Muggles Will Finally Get to Ride the Hogwarts Express!

Muggles Will Finally Get to Ride the Hogwarts Express!

I am so excited about the Diagon Alley expansion of  The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando!  And now, the creative folks at Universal Orlando have unveiled the incredible experience that will join the current Hogsmeade and Hogwarts experience with the new Diagon Alley experience: The Hogwarts Express.

Not just an ordinary train ride (of course not, this is the World of Harry Potter!)  The team at Universal Orlando have recreated Kings Cross, platform 9 3/4 and the Hogwarts Express so guests will actually feel immersed in the journey between Diagon Alley and London to Hogsmeade and Hogwarts.

While on the Hogwarts Express riders will look out their window to see familiar Harry Potter characters whizzing by, and immediately be transported into the Harry Potter experience.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It’s a brilliant way to connect the two parks at Universal Orlando and recreate an incredibly important part of the Harry Potter story.

I love that J.K. Rowling was consulted every step of the way, and that every fine detail was painstakingly recreated.  The authenticity is what makes the Wizarding World of Harry Potter already so magical and transformative.

Now I can’t wait to see the reveal of Gringotts Bank!  I’ve got my key ready!

gringotts key

Add Some Hamptonality to Your Holiday – Plus Win a Free Night at Hampton Hotels

exterior When you live in New York City everyone wants to visit you.  With the theater, museums, great restaurants, and all of the fantastic landmarks and sites – and amazing shopping of course – NYC is a fabulous place like no other.  Add in the holiday lights, the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, the Rockettes and all of the magic that makes NYC especially glittery at holiday time, and it’s easy to see why friends and family want to come and stay.  However, there is one other reality about living in NYC, the lack of space.  Stepping over aerobeds and no privacy aren’t exactly the makings of a great visit. I love the idea of putting up family at a reasonably priced hotel instead.  Hampton Hotels has launched a wonderful new Hampton Holiday Program where the central theme is making guests feel taken care of and providing a clean, warm place to call their own.  All of the 1,900 Hampton locations feature:

  • Free, hot breakfast with fresh-baked waffles. (This is ESSENTIAL when traveling with kids!)
  • Free wired or wireless high-speed internet access in all guest rooms, so you can post about your holiday travels while visiting family in other towns.
  • The clean and fresh Hampton bed® – so you can rest up for your big holiday weekends.

GuestRoom_HR[1] I always enjoy staying at the Hampton Inn in Maine when we visit our girls for camp visiting day.  We’ve always been impressed with the service, the breakfast and the clean rooms.  Plus, the free wifi is a must for me!  Now I know all of those little things add up to “Hamptonality.”  Also, I love earning Hilton Honors points! Here in NYC it’s nice to know that even if we can’t squeeze people into our apartment there are ways we can personalize their stay in a hotel.  Hampton has partnered with entertaining expert, Jenny Steffens Hobick, to provide simple tips for making out-of-towners feel at home – especially when they’re staying in a nearby hotel. I love these tips especially:

  • Plan a welcome bag with treats, water, (and my tip in NYC – a metrocard and a list of great NYC apps to download!)
  • Hire a babysitter one night and host the kids at your place so the grown-ups can have a kid-free night out together.
  • Make time for resting.  This is so important especially in NYC!  Set a time where everyone just meets to relax, have a hot drink and snacks and regroup.

Here in NYC the Hampton Inn Times Square North is ideally situated for walking to the theater, Central Park and midtown shopping.  Plus it’s close to every subway imaginable. Everyone could use some time away, whether it’s a quick trip or a longer vacation.  And it’s so nice when everyone has their own space too. So, I’m giving away a one night stay to use at any of the 1,900 US Hampton locations!

How to Enter the Hampton Be My Guest Giveaway:

Follow @beccasara on Twitter and tweet your “Hamptonality” tip.  What’s the thing you do to make your guests feel special?   Be sure to include @beccasara and #HamptonHoliday.  Then leave a comment below with a link to your tweet! You can also follow Hampton throughout the year for great travel ideas and promotions:

One winner will be chosen at random using random.org on December 31st  at 12:00pm Eastern.  Hampton Hotels will mail the winner a “Be My Guest” card, which entitles the bearer to (1) free night stay at a Hampton location.  Winner will be notified via twitter and must respond within 48 hours to claim the prize.  Open to U.S. Residents 18+ only. This is a sponsored post.  Compensation was provided by Hampton Hotel via MomTrends.  The opinions expressed herein are mine and are not indicative of the opinions of Hampton or Momtrends

 

Why Disney is Magical for Tweens

IMG_1378

Last week I spent 4 days at Walt Disney World as a guest of Disney at their Disney Social Media Moms Celebration.  The event is an annual conference of sorts where Disney invites mom and dad bloggers from across the country to learn, get inspired and take part in a truly unique Disney experience.  Our families are invited along too – but they don’t attend the real conference part of the schedule, just the straight up park-filled fun.

This was my first time at the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration, and I have written before about how I grew up with Disney, and how totally dorky I can be about the Walt Disney World experience.  I never out grew it.  But, seeing Disney Parks through my kids’ eyes is a totally different experience.  While everyone talks about the their little ones seeing a princess for the first time, or running up and giving Mickey and Minnie a big hug, I think there is something equally magical that comes over the older kids too.

My daughters are 11.  They are now firmly in the tween space –  that awkwardly wonderful time when they are on the cusp of real emotional and physical change, but still wide-eyed and happy to be with me.  They can be moody, they can be super sweet, they can be ridiculously mature and then do something so bizarrely immature that I wonder how they make it through the day in one piece.  But, something wonderful happens at Disney – they move pretty squarely into that kid space – yet still have the stamina of an older kid.  They regress in the best way, holding on to their childhood with both hands.  Equally happy to see Minnie Mouse now as when they were 4.

 

And they are equally excited to share the whole Disney experience with me as when they were little…

And the regression isn’t only for tweens and teens.  Disney is the only place where your entire family can wear matching shirts, sparkly ears or full-out princess costumes and no one cares.  In fact, it’s encouraged.

I’m glad my daughters got my Disney gene, and now that Star Wars has really, truly been brought into the Disney family, my husband can get on board too.

I’ll be writing more about the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration, but in the meantime I leave you with this picture:

IMG_1376These are Disney cast members that searched high and low to try to retrieve my daughter’s birthday button that had fallen down a grate.  They couldn’t get it out,  they disappeared for about 20 minutes, and showed up with a brand new one – I have no idea from where since we were in a closed off area of Hollywood Studios, but they did.   Now that’s some serious Disney magic.

My Knight in Cardboard Armor – Belle’s Enchanted Tales at Walt Disney World New Fantasyland

knight in shining armor

You’d think after waiting in line for Belle’s Enchanted Tales at the New Fantasyland at Walt Disney World my girls would have been upset that they weren’t picked to be in the story.  But, they were more excited that my husband was.  And he kept that castle safe!

Pregnant Road Trip – Swollen Feet and a Really Good Audiobook…

Interstate 80 - Pennsylvania

Interstate 80 – Pennsylvania (Photo credit: Dougtone)

This is a Maternity Monday post by guest blogger Jess Levey.  This series appears every Monday on Beccarama.

Well, there is one thing I am sure that I will not do again while pregnant – drive 22 hours roundtrip in a car. Last week, my husband and I made the 11 hour journey to Detroit to see my extended family and to celebrate my Grandmother’s 95th birthday. We figured it would be a fun adventure and would help our depleting bank account. I have been traveling to Detroit every year since I was 3 months old, but this was only the second time that I decided to make the trip via the open road rather than the speedy skies. My husband thought it was great fun! I, on the other hand, was a bit uncomfortable to say the least. With the seat belt simultaneously pushing against both my seemingly always full bladder and my sensitive chest as well as my new found nausea, my aching tailbone, and my inability to find a desirable air temperature, I was pretty unhappy. And, then to top it all off, I noticed when we arrived at our hotel that my feet had begun to swell, REALLY swell! And, since that trip they have yet to be normal. Along with the swelling feet is a strange sharp shooting pain whenever I twist and flex my left foot. So, I am taking my doctor dad’s advice and am not twisting and flexing that foot, although it’s hard not to! Why is it that we always want to put ourselves in agony by checking if that annoying pain is still there even though we are pretty damn sure of it’s existence?

So, onto happier things. The one thing that kept me a bit content during this grueling car trip was the fact that I had just finally started to feel the baby move! I basically just sat in the passenger seat waiting and waiting for it to move again. The movements were rare (but are much more frequent this week!) unless I was driving. It seemed that when it was my turn to drive the baby would dance in delight. I take this to mean that baby already knows who the better driver is in our family ☺, or maybe it’s because I am more relaxed as a driver rather than as a passenger (or more relaxed when I am controlling the situation, eek!) When I was the one driving, I also didn’t endure many of my aches and pains, must be a better position for me to sit in or maybe just focusing on driving took me out of my body enough to actually enjoy myself. Only problem is that I am what you might call a carcoleptic, I fall asleep pretty quickly as a passenger, and get , tired as a driver. What kept me awake, aside from the jumping jacks in my womb, was the awesome audio tape that we listened to – Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. WOW!! That book is sensational. I highly recommend it for any long trips, but we would have been better off driving to the Pacific Coast since even after driving for 22 hours, we got home and still had 27 chapters left! We had to sit in our living room over a couple of nights and just listen to this amazing book, so we could find out how it ended.

I have to thank my Aunt M for that recommendation because listening to that piece of amazing fiction made our road trip much more enjoyable and bearable. I am shocked that I am only 5 months along and am already dealing with discomfort. I thought the second trimester was supposed to be the honeymoon period! Yesterday, I was up on a tall ladder pulling books from our ceiling molding (it’s the only place where we can fit my sentimental book collection) so that I could sell many of them at spontaneous stoop sale (sold 50!). I was feeling so proud of myself, and also feeling physically fit and strong. But, by the end of the day, my feet had blown up, I had to cancel plans to go to a friend’s outdoor party in the city, and I passed out on the couch at 7pm. I guess I just can’t do that much anymore, and it’s only going to get harder, especially since tomorrow is my first day back at work which entails standing for long periods of time teaching and/or photographing. We will see how that goes, in the meantime, I am keeping my feet up and enjoying the baby’s reassurance that relaxing is the best position there is.

Dream Cruising in Michigan: Classic Cars Hit the Road

 

This past weekend was the Dream Cruise, an annual drive along Woodward Avenue starting just outside Detroit and heading north.  We drove the route from around 18 mile road (Long Lake Rd) in Bloomfield Hills down to 9 Mile Road, ending in Ferndale with dinner at Local Kitchen and Bar, a new restaurant.

Here’s a glimpse into the cars we saw, parading down Woodward just for the fun of it.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

Maine and Camp Visiting Day (lobster and lots of hugs)

For the second year in a row my daughters headed to Maine for overnight camp for seven weeks.  If you gasped at that number 7 I am guessing you were not a camper- me neither.  But, my husband was a serial camper, starting at 4 weeks when he was 7 and then 8 weeks when he was 8.  And he never looked back.  To him, summer meant, and still means, only one thing – camp.  My daughters put on their bravest smiles and boarded the bus last year bound for Maine, and we held our breath.  Luckily, they inherited the camp gene.

This year, they are veterans.  They knew exactly what they wanted to master – long rope water skiing – and what they needed to pack that wasn’t on the official packing list – school spirit attire, jean shorts, neon socks (that’s a big deal at a uniform camp like theirs.)  But, seven weeks is still seven weeks.  They are only 10, and homesickness is bound to sneak in, especially when it rains for a few days in a row like it did their first week this summer.

So, visiting day is this wonderfully bittersweet break right in the middle.  The girls are settled in and have found their groove.  We’ve adjusted to the quiet, to the empty fridge, to the laundry and dishes that barely need to be done – and gotten spoiled by the unfamiliar absence of needing to find a babysitter in order to go out to dinner, or a movie, or anything!  But, I have to admit, I barely slept the week before visiting day because I was so excited to see them, and anxious to see – were they really having a good time?  Did they make friends?  Do they seem content?  You just never know.  And, I should add here that my daughters’ camp does not share pictures.  For this I am eternally grateful.  There is also no electricity in the bunks, no tech allowed at all at camp, and an adherence to old-fashioned camping skills – canoeing is required, marksmanship and archery are taken very seriously, and it’s all girls.

We don’t own a car, but I was incredibly fortunate to have a car-fairy godmother in the form of the wonderful people at General Motors!  They lent us this outrageously fabulous GMC Terrain for our trip.  My Super was outside hosing down the sidewalk when we were loading the car and now, a week later, he still can’t stop asking me about that Terrain.  First I have to mention that my husband grew up right outside Detroit.  My whole family is from Detroit, and I was born there.  So, we had an extra hefty dose of happiness driving this American Beauty.

I’m a tech girl, not a car girl – though I realize these things are not at all mutually exclusive – and the Terrain did not disappoint.  Pure joy for me was plugging my fully audiobook-loaded iPod into the mp3 outlet and having it show up in the in-dash screen.   Plus it had Pandora and Sirius and bluetooth sync and all sorts of fun tech buttons and menus to play around with on our drive.  The hours to Maine flew by.

Our audiobook for the trip?  Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard.  I will review that in another post, but if you also know nothing about James Garfield, his assassination, the role of Dr. Lister and Alexander Graham Bell, and the origins of pleading insanity as a defense – read it!  This is an unbelievable part of American history.

And so to Maine we went.  We made an unplanned pit stop for lunch near New Haven at Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana, not knowing that it was a famous pizza joint.  Worth the drive alone.  Check out the ginormous brick ovens that must go 30 feet deep.  The pizza was spectacular, but next time I’m getting the clam pizza instead of the tomato.

When we arrived in Maine we headed to…Target.  When a city girl leaves the city it’s really not for salty fresh air and trees, it’s for big, beautiful Target!   Stocked up on supposedly forbidden visiting day candy, toiletries that actually needed replenishing after 4 weeks at camp (only toothpaste by the way – the soap, barely touched), and of course paper towels, toilet paper, laundry detergent and Ziploc bags – because that crap is super expensive in Manhattan!  I felt like one of those crazy coupon ladies, but I had a GMC Terrain with a back the size of my first apartment and you better believe I was filling it with Target priced goods!

You can’t go to Maine and not eat lobster.  We didn’t go to the place we loved last year in Naples, The Lobster Pound.  We were so tired and wiped out we just headed into Portland proper and went to the Portland Lobster Company.   Here’s what I’ll say about that: Meh.  Truly.  I’m a lobster freak.   I spent many, many summers in Cape Cod and Sag Harbor, and dirty lobster eating was one of the things I looked forward to most in the summer.  This place might be good any other time other than visiting day weekend when it is swarmed with crazy NY parents, but it was not worth the one hour wait for our food, or the price, which wasn’t great considering we’re in the midst of the biggest lobster glut ever.  However, the little vibrating lobster that signals when your food is ready.  So cute.

So, one point for that.

Finally, the next morning we headed to camp.  And it was awesome.  My girls were healthy, tan, beaming and so happy.  It’s hard to explain that moment when you see your kids emerge from the big wood lodge, pause at the top of the steps to find you standing the crowd of hundreds of eager parents, and then run down the steps into your arms.  It’s pretty amazing.  It has the power to erase every exhausted annoyed utterance of the year before, the bickering, the frustrations of parenting, and remind you that all o this having kids thing is pretty damn awesome.  So, yes, having a break from each other can be a very good thing.

What happens at camp does not stay at camp.  What happens at camp can truly help build a child into a stronger, more confident, more self-reliant, and more resilient person.  Having to intentionally capsize a canoe to prove you can get back in and save yourself in order to pass on to the next level? That will change you.  So will climbing mountains, living with 12 strangers in one big room, having to take care of your body, make your own food choices, and actually remember to use soap in the shower.  And maybe in this day and age, the forced state of being completely unplugged.  I know my daughters do not have the same perseverance with me around as they do at camp – they push themselves to try new things and tackle new activities at camp in a way that they would not do at home.  Why, I do not know.  But, I also don’t care.  I’m just glad camp is there to give them the experiences and life skills that seem harder and harder to come by in our over-scheduled, hyper connected world.

We ended our time in Maine with a great meal at the EastEnder in Portland.  Portland is full of small, locavore restaurants and this is one of them.  This big bowl full of lobster poutine was way better than the whole lobster we had the night before, all sweet with fresh lobster, creamy with cheese curds, and salty with super skinny fries underneath soaking it all up.

The rest of the meal was yummy too.  Like these homemade s’mores icecream sandwiches.

There’s a reason they call Maine Vacationland – though I think Campland would be apt too.  Nothing says summer to me like a road trip, the ocean, shellfish, homemade ice cream and happy, sun-kissed kids.  This weekend was the perfect encapsulation of all of those ingredients – and we still have 6 more weeks until the first day of school!

GMC  provided me with the incredibly fabulous GMC Terrain for our trip.  But, all those opinions, as always, they’re my own.