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Eat my shorts… it’s Voldemort and Bart

How do you explain to US customs why you need to take a brick through?

Just say it’s because you’re rebuilding Diagon Alley brick by brick.

Our guide tells us that’s what a member of the Harry Potter film team did to ensure everything met with JK Rowling’s approval.

The very same JK would visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in both Universal Orlando theme parks to make sure everything is as she wrote it.

And here we are standing outside the Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley, near Gringotts Bank with its imposing fire-breathing dragon frontage.

I am in need of some butter beer after escaping (just) in one piece from the clutches of the Dementors.

Those Dementors have been besieging Hogwarts Castle, situated in Universal’s Islands of Adventure.

Wet your whistle: The Leaky Cauldron

Wizards get taken to Dragon alley by Ernie Prang and Dre Head, the dreadlocked skull drivers of the Knight Bus.

Ably conducted by assistant Stan Shunpike whom we meet. Muggles though must use their feet.

Us Muggles are allowed on the Hogwarts Express from Kings Cross Station, London, to Hogwarts Castle.

But watch out though for those Dementors silhouetted in the carriage window. There are enemies everywhere.

The Forbidden Journey

It helps, of course, that Harry and Ron are there to help.

We are on the Forbidden Journey 3-D cart ride at Hogwarts Castle.

The dynamic duo lead us on our broomsticks.

And we skirt the cliffs on a dizzying simulator ride which puts us right at the heart of the battle.

We were well prepared though.

Read all about it: The Daily Prophet

Because we had already been to Olivanders to discover who would be selected for a special wand.

These wands as everyone knows pick you, not the other way around.

And Emma Jane was the lucky recipient of a shiny new one given to her by the sage Garrick Olivander.

It was not dissimilar, it must be said, to Harry’s. His is 11in long, made of holly, with a phoenix feather core.

You can buy your own keepsake from the store for a competitive $36.95 (€33).

And I got to see the Dark Arts show in Hollywood

Empowered, Emma Jane leads the way through Gringotts Bank on to our carriage for a dual with the Dark Lord.

Our anaemic and hirsutically challenged nemesis and his shaggy-haired accomplice Bellatrix are not so easily shaken off.

Our group must tangle again with them in the Gringotts vaults.

It’s a banker

Gringotts, it is said, is the safest place to be.

And the animatronic goblin chiefs do leave you with a sense of comfort that they would guard your worldly possessions with their life.

Lockers with thumbprint recognition do the rest.

Saving wizards and half-bloods is thirsty work though and this muggle needs refuelling.

And me either: Bringing you all the news

Only one place for it… Moe’s Bar.

Universal Orlando is all about family fun and The Simpson, as we all know, are the family who put the fun into dysfunctional.

On the way to a thirst-quenching beer in Moe’s you can get a meet, greet and snap with Homer and Bart.

Tuck in at Moe’s

Pass the Krustyland stalls, Lard Lad Donuts and Duff Gardens.

The lure of a Krusty Burger takes precedence over The Simpsons Ride.

All ready for the Knight Bus

Krusty’s piece de resistance sees the clown coming under threat from Sideshow Bob is a seat-of-the-pants six-minute ride.

My pants though were firmly wedged into a seat into a sat in Moe’s and my lips wedged into his signature burger.

It looks a lot like a normal 6oz burger with cheddar cheese sauce, a giant tomato slice, iceberg lettuce, served on a speciality bun.

But with an extra special sauce ingredient.

One of the family: With Bart and Homer

That it’s served in Moe’s. Well, worth ten bucks.

If you’re feeling adventurous you can try the chicken waffle sandwich (so wrong, it’s right).

You feel as lazy as Homer, and you’ve every right to be, you’re on holiday after all then while away the afternoon at Moe’s.

But if you’e got kids tugging at you to hit the rides – then you better sup up and get back over to the Islands of Adventure.

Get them in: At Moe’s

There are seven themed islands:

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (a magical escape)

Marvel Super Hero Island (pumped-up action)

Toon Lagoon (a water ride extravaganza)

Jurassic Park (prehistoric mayhem)

The Lost Continent (myths and legends

Seuss Landing (childhood wonders)

Port of Entry (the shop-centred enhance).

Spider-Man proved a particular favourite of the group, a 60ft freewill, emulating the webbed one’s descent.

Green monsters

Your correspondent meanwhile was taking a breather after unleashing his inner Hulk.

The Hulk is a vengeful superhero (so, they all are, yes).

But he has taken out his anger in a particularly brutal manner.

With one of the regulars

Launching you 150ft in the air, with an acceleration of zero to 40mph in two seconds flat, it reaches speeds of 67mph.

The Hulk has seven inversions and turns you upside down in a weightless zero gravity before sending you crashing back down to earth.

If lots of inversions send you loop-the-loop it may be best staying off this one.

And it wasn’t just the Hulk who was green about the gills after this one.

I met up with Shrek in Hollywood… https://jimmurtytraveltraveltravel.com/2019/06/22/my-weekend-with-marilyn/

A friendlier green monster is Shrek.

There is no better way to sign off your trip to Universal Orlando than to sit back and join everyone’s favourite ogre and his sidekick Donkey as they battle the evil Lord Farquaad.

Shrek is a 4D cinematic experience, you’ll go on a thundering gallop through a haunted forest ride on a fire-breathing dragon.

You’ll plunder over a waterfall.

All in the quest of Princess Fiona.

You’ll have ‘spiders’ fly out at you and be sprayed in the face and be tilted back forward and back in your seats.

Kick-ass entertainment and few do it better than Shrek and the magical cast of Universal Studios.

Relaxing: The Loews Portofino in Orlando

Fly me there

How to get there: Aer Lingus fly from Dublin to Orlando four times weekly; Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday.

Fares start from €259 each way including taxes. Visit aerlingus.com for more information.

Aer Lingus customers can pre-clear US customs at Dublin airport. http://www.aerlingus.com

Where to stay

Where to stay:  On-site at Universal Orlando at the 5* Loews Portofino Bay Hotel with American Holidays, from €1,109 per person.

Price includes return direct flight with Aer Lingus to Orlando, Florida.

Seven nights’ accommodation at Loews Portofino Bay Hotel. Selected dates September & October 2015.

The providers

Go with Attraction Tickets Direct http://www.attractionticketsdirect.ie. Check out their latest packages.

This article was first published in the Irish Daily Mail.

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Disney’s castle and Germany

It’s the most magical place on earth… and it’s where the magic is supposed to happen. Neuschwanstein, or the Disney Castle.

Hence the carved swans in the bed chambers.

Not that Walt Disney and his wife had that in mind when they visited. Bavaria. Or maybe they did!

Anyway, it’s Walt inspiration, the model for his Sleeping Beauty Disney Castle.

Light show: The Disney Castle

Back in the day in the mid-Eighties I visited Neuschwanstein http://www.neuschwanstein.de, among the million who do every year.

What the other tourists climbing the hill made of the strains of a sozzled Scot and a busload of boozy Aussies I can only imagine.

But I rather think the eccentric King Ludwig II approves.

Lud, or Wig, commissioned the cliffside castle in 1868.

Just two years after Austria and Bavaria were conquered by Prussia during the Austro-Prussian War.

Medieval throwback: The interior

All part of Otto Von Bismarck’s grand plan to unify Germany.

But poor Lud was never able to enjoy the fruits of his (or others’) labours as he died first.

Pity really as it was in fine order.

With some lovely modern conveniences.

A very modern castle

That included running warm water, a bell system, flushing toilets, and even large window panes.

And grandeur. With much Wagnerian tribute.

And religious iconography, including a grotto!

Bavaria’s conquest did for Lud and he died In mysterious circumstances in 1868 with suicide a convenient explanation.

When only 15 of the 200 rooms had been completed.

Magical: They’ve been up to the Disney Castle

The final towers weren’t completed until 1892.

But within weeks of his sudden and mysterious death, the magnificent castle was opened to the public.

Disney dreams

I’ll gather my thoughts (the sober ones) and reprise my Oktoberfest in Munich.

But in the meantime you’ll have to make do with the Disney version. https://jimmurtytraveltraveltravel.com/2019/07/03/stair-wars-2/.

Also visit Disneyland Resort Anaheim https://disneyland.disney.go.com.

And a shout-out too for Attraction Tickets Direct who took me there https://www.attractionticketsdirect.ie.

Next week: Hogwarts Castle

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My weekend with Marilyn

You’ll live for ever: Marilyn’s bench

Goodbye Norma Jean! So, this is where Marilyn finally found her rest from the lascivious attentions of the manipulative men who hounded her to her death.

Unisignposted and in an unassuming square at the back a Los Angeles office block lies the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery,

But who’s this lying next to her? Only Playboy owner Hugh Hefner who bought the drawer next door for $75,000… he was surely the last man she would have wanted to spend eternity with.

Marilyn and Hefner had history. It was Hefner who bought the nude pictures that she had posed for in her sallow youth before she became famous for just $500 and put them on his first cover of Playboy. She never got a dime.

Marilyn doesn’t deserve this company. She should be shining brightest in a galaxy of stars. And on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, she is.

The actress is one of 2,600 famous characters – human, animal and animated – immortalised on a mile and a half of sidewalk along 15 blocks of Hollywood Boulevard and three blocks of Vine Street.

Rest in peace: Her last resting place

Her hands and feet are outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre with the imprints of a century of Hollywood celebrities. Hers are worn out from the millions who have wanted to touch a bit of her.

If you feel her presence on the stairs of the Dolby There where the Oscars are held then her spirit is playing on you as her only appearance was at the nearby Pantages Theatre. Still, we all pose for a diva’s shot in homage to her anyway.

Oscar time: At the Dolby Theatre

Marilyn seems to be everywhere I turn. I see her looking down, smiling from out of a window on Venice Beach, brightly dressed and warm as the sun. We lit our heads from our catch of the day in Larry’s diner off the boardwalk – in my case the lightest calamari – and smile back.

Jim Morrison is all swagger on the other wall.

Today’s Venice Beach has its own characters too: a rasta artist on rollerblades playing guitar, an old man who wheels his grand piano up the strand to tinkle the ivories and a randomLatino Conor McGregor who is punching and kicking the hell out of a punchbag in the square.

In Southern California, or SoCal, it’s all about the image, the ‘body beautiful’, and this is where Californian body builders come to work out, at the outdoor Muscle Beach Gym, once the home of Arnold Schwarzenegger and ‘The Hulk’ Lou Ferrigno.

There’s always a show on, even if it is only the tourists posing by a muscleman mannequin on the boardwalk. Guilty!

Who’s older: Jim and Dino

Up the road in Santa Monica the busy pier gives little clue that this is the beach used for Baywatch.

All these nuggets and more are at the fingertips of our driver Ross from Starline Tours, provided by our host Attraction Tickets Direct who tells us of a loose association with David Hasselhoff and a girl who was the Hoff’s prom date.

I would be more impressed if Ross had dated Sandy… well we do pass Rydell High.

And he shows u too the site of the party hotel, the Garden of Allah, where Joni Mitchell hung out and they ‘paved Paradise and put up a parking lot’.

A big greenie: With Shrek

You’ll find today’s Hollywood celebrities hanging out in West Hollywood celebrities hanging out in West Holywood, so where better to bunk down?

The La Peer Hotel, just a couple of blocks down from Beverly Hills, its cop shop and Rodeo Drive, is a Kimpton, a boutique hotel which is much more than that as befits West Hollywood, with its heated outdoor swimming pool as an extension of the bar.

And the comfiest suites which were welcome after our 11-hour flight, although it literally flew by on our pleasant Aer Lingus journey here.

The hotel’s restaurant Viale dei Romani serves up the best Italian food if you want to stay in-house, and I’d also recommend the wood-grilled octopus and its garden of warm potato salad, oil cured olives, preserved lemon and saffron aioli.

But there are not shortage of great restaurants to sample in West Hollywood where, best of all, you can also indulge in the favourite pastime of celeb -spotting.

And so we also visited Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Lisa Vanderpump’s eponymous lounge and restaurant, Pump, where Lady Gaga made the news a few years back after falling outside on the sidewalk.

Lisa is there the night we dine on truffle mushroom chicken (well, you would wouldn’t you?) though there’s no sign of Gaga.

Perhaps the gay icon will be back the following week for Pride.

West Hollywood is already putting out the bunting for Pride when up to 200,000 will take to the streets, although in truth it is always in a state of readiness with its rainbow zebra crossings.

I’d recommend a night in one of the many friendly gay clubs, I even managed to walk rather than fall out, although a bulky cop reminded me that I couldn’t drink on the sidewalk.

There’s a shark out there: You’ll never get in the water again!

If you want to get closer to the stars, get on to the right tours and get on the sets of the TV shows and movies we all watch, our host Attraction Tickets Direct will help with pre-booking which will save precious time and money.

They will take you to Warner Studios where you can sit in the very same couch used in Central Perk in Friends or visit the Ellen set.

A day in Universal Studios Hollywood will immerse you in both movie history and the future.

Who’s king of the Castle: The Potter show

We take a coach through the sets of Pycho, Jaws, a Mexican town and through a tunnel where a scene from The Fast and the Furious is simulated all around us.

Great fun too at the Kung Fu Panda: The Emperor’s Quest cinema show with vibrating seats and water mist effects, while fans of rollercoaster rides will love The Simpsons and Harry Potter rollercoasters.

I prefer to sit back and watch other take the heat, although I don’t expect to see a stuntwoman set on fire in the Special Effects Show.

All your favourite animated and sci-fi characters are here, all in great form and happy to pose up: Shrek, Scooby-Doo, the Transformers and a dinosaur, no, not me, but a ‘real’ T-Re which is trailing Jurassic World: The Ride.

Angelic: Amn’t I?

We all have our favourites but it is the Boy Wizard who always cast a spell on me.

Muggles, myself included, are beside themselves at the prospect of Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure story coaster in the sister resort of Orlando.

Universal Hollywood’s Potter experience feels smaller than its Orlando World counterpart but it is still intimate and enchanting.

And its Dark Arts light how is a thundering good hope with a cascade of creepy crawlies climbing up to attack a crumbling Hogwarts Castle only for the forces of good to prevail, all against a heart-pounding musical score and moral message.

And that, it seems, is Hollywood and the LA story in a nutshell: an aspirational, illusory dream sequence where you can stand in the Hollywood Hills, hike up to the Griffiths Observatory and view the iconic letters, or take a watering job and hope to serve Steven Spielberg.

Or get your star on the Walk of Fame. It’s a a rollercoaster journey all right and you can’t ice how you’re next to, but I did spot four stars unfilled. and I’d reckon myself and my family would be deserving candidates.

Peerless: La Peer Hotel

*Jim Murty is Ireland’s Travel Editor of the Year and a multi award-winning Travel writer. See next week for part tow when he takes us to Disneyland and a galaxy far, far away.

HOW TO GET THERE

Aer Lings, Ireland’s only four-star airline operates a daily service from Dublin direct to Los Angeles with fares starting from €259 each-way including taxes and charges when booked as a return trip. The service reduces to five times weekly during winter. Visit http://www.aerlingus.com.

WHERE TO STAY

La Peer Hotel is quintessentially West Hollywood with bright, funky finishings, spacious, comfortable bedrooms and fine food, a heated swimming pool and fitness centre. Doubles from about €315 per night. Visit http://www.lapeerhotel.com.

ACTIVITIES

Deluxe Grand City Tour with Starline from €73pp. Hollywood Hills guided hike, a 2.5 hour gentle hike, offering mountain and city views and photo opps of the Hollywood signs. The tour ends at the Griffith Park Observatory (admission included). From €46pp. Starlight Dinner Cruise from Marina Del Rey’s. From €107pp (not including drinks). Universal Studios Hollywood one-day admission ticket form €96pp/Express Pass from €305pp. Visit http://www.attractionticketsdirect.ie or call (01) 649 8558; visit west hollywood.com. Visit http://www.universalstudioshollywood.com. Visit http://www.california.com, http://www.westhollywood.com.

A version of this article was first published in the Irish Daily Mail in June 2019.