Universal Studios – Islands of Adventure

Florida, Travel, United States

While the original Universal Studios is a fabulous trek down memory lane, Islands of Adventure offers a blast through additional fun and journeys. The second park opened in 1999, and is a bright and bold blend of 90s fun with futuristic excitement, the park is equally, if not more enjoyable than the main park.

For the Potterheads take the Hogwarts Express from Diagon Alley to Hogsmead and begin exploring the rest of the park from there. Hogsmead is home to several great rides including Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Flight of the Hippogriff and my absolute new favorite ride EVER Hagrid’s Magical Creature Motorbike Adventures!

A side note on Hagrid’s, this ride opened in 2019 and has been a runaway hit, clocking in wait times of 10+ hours on opening week. I was a little cautious about all the hype, but I have to say it was well worth our wait of 70 minutes or so! The build up to the ride was taken with immense care to create a well-crafted and detailed line ride that tells the stories of Hagrid and brings more of the Hogwarts grounds to life. Massive pumpkin, Hagrid’s hut, carved building ruins, paintings, and much more bring the story to life and build on the excitement. Harry Potter fans can’t miss this ride if even for the build up. Beyond that, the ride itself is a fantastic high speed roller coaster experience that stretches almost a mile long! The coaster seamlessly blends story and speed bursts, with some amazing surprises, to make a fabulous experience for all. I have never been on a ride I loved so very much and I can’t wait to return to Universal to ride again!

Beyond the rides, the area is home to fan favorite locations from the stories including the Three Broomsticks and Hogshead. Shops sell things like Pumpkin Juice, and a treat shop is sure to please any sugar rush. There is even a wand shop for those that missed Olivander’s or need to replace one they left on the train (I know this from personal experience….12 year olds).

As an additional charm they have ample outdoor seating and wonderful views of the castle made with a distorted perspective, allowing guests to REALLY feel engrossed in the Wizarding World.

My last tip is to check if they are doing any light shows or events for the season you are visiting. When we were there they had their Halloween Death Eaters Show and it was phenomenal to watch and enjoy. My stepdaughter even had a showdown with a Death Eater!

Death Eater Show Hogsmeade

Now, if you must venture out of Hogsmead and Harry Potter world, the Islands of Adventure offers something for everyone! Exit by the castle and you can’t miss the Jurassic Park education zone, an exact replica from the 1993 movie! This family-friendly area brings to life moments from the movie’s work with DNA and eggs to create new-age dinos and it’s a blast for kiddos to get involved with. Even if they haven’t seen the movies.

Image result for islands of adventure map

Follow along that same path and you will see a raptor encounter, recently updated with Blue from the Jurassic World trilogy. A little further along you will see the River Adventure Ride that offers so much fun for kids of all ages (my 5-year-old cousin lovingly calls them water coasters). This log flume ride offers some thrills and nostalgia as it reflects the first movies in the series, and some animatronics that could use some love. Regardless, it is a lot of fun!

For thrill seekers, don’t miss the Kong ride they opened in early 2016 which celebrates the stories and thrills over King Kong. The ride is a bus simulated ride through the jungle, in 3-D, offering bumps and falls and much excitement for riders.

After Kong there are several options for fun, including toon land, and a superhero land. The Spiderman Ride is worth a spin, and my husband loved the Hulk Coaster! If you are a fan of 90s superhero cartoons and classic comic books, make sure you visit this area of the park. Rumors are around that the rights to the area may run out soon. Since Disney now owns all the Marvel characters, there is a good chance they will want to create their own Superhero world and they will need to get rid of the competition.

If you are traveling with little ones, exit Hogsmead by the Hogwarts Express and head along that route for some delightful theming and “islands” that are less intense for little adventurers. The Lost Continent is like a mysterious land of shops, shows, and a touch of Arabian Nights. Past that you will land in Suess Landing which is ultimately a “little kid land”. This area is purely delightful for Dr. Suess fans, and it is full of all your favorite characters, such as the Lorax, and Cat in the Hat. If you are a fan, simply walk through and enjoy a piece of your childhood in real life.

The Lorax in Suess Landing

Both sides will loop you back to the front of the park, which exists onto Universal City Walk.

All around, if you are visiting the parks, visit both of them. If you have more than one day, go twice. You will want to ride certain things twice, buy things you forgot, and overall make sure you have time to take it all in.

For Castles, Head to Scotland

History, Scotland, Travel, United Kingdom
Edinburgh Castle, 2010 trip

While England is well known as a hub for centuries of castles. And while it holds some of the finest examples of castle and manor architectural wonders, it lacks the density of castles that most visitors dream of, at least in modern visibility.

Since the pesky Normans invaded (1066, look it up) castle sprouted all over Britain and some 4,000 were in England at one point. However, time, and age, and people like Oliver Cromwell destroyed many of the finest castles Britain had. Today England has around 1,500 castles that are registered landmarks. Scotland has over 2,000 castle examples.

Scotland (30,090 sq mi), by comparison in land mass and distance to travel, is significantly smaller than England (50,301 sq mi). Scotland also has the benefit of some of the best castle examples being within a remarkably short drive or train from Edinburgh, Scotland. This reason alone is one of the many reasons why I have continued to return to Scotland for a taste of magic, history, and escapism. 

Scotland is a major location to film historical and fictional movies due to its plethora of castles. Movies like Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the Harry Potter Franchise, those which don’t tell particularly Scottish stories, are prime examples of the beauty of the region providing a great backdrop. 

Thus, dear fellow travelers, Scotland is a prime spot for pulling on your wellies and tromping through some highlands to see some great Castles! Here are some of my absolute favorites. 

Edinburgh Castle – You can’t visit Scotland and not stop at one of its main historical attractions. Not only is it the heart of the city, the entirety of it is surrounding by the stunning features of the city’s old town and views of the new town. The museums at the castle complex offer an unparalleled starting point into Scotland’s history. 

Edinburgh Castle, 2015

Stirling Castle – Stirling is a fantastic neighboring city of Edinburgh, and only around an hour away by train or car. The city also boasts its own castle, built over the end of the 15th and into the 17th century, and a shining example of early modern period tastes and designs. I love the layout of this castle as it has dedicated itself to being an example of 16th century life in Scotland. 


Doune Castle, 2010

Doune Castle – Just outside of Stirling is the city of Doune, and one of the better loved castles for movie locations. Doune Castle was originally known as the “Holy Grail Castle” where one could take a photo with coconuts and run around pretending they were horse hooves. In the last five years or so it has become best known for some lusty shots from Outlander. For history geeks, this castle also boasts some great restoration and it is set among some stellar hiking trails and views. 

Playing Monty Python, 2010

Eilean Donan – As the most photographed castle in Scotland this one has to make the list. However, to many peoples’ surprise, this castle was not built long long ago in a land far away. The castle isn’t even 100 years old and was built by some scenery and history loving architects and owners who chose to celebrate the locations heritage. The spot of Eilean Donan was a hot spot for groups until the 1700s when most of the 13th century castle was restored. 

Eilean Donan, 2015

DirletonCastle – Just a short trek from Edinburgh this greatcastle offers a lot of exploration and fun on one small location. If you’re upfor a game of hide and seek, this castle is the perfect one to get lost in andrevel in some history at. 

Tantallon Castle – If you love ocean backdrops then thesea swept cliffs by Tantallonmake a visit worthwhile. Important historically, this castle is one of thefinest examples of medieval design and castle living, providing not onlyamazing views, but rich educational opportunities. 

There are so many more to explore in Scotland, and more I have had theluxury of seeing. Where are your favorites? What do you want to see?

Happy Travels!