Last week, I went on my first trip to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter! Okay, it’s not exactly British, being in Orlando, but it is definitely relevant to the subject matter of this blog, so I thought I would post a bit of a review and some advice for those who haven’t gone yet.
First piece of advice–you do not need a pass for multiple days. Unfortunately this park is woefully small. I know they are planning an expansion and might be adding Diagon Alley with a Gringotts ride and Leaky Cauldron restaurant, but that is all conjecture. I’ll probably go back when that’s done, because, hey, I’m just that big of a nerd. As it stands, though, the Harry Potter part of the park can be seen in its entirety, twice, in about 4 hours. Not knowing this, I ended up getting 4 day passes, which meant I got to go back and see it a second time, so it wasn’t a total waste. But it’s smaller than I expected, so keep that in mind.
You have to walk through half of the Universal Studios Islands of Adventure to get to the Harry Potter section. I would recommend turning right once you get into the park, and going around the circle anti-clockwise. This provides the best view of Hogsmeade and Hogwarts when you approach. The other direction brings you around the back.
As you come in, you pass under an archway with the Hogsmeade sign and the Hogwarts Express is clearly and immediately visible.
The conductor stands in front and poses for pictures with whomever wants one. There’s also a Hogsmeade ‘station’ which is really a place to put your stuff in Lockers if you’re nuts enough to go on the Dragon Challenge ride.
So, here’s the real scoop about what is disappointing about this park. When I went on their website they have this big list of the shops that you can go into, everything from Zonko’s and Honeydukes to Ollivanders, the Owl Post, Dervish and Banges, Scrivenshaft’s…the list goes on. But, unfortunately, there are really only about 3 of those shops that are real. The rest are just storefronts with ‘Back Soon’ signs, etc. So let me take you through geographically.
On the right is the train, and on the left are Zonko’s and Honeydukes, which are really just one large shop with two entrances.
There are tons of products in here, mostly little joke bits on the Zonko’s end. I wasn’t particularly tempted by any of the products in there. They have bits from the Skiving Snackboxes, plus stuff like U-No-Poo, Sneakoscopes, and Extendable Ears. The packaging on all of these is really cool, but it wasn’t my cup of tea. Honeydukes on the other hand! I was slightly disappointed that the Chocolate Frogs were so large, and as far as I could tell without buying one, were about the same as an Easter bunny, but a frog obviously. I was more intrigued by the Peppermint Toads, the Bertie Bott’s, and Cauldron Cakes. It was a really cute shop and they also had ‘homemade’ fudge behind the counter.
After these two shops you’ll find the Three Broomsticks and the Hog’s Head.
Again, these are two separate entrances but inside they are open to one another. Slightly inaccurate, but I’ll forgive them. At the Three Broomsticks, you can order food and drink (non-alcoholic). The Hog’s Head serves all the non-alcoholic drinks plus some beers on tap. They have a Hog’s Head brew, which I didn’t try as I hate beer. If you go on a really busy day, I’ve heard that the Hog’s Head is a better place to get your Butterbeer or Pumpkin Juice, as the lines are generally shorter. I have to say, as a vegetarian, there wasn’t much for me to eat at the Three Broomsticks. I ended up getting corn on the cob and roast potatoes. Good, but they were two sides, not a meal in themselves. My boyfriend got Shepherd’s Pie, which he enjoyed. It seems to more closely resemble actual food than a lot of places inside your typical theme park. And the drinks? I tried a frozen Butterbeer, a regular Butterbeer, and Pumpkin Juice. Frozen Butterbeer was the best by far (possibly aided by it being 90 degrees that day in Orlando). It tasted like a cream soda smoothie of some kind. The pumpkin juice wasn’t really juice, for the record, but seemed to be basically a pumpkin flavored soda. I wish they had made it an actual juice. I know there are recipes online for something that is actually juice, so I may have to try those this fall when pumpkins are so cheap (i.e. November 1st or so). Anyway, the Butterbeer is highly recommended!
Across from the 3B’s and the HH, you’ll find the entrance to the Dragon Challenge.
Background info: I am terrified of heights and roller coasters. I have never been on a coaster that went upside down and had absolutely no intention of going on this one. My boyfriend did go on it however! While you’re waiting in line you get to walk past the Ford Anglia and some Triwizard posters and the cup. He said that the red coaster, representing the Chinese Fireball, wasn’t too bad. When you exit the ride you can hop back in line and ride the other one if you want. So he did, and the green coaster, representing the Horntail, is way way worse. I couldn’t have even successfully waited in line without passing out, but good to know if I ever suffer a head injury and then think that sort of thing is fun.
Past this ride is the Owl Post, one of the bigger shops that seems to mostly have wands and clothes. That is right next to Ollivander’s. Here’s the deal with Ollivander’s: The line is usually really long. Our first day there, there were about 100 people in line, and it takes about 10-15 minutes for each group of 15-20 people to go. So it’s a long line. And they don’t even have a little sign telling you how long it will be. We ended up going back on a day when it was raining, when it was almost evening, and had only a 15 minute wait. So I am glad about that. You’re ushered into his shop and he picks ONE person who gets to try out a few wands. It’s pretty cool. He measures you and he’s snarky, and he gives the spiel about the wand choosing the wizard. That one person gets to go up and try a few wands. They have effects rigged so shelves fall down and he repairs them with his wand, etc. But even if you are lucky enough to be the one person who gets picked, you still have to buy your wand in the shop next door. Everyone else just watches, and then it’s over. Worth seeing if the line is short, or if you really hope you’ll be the one person, but not essential in my opinion.
Past these buildings are a few of the fake shop fronts I mentioned. Then there’s an open space where they have photo ops with some people posing as characters–not the main characters, but Hogwarts students or Beauxbatons and Durmstrang students. They also have shows like the frog choir a few times a day.
Past that is the Flight of the Hippogriff ride. This is technically called a family friendly roller coaster, so I steeled up my strength and went for it! While you’re in line you can look at Hagrid’s cabin, and while you’re going through the ride you get to bow to Buckbeak. It’s a really quick coaster that goes more in circles than up and down, which is what I vastly prefer. Highly recommended!
Past this, there’s just the castle itself! You can go through on ‘the tour’, which gives you the same experience as those riding, or you can go on the ride, or, I guess you could skip that and just go into the store at the back. I went on the ride twice, and on the tour. So…I’ve been through the castle three times.
You go in and you sort of catch bits of conversation between portraits, talking about how muggles have been allowed into the castle on these tours and we’ll be learning about the castle from Professor Binns. Along the way you see stuff like the Mirror of Erised, bits of the Quidditch team lockers, then into Dumbledore’s office.
He (through a Tupac-esque hologram) talks to you about the castle and hurries you along. In the next little room you’re in the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, and Ron, Harry, and Hermione appear from under the invisibility cloak. Holograms, obviously. They tell you that you definitely don’t want to sit through Binns’ lecture, and you should follow them if you want to see the real Hogwarts. They also mention the fact that Hagrid has misplaced a dragon. Then Ron makes it snow with his wand accidentally, and real snow comes down from the ceiling. That part is really cool, and you do feel pretty integrated into the experience. I think they did an excellent job of making the waiting in line just as interesting as the ride itself.
So, the Forbidden Journey ride…I went on it twice. The first time it made me a bit ill, but I did have a full stomach at the time. The second go through, on a different day, went much better. You’re strapped into four-person carts that really move forward, back, vertical, and turn you damn near upside down. You zoom over Hogwarts with the trio, meet Hagrid along the way, and then you’re sort of sucked along, running away from his missing dragon out to the forest where you encounter Aragog and his very large family (a particularly worrisome moment for my arachnophobic boyfriend), and into the Chamber of Secrets where the Basilisk skeleton is waiting for you, and then you’re hit with dementors, and a minute later you successfully arrive back at the Great Hall and the ride is over. It’s really fun, but keep your eyes open. I closed my eyes the first time and it only made me feel more ill, and I missed bunches of stuff.
When you’re done with the ride you get spit out into the largest shop of all, Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods. I bought so much stuff! They have lots of clothing at that shop, plus winter gear, stuff for your house, flagons and coffee cups and stuff, all the books (in hardcover!), the movies, and lots of stuff that isn’t in the other shops. I ended up buying, over the whole course of our time there, a long sleeve shirt, a short sleeve shirt, Peppermint Toads, Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, a Hogwarts flagon, a Ministry of Magic coffee mug, a Marauder’s coffee mug, and a Hogwarts Express key chain. And, yes, it’s expensive. On the other hand, this was the first time I had ever been to a theme park as an adult, so why the fuck not?
So, my thoughts on the place? It was awesome. If you’re a big HP fan like me, it’s a must see. It’s hard not to get excited to see stuff like this, even if you know it’s not the real Hogwarts. My best advice is try to go during the school year, and on a weekday. It wasn’t too busy when we were there, which I am thankful for. I don’t think it would have been nearly as pleasant in July, when all the kids are out of school, it’s 10 degrees warmer, and the lines are all an hour long. Also, plan on spending more than you think you will. Theme parks are notoriously expensive, but between the souvenirs, the overpriced food, and the taxi rides after walking 7-10 miles a day, I spent several hundred dollars more than I planned on.
Also, the most important bit of advice: remember to wear comfy shoes!