I’ve been a Harry Potter fan since the very beginning- as a booklover, as a teacher, and then as a parent, watching my oldest catch Potter mania. So for me, there was a definite highlight in our recent trip with the Family Forward retreat.
Much as I want to jump right to the Harry Potter portion of our trip, the Ravenclaw in me demands I be slightly more logical in order, but I promise I’ll get to it!
Loews Royal Pacific Hotel
We arrived at Loews Royal Pacific Resort in Orlando last Tuesday evening. The staff was super friendly and helpful. They gave us VIP wristbands to wear around the hotel to identify those of us with Family Forward. Our wifi, extra bed(since there was 5 of us), a free movie rental, and unlimited free snow cones were some of the perks given to our group. My boys’ favorite was the snow cones, of course. Also: by staying on Universal Studios property, our Express Passes were included for each of our days in the parks- something I would say is a MUST when visiting Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure(more about that in another post!).
We swam in the pool that night and Wednesday morning and afternoon, until we needed to get ready for the Opening Kickoff for Family Forward. There was a large area where all of my boys were tall enough to stand plus a ship where the kids could squirt each other with water cannons. During the day, there were organized kids’ activities every half hour: art projects and games and free treats. At night, there was a fire lighting ceremony(and a hula dancing contest that my boys joined in) plus a movie poolside. We could have just hung out at the hotel pool at Loews Royal Pacific and my boys would have thought it was a fun vacation. But there was so much more to Family Forward!
Opening Kickoff and Welcome Event
Troy and Jyl Pattee (of Mom It Forward) were our hosts for the welcome activities. Mom It Forward is doing a series on Becoming a Super Hero Family, which includes ebooks, blog posts, activities, tips, printables and more. That series was the inspiration for the activities we’d take part in during the course of the Family Forward retreat. We got to know some of the other families attending and received our Mission Possible cards, which set out different tasks for our families to complete over the course of the retreat. We could turn in our completed cards on Friday for chances to win prizes from the sponsors.
There was some photo booth fun:
And then some characters showed up to take pictures with all of us, too! We made the loop through the Simpsons, Woody Woodpecker, and Popeye. When we were done, my oldest noticed there wasn’t a line to go back to the characters again, so he went and laughed his head off as Lisa and Bart Simpson fought over who would get to take a pic with him again.
Dessert Reception at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Squeee! Seriously, I really made that noise. Multiple times. And keep making it when I recount this part of our trip.
Our group made our way over to Universal’s Islands of Adventure. We waited at the gates while the park was cleared out of the day’s guests. And then our group was guided through the park to the back where the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is located. My boys ran a little bit so we ended up arriving first in Hogsmeade. Hogwarts Express was there and then we entered the town. Because there was no one else there, it seemed like we’d been magically transported to the land of Harry Potter instead of being in an amusement park.
Getting to see Hogwarts was what I was waiting for, so we headed to the back to see the castle first. We were the only family in the castle: we got to walk through, taking it all in. Dumbledore’s office, the talking portraits, the Mirror of Erised, the classrooms, and more. It was so magical. And then we went on the ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. My youngest wasn’t quite tall enough to ride, so we used Universal’s Child Swap program. Hubs went on first with our oldest and then I went on with our middle… and our oldest, who wanted to go on again. It felt like we were zooming through the air with Harry Potter.
Next up was the Flight of the Hippogriff, which was the first roller coaster my youngest has ever been on. He shrieked the entire ride and when we got off, he yelled “I want to do it again!”
We then walked through Hogsmeade, checking out all the window displays in the town. We went to the Three Broomsticks for the dessert party. All sorts of yummy treats but of course what stood out was the Butterbeer! Even though I’m a massive Harry Potter fan, I didn’t know if I’d like Butterbeer. But since the treats were all complimentary at the party, I figured I’d give it a try. We got two glasses of frozen and two of fizzy. The fizzy is good, but the frozen is FANTASTIC! We even got some more when we went back another day.
Even though the kids weren’t tall enough to go on, next we tried the Dragon Challenge coaster because Hubs and I LOVE roller coasters. I went first while Hubs waited with the boys- and lots of the wizard and witch attendants, who were so friendly to our kids(one of them called me over to tell me she thought I had the most beautiful boys she’d ever seen- that witch is my favorite). Then it was Hubs’ turn. After he got back, one of the witches told us we had to try the other side since it was a totally different experience. She also volunteered to watch our boys so we could ride together. Both of the coasters were thrilling- though maybe we should have had our butterbeer AFTER the coasters instead of before.
We headed to Ollivander’s to participate in the wand choosing ceremony. My friend Nicole’s girl was selected to find a wand and it was so sweet to watch her smile when the right wand chose her. Even if my oldest was dying a little that it wasn’t him that was chosen. In the wand shop, he found a witch to help him find the Elder wand because he wanted the most powerful wand. He asked her how much it cost and when she told him, he said “What??? For just a wand???” (for the record, Dumbledore’s wand is about $30) He’s so my kid. But he’s our gigantic HP fan and I knew ahead of time how much they cost, so we had that budgeted in.
Wand in hand, we headed to Honeydukes and Zonko’s Joke Shop to see all the candy and tricks.
My boys wanted chocolate frogs and Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans. But, I’d won these(and a wand and some other Universal Studios goodies) at BlogHer last month and had those saved for this trip. And then my middle son decided he wanted a wand as well. Hubs told our oldest to wave the Elder Wand and do a spell that would make a wand, a chocolate frog, and every flavor beans appear in our room.
With that, we grabbed Pumpkin Juice on our way out- so yum! Though if you are only going to get one drink in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, I prefer the Butterbeer.
We made our way back to our hotel where we found the magic had worked even better than we’d hoped. There were TWO wands waiting (the one I’d won last month and one in a goody bag from Universal)- which meant all three of my boys had a wand. Plus the goodies I’d previously won AND more surprises from Universal Studios.
It was such a magical night: getting to experience the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in this way was absolutely incredible and an experience my family won’t ever forget.
And that was just the start of Family Forward.
Note: Wonderful sponsors Universal Studios, Mom It Forward, Loews Royal Pacific, Southwest Airlines, Cricut, Duck Tape, and National Geographic Kids made this event possible. However, I paid for my family’s pass to attend and was not required to post about the retreat. But squeeee! How could I not tell you about it?