Friday, April 14, 2017

California Trip: Universal Studios, Hollywood

Dennis and I moved to the state of New York 13 years ago, but we still consider California "home." I managed to secure really inexpensive direct JetBlue tickets from Buffalo to LAX, so we made a trip to visit our parents in August 2016.

The Monday after we flew in, we took a trip to Universal Studios, Hollywood to see the new Hogsmeade themed land and the other rides in this park. I hadn't been to Universal Studios since the early 1990's, when the "big" ride was E.T. - the park has grown a lot since those early days!


We went to Hogsmeade first, but just walked through briefly. We headed to the studios tour, and had a good time seeing different film sets and going through the 3D King Kong set and the Fast and the Furious tunnel. After the tram tour, we had lunch in the Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade. This place was beyond cool.


We managed to get a big, round table in front of the fireplace. The kids were very happy to have butter beer!


The food was a cut above generic theme park food. I was pleased with my stew in a bread bowl. It was nice to get out of the heat and hubbub of the park to have a (relatively) quiet lunch.


The kids liked their lunches, too, but they liked sharing the day with grandparents and uncle/aunt even more.

After lunch, we went down the very long escalators to ride the Mummy coaster, the Transformer's ride, and Jurassic Park. Transformers was an amazing ride and we really enjoyed it - the boys also liked the raptor encounter by the Jurassic Park ride.


After the rides, it was time for churros. No theme park visit is complete without a churro!


We returned to Hogsmeade and went to the wand ceremony in Ollivander's shop. I was actually chosen to try out the wands - it was a very cool ceremony. Uncle David and Aunt Mary Ellen bought the boys interactive wands and they had a fantastic time trying them out all around Hogsmeade. We still have the wands and can use them for future visits to this park or the one in Florida.





We wanted to ride the main Harry Potter ride, but the ride broke down and we were never able to ride it. A big shame, but we still had fun exploring the village of Hogsmeade.





We left as evening arrived and had dinner outside the park. We had a fantastic day and will probably return to the parks in Florida to get the full experience.

We had several fun days coming up: the beach, horseback riding, surfing lessons, Disneyland, hiking, and an air show were on the agenda!

Quebec Road Trip, Day 7: Driving Home

The last day of our epic Quebec road trip was spent entirely on the road. We left our hotel in Oneonta and were sad to end our week.





We were glad to get home, though we were already looking forward to our next trip. California, here we come!

Quebec Road Trip, Day 6: Howe Caverns, NY

On the second to last day of our road trip, we drove from our tree house camping accommodations at Chimo Refuges to Howe Caverns in central NY.


The border crossing was easy and there was no traffic, so we made the drive in good time. Unfortunately, driving through the Adirondack Region meant there was nowhere to stop for lunch for a significant period of time, and no cell phone signal to find the closest place to eat. We ate potato chips and Aero bars from our grocery stop in Quebec. We finally exited the Adirondacks and came upon a McDonald's - judging by the crowds, this is the first easily found fast food restaurant along that stretch of road.

We made it to Howe Caverns by about 2 pm and booked a tour of the caves. Howe Caverns is a little "touristy," but it is very fun and the guide gives a lot of information about the cave and its discovery. We forgot to bring our sweatshirts, which was a mistake - the cave is about 50 degrees Fahrenheit year round! Nolan was a little chilly.


Prior to descending into the caves, there is an introductory "show" explaining the discovery of the caverns by the Howe family.


The walkways are well defined and the tour guide leads you the entire way throughout the tour.


Nolan was really cold, but did well (despite the chilly temperatures)!


As you wind through the caverns, you get closer to the underground river. This was a really cool feature of the cave.

There are some cave features kids are allowed to touch, including this stalagmite placed for touching purposes. Otherwise, everyone is told to keep their hands to themselves, as oil from your hands can destroy the mineral formations.


I couldn't get a picture of the boat ride, as the lighting was not sufficient, but there is a boat ride on the river inside the cave. The guide pulls the boat along using handrails inside the cave - this was a really cool experience. After our boat ride, we walked back through the cave and went through the winding narrows.


It was a great visit to the caves and everyone had a lot of fun. We stopped for a photo op outside of the caverns and then headed out to our hotel in Oneonta.


We were sad that our adventure was coming to an end!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Quebec Road Trip, Day 5: Tree House Camping

Day 5 of our long Quebec road trip was from the Ferme 5 Etoiles in Sacre Coeur to Chimo Refuges in St. Sauveur, a "glamping" destination with tree houses, a tepee, and other cabins to camp in. We were up early for a long road trip south.


We made it to Chimo Refuges by dinner time, and the town was beautiful. We parked our car in the small parking area and found the check-in cabin, which was across a suspension bridge.


This may have been the coolest check-in ever, and the fun was just beginning. We took a quick trip into town to do some grocery shopping and to have dinner. We then returned and unpacked our car. Chimo Refuges offers carts to carry camping equipment, which was a huge help.

We had a bit of a hike, and the carts were very welcome! 


We entered the main campground area, which could best be described as every little boy's heaven. Tree houses everywhere, amazing cabins, a tepee, a lodge filled with games... it was just fantastic.

 The main lodge, with kitchen supplies, a fridge, and more.

The "sol" tree house 

Nolan rests in a hammock. 

You can camp in a tepee. 

A very cute cabin.

It was a very hot night and while we had originally planned on sleeping in the "Sol" tree house, we decided to go with the Cube. The Cube had a ceiling fan (and also had a tri-level bunk bed, which the kids were over the moon about).


In addition to the jaw-dropping cabin and tree house options, there was a very cool zip-line obstacle course for kids, natural swings, and other fun toys in the woods.

Swinging! 


 Matt hangs out.

 Our soccer player found a ball.

 The stunning adventure course for kids.

Nolan wants one for our backyard. 



We made a campfire at night and sat outside of our Cube, watching an entire galaxy of fireflies blinking over the meadow. There were also a ton of mosquitoes!


The campsite at night was really spectacular. There were trails of lights along the paths that gave the entire area a magical quality.


We sent the boys to bed as the fire started to die down. The inside of the Cube was pretty amazing.

 Getting ready for bed.

Stocked kitchen. 

Dining area. 


The night passed quickly. In the morning, we woke up to gentle rain. Chimo Refuges has a fully equipped bathroom with shower, and we were grateful for the ability to wash up before heading to our next destination.


We re-loaded our car with our supplies and bid a sad farewell to Chimo Refuges. This is one place we will definitely return to!

Next up: Howe Caverns in NY.