Universal Orlando Resort – Travel Guide (Part II, Wizarding World of Harry Potter)

Universal Studios Florida Resort, Islands of Adventure (IOA), the section named “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” is our first area to explore.  You will notice it is NOT the first area you encounter when you enter IOA.  So why am I starting there?  Because, most likely, you will want to start here as well.  Basically, when you get there, you are in Hogsmead in winter.  If you are not a fan of Harry Potter, Hogsmead is simply the town near the wizard school where some of the actions in the books/movies takes place.  Because this area is so new, and Harry Potter is so popular, this place is a huge draw.  Even first thing in the morning, just minutes after the park has opened, the lines in this area are growing quickly.  No worries, though.  This general insanity is pretty unique to this area only, and everything is calmer and more manageable once you leave depart.  And by going here first, you are avoiding a lot of the insanity that will build over the next several hours.  This area is comprised of a number of attractions, rides, stores, and other stuff.  Almost every single thing has a line…the stores, too.  I suggest you immediately go to the Forbidden Journey Ride.

Harry Potter’s Forbidden Journey Rating:  No Limit

It is a must see.  My friend Erica (an Orlando resident and avid Universal-goer) tells me that the lines for this ride were over eight hours when it first opened.  People were going to the park and getting in line at 9am for this ride, and some of them stood all day and never got in and had to just go back home.  I’m not suggesting you do that if the line is that long.  Hopefully, by going here first, your wait will be no more than 45 minutes.  But be aware, if you are not there when the park opens, you most likely will wait for between one and two hours to get on this ride.  But it’s worth it.  If you are a Harry Potter fan, it’s incredible.   The line alone is fantastic as it twists around and through Hogwarts Castle.  You walk through the Herbology greenhouse and past potted Mandrakes, into the front doors and through the portrait gallery (talking portraits and all, including some insults from Salazar Slytherin), past the secret entrance into Dumbledore’s office then into the office itself where you are greeted by the Headmaster, into the Defense Against the Dark Arts Classroom where Harry Hermione and Ron will fill you in on their plan, and finally past the sorting hat who has some last minute advice before the ride begins…..because, yes, you are still only waiting in line at this point despite all of that excitement!  OK, but if you are not a fan, it’s still a great ride and pretty cool to experience.  This ride empties you into a gift shop, so you might want to take advantage of that, because all the other ships in Hogsmead are going to have a big line by the time you get off of this ride.

Flight of the Hippogriff – 10 minutes

This is a cute ride.  “Family friendly,” means that it is a rollercoaster that kids can easily go on.  It’s quick and it’s fun.  One of the coolest things is walking past Hagrid’s cottage as you wait in line, and seeing the Hippogriff in his nest when the ride begins.  But all in all, if you miss it, it’s not a big deal.  If the wait is over ten minutes, move on.

Dragon Challenge – 20 minutes

I am not a huge coaster fan.  It’s just that they all seem pretty much alike to me.  My wife Julie doesn’t like coasters much to begin with, and this is the kind she really does not like…where your feet are dangling.  But it’s was a good coaster.  If you like coasters, you might be willing to wait longer for this ride.  If you can kinda “take coasters or leave them” like me, there’s nothing about this one that sets it apart, in my opinion.

Three Broomsticks – 20 minutes

It’s worth going inside just to see, especially for the Harry Potter fan.  If you are hungry, the chicken was excellent.  We also had butterbeer, which was great.  But I think they sell butterbeer throughout Hogsmead, so I don’t think you need to wait specifically to get it here.

Olivander’s Wand Experience – 5 minutes

The shops are not even really attractions in the traditional sense but, again, because this area is still somewhat new, almost every shop has a line.  We did not go into any of them.  However, every person we talked to complained about the wand experience and said, basically, it was an “hour wait for something stupid.”  I won’t reveal what we were told, in case anyone wants to experience it, but it sounds like it MIGHT be worth seeing if the wait is short or no wait at all, but not worth any wait longer than 5 minutes.  And as far as all the other shops, we skipped them all.  It’s up to you.

Bathrooms – 1 minute

If you are a Potter fan, and you can get right in, go into the bathrooms in Hogsmead and Moaning Myrtle will greet you (though the echo makes it hard to understand her at times).

Finally, there are other things going on in Hogsmead, but we basically skipped everything else.  The Hogwarts Express is there for a photo opportunity, and other activities.  But by this point, we were ready to move on.

Published in: on November 25, 2011 at 1:35 PM  Comments (1)  
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Universal Orlando Resort – Travel Guide (Part I, General Information)

Universal Studios Florida Resort consists of several different components and areas.  This basic guide is intended to focus on the two theme parks, as I will give you the best available information and guidelines on how to maximize your experience (and not waste any time) based on what I have seen.  There is a lot that will not be covered that you can explore and experience on your own.

The major components of the overall resort are two theme parks (Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios), three major hotels (Hard Rock, Loews Portofino Bay, and Loews Royal Pacific), and the City Walk.  The City Walk consists of shopping, movie theatres, restaurants…all that sort of stuff.  City Walk is accessible without paying admission to the parks.  We did not spend much time in City Walk…the parks were our main focus.

You can do both parks in one day.  This will require you, however, to literally bypass some stuff.  City Walk would not be a part of a one-day plan.  I’ll give you some advice on what is a “must-see,” and what you can skip.  You will need to be focused, but it will not require you to completely abandon the fun and enjoyment of being there….what fun would that be?  But you will be moving along with a definite plan of action as you go through the parks.  And you will be doing more “seeing and riding,” and not as much “exploring” as you follow your plan.

Regarding tickets, I suggest a two-park-pass. One day in one park is probably too long, because there just is not enough to fill up an entire day in either one alone (in my opinion).  A two-park-pass will give you access to both “Islands of Adventure” and “Universal Studios,” both of which are located next to each other.  A mere five minute walk separates the two, and you are permitted to go back and forth, if you wish.

You also want to explore the “Express Pass” upgrade.  Depending on the actual date of your visit, the price will vary.   But the Express Pass literally allows you to bypass the larger lines and reduce your wait time for rides and attractions by a significant amount, usually for a reasonable fee.  Be aware that an express line is not available for all rides and attractions.  For instance, at the writing of this, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is still relatively new, and the Harry Potter Forbidden Journey Ride does not have an express line.  Regardless, the Express Pass will be an important component to grasping as much excitement and fun into your day by reducing your wait times and allowing you to move through the parks more quickly.  There is also some merit in exploring the idea of purchasing an Express Pass for only one of the parks, instead of both.  In other words, you can have a two-park-pass for admission, but then purchase an express pass for one park only, once you get into that specific park.  Look at the prices, though.  While this may save you money (especially on the specific days that have higher prices), there are also days when the difference of an Express Pass for one park is only a few dollars less than an Express Pass for both parks.

There were people who were gaining “early admission” when we were there.  This probably is available to guests of the Universal Hotels…I’m not sure if there is any way to buy early admission, but you may want to call and ask.  An extra hour can make a difference, especially if you use it to go to the busier places and avoid lines that grow to as much as 90-120 minutes in the height of afternoon (like the Harry Potter Forbidden Journey).  At the same time, however, we got in line for entry at 7:45am and were up front.  The park was scheduled to open at 9am, but they let us in at 8:30am…so maybe the early admission was not as good as it seemed like it would be.  As with everything, it depends on what they want to charge you.  Also, you may want to explore annual passes or special pricing for Florida residents, if those situations apply to you.

I will be giving you a virtual tour of sorts, throughout this guide, by focusing on the specific areas of each of the two parks.  I’ll give you info on the attractions, and opinions about the ones I experienced.  Again, though, I will not discuss everything.  But this will still be fairly comprehensive.

Also, a note about my process for evaluating a ride or attraction:  I look at a ride based on how long I had to wait, and whether or not it was worth it.  There are some rides that were so awesome, I would wait any amount of time to experience them.  There are others that I would not go into even if there were no line at all.  So, I give everything a number…like “30 minutes,” for example.  That would mean that the ride is worthwhile if the wait is 30 minutes or less.  If it’s 31-45 minutes, you still might want to wait…it’s up to you….but if it is 90 minutes, and you trust my judgment, skip it or come back later.  Similarly, “NL, or No Limit” is a must-see no matter what.  And “0 minutes” means don’t bother.  I’ll offer some insight into my rating, but understanding how I assign these numbers is enough if you are looking for some basic and quick info.

Published in: on November 24, 2011 at 1:11 PM  Leave a Comment  
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