A little over a month ago, Kathleen asked me if I would be interested in going to the new Harry Potter park at Universal Studios in Florida. After I took a look at the official page and got a feel for what the park was like, I excitedly said I'd be interested in going. Kathleen was ecstatic (to put it lightly). From there on out, we started planning...
We flew down to Florida on July 31st. It was Shawn's very first plane ride so I think it was an extra special experience for him. Shawn and I were so tired on the plane because we weren't used to getting up at 4 in the morning. Kathleen, however, was too full of energy to sit still. By the time we landed, Shawn and I didn't have to worry about being tired anymore, so like Kathleen, our energy picked up. The gorgeous scenery woke us up almost immediately. All of us were stunned at how beautiful Florida was compared to Wisconsin. Everything was better there. The people were happier. The people were nicer. The streets were clean. (It's depressing how much garbage can be found on the streets in Wisconsin.) Everything was fresh. Everything was colorful. We were in paradise.
The vacation package we bought included a four night stay at the Hard Rock Hotel, which is one of the three hotels located directly on Universal grounds. Our travel agent let us know this would be extremely convenient for when we wanted to go to the parks. Whenever we decided to go to the parks, we could take a water taxi (for free) that showed up at our hotel once every fifteen minutes. The whole setup was ingenious. We took the water taxi as many times as we could so we could fully enjoy both our stay at the hotel (swimming at the HUGE pool!) and all of the parks.
And now, onto the Harry Potter experience!
Kathleen was a little upset that Shawn and I waited until the second day to go to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. We wanted to fully enjoy the park so we thought waiting for a full day for the experience would be the best way to organize our time. We got up early again the next day. Our package also included an early pass to enter the Harry Potter park so we could go on the rides before the huge crowds showed up later in the day. We knew the park would be crazy so we made sure to get to there around 8 when it opened for the people with early passes. And let me say this: thank goodness for the early passes! Instead of waiting in line for a few hours like most people, we only had to wait for about 25 minutes before entering the castle for the Forbidden Journey ride. I'm not one for roller coasters, but I have to admit that the Forbidden Journey wasn't that bad. The only things that caused me to become nauseous were the images projected onto the wall directly in front of me while on the roller coaster. I can't handle that type of motion so I closed my eyes whenever we had to watch the projections. The parts of the ride where we faced real life props were fine for me. I actually enjoyed getting sprayed in the face by the spider venom (water), haha. It was so nice and cool-- a break from the heat we were dealing with outside!
After we went on the Forbidden Journey, we could relax a little. That was the main attraction we knew we would have problems with if we had waited to try it later in the day. We knew that this was when we could start focusing on other goals...
Kathleen's main goal for the Harry Potter park was to get chosen by a wand at Ollivanders. Before we had left for the trip, she found out that only one person out each group of 20 people gets picked to have a wand choose her. She told me that she'd go back as many times as it took until she was the "chosen one." Needless to say, I was eager for Kathleen to get chosen because I didn't want to have to wait an hour or more every time we wanted to enter Ollivanders. After waiting in line for about 45 minutes (it was still early in the day so the lines weren't too long), we entered Ollivanders in a group of 30 people. The odds were even more slim with a bigger group! I immediately started shoving Kathleen towards the front of the room so Ollivander would see her. I didn't even have to make the effort because Kathleen planted herself directly in front of Ollivander so that she was face to face with him. (It was a pretty hilarious sight.) I started to chuckle... until I realized that he had just chosen Kathleen! Ollivander asked her, "Are you here for your wand?" After hearing that, she freaked out and started nodding her head like crazy. "YESSSS!" It was at that point that Shawn and I started freaking out. We couldn't stop smiling; we were so happy for her! Kathleen went through an entire little act with Ollivander. He kept handing her wands and asking her to do spells. (It was basically a reinactment from The Sorcerer's Stone.) When Kathleen was handed the third wand, a spotlight hit her and the magical Harry Potter music started playing. A wand had chosen her!
She was then congratulated and rushed into the next room, which happened to be the Owl Post, a store that sells stationery, owl related goods and wands. It was a small space so I had a difficult time moving around for a while. (This became a normality after a while since the park was always packed.) Once I found my bearings, I was able to fully enjoy the shop for what it was. I then started to work towards my goal for the trip: to find my very own owl (plushie). There were walls full of owls for sale, and tall wall decorations with owl props that moved. I had so much fun looking at all of them that I went back several times just to look around.
I've had a deep connection with owls for a long time and I've been waiting for the absolute perfect opportunity to get my own plushie. The Owl Post soon became my favorite shop after I discovered how beautiful and well made all of the owl plushies were. Plus, I liked being surrounded by all the stationery products-- parchment, paper, special wax seals for letters, etc. There was even a little stand where I could get my postcards stamped with the official Hogsmeade postage stamp! I made sure to get one stamped for myself and a few other postcards stamped for some friends.
During that first rushed visit, I couldn't find my owl. I had to go back a second and third time to realize that I wanted one of the owls that was shown in the two window displays out in front of the shop. The reason I had a difficult time finding the white barn owl was because there were only three left in the entire park, and they were all very well hidden. I was lucky enough to find that there was one owl out of the three that had a beautiful, perfect face. The fur (er, feathers) wasn't tangled and the face wasn't mashed in. I snatched her up and walked away from the experience in total bliss. My vacation was perfect at that point.
Shawn, Kathleen and I spent the next few days walking around all of the Universal parks. We kept going back to the Wizarding World though. It was hard not to with everything it had to offer us. The stores were amazing-- so beautifully crafted and designed-- and the food was some of the best food we ever had. The Three Broomsticks served wonderfully fresh meals that included humongous turkey legs, strawberry peanut butter ice cream, corn on the cob, potatoes, and of course, the famous Butterbeer (a combination of cream soda and butterscotch and frozen cream topping). I think we went back to the Three Broomsticks at least four or five times during our stay. Besides the meals, we also gushed over all the candy at Honeydukes. Like in the books and the films, Honeydukes was filled from top to bottom with sweet treats. From Chocolate Frogs to Every Flavour Beans, the shop had just about everything. We stocked up on a lot of candy and fudge whenever we went inside.
Zonko's was another fun shop to visit. While we were a little disappointed at the size of the shop (it was very small) and the selection of toys, it was still fun to take photos of whenever we had the chance. On the third day we visited, we were super happy to discover that they finally had Pygmy Puffs in stock. I talked with a girl who worked at Zonko's and she let me know that the shipment was only the second one they had received since the park opened and that all of the Puffs were likely to sell out within the day. I felt really lucky to have been there at the exact time they were getting stocked. Since it was still early in the day, hardly anyone was in the shop and I had the whole wall of Pygmy Puffs to myself most of the time. I picked through all of them and chose a few to buy-- just one for myself, Kathleen and Mom. Every time someone purchased a Puff at the counter, an employee would ring a loud bell and announce the sale and the name that the buyer chose for her Puff. It was really cute! Since I was so flustered from the experience, I told my cashier to pass on the announcement. xD
We wrapped up the experience by taking photos of Kathleen and the Harry Potter train conductor that was walking around the park. We thought he would just pose for photos with her, but he ended up talking with her for a few minutes while staying in character the entire time. Shawn and I couldn't stop laughing... It was just so adorable. Kathleen couldn't have left the park more happy after that last visit.
All in all, we had an amazing trip. It was the best vacation I've ever had. I wish I could go into even more detail about all of my experiences at the Harry Potter park, but there were just so many; I know I'd end up writing pages and pages on my blog. (Haha, as if I haven't already!) To wrap things up, I thought I'd give a few little tips to anyone who plans or hopes to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in the future.
To view all of my photos from my trip to the Wizarding World, check out this collection.
Tips for visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter:
- Try to get an early pass for the Harry Potter park if your travel agent provides the option for one. As mentioned above, the pass will let you in at 8 in the morning, instead of the usual 9 a.m. opening. (You'll have an extra hour!) The pass will save you a huge, huge, huge amount of time when you have to wait in line for rides. The Forbidden Journey tour and ride line can sometimes wrap around the park, so I highly recommend that you look into getting an early pass.
- If you get an early pass to the park, take advantage of your time by visiting some of the shops. The Wizarding World is the only park I've ever been to where you have to wait in line just to get inside a shop. Since most of the people get there after 10, you have about two hours to browse the shops as you please before being required to wait in line to browse them.
- Merchandise sells out quickly. If you have your heart set on a certain item, get to the shop early and snatch it up if it's in stock. Countless items sold out daily and there's no set schedule for when they'll be restocked. As mentioned above, items can sell out in just a few minutes and not be restocked for weeks. I'd say that the money is worth it for the experience and because you're lucky enough to find an item you love! (New items are usually put on the shelves in the morning, so again, try to get that early pass.)
- As soon as you enter the park, buy a brand new cold bottle of water. The $2.75 is worth it! You can use the water to keep yourself hydrated in the 90+ degree weather (if you're there in the summer), and you can use it as an air conditioner by keeping it pressed against your skin while you're waiting in line for a ride or a shop. It helps a ton-- you won't feel sick or pass out from the heat!
- Plan at least two trips to the park, even if you're in Orlando for a limited number of days. I know that taking photos of the experience is important to people, so I suggest that you spend the first day looking around the park and enjoying the sights. Spend your second visit taking photos. By that time, you'll have a better lay of the land so you'll know where the best photo opportunities will be. Again, going at a time when there are less people will be helpful since you won't have to push your way through crowds in order to get a decent photo.
- If you stay at one of the three hotels on Universal grounds, take advantage of the water taxi. Even though the hotels are within walking distance to the parks, the taxi saves you energy. The Harry Potter park is located in the way back of the Islands of Adventure so it takes some walking to get there. You'll want to reserve all of that walking energy for the journey there and inside the park.
I'm sure I'll think of more tips later on. If I do, I'll add them to the list!