Today is J.K. Rowling’s birthday, she is the world famous author of the Harry Potter series of books, and in her honor I would like to share this Travel post on the Wizarding World of Harry Potter located at the Universal Orlando Resort in Florida. So, at the beginning of summer we finally left for a one week road trip to Florida. We had planned stops in Charleston, SC and the Kennedy Space Center before arriving at the Universal Orlando Resort.
The morning after we arrived in Orlando; we woke early, had a quick breakfast at our hotel and then headed to the Universal Island of Adventure Theme Park. We were lucky that our hotel had a shuttle bus and after a short ride we were dropped off at the entrance to the Universal Orlando Resort. (This worked out great for us because during our entire stay in Orlando we never had to move our car from the hotel parking lot!) TRAVEL TIP: We were allowed entrance into the Islands of Adventure Park one hour early; this is available for guests that book their hotel reservations/park tickets through the Universal website. If you have this opportunity, take advantage of the chance because this area of the park can get very crowded especially during the summer months!
Upon entering the Islands of Adventure Park, we quickly headed to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter to begin our adventure. This magical area is truly enchanting and once you walk through the arched gates, guests will leave the “muggle” world behind and entered into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The sign above the entrance reads, “Please respect the spell limits” and as guests walk through the entrance the entire village of Hogsmeade appears complete with a light touch of snow. TRAVEL TIP: After riding all the rides in the Wizarding World, take the time to stroll through the village of Hogsmeade. Look at the shop window displays and then go into the shops to look around because the attention to all the details is absolutely amazing.
Immediately on the right of the entrance stands a fiberglass replica of the Hogwarts Express sitting at the Hogsmeade train station. We stopped to take a quick photo in front of this iconic steam train from the Harry Potter books and movies, it makes a great photo! TRAVEL TIP: If you are lucky and the train conductor is there, ask to see his pocket watch. This one-of-a-kind item is a golden pocket watch with the crest of Hogwarts on one side and the Hogwarts Express engine numbers on the other side. The unique watch not only tells the conductor the time but also where the train is located and if the train is on schedule.
Our first stop was the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey attraction (with the early admission access we were hoping to limit our wait time, so we wanted to go there first). The ride is located inside the Hogwarts Castle and as guests walk through the corridors they will see the gallery of talking portraits, the office of Headmaster Dumbledore and the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom with Harry, Hermione and Ron appearing on the balcony. Before you reach the boarding area of the ride, muggles like me that can’t ride because of motion sickness can exit here (which was fine with me because part of the enjoyment of this ride is walking through the queue area and seeing the interior of Hogwarts). After boarding the “magical benches”, the braver guests will experience a simulated flight that starts with them feeling like they are flying around the outside of the castle, and then there is an encounter with the Whomping Willow, several dementors, some giant spiders, a Hungarian Horntail Dragon and finally a Quidditch match. Both my husband and daughter enjoyed this ride and rode it several times during our stay at the Universal Orlando Resort! TRAVEL TIP: If you are riding again for the second or more times, consider the single rider line, especially if the regular wait line is too long!
Next, my husband and daughter went on the Flight of the Hippogriff, of course I passed on this ride, too! This ride is a steel roller coaster designed for families (OK, please don’t call me a wimp!!). The story of this ride is that the Hogwart’s Care of Magical Creatures, Professor Hagrid, is teaching young wizards how to fly on a Hippogriff by using a wicker replica of the creature. My husband and daughter rode this ride twice, but when we returned later in the day the wait time was just too long to ride again! TRAVEL NOTE: Look for the nest with a baby Hippogriff and Hagrid’s Hut which can also be seen from the Dragon’s Challenge ride.
By this time, we had a breakfast reservation at the Three Broomstick restaurant, the design of the building is based on the inn & pub from the Harry Potter series. After ordering our food, a waitress will conveniently help you to your table by carrying your food tray. Breakfast was very good, tasted great and the portions were generous and we even ordered a single pumpkin juice so we all could take a taste, it is definitely unusual! Then, while we were eating our meal, we looked up at the rafters and to our surprise we saw the shadows of owls flying, house elves working and even magical brooms cleaning, it was very cool! TRAVEL NOTE: The Three Broomsticks serves not only breakfast, but later in the day a full menu of traditional British food such as Shepherd’s pie and fish & chips, in addition you can get a strawberry-peanut butter ice cream which was seen in the “Harry Potter and Chamber of Secrets” movie.
TRAVEL NOTE: Just next door to the Three Broomsticks is the Hog’s Head. It is based on the pub from the Harry Potter series which is owned by Aberforth Dumbledore, he is the younger brother of Albus Dumbledore who is the Headmaster at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The featured drink in the pub is the Hog’s Head Brew, a dark amber Scottish ale which is brewed exclusively for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Tip the bartender to see the Hog’s Head behind the bar come snorting to life! TRAVEL TIP: Here is my advice from someone who does not ride the attractions at the Wizarding World, is that just outside the door of the pub is a covered area with very limited seating and it is the best place to wait during a hot summer afternoon or during one of Florida’s sudden rain showers. Most guests sit and wait at the Owlery across the way, it is a larger area but I found it to be very crowded and after awhile the noise of the clock gets very irritating!!
After breakfast, my husband and daughter went on the Dragon Challenge ride (OK, don’t say it … but I know you are thinking it!!) The Dragon Challenge ride is the only simultaneous two track inverted roller coaster in the world. The ride is named for the first task in the Triwizard Tournament from the Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. As guests enter the queue there are tournament banners, then you pass by the Wesley’s crashed flying Ford Anglia and Hagrid’s hut. As you enter the Champions Tent, guests will see the Triwizard Cup on a pedestal, then after emerging from several dark tunnels the guests have to decide – the red Chinese Fireball dragon on the left or the blue Hungarian Horntail on the right. My husband and daughter absolutely loved this ride!! TRAVEL NOTE: When you are in the boarding area look up at the ceiling for the projection of the dragons.
After riding all the rides (or should I say after my husband and daughter road all the rides) we decided to explore the village of Hogsmead. Each of the shops feature wonderful window displays, so take the time to take a look before going into the shops.
Here is a list of some of the shops we visited at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter:
- Ollivanders Wand Shop – this is the most popular destination for those wishing to purchase a wand. (Remember this is not only a branch of Ollivanders, the original shop in located in Diagon Alley) This shop is unlike any other shop in Hogsmead because it admits only small groups of 20 at a time into the shop for a short inactive experience in which the wand keeper will select one special person to test out several different wands. Just like in the original Harry Potter book, “the wand will choose the wizard”.
- The Owl Post – this store is adjacent to the Ollivanders Wand shop and where souvenir wands can be purchased as well as stationery, writing pens, stamps and even stuffed owls. TRAVEL NOTE: At the time of our visit, just outside the door was a small stand that will stamp a postcard or letter with the authentic Hogsmeade postmark. We had a postcard stamped and it makes a very cool and inexpensive souvenir!
- Honeydukes – this store is based on the sweetshop in the Harry Potter series and it sells many of the items mentioned in the books and movies. Look for an assortment of candies such as: Chocolate Frogs, Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavour Beans, Fizzing Whizzbees and Cauldron Cakes but the Exploding Bonbons are no longer available for purchase. TRAVEL TIP: This shop is great for taking photos of the family holding all the different crazy selections of candy!
- Zonko’s Joke Shop – This shop sells toys and joke items and it is also based on a store from the Harry Potter series. The shop is usually very crowded but if it quiet enough try to listen for the whispering from the Extendable ears hanging from the ceiling near the checkout registers, this unusual item is available for purchase. Also, available for purchase are the pygmy puffs and if you choose to “adopt” one of these creatures the clerk will ring the bell and announce the pygmy puff’s name to the whole store.
- Flinch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods – located at the exit of the Forbidden Journey ride, this store sells a variety of Harry Potter themed merchandise and is also the place where guests can purchase their Forbidden Journey ride photos. TRAVEL NOTE: In a glass case in the store, look for the Marauder’s Map which actually shows the names the students and their footprints as they wander the corridors of Hogwarts.
Other shops in the village of Hogsmead include: The Dogweed and Deathcap shop which features a potted mandrake in the shop window that comes to life every few minutes. The Dervish and Banges shop which sells Hogwarts school robes and other items of clothing, copies of Advanced Potion making book and be sure to look for the Monster Book of Monsters in a special locked cage because it comes to life every few minutes. The Spintwitches shop sells all types of Quidditch and broom merchandise, look for a holographic snitch that has escaped from the Quidditch trunk and flies around. The Tomes and Scrolls bookshop sells Gilderoy Lockhart’s books “Magical Me” and “Travel with Trolls”.
|TRAVEL NOTE: Before leaving the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, be sure to try the Butterbeer. This non-alcoholic beverage is available in several different locations in Hogsmeade, look for it at the Butterbeer carts, the Three Broomsticks restaurant or the Hog’s Head pub. Butterbeer comes in both a regular and a frozen drink and can be purchased in a souvenir mug which can be refilled for a discounted price. We thought the drink was delicious! The first time we tried the drink we only bought one to sample between the three of us, but later when we went back we purchase three individual drinks because it was so good!!
Brief History of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
On May 3, 2007 Universal (in partnership with Warner Bros.) announced plans that the Islands of Adventure Park area known as the Lost Continent was going to be re-themed into a 20 acre addition that would recreate Hogwarts and Hogsmeade from the popular children’s books, the Harry Potter series. By this time, five of the seven books had been made into successful Warner Bros. movies. Construction of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter began in January of 2008. The previous attraction, the Flying Unicorn, took almost two years of refurbishment to transform it into the new ride, the Flight of the Hippogriff. As the Hogwarts Castle started slowly taking form during construction, and a bridge was built to join the Jurassic Park area of the Islands of Adventure Park. Inside Hogwarts is the ride attraction, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Also, the previous Dueling Dragons attraction was moved to make room for the construction of the village of Hogsmeade. By early 2010, the former ride had now been transformed into the Dragon Challenge with theming based on the Harry Potter books and movies.
The private opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter took place on June 16, 2010 and was reserved only for the cast and crew of the Harry Potter films, including J.K. Rowling the author of the world famous books. Then a few days later on June 18, the Wizarding World opened for the public and quickly proved to be a very successful addition to the Islands of Adventure Park.
Recently a second phase was announced on December 6, 2011 which will be constructed in the adjacent Universal Studios Florida in an area previously occupied by the Jaws ride attraction. This new Harry Potter themed addition will connect the two parks with a train ride on the Hogwarts Express. There will be a roller coaster themed ride based on the Gringotts Wizarding Bank and the remaining attractions will be themed around London and Diagon Alley. The Diagon Alley will feature the Leaky Cauldron restaurant and the shops will include the original Ollivanders Wand Shop, the Wesleys Wizard Wheezes, Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasion shop and the Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipement store. This new addition of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is expected to open in 2014.