What I Did on my Summer Vacation (2016 edition)

I guess the biggest news is that my eldest daughter, being of the appropriate age, went to Hogwarts. Well, actually, the whole family did--to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at The Universal Orlando Resort, that is! (Oh, and we went to that other resort in Orlando, too.) A big trip like this takes a lot of planning (and money, ouch!), but making it even harder was the fact that my wife and I tried to keep it a secret. We worked up "invitation letters" to Hogwarts for both of our daughters, and only delivered them a month before we left (not by owl, sadly).

The dragon breathes fire every 10 minutes. Nice and warm!

If you're any kind of fan, the Harry Potter-themed areas of Diagon Alley/London (in Universal Studios Florida), Hogwarts/Hogsmeade (in Islands of Adventure), and the Hogwarts Express train going between the two are mind-blowing. The attention to detail is amazing. Of course, we all had (frozen) butterbeer. Frozen, on account of the temperature being around +40 C every day. I'm not used to that kind of heat, whew!
There goes USD$7.00!

Naturally, my Potter-obsessed daughter had to do the wand-choosing ceremony in Ollivanders Wand Shop. A small group of people are allowed into a back room of the shop, and there's a brief spiel with some special effects in which the wizard guide randomly chooses one member of the group, who then tries to match the person with the right wand. If you are chosen, you do NOT get the wand for free; you still have to pay for it. It told my family that, if anyone in the family is picked, we are, under no circumstances, going to pay USD$50 for a plastic stick. And what happens? My Potter-obsessed daughter was chosen. She looked up at me with big puppy-dog eyes, and my heart melted, and I said, "No!" (It didn't melt all the way.) Lucky for her, my wife allowed her to buy the wand. Goodbye money!
They have surprisingly many expensive plastic sticks.

Of course, there are so many other cool attractions. Men In Black Alien Attack. The Simpsons. Dr. Seuss. The Hello Kitty store. I have a particular fondness for the Terminator 2: 3-D ride, formerly called T2: Battle Across Time. My then-fiancee, now wife saw that attraction when we were last in Florida 20 years ago. The Despicable Me-themed Minion Mayhem ride was really cool. One of the Universal hotels has a character breakfast with Gru and a minion. You can see that Gru is very happy to meet me! (I do a pretty good Gru voice. I told him that I was Steve Carell. He was impressed.)
Gru with "Steve Carell".

I'm also a huge Back to the Future fan, and was happy to see a DeLorean time machine on display. It is not, as is reported in some places, the B-car. It is one of several stunt cars. How can you tell? Check out the Mr. Fusion. See how tall it is? That was never in the movies--it was part of a botched restoration attempt years ago. Still looks pretty cool, though. (I contributed to the Kickstarter-backed OUTATIME documentary. If you love DeLorean time machines, you have to watch it.)
When this baby hits 88 miles per hour, you're gonna see some serious shit.

Aside from the extreme heat, and even more extreme cost (did I mention that everything is expensive?), there was another thing I didn't like: crowds. Wow, it was elbow-to-elbow everywhere. To mitigate this, however, I relied on the super-useful Touring Plans website (and their appropriately named app, Lines). There a lot of data and science behind it: the travelling salesman problem, bin-packing problem, evolutionary algorithms. Really cool stuff. They predict how busy each park will be, and also give you an estimated wait time for each attraction. I found it to be a lot more accurate than anything reported by the theme park itself. Totally worth the small amount of money they ask for a 1-year subscription.

Looks like I have to get to class. See part 2 for the rest of the trip. (As if you aren't jealous enough already!)

Why aren't you studying?


Find It