Arizona | June Desert Vacation

I never skip out on the chance to spend some time out West. In June, Brad and I were Arizona-bound. I’d been there a couple of times for work, and it was Brad’s first time. We stopped to check out the Hoover Dam before making our way out to the Grand Canyon.

The Grand Canyon was spectacular. It was one of those things that even standing there looking at it, it was difficult to fathom what it was and looked like. It almost looked like a painting – my eyes could hardly made out the depth and scale of the canyon. Although we didn’t get to spend a ton of time there, we did walk the South Rim quite a bit. Had we spent more time there, I imagine we would have hiked down into the Grand Canyon, since it’s a multi-day hike.

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Universal Studios | Harry Potter

I’m super pumped about this upcoming week. After spending this week traveling for work, and with all-day off-site meetings next Mon-Wed, I’m looking forward to having Thurs / Fri off for a fun trip to… Universal Studios. Brad, my parents and I are headed to Orlando for a 3-day excursion to one of my favorite places.

I’m particularly excited about this trip since it’s been over a year since we’ve been to the new section of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. While I’ve visited the Hogsmeade section during about 4 trips now, my mum and I have only visited Diagon Alley once, and that was opening week when it was incredibly busy.

So to get me (and the other 3) pumped about the trip, here’s a list of the 10 things that I’m most excited about.

10) Leaky Cauldron Lunchtime
If only this place was a real place right around the corner from home. Stepping foot in this restaurant was really cool. I loved the Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade when we first ate there, and we got just the same feeling when we got to step into our second official Wizarding World dining establishment. This pub feels just like the entrance to Diagon Alley. And I’m going to try the Shepherd’s Pie this trip.

9) Butterbeer Ice Cream
This trip was a nice surprise on our first visit, but not one forgotten. I loved the ice cream shop, Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour… Can’t wait to get my hands on another scoop of the Butterbeer Ice Cream (especially as a mid-afternoon snack).

10) Seeing Hogwarts Again!
What’s a trip to the Wizarding World without a pass through Hogwarts? No matter how many times we go, the Hogwarts castle never ceases to make me get goosebumps. The attention to detail is absolutely amazing. I would never want to actually use a fast pass for this one – half the fun is walking through the castle. But the ride is definitely one of the best rides I’ve ever ridden. I love the combination of animatronics and 3-D.

7) Visiting Platform 9 3/4
I’m really looking forward to actually doing the “full experience” the right way now that both parks are open. Since we went to Diagon Alley on opening week and there was the limited ticketing / timed entrances to the park, we didn’t enter the parks right way, like in the story. Now my goal is to visit Diagon Alley, and then after that’s done, hop on the Platform and take the train to Hogsmeade / Hogwarts.

They did a really great job with King’s Cross – it’s nice that it offers another way to get between the parks, without having to walk back to the front. I imagine their park-to-park ticket sales have gone up tremendously because of this. The part where you cross through Platform 9 3/4 is really cool – if you stand back and have someone else walk ahead, it actually looks like they disappear and walk through the wall. My mum and I only noticed it about the 3rd time we went through. You are divided into small compartments with up to 6 people, and the on board experience is different each way. Plus it’s nice to take the 10 minute break in an air-conditioned setting out of the heat.

6) Drinking a Pumpkin Juice
For some unknown reason, I got a hankering for the pumpkin juice leading up to this trip. This juice essentially takes like a cider (like apple cider, except pumpkins…). When I first tried it, I didn’t think I would like it, but it was surprisingly refreshing and not too sweet. Now I always make a point to get one every time. Plus the bottle is really cool.

5) The Wizard Photoshoot
This was such a cool idea. I really enjoyed when my mom and I did it, but I can’t wait to get my dad and Brad in on it too. You basically put on a costume and go in a room with a green screen; the wizard director tells you to do certain actions. They take the film and then combine it with the pre-set scenes, and you get a DVD. It looks like the moving photos in the wizarding world. It was such a fun and goofy experience.

4) Interactive Wand Experience
My mum and I joined in the fun of using the interactive wands through the two parks. We thought it was such a fun (and smart) idea to encourage visitors to actually purchase the wands, and use them. This time, we get to bring our wands with us! Maybe we can get Brad and Dad to buy one too….. Kidding.

3) A Mug of Ole’ Butterbeer
Of course, this is a no brainer. If you’ve visited the park, and haven’t tried it, then shame on you. And this one, especially being the closest to the real thing, is absolutely delicious. I swear you gain about 10 lbs just from the butterbeer. Can’t wait to get my hands on a new souvenir mug filled with this frothy deliciousness.

2) Exploring Diagon Alley
While we got to explore Diagon Alley a bit when we last came, it was so busy, that it was difficult to really enjoy it. We had to get a ticket to even enter the section because they were streamlining the traffic, which was a great idea at the time, but it limited the amount of time we actually had at the park. This time, I hope it’s a little less busy so we can really take in all of the details.

Diagon Alley was more of a visual and interactive park, versus Hogsmeade which had a bit more “rides”. There is a lot to explore at Diagon Alley. And sticking to the true nature of Diagon Alley, you cannot actually see it until you pass through the streets of London through the brick opening. Plus I can’t wait to check out Knockturn Alley again – super creepy, but super cool.

1) Taking a trip to Gringotts
Because this was the “new ride” and it was in it’s first week of being open to the public, it kept going down plus the lines were super busy. We only got to ride it once, after waiting 3 hours, and we were super lucky. Only one more group got to go behind us. Had we been 15 people back, we would have waited 3 hours for nothing. After 2 years, my guess is that the ride is fully functional and quicker wait times now that the opening hype is down. It was such a cool experience, I can’t wait to actually ride it multiple times. This one, like the Hogwarts experience, has a mix of 3-D and animatronics, and a really intricate and realistic entry experience. Plus the Ukrainian Ironbelly dragon breathes fire every so often (as seen in my action shot of the fire).

Universal Orlando | Diagon Alley

I’m super pumped about this upcoming week. After spending this week traveling for work, and with all-day off-site meetings next Mon-Wed, I’m looking forward to having Thurs / Fri off for a fun trip to… Universal Studios. Brad, my parents and I are headed to Orlando for a 3-day excursion to one of my favorite places.

I’m particularly excited about this trip since it’s been over a year since we’ve been to the new section of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. While I’ve visited the Hogsmeade section during about 4 trips now, my mum and I have only visited Diagon Alley once, and that was opening week when it was incredibly busy.

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Bucket List | Around the Globe

With the new year creeping up, I get in this mood to start thinking of all the things I want to do! At this point in my life, and with the wedding over, traveling takes up the biggest portion of my ambitions. Going places, seeing new things, experiencing out-of-the-ordinary activities. It’s a time-consuming and expensive wish, but one that with the right planning and proactive saving, is possible.

Here are the top 5 places I hope to visit soon (or at least in my lifetime):

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Oregon | Honeymoon Vacation

As of June 6, 2015, I have officially become Mrs. Christine Shaver Quarté. Having been an “official wife” for a little over 3 weeks, I can say that nothing has changed!

Immediately following the wedding, we hopped on our Delta flight, headed northwest, to explore the beautiful state of Oregon. It was an adventurous 2-week trip – we got to see many different environments including gorgeous waterfalls, national parks, rivers, the Pacific Ocean, the city of Portland, Crater Lake, Mount Hood, historic volcano caves, Redwood Forests, and the countryside – playing the part of outdoors adventurer and Portland local, which was really fun.

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