Friday, December 9, 2016

Orlando - Part II: Universal Studios and All Things Harry Potter!

Jeff and I were super impressed with how well Universal Studios did the Harry Potter section of the park when we went there in really was like stepping into the books and movies and it was magical.  But we only saw half the park - they were still building Diagon Alley back then, so you can imagine how excited we were to get to see the newest section this go-round.  Plus, if you had tickets to both parks (Diagon Alley is at Universal Studios, while The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is at Universal Studios - Islands of Adventure), you could ride the Hogwarts Express train from one park to the other!  More on that later, but first, I'll tell you about Diagon Alley.
 Diagon Alley, walking toward Gringotts Bank
Oh and by the way - the dragon that guards the bank spews fire every once in a while!

We had early admission to the park - only Diagon Alley was open between 8:00 am and 9:00 am, but that was perfect for us because that's where we wanted to go first thing each day!  We'd arrive at the park, go through the metal detectors (I had to go through a slower line because I carried a small backpack - it was similar to going through the TSA lines at the airport except for the fact that the staff at Universal was much friendlier) and then get to the front gates, where they usually ended up letting people in a few minutes before 8:00 am.  We'd make our way through the park to Diagon Alley and went right to the Escape from Gringotts ride - I'd shove my backpack into a locker there (they use your fingerprint to secure the locker) and we'd pretty much walk right onto the ride. 
Jeff is heading into the ride here while I snapped a quick picture of the guard.
Because we hardly had any wait time for these rides, I didn't end up taking many pictures of the inside area - but the inside was really gorgeous - a very ornate bank scene, with goblins sitting high up at desks, moving and occasionally scowling at you:
Head scowling goblin...

I can't tell you how many times we rode this ride - we lost count.  I CAN tell you how to get it stopped - take out your cell phone and try to take a picture as it starts moving.  Oops.  What can I say, I was lost in the moment and wanted to capture it!  I was sitting next to Sam when this happened and he was so embarrassed, but you know what?  I really wasn't.  And it's not the worst thing that we (the royal) did at the parks that week - Jeff was nearly ejected from Epcot!  You can't take us anywhere, apparently.

After Gringotts, we had to get some butterbeer.  This was Allie's first time tasting it, and she loved it as much as we all did:
 ::Forrest Gump voice::  We had hot butterbeer, cold butterbeer, frozen butterbeer, butterbeer ice cream, fudge butterbeer...and it was all delicious!


One neat thing that they've added since Jeff and I were there is interactive wands.  You can go to Ollivander's Wand Shop and go through the ceremony to have a wand chosen for you if you're lucky enough to be picked out of the group, but most people just choose their own wand; it can either be a replica of one from the movie, or an interactive wand, which has a RFID tip that makes it possible for you to, say, have a frog squirt water out of its mouth:
Anyone care for a drink of water?

We all picked wands and had a lot of fun with them; I chose Luna Lovegood's wand:
They came with a map and spells, but you really didn't need it - all you had to do was look for either a gathering of people, or a symbol like this on the ground to know you were at a place where you could make something magically move:
This was in front of the blacksmith's shop.
I made the bellows move when I cast the correct spell!

Of course we had to eat some meals at the Leaky Cauldron and at the Three Broomsticks - we were full on into enjoying the entire Harry Potter experience.  The food was pretty good, too, although the black pudding that came with the traditional English breakfast was definitely a once-and-done thing to try:
This was a lot of food!  We got two plates and split them, but no one finished the pudding.

More pictures from Diagon Alley:
In front of the Knight Bus - Jeff was laughing because the talking head was actually talking to him and being pretty funny.
We took several breaks on the stairs - it was nice to get out of the crowds and just observe the scene below. 
Yes, I took a picture of a toilet - it was just so perfect for the setting!  And check out the witch and wizard signs hanging outside...I swear, the details were incredible.
We did drink things other than butterbeer - Allie tried pumpkin juice, I had Tongue Tying Lemon Squash which was refreshing and delicious, and Sam had Otter's Fizzy Orange Juice - he said it was good.

We usually started our day in the park at Diagon Alley and then headed over to Hogsmeade, which was in the Islands of Adventure park.  How did we get there?  By taking the Hogwarts Express, of course!  They made the train station feel very real - it was huge, and because we were going to a different park, we had to have a ticket for that park as well, so we went through ticket stations.  This was usually a little more crowded than the other rides, but it was totally worth the wait:
This was the busiest time we rode it - looks chaotic but we were all moving in an orderly line and it actually went fairly quick.
The line wound around carts of luggage, including Hedwig, Harry's owl.  Her head turned and her eyes blinked...I swear, every time I pointed my phone at her to take a picture, she instantly turned her head!

BUT WAIT!  I haven't shown you the coolest part!  You know how in the books when the passengers have to run straight at a brick wall to get onto Platform 9 3/4?  You get to do that while in line!  Check out the video I took of Jeff, Sam, and Allie going through the wall - click here for the link.  Pretty cool, eh?  We had a lot of fun with this.
Hogwarts Express, ready to take us to Hogwarts!

The train ride was perfect, of course.  We were escorted to private compartments that held eight passengers - usually we were seated with other people, but once we got to have a compartment all to ourselves:
Looks like a real train compartment...with goofy passengers.
Shadows of Harry, Ron, and Hermione walking outside our compartment - you could hear them talking.  There were scenes happening in the window of the compartment as well, where you could see the countryside go by, as well as other fun things, like Hagrid flying by on his motorcycle.  The ride only lasts about five minutes, but it was completely immersive and magical.

If you've made it this far, you must like Harry Potter.  Thanks for reading - we really loved this part of the park and I wanted to capture some of the fun things we got to experience.  Have a great weekend!
It's not a traditional family picture, but it's one of my favorites.


  1. Omg I absolutely loved this! I am a big HP fan so thank you so much for sharing!!

  2. That looks like so much fun! I am embarrassed to admit I haven't read any of the HP books or seen any of the movies!

    1. You should at least watch the first HP movie. The music is really good, too - there, did that hook you? ;)

  3. Awesome! That looks like a really great family vacation.

  4. Waaa! I couldn't get the video to play. But I loved the whole report. The details that are put into theme parks now are amazing. You guys really had the best time--going early is such a fun bonus--did that once at Disneyland with my brother. And beer butter--describe the taste again--it must have been good if you guys had it so many different ways. I want to try it :)

    1. OK, I think I got it fixed - wasn't sure it was my computer with the issue when I first linked it because my computer is being really dumb, but I think it's working now. A lot of build up for going through a wall, LOL!

      Butterbeer tastes like butterscotch cream soda, sort of, with a creamy butterscotch topping. Sort of. It's hard to describe, but it's so good. And it's only available in Harry Potter World, which is a good thing, believe me. ;)

  5. This looks like so much fun! My boys were so into Harry Potter when they were little. But I bet they'd still get a charge out of this.

  6. I've actually never read one word of Harry Potter believe it or not! I love that last picture too - should be your Christmas card :D

  7. Definitely read it through the end. I love, love, love it! It looks so like the movies, I should go there one day although I believe there's a theme park in England somewhere too, that should be more cheaper to go too.

    Did you read the newest book yet? I'm not sure yet I want to read it. Apparently it is exactly how the play is so everything is written in acting style. Reviews are various about it.

  8. I haven't read HP or seen the movies, but I did read this whole thing because I think it's SO fantastic they've brought this world to life for the fans to experience! The wands are so fun. And running through the brick wall! I hope they make something like this at WDW for Star Wars fans like me! :)


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