With the premier of the final film installment fast approaching, I felt it was time to finally write about my experience at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Before I booked this trip I read everything I could get my eyes on about this part of Universal Orlando. And so, to pay it forward, here’s my own rather lengthy review. Enjoy!
I went to Universal Orlando with very low expectations. I was told by dozens of Disney fans to ‘not compare the two’, and I didn’t. I read dozens of accounts of insane crowds, hours long lines, and overly sweet butterbeer.
And then I arrived at the gates to Hogsmeade. It was awesome.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter was much, much cooler than I ever could have imagined. Yes, it was small, but it had to be small–buildings on the scale of Main Street USA wouldn’t make sense in that setting. It was beautiful, detailed, fun…and amazingly empty.
Well, it was amazingly empty at 8am on a Thursday. Saturday early morning was a bit more crowded, and by 10:00 on Saturday we had to leave. Though to be fair, we’d spent over 5 hours there over the course of two days.
All in all, we enjoyed breakfast at The Three Broomsticks twice, drank three cups of butterbeer between the two of us, caught the wand show at Ollivanders, perused the candy shop and the trick shop, gazed in all of the windows for excessive amounts of time, watched the frog choir, rode The Flight of the Hippogriff once, Dragon Challenge twice (this was just me), and The Forbidden Journey FIVE TIMES. My husband wanted to do it seven times–once for each book–but time didn’t allow it and, well, even we aren’t THAT nerdy!
The Three Broomsticks
My first tip for a Universal vacation: on low crowd days, you do not need to buy the Harry Potter Package that includes breakfast at Three Broomsticks. You can walk right in and order. It wasn’t even full–and it really was a neat place to eat. I typically wouldn’t take the time to have breakfast in a theme park–and even here it was the very last thing we did in the Wizarding World each morning–but Three Broomsticks is an attraction unto itself.
We ordered the Traditional English breakfast to share on day one, and the pancake breakfast on day two.
I loved the broiled tomato and beans; my husband enjoyed the English bacon and eggs. The pancakes were surprisingly good–that or I was just having one of my odd pancake cravings that day. But the real reason to eat here is to be able to look around and listen. You’ll hear whispers, see shadows dancing across the walls, and marvel at the general coolness of the room itself. Be sure to look up as you chew.
Oh, and try the black pudding. It isn’t as gross as you are imagining.
After riding Forbidden Journey twice in a row first thing in the morning, we hightailed it over to Ollivanders. At 8:25 a.m. the wait was maybe 15 minutes, if that. We waited for two groups to go in before us. While this is a short show, and if you ARE short it may be difficult to see, I feel that the wait was worth it.
Ollivander is so calm and mystical, I literally had goosebumps. Or maybe that was from the air conditioning. Either way–it was both literally and figuratively cool.
The woman he picked was an adult, and I have to admit that I was kind of jealous. I can see going to see it over and over again with the hopes that you’d be picked, but then I am of the opinion that I’d rather see a child get to go than go myself. I cannot imagine how magical it must be for younger kids.
Stores and Windows
The Wizarding World is awful for those with ADD; there’s just so much to look at EVERYWHERE! As we arrived before 8am on two different mornings, we had time to leisurely stroll around and check out the window displays. Unfortunately they don’t photograph very well–but even if they did, it really is a sensory experience. You sort of need to be there to appreciate it.
Speaking of appealing to the senses, your sense of taste will be tempted as well. Honeydukes was amazing, though I didn’t purchase anything to eat–and in retrospect I’m not sure why. I think I was just so overwhelmed at this point!
The only sensory experience I could have done without was the screaming mandrakes. They are positioned in a window right outside of the Public Conveniences (the restrooms), which was a location I typically found myself waiting for my husband (he drank coffee each morning until 10, at which point he switched to beer!) Fortunately, even this part of the world was well-themed…
…at least from the outside. Fear not, muggles. The inside was just a normal, run-of-the-mill restroom. Everything you’d expect to be standard was present.
This was a very cool show–and who doesnt’ love the Something Wicked This Way Comes song? But try to catch an early show or a late show–standing out in the open under the hot sun isn’t the greatest feeling. I actually started to feel faint (which never happens to me) and had to sit down…at which point the heat of the concrete made it even worse. Sadly, we had to leave halfway through the show to sit in Hogshead to cool off (and take deep, cleansing breaths!)
Flight of the Hippogriff
I wouldn’t stand in line for this ride. It’s cool to be able to see Hagrid’s Hut–I don’t know that it can be viewed from anywhere else in the park other than the line for Hippogriff–but that’s about it. Even using the Express Pass line–which took less than five minutes–I actually thought ‘what, wait, it’s OVER?’ after the ride had finished. It was maybe fifteen seconds long. Definitely not a must-do. Plus the seats are so very small they really were not intended to fit two adults. Send your kids on this ride while you enjoy a pint at Hogshead.
I loved this ride. It was my favorite Universal coaster. I liked it so much I rode it twice–by myself. I rode the right side for my first ride and the left for my second and I liked the left side better–though this could be because I wasn’t freaking out and nervous like I was on ride number one.
The part I was nervous about was the part where it seems like the two ‘dragons’ are going to collide. I don’t know if it was where my seat was located (I was on an end of a row in the middle for both rides) but I didn’t reallly notice it. Had my husband not been waiting for me–and the line was slow, even using the Express Pass–I would have waited in the front row line at least once.
The Forbidden Journey
Of course, beyond all of the coolness and theming and hoopla surrounding The Wizarding World, everyone goes there to ride The Forbidden Journey. So–is it worth flying thousands of miles and paying hundreds of dollars to ride this one ride? Absolutely. No question. Totally worth it. We got off the ride the first time and that’s what my husband actually said ‘Ok. That was worth coming here. We could literally leave now and I’d be happy.’ Of course, he said this as we got back in line for our second ride.
I have to admit, when I got on the first time I was terrified with a capital T. But there was NO WAY I was going to allow this terror to keep me from riding it! I tried to prepare myself for the experience by asking others about the ride experience. For some reason, no one could accurately describe it to me. When I asked students of mine that had been on ‘does it spin?’ they were like ‘No–well, yes. Well–kind of. Yes you spin. But not in a spinny way.’ Gee–thanks. When I asked if it was a roller coaster, I was told both yes and no. When I asked if it was a simulator, I was told both yes and no. What I discovered upon riding is this–The Forbidden Journey deserves the hype. It is the coolest ride ever. No–it is the coolest experience ever. But for those of you who want a descriptions, I’ll give it my best shot.
One of the best parts about Forbidden Journey is the line. I did not even attempt to take photos inside the castle itself, as I’ve watched enough dimly lit video footage of the place to know it just doesn’t work. Plus the coolest parts are not photograph-able. Cool part number three is almost at the very end–the sorting hat. Yes, it looks–and talks–exactly like it does in the movie. And it’s RIGHT THERE. Cool part number two is the portrait room, where the portraits talk. No, it does not look like a room full of framed flat screen TVs. It looks like a room of talking portraits. It is SO COOL.
But cool part number one is in the Defense Against the Dark Arts Classroom, where Harry, Ron, and Hermione talk to you from above. At one point, Hermoine waves her wand, and it starts to snow. Actual cold, wet snow, falling from the ceiling. Of the five times I walked through this room it only happened once, but it was SO FREAKING MAGICAL.
But enough about the line. You all want to get on the ride, right? I’m not going to do a play by play description of the ride–that would spoil it for you–but I can describe what it DOES for those of you who have doubts about whether it is too scary or not. If you want a good play by play description, check out Universal Orlando 2011 by Seth Kubersky and Kelly Monaghan. They do a great job describing the story of the ride.
You are sitting in a seat that is almost like a box–you can’t see anyone or anything to the left or right of you. It is like you are alone on the ride. The row of four ‘boxes’ is attached to an arm, and on Hermione’s count you are bounced into the ride. The ride itself goes back and forth between simulators–where you REALLY feel like you are flying (think Soarin on steroids) and an actual set where things jump out at you. The transitions between simulator and set are seamless. It is very dark at times. At other times, you will be fully on your back to the point where your feet are higher than your head. It actually feels kind of good on your back–like hanging upside down from monkey bars to stretch. The ride is smooth even when it is bouncing you around.
You will be sad when it is over, and you will get right back on to ride again.
The Wizarding World is much, much cooler than it looks in photos, on videos, or even in the commercials. If you are thinking you may want to visit–do it. You won’t regret it. Well, you might–if you go on a Saturday in July. I don’t suggest that at all! But a Thursday in mid-May–perfect!