So considering that this blog is semi-inspired by Harry Potter, I thought it apt that I start off my blog with a Harry Potter post. So here you are!
As I previously mentioned, I requested a trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Orlando for my graduation gift. Yay! Screw Europe, I’m going to Hogwarts.
So the day after graduation, my family and I boarded a flight to Florida. We were rather apprehensive about the timing of it all since it was apparently supposed to rain for three days in Florida–THE three days we’d gotten admission into the Harry Potter park. You’d think life hates me, yes? Well, actually, Florida’s pretty hot and sweltering, so the somewhat cloudy and chill weather made it much more tolerable. Thank goodness for that because hot temperatures usually reduce me to a very cranky version of Ron Weasley deprived of food.
When we bought tickets, we’d gotten the package that included both Hogsmeade (Islands of Adventure) and Diagon Alley (Universal Studios) with middleman Hogwarts Express. We also got early admission tickets (meaning you get an hour’s head start from the general crowd) and the express pass. BOOM, we were so on top of it. So we woke up at 6 a.m. each day, jiffy-ed out of the hotel, took a boat ride, got into the Islands of Adventure line around 7 a.m., and waited till 8 a.m. for the park to admit us in.
And entering into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, I think I entered some sort of epileptic frenzy trying to soak in the fact that I’d finally arrived at Hogwarts. About time too–I’d been waiting for my letter of admission from Hogwarts for a decade! Geez, to think I would ever have to resort to gate-crashing….
One of the greatest things about the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is that you can buy a wand pretty much anywhere in the park, and it activates little animations/effects in the shop windows. For example, you can make a suit of armor come to life, get a fountain to shoot water, silence a cawing bird, make things dance, and so on. It is an AWESOME diversion if you get tired from the rides.
Now there’s two Ollivander shops, one each in Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley, and at these locations, they hold live demonstrations of a wand choosing the witch or wizard. By that, I mean they let in a few select people at a time, and “Ollivander” randomly chooses one person from the audience, proceeding to go through the whole script [from the Philosopher’s Stone movie] before finally choosing a wand for that person. I first watched this in Hogsmeade after a long wait, but wasn’t selected. I thought, “No biggie, I can just get my own wand from the shop later.”
But then I accidentally wandered into the other Ollivander’s shop at Diagon Alley and found myself being unwittingly ushered into another demonstration–again. I wasn’t expecting to be chosen, but this time, I met eyes with Ollivander, who then asked me, “What’s your name?” The guy had me come forward, wave a wand or two, before saying, “I wonder….” in a mystic voice. Haha, and you know how it goes. He pulls out a wand (willow), it “chooses” me, and it’s officially official. I’m a witch! (cackles) But all jokes aside, I was happy–everyone else got their own wand from the shop, but Ollivander handpicked it for me 😀
I fell in love with all the shops. There’s Honeydukes, which of course carries many various sweets like Bertie Botts, U-No-Poo, lemon drops, sugar quills, Chocolate Frogs, and so on. Then there’s Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes, Magical Menagerie, Dervish and Banges, and Quality Quidditch, all of those being really fun and awesome; you can get apparel and various little trinkets that you see in the movies. My personal favorite was Knockturn Alley, where there’s an allyway of “dark magic” shops like Borgins and Burkes, and it’s funny as hell trying to creep your way around in the dark and not trip over anything. It’s also a nice relief to get away from the sun.
Hogwarts Express takes you back and forth between Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. The lines were a relatively reasonable wait most of the times, and the stations are huge and realistic. The train compartments were also really cute and detailed. The “window” (actually a screen) shows the train passing by landmarks like the Riddle house, the Forbidden Forest, and London, and you get glimpses of the Weasley twins on broomsticks (flashback to their glorious exit from Hogwarts), the Knight Bus, centaurs, Hagrid, Moody, etc. Lots of things that Harry Potter nerds could geek out in about in recognition.
By the way, there was this English lady who got into the same compartment as my family, and when the conductor said, “All aboard for London!”, the lady said, “I just got off a flight from there.” 😀
Food! There’s two restaurant options here: The Leaky Cauldron (in Diagon Alley), and The Three Broomsticks/Hog’s Head. (duh!) We thought the menu was….questionable at Leaky Cauldron, and there was no vegetarian option, so we opted for an outside diner. But the next day, we found that The Hog’s Head served a better menu than the Leaky Cauldron (oh the irony), and it had an outside deck area that had a beautiful view of Hogwarts and the woody river below, so we dined there. And after that, we went for ice cream sundaes at Florean Fortescue’s! Overall, all the dining areas here were really beautiful and realistically built. Absolutely fantastic:)
Each day, the first thing we did was beeline for the Forbidden Journey. The wait lines for this ride wind through Hogwarts, which is very convenient if you’re bored, and seeing Dumbledore’s office, the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, and the glimpses of the House points’ hourglasses, greenhouses, Sorting Hat, Fat Lady, and so on, all certainly keep you occupied during the near-two hour wait.The ride itself (3D simulation) is exhilarating and a great visual treat; Harry takes you through something like an obstacle course consisting of a basilisk, acromantulas, dementors, Inferi, Whomping Willow, etc. And you’re being flipped around or dropped unexpectedly to make the journey realistic, which makes it a lot of fun and an overall exciting ride.
Escape from Gringotts (the other 3D simulation ride) also fostered such long lines, but similarly had a fantastic view of Gringotts. The entry hallway with real goblins, the vaults, the goblins’ offices below, elevator ride, and so on….there’s a lot of things you can recognize from the books and movie. Bill Weasley guides you throughout the ride to break out of Gringotts on a dragon, closely tailed by a maddened Bellatrix Lestrange and Voldemort. I loved it–it definitely had more jolts and roller coaster drops compared to Forbidden Journey.
In conclusion, can you tell how deliriously happy I am about this place? I completely geeked out and lost my head once I entered. Seriously, can I live here? I wouldn’t mind pitching a tent here all year around; not that they’d let me, but I can always sniff out a job as a night janitor or something…. And as a result of me losing my head, I had to do some major quick thinking when cramming my suitcase for the flight back home–because it was packed with nerdy souvenirs that I’d bought out of my blind euphoria.
But because this place is THAT amazing (great rides, architecture, sights, food, and diversions), I don’t think I can explain the wonders of it all without this post becoming 10 times longer than it should. So considering a picture’s worth a thousand words, I’ll stop blathering and simply post pictures from here on out.
Thanks for reading my babble so far. Mischief managed!
Now IF you’re planning to visit this place, a few words of advice:
We stayed at Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, which I recommend since it’s clean and very pretty. You get a boat ride to and from the park, which is great since the ride itself is short and worth it (good time to enjoy the breezy boat ride and take the time to get the weight off your feet), and the hotel pool has a waterslide in case you want to party even more after everythings’ closed. Overall, quite satisfactory.
I cannot recommend the express pass enough. It is totally practical and smart to spend just a bit more money and skip hour long lines in five to ten minutes. This means you could ride the attraction at least 5 more times than other people in an hour if you wished. Otherwise, you’d spend the entire day waiting in lines, getting sweaty, cranky, losing energy, and you’d only get to ride four or five attractions in a day at best. Meanwhile, you’d also be losing time to shop around in Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley, which would definitely be a bummer. So get the express pass!
But something that’s NOT MADE VERY CLEAR ABOUT EXPRESS PASS is that it DOES NOT apply to the Forbidden Journey (Hogsmeade) and Escape from Gringotts (Diagon Alley). These are the two most popular [3D] rides, and the lines could queue from 45 minutes to 2 hours. So for that reason, we got early admission tickets. We thought that early admission would be very much worth it since the general crowd would be stuck outside the gates while we early admission-ers would be riding these attractions as many times as possible before the crowd swarmed in.
But WHAT WASN’T MADE VERY CLEAR ABOUT EARLY ADMISSION was that you ONLY get early access into Hogsmeade (Islands of Adventure), but NOT into Diagon Alley (Universal Studios). So early admission is worth it if you want to 1) enjoy the sights of Hogsmeade and take good pictures without a crowd bumping into you, 2) ride the Forbidden Journey as many times possible (remember, the express pass doesn’t apply here!) before the rest of the crowd enters the park, or 3) you want to walk around and ride stuff before the sun comes up and the heat kicks in (VERY much worth it). So it really depends on what’s your priority. For someone like myself and my mother, we like to take pictures, soak stuff up, and we hate heat, so the early admission was well worth it. But if (in the case of my father) your priority is to ride as many exhilarating attractions as possible, you could just skip out on early admission and get an express pass if you’re okay with not riding Forbidden Journey as much. After all (to be honest), Forbidden Journey isn’t a gut-dropping, scary sort of ride, but more of a visual sort of thing, so people who like serious roller coasters might not find early admission tickets worthwhile, at least not just for the Forbidden Journey.
So although early admission was great for someone like me, I still do not appreciate false advertising. The website to buy tickets don’t mention these details at all, and they totally should. AND because we went in May (the non-peak season) and not as many people were there, the park closed really early, which I thought was lazy of them and a bit of a rip-off for people like me who paid the regular full price. Boo, hiss. But besides these little setbacks, I totally loved it. Honestly, I did.
UPDATE: Since I last posted this, I’ve found that apparently they’re planning a Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Hollywood, coming Spring 2016. WHOA! Another item added added to my priority list.