It took me a year, but last week I FINALLY made it to Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando. We’re a Disney family, so I know all four parks better than I know my own pantry (true story). But even though I’ve lived in Orlando for 8 years, I’ve probably been to Universal less than 10 times.
For the past year, though, I’ve been DYING to go to Universal and WWoHP. I’m a huge Harry Potter
geek fan. Yup, I was always the creepy 20something lined up at midnight at Borders to get the new books. At least I drew the line somewhere — I never showed up in a Gryffindor robe.
My little brother is just as big (or bigger) of a Harry Potter fan than me. When my family booked their trip to Orlando from PA a few months ago, we made a date — we were hitting WWoHP!
Since I’ve heard scary stories about the lines, I knew I had to do a lot of research for our day at WWoHP. Surprisingly, I found very few good guides online (dear future readers, you’re welcome for what’s about to follow). I did find one amazing resource though — Orlando Informer. He (I think it’s a he!), has a pretty kick-ass guide available for purchase. I reluctantly shelled out the $5 for it, but as a first-time visitor to WWoHP, I think it was well worth it. I hate going into things cold, so it was great to figure out the lay of the land and he had some really good tips. Throughout this post, I’ll give you a couple of his (don’t worry, OI, I won’t share all your trade secrets!) just to let you know where I differed from his opinion or where he was spot-on.
His first piece of advice? Get there early. Really early. And he was right. We were up before the sun. On the day we were going, Universal opened at 8, so we were at the front ticket gates by 7:20 a.m. (gah!). But guess what? We were far from the first ones there.
We were feeling pretty good that we were the fourth party in our line (my brother is the tall red head on the right) but then we saw tons of people streaming in — resort guests got to get into the park an hour earlier than the rest of us. So by 7 a.m., they were Hogsmeade-bound. Note to self: stay at a Universal resort next time I want to go to WWoHP!
But luckily, the ticket gates opened at about 7:45 a.m. and off we ran! No, seriously, we ran. It was actually pretty fun.
The OI guide suggested two things first — grab a butterbeer and get in the Ollivander’s line. So that was our plan. I have to admit, it was hard to stay focused as we got our first glimpse of Hogsmeade. I was not prepared for how amazing the entire thing is. It’s seriously like stepping into the books. Magical seems an appropriate description.
By the time we got back there (remember, it was already crawling with resort guests), the butterbeer line was already long. But I got into it and told my brother to go start exploring. That’s just the kind of big sister I am!
That wasn’t the only long line. Check out the line for the Three Broomsticks restaurant, the only sit-down restaurant in WWoHP.
Did I mention that it wasn’t even 8 a.m. yet? But apparently they have a full English breakfast available. Just be prepared to wait! As I waited, my brother C. came to tell me that the Ollivander’s line was already long, so he was going to hop in it while I waited for our butterbeers. Sounded like a plan.
Luckily, there were more fun things for me to see in my own line.
FINALLY, with frozen butterbeers in hand, I headed over to meet C. near the back of the shockingly long Ollivander’s line (it was probably only 8:15 by this point). But we were happy Muggles.
Everyone wants to know what they taste like. Best description we could come up with is a really (really!) sweet cream soda. What, you thought cream soda couldn’t get any sweeter? I promise you, it can. I’d say you’d be better off splitting one with someone. Drinking an entire one yourself, even as a meal, is a bit much. I had to down a water as soon as I could after it. (**Instance No. 1 when you’ll realize that I’m old).
The Olivander’s line takes you past a few shops, including one featuring all the Quidditch pieces! Do you spy the Golden Snitch up top?
After a nearly hour-long wait (no joke), we were FINALLY inside Ollivander’s for the wand selection ceremony. They usher in a group of about 15-20 people into a small room where the shopkeeper and his assistant are waiting. Then, they select one lucky person from the crowd. Sadly, he didn’t pick me or my brother.
The kid (I’m guessing it’s always a kid), is given different wands to try out and all mayhem ensues — wand boxes fly off shelves, bells ring, a ladder moves back and forth. It’s actually pretty cute. And have you ever seen so many wands in one place?
The whole thing lasts about five minutes, and then you’re ushered into the main Ollivander’s gift shop, where they sell wands from all the major characters. By the way, you can skip the wand experience and just go in the gift shop. Sometimes there’s a line to get into it, but it will be nothing like the line for the wand selection show.
The OI guide recommended waiting until later in the day to make any purchases, but since we knew we’d need a locker for my purse anyway, we decided to shop right then rather than risk another line. If you would be able to avoid lockers otherwise, I’d also say wait until later in the day to buy your stuff.
My brother decided to get a Harry Potter wand, but I found the one I would have gotten if I was a wand-buying kind of girl.
OK, so here’s another point where I differ with the very wise Orlando Informer. The guide suggested doing Ollivander’s first, and while I think that might be a great idea during certain periods of the year (depending on crowds), for us, it wasn’t. Either word is out or it was bad luck, but EVERYONE hit the Ollivander’s line first. And since we didn’t know how long (or short) the line could get, so did we. That hour-long wait was the longest we waited all day, and when we walked by it several times later, it was always shorter. [EDITED: See comments below for more on this point, including a mea culpa on my part]
So, if you get there, and the line is starting to stretch beyond the shops to the ropes against the wall under the Flight of the Hippogriff ride, I’d say wait until it gets shorter. But that’s just my opinion.
Following OI’s advice, we next headed for the lockers by the Dragon Challenge to stash our stuff. While we were there, we saw that the Dragon Challenge ride was only 15 minutes long. Check!
You know what that means?
I was sick. Very sick. (Here’s your next example: yup, getting older by the second). I don’t know if it was the butterbeer breakfast or the fact that roller coasters are no longer my friend, but that bad boy did a number on me. I was actually shaking when I got off it. Don’t get me wrong — I loved the coaster but just not the way it made me feel. When did this happen to me? Sigh.
As we got off the ride, there’s a staircase you pass by that allows you to head back up and try the other track (two coasters are going at the same time). I sent C. on his way and I went to find a
barf bag bench to catch my breath.
After he was done battling dragons, we headed for the main attraction — Hogwarts.
Here was OI’s next golden tip. When you first enter Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (the main attraction of WWoHP and it’s located inside Hogwarts), it’s going to be confusing. There are lines for the lockers, a line for single riders, a line for the attraction and a tour only line. Head for the tour only line. This allows you to walk through the entire line and really appreciate all the amazing things the ride’s designers came up with. Then, you exit right before the ride itself and head back to the beginning and get in either the main attraction line or the single rider line (which is usually far shorter, but a word of warning — it does bypass most of the cool stuff in the line. So, if you choose single rider, make sure to do the tour only either before or after riding).
We hit the tour only line first. To quote Harry and every other Brit — it’s brilliant.
First, you enter a hall with Talking Portraits and climb the stairs to the top, getting a really close view of some of the moving artwork. Honestly, people, these look like they’re straight out of the movie.
Sorry about the quality, but dark lighting conditions + me not knowing all my camera’s manual commands = crappy low-light photos. But you get the point. Then, you’re taken through Dumbledore’s office. Look above his massive gold desk, and you’ll see a video screen with Dumbledore setting up the ride’s storyline (I’m not going to give away ALL the secrets!).
I won’t torture you with the rest of my crappy photos, but you’re then taken through the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom (with a surprise visit from Harry, Ron and Hermione) and, after passing by the Fat Lady’s portrait, into the Gryffindor common room. I’m telling you, we were in geek overload.
There were also plenty of these along the way. Are they trying to tell me something?
And does the sign really need to show someone tossing chunks? Not what I need to see when I’m trying not to throw up.
But I pressed on. Just before the ride, there was one final surprise — the Sorting Hat!
I wish I could describe the ride better to you, but honestly, I was just focusing so hard on not throwing up the whole time (and there’s your Old Person Sign No. 3). I remember a roller coaster that involves a lot of flying with a mixture of movie screens (think “Soarin'”) and animatronics. There are spiders, dragons and Dementors (oh, my!) as you’re flying right alongside Harry, Ron and Hermione. There are also plenty of guest appearances from other characters (sadly, no Cedric).
If I hadn’t done the Dragon Challenge first, I don’t think I would have been as sick on this. You’re on your back for parts of it, but never upside down. I’ve been able to do “Star Tours” lately so the simulated screens don’t always make me sick, but then again, I’m also the person who had a panic attack coming down a lighthouse, so who am I to talk?
After those two rides, I definitely needed a break and was desperate for a Diet Coke. Fun fact: there is NO SODA in WWoHP. None. Believe me, I searched high and low for one, only to find Butterbeer, Pumpkin Juice and Pumpkin Fizz around every corner. Would it kill them to put some Cokes in those lines? Seriously.
So I pulled the Old Lady card and asked C. if he was ready for lunch yet. You saw how long that Three Broomsticks line was earlier, right? After Forbidden Journey, we walked by and there was no line. Granted it was just after 11, but since we’d been up since 6, lunch was sounding good! Bring on the Fish and Chips!
No seriously, she’s tiny. Look how my head’s reflection in the window looks bigger than the dress! Maybe I’d be Hagrid’s size in the Wizarding World?
Zonkos and Honeydukes were so much fun. We spent a lot of time in there, shouting out things to each other like, “Look, Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans!” and “Expendable Ears!” We both left with Chocolate Frogs, which included Wizard Trading Cards (we got a Rowena Ravenclaw and a Helga Hufflepuff).
We only missed one ride — Flight of the Hippogriff. We left WWoHP for awhile to explore other parts of Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios, and when we returned later, we couldn’t beat the thunderstorms and missed out on it. We still walked back to the ride’s entrance to say hello to Buckbeak.
Oh well, I think we got the full Harry Potter experience. I don’t know if our timing was good or what, but other than Olivander’s, we didn’t wait more than 20 minutes for a ride! Amazing. In fact, my brother went on the Dragon Challenge four times because there was no line (masochist). Here are some final thoughts:
— I recommend the Orlando Informer Touring Guide to Wizarding World. There were SO MANY helpful hints in it, plus a really cool Scavenger Hunt (which we did all day). It’s five well-spent bucks.
— Be prepared to shell out a lot of money on lockers. Universal (stupidly, in my opinion) does not allow you to carry purses on rides. They should have a place to stash them. They claim the lockers are timed so that they’re free while you ride, but we were pretty quick to get our stuff out of the lockers and I’d say we spent close to $15 throughout the day on lockers. Annoying.
— The Pumpkin Juice is pretty awful. Even though all the ingredients are things I love (apple juice, pumpkin and apricot purees, and spices like cinnamon), it was again, so grossly sweet. I brought a bottle home to my 3-year-old E. (before I tried it) and even she wouldn’t drink it. But, then again, my 16-year-old brother loved it, so what do I know? (I know, you get it — I’m old).
— If you get remotely motion sick on rides, definitely do the Forbidden Journey first. That’s THE main attraction, and sick or not sick, you don’t want to miss it. Let the dragon taming to those with tougher stomachs.
— Slow down and enjoy the view! We sure did.
P.S. The closest Diet Coke is just over the bridge and at the start of Jurassic Park. Ah, now that’s the sweet drink momma was craving.
Have you been to Wizarding World yet? What did I do wrong? What tips have you learned? And am I the only wuss who can’t handle the Dragon Challenge? Cedric would be so disappointed in me. I guess it’s a good thing Voldemort offed him.