I was recently made aware of a private club in London that was organizing Harry Potter themed dinner events on Fridays and Saturdays in August and September. Apparently they were so popular that they sold out, so the club has added more to fill up the rest of 2017.
The club’s name is The Library, and they are located at 112 St. Martin’s Lane, Covent Garden in Central London.
You can read more about the event here, including an abbreviated menu.
If you live near Montreal or Toronto, love Harry Potter, and love live music, then you’ll probably want to know about these fantastic opportunities.
Montreal is playing Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone on the big screen, with live accompaniment on April 8 and 9, 2017. You can read about it and get tickets here.
Toronto is doing the same thing, with Philosopher’s Stone on June 27, 2017, and Chamber of Secrets on October 12, 2017. You can read about it and get tickets here.
If you don’t live close enough to these cities to make the trip in one day, I know some great hotels in both cities that I can book for you. I can book transportation, whether train, car rental, or flight, as well!
The main reason we travelled to Florida was to visit the parks at Disney World and Universal Studios. Unfortunately, illness prevented me from going to Universal Studios.
I am going to discuss each of the four parks at Disney from the perspective of a new mom with a stroller, as well as point out my favourite parts of each.
Something that we were extremely pleasantly surprised by was that every single concessions stand had an ingredient list.
The proximity and amount of stroller parking in Epcot was very reasonable. As this was the first park we visited, I was anxious about leaving the stroller unattended. However, we never had a problem, and neither did anyone else, as far as I could see.
Walking around the “world” was actually pretty easy with the stroller. There was space in the stores we went in for maneuvering, and the only time we felt at all worried about people kicking the stroller was in Norway, because Frozen, and dinnertime. It was a little squishy in the restaurant in China, but that was the case in pretty much every restaurant.
We used the rain protector today, and it worked perfectly. Pro tip: When leaving the stroller in the parking, cover it with the rain protector even if it isn’t raining. Your baby will thank you when their seat is nice and dry when it rains unexpectedly while you were inside.
Baby Care Centre
The Baby Care Centre was off to the left, just before Mexico. It was big and clean. There was a huge nursing room with only 4 wooden rocking chairs (could definitely have fit more in there). The changing area had large sturdy change tables, with space for the diaper bag. The changing paper was the same throughout the parks – very large, thick white paper that, once used, go in the garbage with the used diaper. I wish there had been a recycling bin for the paper.
There was a tiny room for those accompanying the mother to sit, and they were playing Finding Nemo.
Introducing Keladry to Baymax.
Seeing Keladry’s reaction to the hologram images of Dory, Nemo, and Marlin.
Seeing the Frozen ride.
We had a very similar experience as in Epcot, although the stroller parking outside the Finding Nemo Musical was not very clearly marked, so that was a little confusing. We used the solar screen today, and it worked really well. It does keep the heat inside the stroller, too, though, so if it’s a warm day, I recommend letting the baby breathe every ten minutes or so, depending on how hot it is. (Or maybe our dragon is a little furnace, and this isn’t a problem for other babies?)
Baby Care Centre
The Centre in this park is in the centre island, over near Africa. It was tucked away and was supremely tiny. There were two individual nursing rooms and very tiny change tables. The chair in the nursing room was a wooden rocking chair with very soft cushions. There was a change mat and more space to change the baby inside the nursing room than there was in the change room itself.
Changing Keladry in the theatre for Finding Nemo before the show started, across our laps.
The Finding Nemo show – phenomenal!
The Lion King show – we were in the lion section. Rawr. Keladry fell asleep during it.
Lots of curbs in this park, which was mildly annoying with a stroller. Stroller parking wasn’t very clearly marked for the Toy Story ride, although it was everywhere else. They did an excellent job of parking the strollers for Fantasmic.
Baby Care Centre
Right at the entrance to the park, on the left hand side as you enter, was the smallest Centre of the parks. There were 2 curtained individual nursing rooms, again with a wooden rocking chair, and the changing room had two tables only. There was barely any space to breathe in the space. Definitely my least favourite.
Eric being allowed to wear Keladry during the Toy Story ride, getting the highest score of the 4 of us, and Keladry falling asleep partway through the ride.
Introducing Keladry to Moana – Keladry was asleep by the time we got to see her.
Watching Keladry watch the fireworks from Fantasmic. Oooh lights, *startle*! Oooh lights, *startle*!
The proximity of the stroller parking to the rides was not very good, and it was confusing to find it sometimes. Once, Eric parked the stroller somewhere, and a park attendant had moved it by the time we exited the show. That was mildly terrifying.
Definitely the least stroller-friendly park, because of how much is in it.
Baby Care Centre
Located just to the left of The Crystal Palace (when facing it), this was by far my favourite Centre. There was a calm room for nursing with 5 squashy rocking chairs, and while it was a bit squishy in the room, there was space for everyone. The change room had 6 changing tables, and the room for accompanying people had lots of chairs and a TV screen; the only other one to have a TV was Epcot.
Nursing Keladry during Mickey’s Philharmagic – I had forgotten about the champagne bottles and I jumped at the forced air, startling Keladry.
Keladry falling asleep on the Haunted Mansion BOTH times we went on it!
Watching Keladry get excited about the Pirates of the Caribbean ride – her little head swiveled from side to side, trying to see everything. And she raised her arms in the air when we went down the water fall!
Introducing Keladry to Tinkerbell, while dressed as Tinkerbell!
The stores were maneuverable with the stroller, and easily accessible. I was pleased by how easy it was to get around with it, and that I didn’t have to go too far out of the way because I had it.
Baby Care Centre
There wasn’t one. Bad Disney! It’s on your map!
The Information Centre let me use one of their offices when I asked about the location of the Baby Care Centre, which was nice of them, but not practical for multiple people.
YeSake food – this was delicious, large portions, and had customizable rice, noodle, or wraps. Yummy!
Cookes of Dublin – Super yummy fried fish, and they were very good about my mother’s allergies!
Mickey’s Pantry (and Spice & Tea Exchange) – a store with the best fancy salts and sugars, and other kitchen supplies
Marketplace Co-op – a series of shops that are high-end and great quality
World of Disney Store – everything for everyone, except they were out of the cute short set in the size we wanted for Keladry…but they did check to see if they had any in any other location (they didn’t, but I appreciate that they tried to find it for us!)
Travelling with an infant can be complicated. How will they react on the flight? Have you remembered to bring everything? Have you brought too much? I have to admit, I was rather terrified of travelling with Dragon. But it turned out alright! And we didn’t forget anything that we needed, we didn’t have too much of anything (except perhaps diapers and wipes, but that’s a very good thing to have too much of, in my opinion), and her reaction to the flights? Well…
Our first flight was a non-stop one. No connections was definitely the best way to go. Our return flight had to be changed due to our illness, and we had a connection in Toronto, and ended up travelling 14 hours from door to door. I don’t recommend that. We were all exhausted.
But Dragon’s first flight could only be described as exciting. It was recommended that I try nursing her during the take off. (NOTE: You are supposed to hold the infant in an upright position, facing the rear of the plane, during take off and landing.) So I tried nursing during the taxiing, in the hopes that would make her drowsy. She would have none of it. She fussed and fussed until Eric took her and held her in the correct position. Then the plane took off, the g-forces pushed on us, and then we were airborne! Dragon’s cries turned to delighted smiles the instant the plane picked up speed on the ground, and didn’t seem upset at all by the pressure on her ears. And then she fell asleep.
I guess Dragons are meant to fly.
The return flights were a little more complicated. No smiles, but no screams on the first flight home. The second flight, she was sound asleep for the take off, and then cried for the landing. I think she was upset that she missed her favourite part.
Some things we did to make it easier for us to fly with an infant:
Eric packed the diaper bag within an inch of its life. He knew exactly where everything was. 20 diapers, a package of wipes, plastic change mat, an extra pair of leggings, short sleeved onesie, long sleeved onesie, and slippers, a roll of bags to place the used diapers, a burp cloth, and 2 wash cloths were included in this bag. We had the diaper bag packed this way every time we left the hotel room, as it worked so well.
I had her toys in my carry on. These included her favourite rattle, 3 different teething rings, her favourite toy, and her bedtime book. I also had her blanket that we used to get her from the car into the airport.
We changed her across our laps, as it was easier to do that than try to squeeze into the tiny airplane bathroom to change her in there. After waiting in line. With an upset infant. I recommend only doing this if you have someone who is as good at changing diapers as Eric is. We didn’t make a mess even once.
We had a stroller (this one) that we gate-checked for free. You have to get a label at the check-in counter, though, so don’t forget to do that first! We bought a red airplane bag for the stroller to protect it. I am SO glad we did that, as the bag is smeared with black, and the stroller is perfect. Highly recommended.
Since we stayed on resort at Disney, we were able to take Disney’s Magical Express from the airport. You should have either your magic band or your reservation number ready to check in at the airport. Then we waited in line for our big bus. They can pick up your checked baggage for you, or you can pick it up yourself. We chose the latter, as our checked baggage had all the diapers, and you don’t get your bag until later in the day at the resort.
The bus itself was relatively comfortable, similar to a Greyhound. There is no car seat for babies – you hold them on your lap like on the plane. Your luggage gets put under the bus, and pulled out for you at your resort. Our bus was going to the 3 All-Star Resorts, and was quick and efficient.
The shuttles to the parks and Disney Springs were similar to OC Transpo buses, except that you had to fold up your stroller. It’s a really good thing we had extra adults along, because holding the baby, the diaper bag, Eric’s backpack, and the stroller was manageable, but much easier with the extra hands.
I was very happy with the timing of the shuttles. They are every 20 minutes (approximately), and there’s a screen at the resort that tells you when the next one will arrive. We had very good luck with our shuttles – we only had to wait longer than 5 minutes once, and it was standing-room-only twice. I had to ask a guy to give me his seat because I was holding a baby on the way home from one of the parks. He rolled his eyes and huffed when he got up. That was the only time we had less than stellar interactions with anyone. I guess babies are pretty well liked.
The hardest part of having a baby is trying to stop people from touching her! We didn’t have too much trouble – most people only touched her feet – but then she discovered that her feet could go in her mouth, and I almost flipped out on a garbage collector at the airport on the way home. (You touch garbage with that hand! Why would you touch my baby’s foot!?)
The shuttles were a big difference from driving (and parking) to the parks like we had done in previous years. It was nice to not have to deal with traffic, paying for parking, and the shuttle stop at Magic Kingdom was right outside the entrance, so we didn’t have to take the monorail/ferry back to the parking lot (both a pro and a con, imo).
In order to transfer resorts, we had to go through a third party transportation company. This was a little more complicated than normal, because we decided to not bring our car seat. So we couldn’t use a regular taxi, and we had to make sure that whatever service we did use had a car seat for young infants.
Enter Quick Transportation. Not only did they have a rear-facing car seat (although we had to provide the head support – no problem, as our stroller had a removable one), but they had a large van that was smooth enough for my mother’s motion sickness. And they have a grocery stop service, where they allow for a stop of 30 minutes at a grocery store, and you can get supplies. Since we knew we were going to have a kitchenette at Universal Studios, and no meal plan, we stocked up on breakfast and snack foods. We also grabbed a couple Disney sleepers for Keladry, because our grocery stop was at a Walmart, and we wanted some cheap Disney clothes.
We also used this service to get to the airport from Universal Studios, as it came out to cheaper than using their shuttle service for our family of four adults.
I was very happy with our choice of transportation service, and highly recommend them.
As some of you might be aware, the whole family got very sick with some sort of stomach virus at the end of our trip, and so we weren’t able to fully enjoy Universal Studios’ resort, and couldn’t go to the parks at all (other than a quick trip by Eric before he got sick as well). So instead of breaking our trip down into Disney and Universal, I’m going to break it down into three categories: Resorts, Transportation, and Parks.
I have never stayed on resort before. In the past, when I visited Disney, we stayed in a variety of hotels, timeshares, and rental homes. All of these options have their benefits, and their drawbacks. It really depends on what you are looking for. This time, I was looking for the full resort experience. And I was incredibly impressed!
Disney’s All-Star Music Resort
The accommodations themselves were fairly standard, and felt a little dated. The rooms came equipped with 2 double beds (not queens – very squishy for people who are used to a king!) and they brought us a crib for Dragon. The crib fit nicely beside the TV cabinet, not sticking out, and neither of us clumsy folks tripped over it even once, which was nice. There was a small round table and two chairs that had no arms. Not exactly conducive for breastfeeding, so I ended up nursing on the bed.
I liked the bathroom setup – the toilet and tub were behind a door, and the sink was outside, but there was a curtain to close it off.
We were in connecting rooms with my mother and sister, which was nice.
The beds themselves were old – creaks every time we moved and either lumpy or V-shaped.
However, despite the meh rooms (I’d give them about a 3/5 – they weren’t bad, but they weren’t great), we had a fantastic experience at the resort. Anything we wanted, the staff went out of their way to get. We weren’t unreasonable with our demands (crib, extra coffee for the coffee maker that you also had to request, extra shampoo, extra blanket) except for once: Bran Buds.
They had nothing with high-fibre content for any of their meals. So we requested something that we have at home, and they went to the grocery store, bought it, and had it delivered to our room.
My mother has very strict dietary requirements – and the chefs met and surpassed every single one of them. It is very difficult to make her happy with her meals, and they succeeded.
They also went above and beyond the call of duty when my mother got sick and had to go to the hospital. For the staff alone, I would recommend this resort.
Other awesome things at our resort include the pool, which was warm enough for Dragon to go swimming at 8 pm in January, the arcade, which we didn’t use, but was constantly in use by others, and the laundry. The facility for laundry was fairly nice, although there weren’t any chairs, which sucked. It cost $3 per wash and per dry, and the detergent could be bought there or in the little store attached to the resort (or brought from home, I suppose). But it was worth it to have a full set of clean clothes, burp cloths, wash cloths, and change mat.
One of the best parts about staying on resort is the dining plan. We went with the Quick Service meal plan, which includes 2 quick service meals (quick service meals are served at a counter, like at a cafeteria, not a sit-down restaurant) and 2 snacks per night per person. We used all but 6 snacks, and we were never hungry. And was the plan ever worth it! The most expensive meal our plan paid for was flatbread pizza – and we definitely wouldn’t have bought it if we hadn’t had the plan.
Extra Magic Hours
We didn’t take advantage of these, and I blame exhaustion from having a baby.
Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort
This place was fantastic! I am disappointed that we weren’t able to take greater advantage of the pools (yes, plural!) or the lazy river, or any of the other amenities while we were staying here. I was barely able to walk as far as the Starbucks, and I didn’t even see the cafeteria, let alone the bowling alley.
We were in the family suites, again with connecting rooms, and it was SO worth it for the extra space!
You open the door to a small kitchenette that includes a small microwave, a mini fridge, a coffee maker, and a sink. They provide cutlery, plates, cups, and bowls. They also provided the coffee. Beside the kitchenette is a raised counter-top (perfect for changing a baby, fyi) and a living space with two chairs and a fold-out sofa. There’s a sliding door separating this space from the bedroom (again with 2 double beds, but much newer). The crib didn’t fit quite as easily in this space as in Disney’s room, but it was a nicer crib. Metal bars – it fit the retro theme of the resort very well.
Just inside the sliding door was the bathroom space – there was a sink with no door, a wc (water closet, or a small room for just the toilet), and another small room with a tub and another sink.
If you have more than just 2 adults going to this resort, you will want to upgrade to the suite. It was definitely worth it for us.
I only got to see one of the pools, but it was gorgeous. I want to go back to this resort purely for this pool. Spend an entire day at the resort and hop in and out of the pool, go down the slide, let Dragon play on the splash pad, etc. They have free swim diapers behind the bar (how awesome is that??) and the pool is warm enough for Dragon.
I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of both resorts, and can unquestioningly recommend them. I look forward to going back and trying a different Disney resort, and actually getting to experience the Universal one.
Jasmine Murray-Bergquist is a costume designer, bookworm, amateur archer and all-around geek. Her body lives in Ottawa while her mind is consistently elsewhere. Her website can be found here, and you can follow her on Twitter!
My sisters and I have always been big dreamers. I wouldn’t say any of our dreams are too big, but as we have more dreams than are possible to fulfil in one lifetime, some of our childhood plans and ambitions got shelved indefinitely at a young age.
That changed this spring. When my sister Karin was invited to present a paper she wrote at an academic conference in Kirkwall, Orkney, we jumped at the chance to make one of those long lost ideas a reality. As voracious readers and lovers of a good road trip, we decided that after the conference we would rent a car and tour around England, making pilgrimages to the homes of some of our most beloved authors. With the expert help of Jen, before I knew it, everything was booked and we were ready to go.
Even after talking about doing a trip like this for years, the reality far surpassed anything I’d ever imagined.
I arrived in Edinburgh on a cool, rainy, April morning. With 13 hours to kill before Karin arrived (and three days before my luggage arrived, but that’s a different story!), I went exploring. My destination was a place that is truly somewhat of a holy site for me. A place that would be the perfect spot to start the Author Tour. A place where a young single mother unknowingly created the foundation of my childhood, changing my life forever.
The Elephant House is an unassuming place tucked neatly into a historic street front in Edinburgh’s Old Town. Many authors have frequented the cafe over the years including Ian Rankin and Alexander McCall Smith, but it’s best known for being the place where J. K. Rowling sat and wrote Harry Potter. I got goosebumps as I walked in, although that could’ve been the chill of the Scottish fog sinking through to my bones. With a pot of Earl Grey tea and an elephant shaped shortbread cookie, I settled into an empty seat by the front window. The cafe was crowded with people trying to find relief from the rain and wind. The hubbub of conversation, the clinking of teacups in saucers, the tinkle of the bell above the door as people came and went, all the sounds, smells, and sights wound their way into my consciousness, and it was a few minutes before I was even aware that I was writing.
I sat for a minute, staring down at my notebook and the paragraphs I’d just written, and suddenly I understood why Edinburgh is known for being a city for writers and artists. It immediately gets inside you, filling you with inspiration. It forces you to create. There is magic lurking under every cobblestone, stories whispering at you from every doorway. It doesn’t just give you the desire to write, it gives you the need.
The next morning Karin and I started our journey north by train. The next few days were very focused on the conference, although we did find a couple of author moments amidst all the learning. In Inverness, we found a plaque commemorating William Topaz McGonagall. If you haven’t read the poem “The Tay Bridge Disaster”…well, just go read it, and it will become very clear why McGonagall is known as the worst poet ever. Luckily for him he was rich, and able to pay people to put up with his readings. When we reached beautiful, mystical, magical Orkney, we discovered the world of George Mackay Brown. A famed poet, novelist, and dramatist, he also wrote many short stories and essays. His work is everywhere, especially in Stromness, his hometown.
From Orkney, we took the train back south to Glasgow, where we picked up the car and hit the open road. Karin was a fantastic co-pilot (her Chewbacca impression is second to none) and navigated us perfectly out of Edinburgh and along the winding country roads to the small western Scottish town of Ayr. That was where we stayed that night, but our goal in Ayrshire was the nearby village of Alloway, birthplace of poet, lyricist, whiskey advocate, and great seducer – the Bard of Ayrshire, Robert Burns.
If you ever have the chance, the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum is so very much worth the visit. It’s fantastically laid out and a veritable wealth of information on the life and times of Burns and his family. Interactive and educational, there was so much to do and so many ways to immerse yourself in the times and ways of late 1800s Scotland. The panels are all peppered with Scots words (the language Burns wrote in and fought to keep alive), which is a really fun way of learning the language along with the details of Burns’ life.
Outside the museum there is a path that winds through a field marked by metal artwork depicting the story of Tam O’Shanter, one of Burns’ most famous poems, as well as a giant mouse (a nod to Burns’ To A Mouse). The path takes you to the small cottage where Burns was born, kept as it was when he was a child there. As you walk back to the museum, if you take the road instead of the path, you pass by the Alloway kirk (church), which is where poor unfortunate Tam sees all manner of horrible supernatural creatures whooping it up as he tries to get home from the pub one night. Even it broad daylight, our skin prickled imaging the witches, goblins, and tortured ghosts as we peeked into the ruins.
We spent far, far too much time there, but it was so wonderful. From Ayr we turned south, driving down the ruggedly stunning west coast of Scotland, before turning east and working out way into the Lakes District. This stunning region was the inspiration for one of my father’s favourite books from childhood, “Swallows and Amazons” by Arthur Ransome. My dad read it to my sisters and I when I was probably 8 or so and we immediately fell in love with it. Written and set in the 30s, it’s the story of the four Walker children who spend their summers sailing their borrowed boat the Swallow around an unnamed lake in the Lakes District, where they meet the two Blackett children, who have a boat of their own – the Amazon – and are pirates. We used to sail all around the lake where my grandparents live when we were kids, so both the sailing and the imaginations of the kids utterly captivated us.
While the lake in the books is never explicitly named, people believe that it’s based on Coniston Water, so that was where we went after a beautiful night in the nearby town of Grasmere (where we took a quick wander around the grounds of Dove Cottage, where the Wordsworths lived and wrote). Coniston Water is the third largest lake in England, at five miles long but only a half mile wide. A kiosk down by the shore rents out all manner of boats, and soon we were zipping down the lake in our very own Swallow. The feeling was glorious. The boat hummed as we skipped along under the watchful eye of the Old Man of Coniston, the mountain that looms large over the water. The energy of the experience and the powerful beauty of our surroundings soon put us in a creative mood again, and we sailed for miles while developing a very complex story (which I’m very grateful to Karin for writing down the details of in the car as we drove after). In theory we had the boat for two hours, in reality, we ended up staying out there for more like three and a half. The thing about a skinny lake is as easy as it is to sail down, when you have to tack short tacks back and forth all the way back, it takes a hell of a lot longer!
The common theme we had through the trip was getting so caught up in what we were doing that we took too long at our stops, meaning we arrived later at our final destinations. Especially on our way out of Cumbria, we had to stop to see Hill Top, which is where Beatrix Potter lived and wrote. But despite the detours and the late hour, driving through Yorkshire at sunset was nothing short of breathtaking. It was like driving through a James Herriot story: the farmers in their tweed caps, the sheep wandering unsupervised beside the country road, the moon hanging low in the purple twilight as the lights of the village in the valley come on, it was too perfect for words.
That night, we arrived in Haworth. I could feel my heart rate quickening as soon as we arrived. Our hostel was a Gothic mansion on a hill outside the village and it was the perfect setting to get us in the mood for the part of the trip that we were possibly the most excited for.