Harry Potter World

Just yesterday (as I write this), my super amazing girlfriend and I went to Harry Potter World!!!! It was quite the adventure. It was also very hot.

My super amazing girlfriend, who features prominently in this story and of course also my heart, had wanted to go while we were on vacation down here in Florida. She is a big Harry Potter fan (I have read the books, and as of writing this, I have watched most of the movies) and had last visited 11 years or so ago when there was only one Harry Potter World, which was Hogsmeade over in Universal’s Islands of Adventure. She wanted to visit again, and so we did. Along with many, many other people.

We started the day driving the two hours or so to Orlando and made our way first to Islands of Adventure. My super amazing girlfriend had mapped out a bit of a strategy which involved trying to get in line for one of the more popular rides first thing in the morning as soon as we could in order to beat the crowd. This strategy went the way most did in contact with the enemy. The park was CROWDED that day. Super crowded. Packed. A seething mass of humanity desperate for butterbeer and chocolate frogs. And we went on what we thought was going to be a “slow” day. Next time we go, it’s going to be in January or something and we’re splurging on the Fast Passes.

Nonetheless we approached Hogsmeade and we were quite impressed! The Hogwarts Castle is really impressive, I think, with its forced perspective and detail making it look pretty big. It housed the first ride we went on, “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.” This ride was a lot of fun. I didn’t really understand the storylines for most of the rides, but the conceit with this one is that the Harry Potter gang want to take you somewhere, and the best way to do that is to make the suspiciously ride-looking set of chairs they have fly. I looked out during the ride and it seems the way this one works is having you on the end of a big robotic arm that is on a track, and it moves you around. A lot of the action comes from moving you around in front of these big screens to give you that 4-D ride effect of feeling like you’re flying around. The strategy of having you jostled around in front of screens in the midst of a roller coaster was used a lot through Universal, in this ride to great effect, though with less success (in my opinion) on most of the other rides that used this technique.

With that complete we headed across the path to “Flight of the Hippogriff,” which was a pretty small coaster, but was fun with a payoff commensurate with its (relatively) short line. At this point we were growing increasingly startled at the inexorably lengthening wait time estimates for all the other rides provided by the Universal App thing they had. We decided to poke around the shops, which were also very crowded but had some neat trinkets. The only souvenirs we picked up through the day were two lapel pins for me and a Ravenclaw bookmark for her. Then we tried to get a snack. In retrospect, I don’t know what the best food strategy would have been. My super amazing girlfriend was excited to try butterbeer, so I got in line. After waiting for ten minutes or so, I took the picture below. You can see the butterbeer stand in the middle, off in the distance:

You couldn’t do anything in the park with a less than 30 minute wait, and this included getting a refreshment or snack. And it was HOT. This is not surprising, given that it was Florida in June, but man Universal needs to invest in some awnings. The wintry-wonderland decorations of Hogsmeade started to feel a bit mocking. We did eventually survive to the front of the line and obtained our butterbeer (we tried every butterbeer-flavored thing they had in the park, as far we could tell, and frozen butterbeer is the best), but our dreams of snacking on various Harry Potter themed treats were a bit dashed. During one of the many times I was whining about extremely slow food service, my super amazing girlfriend pointed out that Universal might be suffering from the same food service hiring troubles that is affecting the rest of the industry, but I hope they get that sorted soon.

Fortified with butterbeer, and with lines having died down from their 2.5-hour peaks, we opted to wait in line for “Hagrid’s Magical Creature Motorbike Adventure.” This was the best ride we went on that day. It’s a roller coaster, but with more cool features. It’s got drops and you go forwards and backwards and all that stuff and it was awesome. Highly recommend. From there we went over to the Jurassic Park section in an overly optimistic attempt to get some lunch without dealing with the Harry Potter crowds, and then hopped on the Hogwarts Express to go over to Universal Studios to see Diagon Alley.

Going over to this side of the park was especially exciting because my super amazing girlfriend had never been there so we were able to check it out for the first time together (awwww, very cute I know). As impressed as I was with the castle, we were even more impressed with Diagon Alley. It looks super cool! Also a large section of it has an awning to keep the sun from beating down on you, and it has a super cool Knockturn Alley section, and overall the tall walls mean the sun just isn’t quite as oppressive. It had some neat shops and I made sure to check a good chunk of them out.

The big (and only) ride on this side is “Escape from Gringotts.” We took advantage of the single-rider line despite being a very cute couple, my super amazing girlfriend and I, and briefly chatted with a kid who must have been like 10 and had been to the park five times already. Tired of our conversation I suppose he just up and left the line at one point however. The ride itself was so-so with a storyline I didn’t get at all but which they really tried to sell you on via screens and 3-D glasses and all that. There were some cool sections in the dark, and the payoff was again commensurate with the shortened single-rider wait times. One thing I have noticed about Universal though is these guys are into fire. A lot of the rides incorporated fire and pretty close. We went on “The Mummy” ride eventually and like, they had the whole ceiling on fire. The dragon atop of Gringotts also breathed fire at intervals, and you felt it when you were anywhere in that courtyard. I got what I think are some pretty cool pictures of the dragon:

Having ridden all the big Harry Potter rides, we did take some time to venture out into other sections of Universal and ride some other coasters. I personally wonder how often Jimmy Fallon thinks about the fact he has a whole Universal Studios ride and gift shop dedicated to himself. They were pretty neat but we preferred the vibe in the Harry Potter sections and as a final big thing got dinner in the Leaky Cauldron (standard but good English fare), having earlier gotten some ice cream at “Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour.” Universal was closing but we then dashed back over to Islands of Adventure to jump on two more non-Harry Potter rides to round out the day and then make the long trek home.

Harry Potter world was a lot of fun! My mood soured while waiting for slow food service in a very hot sun, but overall I had a really good time and there were lots of interesting things to do and see. I’m looking forward to next time, when we’ll have a better strategy. That strategy will be to go in the off-season and also get a fast pass.