Seven ways to survive dragon flight–Universal Studios, Florida

1024px-Wizarding_World_of_Harry_Potter_CastleOn a recent whirlwind trip to Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida, my teen daughter insisted that I and my queasy stomach accompany her on every ride.  She made it clear, as only teenage girls can, that I Would Be the World’s Worst Parent if I didn’t.

So I did. Diagon_Alley Here are my Survival Tips:

#1– Take Gravol.

If pulling G’s while spinning like a top just isn’t your thing, take Dramamine, Gravol, or an equivalent anti-nausea drug.  (Keep in mind I’m a private pilot, not a doctor).  I shot up into the stratosphere on Doctor Doom’s Fearfall, had my intestines plastered to my cranium during the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit coaster, and plummeted from several skyscrapers while battling Decepticons on the Transformers 3D ride, all WITHOUT vomiting… but only because I took Gravol.  I took it first thing and drank lots of water throughout the day, (it’s a dehydrating sort of drug), which leads me to tip #2….

  1. Bring your own water bottle

Drinks are fearfully expensive in the park.  There are water fountains with potable water everywhere, though.  Having our own water bottles to refill for free saved us at least $25 for the day.Tyranosaurus attack

  1. Bring snacks.

We brought a couple of apples, & carrot & celery sticks with Ranch dip (from Safeway).  Munching on them in line-ups helped combat nausea (see tip #1).  Food in the park is insanely expensive and limited largely to fries & burgers.  We weren’t able to go the whole day without a sit-down meal, but bringing a plethora of snacks saved us at least $40.  Keep in mind that your backpack can’t be too big (see tip #4…)the Knight bus

  1. Bring small backpacks only.

For many of the rides, you must check your bags into tiny lockers each the size of a cake box.  We had a backpack that would only fit after much determined shoving and quick door-slamming.  Two small backpacks would’ve been better. There were lines for the rides and lines for the lockers, so cutting down your fight-to-get-your-bag-in-a-locker would’ve made our day easier.






  1. Go during `value season’ (off-season)

We went in early November during off-season and waited an average of only 10 minutes at each ride. Yay!  The longest we had to wait was 30 minutes for a  show we don’t recommend (Poseidon’s Fury).  Seeing the cordoned off waiting areas for each ride–some the size of small parking lots– gave every indication that the wait time is hideously close to 1-2 hours per ride during peak times.  Two of the more popular rides are in Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley, and we waited only 10 minutes for each.  Which brings us to…

  1. Arrive early.

We arrived at Universal Studios right at opening hour, ignored all the tantalizing rides in the front of the park, and headed STRAIGHT to one of the two Wizarding World of Harry Potter areas (at the back).  This paid off hugely.  We experienced the skin-dimpling magic of wandering Diagon Alley, going on the Wizarding World rides, and taking the “Hogswort Express” to Hogsmeade without the choking hordes of people that later clogged these popular sections.  Teen insisted we go back later in the day for souvenir shopping and the crowds were horrific, even off-season. Hogsmead

  1. Plan your attack.

Every souvenir booth and food stall has free maps of the parks.  The “2-Park Guide Map” lays out what is where and describes each ride.  Maps are also available online.  During the line-up for our first ride, we laid out a giddy plan for the whole day & largely stuck to it, enjoying both the Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios in just one day.

Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit
This picture isn’t sideways–the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit really does ascend straight up. (photo thanks to Wikipedia–my hands were too unsteady to snap my own photo!)

In no particular order, the Teen’s top 4 favorite rides:

  • Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
  • Doctor Doom’s Fearfall
  • Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit
  • Transformers

In no particular order, the Mom’s top 4 favorite rides:

  • Flight of the Hippogriff
  • Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringott’s
  • Jurassic Park River Adventure
  • Skull Island: Reign of Kong



Manzanita-Nehalem Bay State Park, Oregon, USA


Grass trails through the dunesA west coast version of the Caribbean, spectacular Nehalem Bay State Park boasts miles of squeaky white sand, crashing surf, and rolling dunes, under idyllic blue skies (at least, there are blue skies in the summer, if coastal fog isn’t rolling in….) Gorgeous squeaky whte sand dunesNehalem Bay Park is situated on a jaw-droppingly beautiful four mile sand spit bordered with aromatic coastal pine forest.  nehalem-mapIn July, we flew our 172 Skyhawk from BC, Canada to Nehalem’s on-site airstrip (3S7–see pilot airstrip diagram below).  We took along our canine companion, camping gear & food for an overnight stay.

aerial of coast, Nehalem State Park
Flying downwind for runway 33 along the windy coast (check out the whitecaps on the surf!)

We turned left base over the sand spit; final approach is over Nehalem Bay itself.  Watch out for the truly amazing wind shear on short final!  All that gusty coastal wind suddenly drops right off due to the protection of the surrounding trees and sheltered bay.

Left base 33
Left base for runway 33 (left edge of photo)

After recovering from on of my more memorable landings (I’ll say no more than that, except that right after landing, we watched a pilot with 20+ years experience suffer the same humbling landing), we taxied to one of the little campsites tucked into the forest to the west of the airstrip.

taxiway markers
Interesting taxiway signs…

These free campsites are reserved for pilots.  They’re secluded, peaceful rudimentary firepit-and-picnic-table affairs, separate from the more populated drive-in campsites of the State Park.  (No shower facilities at the airstrip, and a Port-a-Potty outhouse only). airstrip campsite There is drinking/dish-washing water available, via a spout where deer like to hang out at dawn, and I suppose if one were truly motivated, one could cold-water shower under that. Although it was the height of a gorgeous hot, sunny summer, only two fly-in campsites were in use while we were there… and we were one of them. Itinerant parking at the airstripWe spent the day romping along the fine white sands of the coast (a short walk from the airstrip through the state park).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After a picnic lunch, we rounded the spit and splashed through the warm estuary of Nehalem Bay. The wind-protected shelter of the Bay is very notable on the ground–not that I’m emphasizing the wind-shear factor for pilots or anything. Mud flats of the bayWhile rambling along the mudflats, a pack of coyotes serenaded us with their eerie wailing.  We saw them watching us from the top of a dune we’d been blithely scampering up and down only moments before; we kept our little dog closer to us after that.Dunes along the bay  Horseback riding is offered at the park,  but we opted to forego such equine joys on this trip.  For pilots who aren’t self-caterers and don’t mind a vigorous walk into Manzanita, there’s a variety of bistros, cafes, pubs, and restaurants in the nearby quaint little community (approx. 1 mile north of the airstrip).  After roasting marshmallows over the fire pit (wood supplied by the park, 100 low-lead fire-starter supplied by our plane), we had a wonderfully peaceful sleep. campfire In the morning, we had to scramble like mad to pack up and leave, as did the other pilot who’d camped overnight–marine fog was rolling in, fast.  Neither of us had supplies for a protracted fogged in stay.  We managed to escape just as fog closed in, our hasty departure reminiscent of Han Solo in the Millennium Falcon, barely escaping the closing maw of a giant space slug….

Nehalem Bay (code 3S7). Elevation  22 feet.  Frequency  122.9


Soaring over the homes of the rich and famous–Off-the-beaten path near Heathrow Airport, England

Most folks en-route to Heathrow Airport from London have no idea what gems they’re zipping past.  If you’ve got an adventurous spirit and some spare time prior to hurling yourself into Heathrow’s labyrinth, visit nearby Wycombe Air Park, an active World-War II airfield, and fly a Cessna low over the astonishing manors of the past and current Prime Ministers of England.img_5570Recently, David was on a business trip to England and, with some time on his hands before his departure back home, he rented a car and paid a visit to Wycombe Air Park, a World-War II field that has been adopted for General Aviation use, about a 30 minute drive from Heathrow.  He then rounded off the day with a trip to the nearby hamlet of Hambleden.   Here’s his experience, in his own words:img_5559


When I got to Wycombe Air Park, the airport was closed because the tower was short-staffed and the controller was having lunch.  Not even taxiing or fueling is allowed when the tower is closed.

Wycombe airpark
Wycombe Air Park

I’ve learned that this is a procedure unique to this airport.  In fact, there are so many unique procedures at this airport that pilots from other UK airports refuse to come here.  They get almost no transient traffic (2 or 3 per year).no transient traffic But the tower was expected to open within 30 minutes, so they assigned me a very young pilot and we went off in a Cessna 152. rented Cessna They have a single paved runway, with the only taxiway entering it from one end.  It is, obviously, called Taxiway Alpha.  But look at this sign: taxi alpha Taxiway Alpha has 3 hold-short lines along it’s length.  When the controller says “Taxi Runway 25 via Alpha 3” he means: use taxiway alpha, but hold short at the A3 hold-line.  You see: gliders fly across this taxiway at 10 feet when landing on the grass.  Yet another local concept.

It was a beautiful 45-minute flight.  The young “instructor” was very impressed by my skills.  I was flattered until I realized that he thought this was my first time in a plane (Note: David has 30+ years as a GA pilot!).  beautiful flight This area is where the Rich and Famous live.  For example, the house you see below is the home of Tony Blair (an ex Prime Minister of England):home of Tony Blair And here is the “Summer Home” of the Rothschild Family.  They, apparently, own most of the Banks in England:Rothschild And lastly, here is another “Summer Home”.  This one belongs to Theresa May – the current Prime Minister of England: Theresa May Even though the Prime Minister was at home, there were no airspace restrictions around any of these homes.  The instructor told me that they often fly down to 500 feet over the house, but – as a matter of courtesy – they call the house to ask permission.  It’s never been denied.  Upon landing, he showed me the bulletin on the wall where they have the phone numbers of all the famous houses in the area.img_5572

They have this funny concept of Q-codes in Europe.  Apparently everywhere in the world accept Canada and the USA.  Upon takeoff the controller told us: QNH 1001. When we set our altimeter to 1001 (millibars – not inches of mercury like we use) it showed our field elevation of 500 feet.  So far, so good. img_5557 While returning to the airport, however, the controller said “QFE 996” (not QNH like he did before).  So, while flying around at 2000 above sea level, I set the altimeter to 996 and it was suddenly showing 1500 feet. At this QFE setting (instead of the QNH setting) the altimeter was showing altitude above the runway.  So when we landed it said zero (not 500 feet). img_5581At another point, when we first called to re-enter the zone, he told us “QDM 140”.  This isn’t about the altimeter.  It means to fly a direction of 140 degrees magnetic to get to the airport. Apparently there are dozens of these “Q-codes” one has to learn.

After I landed, the controller said “Vacate Left” (they don’t say “exit”).  I continued to taxi along the runway, expecting to see a taxiway.  No. Another local procedure is to simply exit the runway onto the grass.  There is no taxiway off the runway.  Outbound aircraft taxi on the pavement.  Inbound aircraft taxi on the grass between the runway and the grass strip used by the gliders.control tower vacate left I earned my “First Flight” certificate:flight certificate

After my skyward adventure, I drove through narrow passages… narrow lanes past fields of dangerous beasts …dangerous beasts and avoided more than one diabolical maize …diabolical maze to arrive at the charming hamlet of Hambleden.hamletThe town, of course, has it’s requisite church:requisite church And the few classic English Gardens: english gardens But it’s most famous for the enormous manor house of Lord Cardigan.  It’s similar to the houses I photographed from the air.  The entrance is secured with a formidable wall, an iron gate, and two burly security guards who forbade me to take a picture.  After some negotiation, I was permitted to photograph the name-plate on the gate:nameplateYes.  This IS the same Cardigan after who we have named the clothing apparel.  That is according to Cathy – a local woman who was sitting at the bus stop across from the entrance.  It was an ancestor of the current Lord Cardigan of course – but living at this same manor.  According to Cathy, this ancestor led a couple of famous battles in the 1800’s and dressed his soldiers in button-up sweaters.  I’m not completely sure that the story is true as Cathy had a bit of a twinkle in her eye as she told it to me.  But a quick search on Wikipedia did seem to confirm that the sweater is named after an Earl Cardigan, who was a military man from the mid 1800’s….

So there you have it: an interesting, off-the-beaten path adventure en-route to Heathrow!  David leaves you with this witticism:

Did you know that the British have an official Garden Police?

Yes.  They call it Lawn and Order.