One Day in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Orlando

Happy Birthday, Harry Potter! And Happy Birthday to my son Daniel who turns 11 next month. (He’s ready to receive his invite to Hogwarts!)

To celebrate, we surprised him and his sister with a trip to Universal Studios Orlando to visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It was our first time at Universal. Daniel is a HUGE Harry Potter fan, so we knew he’d be excited. We bought “Park-to-Park” tickets to experience all of Harry Potter in both Universal Studios (Diagon Alley) and the Islands of Adventure (Hogsmeade and Hogwarts). If you are planning on visiting, you’ll need to keep your tickets handy to ride the Hogwarts Express between both parks.

We booked a one night stay at a Universal resort and woke up ready for a full day of magical fun, rides, and butter beer. Here’s how it all went down:

7:45 am

We arrived at the entrance to Universal Studios so we’d be ready to run when they opened the gates. I highly recommend you stay at a Universal Studios resort so you can have the perk of entering the park an hour early. This is key for hitting all those Harry Potter attractions without long lines and blistering summer heat. When the gates opened, we went straight to the Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts ride in Diagon Alley.

8:10 am

The Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts ride had a short five minute wait. Score! Since this was our first ever ride in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, we were awestruck at every turn. The waiting area alone is Harry Potter immersive. It’s the famous Gringotts bank from the second “Deathly Hollows” movie. The goblins writing checks are awesome to watch. And the actual 3D ride is fantastic! You strap into a thrilling runaway car where you will be greeted by villains Lord Voldemort and Bellatrix Lestrange and attacked by snakes, statues, and one really scary dragon. It might be a bit spooky for little ones, but my tweens loved it. Before you walk away, be sure to look up and wait for the giant dragon on top of Gringotts to breath fire. I was able to capture the moment!

8:45 am

As soon as we were done with the Gringotts ride, we went straight to Ollivander’s Wand Shop across the way. This was my favorite moment of the day. You are split into groups and led into a small, dimly lit room inside the wand shop. One lucky “wizard” is picked from each group to have their wand specifically chosen for them. Daniel was picked from our group! It was seriously the coolest thing ever. The wandmaker, Ollivander, gave Daniel three tries before he was presented him with his chosen wand. There were neat special effects and lot of magical touches along the way. Daniel ended up with a 16 inch oak wand with dragon heart string, the exact one he wanted. How magical is that? Then, we were all led into the shop to purchase the wands. Annabel picked out an ivy one. They were fifty bucks each, but it’s the best souvenir from our trip. Be sure to pick at least one “interactive wand” so you can have fun with the magic throughout the park. The interactive wands cause water to shoot from fountains and make the window displays come to life all throughout Diagon Alley.

9:30 am

Now it was time for Butter Beer! We could not wait any longer to try the signature Harry Potter drink. It’s a cool mix of butterscotch and cream soda with a sugary cream foam on top. You can order the iced, frozen, or even hot version! We indulged in the traditional iced version and we all gave it two thumbs up. (Daniel ordered a second one for lunch!) I also tried the Fishy Green Ale which is a minty cinnamon boba tea with blueberry bubbles. It was delicious, but I would pick the butter beer if I had to choose only one.

10:00 am

We were off to Kings Cross Station near the entrance to Diagon Alley to finally take the Hogwarts Express to Hogsmeade. This was my favorite ride by far. It was not crowded, so we had time to watch each other walk through the brick wall to Platform 9 3/4. The special effects are super cool, so be on the look out for this when you’re in line. We boarded the train and sat in our own family car. The train ride feels very real as we “traveled” from London to Hogsmeade. You’ll want to look out the window and into the hallway to capture every moment.

10:30 am

We arrived in Hogsmeade and ventured uphill toward the Hogwarts Castle for the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride. After reading all the reviews about motion sickness, I decided to take a pass. But my husband and kids loved it. The stomach-turning ride takes you through Hogwarts Castle where you feel like you’re flying on a broomstick. You’ll see Dumbledore’s office, dementors, spiders, and a Quidditch match. The ride uses realistic holographic images and 4D elements like water and smoke. Even though I passed on the ride, I was still able to do the “Castle Tour” to see all the fantastic features and that iconic Sorting Hat.

11:15 am

Since the Flight of the Hippogriff was right next door, we took a quick spin on this kid-friendly roller coaster. It reminded me of Goofy’s Barnstormer from Disney’s Magic Kingdom. It’s bumpy and fast with milder hills, so it’s perfect for younger ones. The line was a little long, but we were entertained by Hagrid’s hut, pumpkin patch, and the interactive hippogriff.

11:45 am

Daniel and my husband were the only two brave enough to try the Dragon Challenge roller coaster* which is based on the dragon challenge in the “Goblet of Fire.” You can pick the coaster you want to ride: the Hungarian Horntail or the Chinese Fireball. They rode the Hungarian Horntail and Daniel said he loved the big drop and upside down loops. You can get back in line and compare both coasters, but my boys decided once was enough, so off we went to search for sweet treats.

*Note: Dragon Challenge is closing September 2017 to make way for a new ride coming soon.

12:15 pm

There were fun Harry Potter-inspired singing and dancing shows on a stage near the coasters. Be sure to stop and watch one or two between rides. We caught one of the Hogwarts Frog Choirs as we were walked to Honeydukes. Honeydukes is the famous candy shop featuring the Chocolate Frog, Pumpkin Pastry, and “Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans.” We got one of each and they were all yummy. Well, except when Daniel tried a bunch of the beans and “accidentally” ate a “vomit” and “dirt” one. Ewww. We then stopped in the Owl Post to see where all the letters get mailed.

12:45 pm

We decided it was time for lunch and we all agreed to eat at the Leaky Cauldron back in Diagon Alley. You can also choose to eat at the Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade. Both locations serve classic English fare. The Leaky Cauldron is a bit larger and the kids thought it looked just like the movie, so we jumped on the Hogwarts Express and headed back to Diagon Alley. The train ride back was just as special as the first time with the scenic views and magical effects.

1:15 pm

The line at the Leaky Cauldron was not that bad and we were ready for some cooling off time indoors. The restaurant is a traditional British tavern and it completely resembles the spot where the wizards enter Diagon Alley for the first time. You will want to walk around and check out all the cool details. The menu features fish and chips, smoked turkey legs, fish pie, and bangers and mash. They also have kids menus with mac and cheese and chicken fingers.

2:00 pm

After lunch, we let the kids run wild with their interactive wands and test them out on all the special sensory areas in Diagon Alley. They had a great time exploring all the shops and magical spots including Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes. I loved window shopping and taking photos of the kids in the colorful scarves and robes. Afterwards, the kids had a chat with the conductor of the three-story purple Knight Bus, the bus featured in the “Prisoner of Azkaban.” The shrunken head in the driver’s seat had a conversation with Daniel about his birthday! Then, they checked out the English red phone booth right outside Kings Cross Station. If you dial the word “MAGIC,” you’ll get a special message from the Ministry.

3:00 pm

Seven hours later, we had covered all of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and even had extra time to explore some of the other rides in Universal Studios. We had an awesome first time experience and can’t wait to go back and visit the magical Harry Potter world again.

Happy Birthday, Harry!

Fun Emoji Birthday Party Ideas

My daughter celebrated her 9th birthday with an Emoji-themed slumber party. We had a blast putting together all the details and decorations. The Emoji Movie is opening later this month, so I thought it was the perfect time to write about some of our favorite emoji party ideas! Starting with…

The Emoji Cake!

You can head to your local bakery and order an Emoji-style cake or you can DIY! My husband is our master chef and he created this amazing rainbow layer masterpiece for Annabel’s big day. He used three boxes of white angel food cake mix to create six cake layers. He added food coloring to each layer for the rainbow effect. After baking, carefully place the layers on top of one another using icing to seal together. Then, cover the entire cake with bright yellow icing and add red sparkle heart eyes and a cookie crumb smile. The cake was so tall that each girl received a gigantic slice of rainbow goodness. It barely fit on the plate!

Emoji Pizza!

We gave each girl their own personal-sized pizza crust on a plate. They added pizza sauce and lots of yummy mozzarella cheese. Then…the fun part! They designed an emoji face using the toppings: pepperoni, olives, onions, pineapple, and peppers. We pre-cut the pepperoni circles into heart shapes. The pizzas baked in the oven while the girls played some games. Everyone was excited when they could finally eat their emoji!

Pin the Poop Emoji Game!

I downloaded this awesome Poop Emoji game from Etsy store, Trinkets and Things. You will need to cut out and number the poop emojis for each girl. They will be blindfolded as they try to pin their poop inside the toilet. It sounds a little gross, but the girls had a blast and could not stop laughing. The winner is the one closest to the center of the toilet! Each girl received a poop emoji pen just for playing. You can find the poop emoji pens HERE.

Emoji Bingo!

Another easy emoji party game is Bingo! I found this cute emoji Bingo set from Etsy store, PishPesh2. (I heart my Etsy stores!) You will print out a card for each girl and then play traditional bingo using pieces of candy or emoji buttons as the markers. The winner receives a prize and then you can continue to play as many rounds as the girls want. We played until every girl won at least once.

Emoji Picture Frames!

I picked up white wood picture frames at my local craft store for the girls to create a DIY emoji photo frame. You can use any unfinished wood frame, but I personally love the white. The girls decorated their frames with emoji stickers, colorful craft gems, pom poms, and paint pens. I let the frames sit and dry while we went to snap pics in our custom photo booth!

Emoji Photo Booth!

I bought a pink sequin tablecloth on Amazon and used it as the backdrop. I attached it to our family room curtains with clips and, Voila!, an instant Emoji photo booth! The hashtag “Bday” sign was from the party section at Target. I put out a basket of fluffy boas, costume jewelry, and sunglasses so the girls could dress up. They each held an emoji photo booth prop when it was time to take the pictures. I printed out copies of the best group photo to put in their Emoji picture frame. It was the perfect party keepsake for these BFFs!

Emoji Decor!

I loved the pink princess poop “Annabel” birthday banner I ordered from Etsy store, Poky Dots.  I created emojis for the dinner table using yellow party lanterns. I pasted faces on each one using colored construction paper. I cut off the bottom of the pink sequin tablecloth to use as my runner. I picked up “LOL” wooden craft letters as the centerpiece. Then, I decorated the room with emoji mylar balloons as well as bright yellow and pink mylar balloons.

Emoji Goody Bags!

My goody bags had cute Emoji items from the Justice store which is tween girl heaven! Justice has adorable emoji items for under five bucks like the pink emoji nail polish, glitter emoji necklace, and emoji snap bracelet. They even have trendy emoji fidget spinners if you want to go above the $5.  I ordered Emoji hair ties from Etsy store, Murrers’ Monograms and More and downloaded custom emoji candy stickers from Etsy store, Ann’s Craft House. I put the stickers on the bottom of pink Hershey kisses and tied them in a small plastic bag so each girl had a sweet treat to take home too. Since we had a sleepover party, each girl also received an emoji pillow!

I highly recommend an emoji party for your tween. It was so much fun and so easy to do! I don’t think this emoji trend is leaving anytime soon, do you?

My Gender Reveal Party! (It’s Not What You Think)

My gender reveal party had three people in attendance. And it wasn’t actually a party. It was me, my husband, and the sonogram tech. “Congrats, it’s a boy!”  I had the same party a year later. “Congrats, it’s a girl!” That was it.

Don’t get me wrong. We were thrilled! We were overcome with emotion! I cried. My husband fist pumped. It was a memorable moment. For the three of us. In a tiny dark room during my husband’s lunch break.

As a mom to older kiddos (9 and 10), I’m realizing I missed out on a lot of these cool, new mommy trends. When I was pregnant with my son Daniel, there was no such thing as a “gender reveal” anything. I missed out on the party where all your friends and family gather at your house to enjoy a taco bar and mango margaritas while you hit at a piñata until blue confetti pours out. A son! Or maybe you go on Facebook Live! to cut into a giant white cake to reveal a strawberry pink middle. A daughter! I’ve even seen the YouTube video where the happy couple opens a giant cardboard box and pink AND blue balloons fly out. Twins! One of each! How awesome!

I love planning parties. I would have really annoyed my family and friends with an obnoxious gender reveal party. I could have done an 80’s theme. A Michael Jackson impersonator moonwalks into the room and tosses us a pink or blue Rubik’s cube. Or since it was 2006 when I was pregnant, maybe I would have jumped on the popularity of American Idol which was the number one TV show at the time.  Everyone would sing karaoke, drink Coke, and eat star-shaped food until it was time for the grand finale. Hubby and I would stand on a stage while blue or pink confetti poured down on us.

A girl can dream.

I’m done having kids so there are no gender reveal parties in my future. But that’s okay. I have two amazing, healthy little ones who I love and adore. And I do have a photo from each of their gender reveal moments that I cherish with all of my heart.

Did you have a gender reveal party? Tell me about it below!

Annabel’s American Girl Birthday Sleepover

Annabel had her very first sleepover party last weekend and we all survived to tell about it! But seriously, all the girls were super adorable and well-mannered and you know I LOVE a good THEME PARTY! (See here, here, here, and here!)

Our sleepover theme was American Girl. All our guests were told to bring their sleeping bag, PJs, and favorite doll. Annabel helped me come up with all the fun activities, games, and decoration plans. We went with pink and hot pink streamers, balloons, paper products, and American Girl doll accessories. I had matching party hats and tiaras for the girls and their dolls. Each guest received a sleeping bag and eye mask for their doll and a personalized eye mask for themselves. Annabel also sewed each girl a pillow for their doll. (She learned to sew last summer during camp.) We organized our playroom as the sleeping area for the night and Annabel also made each girl a cute bed sign to welcome them to the party!

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We had five main American Girl themed activities for the party: A “Lea” Scavenger Hunt, a “Saige” Painting Craft, “Grace” Cupcake Decorating, a “Julie” Basketball Toss, and an “Isabelle” Dance Party! The girls loved it and it kept them busy between dinner and movie time.

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I also planned a couple cute filler games. One was a “Love it” or “Don’t Love it” quiz where they each had a sign with a pink heart on one side or a heart with a big “X” drawn through it on the other side. Then they flipped their sign to answer questions like “Do you like roller coasters?” “Do you like cats?” or “Do you like scary movies?” We had each girl ask a question too which made the game turn super silly. They loved it!

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We picked An American Girl: Grace Stirs Up Success as our movie of the night. It was adorable and I knew there would be zero issues with language or content which is something to always consider. We had popcorn, pretzels, and fruit trays as snacks. One of Annabel’s girlfriends gave her an adorable nightgown which all the girls could autograph as a first sleepover memory. Love! Once the movie was over, it was time for some sleepover-themed Mad Libs and then lights out!

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The girls slept for about 6 hours which was a great success in my book. Yay! In the morning we had a pancake breakfast, present opening, bead necklace and scrapbooking crafts, but mostly they just wanted to play and girl talk. Oh, and try out big brother’s four-wheeler in the backyard.

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The girls went home with a pink tote bag for their goodies and we attached a special star necklace and poem for each friend. Thank you Pinafores & Pinwheels for the awesome idea. Find it HERE.

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The sleepover was so much fun. Annabel gave it a “100” on a scale of 1-10. She was so sad when it was over. As a gift, I gave Annabel a mini photo album that would hold all the instant photos we took throughout the night. The only challenge was I had to remember to snap those photos with my Fujifilm INSTAX camera while also taking separate iPhone photos. But it worked out great and now she has a sweet photo album from her very first sleepover party. It was such a special celebration of my girl’s 8th birthday and I’ll never forget it. I hope she won’t either.

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And at least I have a year until I plan the next one, right?  :)

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PARTY DEETS:
American Girl Sleeping Bags: Etsy shop, JMaga Clothing

American Girl Eye Masks: Etsy shop, Little Buttercup Dolly

Girls Personalized Eye Masks: Etsy shop, The Sleepy Cottage

Initial Paint Craft Items, Paper Products, Doll Crowns: Target

Pink Jelly Goody Bags: Oriental Trading

Instant Camera and Mini Photo Album: Amazon

Annabel’s Party Outfit: J. Crew

Eight

It’s been a big year for my girl. She got glasses and lost teeth. She joined Brownies and church choir. She saw her first concert and her first orthodontist. She learned to make sandwiches, sew, and multiply. She still loves fashion, art, and music and spends hours in our art room making new creations and coloring masterpieces. She adores her stuffed animals and American Girl dolls. Her “Pinky” puppy is her number one companion – my daily reminder that she’s still my “baby” girl and for that I’m so grateful.

She’s loyal and funny and loving. She loves BIG, this girl. She’s always giving the best hugs and kisses. She tells me she loves me every single day. She sends sweet notes to her friends. She’s kind and oh so smart. I love you to the moon and back a bazillion times, Annabel Marie. Happy Birthday. Eight sure is GREAT.

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Daniel’s 9th Birthday Dune Buggy Driving Party!

So I learned that my brand new 9-year-old is an excellent driver. Daniel drove a dune buggy and I got to ride shotgun at his 9th birthday party at Jacksonville’s Baja Buggyz Adventure Park. Okay, maybe I screamed a little from his lead foot and all the muddy puddle jumping, but it was so much fun. My kid was in his element and it was the perfect party location for his driving passion. Baja Buggyz is known as “the place kids drive.” The kids take the wheel and get to drive their own dune buggy around a giant dirt track. There is no experience necessary and the buggy speed is adjustable. There were five buggies at our party and the boys went around in pairs for 10 minutes before switching places. Moms and dads even had a turn to drive! (I think I was the muddiest one of all so I should win a day at the spa.) Baja Buggyz has covered pavilions with picnic tables and a grassy space so we brought corn hole, ring toss, footballs, and  frisbees to keep the boys entertained while they waited for their turn to drive. Lunch was pizza, fruit, veggies, chips and Daniel’s giant chocolate chip cookie birthday cake. We gave out goody bags that had a pair of funky driving shades and colorful wristbands (for the boys to wear at the party) as well as a smoothie gift card, a matchbox car, football cards, and organic gummy rings/tires. We sent the boys home dirty, tired, and happy, so I’d say it was a success! Daniel’s sister Annabel was the only girl there and she held her own and had a blast! Special props to the hubby for the awesome video!

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Nine

Happy 9th birthday to my baby boy, Daniel Thaddeus. Even though you think it’s pretty cool to be called “Dan” or “Dan the Man” by your friends, you will always be my Daniel. And my baby boy, for that matter.

I’m so impressed that you can recite football stats like a pro, do math problems in your head, build a LEGO by the time I get out of the shower, pick up new piano tunes so easily, and draw intricate road maps on every piece of paper in our house BUT, I’m most proud of your big heart and how you always praise your sister’s Minecraft building skills. I’m most proud of your loyalty and how you have a group of wonderful friends who have your back and support what you do. I’m most proud of that cool imagination and sweet spirit that guides you down an independent path. And I’m most proud to call you my son. I love you.

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Kids Valentine’s Day Cards 2015

Love is in the air! My kids always get excited to pick out their Valentine’s Day cards for their schoolmates. This year Annabel decided to go with a “Paris” theme. (The same theme she’s using for her 7th birthday this weekend. Stay tuned for all the details!)

I ordered her this adorable printable tag from the Etsy shop, Confetti Fete. Ooh la la!

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I found these cute Eiffel Tower pens on the Oriental Trading website and then Annabel picked out some heart candies to complete the Valentine’s gift bag. I found the black and white ribbon in the $1 bin at Target.

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Daniel wanted to design his own card this year. He sketched out a Valentine’s city scape with colored markers on white paper. I scanned his artwork and resized the image to fit four on a page. Then I printed out copies on white card stock. He cut them out himself and added a small heart bag filled with a lollipop and some chocolate kisses. Xoxo. All done!

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Pop Tip: You can find the clear treat bags from the baking section of any local craft store. I buy these in bulk, in a variety of sizes and designs, and use them all the time for party favors, birthday gifts, holiday treats, snack bags, etc. They are awesome. Keep a bunch of baker’s twine or colorful ribbon handy and you’re all set!

Happy Valentine’s Day! (Now I just need to get Hubby to take these extra chocolates to his office or I’m in big trouble.)

Mama/Daughter Girl’s Night!

I started a really cool tradition with Annabel that began because our two “boys” went to a Monster Jam Truck show. (Annabel went once and decided to hang up her pink ear plugs and stay home with me.) We took advantage of the boy-free zone to create a special “Girl’s Night” that we have continued to do at least twice a year. Want to do one too? First, you’ll need decorations:

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I go “old school”and pick up a bag of balloons and paper streamers from the party store. We listen to music and dance around while we decorate the entire master bedroom as our “Girl’s Night” headquarters. I also had Annabel create construction paper collages using pictures she found in magazines. It was a craft project from earlier in the week. I taped the pictures around our party space and she was so proud of herself for the artsy addition.

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Next, you’ll need an activity. This night we picked mani/pedis!

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Then, it’s movie time on the big bed. We recommend any of the “American Girl” flicks because they are smart, fun, and our “boys” don’t care that they miss it. Win-win!

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(We also worked on our duckface selfies with colored hair clips. Hee.)

Do you plan special “Girl’s Nights” with your daughter? My next mission is a special “Mama/Son” night with my Daniel. Comment below with fun ideas for both!

 

Eight

This was the first year my son LOOKED different when he woke up on his birthday. It was Saturday morning. Maybe it was my mind playing tricks on me, or the lack of sleep from having seven crazy boys spend the night, but Daniel was eight. No doubt about it. His long limbs looked longer. His tousled hair looked like a teenager’s. His personality had a little more swagger, a little more confidence. The way he called his friends to breakfast. The way he organized the Wii game. The way he spoke about his excitement for the weekend. The little things only a Mama can notice. Gone are the days when he would worry about school and new situations. He’s still a thinker, an analyzer of facts and situations. But he’s bolder now. The worry is replaced with wonder. And he’s bigger too. Not just in a physical way. He’s a bigger person in this family. He constantly offers new insights and opinions. I talk to him like a peer, but can still pull him on my lap for a hug. But it’s getting harder. Time does fly. We all say that. But I’ve FELT these eight full years with my son. I remember them. Every hug, every adventure, every sleepless night, every first. It’s been a joy to be his mom and I’m so proud of the young man he’s continually becoming.

Happy Birthday to my Daniel Thaddeus. Eight is GREAT.

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