This wonderful shot of the dragon belching fire above Gringotts Bank Daigon Alley was taken by ace photographer Michelle Lia McEwing.

After our near-signup experience with the holiday club we took our hard-won admission tickets to Universal Studios twin theme parks and began another trek through buffeting crowds in 34-degree humid sunshine.

Universal is a mammoth money vacuum. Not only does it charge over $200 per person to get in but the minute you are admitted you are bombarded with other categories of wealth reduction in the form of food, drinks and merchandise. The rides are free, but even on a moderately busy day you stand in line for long periods.

The standouts for us were the Harry Potter villages. The whole fantasy film set, including crooked buildings, have been recreated as Daigon Alley. If you want even more Harry Potter you have to take the Hogwarts Express from platform nine-and-three-quarters. The destination, Hogsmead, is another fantasy in the form of a snow coated village with the Hogwarts school perched high above on a rock face. This is in the adjoining Universal theme park and relieves you of another admission fee.

That aside, along with the queue and wait for the train, the trip is very clever. The realistic steam train arrives at the station, people get in and sit in old world train seats. The window looks out on to the brick wall of the station, the train blows its whistle and it moves off. Here’s the trick: the window is actually a movie screen and the passing scenery is a projection. Thus you appear to be going through the magic countryside to Hogwarts school. Hagrid is out there on his flying motorbike and he waves. You pass rivers and forests until the school comes into view and you pull into the station.

Another great illusion is the dragon that has landed on top of Gringotts Bank. Every so often it roars and breathes out a fireball that draws cries of appreciation from the crowd. Confectionery shops sell all kinds of Harry Potter lollies. I bought a block of coconut ice and couldn’t stop eating it, even though I felt sick halfway through. I washed it down with butter beer and felt even worse.

Michelle went into the wand shop and was confused by the variety. After some help from the wand consultant she selected one for her mum. We are going to train Naomi to manifest gold bullion, since we have been unable to achieve this ourselves by conventional means.

I’d like to return to Universal to pick up where we left off when foot failure threatened. I think you could spend two full days there and not cover it all. Yes, it is expensive, especially for young families, but this is a high quality experience.

Hotel Toaster Review


A rare find: a Double Black Mariah.

Based on the Hyatt’s free breakfast, this is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to review a hotel toaster. I was delighted to find a Double Black Mariah, a rare model covered in Derek Breadchamber’s famous treatise on the subject. Breadchamber says that the Double Black Mariah was developed by master Italian hotel toaster designer, Giuseppe Crispintini, who was inspired by two passing hearses in 1998. The DBM is unique in that in addition to neat front load and delivery, it has no knobs. The user has no say in heat or belt speed. “Automatico!” Crispintini declared as he presented his prototype to loud applause at the company’s 1999 marketing conference

Michelle was keen to visit the Morse Museum which took us to the suburb of Winter Park. Even if there had been no museum the main street was worth seeing; it was like a movie set of an idyllic American tree lined brick paved roadway. I expected to hear “and . . . action!” whereupon a brass band would come oomparparing around the corner and children would stand and eat apple pie as they watched. The shops were all immaculate and quaint. They also had clothing that lit up Michelle’s face and she gave her credit card an outing.

The Morse Museum is devoted to the work of Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848 – 1933) who didn’t only design glass lamp shades but was an architect, interior designer, jewellery maker, painter and potter. Although he is best known for his lamp shades, his stained glass windows are mind blowing. There is a whole chapel reassembled at the museum after it had been exhibited at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago. He produced so much outstanding works of art I can’t see how he had time to go to bed. His daddy was super rich – which gave him a good education and the ability to indulge himself in his artistic pursuits. He also designed and built some huge, wonderfully decorated houses.

We arrived at the museum about eleven o’clock in the morning and were advised not to pay the five-dollar entry fee because the museum was free after 4 pm. In other words, they don’t need the money. Instead, we were invited to see a museum-sponsored film about the contribution made by female artists in the 18th century. We entered a large, well-appointed room stocked with senior citizens hoeing into free buns and drinks. We joined them of course and then settled down to watch the doco. It was enthusiastically presented by a fraffly emphatic English woman who outlined the lives of female painters and designers who’d fought the blokes for a go at the fame barrel. No doubt riveting viewing for a worthy audience, I kept nodding off, dreaming about overdressed women and being prodded awake by Michelle.

Back in the movie set street we shopped, ate and returned to the Morse at four o’clock. I’m generally not a lover of museums, but this one was a knockout. Tiffany was revealed as an extraordinary man and I intend to read more about him.