Part of my 30th birthday gift this year was a trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (WWoHP). You may remember that I chose to have a Harry Potter themed birthday cake…well, I knew the WWoHP was due to open this year, so I decided that I wanted to visit there more than anything! When we found out that we would be moving to the Virgin Islands for the Coast Guard, I knew it was the perfect opportunity! We were able to work the park, which is part of Universal Studios’ Islands of Adventure theme park, into our trip, and we were lucky that it officially opened the same day we were due to leave our home in Maine!
We decided to go to WWoHP before we did anything else in Orlando, since I was so excited about it! I’m glad that we did it first, but it was also very, very busy because when we went the park had only been officially open for four days! It was pretty crazy!
We arrived and parked about 30 minutes before the park was due to open and it was a good thing we did because we ended up in a crazy long line waiting to get in. There are two entrances into WWoHP; one is for guests staying in Universal hotels and goes through Seuss Landing and the Lost Continent to the right. The other entrance is for the general public and goes through Marvel Super Hero Island, Toon Lagoon, and Jurassic Park to the left. This was the line we joined and when we did, it was all the way through Jurassic Park! We got in line right at the entrance to Jurassic Park! If you’ve been to the Islands of Adventure, you know how long of a line that is! Admittance to WWoHP is included in the price of a ticket for the Islands of Adventure, but because the demand is so high, you have to be given another (free) ticket before you can actually get into Hogsmeade!
We stood in line for a good 30 to 40 minutes, but once the park officially opened, the line really moved along pretty quickly.
Then, before we knew it…
Upon entering, you are confronted with a big choice: Hogwarts or Hogsmeade. How can you possibly decide?! I just stood there for several minutes, mouth agape, head swiveling from one side to the other. Finally, I decided I would get started with a photo of the most prominent part of the park…
…Hogwarts! You can see the castle from miles away while driving down the interstate! It’s thrilling to see and the glimpses that you get of it as you walk through the park to WWoHP are awesome teasers!! They did a fantastic job on it!!
At the base of the castle, there is a gate with a winged warthog sentinel on each side. This is the entrance to the ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. The line for the ride meanders throughout the castle, giving you an exciting tour as you wait. The detail is wonderful and there are even amazing screens that have images of the actors from the films that talk to you! The way that these are set up really makes it look like the characters are actually there!
The line takes you through such scenes as Dumbledore’s office, the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, and the stairwell where there are real moving portraits that interact with one another (although they neglected to add any moving staircases). Unfortunately, I don’t have any photographs of the interior of the castle because you can’t take bulky items on the ride with you. When you first enter the castle, there are Hogwarts students standing by to assign you to lockers for your bigger stuff. Seeing as I had my DSLR (with flash and zoom lens) with me, I couldn’t take it on the ride and the camera on my phone is useless in low light situations. I was extremely disappointed, but trust me when I say that the castle is amazing and wonderfully done!
The actual ride is, without a doubt, the best ride I’ve ever been on! It’s a combination of movement, video, animatronics, and simulation. The premise of the ride is that you are riding on bewitched benches (courtesy of Hermione) through the castle and grounds, down to the Quidditch pitch to watch Harry and Ron play. There’s dragons, giant spiders, twists, and turns…it’s amazing!
Across from Hogwarts is the small (very short) roller coaster the Flight of the Hippogriff. This ride had a short line all day long, and wasn’t terribly exciting, but was worth hitting because of the chance to see Hagrid’s Hut and the surrounding areas. Hagrid is the Care of Magical Creatures teacher in the books, and Buckbeak’s caregiver, so Hagrid’s Hut and the setting around it are perfect for the Flight of the Hippogriff. We stood in line for about five minutes before boarding the ride, which was very nice! Plus, the wait is almost entirely shaded, a big bonus in hot, sunny Florida!
As you round the first turn of the ride, there is a very large, animatronic Buckbeak in his nest! He bows to you and you’re off! And before you know, it’s all over! This is a seriously short ride, but fun nonetheless!
There is another ride called The Dragon Challenge that is based around the first task in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. It is a hanging seat roller coaster that has two separate tracks, each one running in different directions and “challenging” one another. This is a very thrilling ride, but be aware that the line gets extremely long as the day wears on. My recommendation is to ride this ride first thing, followed by Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, as they have the longest lines.
If it weren’t for the sweltering heat and humidity, you could almost believe that all the snow is real! It’s really quite pretty! Of course, this photo also doesn’t show the throngs of people milling about!!
Speaking of groups of people, it’s important to know that there is only one place in all of WWoHP to get food.
If you want food, then you have to visit the Three Broomsticks. I recommend queuing up well before lunch. It took us over an hour to get through the line and get our food! I think that as time goes on, and fewer people visit the park, things will obviously get easier, and run smoother. Right now, though, because the park is so very new and busy, if you leave WWoHP, you have to get in line to get back in! Accordingly, nobody was willing to leave, so the food line was very, very long. The same is true for the butterbeer carts that sit out in the park. I suggest, if you’re only looking to get a beverage, that you head over to the Hog’s Head Inn bar. It is next to, and actually adjoins, the Three Broomsticks, but it has a separate entrance, and a separate line. The entrance is around the back, so most people never find it! We stood in line for butterbeer there and only waited about 10 minutes! And speaking of butterbeer…
…it is wonderful!! They did a great job creating it (create your own homemade butterbeer…tastes just like the park’s)! It met all of my expectations! They actually had J.K. Rowling give final approval over it, so you know it really is what she meant it to be! You can get it “on tap” (shown above) or frozen (as a slushie). While the slushie is refreshing, I actually prefer it on tap. The frozen version tastes “flat.” The best way to describe the difference is to compare it to a regular Coke versus a Coke Slushee. Coke is bubbly, while a coke slushie tastes flat. But it really is personal preference and I recommend trying it both ways.
The flavor of the butterbeer itself was very close to a cream soda, except it was more butterscotch flavored. It was really delicious…I have high hopes that they will market it outside of the park!
Both versions have this sweet, delicious foam on top. The flavor reminds me very much of vanilla ice cream, while the texture is more like whipped cream. It’s a little thick and, strangely, if you don’t drink all of the foam right up, it seems to regenerate. I know that sounds weird, but unless you drink it all at once, it never seems to go away. It. Was. Awesome!
Again, there was a line to get into the shop, but it moved along quickly and there are these beautiful window displays to captivate you. The storefront for Zonko’s Joke Shop is also here and they have a lot of fun stuff to check out. One display is for Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Bean, which they have plenty of inside Honeydukes! Another of the displays is for Candyfloss (cotton candy). There was also a beautiful chocolate frog display with a giant chocolate frog box opening and closing over a huge chocolate frog, but it was a bit too crowded for picture taking.
Even this adorable pink, spiral staircase in the corner had candy all over it! There were several candy dispensers and jars lining the walls that you could use to fill pink bags up with. It was three dollars for a quarter pound of candy, six dollars for a half pound. Quite steep, to say the least. My advice would be to skip the “by-the-pound” candy, though. Most of it is every day candy that you can get anywhere (and usually much, much cheaper).
There are also these sugar quills, as well as Bertie Bott’s Beans, Acid Pops, Chocolate Frogs, and Chocolate Cauldrons. Be aware, though, that these are still pricey. A chocolate frog will run you about $10, plus tax. It’s quite big and it is good quality chocolate though, plus you get a Famous Witch or Wizard card with it! There are also pre-weighed jars of various candies throughout the store that are fun because the jar is stamped with the Honeydukes logo (of course I had to have one)!
Honeydukes also offers pumpkin juice, which is available at other carts and vendors throughout the park, too. Pumpkin juice tastes like very sweet pumpkin pie. It is fruity and pumpkin-y, but it also has spices added, much like those you would find in the pie. I personally didn’t enjoy it, but then again, I don’t like pumpkin pie!
Another great thing at Honeydukes is the treat counter! It’s full of delicious little cakes and treats, such as fudge, Hagrid’s Rock Cakes, and treacle tarts (follow link for recipe), which are Harry’s favorite!.
I chose to get a Cauldron Cake (my own homemade versions can be found here) and was not disappointed! The small white candy tastes like coconut to me, while everything else is chocolate. There is a small amount of chocolate filling and a hard chocolate coating on the bottom. The cake was very delicious and I highly recommend splurging on one!
Zonko’s Joke Shop adjoins Honeydukes. The joke shop is filled with fun little toys like Sneakoscopes, but it mostly contains old fashioned muggle toys and games. Be sure to peer up at the ceiling though to catch some extendable ears dangling down from above! There are a lot of these little touches throughout WWoHP that big fans will enjoying seeking out!
Outside of Honeydukes and Zonko’s is the Hogwarts Express! It’s a full sized steam engine that appears as though it has just arrived. Every few minutes steam billows from the stack and from under the engine, making it all the more impressive!
And the conductor is really wonderful! He was warm and friendly, and quite fun to chat with. Never once did he step out of character and it was very funny to talk to him! Many of these singular characters that you can interact with are actually from the UK too, making everything that much more authentic!
If you want a photo with the engine, don’t be afraid to just step right up. If you wait for the chance too long, you’ll never get it! People are almost constantly moving in and out, but if you step up and pose, everybody is polite enough to allow you a couple of shots before jumping in!
At this point, it was time to rejoin the hubster for lunch in the Three Broomsticks. A big bonus to WWoHP is that they don’t skimp on the food! This is a picture of my lunch…just my lunch! That’s a whole half of a roast chicken! Just for me! It’s a lot of food and the price isn’t too bad, while the food itself was quite tasty! After you order, you wait at a counter for the food, then move along to a condiment area before being seated by helpful Broomsticks employees.
Next up was Ollivanders. We kept putting this off with the hopes that the line would go away. It was over an hour wait! We thought, “This must be good!” Let me save you the trouble: don’t stand in line for Ollivanders unless you really, really want to see the inside of the shop. It’s not worth it. We were told that there was “a really great show” and that wands would choose you. This isn’t true, however. The show was very well done, it just wasn’t worth the overlong wait.
And Ollivander himself was incredible! He was wonderfully believable and brought so much to the atmosphere. But it’s important that you know that the “show” is only about eight to ten minutes long, and only one persone gets chosen by a wand, so you have to try to be that lucky one. The “show” is actually a reenactment of the scene from the first film (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone) when Harry visits Ollivanders for his wand. Afterwards, you are ushered through a doorway to peruse the wand selection available for purchase.
Here is a display of some of the wands you can buy. There are replicas of many of the main characters’ wands (including the Trio, Dumbledore, and Voldemort) and all of the wands run about $30.00, give or take, but many of them were sold out. It was here that we learned that you have to shop early if you want to get something specific.
The store where the wands are sold is actually fronted by a sign for the Owl Post. Be aware that you can’t enter through here; you must stand in line for Ollivanders in order to enter the Owl Post. There is, however, an entrance to Dervish and Banges (selling souvenirs such as clothing and key chains) on the back side of the building that adjoins to the Owl Post.
There are also several animatronic owls in the rafters above that lend a fun air to the place. In this area, there is a small stand that sells some stationary, such as post cards and special Harry Potter stamps. These are very fun, inexpensive souvenirs to check out, and they even have a little stand where you can have them stamped as coming from the Owl Post!
The owls in the owlery are just one of the little details that makes WWoHP so wonderful! Keep your eyes open for these treats as you go about your day.
One of the best places to witness the attention to detail that went into WWoHP is in Filch’s Emporium.
As you exit the ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, you enter Filch’s Emporium. This is rather large gift shop offering clothing and accessories, keychains, magnets, and many other things. As it is supposed to be part of Hogwarts, there are still little reminders of the castle, such as Gryffindor’s sword.
There are random “file drawers” scattered throughout with different students names labeled on them. I was sorely tempted to pop this one open and see if there was actually anything in there, but I wasn’t quite tall enough!
Beautiful old books stacked in Filch’s Emporium
Wands, a Marauder’s Map, and a death eater’s mask
A bottle of Skele-Gro on display in Filch’s Emporium
For anyone planning a trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, be early! Anywhere from a half hour to an hour before open is best. Be prepared for lots of lines and lots of waiting. But be patient! There’s a lot of detail and fun to take in while you wait if you’re willing to look around! Don’t leave without trying butterbeer in one form or another (or both)! Expect to pay a lot for stuff. Nothing is cheap here. Although you do get a lot, and good quality, for your money. Pack food to tide you over if you don’t want to wait for a long time at the Three Broomsticks. The food is good, but you wouldn’t truly miss out if you didn’t have it. Buy souvenirs early, as they sell out of smaller sizes and more popular items very quickly. Last, but definitely not least, take a camera and photograph everything! You’ll regret it forever if you don’t! For ticket prices and information, visit http://www.universalorlando.com/home/home.aspx
I know this is a very long post, and maybe it’s pretty boring for some people, but I wanted to make sure there was a lot of information for anyone interested in making the trip. These are tips you won’t get from most places and they will be very helpful! I hope you enjoyed my recap and photos!! Have a wonderful week!
Great Harry Potter recipes from Bakingdom: