Florida, the beautiful sunshine state. Growing up Florida became one of my favorite places to visit. Warm weather, sunshine, and the beach. Florida was the place we took all of our big family holidays, going to visit Disney World and Universal. I have so many spectacular memories with my family there.
In 2010 Universal opened the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Yes! What better time to drag my husband down south (he isn’t a fan of warmer weather). Like any other wizard or witch who is part of the Harry Potter fandom, I was dying to go. After some persistent begging 😉 my husband finally agreed to go for my birthday.
We booked a package deal on Universal Studios website. Since my birthday is in October we decided to head down around that time and take advantage of the Halloween Horror Nights. We got a weeks stay at Avanti Resort, three night park hopper passes, and a one night ticket for HHN.
Park hopper passes are the way to go if you will be visiting the parks for more than one day. If you plan on visiting just one day then I would stick to one park. There are two parks Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. They both offer plenty to keep you busy and you don’t want to rush through them. Islands of Adventure is exactly what it says in the name, full of adventure. From the Incredible Hulk coaster to the Skull Island: Reign of Kong ride. It offers everything for those wanting that adrenaline rush. In Universal Studios park you will find thrills of a different form. The park offers over 7 different motions simulation rides. (Those with motion sickness will want to prepare for theses.) Some of the rides are Men in Black Alien Attack, The Simpsons ride, Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, and much more.
Both parks offer a piece of the Harry Potter world. In Islands of Adventure you’ll find The Wizarding World Hogsmeade and in Universal you’ll find Diagon Alley. The two can be accessed through the Hogwarts Express where you can ride along through the British country side and maybe encounter a few of the characters from the Wizarding world. The only way you can access the Hogwarts Express is by having a park hopper pass, annual pass, or a seasonal pass. No worries though if you don’t have any of those you can simply walk through each park and enter one of the two sites this way. You will not be able to access the Hogwarts Express though. There are truly no words to describe the magic you feel when entering Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade. The structure of the buildings and the authenticity, truly makes it feel like you’re in the Wizarding world.
Hogsmeade (Islands of Adventure)
Hogsmeade offers rides like Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Flight of the Hippogriff, and the dueling dragons. It’s no doubt that the most magical part is the life-size replica of the Hogwarts castle. Walking through this part of the park you will pass snow-capped buildings such as Honeydukes, Ollivanders, The Three Broomsticks, and so much more. Honeydukes is filled with magical candy selections that you’ve seen in the films or read about in the books. They carry everything from chocolate frogs to Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans and everything in between. Another truly fascinating experience that both parks offer is the Ollivander Wand shop. You can have the experience of the wand choosing you. At the parks you can purchase interactive wands that allow you to cast spells in certain spots in the Wizarding parks.
The number one place that we would head when the parks open, was to the Three Broomsticks. We would always get breakfast here. They serve some of the best and filling foods in the parks (in our opinion of course). They have numerous menu items, but our favorites were the American Breakfast and the Full English Breakfast. Theses meals will keep you full for most of the day. After breakfast we would always stop at one of the carts that sold butterbeer right outside the Three broomsticks. You can choose to have it cold (iced), frozen, or hot. Let me just say that the butterbeer is a must! you will never want to drink anything else.
At the back of Hogsmeade you will see the Hogwarts castle. Inside is the Forbidden Journey ride. It’s a 3D/4D motion simulated ride that allows you to have some of the magical creature encounters that Harry had himself. You might even see a dementor! Walking through the castle you will see the Griffindor common room, the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, and more.
Diagon Alley (Universal Studios)
Diagon Alley is where you’ll find the famous Gringotts Wizarding Bank. It’s a cobblestone alley filled with all the shops that you will need to find everything on your Hogwarts school supply list. Walking through the entrance your eyes either go straight to the dragon on top of Gringotts at the back or to the Weasleys Wizard Wheezes shop located to the right. Universal done a fantastic job with bringing the wizarding world to life. You truly feel like you’re in the movies.
Inside the Weasleys Wizard Wheezes shop you will find everything from puking pastilles to love potions. It’s quirky and filled with all the items you would need to help you skip potions class. The Weasley brothers would be proud. Walking down the alley you will find other shops like Madam Malkin’s Robes for All occasions, Quality Quidditch Supplies, and more. You can even find the famous Knockturn Alley with the well know Borgin and Burkes. Here is where some notorious Deatheaters shop.
If you are looking to trade in some muggle cash for Gringotts bank notes in 10s or 20s then head over to the Gringotts money exchange. Sitting behind the counter will be a goblin. You can ask him any question and see if he will respond. He can be rude sometimes. No worries if you can’t use the wizarding money in the muggle world. You can exchange the notes for cash at the guest services offices in either park.
I had heard a lot about the Escape from Gringotts ride and had high expectation. I was not disappointed. I would get off the ride and go straight back through the line. The best part about these rides is that you’re not just waiting in a normal line. There is so much to look at leading up to the ride. When you walk in to the bank you come in contacted with goblins sitting at their desks along the sides. They will occasionally look up and some of them seem like they actually look at you. Following the line it will lead you down stairs into the basement part of the bank. You will have the chance to have your picture taken for the ride. You are then put into different lines to enter a room where you watch a little clip before getting on elevators to go even further down into Gringotts. After getting on the ride you will be immersed in the adventure of Harry and his friends trying to escape from Gringotts (I don’t want to spoil all the details). This ride is defiantly my favorite in all the parks.
It was a magical trip to say the least. A dream come true. The movies we watched and books we read have now been brought to life. No matter what park you choose or time of year you visit, you will have a blast. I highly recommend everyone go at least once in their lives to Universal Orlando. The better deal would be bundling through universal if you decide to go. They will allow you to make payments on your trip as well, so you won’t have to pay all at once. I hope you find this useful and I can help at least one of you tag along on adventures with the boy who lived!
Until next time!