Our Christmas presents this last year to the kids were tickets to Universal Studio’s Harry Potter World and coupons for Butter Beer. They couldn’t have been more excited to open them on Christmas morning as we had talked about this for months beforehand. Unfortunately, for them, we wouldn’t be going until the end of January so they still had some more waiting to do!
We were joined on this adventure by my younger sister who flew out from Utah for the week to hang with us in Orlando (see: We Have a Visitor in the Airstream). It was great having her along as she is a huge fan of all things Harry Potter.
When We Visited: January 25, 2016
Ages of Kids: 10, 8, 5
Where We Stayed: Bill Frederick Park at Turkey Lake
We did a bit of research to decide what exactly we wanted to see in the park. Our friends over at TakeThatExit.com gifted us the Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando and while I was skeptical at fist, it actually proved fairly helpful!
The book has a description of each ride and how scary it is, plus touring plans for the parks. They even have a 1 day, park hopper touring plan we used for our visit. We tweaked the plan a bit to fit in Suess Landing and a stunt show, but otherwise we followed the outlined plan and everything went great!
Harry Potter Land (or The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, as an employee nicely corrected us) is split between the two parks: Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. If you want to visit both parks (and you really do) you have to get a park hopper pass. We found this was totally worth it as we spent most of our time exploring just the Harry Potter themed areas, as the rest of both parks were either too intense for the ages of our kids or did not interest us.
We started our day at Universal Studios in Diagon Alley. They’ve recreated the brick wall which is the entryway from the Muggle world to the magical Wizarding world. I couldn’t believe the excitement on my kids’ faces as they stepped through! We explored the shops, visited Ollivander’s and the Wand Ceremony, and rode the Escape from Gringotts which had a super short line early in the morning. Cara rode it once and then promptly decided she never wanted to ride it again. Definitely a little too intense for our 5 year old, but the older two thought it was great!
There are also two different puppetry performances from of tales of Beedle the Bard and we were able to watch “The Fountain of Fair Fortune” while munching on our snacks from the sweet shop.
Speaking of sweets, one of our kids’ main reasons for visiting the park was to try Butterbeer. Not only do they sell straight up Butterbeer, but also sell it Frozen, Hot, as ice cream and also as fudge. Definitely need to try them all! Butterbeer is sold in both sides of the park, so don’t stress if you only make it to one. I really wanted to try a pumpkin pastie, but by the time I made my decision late in the day they were all sold out. Lesson learned – don’t wait to buy your snacks!
The kids received money for Christmas from Grandma & Grandpa to spend while at the park and they had a great time deciding which treats to buy. Both Rachel and Cara bought a Chocolate Frog, and Andrew was adventurous enough to buy Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans. There were a few he threw away, but he dared Cara to try a dirt flavored bean. That didn’t end so well! We also tried Fizzing Whizbangs, salt water taffy, and Exploding Bon Bons, but I think the Butterbeer Fudge was definitely my favorite treat.
After exploring Diagon Alley, we headed back to “London” and visited Stan and the Knightbus. Stan was pretty entertaining and we got a good look at a possibly Airstream upgrade. Just kidding.
Next, we entered Kings Cross Station and found our way to platform 9 and 3/4, where we boarded the Hogwarts Express to Hogsmeade Station, which is over in Islands of Adventure. This 5 minute ride saves a 20 minute walk, but was an unexpectedly awesome ‘ride’ all by itself! While sitting on comfy seats, you experience beautiful scenes out the magical window, and witness the shadows of shenanigans just outside your compartment. The return ride was different still, and made it an all around wonderful experience.
Once off the train in Hogsmeade, we wandered through the shops on our way to Hogwarts and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. We knew this ride would be too intense for Cara, so we took advantage of the child swap program. The line snakes its way through the castle (the dungeons, outside in the Herbology lab, past Dumbledore’s office, etc.) which Cara really enjoyed and then we hung out in a small room near the ride loading area where they were playing Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets on a video screen. Fairly fitting I thought.
Also in Hogsmeade is a fairly tame roller coaster themed after Hagrid’s Hippogriff (Cara loved this one), The Dragon Challenge (a set of “dueling” dragon rollercoasters themed after the Tri-Wizard Tournament), performances by the Frog Choir and students from both Durmstrang and Beauxbatons. We ate lunch at the Three Broomsticks, which was pretty good, and the bathroom haunted by Moaning Murtle was also a really fun surprise!
Many of the rides we enjoyed were really too wild for little Cara. She was an incredible sport as we used the child-swap system of those rides. During the afternoon, we took a break from Hogsmead and headed over to Seuss Landing for something more her speed. She loved every minute, and her joy was rewarding for all of us.
We also watched the Eight Voyage of Sinbad Stunt Show since we were in the area at the right time. Lots of flames, sword fights, and plenty of ridiculous banter to keep us entertained.
While not quite to Disney levels, Universal has done a great job with the details of the magical Wizarding World. We loved catching a glimpse of Hagrid’s “Monster Book of Monsters”, and even found ourselves a Howler.
With her money, Cara decided to solve all our mail problems with the purchase of an owl she’s dubbed “Hedwig” (nevermind that Hedwig is white – we don’t pay that much attention to detail).
We had a fabulous time! We did take the train back over to Diagon Alley to finish up with one more ride on Gringott’s and some Butterbeer ice cream. We thought we’d stay for the fireworks in the main area of the park, but they were such a disappointment (and frankly rather boring) that we left early.
Overall, the kids (and adults) were super happy, and we were impressed that we were able to cover both sections of the park in one day!