Our grand adventure started out with a flight to Orlando, really. We hung out there for a couple of days recovering from the push to get ready for almost three months of travel. While there, we decided to spend a day at Universal. Neither of us had ever been to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
, and everyone we knew who'd visited raved about it. Checking Undercover Tourist's crowd planner calendars
for the following day, the predicted crowds were about as low as low could be. So, I grabbed a couple of print-at-home, one-day, park-hopper tickets for the next day.
Walking through the turnstiles, Universal was empty
. Making our way to the back of the park towards the Wizarding World, we stopped to ride a few rides, because there were no lines
. Unfortunately, this turned out to be a bit of a bad idea because one of the 3D rides made Joe decide he didn't want to ride any more 3D rides. If you have troubles with motion sickness - be warned!
Continuing towards the back of the park, we finally spied the triple-decker Knight Bus - our first indication that we were almost there. This was confirmed by the shrunken head hanging in the window that berated us for peaking in the windows. Kind of cool - the entrance to Diagon Alley is sort of hidden around a corner and up a little alleyway. We walked through the break in a brick wall and then we were in!
It really does feel like you've there - Universal's attention to detail is fantastic, with lots of props from the movies. We spent the first half hour simply looking around. Trying to play it cool, but really pointing and squealing like little kids (or in Joe's place, simply grinning like he couldn't stop because of course he doesn't squeal - that's all me). One of the things I'd heard about were the spells you could 'cast' if you had an appropriate wand. After watching a nearby family casting a set of spells, I decided that I just couldn't resist; I had to have a wand so we could play, too. After all, that's the reason we were there, right?
|a busy day at Olivander's Wand Shop|
Turns out Diagon Alley has a couple of different wand shops. There's Gregorovitch's, an open-faced storefront with a small selection of wands (and smaller crowds), and then there's Olivanders! Olivander's is literally packed floor to ceiling with wand boxes! It's also packed with people - but that kind of made it fun. The upper level is tilted and sagging from the 'weight' of all of those wands. So much potential for fun and mischief!
There were quite a few wands to choose from - Ivy, Holly, Oak, Ash - lots of different 'woods'. Plaques on the wall depicted each of the wands and described their 'unique' properties. Oh, and of course there were also the 'famous' wands - replicas of all the major characters' wands from the books (and movies). We ended up going with Ivy - associated with tenacity, stamina and endless patience. I figured those were all good qualities for a bead artist, and heh, I liked the design. Joe and I then took turns casting spells for the rest of the day.
|wands, wands and more wands|
|Ivy wand and map in hand, we're ready to explore!|
Each wand comes with a handy map of the magical hot spots in both Diagon Alley and the nearby Hogsmeade. Universal has done a frightfully good job with merchandising - helped along by the fact that JK Rowling created Diagon Alley as the place
where the wizarding world goes to shop. You can buy wizarding robes and muggle tshirts at Madam Malkins or Quality Quiditch Supplies, fantastic stuffed animals at Magical Menagerie, visit Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes, and far more. I was quite proud that we made it out with only our wand and a stuffed Crookshanks that we were able to have shipped to our youngest niece for her birthday. But I think the coolest theming was Borgin and Burkes
in Knockturn Alley. Perfectly dark and creepy! The spells you could cast in Knockturn alley were some of the coolest, too. Here's a fun link
to an article with lots of little 'insider' tips to enhance your visit.
After spending the morning exploring, we stopped for lunch at the Leaky Cauldron. Hands down, the Leaky Cauldron had some of the best
counter-service amusement park food I've ever had. All of the entries
were traditional 'English pub' food, while the drinks were definitely
Harry Potter. Joe had a Fisherman's Pie with
pumpkin beer, while I ordered bangers and mash, along with a fizzing orange drink with a cinnamon and brown sugar encrusted rim. Yum! We ate a
little early, which was a good thing as we had no wait. By noon, there
was a line with a 45-minute wait (at least according to the sign)!
|Inside the Three Broomsticks|
Our only ride during our exploration of the Wizarding World was the Hogwarts' Express, between the two parks. (Something to note about the Hogwarts Express - it's a different ride in each direction, so make sure to take it both ways between the parks). They've done a great job with the line, too - it twists and turns around corners, with interesting things to see along the way. We pretty much walked straight through, but it was fun to stop and gawk at things like Harry and Ron's tipped luggage cart with luggage spilled all around and other such sights.
Hogsmeade, in Islands of Adventure, was fun, but not as fully-fleshed as Diagon Alley. It's always winter in Hogsmeade, which can seem a little strange in the 90+ degree heat of May in Orlando. Many of the 'shops' here were simply window fronts that you could peer into. I wanted more room to explore. I did manage to poke my head into the Three Broomsticks to take a peek. The line here was even longer than the one at the Leaky Cauldron, but I was able to convince people I just wanted to take a picture, so they let me through far enough to snap this shot.
As you can tell, we had a great time. Not sure if I'd go back if it were just the two of us - the park tickets are a bit pricey, especially if all you're doing is the Wizarding world. Joe's not really into roller coasters and right now it's best that I avoid them as well, and I think I already mentioned that 3D rides turned out to be not our thing; so there were very few rides we could or wanted to actually ride. That said, we had a thoroughly delightful time, and I wouldn't mind going again with friends or family who wanted to check it out.
And that was our little adventure in Orlando, while we waited for our larger adventure to begin...