27 May 2016

The Queen Mary turns 80

I'm waiting on color film to return from the lab before I do a comprehensive photo story of our recent visit to the Queen Mary, but in the meantime I wanted to acknowledge her on the actual date of her 80th birthday, today, May 27, 2016.

Living in Southern California, the Queen Mary and -- until the early 1990s -- Howard Hughes' Spruce Goose were a destination for school field trips, family outings, and a perfect spot to take visitors from out of town. The Queen Mary has attracted one million visitors a year since 1967 at its permanent home at the Long Beach terminal, standing tall and proud and full of history and memories to be made for all who visit her. 

So until next time, here's a photograph I took of the 1936 RMS Queen Mary, one week shy of her 80th birthday. 

© Monika Seitz Vega, 2016

05 May 2016

Universal Studios + The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Despite several weeks of soft opening, which allowed locals to experience the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood, there was a tremendous amount of excitement in the air when my family + I visited the weekend after the "official" opening in April.

I hadn't been to Universal since my Brownie troop took a trip there in second grade, so needless to say a lot of things have changed. In addition to the Wizarding World, which was the reason for our trip, I was looking forward to revisiting the parts of the park I remembered from when I was a kid, particularly the tram tour + "Psycho" set.

The Universal experience is very 3D heavy. Many of the big name attractions are 3D themed, including the new Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, housed in the absolutely breathtaking Hogwarts Castle. (I opted out of the Journey, though I did walk through the queue, the portrait hall especially knocked my socks off.) Even the tram tour now has two 3D experiences in addition to set and backlot features, one based on the Peter Jackson adaptation of "King Kong" and another that focuses on the "Fast and the Furious" franchise. 3D is totally not my thing, but I had a fantastic time taking in the sights and sounds, from Springfield, USA to the "Waterworld" stunt show to the bronze bust honoring longtime Universal Pictures director Alfred Hitchcock placed prominently right inside the main entrance to the park. All in all, there is definitely something there for everyone. (Except postcards. There is not a single postcard for sale in the entire park, not even at the Owl Post. This is unacceptable.)

Now the focus on the purpose of the trip -- The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I had avoided reading anything about it ahead of time as I wanted it to be a surprise... and it was. The very most wonderful surprise. The experience of walking into Hogsmeade, much to my surprise, nearly moved me to tears. The attention to detail, from Moaning Myrtle haunting the restrooms to the animated "Wanted" poster of Sirius Black outside the Hog's Head, to the delightful frog choir performances and, of course, Hogwarts itself, is absolutely breathtaking. One of my favorite parts of Hogsmeade is the interactive window displays that those with Olivander's wands can do a spell in front of to activate something within the display, it is entertaining while also making participants part of the experience, which is a nice touch. Again, the magic is in the details, and the Wizarding World is loaded with them. I am looking forward to our next visit, which will likely occur after the rumored Diagon Alley expansion occurs.

Please enjoy the photographs below, captioned when applicable.

Hogsmeade entrance, "Please Respect the Spell Limits"

Hogwarts Express, just inside the gate and an ideal photo spot

Know someone who deserves a howler? Stop by the Owl Post, where owls depart regularly.

Dervish and Banges, where you can invest in your own "Monster Book of Monsters"

Zonko's Tricks & Jokes

Hogwarts Castle in the morning light

Dogweed & Deathcap, Exotic Plants & Flowers

The entrance to Hogsmeade from Hogwarts, I sat here for about an hour watching both the frog choir and Triwizard Tournament spirit rally while the sun set. It was absolutely enchanting.

Hogwarts Castle at sunset, with the girls from Beauxbatons dancing on stage

Hogwarts after sunset 

All photographs © Monika Seitz Vega, 2016
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