“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. 😉

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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. 😉

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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:

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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. 😉

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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. 🙂

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. 😉

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!

Ireland Part 1: Dublin

Well, I went all the way to Ireland and all I got was… drunk. Yep, pretty much, just drunk, hahahahaha. No, no, no, I jest. In all seriousness, this is what I did: I drank a lot of beer, and ate a lot of potatoes, and walked the entire city of Dublin like 3 times over (it’s not really that big of a city, haha), and came away with a lot of great memories (and photos, obvi!).

I know that me recapping my adventures abroad is probably fairly boring to some of you, so I’ll try to keep the monologue short and just get straight into the good stuff — pretty, pretty pictures.

And away we go!

Welcome to Dublin! Sean and I flew in on a redeye, leaving at 10:45 PM our time and getting to Ireland at around 10:00 AM their time. It was only a 6.5-ish hour flight, but that time difference — whew! We got seriously messed up because of it. Worst thing was that our hotel room wasn’t ready when we got there to check-in, so we had to go kill some hours in a zombie-like state before we could nap ourselves into the right timezone, hahaha.

We took it pretty easy that first day (since we were also one of the only couples who had arrived). We were actually in Ireland with a bunch of Sean’s friends — his ZBT fraternity brothers — as we were all attending a wedding at the end of our trip!

Bros at Trinity College in Dublin.


Trinity College is where the Book of Kells is kept — one of Ireland’s most famous artifacts. Unfortunately, by the time we made it over to the college on the first day we were out and about, the line was ridonkulously long. So we just snapped some pics and would be returning the next morning. In the meantime, we knew exactly what we could go do…

Oh yeah.

Dublin is the location of The Old Jameson Distillery, where the original stuff was manufactured. Since then, the actual factory has relocated to Cork, in Southern Ireland, where I hear there is a similar museum tour/walkthrough you can do. It was really cool, and very informative! I know now more about distilling whiskey than I ever thought possible.

It’s just too bad that the only way I can drink it is with lots of gingerale, hahaha. You got a free drink with your admission, and could opt for drinking it neat or as a cocktail. Clearly, I chose the latter because I am a wimp.

As mentioned, we went back to Trinity College the next day to see the Book of Kells.

I wasn’t able to take any pictures of the book itself, but believe me when I say that it is pretty freaking cool to see how well-preserved this 1,000-year-old book is.

Possibly even cooler than the book itself, however, was the Long Library, which is part of Trinity College (I think they have a program that specializes in book restoration or something?). Anyway, it was a VERY awesome (and legitimately long) space with tons and tons of ancient texts lining the walls.

As someone with a healthy respect for books (hmm, I wonder why? Hahaha) I found this to be a particularly impressive part. 🙂

Some of the other places we visited on that day were Christ Church, which is a beautiful Anglican/Episcopalian cathedral with really awesome catacombs underneath (and is still in use for church services today!).

And we also got to pay a visit to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which was even more impressive.


St. Patrick’s Cathedral is where Jonathan Swift (the author of Gulliver’s Travels, amongst other things) served as Dean. He actually wrote all of his works while living and working at the cathedral, and is buried there. More writer’s history!

The last big thing we did on our second “real” day in Dublin was… well, you know.


The Guinness Storehouse is a very impressive self-guided museum tour, that comes with free a free pint of beer at the end, of course! In comparison to the Jameson Experience, the Guinness Storehouse is definitely much grander, more modern, and I think targeted to the younger crowd. The museum itself reminded me a lot of DC’s Newseum, with lots of cool interactive displays and whatnot. It’s also HUGE — it was like 7 stories high!

My absolute favorite part of the entire Storehouse was the “Guinness Academy” experience, where you are taught to pour your own “perfect pint” of Guinness. It turns out the pouring process for Guinness is a little different than your average bear beer.

You are supposed to pour the beer in at an angle by pulling the handle towards you, but only ’til it’s about 3/4 of the way full. Then, you let it sit for a little bit…

…until the stuff (I don’t know what it’s called, haha) settles and you’ve got that classic dark brown/black Guinness color. Then you PUSH the tap handle forward to fill up the rest of the glass until the head is perfectly at the top. Ta-da!

I got a certificate for my sweeeet pouring skills, lol, and got to use up my free drink ticket on my own perfectly poured pint. Which I then proceeded to only be able to finish half of because DAMN, Guinness is a HEARTY beer!

We then headed up to the Gravity Bar on top of the Storehouse to enjoy the absolutely breathtaking views and finish off our pints.

If you hadn’t used your ticket in the Guinness Academy, you could also get your free pint up there. The bartenders up there were putting DESIGNS IN THE HEAD OF THE BEER. It was nuts.

Freakin’ beer artists, they are!

So that wrapped up that day in Dublin quite well. We grabbed some grub at a local pub, went out for a bit that night, but all the walking and being in the sun (Ireland was having a heatwave the entire time we were there — it was nuts! It didn’t rain once, and I actually got SUNBURNT. Like, pretty bad. Ridonk.) made me pretty exhausted so we ended up turning in relatively early.

The following day was spent drinking in more of Ireland’s history at the National Museum of Archeology, as well as spending some time in St. Stephen’s Green, which is a giant park that they said Central Park in NYC is actually modeled after!

Sean and I ended up splitting from the rest of the group that afternoon because I really wanted to check out the Dublin Writer’s Museum.

Ireland has such a rich history of Nobel Prize-winning writers — W.B. Yates, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett, and Seamus Heaney are all Irish!

All in all, I’m pretty sure we covered everything there really was to see in Dublin in our few days there. I will admit, as a whole I wasn’t incredibly impressed with Dublin as a city. I hope that doesn’t offend anybody, but for the most part it just seemed very much like an average city. It obviously has a much richer history than anywhere in the States, but it was hot, dirty, and there were a lot of depressing signs of the economic downturn all over the place (shuttered up shops, etc.)

Luckily, Dublin only marked the beginning of our trip to the Emerald Isle, and I can promise you that things are about to get very, very beautiful.

For now, though, I’ll let you go. I’m heading off to Houston tonight with my brother and sister-in-law to see my grandmother (so they can perform the traditional tea ceremony for us, since she couldn’t travel to attend their wedding). This short trip is to be followed with me heading to Oregon for a GIGANTIC Powell Family Reunion on the Oregon Coast!

Whew, the ride never stops… but I wouldn’t have it any other way. 🙂 See you on the flip!

Relay

Wellps, it’s here! As Sean can attest from the tear-stained evidence leftover from my completely hysterical breakdown about it last night, I’m off to the Reach the Beach Relay tomorrow! I fly up to Boston tomorrow morning, and it is going to be a packed weekend, full of more than just the relay race itself. It’s unlikely that I’ll get a ton of blogging in over the next few days. There will, however, be lots of Tweeting and Facebook updating though! We’ll be tagging race-related tweets with #rtbrelay, #newbalance, and/or #offbalance, and we even have a new Team Off Balance Twitter handle: @RTBOffBalance. Wheee, social media storm!

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So a big component of preparing for a 30 hour, 200 mile race is making sure you’re packing well. I want to make sure that I’ve got everything I need without OVER-packing (something that I have a rather strong tendency to do). So I’ve been casually gathering things over the past week to make sure that I’m not forgetting anything. Yesterday I packed up most of the things I’m going to need (though I’m sure there will be a few last minute swaps and additions, for sure!) and gave my duffel bag a trial run.

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Since, as mentioned, our all-blogger team is being generously sponsored by New Balance, packing my fitness clothing isn’t much of a challenge. I’ve had a chance to test out all of the running gear that they sent us, and have my three running outfits all picked out. I have three sports bras, three pairs of socks, and three hair bands too. I’m even bringing the extra items that I won’t be running in — like these infamously short run shorts — because while I may not enjoy the chafing, they are super comfortable just to lounge around in.

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New Balance also sent us an awesome secondary package just a day or so ago with some team-branded clothing! So we have a tank, long sleeve technical tee, and running windbreaker all with Off Balance branding! So exciting, and the tank is not only vented with a sweet logo, but it’s super flattering too. Win-win!

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It was actually much more difficult for me to decide what to pack in terms of non-fitness clothing. Ultimately, I figured that things are going to be pretty casual (with the possibility of going to do something slightly nicer Saturday night if we’re not all dead), so I’m packing a couple of cute tees (including my Team Peeta shirt! RAWR!) and one sundress. I’m planning on wearing my jeans on the plane.

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And yes, that is 7 pairs of underwear you’re seeing folded up in the background there. Underwear is the one thing that I believe can NEVER be over-packed! On the side you might also be able to make out a rolled up plastic-lookin’ thing. That’s three huge Ziplock bags for me to put my race outfits in. All of the relay race packing suggestions I’ve read say to pack your three race outfits in separate plastic bags — that way, it’s easy to pull them out when it’s time to change, and you also have a place to put them back when you’re done! I know it probably seems gross to put sweaty clothes in a plastic bag, but consider that I, the Sweatiest Exerciser Ever, am the first runner. That means that there are like 29.5 hours left in the race that my vanmates would have to put up with my stinky clothes if I didn’t seal ’em off, hahaha. What, TMI?

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I do have just a FEW non-clothing things that I’m packing too. Since I’m flying and don’t want to have to check a bag, I’m trying to keep my extras limited. But I want to contribute to the team/my van, too! So I’m bringing baby wipes (for post-run wipe downs, since there won’t be any showers), a roll of TP (just in case!), the Dreamie travel blanket that Ben gave me for my birthday (if I decide to try to catch even a few minutes of shut-eye in the van, haha), and a jar of Peanut Butter & Co. White Chocolate Wonderful (for eating by the spoonful).

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Of course, I can’t forget the most important thing that I’ll need to be bringing — my sneakers! New Balance also sent me this awesome pair of flip flops in my latest package, which I was counting on relaxing in between running legs. Unfortunately one of the support straps broke! I’m really bummed, because they are SO comfortable (they remind me of Rainbows!), but I guess I’ll have to resort to my UnderArmour flippies instead. Le sigh.

So there you have it! Additional things I’ll be bringing that aren’t shown include my camera (duh!), iPhone (duh!), charger (duh! Are you sending a pattern?), a hand towel (suggested by our New Balance contact to wipe down post-run), PJs for Thursday and Saturday nights so that hotel roomie isn’t subjected to THAT (bahaha!), toiletries (including men’s deodorant – this is no time for my usual Dove Cucumber and Green Tea!), and some very minimal makeup.

Any last minute suggestions for what to bring, what to do, or how to survive? General words of encouragement are also welcome, since I’m still mildly freaking out about the running part of this whole shebang… though, as my loving and rational boyfriend reminded me, I’ll only be spending a fraction of the relay (like, what, 2 hours total?) actually running. But still. Think good thoughts for me! 🙂

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.

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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.

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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. 😉

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.