no matter where you go, there you are

Monday, January 24, 2011

harry - yer a wizard

The Harry Potter book series is da bomb. There's no other way to put it. Well, there probably is a more eloquent way to state how imaginative and genius J.K. Rowling's story of a boy wizard's journey at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, but I'm not going to try and make such a statement. Let's just conclude that Harry Potter is da bomb. Since the first book was published in the United States in September of 1998 I have been an avid fan. Having just turned 11 myself I was easily enraptured and eagerly awaited each new book release.

When Universal opened up the Wizarding World of Harry Potter inside their Islands of Adventures theme park, I certainly wished I could go one day, but given the fact that I'm a cheapskate and have only been to Florida a handful of times, I didn't believe I'd be going anytime soon. Molly mentioned going at some point, but she too didn't have a determined time. For this trip I was trying to keep our expenses low so I didn't think a 2-day theme park ticket would qualify. But I brought it up one day with Molly and all she had to say was "yaaaaaaa!!!" So to the Wizarding World we went. We actually went to all of Islands of Adventures and Universal Studios, but this part is solely dedicated to Harry Potter, the boy who lived.
entrance to Hogsmeade

There are technically two entrances to the Wizarding World, one on each end, but due to crowds in the morning hours because everyone wants to see Harry Potter first, they shuffle visitors in through the main entrance of Hogsmeade. The first thing you see, besides the snow covered roofs of Hogsmeade, is the scarlet steam engine, the Hogwarts Express. Here, photo-ops are available with the lovely conductor.
all aboard the Hogwarts Express
To your left you'll find Honeydukes and Zonko's. One sad note is that they are actually connected inside so they essentially function as one shop. Although not authentic to the books, I see why they did it and a perk we discovered is that instead of waiting in the much longer lines of Honeydukes, you can purchase your treats on the Zonko's side in half the time. I recommend purchasing a Cauldron Cake.
welcome to Honeydukes
Zonko's joke shop

We decided to lunch at the Three Broomsticks and chose the most unideal time to dine. Not only was it prime lunch hour but it had started to rain which drove everyone inside. We waiting in line for probably half an hour, longer than some rides. When you get close to the registers, they have a massive display case of all the meal offerings. Examples include turkey legs, mixed green salad with chicken and a full family platter. You place your order then move to a number along this long counter where you pick up your food. Once you've got everything you wait to be seated. Although they've got a very smooth process going, this is the one area where I could see people getting angry. If you have to wait a bit for a table, not only are standing there holding your food and drinks but said food is getting cold. Molly and I both got butterbeer (not frozen and not overpriced) which had an interesting flavor. Neither of us loved it but the caramel cream stuff on top was quite delicious.
the Three Broomsticks

Next door to the Three Broomsticks is the Hog's Head which serves no food, only beverages for the 21+ crowd. Across from the dining area is the entrance to Dragon's Challenge, a covered picnic table area as well as Dervish and Banges and the Owl Post. As with Honeydukes and Zonkos, Dervish and the Owl Post are also connected inside. On our first day there was a 20 minute wait to get in so we opted to wait until the next day. When we finally did go inside it was really cool. Not only was the merchandise great to look at and geek out over (Triwizard Cup, Book of Monsters, Quibbler) but all the decorations and merchandise not for purchase in the level above such as broomsticks, books and other wizarding necessities were great fun to look at.
a sample of the Dervish and Banges merchandise
The Owl Post had even more great things to see. Wands filled the shelves and up above animatronic owls loomed overhead admist packages of all shapes and sizes. The register was in the middle of the room semi-behind bars like at a real mail office. Really nifty stuff.
inside the Owl Post
Ollivander's is right near Dervish and Banges and the line for that snakes around the storefronts. Although we would have loved to see the Ollivander's Experience, the wait was over an hour as they only let in around 20 people for the 15-minute presentation. And they only choose one kid for the ceremony so we figured they weren't going to pick 20-somethings for it so why waste the time. Had it been a shorter wait we would have done it, but over an hour was just too long. As you continue down Hogsmeade's streets there are a number of shop windows to peer into although none are functioning stores. However, that doesn't mean they're pointless. The objects in the windows are all doing something such as the scribbling quill in Scrivenshaft's.

magical quills inside Scrivenshafts
Now for the I said up above, the entrance to Dragon Challenge was across from the Three Broomsticks. Lockers for any bags or bulky items are in "Hogsmeade Station" which I thought was cute. When we first got here I didn't understand why there was another castle, but later learned that since they re-purposed the former Dueling Dragons for the Wizarding World they kept the former scenery aka the castle. Before entering the castle the Weasley's former family car is crashed into a tree.
the Weasley's Ford Anglia
The sign above the castle entrance welcomes all Tri-Wizard Champions. The first room is the prep tent where the Goblet of Fire sits, its blue flame burning away. There are also a couple of beds along the walls. As you follow the queue you pass by an illuminated Tri-Wizard Cup, a hall with floating candles and dungeons. Everything had a Tri-Wizard Championship or dragon theme. You choose which dragon you want to ride, the Hungarian Horntail (Blue) or the Chinese Fireball (Red) and like any other theme park you pick the row you want and then wait for boarding. I think we ended up going on Dragon Challenge 3 times, twice on the Horntail and once on the Fireball. The fireball was my favorite even though it was raining and the water was pelting us in the face since we were in the front row.

On the far side of Hogsmeade you'll discover Hogwarts Castle sitting atop a grand hill. Nearby is the performance area of the Frog Chorus and Durmstrang/Beauxbatons dancers as well as Hagrid's Hut and Flight of the Hippogriff. Flight of the Hippogriff is a small coaster for younger children but it is really fun. We enjoyed it a lot and rode it 3 or 4 times as there was no wait. Although Hogsmeade was crowded everyone seemed to be on the Forbidden Journey or waiting for Ollivander's. The view at the top of Flight of the Hippogriff is a great one of the castle.
Hagrid's hut

Finally, the most anticipated ride of them all, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. This ride was having issues the days we were there because we kept hearing things about it being shut down but we lucked out and it was mostly running smoothly for us. Our wait the first time began on the bridge leading into Jurassic Park (the other entrance to the Wizarding World) and it took about an hour or so to complete the ride. We learned quickly that having bags was becoming a pain because you had to put them in lockers for all the cool rides. And if you didn't have any bags you could skip the line waiting for them and just go right into the ride line. The queue leads you through all sorts of places in Hogwarts: the dungeons, the greenhouse, Dumbledore's Office, the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, and a few other rooms. I won't spoil what happens in all the rooms but its all really magical.

The ride itself was sooooo amazing. I had no idea what to expect and it was just so, so cool! Because of the wait we only went on the ride once on Day 1, but the next day we did it twice more. Upon returning to it, since we'd already ridden with each other the first time, we opted for the very short wait of the singles line. GREAT DECISION MAKING! The ride seats 4 at a time so when they have groups that don't fill out the ride, they take from the singles line. And sometimes they have to take pairs so on our second round through the singles line we did get to sit together. You don't get to walk through any of the cool castle stuff but the wait is only 10-15 min. In my opinion, totally worth it.
view from Flight of the Hippogriff

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

goonie's never say die

this post is inspired by ABC Family's recent weekend airing of The Goonies.

When first mapping out the trip, Molly had one thing that topped her list of must-go-to things: Astoria, OR. Astoria is a small city on the northwest tip of Oregon where the 1985 classic film The Goonies takes place. It also happens to be where they shot the film. No exterior location stand-ins necessary. What I didn't know, and learned upon arrival was that it is a very popular movie city and has had a number of films in the last few decades be shot there. Kindergarten Cop was my favorite of the films listed. They have a newly opened Oregon Film Museum located in the old jailhouse where, not so coincidentally, they shot The Goonies.
The museum was really neat and catered to all ages and levels of knowledge about the film industry. It's small but quite cute and I really enjoyed going there.

We arrived in Astoria around lunchtime after driving from Portland. Our first stop was the visitor's center where they provided us with a couple of maps of the area and some recommendations on places to see, the film museum being one of them. After having fantastic weather the past week, I was disappointed that it was cloudy, a little rainy and a bit dreary. But looking back, I'm not too surprised since Astoria is on the ocean of one of the rainiest states in the country. After seeing the film museum, a few things could be checked off of our Astoria to-do list. Seeing the jailhouse, seeing the Flavel House museum (but not visiting) and Molly's purchase of a Goonies shirt. We then decided it was best if we found a place to eat since breakfast had been much earlier that day.
Flavel House
Back to the film museum for a bit I said above, it was small (only 4 rooms) and very family and all-age appropriate. First was the "introduction" room. A small entryway, the walls and ceiling were covered with movie quotes, all of which were taken from movies shot in Astoria and the surrounding area. If you could identify a certain number of them, you'd get a prize. The room to the left of this one was scarcely decorated and housed only a few glass display cases. However, the items inside made up for the emptiness of the space. Each display had a number of Goonies' props such as the treasure map, an original script and on-set pictures.

The first of two main exhibit areas was where the jail cells hadn't been torn out and is designated as a homage to The Goonies. They have merchandise, film trivia, behind the scenes anecdotes and even a hook in one of the cells where you could pretend to be the Fratelli brother faking his own death.

However, it was the last room that I enjoyed the most. On the walls were chalk outlines of the various positions one might find on a film set. From production designer to actor, director to locations manager, they had everyone! On each outline there is a description of the job position and an actual production designer or director, whomever the job is about, is quoted, sharing a story from whichever movie they worked on in the Oregon area. I thought this was really neat and a very simple way for kids to learn about the film industry. In addition, there were pieces of film equipment in the middle of the room with tags labeling each item with its correct film lingo. For example a clothespin on a film set is called a C-47.

Before leaving we stopped by the teeny gift shop so that Molly could purchase a new Goonies shirt and off to lunch we went. Not knowing what parking would be like downtown, we pulled into the closest spot and strolled along the streets.
Liberty Theater, featured in Kindergarten Cop

Along Rt. 101, across from the water was a cute little cafe we stopped in for lunch. It was all ocean themed and reminded me a lot of something you might find on Cape Cod. The salt and pepper shakers were adorably cute, and different on each table. Ours were of a suntanning man and woman. The food was good and we enjoyed our time there; getting ice cream for dessert was the icing on the cake.

Following our mini maps, we navigated our way to Mikey and Brand's house passing by the elementary school used for shooting Kindergarten Cop. The house sits up off the road and they have a wonderful sign that welcomes all Goonies, but only on foot. Standing in front you could see the house hadn't changed much and Data's house sits right next door as always.

Although seeing filming locations like this is always neat, there were some other really cool homes such as this giant purple and dark teal one sitting atop the hill across from where we'd parked.

Next stop was the Astoria Column, a 125-ft tower that has 14 murals painted around its exterior depicting important moments in Oregon's history. There is a spiral staircase inside which leads to a small observation deck at the top.

The view was wonderful even if we had to squint through some fog and clouds. You could see the entire city, the harbor area and plenty of ocean.
it was quite windy
There were lots of families visiting and they all had these disposable looking paper airplanes with them. We later discovered they bought them at this little gift trailer in the parking lot and it's a "ritual" to fly them off. The most amusing part was watching the 2nd parent below following the plane and attempting to catch it before it landed. One kid had a good throw and caught the wind because his plane went soaring into the trees.

Now that we'd seen all of the main attractions of Astoria on our list, we hopped back in the car and made the hour drive to Ecola State Park, another major exterior filming location for The Goonies. And when watching Kindergarten Cop with Molly's sister at the end of our trip, we saw it was used for that movie too. The park's roads are windy and hilly and it leads through this dark, luscious forest. At the main lot, we parked and looked out over the ocean. Immediately, Molly recognized the view with the iconic rock formations in the distance from when the boys first approach the restaurant. It was called Chapman Point...coincidence or fate?

We took the little trail to the viewpoint where I guess there are seals or sea lions at certain parts of the year...I don't know, all we saw were birds.

As we made our way back to the field/picnic area, Molly told me this was definitely the place where the restaurant was built. Excellent. And pretty nifty if I do say so myself.

The last leg of our visit began when we decided we wanted to hike down to the beach the field overlooked. It didn't look that far down and even though there was a sign posting that it was semi-strenuous hike, we went for it. Instead of just being a straight descent to the beach as I had perceived it was going to be, it was a winding trail through the park and the amazing forest we found ourselves in. The slugs were ENORMOUS and disgusting.

Although we'd been hiking for at least 20 or 30 minutes, it wasn't until the last bit where it was actually steep and finally dropped down to the beach. However, once we got to the beach it was really cool. We took off our shoes, splashed in the ocean and had a jolly good time. The rock formations (nests, I think they're called) were massive now that we were close up.

After our frolicking we threw our shoes back on and made the ascent back to the car. Although it was an unexpected hike, it was really pretty and good excercise since we'd been in the car for most of the past 2 days. As we were driving back out through the winding roads Molly pointed out to me that they definitely filmed the sequences with Brand on the bike and most of the road/bike scenes in the park. Since rewatching the movie, I would most certainly agree with her.

Last thing: here is the first Bank of America we encountered after leaving New England