Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Yer a wizard, Stephanie. Maybe not.

Just like any other kid, I waited patiently for my Hogwarts letter to arrive. And.... it didn't. :( 

I fell in love with the world by J.K. Rowling after the first book and the rest is history. I would even pre-order books, starting from the fourth book onwards. The extra money spent was worth it because I was able to read the books immediately!

I've always yearned for something more physical, a place I could visit. If the books could transport me to a magical world, what more a physical place?

The closest I've gotten to anything was a Harry Potter exhibition in Singapore a few years back. Until now. :)

The Harry Potter Wizarding World in Universal Studios Japan is the real deal. I haven't been to the one in Orlando or anywhere else so I can't compare, but this was pretty much a dream come true.  

That's definitely the highlight of the park too. I preferred the rides in Universal Studios Singapore to be honest, maybe due to the language barriers. 

You could also tell that it was the highlight of the park, even the trains were decked with all things Harry Potter. 
More notices that got us excited on our way to the park.
Just before the entrance! 
We bought the Express Pass which allowed us to get a timed-entry into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. If we didn't have that, there's a risk of not getting tickets there AT ALL because it will run out. Nope, not risking that! 

This part of the park is so exclusive that you can't see anything from outside. You'll have to line up and make your way through a path, surrounded only by trees. It's quite enjoyable because you can hear creatures in the background - we're in the forbidden forest!

You'll recognise this - Ron Weasley's car! 
Welcome to Hogsmeade! Yes, it was terribly crowded there. :(
We were welcomed by a very lovely train conductor.
Hello Hogwarts Express! 
There's even a timetable for the trains.
The city of Hogsmeade is exactly like I imagined it to be. Just that... maybe not so crowded and hot? 
You'll recall many of the shops here, including Zonko's and Ollivanders. 

A chocolate frog display.

You can dine in Three Broomsticks, just pay up!
Another highlight of the park - BUTTERBEER! There's no alcohol involved, don't worry. I wish I knew what butterbeer is supposed to taste like. There's different variations out there but I'd imagine it to be cooling and frothy. Yums! 

It was also a good way to cool off, no thanks to the crazy heat and the crowd!

The line for butterbeer.
It's not too pricey too, I got one with the butterbeer mug as a souvenir! 
My refreshing cup of Butterbeer :D
The park has several attractions but if you're looking for rides, it's down to two.

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is a MUST if you're there. We got to skip the cue because our Express Pass worked for this too. Yay! 

Despite the story being told in Japanese (it's kinda odd hearing Harry and friends speaking Japanese), the ride had a nice mixture of 3D effects and and actual sculptures/beings/buildings.
Highlights: Experience riding a broomstick and trying to catch the golden snitch. Experience Dementors trying to suck the life out of you.

We had to keep our belongings in the locker so I didn't get to snap any pics. It's not worth it to bring any loose items with you because the ride moves a lot. At some parts, it felt like it's going 360 degrees!

We didn't go for the Flight of the Hippogriff (the only other ride) because the wait was too long. Plus, it's meant more for the kids so it didn't feel like we're missing out on anything.

All aboard the Hippogriff express!
One of the worthwhile attractions to visit is the Castle Walk. The waiting time was only 10 minutes so it's a relief to all of us.

It's everything you've seen in the movies replicated in a HUGE castle - Hogwarts.

Yep, that's Hogwarts from afar! 
Point system for all the houses.
At the entrance to Dumbledore's office. The pic is pretty blurry but it's the best we go with the dark lighting inside. 

Talking pictures on the wall. That's Rowena Ravenclaw! :D 
The pensive.

Can you hear the Fat Lady sing? 
I loved the castle walk, they really pay attention to the finer details. Being a fan of Harry Potter, I was fangirling at everything about this place because it felt like I was walking into a movie set. I wished we could have seen more - the Great Hall, common rooms and so on. But I'm not complaining!  

Another "hidden" attraction is a magic show. It's located next to some shops and I didn't notice it until I saw people lining up. There was no sign but just a clock showing how many minutes you'll have to wait for it. 

Since we had time, we lined up and it was actually a magic show inside Ollivanders! 
The secret entrance! :D
We start off here, until a secret door opens. ;)
Now the real show begins. 

And of all people, I was the lucky one chosen to be his subject for the day. Thanks for making my day! :')
I had to go through several wands before I found the "perfect" one. I caused flowers to wilt and even a thunderstorm! Hahaha.
At the end of it, I got a very special wand (unlike any other out there) and I was given a special price of 3.800 yen if I wanted it. But.. I don't see a point in getting one. 
They also had some perfomances at the "town square" and we managed to catch the Triwizard dance - between the Dumstrang boys and the Beauxbatons girls! 

The elegant ladies performing.
Ladies and gentleman making their way out.
Even if you don't feel like going for rides and attractions, you'll enjoy just walking around Hogsmeade and taking in all the sights. 

Up close. ;)

Many souvenirs caught my attention but I couldn't get them all! 
I fell in love in so many of their items on sale! 

Hogwarts uniform and scarfs for sale!
This dude was carrying a live owl around so I couldn't resist taking a pic with him! 

Brooms for sale!

Oops. Looks like no one had time to clean up the owl poop.
Before we left, we couldn't resist trying on the robes. 

It's indeed a blessing to visit the place I could only dream of. Thank you Wizarding World of Harry Potter for making my trip much more memorable and I hope the love for the spellbounding world will continue, even for generations to come. 


Wednesday, November 05, 2014

A beach kind of adventure - Boracay, Phillipines

My wanderlust brought me to the beautiful island of Boracay and I'm so blessed. :)
I wish I could explain how beautiful the island was but you have to be there to experience the surreal clear water, the soft sandy beach and postcard worthy sights. It's no surprise that it was named World's Best Island in 2012!
 My only regret is the length of stay. I wish I did more thorough research before deciding to book my flight. I wish I knew the amount of time I will be spending travelling to the island itself. I wish I had longer time there, but it's not something to dwell on. Just make sure if you're planning to go there, try to stay longer than four days. A week or more would be good!
This is how long you will probably take to travel there.. if you decide to take the same route as me.
Time taken to travel there:
AirAsia flight from Kuala Lumpur to Kalibo = 4 hours
Bus from Kalibo to Caticlan port = 2.5 hours
Ferry from Caticlan port to Boracay = 30 minutes
Van/taxi to hotel plus walk there = 15 minutes
Total = 7 hours 15 minutes (minus waiting time)
Nevertheless, it all worth it once I stepped on the beautiful island. Another plus point is that our hotel (located on Station 2), made me feel like I was surrounded by nature.
Recommendation: I did some research on places to stay in Boracay and I found several sites talking about the best station to reside in. Just a little background information. Boracay is divided into 3 stations - Station 1, Station 2 and Station 3.
According to research, Station 1 is the most expensive place to stay in. You have luxury resorts there, tons of clubs and it's the most noisiest place to stay in because people are partying all night long.
Then you have Station 2, the resorts there are more affordable and people don't party that much there. Lastly, there's Station 3 which is supposedly the furthest but it's quiet, not much partying going on.
However, I found out from talking to the tour guides that Station 2 has turned into the most happening spot. Tons of clubs there, tons of activities going on at night and there's pretty pricey resorts there too. So if you're into the night scene, this is the right place to stay!

We got to stay at Nigi Nigi Noos Beach Resort. We got a good deal for the room - RM 565.28 (USD 177.65) for three nights on Agoda. Pretty worth it because upon walking out, we're immediately greeted by the sight of the beach! I'll recommend this place to all. :)
The entrance to the rooms.
I love the fact that our rooms were surrounded by greenery!
A welcome note in our room
Our humble abode for four days
Cosy verandah
The view that greets us just outside out hotel room.
With the limited time we had there, we tried to squeeze as many activities as possible into the two FULL days that we had. I think we managed accomplish that while still finding time to walk along the beach, eat great food and just relax.

It was the kind of getaway we were looking for anyways, a relaxing one! Here's some of the activities you MUST do in Boracay.

Another tip, if you purchase more activities from the same person, it's a lot cheaper. Everyone there will give you the "best" rates but it's up to you to choose the best ones. It's all almost about the same price but a little haggling won't hurt you. ;)

Most of prices I've listed is a rough estimation only. If you're up for good bargains, just purchase at least 3 activities from the same guy and you're in for a good deal!  
Helmet Diving
Price: About 600 pesos (Approx RM 44) per person
I've heard of snorkeling and scuba diving before, but not this. Surprisingly, I would say that this was probably one of the highlights of my trip! Best part about it? No diving experience needed!
Helmets that weighed about 20kgs each!
Upon our arrival, we immediately received instructions from a guide. He taught us signals we could use to communicate with the divers once we're underwater. He also went through standard safety stuff, including how to equalize water pressure in your ears as you step below the dock and into the water.
The only reason water doesn't fill up our helmets is because the air pressure is intense! So we're advised to always keep our helmets on upright, any tilts will cause the water levels to rise.
Thankfully there were  two guides consistently at the bottom to help us. I found it a little difficult sinking to the bottom so one of the guides actually pulled me down until my feet was touching the base!
Look ma! I'm swimming with the fishes!
Smile for the camera!
We were each given tiny pieces of bread to feed the fishes. It felt super ticklish because these fishes were trying to bite my fingers while I was holding the bread. Nearly dropped it a few times cause I found it too ticklish.
With just 20 pesos (RM1.48), you're can to snorkel in their beautiful clear waters.
They stopped us at two points and we're allowed to snorkel to our hearts content. I've only been snorkeling once, in our very Pangkor but I remember chasing around for fishes. Yes, chasing fishes!
However, here it feels like you're in a surreal environment. You can see all sorts of fishes (including Nemo!) and corals in abundance. The only downside was the fact that I tend to dive in too much so it salt water keeps getting into my gear. Ughhhh.
Life jackets to ensure our safety!
All geared up!
Cliff Diving
Price: Approx 120 pesos (RM30) per person to visit the Magic Island.
Unfortunately we couldn't visit Ariel's Point (a famous cliff diving location) because it was closed during the monsoon season. However, this is good enough! There's about 4 points for you to choose from - first one being the baby one and the rest, really high points!
The dreaded plank!
Shamus being really brave! :)
Unfortunately I took about 5 minutes to actually jump down from that point because I was petrified. I kept telling myself that i'll close my eyes and walk off the plank but that didn't work out. I told myself that i'll run and just jump off the plank and then close my eyes, didn't work out either. I just couldn't move my legs.
 Another tour guide came to the plank next to mine and he was coaxing me into jumping. Eventually I did it, even though it's just the second highest one. It's something!
Yep, that's me jumping off the plank. Can't get anymore glamorous than that!

Survivors! :D
Buggy ride/Zipline/Zorbing
About 1,400 pesos (RM111) per person for the buggy ride plus Zipline and Zorbing.

This package is pretty worth it because we got to do everything at one spot! In addition to the activities, we got to "climb" to the top of Mt Luho. It's not much of a climb because we just went up a set of stairs. Pretty tiring though!

We were assigned to a specific guide and all we had to do is follow him around. They told us we were going for a test round first around their test circuit but maybe they thought we were overqualified (hopefully not cheating us of our money) so we went straight!

Our ride for the day. *inserts cool emoji with sunglasses here*
What safe drivers look like.

Geared up for zipline
On your mark, get ready...
Zorb park. The name is pretty much explanatory.

We had to wear protective gear, only on our heads though.

The distance from the top to the bottom. It looks pretty short and feels pretty short, but any longer I think we would probably have trouble breathing.
The "we did it" faces.

The view from the top of Mt Luho.
ps. The only reason why I have so many shots of us together is because the guide was a pro with the camera! He went everywhere with us and he was ever-ready to snap pictures. That's the best kind of service you can get. Plus, they tend to charge extra for every single thing there so thank god we had someone with us to take those pictures for us. :)

To be continued... ;)