Category: misc. trips


Nerd-cations

Get out your pocket protectors, folks! If it isn’t obvious yet, I would self-identify as a nerd. I enjoy superhero movies, Harry Potter, Doctor Who and a plethora of other geeky pursuits. You really wouldn’t associate travel with nerds and geeks, but there are places to go if you think about it. By definition of science fiction and fantasy, you may not be able to go to Tatooine, Middle Earth or Hogwarts, but you can go to sets and filming locations, among other things. Time for a rundown of geeky vacation destinations!

  • One of the newest “nerd” destination is the Doctor Who Experience. In case you haven’t heard of it, Doctor Who is a show on BBC, which has been on the air since 1963, landing it in the Guinness World Record books as the longest running science fiction show. It’s recently become very popular here in the United States. Anyone who’s watched the show long enough knows that they film in Cardiff, Wales and just last year the Doctor Who Experience opened up in Porth Teigr. It’s essentially a museum for Doctor Who. They have costumes and props from the show’s run. They even have the TARDIS (that’s Time And Relative Dimension In Space for you newbies) set from the David Tennant era. As of right now it seems they don’t have any Daleks or Weeping Angels, which are two of the show’s most iconic monsters. The “Experience” aspect of this is that you get to take part of an adventure and show exclusive to the Doctor Who Experience. Admission is timed and tickets cost £13, or a little over $20.

Doctor Who Experience Website

  • If you are lucky enough to be able to afford a trip to New Zealand, any self-respecting Tolkienite will want to go on a tour of sites where Peter Jackson filmed The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the soon-to-be-released The Hobbit trilogy. The scenery of this country was as much a star in the films as the actors, and as such a booming industry has sprung up for LotR tourism. On the North Island, you can visit some hobbit holes and sets for Hobbiton. Although it seems Hobbiton is only still intact because of the filming for The Hobbit, I certainly hope this is not the case and that I can still visit when I make my way to New Zealand. You can also see the locations where they filmed Helm’s Deep, Minis Tirith, Edoras, Pelennor Fields and a plethora of other scenes.

In-Depth 12 Day Tour

Hobbiton

Single/Half Day South Island Tours

  • Conventions are another popular nerd-cation. The mother of all sci-fi/fantasy conventions is Comic Con in San Diego. Held during the summer months, Comic Con is the biggest of the “nerd” conventions, hosting 130,000+ in 2012. I was at Dragon*Con this year and while attendance for Dragon*Con was less than half that at 50,000+ , I will confirm it is a great way to whet an appetite for conventions. There are niche conventions for a plethora of fandoms – Gallifrey One for Whovians, BronyCon for My Little Pony, etc. But Comic Con and Dragon*Con encompass them all. The selection of panels was excellent and there was something for pretty much every fandom. Conventions usually focus on panels – either panels run by fans or panels with celebrities to discuss the topic at hand. I wasn’t focusing on the panel aspect too much, but here is a quick rundown of the panels I attended to give you an idea of the wide variety of panel offerings: “A Wizard, a Dwarf, a Hobbit and an Elf, Oh My!” “The Muppets Screening with Peter Linz,” “Big Damn Heroes,” “Voice Actors” and “Why Actors Choose Their Roles.” And this was just a few of the panels I went to. You can focus on the panels that have the stars from your favorite fandoms or you can go to “fan” panels that are essentially discussions about your favorite fandoms. Either way, there is plenty for you to do see and do during the course of a convention. By far the highlights of my weekend was meeting Tara Strong, partying with Jewel Staite and meeting Lee Arenberg. I will say that usually conventions are essentially a giant party and an excuse to dress up in costumes. I had been drinking almost all weekend and I dressed up as River Song from “The Impossible Astronaut.” I would recommend a Camelbak – I spent $20 on a bottle of vodka and it lasted me all weekend. I think next year I will do amaretto sours in the Camelbak. If you enjoy costumes like I do, you’ll probably want one for every day. I know next year I’m bringing out my gender-swap Lucius Malfoy, returning with River and adding Princess Luna from My Little Pony. But that’s just me. You can wear whatever you want, no costume is out of reason.

ComicCon

Dragon*Con

Gallifrey One

  • Þingvellir is a national park located in Iceland. Historically speaking, Alþingi, or the Icelandic Parliament, met here first in 930 and continued to do so until 1799. But what draws me there as a nerd is it’s geological importance. If you were to take a look at a tectonic map of Earth, you would see the Mid-Atlantic Ridge running through the middle of the ocean and then through Iceland. This rift is what has caused Iceland to have earthquakes, volcanoes, hot springs and other geologic features. But wait, it gets better. Because Iceland sits on top of this rift, it is technically speaking part of both Europe and North America as it straddles both tectonic plates. You can hop between North America and Europe at the Almannagjá canyon without getting on a plane and suffering through the jet-lag!

Þingvellir

  • Kennedy Space Center is another nerd vacation destination. I covered this in a previous post (link). As a quick overview, this is the heart and soul of NASA. Home to the launch sites of their many forays into space, there are enough rockets and space-related memorabilia to send any science nerd into a tizzy.

Kennedy Space Center

Smithsonian Institution

  • CERN would be an ultimate destination for any physicist in their career, but they also have a visitor’s center for anyone curious enough to visit. CERN is located on the French-Swiss border and is home to many experiments. Birthplace of the world wide web, it is also where they recently found a particle consistent with the Higgs Boson, or God Particle. While the majority of the complex is devoted to science, there are areas visitors can go. There are guided tours as well as a couple of permanent exhibits that seek to educate visitors about the different types of matter and particles that make up the universe. Guided tours last about 3 hours and include the permanent exhibits and admission is free.

CERN Website

  • Matmâta is located in southern Tunisia. While all of the Tunisian items on the 1000 Places list are in Tunis, any self-respecting Star Wars fan will want to take a trip here. It’s an 8-hour drive from Tunis through the desert and it’s claim to fame are the troglodyte buildings. Their buildings are open pits in the ground with tunnels and rooms leading off from the center. While that’s not all that exciting, a trip to this town requires a visit to the Hotel Sidi Driss. Best known as Luke Skywalker’s home in A New Hope before leaving with Obi Wan Kenobi, the hotel has kept the set pieces from filming. A quick glance at the TripAdvisor page for this hotel suggests there are better hotels to stay in if you want to stay around town for the night. But how can you resist staying at Luke Skywalker’s house? Another 2 hours southeast of Matmâta is Tatouine, another spot for Star Wars fans to visit. While no filming took place there, if you make the trek you can tell your friends back home you went to Tatooine, as it is known in the films. A similar destination would be Oakley Court. Located near Windsor Castle in Berkshire, it will be easily recognized by any fan of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Most of the movie’s filming took place here and at a nearby studio. In 1981 it reopened as a hotel, so it doesn’t look the same on the inside. But the outside is still the same as it was in the movie.

Hotel Sidi Driss

Oakley Court

  • Along the same vein as Lord of the Rings, there are Harry Potter tours in England. You can go to Kings Cross Station in London to see if you can run onto Platform 9 3/4 and catch the Hogwarts Express. There’s also tours of the Leavesden studios where they filmed the movies. You can walk through the Great Hall and Dumbledore’s office and see props and costumes from the movies. If you want a Potter fix on this side of the Atlantic, you can visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando. For more information, read my post about my trip there here. The original park in Orlando is supposedly being expanded, as well as a smaller version opening at Universal Studios in Los Angeles.

Filming Locations

Studio Tour

Wizarding World of Harry Potter

So there you have it. Some of the nerdiest locations on the planet, ready to be explored! Have you been somewhere else that you’d consider nerdy? Share it in the comments!

 

Edit 1/4/14: New Zealand has really taken to the Middle Earth tourism since The Hobbit movies started coming out! This company is offering a few tours of their country, with stops at a few familiar locations. TravelScene

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Harry Potter-Mania!!

I’ve returned from my conquest of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and it was phenomenal! If you were to grade it, it would definitely receive an Outstanding! So, who’s ready for a photo-intensive run-down of the park?

If you’ve read my first DW post, you’ll know that avoiding crowds and kids is all about timing. Being there the last week of September, kids were in school mostly and adults were at work mostly. The crowd levels and lines were VERY manageable. I’d been reading about people going on The Forbidden Journey and waiting a couple of hours to ride just once. The lines were so short most of the time we just walked on a few times in a row. Same for the Dragon Challenge coasters. I’ve seen pictures of Hogsmeade during peak season and the lines just to enter the shops. No such problems for us. We even waited for the Ollivander’s show a few times, hoping we’d get picked (no such luck *sigh*). We did everything (except for Flight of the Hippogriff) at least 5 times and still had time to go through the rest of Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios.

So, what’s the park like, you ask? The main entrance takes you to Hogsmeade Station, which is where you’ll find the Hogwarts Express. You can get your picture taken with the conductor, even. On the other side of the path is Zonko’s and Honeydukes. Zonko’s is where to go to buy Extendable Ears, Pygmy Puffs and more. Honeydukes is where you’ll go to satisfy your sweet tooth with Chocolate Frogs and Bertie Bott’s Beans, amongst other treats. I got a Cauldron Cake as well, and those things are delicious. It’s chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate. Yum! Next door is The Three Broomsticks and The Hog’s Head pub. The Three Broomsticks is like a cafeteria – you’ll order your English-inspired meal and pick it up at the window. We had the Cornish Pasties and Shepard’s Pie, both of which were delicious. And that’s a vote of confidence from my friend since she’s a pretty picky eater. A word of warning, however – if you want sodas, bring it with you from somewhere else in the park. The only drinks they serve in Wizarding World are butterbeer, pumpkin juice, waters and teas. Butterbeer is liquid crack, let me tell you. They serve it either cold or frozen; it’s like a slushie. You can also get them in souvenir mugs, which of course I got. If you go the mug route, you do get discounted refills. The pumpkin juice is also delicious. If you don’t like pumpkin pies, however, just skip it. We killed a couple hours in The Hog’s Head to give our feet some time to recover from all the walking, and they have a specialty drink too. But it’s more adult. They have a micro-brew called Hog’s Head Brew, and it was a quite tasty Scottish ale. They of course also sell this is a souvenir mug.

Across from the food and drink is the entrance to the Dragon Challenge coasters. Fittingly, this is themed around The Goblet of Fire. Through the path are signs you’d imagine they would’ve had in the crowds at the tournament, then you enter a pavilion with the Goblet of Fire. You continue down a path and run into the Triwizard Cup and the eggs they are supposed to be retrieving from their dragons. You get to choose between the Chinese Fireball (red) and the Hungarian Horntail (blue). Personally I prefer the blue one because it has more twists, turns and loops than the red one.

Next up is the Owl Post, Dervish and Banges and Ollivander’s. The show inside Ollivander’s is quite fun. They shuffle you into a small room and Ollivander chooses someone from the crowd to find their wand. Usually it’s a child, much to the adults’ dismay. And by adults I mean those who are there that grew up reading the books, are avid HP fans and don’t have any kids. I understand they don’t want to discriminate, but it’s a real bummer when they pick someone who doesn’t speak English. There’s a lot of awkward pausing because the person doesn’t know what Ollivander wants them to do. The demonstration is pretty cool. Ollivander picks out a few wands, the person tries ringing bells and levitating objects to disastrous results. Then magically, Ollivander picks the right wand. Then you get spit out into Dervish and Banges and the Owl Post, where you can buy your own wand and other Hogwarts-related gear like robes, scarves and more. While in the Owl Post I got postcards for a lot of my friends. Outside there is a seating pavilion and a stand where you can get your postcards stamped from Hogsmeade and mail them off (they also sell collectible stamps inside).

Next up is the main attraction – Hogwarts Castle. On the right is the Flight of the Hippogriff, which is where you’ll catch a glimpse of Hagrid’s hut. Side note – for those who’ve been at Islands of Adventure before HP opened – the Dragon Challenge coasters were once Dueling Dragons and Flight of the Hippogriff was once Flying Unicorns. They retrofitted these rides to mesh with the new HP theme. You will have to store your belongings inside lockers for The Forbidden Journey and Dragon Challenge, but you’ll definitely want to keep your cameras in your pockets while in line for The Forbidden Journey. You’ll be passing through the dungeons, Herbology greenhouses, Dumbledore’s office, the Hall of Portraits, the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom and Gryffindor’s common room before entering the Room of Requirement to enter the ride. Take a moment to look at the ceiling before you get seated – it looks like the ceiling of the Great Hall with floating candles. The ride itself is great. Hermione transports you through the Floo network to fly and meet up with Harry and Ron on their way to the Quidditch pitch. You’re taken through a series of twists and turns while avoiding a dragon, the Whomping Willow, dementors and spiders. Overall, it was a great dark ride. One thing that bugs me though is that the staff refer to everyone as muggles – but muggles can’t see dementors, only feel their presence. So I’m not a muggle since I can see them, right? A girl can dream… The Forbidden Journey spits you out into Filch’s Emporium, which is the biggest gift shop inside HP. It’s got a really wide selection of trinkets to take home with you.

A couple of things I learned:

– Buy all souvenirs, especially chocolate, at the end of the day. You’ll avoid carrying around a lot of unnecessary weight, and in the case of chocolate, it won’t melt in the Florida sun. I got a replica of Lucius Malfoy’s pimp cane and I would have been very encumbered trying to carry that around all day.

– If going during the slow season, there’s a cut-through in line for the Dragon Challenge. As you exit the castle, there’s a path up the hill on the right that will take you back up to the castle entrance and it cuts out a lot of the line.

– Keep an eye out at all times inside the shops, you never know when you’ll see something magical in the rafters of the buildings. They even have Moaning Myrtle haunting the bathroom.

– The secondary entrance is via Jurassic Park. The bridge crossing into HP gives you a spectacular view and photo spot with Hogwarts. There’s also another butterbeer cart here that is usually not as crowded as the main one outside The Three Broomsticks. I’ve also read that this is the entrance to use during the peak seasons since most people will be taking the main entrance.

I’ve heard rumors that they’re already planning on expanding HP and completely taking over The Lost Continent, and I couldn’t be happier. They need a Leaky Cauldron and Diagon Alley. As it stands now, The Lost Continent seems kind of off since there’s not much to it now aside from Mythos and a few shows and shops. And I definitely will be going back at some point in the future during December because I can only imagine the Christmas decorations around the holidays.

I can’t wait until next time!!