So while on vacation we went to the Wizarding World Of Harry Potter – for me this was the second time, the first being during exclusive access at the Syfy Digital Press Tour. This time it would be with the family, during normal hours – and I’m told a dessert buffet, open bar and all the butterbeer you can drink is not the typical experience… 😉 We also checked out the rest of the Islands Of Adventure, which none of us had seen before. It was also unusually cold there, with temps 20-25 degrees below normal – makes for a convincing winter scene in Hogsmeade, but not so great for water rides…
We arrived a little early ahead of regular park opening, but there was not a large crowd. Some were already in the park for early access of on-site resort guests. While we waited in line, a cast member approached and invited us to “open the park” – so we got to go in, get pictures taken, and the kids made the park opening announcement on the microphone! Then we got a head start over everyone to get to the Harry Potter area – which is a fair walk as you have to go through Seuss Landing and the Lost Continent to get there.
The crowd was very light…not many resort guests seemed to be there either. After the initial shock of the place wore off on the others, we all headed straight for Forbidden Journey. We put all our stuff in a locker (40 minutes or less is free), and entered. I didn’t realize that previously we had bypassed a portion of the attraction queue that went outside into a garden-like area (Herbology classroom?), and didn’t have to take stairs like I did last time. We reached Dumbledore’s office from the opposite direction I was expecting.The queue is still amazingly detailed. I couldn’t say I could notice any painting that didn’t actually move – but we also weren’t stuck in the queue long enough to study each closely. I’m sure the higher up ones don’t move. But many do, and some even speak.
Eventually you reach the loading area, where the myriad of floating candles float above you, and you board the “bench” that will be charmed to fly you with Harry off to the Quidditch pitch, but of course the journey isn’t that easy. This time the ride seemed more interesting, however – perhaps because I didn’t have such a critical eye. The spiders that I thought were too fake seemed less so, and I actually didn’t remember the Dementor section. The ending seems a bit weird – you are suddenly there and everyone is cheering you for some reason. But it is a very fun ride.Since it only took us less than 15 minutes total from locker to exit, we decided to ride again. This may have been a mistake – my wife had a headache to start, and the ride didn’t help. Riding a second time seemed to really aggravate it and seemed to induce a bit of motion sickness which got worse as the day progressed. We hopped on Flight Of The Hippogriff (which the youngest daughter could ride, unlike Dragon Challenge), after which the headache got worse. I went to first aid and they gave me a couple Advil for her, and we had some non-frozen butterbeer. She sat out with the youngest while I took the oldest on Dragon Challenge.
Again we were able to walk all the way to the loading area, where we chose the blue side (I rode only the red side last time), and we had out first real wait. Apparently they were only running one car per side, and we had several cars worth in front of us. Fortunately they brought out another car each, which took a couple of minutes. Excellent ride.The crowd was starting to pick up as well. The line outside Ollivander’s stretched back to near the frog choir/tri-wizard rally performance area.
After this the wife was feeling horrible, so we left the area and went over to first aid. The attendant invited her to go lay down for a while while I took the kids around Seuss Landing (The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride was interesting giving a high-level view over the area…The Cat In The Hat was like the Magic Kingdom’s Winnie The Pooh but longer and twistier, and less detailed – lots of empty wall space) and Marvel Super Hero Island. We were in the queue for Spider-Man when the wife called, feeling much better and would meet us outside.
Spider-Man was a really good ride – similar in respects to Forbidden Journey in terms of a vehicle that moves through multiple scenes with a lots of motion, but this is done with 3D projection. However, I don’t know if it was the projection or the glasses but I had trouble focusing on the images and saw 3D ghost images quite a bit, as if it was a pretty old 3D setup. But you do get the effect of Spider-Man and others jumping on to your vehicle, etc. And the illusion of flying upwards and crashing downwards was pretty cool.
The wife met up with us feeling much better and we had a quick lunch at the Captain America Diner. From there we walked through Toon Lagoon (the rides there are water rides) and came to Jurassic Park. Here there was a signature ride, the Jurassic Park River Adventure – another water ride, basically a wide-raft flume ride. The rafts come down an 85 foot hill and hit the water, and make a big splash – but the splash moves outwards (and enhanced by splash plates in the water), but no one seemed to be getting wet, so we gave it a go. No one wanted the front seat, and we sat in the second, with a partial raft full. The ride was interesting itself, fairly detailed, but you could see the dinos from a fair distance away. Then we came to the drop, fell…and took a full wave in the face! Did I mention in was cold out?
There was also the Pteranadon Flyers ride – it looked interesting, another “ride above the park” but from suspended seats. But it has a strange height requirement – there must be a child between 36″ and 56″, who can accompany an adult. Since our oldest is over that, her and I had to wait – while I stood in the sun to dry out. The ride was nice, but not terribly special, and the wait was 20-30 minutes so I got to dry out a decent amount.We then found ourselves back at Hogsmeade, and you could see the crowd had really picked up – but the line for Ollivander’s was shorter and we were heading out soon so we got in the line, and only had to wait a couple of cycles to get in. Another girl got chosen for the wand selection, and although the cheesy effects were still the same, the larger crowd and the young girl doing the selection seemed to make it a little more interesting.
We checked out the shops quickly, and with the greater crowd it pointed out what I suspected before – the shops are way too small. The shops were wall-to-wall people, and the area between Zonkos and Honeydukes (which is really the same shop with two sides) has the pastry display case making it very narrow and difficult to move from one side to the other. It would have been better to have the register at one end and allow the natural flow from one end to the other be more unidirectional. But the other shops as well are too small.
I would have liked to try out the Three Broomsticks, but we weren’t particularly hungry so we just picked up a couple more butterbeers, one of them frozen this time. The frozen may be a tad bit better, but I still think the cream topping is the key.
At this point we were done for the day and headed out.
Universal seems to have a gold mine with the Wizarding World Of Harry Potter – it was recently reported that attendance was up 36% over a year ago. It remains to be seen if that can be sustained, but rumors afloat of a large expansion of the area (it would have to take over more existing area as there doesn’t seem to be any unused area to expand to around it) and Harry Potter himself may have the staying power to be relevant for several more years at least. I hope they plan to expand the shops at least…