Universal Studios Florida, FL
Tremendously excited to be going to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter today. We’ve never been to it before and in fact its been probably six or seven years since we’ve been to Universal Studios. The Harry Potter world is split between the two Universal Parks. Hogsmead and the Hogwarts school is in Islands of Adventure park. Diagon Alley, the London location, is placed in Universal Studios park (the original park). If you have a multi park ticket you can visit both locations in one day travelling by the Hogwarts Express train.
So, with muliti park tickets but without a fastpass we had to be up early. We were parked by 810 and at the ticket gate by 820. The park wasn’t due to open until 9am but in fact they let us in at 830 so we were really glad we were there early. Diagon Alley is of course on the furthest point of the park from entry so it was a fast 10 minute hike crossing the movie set streets of New York and San Franciso on the way. As we approached the area we saw Kings Cross station on our left, the entry point for the Hogwart’s Express that we would take later. It looked very authentic. We entered Diagon Alley through a tube station and were struck dumb by the brilliant theming of the area beyond.
They have totally created the streets of London frequented by Harry and his chums when they go shopping for their wands and wizards kit. There is also of course Gringotts Bank complete with a firebreathing dragon on top. Inside Gringotts is the prime attraction of the area, Escape from Gringotts which mirrors the scenes from the book and the film when the heroes race through the vaults of the bank fighting the dark lord and his minions. We headed straight for the ride as we knew it was the most popular currently, being brand new. We walked right in!!!! Amazing. Firstly you enter the large hall with the goblin clerks all at their high desks. The structures are all dark wood and marble and with huge diamond chandeliers. Very authentic. The animatronics on the figures is all state of the art. Incredibly smooth and realistic. Then we descended into the vaults by a creaking lift and entered the office of Phil Beesley. “He” told us that he would be accompanyin us on our escape through the vaults. We then got into our carts. Replicas of the sort used to move old bricks around the bank. We put on our 3D lasses. What follows is a cross between a rollercoaster, a simulator and a 3D experience . Our cart charged off twisting and turning and coming to rest in front of various 3D simulation scenes where we appeared to fall down into the vault bottom, meet dragons and ogres, the Dark Lord and other characters. At times Harry and his friends flew alongside us. We felt the heat of the dragon’s breath and felt the spray of his spit 🙂 It was just the best ride I have ever been on. Exciting but not sickening. Wonderful special effects and theming spot on. A wonderful technical achievement.
We came out and walked to Kings Cross Station to board the Hogwart’s Express to Hogwarts. Again the station was empty and we waked right in. At one point we had to run through a wall to get onto Platform 9 3/34!!!! The station, the staff, everything was very realistic. The train itself is a steam train pulling what appears to be genuine British compartments from the 1960s. The sort with separate compartments linked by a corridor. They appeared to be genuine even down to the green and blue checked fabric seats, the knob on the wall that controlled the heating, the luggage racks… the sliding window with that built in grime around the edges . The windows are blacked out and they play the journey onto the screen . There is also a special effect on the carriage doors which makes it appear as if Harry and pals are in the corridor talking. We loved it.
The train arrives in Hogsmead village dominated by the huge school, Hogwarts. the theming of the quirky shops and the sheer scale of the school was amazing. We headed for the main ride here which is Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Again this is a state of the art simulator ride where you fly with Harry around Hogswarts escaping the Dark Lord and playing in a game of quidditch. It is a very intense ride with stupendous special effects more spitting dragons and spiders. Bob and Lucy both felt quite queasy when we came off. I enjoyed it but not as much as Escape from Gringotts. We then went into the Three Broomsticks Inn and had a snack. Cornish Pasty and soft drinks. The staff were all well in character. Bob asked if they had Coke as we could only see soft cider on offer. “No Muggle drinks here” was the answer.
We rode Ride of the Hippograf which was a little rollercoaster and had a look through the shops which were interesting before catching the return train to Kings Cross. A different route shown on the train this time. We went back into Diagon Alley and explored all the shops and alleyways. Just brilliantly done. Went to Olliphants Wand Shop and saw the little show there. You can buy wands, of dfferent sorts. Some of them were interactive and you could use them at lots of different spots around the area to “perform” magic tricks like raising feathers or making something in the shop window move. They had sold a lot of them. They were quite nice wooden carved affairs. Of course there was a robe shop and a uniform shop where you could kit yourself out. There were people wandering around in the robes whch was a bit odd considering it was over 100F today. Tried a few on though. One area of the alley is lit as thouh at night. That was atmospheric. We had to stop for a butterbeer. How to describe it???? Ice cream soda with a butterscotch flavour would be the closest. Not my cup of tea really.
We then decided to ride Gringotts again as the wait was only 20 minutes. Enjoyed it just as much the second time. Got to notice more as we queued. Like the newspapers in the “club” section where the photographs were moving pictures.
By this time it was about 130 and we decided to slowly make our way out of the park and go and get some lunch. On the way we passed the Disaster ride and that had a 10 minute wait so we went in. It was like an earthqueake simulation in an underground station. Quite fun but my feet were aching by then and I was ready to go.
We had lunch in Dennys. Bob and I had Senor Specials !!!! It gave us a rest and refuel. Really liked Universal Studios Park and looking forward to going back tomorrow for the park proper. Lucy wanted to do some shopping so we went to the nearby Orlando Prime Outlet Mall. Amazing designer outlet shops. Had a good haul in Victoria’s Secret and Saks Fifth Avenue outlet. Shopped for about 2 hours and then left. The heat was brutal by then at 5pm. 103F. We limped home and lay with our feet up.. I made a jub of margaritas to help ease the pain.
We ate in. Spoke to Frannie on the phone and she and David are coming to visit tomorrow late afternoon and we will have a catchup, drinks and dinner. Really looking forward to seeing them. They are part of my extended “family” here stemming from my exchange student year in New Jersey in 1971. We have all stayed in touch down the years which has been wonderful.