect and wonderful and I almost cried but didn’t quite so be proud of me.

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Just a couple of gals hanging out on Sirius Black’s flying motorbike, nbd.
Sean absolutely gets full marks for being so wonderful through all my insane fangirling, of course. For someone who has only read the first three Harry Potter books, has only seen like movies 1, 2, and 8 (or something equally as ridiculous), and doesn’t exactly have the Disney-obsessed gene that tends to run in my bloodline, he was an incredibly good sport.

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I did not actually end up buying him the “Best Boyfriend” award pictured above, but those of you fearing for Sean’s sanity after what he went through on this trip, don’t worry. Part 2 of our trip was a lot more fun for him, I promise. ūüôā

After we said goodbye to Jenny, Dan, and Mia, it was time for Part II of our trip! Sean and I took the world’s most expensive Uber ride about an hour east from Orlando to Port Canaveral — we were going on a cruise! See, my old man’s 30th birthday just happened to coincide with this trip, so I figured that a nice, relaxing 3-day Bahamian cruise was just the ticket to make sure he got a chance to really enjoy this vacation too.

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PS: Traveling as a couple and trying to get pictures together = having to choose between taking yet another selfie OR¬†awkwardly asking other couples if they’ll take a picture of you, since only they truly know your plight.
We were on Royal Caribbean’s Enchantment of the Seas, and the cruise was very nice — lots of downtime, relaxing, and, of course, eating! Oh boy, so much food… it’s really a good thing the cruise was only three days, I tell you what. We left from Port Canaveral and stopped in Nassau, Bahamas, and then we were also set to stop at CocoCay, Royal Caribbean’s “private island,” but unfortunately some really bad winds meant we had to skip it, as the water was too choppy to risk taking tender boats to the shore.

Oh well, being on the boat is where most of the fun in cruising is at, anyway, right? I mean, I managed to win $20 in the casino off of a $5 initial investment, so I’m thinking things went preeeeetty well for us. ūüėČ

We actually ended up returning to Florida ON Sean’s birthday, so we headed just a few miles out from Port Canaveral to the Kennedy Space Center’s Vistor Complex and spent most of the day nerding out about space. (Sidenote: we also just saw Interstellar over this past weekend and I tell ya, it was a good combination to have just visited the Space Center, heh.)

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Sean’s a big space nut, so he had a great time checking out the old rockets, the space shuttle Atlantis, and all other sorts of nifty space-race history stuff while we were there. And as for me? Well, I may be¬†as much of a space enthusiast as Sean, but I definitely learned a lot…

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Finally, we ended the day with Sean’s birthday dinner at Luma on Park, a fantastic restaurant that came recommended by my coworker and the Orlando Community Manager for Yelp (she does what I do here, only there.)

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And that successfully wraps up both Parts I and II of our trip! Whew! For those of you still reading, I’m pretty impressed that you made it. And fear not, I shall save Part III for another day, since it pretty much just consists of going back to Harry Potter World, shamelessly geeking out, and totally, utterly, completely loving my life.

Slytherin hair, Hufflepuff spirit.

Hopefully at least getting a significant chunk of my big trip down on paper (so to speak) will help me funnel my blogging mojo back into some semblance of normalcy. I definitely have more to report on, so stay tuned! Especially those of you who are looking for more of an in-depth look at the new Diagon Alley part of Universal Studios, hehe. Oh man, there are so many more ridiculous pictures to come…

‘Til next time!

The Wand Chooses the Wizard, Mr. Potter.

Oh, I’m sorry. Did you think that the totally age-inappropriate obsession that I have with Harry Potter was over and done with? Ha! Part 1 and Part 2 of my Harry Potter World recap may have come and gone, but we’ve still got Sunday to cover. In fact, Saturday’s recap wasn’t even 100% complete — I left out one extremely important piece! Well, fear not, friends. I’m about to rectify that. In fact, I should tell you right now that it’s about to get EVEN nerdier in here (you didn’t think that was possible, did you?). Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

O
I mentioned in yesterday’s post that Ollivander’s wand shop isn’t really a shop at all. In fact, it’s more like a show. You stand in a line (where the attendant is repeatedly telling people that this is not a line for a ride, so please don’t get in thinking you’re about to get on Dragon Challenge, haha), and eventually you’ll be ushered in with a group of 15 – 20 other people into the shop.

The Wand Chooses the Wizard
It’s cool and quiet inside, and just there, behind the counter, is the actor playing Mr. Ollivander himself. Thus, the show begins:

Mr. Ollivander
He motions to a girl dressed in school robes, standing in the front. She’s probably about 13-years-old. “You there, Gryffindor! Step forward,” he calls. She tentatively goes up to the counter, where he proceeds to inspect, measure, and generally observe her. He then offers her a wand to test out. He instructs her to use the Wingardium Leviosa spell on a box of wands resting on a shelf to the side. The shelves break and fall down. Not the wand for her! He casts a quick Reparo, then pulls a different wand for her to try.

Ollivander himself
The second wand causes a thunderstorm in the shop. Strike 2. As you might predict, it’s the third and final wand that’s juuuuust right: the music swells, the room glows, and finally a wand has chosen her. We are then dismissed into Dervish & Banges next door to purchase wands of our own (and I imagine that her parents now have to foot the bill for her wand as well, haha). Now, I knew going into things that I had about a 0.01% chance of being chosen by Ollivander for the show, especially if there were kids in my group. But somehow he must have sensed that I was a true fan (perhaps the squealing and clapping I did when we first walked in? Or maybe the incessant click-click-click of my camera throughout the entire presentation?) because before my parents and I had a chance to exit, he came up to me.

“You there,” he said. I responded with a look of shock and what must have been a truly dumbfounded grin plastered on my face. “What house are you?” he asked.

I struggled to use my words like an actual human being for a second, before stammering out, “I… haven’t been sorted yet.”

“Hmm,” he said, looking at me quizzically. “I sense a great wisdom in you. Surely one as wise as you must be Ravenclaw!”

“I certainly wouldn’t mind that!” I said, even though I’m about 90% sure that if I were to actually be sorted, I would be a Hufflepuff. Womp womp.

“I just the wand for someone with your great mind. Ask my assistant inside the shop for the hazel wand. Yes… Hazel, 11 1/2 inches, with a core of dragon heartstring. Surprisingly powerful for its size, and well-suited for wisdom such as yours.” He gives me one last appraising look before walking away, and I stumble out of the shop in a stupor.

Ollivanders
After a few minutes of TOTALLY geeking out because holy crap, that was completely awesome, and was the next best thing to being chosen for the show itself, I go right up to one of the shop assistants and ask for the hazel wand.

Hazel. 11 1/2 inches. Dragon heartstring.
I purchase it (all wands are $29.95, for your reference) and proceed to make a fool of myself for the next twenty minutes, swishing and flicking it around like the fool I am while we had our butterbeers in the Three Broomsticks.

Swish and flick!
Well, I did give it over to my mom so that she could have a little mischief too.

I solemnly swear I am up to no good
I solemnly swear I am up to no good.
And that, my friends, is hands-down the most amazing part of my Saturday.

Mischief Managed.
Now, if you’re still able to hang on with me, we can flash forward to Sunday and get the rest of this beast done. Sunday, my mom stayed back at the hotel and my dad and I made good on our intention to actually see the non-Harry Potter parts of the park, haha. We started off in Marvel world, where I was exceedingly grateful that I hopped on the Hulk coaster right before leaving the night before, while the wait time was low. Still one of the best roller coasters I have EVER been on! We then worked our way through the Toon Lagoon (stopping to get thoroughly soaked on the Popeye water ride, hehe), although we didn’t go on any other water rides since there was a little bit of on-and-off rain and potential thunderstorms that threatened to shut them down. We did stop for a little while in the Jurassic Park Discovery Center (always so much fun for me, despite the PTSD that movie gave me, haha) and eventually made our way back around to Hogsmeade.

Hogsmeade
Here, we got in line for the Flight of the Hippogriff ride (the wait was about 45 minutes – I definitely noticed a significant drop in sheer volume of people at the park from Saturday to Sunday, even though it was a holiday weekend!) and is themed like a Care of Magical Creatures class taught by Hagrid.

Hagrid's Hut
Since this is more of a kid’s roller coaster (no loop-de-loops or anything fancy), my dad was happy to accompany me on this one (Hulk coaster — not so much, haha). The ride itself is only, what, 45-seconds long? But it was fun, of course, and you get to bow to a mechanical Buckbeak as it starts, which I loved.

Buckbeak
After the ride, we revisited the Three Broomsticks to fuel up with another butterbeer (this time in souvenir mugs, OF COURSE) before braving the various shops. They were just as delicious the second time around, and doubly as fun in plastic flagons, haha.

Butter me up! Take a sip... Butterbeer!
Riding on my frozen butterbeer-induced sugar rush, I then proceeded to spend all my money on ridiculous memorabilia. So. Frackin’. Worth it.

Cauldron Cake 2 Cauldron Cake
The most immediate thing I walked away with was a cauldron cake from Honeydukes that didn’t even make it out of the park. My dad and I devoured this little mousse-filled chocolate cupcake with relish — I can’t wait to try to recreate them! I also forced him to take pictures of me with my new pet Pygmy Puff.

Pygmy Puff
His name is Stanley.

Hey, Arnold!
And that pretty much marked the end of our theme park adventures! We made it back to the hotel in time to grab a late dinner with my mom (SUSHI!) and prepared ourselves for the trip back. I had to get a little bit creative with the packing since, in addition to my own souvenirs, I was also transporting wands back to Ben & Taylor. Aside from the wand, butterbeer mug, and Stanley, the rest of my own spoils included…

Spoils of Harry Potter World
Candy from Honeydukes, a Gryffindor t-shirt, a chocolate wand for Sean, U-No-Poo candies (bahahahaha), postcards…

Stationary
… a leather case containing cards and envelopes…

Honeyduke's Swag
… a chocolate frog, a package of Fizzing Whizbees (which I got to eat half of before Daxter dug them out of my suitcase and ate them… which led to an entirely new level of freakout given his health history… but I digress!), and a box of Bernie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans. And then there’s the piece de resistance of my new Harry Potter-inspired collection:

Timeturner
A Timeturner of my very own. Suck on that, Hermione. Yes, I know it’s a lot. I deposited quite a few Galleons into Universal’s pockets this weekend. I would like to point out, however, that when I made a joke about how much money I was spending on what is essentially just CANDY to the guy at the register in Honeydukes, he said that I shouldn’t feel bad because he has literally rung up thousands of dollars worth of merchandise for just one person before. So, really, I think you should all be impressed with my restraint. ūüėČ

So. There you have it. How do I even sum up what really was the trip of a lifetime for me? Aw, to hell with it. I am just going to embrace the cheesy sap that I am, and say that it really was magical. I don’t expect all (heck, any!) of you to understand it, but it was just amazing for me. It was the culmination of my childhood (I was more or less the same age as the characters in the books as each one came out, so I literally grew up with Harry Potter) come to life. I loved every minute of it, and I simply cannot WAIT to go back.

Mischief managed.