As voted by Trekaroo families, here are the Reviews of the Day from back in the day to today.
We bought passes for Universal Studios Hollywood especially because my daughter is a HUGE Harry Potter fan and wanted to visit Hogsmeade.
I have to say that it was every bit as amazing as the hype! For a true Harry Potter fan you will feel like you are walking the streets of Hogsmeade. At the entrance to Hogsmeade you are greeted by a conductor, and a great photo opportunity in front of the Hogwarts Express. As you stroll through the streets of Diagon Alley you will find shops and restaurants that are exactly as they are described in the books. There is really no detail left undone. There is the candy shop Honeydukes, which is connected to Zonkos Joke Shop, Filches Emporium, The Owl Post, and Deverish and Banges to name a few. So many fun shops to look through and makes you feel like you are walking the pages of the books!
At the other end of the shops and restaurants in Hogsmeade is a spectacular view of Hogwarts Castle which is massive and impressive!
One of the unique shops worth mentioning is Ollivanders. It is the wand shop mentioned in the book and has an interactive “Wizard Picks the Wand” experience. Here is a GREAT TIP to get your child chosen for the experience. When the door opens everyone is put into a holding room with faux bookshelves FULL of wands all over all 4 walls. When those doors open, make sure to go in first and you will be directed to the right side of the small interactive wand room where the Wizard is. We have done this with friends 3 times and the child that is the first one in, and closest to the right side of the room, has been the child chosen EVERY single time. In fact we tried it the last time knowing this information and sure enough – my daughter was chosen! It’s really a neat experience for your child. They will try to get you to purchase the wand that “chose your child” but you can select different ones once you get into the shop. We didn’t buy that chosen wand since my daughter had her heart set on a different one.
There are a couple of restaurants to choose from, but we ate at The Three Broomsticks for the traditional English experience. The restaurant is quite large and there is indoor and outdoor seating. The line looks long, but it goes fairly quickly. We chose Three Broomsticks both times we went to Hogsmeade and were pleasantly surprised at how fast the line moved. It’s cute inside, and offers breakfast, lunch and dinner options. While going through the line, you can see what all the plated food looks like before you step up to order. My daughter got chicken tenders and I got fish and chips and both were good. I thought the price was fairly reasonable, as far as theme park restaurants go.
There are also a couple of rides in Hogsmeade. The Flight of the Hippogriff is a small rollercoaster and a very short ride. It’s smooth and would be ok for younger kids, but it’s really only a few short seconds long! It wasn’t our favorite, and in fact my daughter didn’t even want to go on it when we went back the next time.
The highlight is the Harry Potter and Forbidden Journey ride. The first time we went to Hogsmeade the ride provided 3-D goggles for the ride, but the next time we went they said there were no glasses for the ride. I’m not sure why they made the change, but I felt the ride was MUCH better with the glasses on! The line can be really long, but it weaves it’s way through the Hogwarts Castle, and with talking holograms of the characters and views of replica rooms including common rooms, and Dumbledor’s office, it’s super authentic and done really well. My daughter was excited to see different aspects of the stories come to life within the castle walls. The ride itself is very smooth, but very fast and quite a lot of motion so if you are prone to motion sickness I would recommend going through the castle as far as you can before you leave one of the side exits to wait for your party. My daughter is 11 and loved the ride, but was a little freaked out by the dementors who were really realistic. I normally do not get motion sickness but after going on the ride a second time I was felt a little queasy.
There is also an outdoor stage in the middle of Hogsmeade with live performances to watch throughout the day and evening. They are pretty theatrical and get the crowd involved, and you can stay after and take photos with the cast.
Another highlight (for me at least) is the Butterbeer Carts. Cold Butterbeer is NOT to be missed at Hogsmeade! It is so delicious I have no idea how they make it so good but they do! I’m sure there is a million calories in each one, but there is no way to recreate making them at home as good as the originals at Hogsmeade, I know because I have tried! I usually splurge on a couple of them while I’m there.
If you are a Harry Potter fan you will not be disappointed at the authentic experience at The Wizardly World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood, you will definitely have a “magical” time while you are there!
BEST FOR OLDER KIDS: The CNN Studio Tour is one of those attractions that almost demands two separate reviews: one for families visiting with older kids and teens, and a different one for the under-10 crowd. We visited with our seven-year-old daughter, and found that she was definitely under the age of the target audience. The three-star review is based solely on the fact that we were traveling with a younger child. If you have older children, consider it at least a 4-star attraction.
FUN LOCATION: At first glance, you would think all ages would have fun. The CNN building was originally an indoor amusement park and still boasts the world’s largest free-standing escalator that ascends into a giant globe high up in the atrium. On the first floor you’ll find a food court, gift shops (including one for the Cartoon Network), and lots of seating. As you’re riding up the escalator, be sure to look down at the tile floor under the food court seating - it’s a complete map of the world with all of CNN’s news bureaus marked out.
KNOWLEDGEABLE GUIDES: Our guide at CNN was great. He was more sarcastic than I’m used to, but it somehow worked with this tour. He was able to answer every single question asked by the people in our group about anything to do with making the news and CNN worldwide. Not only did he know all about CNN, but he was also able to recommend the best shopping and interesting neighborhoods in Atlanta to visit, best place to find a good burger, etc. in between tour stops.
SEE HOW TELEVISION NEWS WORKS: The first half of the tour was entertaining and educational for everyone in our group. Visiting “Studio 7E” was definitely the highlight of the tour. Volunteers from our tour group got to do some hands-on demonstrations to show hard it actually is to read a teleprompter, how a weather forecast greenscreen works, etc. You also get to check out an actual news studio and (depending on the time of day) may see live anchors at work. We all enjoyed this part of the tour, but as we headed downstairs, the tour went downhill in more way than one.
NEWSROOM...AFTER NEWSROOM: The second half of the tour consisted mainly of looking at offices full of people sitting at desks. B-O-R-I-N-G. While the guide did his best to make this part of the tour interesting, encouraging questions and even running out some cheesy jokes, the second half of the tour was just not fun at all. Little kids won’t even be able to see into the newsrooms, and even if they could, there isn’t anything interesting going on. I would have really appreciated something more for young kids. Providing something as simple as a little activity book to work on during the dull parts and a sticker at the end of the tour would have make a big difference.
BOTTOM LINE: If you are travelling with teens, news buffs, or with kids that are very interested in how TV works, you’ll have a good time. If you are travelling with younger children, they will be extremely bored by the second half of the tour. If we had it to do over again, I would wait until my daughter was older. If you are planning on visiting any other major Atlanta attractions, I would highly recommend checking out CityPass. It’s a great deal and cuts out most waiting lines as well.
GOOD TO KNOW:
Accessibility: The regular CNN tour is not wheelchair or stroller accessible as it uses a very tall escalator and 8 flights of stairs. There are limited elevator-assisted tours each day, but you will definitely want to call ahead to get more information and reservations as they sell out quickly.
Souvenir Photos: Souvenir photos are taken during the tour and can be picked up at the gift shop on the way out. Prices range from $20 - $30, depending on which package you choose.
Gift Shops: There are gift shops on the first floor. Right next door to the CNN gift shop, you can find the Cartoon Network shop.
Parking: There are several paid parking locations in the surrounding area. However, if staying in the metro area, you may find public transportation to be simpler. There is a MARTA train station just around the corner from the CNN building.
Food: There are several options in the food court on the first floor.
Nearby: Within easy walking distance you’ll find the Georgia Aquarium and The World of Coca-Cola. Centennial Olympic Park is really close by (don’t miss the dancing fountains). There are lots of restaurants in the area if you choose not to eat in the food court.
Disclaimer: This review is based on a complimentary visit to CNN STUDIO TOUR with CityPass. No other compensation was received and, as always, all opinions expressed are entirely my own.
I had myself in a tizzy about our first flight with our toddler "lap" child and our preschooler who was five at the time. I'd heard mostly all bad things. The last thing I wanted to be concerned with was public transit, cabs, parking, and all the other joys of needing to stay in a hotel the night before an early check-in at the airport for your first family flight.
The Crowne Plaza Aire does more than a few things right that make it the best play to stay before you fly out of MSP.
What Wins for Families
Park and fly packages with a private, devoted hotel lot for guests only will have you at-ease about leaving your vehicle while you're away. We left our van for ten days. Not that anyone would want to make off with our old-style minivan that probably smells like Applesauce and has toys in every nook and cranny, but at least we could rest easy knowing our reliable old vehicle was safe. We also didn't have to worry about where we parked or remembering rows, animal pictorial icons, numbers, letters, or any other sorting of parking lot craziness. We were one of around a dozen other vehicles parked in the private lot and had the only blue van.
This hotel is receiving a full remodel and re-brand and what we saw was fantastic. The property is on its way to being one of our favorites in the Twin Cities. Our spacious room looked out on the airport and the kids were thrilled to watch airplanes take off and land throughout our stay.
The well-appointed decor was contemporary and fresh -- I'm not one to compliment commercial carpets often, but the style throughout the hotel was appealing.
The double queen, one bedroom suite that we stayed in was well laid out and superb for our stay. We could have comfortably stayed in that setting for days. We had a separate living area with a wet bar, microwave, and miniature refrigerator. This made eating out food from the restaurant downstairs a breeze with a small table and couch as well as a few chairs (and a sink to clean up sticky fingers!) Both the sleeping area and the living area had flat screen televisions.
The entertainment center in the sleeping portion of the room had enough storage space for an extended stay -- or a large family -- to neatly unpack their belongings and clothing and stay organized.
The Templespa bath products smelled of zen-like pampering treatments at professional retreats. Normally, I pack my own conditioner and am pretty low-impact when it comes to using soaps and lotions and things in-room. BUT, I had to indulge in the relaxation spray, the tired leg lotion, and some of the other amenities including "Peace Be Still." It was pretty serene, once the kids were asleep that is!
The business center as I even remarked upon my return to the room to my husband was "as if a school teacher was nesting." It had EVERYTHING you could ever need to organize last minute travel documents or print a boarding pass, etc. The computers had speedy processors and the printers were stocked with paper and functioned properly. It was a small detail, but again, one worth noting because it was done so well!
We did not get to dip our toes into the oh-so-enticing waters of the pool, since doing so would have put bedtime into the catastrophic, egregiously late
danger zone. I did slip out to take a peek at it though and there wasn't a sole around. It was very inviting and had I donned my suit I wouldn't have been able to resist. A most unique set-up, the pool can be viewed a bit like a diorama from the above level. The open ceiling gives the entire room a very airy feel. Knowing the pool was saline had me almost convinced to walk back down when the kids fell asleep, but planning ahead for the early wake-up call for the airport shuttle, I didn't give way to the thought of a kid-free sauna and hot tub hour for mom!
We shuttled to the airport in the wee hours of the morning and were dropped off at our terminal, and near our airline to be able to get curbside check-in for our SIX! bags plus stroller and kids. SUPER helpful! The driver gave us the hotel card and said when we flew back into Minnesota, give a call for a shuttle back to pick up our vehicle at the Park N Fly area of the Crown Plaza Aire. It couldn't have been easier!
Of course, there is a well-equipped fitness center, complimentary shuttles to MOA and MSP International (both terminals), and all of the amenities you expect from a business class hotel (which is absolutely family friendly too!) I cannot wait to see the property when the official grand opening is celebrated and everything is finished. This is one of the most sleek and yet comfortable hotels in town.
What Would Make it Better?
I like really good coffee, to the point that some would call me a snob. There was better coffee available for purchase downstairs in the lobby, but for me, I need at least one cup of strong Joe before attempting to cross the threshold into functioning society. While the in-room drip coffee was good, a really nice cup would go a long way in setting this hotel apart from the rest, just as they've done with the bath products. It's rare to have REALLY good coffee in-room (or in a drip machine version) so this is more of a wish list item than a true suggestion, I suppose!
This last one is a tiny, nit-picky detail that the conservationist in me is always leaving as my "suggestion" when cards are available and that is: unplug appliances when rooms are not in use and/or let guests plug them in when they need. This can save energy (and money) in the long run and is just a little more green!
Disclosure: My family and I were guests of the Crowne Plaza Aire. All opinions are my own.
Here is my two cents about this zoo.
It's a pain to get to and it's not in a great neighborhood, that's true. When I use to drive there without a gps it was super stressful because the streets there are tricky.
Once you get into the zoo complex, though, it's really well maintained! Super safe! I've had a pass to the zoo for three years now because I don't think it's worth the money to just come once, truthfully. But because there are so many fun activities for my kids and it's such a manageable, walkable zoo, I've found that I actually come here more than I visit the DC zoo, which isn't much further away time wise from my home. As a member they also do a lot of fun programs - we've done their Easter Egg hunt as well as Member Mondays where members can get carousel rides and train rides for free!
There is a good mix of big and small animals - not a lot of buildings and they have done a nice job of revitalizing some of the older habitats (especially the penguins!). Some still feel dated like the giraffe house so we don't usually go in there and just look at them outside if we can.
The children's zoo trail is a favorite - the big tree slide is closed for refurbishment right now but all the other parts are open and fun - sitting in a nest, jumping on lilypads, climbing through a cave.
We usually try to eat a bit early and get seating under the big shelter near the concession stand. There are a lot of picnic tables nearby also.
My kids think the tram ride is so awesome, it's a highlight for them. I think it's a bit of a pain ( you have to fold you stroller up) but it's not that big of a deal.
There is a big playground right near the tram stop, up beyond the prairie dog habitat. That's always our motivation to get towards the parking lot, to get a few minutes to play :)
This is "our" zoo and my kids love it!
If your child has ever considered blacksmith as a career, a simple lesson at the Old Forge could help them understand the career better! My son made a small "nail knife" He was provided with safety glasses and an apron to borrow for the lesson.
The teacher has been featured on the History Channel and was great with my 11 yr old. His self made (with assistance) knife even came with a nice sheath. We were both quite happy with the results! There are even benches available to watch your family member's lesson or just watch how they make the items they sell.