After months apart and a week on a cruise ship to the Bahamas, I arrived into Orlando… I had the pleasure of reuniting with my best friend and other “rabble rouser”, Natalie! Those of you who remember Natalie’s road trip will recall her first travel companion, Jay, who was also a part of the grand Florida adventure.
Even though we live across the country from each other, whenever we get together it feels like we never were apart. You know those friendships? Where you always just pick up where you left off, no matter how much time has passed? That are met with a squeal, a bear hug, and endless conversation? Those are the best kind of friendships.
Even though there were some travel hiccups (Natalie’s flight getting delayed, my accidental booking of the hotel for the wrong dates)… everything turned out better than initially planned, with an even nicer resort for a slightly lower price. We made quick friends with another small group, and stayed up way too late chatting in the hot tub and drinking sake at a sushi restaurant on the hotel grounds.
This was the only day that we had together, in Florida. Natalie was off to meet up with yoga friends on Sunday, so we made big plans to go to Harry Potter World as our Saturday adventure!
After an incredibly lost and confused Uber driver took us to Universal Studios, and being flabbergasted at how expensive park entry was… we were on our way! Luckily, unlike Disney… Universal Studios sells hard alcohol on site. We beelined our way to the nearest bar, to take a celebratory shot of Fireball – the only alcohol I know of that feels cool & refreshing, while also giving that deep cinnamon burn. The perfect kick-off for a great day!
In true Natalie & Sarah fashion, we got lost nearly immediately upon entering the park – and of course didn’t grab a map for guidance. We meandered to where we believed Harry Potter World was, only to be met with some brick buildings and seemingly the wrong direction. After some pondering, we asked some people in quidditch robes how to get to Diagon Alley (they should know, right??). They smiled and pointed towards an unmarked brick building – of course it wouldn’t be overtly labeled!
After passing through a dark, dimly lit brick passageway… there we were. It was like stepping into the movie set; the shops, signs, sounds, and scene all were an identical replica. We wandered through some shops like doe-eyed children, fascinated to see the cleverly constructed gift shops which resembled familiar store facades.
One thing I love about Natalie is her impressive fashion of weaving through crowds. Somehow, she is able to look 10 steps ahead and find a clear path through what seems like endless shoulders and elbows. It’s almost as if there’s a live sports game going on, with every player in every position moving simultaneously – and somehow Natalie has the playbook, and sees exactly where everyone is going / where the holes in the crowd are. #Nattyontherun is a true statement, and you had better keep up!
Eventually, we came across the first roller coaster – Escape from Gringots. After being swayed away by the 40-50 minute wait, Natalie noticed the “single riders” line. I had never heard of this magical hallowed line – free from children, free from long waits… and now that I know, I’ll never go back. Every ride we took that day was no more than 10-20 minutes in line (which we got to spend together), and half the time we ended up on the same car or immediately consecutive to each other. #singleridersonly forever!
The rides all exceeded our expectations. Then it was onto what we had been waiting for… the famous “Butterbeer”. Let me tell you… I’ve heard a lot of love stories in my life, but I never knew it was possible to fall in love with a beverage. If I had a wedding ring on me, I would have left that park engaged to a tall, frothy glass of the most delicious non-alcoholic beverage my lips have ever come across! It tasted like a “root beer float” made with cream soda, and a healthy amount of butterscotch for good measure. We initially got one to share, but it was so deliciously amazing that we immediately got two more.
After a sufficient sugar coma, we boarded the Hogwarts Express to the other side of Universal Studios. Our expectations were again exceeded, with a well constructed “CGI”-windowed train ride. Upon stepping off, we were greeted by the grand sight of Hogwarts Castle. Even as 30-something adults, we constantly were awed by the magnificence and level of detail put into this park.
After getting our fill of Harry Potter, we adventured through the other “worlds”. Seussland was next, and a complete contrast to where we had spent our morning – it had a “toon town”-type feel, with a whimsical design and playful construction. We monkeyed around Comic World, Marvel Universe… and rode what was hands-down one of the best roller coasters all 3 of us had ever been on: The Hulk.
After an intense and amazing ride on King Kong, we walked towards the final place we hadn’t seen (Jurrasic Park World), and were greeted by a line of park workers, stating they were closed. Alas! We thought they closed at 9pm, but it was actually 8. We were a little disappointed, but had such an amazing day that nothing could bring us down. It was a long walk back to where we could call a ride, but our sore feet somehow got us there and back home to the hotel. We all slept well that night.
Goodbyes are never easy, especially when the trip is just one short weekend. Natalie is an early bird, and I’m a heavy sleeper – the sounds of her slowly packing up and going through her morning routine danced through my subconscious as I laid half-asleep in bed. A big hug later, she was off for her next adventure.
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