Two Harry Potter Themed Park that No Fan Will Want to Miss

Harry Potter fans, rejoice! You can now experience the wonderful world of Harry Potter yourself at Universal’s Islands of Adventure theme park. This exciting theme park has everything you need to immerse yourself in the full Harry Potter experience. Get your blood pumping on high-speed roller coaster thrill rides. Enjoy Harry Potter’s favorite mouthwateringly delicious foods. Get all of the wizardry supplies you need at the specialized theme shops. Universal Studios has it all.

Hogsmeade Thrill RidesIt wouldn’t be a true Harry Potter experience without a bit of thrill and adventure, and the rides in Hogsmeade provide just the thrill and adventure you need. With the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride, you will wind through the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry before soaring above the castle grounds. With the Flight of the Hippogriff ride, you will spiral around the pumpkin patch and swoop past Hagrid’s hut, watching out for Hippogriffs along the way.

Hogsmeade Attractions

Take a break from the thrilling roller coaster rides, and enjoy an entertaining show. Watch students from Hogwarts, Durmstrang and Beauxbatons compete in a Triwizard Tournament, or enjoy a presentation of wizarding songs from a small choir of Hogwarts students, complete with croaking frogs!

Hogsmeade Foods

All of the excitement is sure to make you hungry and thirsty, and what better way to satisfy your cravings than with Harry Potter themed food? Stop on in to the Three Broomsticks Tavern for delicious fare including fish and chips, shepherd’s pie, strawberry peanut butter ice cream and Butterbeer, or visit Honeydukes sweet shop for interesting and delicious treats including chocolate frogs, sugar quills, fizzing wizzbees and peppermint toads.

Hogsmeade Harry Potter Gear

Don’t let the magic end when it’s time to leave the park. Take some of Harry Potter’s magic home with you! Hogsmeade has a variety of shops where you can find anything you need to complete your wizarding adventure. Find gear and equipment including omnioculars, Quidditch equipment and The Monster Book of Monsters. Purchase Harry Potter apparel, such as t-shirts, banners and hats. Find toys, including movie prop replicas, chess sets and magical creature toys. You will feel like it is your birthday and Christmas all rolled into one when you step foot in one of Hogmeade’s full and enchanting shops.

Opening Soon: Diagon Alley

As if Hogsmeade wasn’t exciting enough, Universal Studios has something new and exciting in store for Harry Potter fans everywhere–an expansion called Diagon Alley, which is scheduled to open in the summer of 2014. Diagon Alley contains even more exciting rides, attractions, shops and dining establishments for Harry Potter fans who just cannot get enough.

Take your love of all things wizarding to the next level with exciting thrill rides such as the Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts ride. Find a new wand at Ollivanders magic wand shop or choose from the latest in wizarding fashions available only at Madam Malkin’s Robes for all Occasions. When you are ready to rest and refuel, enjoy the magically amazing food available at the Leaky Cauldron or treat yourself to something sweet from Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour.

For true Harry Potter fans, Diagon’s Alley is a must-visit. If you have always wondered what it would be like to experience the magical world of Harry Potter, or if you love wizarding entertainment and thrills, you have to visit this amazing, magical park. Don’t wait until the magic is over. Purchase your tickets for Diagon Alley Universal Studios today!

Teeth, Feathers and Sea Cows: A Look at the Fascinating Wildlife on Sanibel Island

According to USA Today, Sanibel Island is one of the best Florida beach towns for escaping the winter cold. A serenity- and peace-seeking tourist’s dream, Sanibel is home to beautiful white beaches that lead gently into warm Gulf water. The entire island is easily accessible by bike and foot — there isn’t a single traffic light — which makes it a perfect place to appreciate its wild creatures in between regular bouts of shell collecting and beach reading.

Whether you hope to take advantage of one of Sanibel Island’s fabulous resorts or are just out on a day trip, Sanibel Island’s wild things are worth a quiet walk and a silenced phone. From alligators to manatees, you won’t want to miss a thing.

Pelicans

Pelicans are large diving birds that feed on fish and other marine life. They are friendly birds, living in flocks of both sexes all year long. Incredibly buoyant, their skin and bones have internal air sacks. When looking for food, pelicans might fly a few feet above the water until they spy a school of fish, at which point, they dive into the water — often at very high speeds — becoming completely submerged as they consume their prey. Some pelicans have a more inactive feeding style and simply scoop up fish while they swim. When they live around people, they may also resort to foraging behaviors.

Pelicans are known for their unique mouths. The lower half of a pelican’s bill is really just a frame around a pouch that can expand to fit in more fish. Believe it or not, a pelican’s bill can hold up to three times more than its stomach can. When a pelican catches more fish than it can eat, it stores the excess in its esophagus.

Anhingas

Also called the Snakebird, the Anhinga is a large water bird that often swims with only its neck poking out of the water so that it looks like a water snake. A darter, it hunts by spearing fish and other prey with its thin, sharp beak. It is not able to waterproof its feathers, which means its feathers can become so waterlogged that the bird is barely able to stay afloat. This feature makes it especially well-suited to diving and seeking underwater prey, and it is able to stay submerged for long periods of time and travel great underwater distances.

Marsh Rabbit

The marsh rabbit is a small, short-eared and short-legged cottontail rabbit that lives in the coastal and southern United States. It’s a strong swimmer and is found only in regions that are close to water. Catching a glimpse of one of these little guys while they’re swimming is a special treat.

Alligators

Alligators live on Sanibel, and they do get out and about. To avoid them, stay away from grassy areas close to water. Of course, if you want to spy an alligator, that’s right where you should go — but be careful, alligators can reach 11 feet in length, and they are predatory animals. Never approach an alligator or feed it. If you happen to spot one in a residential area, report it to the city.

Manatees

The manatee is a large, solitary plant-eating mammal that is fully aquatic and can reach up to 13 feet and 1,300 pounds. Also known as the sea cow, the manatee’s closest living relatives are elephants and hyraxes, making their sea-loving ways seem all the more strange. They sleep half of each day in the water and come up to the surface for air in 20-minute intervals. The rest of their time is spent grazing in water around ten feet deep. They are slow-moving and curious, sometimes coming close to inspect human-powered watercraft like kayaks. Other fun oddities about the manatee:

  • Their eyelids close in a circular motion.
  • Their teeth are continually replaced their entire lives, with new teeth growing in the back of their mouths and moving to the front as older teeth fall out — the kangaroo and elephant are the only other mammals whose teeth do this.
  • Their intestines measure around 45 feet, which is incredibly long for an animal their size.

Sanibel Island has much to offer the wildlife-loving visitor. Rent a bike or hoof it by foot; however you choose to get about, keep your eyes peeled for predators, snakebirds and swimming rabbits, because this Florida vacationland is full of them.

Image by D. Gordon E. Robertson from Wikimedia Commons

 About the Author: Jeremy Birks is a retired zoologist and avid birdwatcher who calls Southern Florida home.

Top 5 Family Vacation Spots in the US

Planning a vacation for the entire family is a difficult process as one needs to worry about the suitability of the location for every member. Fortunately, there are new breed of family friendly resorts and vacation spots that provide numerous options for all age-groups.

If you are thinking of an exquisite vacation in the mainland US (hence pre-empting Hawaii, Bahamas, Mexico etc), the following are the top family vacation spots that could provide you all the excitement and fun.

Top Family Vacation Spots

(Not in any particular order)

1. Kingsmill Resort, Williamsburg, Virginia
Kingsmill Resorts is amidst wilderness of more than 3000 acres of land and it has a huge list of recreational activities. Multiple golf courses, numerous tennis courts, indoor and outdoor pools, billiards, game rooms, fitness centers with personal trainers are some of the activities that you can think of.

For your kids, there’s a Kids camp that introduces them to all types of sporting activities, fishing, arts, crafts etc. And for the fun-loving kids, there is a Kids Night Out where they can enjoy their pizza and game party while parents can indulge in their own romantic world or enjoy dinner at one of those great restaurants in this property.

Check out the Kingsmill Resorts website for more details and reservations.

2. Tanque Verde Ranch, Tuscon, Arizona
The 640 acre Tanque Verde Ranch in Arizona is a place that wannabe cowboys will relish. Tanque Verde means “Green Pool” and that’s what it’s all about. It’s ultimate greenery amidst desert and it’s very near to the Saguaro National Park. The ranch offers great cowboy riding opportunities as they host 100+ horses there. You can opt for one of the many horse rides based on the time and duration. And of course, newbies get to learn riding lessons as well.

For nature lovers there are hikes through the deserts and canyons. One can watch a variety of cacti and even mini waterfalls. As for kids there’s this popular Buckaroos & Wrangler team programs. Just like other resorts they offer riding, swimming, tennis lessons as well as arts and crafts to kids.
Visit their website for further details.

3. Snowbird Ski & Summer Resort, Utah
If you are into skiing there is no better place than this beautiful resort. By the way, this place is not just for winter but good for a fall get away or even during summer.

This resort is in the Little Cottonwood Canyon and very near to the Great Salt Lake. It boasts 5000 plus acres of mountain terrains to explore. Guests can make use of the lift cars for the uphill ride. Skiing and snowboarding fun is offered for all age groups from 3 year olds to adults and training is available at Snowbird Mountain school. The resort also offers ice skating, snow tubing and snowshoe tours. If your goal is to relax, there is is the Cliff Spa where stone massage, herbal wrap etc are in offer.

Snowbird website

4. Out ‘n’ About Treesort, Takilma, Oregon
Amidst the woods of Oregon lies the Treesort which is one of its kind and very unique. This is a treehouse type of resort that offers fourteen treehouses and each of this can accommodate up to eight people.

Climbing up to your room is quite an adventure that takes ladders and a 90-foot suspension bridge. However, once you are there it’s an exciting place with kids and parents units separated by swing access mechanisms and firepoles for ground level access. The units are very well appointed and offers all the luxury that you can think of.

The Treehouse Institute teaches various treehouse building techniques for guests. Also in offer are horse riding, rafting, ropes courses, pools and arts and crafts classes as usual.

5. Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, Orlando, Florida
If your family wants to experience African safari at an affordable price, look no further! Disney’s Animal Kingdom lodge is an exciting 30-acre property which has a entrance lobby with a 65-foot window through which you can have a good view of what’s in offer. The animal kingdom hosts over 100 species of animals and the rooms with traditional African ambience overlook the savannahs. From the room balconies, you can get very close to animals such as giraffes.

The resort features a lot of antiques and wood carvings of the African origin. The dining experience in their restaurants is awesome as well.

Learn more about the Disney’s Animal Kingdom lodge here.

If you have any more suggestions on great family vacation spots within the US, do let us know via your comments added below.

Family Vacations: Plan them as Part of Your Annual Budget

Family Vacations are not something to be decided in an ad hoc manner when you suddenly get some free time or kids school break are around the corner. In fact, holiday expenses are to be planned well in advance as part of your annual home budget and more expensive holidays may have to be planned years in advance (e.g. A cruise holiday, Month long European trip etc)

Tips for Family Vacation Budget

The following are some useful tips for planning your family vacations from the budgeting point of view.

  • Sit together with your spouse (and parents if applicable) and finalize how often do you want to take vacations in an year and what type of breaks are they. (e.g. a week long domestic vacation with family per year, two theme park visits, two picnics etc)
  • If you are planning to have an international holiday every few years, keep apart an additional amount as part of your annual budget every year, in a special account if possible
  • If you plan to have luxury trips such as an expensive cruise vacation, then you need to not only plan a few years in advance for the budget part but also reserve your slots
  • Since the vacation and hotel expenses are shooting up every year, you may want to take into consideration the inflation parameters
  • There are several vacation companies that offer a number of years (for example one family vacation per year for next 5 years) of vacations for a fixed advance amount paid. You may want to consider such offers if you can pay that onetime lump sum
  • Consider the family additions (kids) and future age group aspects while planning for long term expensive vacations

That is pretty much about the budgeting part. More on vacation planning and how to get the best vacation deals etc will be covered in other articles on this website.

Family vacations are joyful experience that nobody should ever miss. You need not go for the most expensive or exotic place every time you set out for a trip. However, an annual holiday is absolute must for every family to take break from routine life and stressful work environment that we live in today.

Have fun!

Romantic Picnic Ideas for Couples

When you hunt for picnic ideas for couples – especially for a romantic time together – you have to keep a few things in mind. Picnic is much more than good picnic food when it comes to couple’s picnic.

The following are some of the things that you have to keep in mind when planning for a picnic with your loved one or partner.

Purpose of the picnic

Picnic is much more than spending time together. A lot of couples make life changing decisions over a picnic. You have to first decide on the occasion (e.g. Valentines day, Her/His Birthday, Anniversary) and what to achieve at the end of the day – it could be probably a good time to propose to her, some time together to sort things out, talking about planning kids and even preparing for that.

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Time and location chosen

If you are looking at a family picnic a lot of people may set off early in the morning to be back before the sun is at its peak. However, when it comes to a romantic picnic for couples, something like a early to mid-evening is probably the best time.

When it comes to the locations, you have to go for a place that doesn’t tire you out. Having chosen the evening time, if you get to go for a picnic near water bodies – where streams or waterfalls are present – would be just out of this world. Picnics are even more exciting when you get to hear the nature’s sounds like chirping of birds and sights such as the beautiful sky or setting sun.

Regardless of the place, make sure that you give utmost priority to the safety of the place chosen and be prepared to hurry back in case of any bad weather, unexpected people, animal threat etc.

Surprises

Picnic can be more romantic and exciting with a few surprised packed in. It could be as simple as her favorite dessert, a bunch or roses, a few candles or something to cherish for life such as proposal ring or even the keys to a new home. More than the dollar value of the gift, the surprise factor is what matters.

Packing some surprises is the key success ingredient of a romantic picnic

Some of the other surprises could be singing a song for her or playing a musical instrument for her that she never knew you were good at.

Picnic Food Ideas for Couples

Wine is probably one of those indispensable things that makes a perfect romantic evening picnic. When you chose food for picnic, cook those things that are delicate and less troublesome for your stomach. Something sensual and delicious add value to the occasion and obviously you have to choose things that don’t get spoiled easily in the picnic basket.

If you are not a good cook, it’s not a bad idea to pack food from a caterer. Also, unlike those whole family picnics, it’s better to avoid cooking and grilling on the picnic spot where you want to spend more time talking to your partner.

How to spend time together?

Do a lot of talking looking into each other’s eyes and listen a lot to your partner as well. Avoid unpleasant topics and things that could end up in arguments. Talking about nature, stars, skies and beauty in general make a picnic more romantic.

Things to avoid include talking over your mobile phones (keep it on mute or shut it off), laptops, playing the radio or even teaming up with friends or other couples that you may accidentally bump into. Sporting activities, puzzles and games are not exactly part of romantic picnics. At the end you have to make sure that you both don’t tire yourself up by overdoing or stretching the picnic.

Needless to say to make the best out of a picnic, the weather and suitable clothes play a major role. Also, the right picnic accessories need to be packed up based on a planning list.

Have a good time together with your partner!


Amazing Picnic Backpack