Guide to Hobbiton

Something most people cannot miss when visiting New Zealand is Hobbiton, the movie set. It’s known worldwide so no matter where you go- when you tell people you visited New Zealand, you will get asked “Did you visit those Hobbit Holes?” by both fans and not fans alike. That being said, you should plan on whether a stop at Hobbiton is right for you or not. You SHOULD visit it you are

  1. A fan of the books or movies
  2. Interested in set design and/or the making of movies
  3. Interested in a good beer and some likely photo ops.

You should NOT plan a trip here unless you at least fit the bill with 1 of those options. People who DON’T like crowds or on a strict budget may find it busy, touristy, and an expensive expenditure. *

*Just saying how it is.


About the Hobbiton movie set:

“In 1998, Sir Peter Jackson’s team of location scouts were searching for the iconic rolling hills and lush green pastures of Hobbiton™. An aerial search led them to the Alexander farm, a stunning 1,250 acre sheep farm in the heart of the Waikato. They noted the area’s striking similarity to The Shire™, and quickly realized that the Hobbits™ had found a home.

In one particular part of the farm, there is a magnificent pine tree towering over a nearby lake, adjacent to a rising hill. Bag End now sits atop that hill, overlooking the Party Tree, as that pine would later be known. The surrounding areas were untouched; no power lines, no buildings and no roads in sight. This meant that Sir Peter Jackson could leave the 20th century behind, and fully submerge himself in the fantasy world of Middle-earth™.

In March 1999 the crew began the nine month quest to bring the ideas for Hobbiton to fruition; help was provided by the New Zealand Army, and soon 39 temporary Hobbit Holes™ were scattered across the 12 acre plot used for the set. Secrecy was key, and strict security measures were put in place by the production company throughout construction and filming. Filming commenced in December 1999, and it took around three months to get a wrap on The Shire.

In 2009, Sir Peter Jackson returned to film The Hobbit trilogy, and he left behind the beautiful movie set you’ll see today; 44 permanently reconstructed Hobbit Holes, in the same fantastic detail seen in the movies. In 2012 The Green Dragon™ Inn was opened as the finale to the journey. Guests now finish their Hobbiton Movie Set experience with a refreshing beverage from the Hobbit™ Southfarthing™ Range. There’s an abundance of movie magic nestled inside the fully operational farm.”

Options for getting to Hobbiton:

  1. Private car- Simplest option in my mind- the tour departures are cheapest if you can drive yourself to Hobbiton. It is just over a 2 hour drive from Auckland and very close to other popular destinations in Rotorua.
  2. Take a bus from Auckland to Matamata where there are Hobbiton tour departures that can be booked as a combo with your Hobbiton entrance. (Bus fares are around $40- book in  
  3. Book a tour within Auckalnd to transport you to your Hobbiton tour. (most expensive- least flexible option)

Since the absolute best way to get around New Zealand is driving yourself, this is the method I’d recommend. Once you get to Hobbiton you have still more options:

Hobbiton Set Tour booking options

  1. A 2 hour movie set tour Adults (17years+) : $84/ Youth: $42 *
  2. The 2 hour movie set tour+ lunch Adults: 120/ Youth: 78 *
  3. The 2 hour movie set tour+ dinner+ lantern lit walk second tour (only offered select nights during the week) Adult: $192 Youth: 152.50 Child: $100

*All tours come with a complimentary drink and free time at the Green Dragon after your walk. There is also a café at Shire’s Rest where you park and where all the Hobbiton tours depart from.

*Children 8 and younger are free but must be accompanied by a paying adult and have a ticket

*You CANNOT see the Hobbit holes without booking a tour.

About our experience:

I did the simple 2 hour tour on my last visit 5 years ago so this time we spiced it up by booking the set tour+lunch combo. (I would’ve booked dinner but it was only available certain days of the week and didn’t align with our schedule)

We drove from Tongariro in the morning and got to the Shire’s Rest about 45 minutes before our departure. We checked in at one of the many kiosk desks to exchange our online vouchers for the physical tickets and then spent some time milling around the gift shop. About 10 minutes before our tour departure (1 PM) we lined up in our designated queue to be first on the bus and waited for our departure.

The lunch portion

Once you board the bus, it’s a quick 10 minute drive along a beautiful road to Hobbiton. For the lunch tour, they lead us down to their party tent (which is right near the Green Dragon Inn) and we were seated at our specific group tables. We had about 45 minutes to eat once seated and they designated an order to lining up to go down the buffet line which was all rather efficient. Once  everyone was seated with their food, you were more than welcome to go back for seconds and there was plenty of food. The options were NUMEROUS but my favorite things were the roasted potatoes/ veggies with herbs, slow roasted beef, tomato and vegetable curry, and marinated chicken. They also had a selection of deserts, tea, and coffee available after the main courses. The only other beverage available during lunch is water.

Delicious options pictured here include roasted veggies with herbs, slow roasted beef, tomato and vegetable curry, marinated chicken, salad, and fresh hearty bread

All in all, I’m a slow eater and so only having 45 minutes to eat semi stressed me out and once we had food, both Braden and I were 100% business at consuming as much food as quickly as possible. I am happy to report that everything was absolutely delicious and we have no regrets about spending a little more on lunch that day.

The touring portion

After everyone was finished and we had all gathered outside, we began our walking tour! The tours seemed to be spaced about every 10-15 minutes and each tour group is easily around 30 people which makes for A LOT of people milling about. The guides are all very good at getting people to move along while still stopping at all the “must get the shot” spots. In general, we would stop and learn a few facts, take a few photos, and the guide would start slowly walking on. Then people would trickle after getting their own shots and we’d all be stopped where the guide stopped next.

The red door Hobbit hole is the only one you can open and look inside of. They are just empty or used for storage anyways at this site.

It was actually quiet impressive how efficient the tours ran and all the guides seemed to be excellent at communicating and directing. There were 2 spots along the route that EVERYONE who wanted one got a photo (the guide offered to take the photos). These were at the red door (where you can actually open the door and peak inside) and Bag end. The rest of the walking tour the guides ask you to move along and not try to get a photo with every single Hobbit hole. (there are a LOT).

At each stop you learn about specific scenes filmed in that spot, some of the building process that went into the visible props, and some of the Hobbit characters that resided in each particular hole. You learned a little bit about the Hobbit’s lifestyle (as described in the books) which was great and I found everything to be on par (since I had just read the books again before leaving for our trip.)

My favorite details we learned about the site was how meticulously devoted to the tree on Bag End they were- it’s actually the only tree that is fake in the whole area. Each leaf was hand painted and attached to be as authentic as possible.

The finale

The other notable stops are at the bottom of the hill (in the “community”) and by the party tree. From there we walked a short 5 minutes or so through some pretty gardens and woods to the mill and Green Dragon. You’re rewarded then for making it through all that walking with your choice of 4 beverages and anywhere from 20-40 minutes to hang out. We had the latter so plenty of time to drink and admire the details that went into the Green Dragon and mill.

Hobbiton beverage options are:

  1. Nonalcoholic Ginger Beer- tried on my first visit to Hobbiton and remember it being delightful
  2. A traditional English Ale- haven’t tried but sounds good. It’s a roasted chocolatey sort of brew.
  3. A Fine Grain Amber Ale- tried this round and it was QUITE good. The taste is light, malty, and sweet. Very little bitterness or hops.
  4. The Sackville Cider- Excellent- tried this and both Braden and I agreed it was great. It’s a more tart and refreshing cider as opposed to a lot of the overly sweet ones you get at the store.

Note: There are 2 restrooms around the Green Dragon (one of which is IN the Green Dragon) so apart from when you are wandering around the Hobbit Holes (approx. 1.5 hours) you have access to facilities.

At a specified time you meet back up with your same tour guide just outside the Green Dragon and walk back to board the bus for a 10 minute ride back to the car park.


So in review, I would recommend doing the lunch or evening tour as I thought the food was great and it was fun having a little extra time around the site. Just visit without the meals if you are on a budget though and you’ll still have a great experience. If you are a fan of the fantasy and not of the crowds- fear not. While it is busy, they have these tours down to an efficiency that really impressed me and I never had to stress that much about getting the photo I want or having to wait for people to move. All in all- awesome experience, and a must do if you enjoy LOTR, movie making, and cool photos 😀

What do you think, does Hobbiton seem like a must do for your trip to New Zealand?

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Tips and tricks for visiting Universal Orlando

Alright saddle up now for the Universal Orlando Post! Probs won’t be as long as the DisneyWorld post in light of there only being 2 parks… but still plenty to come. And NOTE: This was my FIRST time ever to a universal park! So there’s probably other ways to go about it but I wanted my virgin experience to be perfect, and I can honestly say… it was pretty dang close.
So to start: We paid the mucho money to stay ON property. With attempting to do 2 complete parks in a day, we wanted the extra “magic?” hour that universal does for Harry Potter world starting at 8 AM. 
We stayed at the fabulous Royal Pacific which was a 5-10 min walk to the entrance of Islands of Adventure. Destination: Hogwarts. 

The place was pretty deserted that early in the morning I’ve gotta say. Staying at the Royal Pacific got us free unlimited fast passes but for that first hour, we honestly didn’t need them. We rode the Forbidden Journey in Hogwarts castle twice, the cute kiddie Hippogriff coaster once, and the Dragon challenge coaster 3 times and the park was just barely opening. 
The entrance to Hogsmeade and then onto Hogwarts! 
 And yes I did purchase a Hogwarts shirts and Braden got a Deathly Hollows hat just for this blessed day! 
Inside Hogwarts! Inside the line queues it is hella DARK! So we didn’t take too many photos but the animation is SO COOL. Here the whole time I’d been lead to believe that disney did line queues better. Well my friends that is FALSE. All of the rides had great waiting queues but the Harry Potter rides were best of all. Here I was watching all the paintings talk to each other! 
I took a photo because I laughed so loud when I saw the public conveniences toilet signs! They were perfect but I never actually used those restrooms haha 

At the entrance to the Forbidden Journey Line Queue! I was pretty obsessed with the outside details of the castles as well. 
We loved having Harry Potter world to ourselves for the first hour. Now as far as the rides go, Forbidden Journey is probably one of the coolest and well thought out rides I’ve been on. THOUGH NOTE THAT IF YOU HAVE ANY SORT OF MOTION SICKNESS YOU WILL WANT TO TAKE SOMETHING BEFORE RIDING THE MAJORITY OF THE RIDES IN THESE PARKS. I’m not especially prone to motion sickness but the forbidden journey can be fairly disorienting as it yanks you out of a simulator in a big screen to animatronics on a track. That being said, it’s a complete experience and we LOVED IT. Just a heads up to wear a patch or take non-drowsy Dramamine so you don’t start the day sick… the Hippogriff coaster (unless you have little ones) is a complete waste of time. It’s short, it’s kind of jerky, and well apart from the fun decor in the line queue and around, there’s not much point to it. Do yourself a favor and make sure you ride BOTH the dragons. We preferred the blue, whether this view is colored because that’s the first one we rode, I know not, but they were both AMAZING. The blue had you upside down more and I felt it went a tad faster. The red had some pretty spectacular moments of its own including one point where you soar right over the blue track you feel like your feet might hit it! 
As the park opened and the crowds started filling in at Harry Potter we moved onto more… deserted destinations…. We rode Jurassic Park right after and got a little wet from the big drop at the end but it felt great as the day started to heat up. 
We also hit the one place our fast passes essentially did no good as we must’ve just missed the first show, we waited for what seemed like 30 min with everyone else to see the Poseidon’s Fury. It is sort of a walk-through show that has different parts of the show happening in different rooms. It’s CHEESY to say the least, but we enjoyed it and the final bit of show with fire and water works at the end was such fun. 
We also rode The Dudley Do Right Rip-saw falls ride once (NOTE IT WILL SOAK YOU. This ride is designed above all others to completely drench you… I kid you not this is not like Splash Mountain. You don’t stand a chance) 
King Kong (AWESOME), Spider Man (cool), Dr. Doom’s Fear Fall (Fun), and the Hulk Coaster (AMAZING) We rode that one twice in a row it was so great, next to the dragon racers, this could be up there as one of my fav. coasters ever. Then we grabbed a quick bite at the Fantastic Four pizza joint (as it was roughly around 11:00 at this point and we had yet to eat anything) Headed over to Dr. Seuss land where we walked onto the Merry Go Round… just to say we touched all of the theme park, lol 
and then…. I Tasted my first Butter Beer. It was a magical moment that was followed up by another magical experience on the Hogwarts Express headed over to Universal Studios.
For our next piece of Harry Potter magic: Diagon Alley and the Escape From Gringotts ride. 
but first let’s talk about the journey

 The only way to ride the Hogwarts Express is to buy a park to park pass. (park hopper) which seeing as we only had 1 day, worked fine for us. It’s a quick train ride but everything is so authentic! I loved how not only did they have a little show in the window of “passing scenery” but the opaque doors of our train cabins also showed people walking by and talking outside your door. It was pretty cool.

You can’t even get into the train station without a park hopper pass. King’s Cross was pretty legit though I did wish they had a platform 93/4s trolley for me to pose with. Alas. I’ll just have to visit the real place. 
 A pano of the train. The line queue people are super efficient with the train and it leaves constantly. Fast pass or not, you will hardly wait for this ride at all. 
We rode Escape from Gringotts and grabbed snack numero dose in the Leaky Cauldron. I knew we wanted to eat at least 1 meal in a Harry Potter restaurant. Again even with the line, this place was built for efficiency and they even find a table for you and bring your food out quickly. We shared a Guinness meat stew in a bread bowl with Pumpkin Juice to drink. DELICIOUS 
As for the Gringotts ride, again VERY COOL. This ride made lot’s of use of simulator sensations with 3D screens but then combined it with a coaster so some parts were roller coaster esque and some parts were more simulation. My favorite part was probably the line queue again. So neat. After you walk through the bank, you enter an office where you discuss touring the bank as a potential client, then you hop on a very authentic elevator that takes you “down” to the vault carts where you board the coaster. It was so cool.  
My favorite part about the Harry Potter World in Universal is that it is somewhat “hidden”. You exit King’s Cross into the main part of the park, NOT Diagon Alley. So you see the purple Night bus which I highly recommend snapping a photo with them. THEY WERE HILARIOUS. The talking head engages you a lot. I.e I got complimented for my shirt design and he even said if he had a body he would wear my shirt. 😛 They seemed to be out there all the time and there wasn’t much of a line so I def. recommend stopping. 
So to find Diagon Alley, it’s like in the movie. There’s this huge “normal” building with a tunnel you walk through and then the bricks “open up” to reveal Diagon Alley like in the first movie. Braden just about walked right by the entrance and didn’t notice it as there’s no signs in the main park to direct you in. Really clever and well done I thought! 
More photos from King’s Cross Station
Inside the bank
The head Goblin guy at the bank. 
After exploring Diagon Alley, we headed over to the other Universal Rides: Transformers (which was a LOT like Spider Man. I thought it was cool just not that into Transformers so I liked Spider Man’s better) The Rip Ride Rockit Coaster which had JUST opened for the day after technical difficulties so it ended up being the longest line we came across all day. It was fun… but out of the big coasters we liked Hulk and Dragon challenge more. So then to finish up we rode the MUMMY ride. Which I honestly had no idea what type of ride this was. It ended up being a top 5 for me. LOVED it. It’s an indoor coaster with all the great scary chessyness you’d expect from the original Brandon Fraser movie. We rode it twice in row. 

And now by this time… we needed a break. So we headed out of Universal to go back to our hotel to swim, relax by the pool and have a few drinks. here’s the fun part, we’d actually had to check out of the hotel (there was no way we could afford it 2 nights in a row) lol so we’d stashed our swimsuits in getaway backs in the car so we stopped at the car, changed in the hotel lobby restroom, and got ride in to wash off the day’s sweat. Not 5 minutes after plunging in, there was “lightening within the area” ya it was a long ways off… but they kicked everyone not just out of the pool… but out of the pool area! haha so we quickly changed back out of our sopping wet suits into our clothes in the pool restroom, and since we still needed a break we headed to Margaritaville in City Walk where we got some refreshing beverages along with nachos to share…. As you can see we gave it our best effort but those nachos won out. They were insane and we were stuffed. haha so then back into Universal Studios we went. 
We started back with the extra-terristrial E.T ride (a lot like Magic Kingdom’s Peter Pan ride except wierder) where you sit on a bike and soar up to E.T’s home planet. It was cute but probably passable if you’re short on time. Then we hit up MIB which is like a tricked out version of Buzz Lightyear with 2 tracks going. I did a lot better with this one since you can pick up the gun to fire. Then we hit up the Simpsons Ride which… not all that regrettably I wasn’t into the Simpsons growing up so I thought it was all a bit weird and another simulator ride so if you aren’t into the Simpsons, again probably skiappable. Then we rode the Mummy 2 more times (def. not skippable) Gringotts again and hopped back on the train to Islands of Adventure. 
 The journey is actually different depending on the direction you go so I recommend riding it both directions. 
We were back in Hogsmeade with apox. 1.5 hours left in the parks hours. We hopped on the Forbidden Journey again, the Dragon Challenge another couple of times, and then hit up Jurrassic Park and Kong Island again. (with Kong, I recommend riding it twice and trying to being on opposite sides of the truck as different things capture you attention depending on the side. Also verified with a park employee, the best place to be is in the BACK of the truck) 
Then we back tracked to catch Hogwarts lit up at night.

 … And to grab another Butterbeer but this time FROZEN and let me tell you, I wish I’d had time to buy like 3 more of these babies because it was twice as good Frozen. Oh man it was crazy delicious.

And finishing the day where we started… JK We still had like 20 min left. So we booked it over to the Marvel area to ride the Hulk coaster 2 more times and with the last 4 minutes left booked it over to SpiderMan for our final ride of the day.
Cost Breakdown, try not to cringe:
  • Hotel: $400
  • Parking: $23 for both days/ night 
  • Park Admission for 1 day park hopper: $350 for both of us
  • We skipped breakfast
  • Butterbeer: $14 or $7 each (doesn’t matter frozen or not) It’s worth it friends 
  • Giant slice of pizza with salad and breadstick at Fantastic 4: $12
  • Guiness Stew and Pumpkin Juice: about $20 the stew was just under 14 and the drink made up the rest
  • Margarittaville Nachos: $14 and could seriously feed like 3 or 4 people plus drinks and tip $40
  • 2nd night in the hotel at the cheap Quality Inn not 10 minutes from the park: $50
Total Park Experience: around $900 for 1 day and 2 nights. OUCH But boy was it an experience
Ride totals for us with our fast passes:
  • The Forbidden Journey: 4 times
  • Dragon Challenge: 6 times (4 on the blue, 2 on the red)
  • Hulk coaster: 4 times
  • Spider Man: twice
  • King Kong: twice
  • Jurassic Park: twice
  • Hogwarts Express: twice
  • Escape from Gringotts: twice
  • The Mummy: 4 times 
  • Dr. Doom fear fall, Ripsaw Falls, Dr. Seuss Merry Go Round, Hipogriff coaster, Poseidon’s Fury, RiprideRockit coaster, Transformers, MIB, ET, Simpsons all once 
Total number of rides ridden in one day: 38 rides
Is the Fast Pass worth it? well do you like to ride rides… Then I’d actually say yes it is. It was absolutely magical never having to wait longer than 5-10 minutes for a ride and the fast pass can be cheaper in the less busier seasons. We  wanted the extra hour so we planned to stay on property. The lowest tier Universal hotel was $200 / night. The middle tier was $400 but included Fast Pass unlimited which would’ve cost us $150 pp in addition to park admission to buy it outright or $300. So staying in the middle tier saved us $100 off the fast pass and was closer to park entrances/ a nicer hotel. 
COULD you do it without the FAST PASS. YES I def think you could hit all the big stuff of both parks in 1 day without it. The longest lines we saw on a VERY busy weekend after the 4th of July was the ripride rock it at 120 minutes… but pretty sure that trimmed down a bit. Most bigger rides were like 40 minutes and if you are there the first hour of opening and last hour before closing, REGARDLESS of fast pass or not YOU WILL WALK RIGHT ON. We seriously wondered where everyone was when we did the Dragon Challenge another 3 times that night. And the things we only did once, like I said in the descriptions above, probs skippable if you’re in a hurry. 
TIP: Buy your park admission before, WAY BEFORE. As the price only went up as our dates approached. I figured buying them at check in from our resort would be the way to go. NOT! DON’T DO IT. Prices jumped like another $25 more pp from what I’d been seeing a month before. 
Harry Potter Wands: Were they cool? YA they looked really cool. Honestly I was jealous a lot of the people doing cool stuff with their wands in the shop windows. But cost?! The basic “magic” wand was $50 starting and went up depending on how cool of one you wanted. For a non-magic within the park magic wand they started at $40. Olivanders shop was a madhouse…. Needless to say it wasn’t a hard pass for me after all. 
Top treats: Butterbeer Butterbeer Butterbeer. But there’s something to be said that if it is hot, that pumpkin juice was pretty delicious too! And it was in a cute bottle with a pumpkin lid. (90% of the reason I got one. They’re killing it with marketing)
Final thoughts, I’ll always be a Disney Girl, but I’ve gotta say…. Universal, Fast pass or not, definitely stole a piece of my heart. I WILL be back. 

My everything DISNEYWORLD post

OK HERE comes my MEGA everything Disney! If you don’t want to tediously read all my disney stories and favorite ride stuff just skip to the end for my budget and top tips.
Starting off how we started off with Downtown Disney  Disney Springs. We got in and met up with my family at Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside where we parked our car and took the resort bus down to Disney Springs for dinner. Heads up: There’s no McDonalds so we were in for something pricey but settled on The COOKS OF DUBLIN for tasty fish and chips at lower cost for money but paid the price with wet seats as their limited seating was filled inside so we were left to sit OUTSIDE in the light sprinkle. HOWEVER have to say their service was awesome and one of the manager’s so kindly gave us 2 (huge) cookies from their dessert menu as a “sorry” for not having enough seating. NOT necessary but totally awesome!

Luckily the Rain did not hold out long and while our backsides may have gotten a tad wet at dinner, we weren’t drenched and those fish and chips really were GOOD! Next up we wandered by the Lego Store over to The Giradelli place for dessert: a free chocolate sample and into World Of Disney for the madness that is PIN TRADING. 
Then we wandered over to the new Star Wars and Marvel stores for more pin trading and to say our goodbyes to Disney Quest which closed its doors for the last time that weekend. Sadly we didn’t have time to visit the park one more time but for those of you who were not aware this place even existed.. it was AWESOME! A fun MEGA ARCADE with killer games, bumper cars, a simulator ride where you design your own roller coaster and then RIDE IT, and also a cool Pirate game that simulates being a crew with your family on a ship. We’d always spend an evening or 2 wandering from game to game and I was pretty devastated to learn of its closing.
BUT BASKETBALL FANS BE JOYOUS for the NBA Experience is what’s replacing it. 🙁 
Then we took the boat back to our amazing hotel at Riverside. Wish we’d gotten some photos a bit earlier in the day but here’s just a few from outside the resort. 

My first time on Disney property. It was definitely magical! 

The main lobby for the resort which was MASSIVE. 1000s of rooms spread out over multiple buildings. I only wish we had more time to enjoy it but sadly we had one night and one night only thus to get the following benefits:
A. Extra Magic hours which we NEEDED for Pandora in Animal Kingdom
B. Magic Bands that store your park passes as well as fast passes and are just SUPER Convenient and fun
C. You can select fast pass + 60 days in advance also for the days you stay on resort. (Sadly we botched this and got our day wrong so we didn’t use this to it’s upmost benefit)
D. Free parking anywhere on Disney property.

Which brings me to tips: The Boat ride was super fun and magical from Disney Springs to the resort however the bus ride to Disney Springs was a disaster. It Filled up at the FIRST STOP however we made the rounds and were standing room for 40 minutes to go like 3 miles… Take my advice here and just DRIVE it will save you so much time. Also Disney offers great military discounts on resort stays as well. If you have family members in the service, TAKE THEM WITH YOU! haha

So PARK 1: Animal Kingdom
Highlights: PANDORA, Dionsaur and Dinoland, Everest, Safari, and the rapids ride if you don’t mind getting soaked. 
We were up and to the park at 7 AM for extra magic hours to ride on the newest ride: Flight of Passage. By the time we funneled there like everyone else with Extra Magic Hours the line was an HOUR! So ya we waited in it and took copious amounts of photos while we did. Enjoy. haha
The Floating Mountains over the line Queue for Flight of Passage is UNREAL. That one on the left actually has a waterfall on it! 

But behind the floating mountains is even more fun! Waterfalls and pools, weird plants galore! We were obsessed. 

Yay waterfalls! And big grins after getting off the ride: First Impressions, let’s just say Flight of Passage is my new FAVORITE RIDE of ALL TIME. It’s a 4D simulator done in the BEST POSSIBLE WAY. You Soarin lovers and Star Tours will really get a kick out of this. But it’s even better. They don’t let you video or photograph once you’re actually on the ride… but I loved the Pre-ride queue information and you CAN see what that’s like here:

Once you’re on the ride, you straddle something like a bike that then locks you in with back and leg pieces. Then A LOT like soarin a giant screen opens up before you and you soar, smell, explore so much in a very generously long ride. I had the biggest Grin on my face the whole time. But the best part: Is how real they make it, the piece you sit on has pads that move and make it feel like you’re actually ON A Ikran or Bansheeas they call it. It blew my mind and I would happily ride this ride over and over.

Closer up of the waterfalls and pools. 
Then we went right to the new Pandora river ride and waited about 30 minutes to be DISAPPOINTED. Sure the inside had magical Pandora atmosphere but the only cool animatronic (pictured above) was at the tail end. 🙁 It was like Pirates but with no drops and no nostalgia. So basically Lamer. than lame. Luckily Dinosaur is terrifying thrilling as ever but UNluckily, it broke down and had us stuck on the ride for 45 minutes. 
By this time the park was filling up and we were ready for breakfast.. and also ready to meet up with the fools we left sleeping in at the Hotel. So instead of going back to Animal Kingdom, we went to EPCOT. 

Epcot Points of Interest: Soarin, Spaceship Earth, The World Tour of countries, (and maybe you could add Test Track, Mission to Mars, and the little kid rides to that) but really… this park is NOT about rides. It’s about CULTURE, Eating, Drinking, and being merry. We used our fastpasses to hop right on the Living with the Land boat ride and then Soarin, and lastly Spaceship Earth. Some of you who have been to Epcot may balk at Spaceship Earth being a highlight, but you must not have ridden it before it was narrated by Judi Dench and had cool Futuristic planning stuff to entertain you at the beginning and end. You’ve also LIKELY not ridden it with a significant other. Think about that…
Another highlight we hit is called Energy (which rumors have said will not be around much longer) It’s a hilarious 45 minute ride/show conducted by Ellen DeGeneres (failing at Jeopardy) and assisted by Bill Nye the Science guy you learn about… well ENERGY

After that the (not so early birds) left us again so it was just Braden, my mom, and I left to wander the countries. We started with Mexico and it’s adorable boat ride in the pyramid that NEVER has a line and is the equivalent of let’s say.. It’s a small World. Then we headed over to Norway to try some delicious pastries before heading onto China. (where this lovely photo was taken) Unfortunately, due to the rain the acrobats weren’t performing so we missed out on their show. 

Then we wandered onto The American Pavilion to hear the Liberty Singers (an A Capella group that sings patriotic songs) watch the American Adventure (highly recommend as the music is great and it’s a fun recap of American history) and the the Music Machine (another A Capella group that sings music from today.. they were ok) And then on we went to Great Britain to listen to (my favorite of the day) British Revolution. Even though we huddled under a roof overhang as it poured down rain, there’s nothing like British music goodies and I loved it! Last but no least we hit up Canada for some covers of Canadian musicians. They were also very good.
So for those of you haven’t been to Epcot, things to note: Both Mexico and Norway have rides though Norway’s ride used to be WAY cooler before Frozen took over. Each country also has some sort of short movie they play on like the 15 minute mark that goes over the beautiful sites in the country and culture aspects of it. Lastly as you may have guessed, a lot (if not all) the countries have some sort of mini show/ concert they do repeatedly through the day whether it be music, acrobats, drummers, etc… There are restaurants and bars everywhere so just enjoy some time away from the craziness that is MAGIC Kingdom and explore the world.

(I love France, side note we’re going to the REAL place next month!!! AHH) 
And because our day had NOT been long enough to this point we grabbed some dinner and headed BACK To Animal Kingdom for our extra EXTRA magic hours from 11 – 1 (yes… 1 AM)  we just HAD to check out Pandora at night and it was AMAZING. I couldn’t get any good shots on my phone so here’s one of my parents haha. If you can picture Pandora as it was in the movie at night, this was exactly it. Well plus 344328487 people wandering around but that crowd thinned out after midnight. haha! 
We went and walked on Everest which if you go during the new show that’s right there, Rivers of Light, you can walk on most of the rides multiple times. (We caught snippets of the show. If you’ve seen the World of Color show and California Adventure, don’t waste your time here… it looked pretty lame)  and we also headed back over to Dinoland to ride their mini coaster which was a lot of fun. 
Looking a bit frazzled from the day here but it wasn’t over yet. We got right back in line for Flight of Passage at 11 and it took 2 hours but we rode it again. I loved it just as much the 2nd time but even still 2 hours is pushing it. Don’t wait for any ride longer than 2 hours guys. It’s not worth it with so many other rides to do.
So thus concludes my longest day of Disney in the history of my many trips there. While I have been in a Disney park well past midnight MULTIPLE times, I’ve never opened the park on the same day. Grand total was 18 hours with only 2 hour breaks from the parks to eat. CRAZY. It was fun but we were definitely ready to take it easy the next day with Hollywood Studios. 
Hollywood Studios highlights: The Great Movie Ride, Star Tours, The Rockin Rollercoaster, and Tower of Terror plus many fantastic shows like the Indiana Jones Stunt show, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and The Beast, oh and my fav Fantasmic.
Fun fact about Hollywood studios is that it used to have what’s called the Backlot which included a touring ride through awesome Movie memorabilia and 2 cool stunt shows where they showed you the ins and outs of filming high intensity action movies. Thankfully there’s still the Indiana Jones show which is DEF worth seeing but I missed the backlot. They just need to hurry up with Star Wars land so this park has more going on for it! 
The Rockin Rollercoaster is definitely up there in my top 5 Disney rides. I love the overall theming and as far as coasters go, it’s FANTASTIC. You walk into a “recording studio” where you meet Aerosmith but soon they have to get to a show and since they have to leave hanging out with you they offer you backstage passes and a SUPEERRR stretch limo to get to the concert on time! Then you go into the final line portion a back alley and get into your limo. The ride shoots you off immediately into a loop and the coaster has 2 loops plus a barrel roll all rolled up in a dark coaster with Aerosmith rocking out in your ears and at the end you pull up to the concert. Just a super fun ride! 
The entrance to the Rockin Roller coaster area. If you collect pins, they have a drum pin board in their gift shop. 

The Fam on the Rockin Rollercoaster. It takes your picture just as it’s shooting you off at the BEGINNING.

Luckily the Tower of Terror is located just next door so you get your thrills all in one place. NOTE: If you have ridden the Disneyland version of this ride, please know that the Florida version is BETTER and a more complete ride. You actually leave the elevator shaft and go through this short track of “twilight zone” area and then into the drop zone. I LOVE IT. Although I remember one time as a small child (terrified of the dark) I rode this ride COMPLETELY ALONE and the picture that came out was pretty hilarious. 
Next up: Magic Kingdom. Basically your classic Disneyland done better. It has about the same layout of the 5 lands Adventure, Frontier, Fantasy, and Tomorrow with the exception of  NEW Fantasy Land replacing Toontown and it’s Liberty Square instead of New Orleans Square. But essentially the same. We visited this park roughly 3 times so only missing it on the first day and we hit it one night with my older sister Tiff (thanks to her having a season pass), once with my parents and the little sisters, and again by ourselves. 

Highlights: EVERYTHING. But my favorites (about in order) Splash Mountain, the new coaster The seven dwarfs mine train, The Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Carribbean, The Jungle Cruise, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Space Mountain, The Little Mermaid, and then everything else. We rode just about everything except It’s a small world (WHAT!?!) at least once.

Food enjoyed: Amazingly enough we didn’t eat much in the parks but we definitely got our Dole Whip and also ate dinner at the Columbia Harbor House in Liberty Square (on the 4th of July, fitting right?!) 
Braden, Tiff, and I enjoying the new Seven Dwarf’s mine train. It’s basically a lot smooth and comfortable of a ride than Big Thunder with cool technology and fun story pieces thrown into the ride making it more complete. 
Unfortunately my dad lost a really nice hat on Splash mountain as he was trying to make a peace sign (for Lauri to have a “cool” picture) so we Braden and I did a tribute photo to Dad’s lost hat when we went the next day. 
The last ride we rode and Braden slaughtered me at the Buzz Lightyear ride. There’s a reason I hate these rides… can’t even enjoy them. 
Tip: Having a fabulous family member with a season pass that includes the Memory maker is THE BEST EVER! She was gracious enough to lend us her pass each day to get free parking and also downloaded all the photos we took with the professional photographers there so we came away with some fun shots! Thanks Tiff! 
One of those great photo ops. 
And another one! haha Note: I love Cinderella’s Castle. ONE DAY I will eat a meal there but it was not this day. I just think it is spectacular and better than Disneyland. sorry Californians. Also note: Disneyworld has added a little Beauty and the Beast castle (which you can dine in also, or well under) and the Littler Mermaid’s castle which is the cutest! and where the Little Mermaid ride resides. Love the New Fantasyland addition! 
Lauri got Braden and I these shirts for our birthdays. They were super cute but insanely hot. They didn’t last the full day as the second we broke for lunch we took a swim at the house and changed out of them haha. 
The little Beauty and the Beast castle haha. I’ve heard good things about Be out Guest. One day I’ll try it and the grey stuff. We somehow always end up at Gaston’s Tavern for Lefou’s brew ( a delicious frozen apple beverage topped with this java marshmellow topping stuff) and GIANT cinnamon rolls. 
Cheersing with our brew! Gaston is usually outside as well and it’s hilarious to watch him “charm” the ladies for a few minutes. Seriously you don’t have to wait in line for a photo, just hang out and enjoy. haha 
oh ya and my favorite part of New Fantasyland? The Tangled restroom area. LOVE this photo we got again with the Magic Maker. Tangled is probably my favorite disney movie to date so we waited about 20 minutes for this picture. Totally worth it… though I do wish I’d brought my Rapunzel dress cause there was a little girl that posed with the lantern ahead of us and it was PRECIOUS! 

Oh ya did we mention we were at Magic Kingdom for the madness that was the 4th of July. They had areas roped off for people to crowd and stand in over AN HOUR before the fireworks. I was like WHERES THE PARADE. cause seriously.. who stands in one spot over an hour to wait for fireworks. NOT I amigos. We got dinner lol.

The insane crowd that welcomed us when we got to Magic Kingdom around 6 PM. We had fastpasses for the Jungle Cruise and still waited at least 30 minutes. The standby line FOR EVERY RIDE was over an hour with 2 hour waits on everything I listed above as my favorites… IT SUCKED. So after the Jungle Cruise we went up the Swiss Family Robinson Tree (not Tarzan like in Disneyland) and watched the Tikki Room show (no wait for that?! hmmmm) then got fastpasses for Winnie The Pooh (nostalgia guys… I wasn’t a very gutsy little kid ok) which we then had dinner, sort of watched the fireworks while wading threw mobs of people. I’VE NEVER SEEN IT SO CROWDED. It took 15 minutes to walk from the Haunted Mansion to Splash Mountain which is ordinarily.. under 5 minutes. Luckily we got to Splash Mountain just as the fireworks ended so we got right in line and only waited about 20 minutes. Then used fastpasses for Aladdin’s magic carpet and fastpasses for Buzz Lightyear finishing around 11 PM and it was still a zoo so we said peace out! 
The view from the ferry going from the parking lot to Magic Kingdom. 
So all the the crowd complaining aside, the FIREWORKS WERE OUT OF THIS WORLD AMAZING. NOW I love the normal every night fireworks Disney World does. (THEY DO IT BETTER THAN ANYONE) but while the music wasn’t as fun they did fireworks 360 degrees around the park. It didn’t matter which direction you faced, walked, etc there were fireworks completely around you anywhere in the park. Don’t believe me? Here’s a video of it from one of the resorts:
Also disney highlight: our incredible souvenir from the new(er) Haunted Mansion shop Memento Mori which is a photo of us that turns us into ghouls as you walk by. Probably the coolest picture of me I’ve ever had. 
Alright so budget:
  • 4 day park hopper pass (military discount, thanks parents!) $200 pp so $400 for us
  • Rental car: We paid about $15 per day so if you apply it to the 4 disney days: $40
  • 1st night at Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside Resort (medium tier of resort levels) normally $250 per night but we only paid around $150 thanks to my parents getting us in on the Military Discount deal. 
  • 1 week at a vacation rental house that we paid for 1 room of only $300 (so $128) if you apply it to our 3 disney nights 
  • Parking/ photos: Free, thanks again Tiffany! (ya’ll need to make friends/ get family with season passes) 
  • Food between dole whip and the Columbia house where we split an entree: $23
  • Other food OUTSIDE the park: Well we mostly ate a ton of fast food but we only ate about 2 meals a day so it was around $100 for the disney days total 
  • Souvenirs: Our amazing photos cost $20 each to make so $40 which luckily we had a gift card from Tiff for our birthdays which we used to purchase those
Total: Around $900 for 4 days of Disney goodness including food, passes, lodging, and souvenirs for 2 adults.  

  1. If you stay on Disney Property, DON’T TAKE THE BUSES. They are overcrowded and take forever to go a mile. The only time this may be worth it is going to Magic Kingdom because that parking lot is a bear. The other 3 parks… just drive and park. So much faster and easier
  2. If you know anyone in the military or with season passes, GO WITH THEM and check for discounts… Could save you A LOT. 
  3. The lower tier resorts cost 100-150 per night and I think are worth doing at least once in order to get your magic bands included, FAST PASS+ for the day of and day after your reservation to get a selection of 60 days out! This is THE ONLY way you will get fast passes for Frozen in Epcot, Seven Dwarfs mine train in Magic Kingdom, and most importantly: Flight of Passage in Animal Kingdom, and of course Magic Hours. 
  4. Make sure if you DON’T Stay at a resort that you still select your Fast Pass + options 30 days in advance. This way you can get all your rides done in the morning and select more fast passes for the afternoon and evening. 
  5. When deciding a night to stay in a resort, check the calendar for which parks will have magic hours when and maximize your benefit by staying a night you get the most magic hours at the park YOU WANT TO GO TO. 
  6. Some of the night time spectacular shows are worth skipping and riding rides because you can seriously walk on multiple rides multiple times during these shows. Ones I suggest watching? FANTASMIC at Hollywood Studios which doesn’t actually start until the park closes anyways. Also I admit watch Magic Kingdom’s Fireworks at least once. Anywhere is a good spot but I prefer New Fantasyland since it’s way less crowded than main street and really a good view. 
  7. If you’re into collecting things, my family is HUGE into trading pins. Check Ebay for bulk buys of Disney pins that you can trade with park employees for upgrades. Finding the really unique pins or new collections is so fun! 
  8. YOU NEED AT LEAST 4 DAYS! 1 for each park if you’re going first time. I always recommend park hoppers since some parks are open a lot later than others and you can maximize your time in the park this way. 
  9. Disney also have 2 waterparks: Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach. Blizzard Beach is the better one. 
  10. When leaving Magic Kingdom, the ferry is actually your quickest route back to the parking lot (verified by park employee) The capacity of the ferry to monorail is like 5-1 and it is actually a shorter ride so even though the line may look longer, it is the faster route. 
  11. Also when leaving any park at closing, if there’s a long line for the tram JUST WALK. Guarantee the walk will be faster than waiting for a tram since Disney follows a million safety protocols (which is great!) just slow. 
  12. Give yourself breaks so you don’t burn out. Recommend opening and closing the park as this is when it’s going to be emptiest, but take a mid day break to swim at your hotel pool, take a nap, eat lunch, enjoy some AC… The parks are super crowded and it’s the hottest part of the day. You aren’t missing anything. 
  13. Snacks we like to get at least once: Mickey Ear Ice cream, Dole Whip, Turkey Legs, LeFou’s brew, and churros. 
  14. Photographers at photography spots will use your phone or camera to take a picture for you if you ask them. Some, especially night time photos, probably won’t turn out as nice but if you’re pinching pennies but still want some photos, this is the way. 
  15. And LAST BUT NOT LEAST: Download the MYDISNEYEXPERIENCE App. Seriously it has a map of the park with guided GPS to get you where you need to go, showtimes, wait times, and most importantly once you use your first 3 fast passes for the day you can keep selecting more on the app instead of having to find a kiosk location in the park. Much faster and easier! 
Shoot me a message if you have any questions OR if you have tips you think I should add to this post! 

What to do on a trip to Orlando (that doesn’t involve theme parks!)

 Ok so this is the everything  BUT amusement parks post for Orlando, Florida. First up was our least successful Family Reunion day. We all got up to leave our house in Kissimme (just south of Orlando) in order to get to the natrual springs water park Weeki Wachee. We had 5 cars headed out there spaced out anywhere from 5 minutes to 30 minutes. Only the first TWO cars got in and they closed the parking lot and entrance so no other visitors would be allowed entry…. At this point we’d driven about 2 hours and were in unfamiliar territory. WHAT DO WE DO?

Our 3 cars that didn’t make it head to nearby Homosassa Wildlife park and springs due to the internet telling us there is a “free” boat ride. And there is…. to the wildlife park that is $13 pp. We took the boat to the park but the idea of walking around a HOT HOT HOT zoo essentially when we all wanted to be swimming…. was a turn off so we turned right around and left. 
 But we couldn’t quite leave without posing for a photo in front of the Manatee in front of the Visitor Center/ Parking lot. 
 My sister Jenna, Dad, and I on the “not shaded at all” boat ride. 
While admittedly a bit boring since no gators and really very little wildlife was spotted, the slow infernal boat ride did have some pleasant views. 
So next up we tried for a swimming spot and closest to Homossa was Crystal River beach. (A beach on the gulf side of Florida) The water was as warm as a bath tub but still felt great! The beach had lots of parking (which was important after our sad attempt to get into Weeki Wachee) and while not a huge swimming area it wasn’t too crowded. Unfortunately not 5 minutes after unloading and everyone getting in the water, the lightening alarm sounded forcing us all to get out!!! At this point we gave in… and headed back to the house. 

 Day 2: Again not quite as planned but still better luck. We had planned on visiting Rock Springs which is an EXCELLENT park to swim at, float a bit down the small portion of river, and even walk the nature paths. However not a day after we called to verify it was open, we arrived to discover it was closed due to bacteria. Luckily not too far down the road was Wekiwa Springs which was even cheaper with lots of parking so we moved our caravan on down there. It doesn’t have as large of a swimming area as Rock Springs but gets quite a bit deeper in parts. The water is VERY COLD but on a hot Florida day, it’s doable. We also rented a kayak and all took turns going down the river. On our turn we spotted tons of fish, turtles, and 2 gators one of which swimming very close to our kayak. (It was little, not more than 2.5 feet long)

 A photo of me swimming at Wekiwa and behind me, Braden launching a kid in the air.

 A close up of Braden launching another kid in the air. 
Braden and my niece Chandler protecting themselves from the sun in the sitting area at Wekiwa Springs. 

 So on day 3 of family reunion we called it quits and settled for an easy day *with no driving anywhere* at the house since there was a large pond just behind it for the boys to fish and a relaxing pool to hang out and read by.

One of the stunning sunsets we had from our backyard. 
A photo of my niece and I hanging out in the pool. 
 And no longer part of the family reunion, but on our last day our flight didn’t leave until 7:30 at night so we headed out to Cocoa Beach for a couple hours. That way Braden could experience a beach both on the gulf side of Florida and on the Atlantic. (plus we just had unfinished business with a beach in general) If you take toll rode 528 out of Orlando, you will get to Cocoa Beach in less than an hour and only pay around $2.00 in tolls. Once at the beach there is plenty of metered parking that is only $2 per hour. We parked and had roughly 2 hours to enjoy the beach (plus get plenty of sunburn in the process) The water isn’t nearly as warm as the gulf but if you haven’t experienced a southern Atlantic beach then you haven’t lived! It’s the most refreshing without being cold water and the little waves are the perfect height to jump or boogie board for hours! 
I always pay a visit to the massive Ron John shop that’s there at the beach as well although this time I didn’t really have enough time to shop. 
So here’s some info and tips that you may not have discerned from my jabbering post.
Weeki Wachee Springs: 
Things to do: Large swimming area with floating dock and water slides, a Mermaid show, a wildlife show, and a river boat ride 
Cost: $13 for adults, children 6-12 $8, children under 5 are free
Hours of operation: 9-5:30
Tip: GET THERE BY 9:30 or right at opening. We tried on a Wednesday in Summer so I expect just about any Summer day is busy. 
Homosassa Springs/ Wildlife Park:
Things to do: Free boat ride, lots of Florida animals in their natural habitat but basically presented like a zoo. 
Cost: Boatride and visitor center is free. Animal park is $13 for adults, children 6-12 $5, children under 6 are free
Hours of operation: 9-5:30
Tip: The boatride is slow moving about $15 minutes and not shaded. Wear sunscreen as it was very hot and while the walking path in the wildlife park may be shaded somewhat, it will still be hot. 
Crystal River/Fort Island Gulf Beach:
Things to do: Swim, be a beachbum. Some covered pavilions and picnic tables but I’d come prepared with beach chairs and blankets in case all of them are occupied when you get there. 
Cost: Free, parking is free
Info: Bathroom and outdoor showers, covered and uncovered picnic tables available. 
Wekiwa Springs:
Things to do: Swim, Kayak, hike, horseback ride, bike, camping
Cost: $6 per carload. Recommend bringing cash. The kayak cost was around $25 for the first 2 hours and and additional $5 for every hour you want it past that. 
Tips: There are concessions and a small convenient store available. On weekends, this park may also fill up and close but when we went there was still plenty of parking on Wednesday despite nearby Rock Springs being closed. 

Cocoa Beach:
Things to do: Rent bikes, swim at the beach, be a beach bum, the pier, ogle at the giant cruise ships at Cape Canaveral, and of course shop at Ron Johns.
Cost: $2 for metered parking, free beach access, and everything else varies depending on what you do
Tips: There were not any showers or bathrooms at this beach (at least not the portion we visited) so bear that in mind especially if you have no hotel to return to but instead a plane to catch. I changed in the Ron John’s restroom but it was a bit of a sandy journey home for us. 
Our home base was located in Kissimme, just South of Orlando and the longest we traveled was to the gulf side around 2 hours West. Rock Springs or Wekiwa Springs was about an hour North, and Cocoa Beach about an hour East. There are many MANY other things to do in Orlando and sadly missed out on my favorite trip to Dixie Crossroads in Titusville for the best Rock shrimp and the National Seashore for driving around looking for gators (bigger ones at least!) Stay tuned for an all encompassing posts for both Walt Disney World as well as Universal Studios.