Let me start with this: when I heard that there was going to be a HARRY POTTER WORLD opening up in Florida, the only question in my head was when I would be going, not if it was reasonable for a 28 year old to round up her friends and trek to the tip of another country to partake in a magical world, based on books for pre-teens.
In short, I’m a fan.
But not like, a crazy one. I don’t have Harry’s name tattooed on my body.
So. There was a lot of people. It was like… visiting the sun on the busiest day of the year. (MORE ON THE OPPRESSIVE HEAT LATER). But really? When I read reviews from people who had gone who said “for the first half of your day at Universal Studios, pretend HARRY POTTER WORLD doesn’t exist”, I scoffed. Because .. hello? That was the whole reason for my trip. But seriously. I should have listened. We waited an hour and a half to enter the HARRY POTTER WORLD section of the park the first day. And we got in, this was the scene:
See all those people? Each one of them is JUST AS EXCITED AS YOU, to be there. Which made it thrilling (finally, I didn’t have to hide my wand excitement) but it was exhausting being around so many people. And a bit scary:
That’s my scared face. And one of my friends who I have decided to protect because the only sweaty face I should be putting up on here is mine. You are welcome, friend. (To fully begin to understand the sweat, please note the boobage sweat of the man in the background. That, unfortunately, was not an uncommon sight. FOR ANYONE).
So HARRY POTTER WORLD has three rides total: a kiddish hippogriff rollercoaster that made me scream, an actually terrifying dragon roller coaster which has two roller coasters going at the same time and makes you feel like you are continually going to ram into the other one on the track and lastly, (and bestly!) the ride that I just call the castle ride. It takes place in here:
To describe this ride properly would require a few drinks, a sketch pad, and an in-person visit so I can dramatically re-enact it all. So forgive me if this doesn’t make sense. The castle ride is like… an acrobatic, 3-D and also simulated ride that will make you pee your pants. (I think that last sentence should be the official description of the ride, I’m THAT proud of it).
Basically, you wait in this line up and the first part of the castle experience, has you actually going through the castle. You see statues:
talking paintings (yes! These are actually animated. And the coolest part, is that they not only talk and move around, but they carry on conversations with other paintings across the room. And yes! The fat lady is there too!) ,Dumbledore’s office,
and even the sorting hat (who yes, of course talks):
After the sorting hat (and roughly 4,940 other awesome things that I didn’t explain- including going through the Defense Against the Dark Arts room that has snow falling from the sky), you hop on the actual “ride”. You sit 5 across, shoulder straps come on and then you move towards a screen that makes you feel like you are flying. I’m not really big on simulated rides, but this one actually has you feel like you are flying with Harry. Then suddenly you feel yourself move away from the screen and you fight a 3-D whoomping willow, who has branches that just miss your face when they come crashing down. Then you fly again, this time all through Hogwarts, near the lake- through the arch ways, then you feel yourself move again, and there are huge, 3-D spiders everywhere- that move towards you and actually spit on you. You also experience 3-D dementors and snakes, escapees from Azkaban and see the dark mark appear through a hologram. I’m a rides girl, I grew up riding rides every summer and I have to say, this is by far the best- and scariest ride I’ve ever been in.
We went back the next day just to ride it again, and it was definitely worth it. The second time was less scary so it gave me more of a chance to look around and try to figure out how they exactly work everything to make you actually feel like you are flying. It’s going to be a bit of a wait no matter when you go, but I highly recommend it!
Ollivanders wand shop is pretty magical. You will (again) have to wait in a line, but it’s worth the show. Once you are selected to go inside, you go into this tiny, tiny room where a man appears (apparently Ollivander) who will select someone from the audience to find a new wand for. He will make a big production of asking you which hand you right with, when your birthday is, etc. He has you try out a bunch of wands- each creating a different effect, with things flying out from shelves all over the room. When I was in the room, Ollivander had selected David to get a new wand:
As you can see, David did NOT love the wand he was ‘chosen’ to have:
Which made me giggle. This kid just had the experience of a lifetime (and judging from his face when stuff was flying all over the place, he believed the wands worked), but when it came right down to it, he didn’t like his wand.
After the David show, you get ushered into another room, where anyone is able to buy a wand. All wands are the same price $30, and you can pick any wand you like, or you can ask a shop associate which is the right wand for you. They will ask you your birthday, you will tell them and then eagerly hand over your cash to get your own wand. I have to admit, mine was not the nicest in the shop- but I didn’t want to ruin the experience and pull a David by picking the wand that was nicest, rather than the one I was suggested to have. One of my friends got a gorgeous wand, so I guess it’s just luck of the draw (or you know, luck of when your birthday is).
And that might be the dorkiest paragraph ever typed on the internet.
Next up was the 3 Broomsticks, for BUTTERBEER:
Now. A few words on butterbeer. First of all, it tastes like… caramel. Plus rootbeer. In a really, really good way. You can get it frozen or normal. I had both and I liked normal better, but my friends enjoyed frozen better. It’s not as sweet as you think it would be from all the reviews (because yes, they are all wrong and I am right) but the foam? The foam is sweet. Like drinking pure sugar. I adored it.
They have one main butterbeer stand when you first come in, but you can also head into the 3 Broomsticks and get them at the bar. (Don’t wait in the restaurant line for the 3 Broomsticks, go around through the alley on the side of the building and enter the bar at the back. They also serve you know, non-magical, real alcoholic drinks which can be a nice change after a day of magical fun.)
Best Parts of HARRY POTTER WORLD
- Castle ride. Obviously. That might go down as the BEST PART OF MY LIFE.
- The wand show in Ollivanders. Especially if you get to go with a kid named David who hates his wand.
- The prices. I was expecting to be financially assaulted when I was there (because let’s face it, I would have paid my weight in gold to experience a butterbeer) but everything was pretty reasonably priced. A butterbeer was $3, I think they were $7 in a souvenir mug. I bought the greatest gryffindor t-shirt for $30 (to be fair, mine is covered in sequins, normal t-shirts were around the $24 mark). And my meal at 3 Broomsticks (a big salad with shepard’s pie) was under $10.
- The atmosphere. They’ve really done everything humanely possible to make you feel like you are at Hogwarts. Including shop fronts that including moving Gilderoy Lockheart pictures and quidditch sets that jumped all over:
The less that magical things at HARRY POTTER WORLD
- The size of the shops. There are not a lot of shops you can actually go into (most are very awesomely done store fronts with locked doors), so when you do stumble upon a shop you want to go into, it would be cool to go into it and have room to you know… moooove. I’m not sure what the justification of having such small stores was, other than to keep the integrity intact. I get that there is not going to be an Ollivanders Best Buy, massive store, but a wand shop that could hold a few more people would have made me ten times more happy and roughly 44595% less sweaty.
- Speaking of sweat, holy mother- the HEAT. Floridians, I have no freaking clue how you do that. Every. Single. Day. The heat felt like it was smothering me. I almost broke down and bought one of those water bottle fans. But thought I was already screaming “LOOK AT ME! I’M A TOURIST!” while wearing sneakers with my shorts, sporting a horrible tan and clutching my park map like it was my guide to heaven.
- I said it once already but I Honeydukes/joke shop really let me down. I was amped to spend a ridiculous amount of money on gag gifts/jokes for H.A.D. (who enjoys those sorts of things) but the joke shop just didn’t do it for me. Booo Fred and George, Boo.
A few tips:
- GET THE EXPRESS PASS. Seriously, sweet baby J- it was the best part of the whole experience. At the universal gate, pay the extra $70, and you get to express pass any ride on the Island of Adventure side of the park- that includes Harry Potter world. The castle ride does not let you express pass though- but to experience the other two rides (and the whole half of the park), without waiting hours and hours and hours in line is so worth it. SO WORTH IT. (I often feel that repeating things with capitals makes my point. As if you didn’t know that already).
- WEAR YOUR DAMN SNEAKERS. Don’t be cool. Don’t wear flip flops. Don’t wear cute shoes. Wear sneakers. Your feet will save you. SERIOUSLY. STOP TRYING TO LOOK PRETTY. YOU ARE GOING TO SWEAT LIKE A HOG. (this was an example of the internal monologue I had with myself daily). (Picture taken at Disney World. Because yes, we did that park too! Because we are insane and love to sweat in line with thousands and thousands of strangers. Please note THE SNEAKERS)
- DON’T BRING A BAG. Honestly! The line up for the castle ride is ridiculously long because you have to check your bags into lockers inside the castle. If you don’t have a bag? You can skip that entire line (which will save you at LEAST 50 minutes) and head right to the line up that starts near the greenhouse, at the back of the castle. Head inside the main castle doors and let them know you don’t have a bag and try not to stare at the poor suckers who are sweating to death with bags.
- Go with people who have no shame taking photos in front of the Hogwarts Express with you while hundreds of people watch: