travel

Part IV: Universal Orlando

Ever since our last visit to Universal Orlando, we were certain of two things: 1. that one day our kids would become proper potterheads and 2. we would be back to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter with them.

We just didn’t expect it to happen so soon.

To be honest, during our last trip to Universal, we had sort of decided that it would be the last visit for a while. It was a fab time for us adults but we were touring with two kids who were visibly bored while interacting with the animatronic goblins at Gringotts bank(?!) and having lunch at Three Broomsticks(??!!). But understandably so because the magic of Diagon Alley isn’t immediately clear if one hasn’t read Harry Potter 1 through 7.

The kids couldn’t understand why their parents were fascinated by pointy wooden sticks and boring train stations so we ended up rushing through the park instead of soaking it in like one is supposed to. Okay, they did enjoy Honeydukes but I suspect it was mostly because of the candy.

Turns out that 2017 was the year that Truett and Kirsten got acquainted with Hogwarts and they loved it. I had planned to ease them in with books 1-3, then let them pick up on books 4-7 when they got a little older, like maybe 12? When Tru finished book 3, he made it clear that it was impossible for him to wait 2 more years before reading the next book and he presented a pretty good case. I remember having to wait an entire year for the next book to drop and it was excruciating; I couldn’t be this cruel to my kids so he has since devoured the entire series.

Kirsten got up to book 4 before deciding that her brain couldn’t handle this amount of darkness and it was a good call because I was 18 when book 4 dropped and I was terrified by the opening Frank Bryce scene with Voldemort + Nagini. This kid is so mature it makes me incredibly proud.

The point is, Truett and Kirsten have been suitably introduced to the magic and they were ready for a visit to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

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Universal Orlando is made up of 2 parks: Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. There are some decent rides for older kids scattered around both parks but the headliners are clearly the Harry Potter sections (Hogsmeade in Universal Studios and Diagon Alley in Islands of Adventure).

As far as theming goes, both areas are amazing. The level of detail is staggering and there are enough easter eggs for any hardcore potterhead to go crazy over. Like meeting Stan Shunpike and the Knight Bus complete with interactive shrunken head was such a treat. The kids were so thrilled to have a hilarious conversation with the shrunken head even though Theo ran away once the head started talking back.

And what about the dragon on top of Gringott’s bank that breathes real fire periodically throughout the day? Let’s just say that it still takes my breath away.

 

First off, when you’re visiting Universal Orlando, you want to get the park-to-park pass that allows you to visit both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure in the same day. That’s the only way to ride the Hogwarts Express, which is an actual train connecting both parks.

I’d recommend riding it in both directions because each experience is different, although if you only have time for one direction (haha!), do it from King’s Cross station at Universal Studios because that’s where you get to see platform 9 3/4.

The new addition since our last visit was the wand-activated side quests one could find at various corners marked with medallions on the pavement. One has to purchase a special interactive wand in order to perform spells at these designated areas but if you ask me, it is the one merch item in the whole park that is worth purchasing.

Some of the quests were straightforward, like using Wingardium Leviosa to levitate a quill or Silencio to make a bird stop chirping. Others were very elaborate and super fun, like one where you could activate a moving skeleton on a screen to mirror your movements.

Then there are the rides. There aren’t many rides at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter but it’s clear that a lot of thought has been put into creating an excellent experience for each ride. Escape from Gringotts is easily the best ride in all of Universal Orlando, combining a thrilling track roller coaster with insane 4D effects. The queue for this is consistently 2 hours long but for good reason (because it’s magnificent!!) and there’s a single rider queue if you don’t mind riding alone (no, we do not mind at all!).

And as if all of that is not enough, the thing to top it off was the Christmas fireworks light show that lit up Hogwarts castle every evening.

Right, I think that about covers it. I’ll wrap it all up with this video. :)

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