Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Yes! We've been away. Instead of holiday travels, we pulled the kids out of school a week early. Three important planets aligned: low airfare, low house rental rates, and no business trips for my husband. Outta here!!!
And what this also meant... short lines at Universal Studios' new Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction. So many people have asked me to review our visit there that I didn't want to delay... so have your wands at the ready and grab that portkey!

As you would expect at a Florida theme park, the wizarding world was very realistic and detailed. Hogsmeade village is located in the northeast corner of Universal Studios.
The Dragon Challenge roller coaster is the most intense ride, not for young children (so we could not ride it due to the height requirement of 54", not to mention I don't think I could have stomached it anyhow). This coaster existed before the installation of the Harry Potter portion of the park, and I believe it used to be called the Dueling Dragons (my husband rode it back when we were there a decade ago, before kids). It is a double inverted coaster, where your legs dangle freely. This is the only dueling inverted coaster designed by the Swiss inverted coaster pioneers, Bolliger & Mabillard. You might want to ride this one before you've had a few butterbeers & bottles of pumpkin juice! If you're not sure (and don't mind the ride spoiler) you can check out the ride via YouTube video here.

And yes, you can indeed try
some butterbeer and pumpkin
juice. Now the butterbeer is
not vegan, or even vegetarian
as far as I know, so I can't tell
you anymore about it. But the
pumpkin juice, although
sweetened with sugar, was
quite delicious! Its primary
ingredients are apple, pumpkin
and apricot juices. It has lovely
subtle spices, but mostly it's the
apricot juice that gives it such a nice flavour in my opinion.

The boys shared a big salty soft pretzel as well. There was a food stall that was heavy on fresh fruit: watermelon wedges, grapes, oranges, etc. But we ate largely the food we'd brought, to save money, since the admission into Universal's Islands of Adventure is already a small fortune.

If you are interested to know what other food options are available, check out PurpleChocolatHome's review here, which includes photos inside The Three Broomsticks restaurant and Honeyduke's candy shoppe, or Mouse Planet's muggles guide to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter here. If you're any variety of vegetarian and you plan to eat at The Three Broomsticks, you'll be ordering a meal full of side dishes. There is also a salad available, and a vegetarian potato leek soup. Another vegetarian blogger reviewed the food here.

The other thing we had going for us was the weather. The cold (for Florida) weather kept people away, plus it was a weekday, plus we were there before schools let out for the winter holidays. Triple win. Instead of wait-times of 2-3 hours for the most popular ride, the official ride times were 30-40 minutes, which actually translated to a 10-15 minute brisk walk through the twisting passages of Hogwarts castle...something you won't want to miss whether you choose to go on the ride or not.The most popular ride is the Forbidden Journey. The height requirement is 48", about the size of the average 7-8 year old. AJ just barely met the requirement at age 6 3/4. The line for the ride takes you through many rooms in Hogwarts, such as Professor Sprout's greenhouse, Dumbledore's office, the portrait gallery, and the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom (with holograms of Harry, Ron & Hermione very convincingly informing you about your impending journey). The animated portraits were exceptional!

AJ pretty much kept his eyes closed through the entire ride...the first time. But Ryan convinced us to go again, and AJ and I were both able to enjoy it more the second time. And then we went a third time! It quickly became everyone's favourite. It's sort of a combo between a roller coaster and motion simulator, with multiple concave IMAX style screens interspersed with animatronics. You might also get spit on by giant spiders, or receive a steam bath in the face from a fire-breathing horn-tailed dragon. The ride seats 4 people in a row--I could reach AJ's hand around the seat-barrier though I couldn't actually see his face due to the restraints that prevent you from falling out or leaning too far forward.
If you have already been on the ride (or don't mind spoilers) there is a YouTube video of The Forbidden Journey at a fan site here... it is shaky and often in the dark since it was clearly taken with a cell phone (which is actually not permitted during the ride, though there are small compartments in the back of each seat to store small items like cell phones, glasses & hats during the ride).

ium of
a dark
ase) the on-ride photo of yourself if you'd like. Gryffindor scarves were very popular attire the day we were there. From there you can return to the school locker rooms (if you have a bag or backpack with you, you have to leave it in the free lockers for the ride).

From there you may as well
head just across the way to
the tamer Flight of the
Hippogriff roller coaster. A
shorter more family-friendly
coaster, we rode this ride so
many times we lost count!
The roller coaster cars seat
2 people, and the height
requirement is only 36".

The queue leads you past a
beautiful rendition of Hagrid's hut, and the coaster's initial ascent affords an otherwise hidden view of Buckbeak's nest. Once again, the wait time was listed as 10-15 minutes, but in reality it was no more than 5 minutes. If you have a smartphone you can also download the Universal Studios wait-times app so you don't have to trek around the park only to find out your favourite ride's line exceeds your patience. Unlike Disney theme parks, Universal Studios charges extra for its equivalent of the Disney "fast pass".
The one attraction we did not want to wait in line for was Ollivander's wand shoppe. The line was outdoors and Ryan had already purchased a wand at the stall just outside of Filch's. Apparently Ollivander's stages a recreation of the wand choosing the wizard scene in the Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone film. But during peak hours only about 1 in 20 kids will be chosen to participate, so don't count on it being an interactive experience.

Other shoppes include Dervish & Banges (for magical items), Zonko's (for you pranksters out there), or have a postcard canceled at the Owl Post post office.

Be prepared to window shop, unless you have a hefty bank account! There are so many irresistible magical items to choose from. But you can always buy online later.
You can save a bit of money on accommodations by renting a house in the Orlando/Kissimmee area like we do, especially if you have a large family or are getting a bunch of friends together to go as a group. Renting a house not only saves money and gives you privacy, but you can save money on food and eat healthier home-cooked meals. And you are always allowed to bring packed lunches into the parks with you! Here's one last review I found that has some good videos & info.

Monday, December 13, 2010

school lunches

There are plenty of times when rushing through the morning chaos with 4 kids that I wish there were healthy plant-based meal options available in the public schools. Goodness knows most American kids could use more vegetables in their diets, and less junk. But seeing as the obesity epidemic in this country is essentially being subsidized by the government, I choose the easy way out and pack my kids' food.

However, there are many ways to get involved in trying to bring healthier food to school and the community at large. For us, belonging to our CSA, Stearns Farm, is our biggest contribution--over 10K in organic produce is donated annually to food pantries and soup kitchens in our town. And while I was at the farm volunteering a few weeks ago, I met two women from the metrowest Jewish Family Services who came by to harvest some excess root vegetables--they were to be added to grocery bags given to families in need. I suggested adding a few recipes, since the largely Brazilian population in the southern half of our town wouldn't necessarily be familiar with celeriac and parsnips. It is my feeling that many folks WANT to include healthier foods in their family's diet, but don't know what to do with the raw ingredients, or don't know how to make them appealing to kids (or adults with child-like palates ;-) ).

While I am an abolitionist vegan at heart, I don't think that methodology is really the best way to change the general public's eating habits and outlook on food ethics. I think modeling good eating is #1, but since the majority of kids are surrounded most of the day by their peers, offering exclusively healthy meal options in schools is key. There are some good programs attempting to do this, such as the Great American Salad Bar Project, Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, or the Farm Aid school programs. Even something as simple as redesigning lunch lines in cafeterias can have an impact on the food choices that kids make for themselves.

While these programs are not always focusing on plant-based diets, parents, school staff and community members can get involved to influence the foods and recipes that will be purchased.

Meanwhile, I continue to pack vegan lunches, which also have less impact on the environment...

Maia's preschool lunch: rice flower with nori bunny; monterey jack soy cheese squares; smoked Tofurky flower; honeydew melon chunks; a pickle; cucumber slices.

& AJ's
coli &

Friday, December 10, 2010

past week

Catching up with lunches...

Ryan & AJ's lunches: Tofutti cream cheese & jelly mini pitas; blanched spinach; carrots; meatless meatballs; mini banana muffin.

Maia's lunch for preschool:
blanched spinach; carrots;
raisins; Tofutti cream
cheese & jelly mini pita.


Peanut butter & agave
nectar sandwiches; seed
crackers; cucumber slices;
grape gel cup; carrots.
Raisins for AJ, dried apricots
for Ryan.

Hummus & spinach sandwich;
carrots; baked blue corn chips;
mini banana muffins; Tofurky

Mini banana muffin; cucumber slices; steamed broccoli; Sunshine breakfast rice.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

double the excitement

Oh boy did I totally drop the ball for the last day of VeganMofo 2010. I didn't even get to posting...I was off doing what I like to do on overcast autumn afternoons. So a day late, here are yesterday's lunches...

& AJ's

Maia's lunch: spinach; grilled nutritional yeast sandwich; apple slices; Tofurky slice; cucumber slices; dried apricots.


& aru-
in a
ers; Tofurky slice; cucumber slices; meatless meatballs; baby carrots.
AJ's lunch was the same as Ryan's above.

And if you must know what distracts me from posting in a timely manner, it's usually a long run/walk/hike in the woods... I eventually come back when it's too dark, time for me to make dinner, or my phone's battery runs out...