Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Florida: I Want To Go Back Already (Part II)

Part II: Universal Orlando--

And now, I couldn't possibly leave out the literally amazing Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal.  After a few days at Disney, we decided to use our one day at a neighboring theme park.  Historically I haven't cared much for the "U-word" parks, but Julie has been there before and enjoyed some of the rides, and then, considering their recent addition, they must have known exactly how to get my attention (and my cash).  To put our excitement for HP Land in perspective, there are two parks at Universal Orlando--Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure--and we spent a total of one day going back and forth between them, and out of the 9 hours of that day, 6-7 of them were spent in Hogsmeade.  If they had stayed open later, we would have been happy to browse the streets and shops even more.
I may or may not have bought this shirt just in preparation for HP Land.
In general, Universal was a pretty fun place, but if it weren't for Harry, there wouldn't be a HUGE need for us to go back there anytime soon.  They don't have a general Fastpass system (unless you pay extra for it), a lot of rides require you put your belongings in lockers, and the theming and lands are just missing a little something that is so evident at Disney parks.  The cast members have a totally different feel, and everything seems a lot less organized.  They have a few more thrill rides, but some of them are based on much older movies, and it has a pretty dated feel.  I loved the Jaws ride, and the Jurassic Park, Spider-Man, E.T. and Mummy ones were really cool too, but a lot of things we just walked past.  Harry Potter fans MUST spend a day there, but otherwise, it was just a pretty fun theme park.
This girl just loves that Wolverine.  And he is HUGE!
*cue JP theme here*
Shes also loves that T-Rex.  She would have one as a pet if she could, though I try to tell her it might just eat us.
The spinosaurus?  Not as much of a fan here.
I'm holding my nose in reference to the memorable Triceratops poo excavation in the movie.
Imposing, yes?
I'm saying, "We were JUST talking about this!" because I was just texting Lacie about getting tickets to Seussical when we get home.
This girl can find a library anywhere she goes.
"Bathing Beauty, say hello!"
It seems like a perfectly safe shark-free day to visit the beach, doesn't it?
This is also so big and scary.
I'm saying, "Who needs it?"  (Apu: I dooooooo!)
So, between Disney and Universal, which park features the better Keane's artwork?...
As we were leaving Universal Studios to go back to Islands of Adventure, we were asked to answer a few questions about our trip and our feelings about the park, and at the end of the (rather lengthy) survey, they asked a rather pointed question about how our family feels about Harry Potter.  We responded quite enthusiastically that we were big fans (gesturing to our t-shirts), so it's pretty clear they were trying to gauge how many visitors were drawn by Harry.  Speaking of which...

And now, for the main attraction...
We could see Hogwarts from Jurassic Park!!!
• Hogsmeade is incredible.  It's a spectacular recreation of the village in winter from the movies, and features so many of the stores, though they are sort of a conglomeration of shops found there and at Diagon Alley (Zonko's, Honeydukes, Ollivander's, The Hog's Head, The Three Broomsticks, Scrivenshaft's, Dervish & Banges, and an Owl Post station).  They have so many awesome wands and props for sale, as well as general souvenirs, and a lot of it is unique to the park shops.  The candies at the sweet shop (Chocolate frogs, Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans, U-No-Poo, etc.) have packaging just like in the movie, and, I should say, charge a good amount more than the mass-produced versions you find at Smith's, but I guess that's to be expected at a theme park.  We dropped a good amount of cash there, but not an obscene amount, and really, we were AT Hogsmeade.  We couldn't possibly resist buying wands at Ollivander's or a time turner to complete Julie's Hermione costume (which we pretty much have decided we're going to bring back this year)!
Like a kid in a candy st-- well, anyway.
Not exactly as described in the books, but it's all good.
Julie just loves that Arnold.  (Right, sweetie, right??)
"Why are you worrying about You-Know-Who? You should be worrying about U-No-Poo!"
Ollivander's!  So, so many wands!
This is my Voldemort's-wand-hand impression.  Nice fingers there, man.
I wanted to Elder Wand SO bad, but that's just too much power.
Julie was quite taken with Sirius's unique design.
In the end we went with Hermione's and Harry's wands.  (Of course!)
OMGoodness, Gilderoyyyyy!!!

The girl selling wands at this stand (near the robes) offered to take our picture as if we were working at the shoppe.  This is a good look at the characters' really cool wand designs.

They had a bunch of other really neat non-character wand styles too, in case you wanted something different.
"Dementor, dementor!"  Nothing like a bit of good old Boy-Who-Lived hazing, eh, Malfoy?  Classy.
"My horn can pierce the sky!" -- Michael Scott
Poor Hedwig.
Who would want a Li'l Pettigrew?  Gross!  Unless they didn't know, in which case, spoiler alert...  But seriously, if you don't know that by now, it's just too bad.
 • The food is splendid!  Butterbeer is delicious and comes cold or frozen (basically a slush version, we preferred it cold), it's sort of like root beer mixed with butterscotch, and served with a delightful foam on top.  Pumpkin juice was also so so very nice, a kind of pumpkin-flavored cider.  We had lunch in The Three Broomsticks, which featured a great English menu--I had Shepherd's pie and Julie had Cornish pasties.
Worth the price--JUST BUY IT.
At the Three Broomsticks! (slash Hog's Head)  Can you see the actual three broomsticks??
• The rides are really awesome!  Two of them were there before and have just been rethemed to fit in the world of HP (Dragon Challenge is a cool dueling-dragons double roller coaster themed to the Dragon Task in GoF, and Flight of the Hippogriff is a tamer roller coaster surrounding Hagrid's Hut and Buckbeak's nest), but the new Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride is just amazing.  The queue winds through Hogwarts and there are SO many awesome things to look at (Dumbledore's office and the Pensieve, the Mirror of Erised, statues featured in the movies, mandrakes in the greenhouse, house points in their glass containers, moving portrait galleries, classrooms, and really great appearances by Dumbledore, Harry, Ron and Hermione), and the ride is such an amazing blend of motion simulation and dark ride elements, it just has to be experienced to be understood.
I wanted to put my name in for consideration, but I was fresh out of parchment.
That's right, go on!
The roller coaster cars were wicker hippogriffs!
The winged boar entrance even!
A wee warning from the headmaster.
"Cockroach cluster."
My heart's desire was to be in Hogwarts.  That's why my reflection showed me pretty much as I was.
• The overall feel of the whole area is so authentic and immersive, it just feels like you're in the movie set.  You look behind you and see Hogwarts rising above the trees and you look down the street and you see Hogsmeade winding down the path, leading to the steaming red engine of the Hogwarts Express at the exit back into the rest of the park.
Busy and bustling, just like Hogsmeade should be (but not overwhelmingly busy, the crowds were pretty good).

*ahem* Bad boys?...
She really wanted to get on board.
They even have character meet-and-greets!  If there weren't a line we would have posed with them, but we settled for an in-between-pictures picture.
There wasn't so much interest in taking pictures over on this side, so Wife decided to show a little love.
And that's it.  We were among the last to leave at park closing, taking literally hundreds of pictures of every single detail (including the signs for the "Public Conveniences" where you can even hear Myrtle moaning and complaining in the toilets, the Gringotts-themed ATM and signs for the Wizarding Wireless Network), until we were ushered out quite insistently by a security man (it might have been a nice touch if he had been wearing some sort of Ministry of Magic logo, or perhaps an Azkaban pin or something).  The Wife has posted dozens and dozens of pictures on Facebook if people are interested in seeing some of the details of the shops and castle and props and such.

It was quite incredible.  I'm pretty sure that Universal has finally figured out a way to get me to have to visit each time I go to Florida now.  There are rumors of expansions and additions, which would be awesome (even though it is truly magical just as it is).
Saying goodbye to Hogsmeade... *sad*
Just a few more trip details are on their way, don't go too far!


  1. Hogwarts, Hogwarts
    Hoggy Hoggy Hogwarts
    Let me come back please!

  2. I think my brother had an Elder Wand as a mission companion once...

  3. Everything looked like is was so, so much fun! I'm glad you were able to show me all these pictures in person, to get commentary on most of them, though it seems like you did a good job on here as well. I think this will be fun in the future when you have kids (and hopefully this blog is still in existence) for them to look back and see all the fun you had even back when. I am super jealous about all the fun HP things, I remember when we used to just joking dream about a Harry Potter theme park, and now you have actually been to it!

  4. We four just watched your American Idol performance. AWESOME! Looks like you had a blast.