My apologies to all the non- Harry Potter fans out there; this post probably won’t be your favorite. To all the Potter Fans: Remember when Harry went into the tent at the Quidditch World Cup and it was so much bigger and better then he expected? Yeah, that’s what today was like.
Before you worry too much I’ll let you know right away that my bags did arrive at my room. They came in about 12:30 this morning. I got up a few hours later, and caught my ride to Universal Studios. The drive over was great, my driver Ramone was friendly and talkative, and so proud to be working in the tourist industry. He said that he likes that Orlando is family oriented and safe. And he said that everyone working in hospitality is really nice.
The Universal Theme Park here is divided into two parts, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure; the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is divided between the two parks.
I wanted to visit Diagon Alley first so I headed into Universal Studios. On my way over I went through their Hollywood section, as well as their version of Springfield, where I spotted a “Hidden Mickey”.
I stopped by the Men In Black ride; it was another ride where you shoot things. I like the idea of these rides, but I hate that they keep telling me how bad I am at shooting laser guns in theme parks!
Finally, I made it to Diagon Alley! This is so beautifully done! From the outside it looks like a London street. They have the façade of a bank, book store, Grimmauld Place, and the Leaky Cauldron. They even have the Knight Bus sitting out there. Although it did hurt my heart a little bit when I heard someone refer to it simply as a three-story bus; muggles are everywhere! Once you walk into a building, and through a brick wall, you’re transported to the world of Harry Potter.
If you turn to the left and head down a small back hallway you’ll find yourself in Knockturn Alley where you can peruse Borgin and Burkes shop, even buy a horcrux if you are so inclined. Or you can listen to shrunken heads in a window conversate and sing. Since this area is a little hidden away, it seems to stay pretty empty; as an area known for selling dark artifacts should.
The centerpiece of Diagon Alley is Gringott’s Bank; perched on top of the bank is a large dragon (a Ukrainian Ironbelly, to be exact). I had just come out of Knockturn Alley when I heard a rumbling sound. Everyone had stopped and was looking at the dragon. Roast my marshmallows! The dragon spits a fireball over the crowd! I was not expecting that! The next time I heard the rumbling I was able to get a picture of it.
Everyone who has read the bank robbery scene in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows probably thought, “That would make a good ride!”, well guess what! Inside the building is the Escape from Gringott’s ride. I have to say that this is my favorite of the Harry Potter rides. It is half roller coaster and half 3D ride. You zoom between 3D scenes on a quick turn coaster. Not to mention the queue is terrifically decorated. I would have loved to go on this ride a few more times!
I spent a lot of time just exploring this area. They have all the shops you read about, everything from Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes, to parchment and cauldron shops, to Flourish & Blotts complete with the “Monster Book of Monsters” in the window. There were so many details, it truly feels like you’ve stepped into another world. I was surprised to see that Ollivander had some competition just around the corner at Wands by Gregovitch, and I was intimidated by a daunting statue of a mermaid. I feel like you could spend all day here and still not catch all the details!
While still at Universal Studios I caught the Jimmy Fallon ride, and Shrek 4D.
After exploring for a while I decided to head to the other park. To get there you make your way to Kings Cross station, and hop the Hogwart’s Express to Hogsmeade. The train ride is fun; the country sights whiz past, along with a few cameos of Hagrid. On the frosted glass door leading to the corridor side of the train are the silhouettes of Harry, Ron and Hermione fighting a dementor; and the escape of several chocolate frogs (which is a shame, they only have one good jump in them).
I was surprised at how much this Hogsmeade was like the California Hogsmeade. The layout is almost completely the same, there is a slight variation in the owl post, but other than that I could pretty much use the same pictures from last week.
After spending some time in Hogsmeade, I looked around the rest of the Island of Adventure. Unfortunately, since this was a weekend it was really packed and I wasn’t able to catch anymore rides. But it was fun to look at the different lands. The Dr. Seuss area was particularly fun!
I had a different driver for my ride back, this fellow had been in a car accident in the morning, likes fishing, and is turning 50 next Saturday. The morning driver was right, folks here really are friendly!
I think the biggest difference between Orlando and California is that California is an actual working film lot. While Orlando was built solely for entertainment. There is a little more magic here, but there is also something cool in knowing that a show you like could be filming just down the way.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering… I’m a Ravenclaw.