Like most things I do recently, the decision to go to Universal Studio Orlando’s The Wizarding World of Harry Potter started over drinks. Not alcohol this time, but tea.
“I’ve always wanted to go to Banff!” I said.
“I’ve been to Banff! But, I’ve always wanted to stay at the Fairmont there,” my friend said.
“Let’s go to Banff and stay at the Fairmont!” We said together.
Upon realizing that we cannot afford the Fairmont given student loans and intern salaries, we decided on the other thing on our domestic bucket list: Harry Potter World. Now, I had no idea what this entailed before going, except that it was maybe a theme park dedicated to all Harry Potter all the time. Luckily my friend had been before, so she did all the serious planning, and I just followed her to the airport. So, this post is for all the other clueless people out there (and yes, for me too, so I remember what I did).
Apparently, there’s more to Florida than Harry Potter world and weird tweets. Maybe this was only news to me, but Harry Potter World is really comprised of two areas: Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. AND they’re both actually part of Universal Studios- which is really comprised of multiple theme parks: Islands of Adventure (has Hogsmeade), Universal Studios Florida (has Diagon Alley), and other theme parks that have nothing Harry Potter related. You can only switch between the parks if you have a special pass (see “Staying” section).
Also, apparently it’s not called Harry Potter world but I’m going to keep calling it that anyway because I’m old and stubborn. If you can’t convince your parents that Trump fucking sucks, you can’t convince me to stop typing Harry Potter world.
I am not going to tell you to pack food if you want to save money, or sunscreen because skin cancer is real, or a bathing suit if you want to go on water rides in the non-Harry Potter sections. You should know these things about yourself.
What I will say, though, is bring all your Harry Potter gear!!!!! T-shirts, robes, wands, deathly hallows tattoos. Everyone dressed up, and it was beautiful to see all of my people come together as one community. There were entire families in full robes, scarves, and wands mode (i.e. the parents went to college at a time where you could pay for college working two jobs), and even a biker gang with custom Harry Potter leather jackets.
Note: if you’re broke, you probably don’t want to buy your stuff here because you can get comparable things online/at Hot Topic, and those places have sales.
Universal’s “on-site” resorts are totally expensive but have two things going for them: early admission, which is useful if you have limited time or dislike large groups of people, and offers on the “park to park” pass, which allows you to switch between the theme parks that have Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley (which also means that you can ride the Hogwarts Express).
Early admission means you get in to the parks with Harry Potter things an hour before they open to the public. And the park to park offer when we went was buy two days, get two days free (maybe this is always the offer IDK). Really, in one way we could have done all the Harry Potter things in one or two days anyway, but in another way, I could live my life in this land of magic.
We stayed at Cabana Bay, a cute, colorful, maybe retro themed resort, which had a shuttle to “City Walk”, an area similar to the downtown of a city, with establishments such as Hard Rock Cafe and Billabong. From City Walk, you can walk to the parks with Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley. Also, from Cabana Bay, you can walk to Volcano Bay- a water theme park with no Harry Potter things.
Park food fucking sucks. Plus all the portions are unnecessarily large, and God forbid you’re a vegetarian. It’s a little disappointing when you walk into The Three Broomsticks and they give you freezer-burned Ore-Ida fries or Kraft mac and cheese with Velveeta sauce so you’re thrown off a bit, but really you know what Velveeta tastes like. Or when you go to The Leaky Cauldron and get a grocery store croissant and cheap pancake mix pancakes.
Okay, I’m venting. I would instead highly recommend eating at City Walk or sneaking into Portofino (a rich people, super cute, Italian themed on-site resort) via their ferry if you want something tasty.
But at the end of the day, the restaurants and food stands were really well decorated and made me feel like I was in the books. And that, I think, is the more important part.
Butterbeer is pretty tasty. There were non frozen and frozen (read: slushie) versions, and I preferred the frozen. But, if you’re anything like me and my friend, split one because they’re huge and you still won’t be able to finish because it’s way too sweet after a while. If they had butterbeer shots (that you would still sip because you’re classy), I would be so down.
For the alcoholics, they have a bunch of custom beers, and a cute pub in the park. The beer I tried was called wizard’s brew which I don’t remember from the books but it’s an extremely sweet stout. I probably wouldn’t recommend it if you’re a huge beer snob, but it was fun to try.
And I recognize that this next ‘paragraph’ is not very useful at all, but they had non-butterbeer, non-alcoholic other drinks in stands around the park. I didn’t try any of them though, so I have no idea what they are like.
Did anyone else picture themselves riding a roller coaster in the scene where Harry breaks into Bellatrix’s vault at Gringotts? Well I did, and Escape From Gringotts, an indoor rollercoaster, seriously brought this dream to life. This ride is probably the scariest ride in the Harry Potter parks, but it’s not scary at all in the grand scheme of rides.
The ride inside Hogwarts (official name: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey) is fun to wait in line in because the castle is beautifully decorated- there are Hogwarts house paintings arguing with each other, statues including Nearly Headless Nick, and even a greenhouse that makes you feel like you’re on the way to herbology class. Actually, really every ride at Universal Studios is beautiful (heck, Gringotts had fake goblins that moved!!)
There’s also the Flight of the Hippogriff, which is an outdoor roller coaster. It doesn’t last very long, and it’s not scary at all, but it has amazing views of the castle and the park.
And the last ride I can remember, the Hogwarts Express, is SO CUTE. They play different videos depending on which direction you’re going, and you get to live scenes like when the dementors attack the train or when the chocolate frogs on the food cart escape.
Even though I spent many paragraphs dragging on the food and alcohol, I absolutely loved this trip
I said it twice but I will say it again: the way they decorated this place is absolutely gorgeous. There’s so much attention to detail; you really feel like the books came to life and you’re inside them. The fake owls even have fake owl poop! Also, you can go inside a lot of the stores- Honeydukes, the Weasley’s joke store, the Quidditch store. AND they even have random things randomly about, like the Knight Bus, Sirius’ house, Knockturn Alley.
And all of the workers are absolutely amazing. They all really played their roles well- from all the cashiers who called my credit card “Muggle plastic”, to the appropriately creepy store owner at Borgin and Burkes who told me to scream if I needed anything, to the Ollivanders who didn’t even break character after the show was over and they were on their break.
The atmosphere and the rides made Harry Potter world amazing and somewhere I would visit again. But maybe not for four days.