Living in a Theme Park Day 3: All Aboard the Hogwarts Express to Universal Islands of Adventure

This morning we got up a little later than we normally would on vacation; living in theme parks is hard work. But this is only Day 3 so we were still trying to keep our energy up! We dressed in our Hogwarts best, Kris and Justine as Slytherin and Hufflepuff students, and Kristin as a visiting student from Beauxbatons (because she’s apparently not in a Hogwarts house). The theme of our outfits needed to change because today we weren’t off to Disney World. Today we would finally get to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. We could not contain our excitement.

There is a shuttle from our hotel to Universal Studios but the front desk told us a taxi would be quicker, cheaper, and overall easier for the three of us. So, after our normal breakfast, we caught a cab. The drive into Orlando was the worst, just the worst. It was so hot inside the car we thought we might die, but we couldn’t open the windows. And our driver was totally incompetent. At one point, as we were approaching the park, he waited in a line of traffic in the right turning lane for what seemed like forever only to dart into an open lane and go straight right before the intersection. What was he doing??? That probably cost us an extra $10! Shouldn’t he know where he’s going?! When we finally got to our stop the doors were still locked and we couldn’t get out. Remember we are boiling at this point… not to mention exceptionally annoyed. Needless to say, we did not leave him a good tip. He did not deserve it. (Note from Kris: I don’t think I tipped him at all actually. He really didn’t deserve it.)

We finally arrived at Universal Orlando and headed straight to Islands of Adventure. This is the second and far less visited of the two Universal Parks. We made it our first stop because of Hogwarts. Both parks have a Harry Potter area, but Hogwarts seemed like the natural place to start. We could see the castle peaking above the skyline.

islands-of-adventure

Getting into the park followed the same finger print scan setup as Disney – do they share this information with the FBI? Are our finger prints on record now? Because if they don’t, the federal government is missing out on an excellent fingerprint database opportunity. They could just hide it somewhere in the fine print when purchasing tickets.

Once in the park we bee-lined for basically the only thing that mattered to us. Upon getting that first glimpse of the snow-covered rooftops of Hogsmeade we had tears in our eyes. It was magical… just like walking onto a Harry Potter movie set or walking off the Hogwarts Express directly into Hogsmeade in real life (we are all about suspending disbelief and looking at this like a real trip to our favourite fictional land). Time flew quickly once we started wandering around aimlessly in excitement. There was so much to see and take in.

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Our first official stop was Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, aka the Hogwarts ride. We were pleasantly surprised to find the line was almost as good as the ride itself… maybe even better. It snaked you among the greenhouses, into the castle, past the entrance to Dumbledore’s office, through the DADA classroom, right up to a hall of portraits. It was magical. The paintings were moving and talking…yet looked like actual paintings. It was easy to believe it was actual sorcery at work. And of course, Harry Potter music was playing the entire time. Which is magical all on its own.

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The ride was part screen and part real life immersion. It was scarier than we thought it would be, especially if you’re deathly afraid of spiders like KG! While traveling through the Forbidden Forest dementors attacked. We screamed every time one popped out. You’d think by the 6th time you’d be used to it… but not us. No, we are afraid of everything no matter how desensitized we should be. A really neat part was when we were flying on the quidditch pitch with Gryffindor team. (Note from Kris: And Malfoy. Gotta love any time Malfoy is around.)

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Next we queued up for the Dragon Challenge. This is a twin roller coaster: having both a blue ‘Hungarian Horntail’ and a red ‘Chinese Fireball’ track. We tried both of course. Justine was not prepared; Justine was not ready for the twists and flips. But then again she’s rarely as ready for thrill rides as the other two. They revel in the excitement. Overall, we decided blue was better…we think…maybe. Again the line for this ride was incredibly entertaining, but this time we were making our own fun. The theme was the TriWizard Tournament (which had a Dragon Challenge…get it?) and there were multiple signs & banners for each champion scattered about. We quickly realized we each support a separate Champion – Justine & Cedric, KG & Fleur, and Kris & Krum – all of whom are not the main protagonist. Sorry Harry.

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Just a note for the spoiler debate started on My Fangirl Life – you’re allowed to talk about spoilers when you’re at that fandom’s theme park. Otherwise the visit would be stupid.

It was quickly decided that the one thing that would make this day more magical was wands. And everyone knows the only place to get a wand is Ollivander’s. While in line for the wand shop we shared a box of jelly beans… not Every Flavored Beans, but a box with lots of flavors anyways. We meant to only have a few but finished the lot… just not the licorice and popcorn flavours – those went right back into the box (sometimes partially eaten). In line we also took turns watching the Tri-Wizard Spirit Rally – a demonstration of the traditional dances of Durmstrang and Beauxbatons.

Inside Ollivander’s there was a short show. Ollivander helped a young girl choose her perfect wand… or should I say her perfect wand choose her. She tried a couple and each time blew something up. Finally, on the third try, the lights shone, the music swelled and we all knew that was it. We imagine this would be amazing for a child. It was magical to us.

It took us a long time to choose our own wands. You had the option of getting almost any Harry Potter character – from Harry, Ron and Hermione to Narcissa Malfoy, Viktor Krum and Arthur Weasley. After endlessly looking we all ended up buying the exact ones we’d come in looking for: Cedric Diggory’s for Justine, Viktor Krum’s for Kris and Fleur Delacour’s for KG. Again with the TriWizard Champions.

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Upon leaving Ollivander’s we stopped off at The Three Broomsticks. The Three Broomsticks is the main restaurant in this area of the park… and of Hogsmeade… yay for accuracy! It is wonderful. Kris & KG each ordered chicken, which came with a full ear of corn and some potatoes. Justine substituted half of her half a chicken (so a quarter of the bird?) for beef ribs, making it a combo platter. And, of course, we all ordered Butterbeer… the original. Did you know there was more than one way to serve Butterbeer? But we’ll get to that later… The meal was perfect. Totally fitting to the ambiance and absolutely delicious. The Butterbeer was a dream. It’s not sickeningly sweet, like you might expect. Instead it’s rich but with a cream-soda-y aftertaste… it’s hard to explain. The best accessories to our meal were the three wands that lay across the table.

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We had one final Harry Potter ride to take on: Flight of the Hippogriff. While in line we made friends with a young boy, who had an impressive knowledge of Harry Potter, and his dad. Apparently the boy was conceived in Canada – and for some reason we weren’t weirded out by that overshare. This was our longest wait of the day, so we took the opportunity to have a mini photoshoot. People definitely look at you oddly when you do this, but usually when you’re having way more fun than them it doesn’t seem to bother you. The ride was short. Very short. Especially for the amount of time we’d spent in the queue. The excitement factor was also lacking. If you had young children we imagine they’d love it. For us the best part was the animatronic Buckbeak at the start.

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Now that we were done the rides, the real photoshoot could begin. We explored the streets of Hogsmeade and documented each movement with as many pictures as possible. I don’t know if there’s a sign or corner that we don’t have a photo of. On a ‘side street’ we found a blank wall which proved to be an ideal backdrop. By now we weren’t even fazed by the onlookers… in fact we may have hammed it up extra when they cast us odd looks.

wizarding-world-harry-potter-photoshoot

While meandering we checked out the various shops the Harry Potter series had made famous. I think you could find any Harry Potter themed souvenir you could want. Honeydukes was bloody brilliant! Chocolate Frogs and Every Flavoured Beans and Fizzing Whizbees! Any candy you could imagine – or more accurately, recall from the books – made an appearance. Obviously we all made a purchase.

Then it was time for another Butterbeer (Note from Kris: it’s always time for another Butterbeer). We decided, since we could only enjoy them for three days, we were going to take advantage. This time we selected the frozen. Yum. Slushy-ness. Kris and Justine moved this version to the top of their rankings, although KG was steadfast to her love of the original.

wizarding-world-harry-potter-hogsmeade

By now it was time to leave Harry Potter World. We stopped at a bathroom, because that’s what we do: stop at a bathroom every 30 seconds. We’d probably scaled back from yesterday but still, I think we visited every bathroom in the park. The day was winding down (we’d spent HOURS in Hogsmeade) so we took a consensus on what we’d most like to see in the greater park area. The resounding response was Marvel Superhero Island.

First Stop: The Incredible Hulk – a crazy green roller coaster. We waited in line for quite a while, passing the time playing ‘Guess the Harry Potter Character’. This version should be easier than the Disney version, except Kris chose “the guy Vernon yells at during Chapter 1 of the first book”. KG & Justine did not get there. I wonder why not…? Once seated on the ride we had an unexpected delay: some loser tried to bring on a go-pro, which was strictly prohibited (something we’d been told more than once by signs while in line). Needless to say, he was kicked off and the ride commenced. Justine decided the anticipation is the worst, just sitting there and waiting and waiting – not knowing what to expect. But once we had taken off the roller coaster was great!

Next we headed to Doctor Doom’s Fear Fall. This is a typical free fall ride. The waiting area for the line was pretty cool. There was an actual story line in the lead up to the ride, which is typical for Disney but not Universal. There was also no line so we did it twice in a row, walking right to the front both times.

We perused a few shops, then headed to the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man ride.

The stupid lockers Universal makes you put your bags in before every ride should be mentioned here. Yes, the lockers are important on rides like the roller coasters (you don’t want to be losing any of your personal items when you go upside-down) but you probably don’t need them for half of the rides they make you use them for. Plus the lockers are tiny. Each of our little backpacks needed their own – we all have what could be referred to as ‘fashion backpacks’ rather than full-sized school bags. We don’t know how someone with a regular sized bag could fit. And to top it all off, the locker area is tiny and always way too crowded. It’s not well thought out; Disney would have done it better.

It was waiting in this line for the Spider-Man ride that we fully discussed the superiority of Disney. The queue was set up as an office building, to mimic the old Spider-Man cartoons. However, everything looked cheap and not well put together. Why couldn’t they use a real computer screen instead of a cheap fake looking one? Despite the complaining, the ride was fun. We had no idea what to expect going in and were pleasantly surprised. It was a part real/part screen ride again but this time in 3D. Universal loves this style of ride… and 3D glasses.

While in line it had gotten dark outside. Instead of tiring ourselves out even more we decided to head back to the hotel. It’s still too early in the trip to burn ourselves out. We weren’t super hungry so decided to just grab something quick at the hotel. Kris & KG shared a buffalo chicken flatbread and salad and Justine gobbled down parmesan chicken and pasta. We then grabbed tea and enjoyed some much needed downtime. Justine had a brilliant idea of drawing a bath and we soaked our feet. It sounds ridiculous but we are not accustomed to walking all day. Much fun was had discussing the various ways we would fangirl over Cedric Diggory (which resulted in the post If I was a Cedric Diggory Fangirl, this is what I would do…) and watching the Bachelor – because apparently we like it enough to watch it on holidays.

Another day down…

– Justine … & Kris … & KG!

(February 15, 2015)

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2 responses

  1. Pingback: Living in a Theme Park Day 1: The Most Magical Day Ever at the Magic Kingdom! | Wonder & Wanderlust

  2. Pingback: Living in a Theme Park Day 4: Lost in London…or Universal Studios | Wonder & Wanderlust

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