This is the last post in my USA travel diary, covering our last 2 days in Manhattan before we flew home. 😦
I had been itching to watch a Broadway musical, but was unwilling to fork out USD$200+ per ticket just to watch a show, so I dragged my parents to Times Square’s TKTS booth, a kiosk that sells musical tickets at discounted prices (generally 40-60% off), just to check if any matinee tickets were on sale. There was a matinee for Phantom of the Opera that I had hoped to get tickets for, but the booth only sells the most expensive tickets at a discount, and the cheap ones are only sold at full price, so I decided against watching it.
I went into the Hershey’s store to drown my sorrows in chocolate, and was given a kit-kat just for entering the store; I love cheap thrills. I ended up buying some smores+chocolate chips for my baking snacking needs, and then we were off to Union Square for some thrift shopping!
When we exited the subway station, my first thought was: ‘I’m finally warm!’ It was a pleasantly sunny day at Union Square Park, and some trees had just started flowering, so New Yorkers were out in full force, just basking in the sun.
The park was mostly filled with buskers, artists and college students (since NYU is nearby). There were students sketching the park, scattered street artists, and a mime who would block pedestrians and harass them with his miming.
So many things make the Wizarding World of Harry Potter one of the most immersive and impressive attractions of all time; from the beautiful attention to details, larger than life reconstruction of buildings from the movie, to the cast members in character.
The first indication that we were nearing the hidden entrance of Diagon Alley was the famous triple-decker Knight Bus. I was terribly excited to take a picture with the bus conductor and the talking shrunken head. He quipped that I was dressed to the ‘nines…and three quarters’, and the shrunken head (its name is Talking Dre) laughed at his joke.
Through the brick wall behind The Leaky Cauldron we went, aaand we landed in Diagon Alley. It was quite an experience seeing it for the first time… There were so many interactive elements hidden all around the place, and it was nothing short of magical to be able to explore the streets and shops that I grew up imagining in my head.
If there’s any theme park experience to put on your bucket list, this should be #1 for any Potterhead; pictures hardly do the place justice, but I’ve included a ton of them in the rest of this post to hopefully give you a glimpse into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
If you’re looking for my post on the rest of Universal Studios Florida & the Islands of Adventure, you can find it here (Part 7)!
I was insanely excited for our day at Universal Studios, mainly because I’m a massive Potterhead (Harry Potter fan) and had been looking forward to visiting the Wizarding World for the past 7 years. :’)
We woke up early to have a quick breakfast before catching our hotel’s complimentary 7.45am shuttle to the park. Meanwhile, I was getting weird stares from other parkgoers as I was wearing a Hogwarts school uniform that I had cobbled together from pieces in my wardrobe.
After a short 5-minute ride, we were dropped off at the shuttle drop-off point and all visitors had to undergo a security check before being allowed to enter Universal CityWalk, the dining and entertainment area outside both parks.
While walking to the will call booth at Universal Studios Florida’s entrance to collect our physical tickets (which we had purchased via bestoforlando.com), we admired CityWalk’s larger than life buildings, including the Toothsome Chocolate Emporium (a fancy restaurant) and the Hard Rock Cafe.
After collecting our 1 day park-hopper tickets, we started at Universal Studios Florida since the other park, Islands of Adventure, was mainly thrill rides (and I’m not a thrill ride person).
If you’re looking for my post on the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, you can find it here (Part 8)!
We spent our first and last weekend in Orlando shopping, since it’s never a good idea to go to theme parks on weekends. In this post, I’ll be sharing the best shopping spots in Orlando, and where to find the best deals!
After checking out of our Disney Springs hotel at 10am, the Wyndham Garden Lake Buena Vista, we took a Lyft (for non-Americans, it’s a rideshare service like Uber) to the Vineland Premium Outlets, which were just a 5-minute ride away. We had a first-time user promo code, which saved us some money, especially since you have to tip your driver okay you don’t have to, but it’s nice to.
We were lugging our suitcases along, since there was no left luggage service or stoarge lockers at this premium outlet. We ‘parked’ our suitcases with my dad outside the Disney store, and spent over an hour going gaga over the amazing discounts in the store.
All the merchandise were unsold stock from Disney World as well as Shanghai Disneyland, either the less popular products or merchandise that was too expensive at the original price. Everything in the store was being sold at heavily discounted prices, so I ended up buying a lot of clothing and accessories from the store. I had bought a spirit jersey from Disney World at $39.99 in the children’s size cos it was $10 cheaper than the adult size and was still large for me. Oh how I regret that purchase; I could’ve easily bought 3 or 4 sweaters here for the same price, though the range of designs in the outlet store is more limited (aka uglier) and the sizes are mostly odd.
We ha lunch at the food court, before continuing our exploration of the other outlet stores. I bought a Tommy Hilfiger padded down jacket so I wouldn’t freeze in New York; the price had been slashed from over USD$200 to just $80, a steal for a branded winter jacket. The store owner of Wilsons Leather (a store selling winter and leather goods from various brands) was really kind and gave me an additional 15% off, so the price dropped even further!
We didn’t buy anything from the other brand name stores as they were still rather expensive + we didn’t really need anything, so it was mainly window shopping. We then hopped on the iTrolley, an adorable green tram that makes stops along International Drive, which is where most of Orlando’s tourist attractions and hotels are located. We had bought a 3-day ‘unlimited rides’ pass online for $7 each to save money (since each ride costs $2 regardless of distance).
We checked in at our hotel, the Best Western Plus Universal Inn, a highly-rated inn conveniently located along the iTrolley line. It cost us around USD$120/night for a triple room – the bathroom was huge – with free (delicious) breakfast & great wifi. We chose the hotel since it’s a 5-minute drive to Universal Studios.
After washing up, we took the iTrolley for 3 stops to get to the International Premium Outlets, where I had Subway for dinner before we went to conquer the hundreds of shops in the sprawling outlet mall.
The outlets sold branded items at a significant discount (30-60% of the original price), and most stores had extra promotions ongoing to increase your savings. I didn’t buy anything much except a wallet from Coach, since their discounts were so irresistible (25% off on top of a 60% off discount?!?).
It’s possible to finish both premium outlets in one day, but they’re located on the opposite ends of the iTrolley line, with the Vineland Premium Outlets located near the Disney resort area, and the International Premium Outlets an hour’s tram ride away, near Universal Studios.
The sheer spaciousness of everything in Orlando really blew me away, and it’s such a far cry from the cramped city life I grew up in; I would love to move here for a few years at some point in my life just to soak up the relaxed pace of life and relish in the absence of glassy skyscrapers.
Day 2 of shopping
We woke up bright and not-so-early, had a scrumptious breakfast of sausages, scrambled eggs and DIY pancakes, then took a Lyft (rideshare) to The Mall at Millenia to begin our 2nd day of shopping.
The mall had 2 large department stores: Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s, which were just overpriced and outdated, so we nipped in and out of them fairly quickly. H&M, Forever 21, Urban Outfitters, Sephora and Anthropologie were some of the more popular stores in the mall, but it was quite empty despite it being a Sunday. We left the mall empty handed and took a Lyft to The Florida Mall.
I’d recommend skipping The Mall at Millennia, since The Florida Mall is far larger and has more affordable and fun brands/stores. Plus it has a Shake Shack and Hot Topic, which were the highlights of the mall for me.
We had a light lunch at Shake Shack, where I ordered a Shroom Burger, which was utterly delicious and juicy. I’m not vegetarian, but I would absolutely eat that burger everyday if Singapore had a Shake Shack. The recent rumour that Singapore’s Changi Airport was going to open an outlet left everyone scrambling with excitement, but alas – it was a lie…
After doing some window shopping, I dragged my parents into the store I had been longing to visit ever since I became a comic book nerd all those years ago: Hot Topic. It was overwhelmingly exciting to set foot in the store, which is the mecca of pop culture. Whatever fandom you’re in, you’re bound to find something in this store. I spent 1.5 hours browsing through everything and deciding what to buy, and my haul was around $100. I managed to get four tees (Stranger Things, The Defenders & two Infinity War tees), a Riverdale makeup pouch, a few unique earrings that were on sale and some Harry Potter merchandise (two bracelets and a time turner keychain). Not bad for $100 right? It helped that a lot of items were ‘buy 2 get the 3rd free’, so I felt less guilty about spending all that money.
ThinkGeek was another stop we made along the way, but I just fangirled at the merchandise here and left empty handed since it was rather expensive, and the items I liked were too bulky to bring back to Singapore.
The mall was huge. Like ‘I’vewalkedalmost10minutesandnotreachedtheotherend’ kind of huge. There was a massive sporting goods store at one end, which stocked a huge variety of hunting rifles.
After having dinner at the mall’s food court, we took a rideshare to the International Premium Outlets to do a second round of shopping, before calling it a night.
In the next two posts, I’ll be covering my day spent at Universal Studios and the Islands of Adventure. To get notified when I post new stuff, be sure to like my FB page or subscribe to my RSS feed. 🙂
Oh wow we’re nearly at the end of my Disney World series; writing about my trip has only made me miss America even more, and I can’t wait for the day I get to return there. :’)
On our last day at Disney, we visited Hollywood Studios, the smallest of the 4 parks. Apart from 2 thrill rides (Tower of Terror and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster), most of the attractions in this park are shows, which was a welcome change from running from ride to ride, since our legs were exhausted from 4 days of long-distance walking.
Hollywood Studios is currently undergoing a revamp, with Toy Story Land coming in Summer 2018 and Star Wars Land in 2019, so it was relatively quiet when we went, since it’s not as worthwhile to visit as the other parks.
The gates opened early, so we explored the entrance area (Hollywood Boulevard) and gift shops for a while before they opened the attractions at 9am. The theming of Hollywood Studios really makes you feel like you’ve time-travelled back to LA in the 60’s, with pastel shades on buildings and very retro architecture.
Animal Kingdom is everything you could possibly want in a zoo and a theme park, and somehow, Disney’s Imagineers have managed to make it a stellar mix of both. With their latest addition, Pandora – The World of Avatar, it has become one of the most exciting and fresh parks to pay a visit to.
We covered over 16km in this park (in one day) because the attractions are insanely far apart. If you have young children, please bring a stroller so your child’s legs don’t malfunction after about 1 hour of walking.
We were there on a Wednesday, and I arrived at the park rather bus-sick because the bus ride had been terribly cramped and stuffy (a little girl threw up during the ride).
The gates opened slightly before 9am, and we made a beeline for The World of Avatar, since the FastPasses+ for both of the rides had been unavailable up to a week in advance. Apparently everyone was also headed there, so we made our way through the crowd and rushed to the Na’vi River Journey.
The temperature that morning was perfect – the right amount of sunny and chilly – for us to run through the park as it opened, as we made a beeline for the most popular ride: Frozen Ever After (FastPasses+ had run out a week in advance). Epcot’s attractions are a lot more spaced out than in Magic Kingdom, so we brisk-walked for a good 5 minutes before finally reaching the ride, located in the Norway pavilion.
The queue was less than 5-minutes long when we arrived, comprising mainly parents with toddlers who were decked out in Frozen costumes or wearing the same Mickey ears as me.
In today’s post, I’ll be writing about the 2 wonderful days I spent in Magic Kingdom, arguably my favourite of the 4 parks (with EPCOT coming a close second)!! We spent 2 out of 5 days at Magic Kingdom since it’s the park with the most rides and shopping, plus it holds a lot of sentimental value for me: it’s been almost 9 years since my last trip to Disneyworld, and even back then as a 12 year old, Magic Kingdom was my favourite.
We were still really jetlagged and our body clocks were running on Singapore time, so we woke up at 4am and watched TV until it was time to head to our hotel lobby’s shuttle pickup point. We hopped on the first bus (at 8am), and it dropped us off at the monorail station after a 15-minute bus ride. Thankfully, the monorail queue was fairly short and we made it to the park entrance before opening time.
It was a bright, sunny but unexpectedly chilly Monday morning, and I was shivering despite wearing a jacket. Thankfully it was the only day in Florida with such chilly 13-degree weather; the weather on the rest of the days was pretty hot.
With Disney’s new FastPass+ system on the Disney Parks app, we were able to book FastPasses (for 3 rides) before even reaching the park (up to 30 days in advance!), which means we could skip the queues right away! After using up your first 3 FP+, you can keep booking FP+ via the app for the rest of the day, which means you can keep getting new FP+ immediately after you finish using the previous FP+. There’s really good wifi coverage in the park to make surfing and using their app a breeze.
To make the most of your FastPass+ (FP+), these are the rides I would recommend getting FP+ for:
As a self-confessed shopaholic, Disney Springs is/was definitely the second happiest place on earth for me, right after the theme parks themselves. Disney Springs is pretty much a shopaholic’s paradise, with over 100 stores including brands like Kate Spade, Anthropologie, Sephora and Uniqlo, not to mention the insane number of dining options for any budget (of course their ‘cheap’ food was still kinda expensive…).
We visited the place on 3 out of the 6 days that we stayed at our hotel, since it was just a 5-minute walk away – we chose our hotel precisely for that reason – and there were also direct shuttles from the theme parks to Disney Springs, making it even more convenient for us to head there after a full day spent at the parks.