Here's a peek into our visit - we also went through the rest of the park (Universal Studios Islands of Adventure), but I'll save those shots for another post:
When we first arrived - one of the workers took our picture after we stopped ooohing and aaahing over the sights of the Hogsmeade Village.
We headed over to Hogwarts Castle pretty quickly, because we'd read that the line for the ride there - the Forbidden Journey - could get long. Luckily, we were able to keep moving through the castle and while we got to see everything, we didn't really have to wait for the ride. The longest part was figuring out how to work the free lockers - you had to put everything, even your purse, inside, before the ride. Interesting tidbit: you activated the locker with your right index fingerprint!
Many of the pictures talked and moved (like in the book), and at one point as we walked through the castle, it even snowed on us! Top right picture shows the detail on the walls, which you couldn't see very well in person (that picture was taken with a flash). Bottom left shows the Sorting Hat, which warned us that the ride might make some people queasy (I should have heeded that warning!).
The ride was unreal - I've never been on anything like it before. You sit four to a "bench" and the ride not only moves (it's on a gigantic arm, not on a track like a roller coaster), but you follow Harry as he rides his broom - it reminded me of an IMAX movie. We soared in the sky and dipped under things and flew around walls outside of the castle and played Quidditch and suddenly the motion-sickness medicine that I took that morning stopped working and I about lost it. They take a picture at some point in the ride, and when we saw it afterward, it pretty much told the tale: Jeff had a huge grin on his face and was pumping his arms in glee, while my head was back, my eyes were closed and my skin was a ghostly white. I am the motion-sickness queen - have been since I was a little kid and nothing has changed. The Sorting Hat warned me, but I wanted to go on the ride so much that I didn't listen to it. You know what? Totally worth it.
After that ride, we retrieved our belongings from the locker and wandered through the gift shop. Then we went out and if you can believe it, we went on another ride. I know, I'm crazy. But there was NO LINE. We had to. This one was the Flight of the Hippogriff, and while it looked mild, it was still a roller coaster and my queasiness came on even stronger. Jeff noted that we started the ride and I was laughing and screaming as we went down the first part, and then suddenly I was dead silent. Yep...trying to keep breakfast down took everything I had. After that ride, I bought a lemonade and sat in the shade while Jeff went on the last ride, which was the Dragon Challenge. He liked it so much he went on it twice! Fine by me - I was perfectly content to chill and check out the sights.
Scenes from the village - Jeff posed in front of Ollivander's Wand Shop, and I hung out with the Hogwart's Express conductor (who noted in a charming English accent that my shoes were blinding him - I guess they didn't do fluorescent at Hogwarts, haha).
Lunchtime came, and naturally we went to The Three Broomsticks:
Jeff had the roasted everything (chicken, corn, potatoes) while I went lighter with salad and potato soup...about all my stomach was ready for at that point. The soup wasn't great but the atmosphere was very cool. Jeff really enjoyed his meal.
We went to the Owl Post shop, where (naturally) you can buy an owl (Harry had a pet owl named Hedwig). Also many other things, including postcards and stamps. Before we arrived, I'd read that you could send a postcard and they would put a Hogwarts postmark on it, so I brought a few addresses with me, and some of my own stamps, which turned out to be a good thing, because 10 stamps there cost $14.95! True, they were special Harry Potter-themed stamps, but that was ridiculous, and the only time I felt that they went overboard with pricing something (this WAS at a theme park, after all, and I realize that everything is expensive). I bought my postcards, addressed and wrote a little message, and then took them to be hand-cancelled:
The conductor happened to be walking by and popped in for a picture. Actually, I think he was swooning a bit over the Owl Post girl, which was cute to watch.
Finally, my stomach had settled down enough to try something that I've wanted to try not only ever since I read about it in the books, but also, after it was created for real and J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books, tasted it and proclaimed that it was exactly as she'd imagined it when she wrote about it - Butterbeer!
Mmmmmm, butterbeer. It's as good as it sounds! You can get it either original or frozen, and you know we tried it both ways. Both Jeff and I felt like the original was more authentic, but the frozen was fabulous, especially on a warm day in Florida. It reminds me of cream soda, but the foam topping (that they apply from a separate tap) is amazing and makes the drink.
Harry Potter World is just part of the Islands of Adventure theme park, so after a few hours we moved on to the rest of the park. And then we wandered back later on, and went to Zonko's joke shop and Honeydukes, where we bought a cauldron cake for a treat:
Chocolate upon chocolate upon chocolate!
This was when we also tried the frozen Butterbeer, and Jeff went on the Forbidden Journey again - interesting tidbit: single riders can go to the front of the line because each "bench" holds four people, and they need to fill them up for balance. So he was on and flying right away!
The workers added so much to the park - everyone was not only very friendly, but also really got into their roles, which made the day even more fun. And it was also neat to see some kids living out their Harry Potter dreams - we saw as boy who was probably 11 or 12 years old wearing a wizard robe (from the House of Gryffindor, of course) and coordinating drawstring backpack, carrying a wand and holding a bag of goodies from Honeydukes - completely indulged, but he was loving it and obviously getting the experience of his young life. We also saw many people, both children and adults, try on the robes and pose for a picture before returning them to their hangers, which is more my speed, haha.
This being Florida, it was warm, so we dressed for the day in our running gear. The technical clothing worked great when we got wet on a water ride, and also when it rained...the tropical climate means afternoon showers quite often. The only thing I wish we would have done is either bring or buy rain ponchos - not because getting wet bothered us, but we did get drenched several times throughout the afternoon and got cold when we went inside stores or dining areas to get out of the rain - the air conditioning worked a little too well on our wet bodies.
The park opened at 9:00 am - we parked and were at the entrance about 10 minutes early, and walked right to Harry Potter's world immediately (which was on the far end of the park). It wasn't crowded when we were there in the morning; the stores got a little crowded in the afternoon, but I think that was due to everyone wanting to get out of the rain. Mid-September seems to be a great time to visit the park; most kids are in school, tourist season is winding down, and it was a very pleasant experience. We stayed almost until the park closed - I think we ended up leaving close to 6:00 pm. We were tired - even though we wore our comfortable running shoes, we were on our feet all day long...I swear we covered about 20 miles (OK, that might be a slight exaggeration, but probably not by much)!
We had a blast and really enjoyed ourselves. I understand that they are expanding the park and adding Diagon Alley and "London" - which will be connected to the original park via a ride aboard the Hogwarts Express train...I'm thinking we'll have to return to see all of that, and definitely with our kids next time.