I took Thing 1, Thing 2, & The Monkey King to Orlando got a brief getaway. It was amazing. Everyone assumed we’d be visiting Disney, but we were all about Harry Potter World.
We booked our entire package through Universal; park tickets, hotel, & flight. I was concerned about quality of hotel prior to our arrival because an onsite hotel doesn’t necessarily need to try very hard.
I was extremely, pleasantly surprised by how extremely nice our hotel, Loews Royal Pacific Hotel, is. It is very grand, the staff is very professional & friendly, I was impressed.
The first thing we did, after unpacking, was head to City Walk to find some food. Although there were several restaurants, we somehow ended up at Margarittaville. Now, the food was much better than I expected, but I expected less than mediocre at best. So, we really can’t call that a win. It was expensive and the service was shit. That was a recurring theme on Universal Property, shit restaurant service. Save my server at my hotel restaurant, nary a good server could be found.
After our “eh” lunch, we wandered around City Walk for a bit to get a feel for the set up. There’s a Fossil Store, Bilabong, Universal Studios gift shop (bien sur), and some other assorted stores. There are also several night clubs, an Emeril restaurant, Hard Rock Cafe, a bunch of stands some of which are carni-type games and some are food and/or drink, NBA Restaurant, and a few other things in City Walk. It was nice, over-priced touristy stuff.
We took the water taxi from City Walk back to our hotel. I loved the water taxi. I don’t know if the other two on-property hotels (Loews Portifino and Hard Rock) were further away or what, but I rarely saw the taxis for them. Our hotel had wonderful water taxi service, our waits, if there was any wait at all, were very short.
My husband and I went back to visit City Walk that evening. I wanted to sing karaoke so we went to the karaoke club. It was fun. There was a “host” and two back up singers. It was a country music fest until I got up there to sing (I detest country music). I picked Sex on Fire by Kings of Leon. The host actually made a sort of apology when introducing the song. He said something about sometimes having people chose an odd song and that was ok too. I really messed them up with my second song. I sang America’s Suitehearts by Fall Out Boy. They clearly had never heard it and couldn’t even attempt to sing with me. But I rocked that shit, rock star swag and all. It was fun. It was fun to go up there in a little girly girl sundress and completely rock out. It would have been more fun to go with a big group of people. The stage was really high and they even had a guy doing the lights and another for sound. Even when my old band played out we never had our own lighting guy. Sweet!
Our first day at the park was Monday. As we stayed on property, we got: one hour early admission to the parks, and express entry to most rides (some of the main rides don’t offer express entry). The one hour early admission was really helpful. Even with it being off season, Harry Potter World was just packed. We ran through the park to get to Harry Potter World and went immediately to The Forbidden Journey.
The Forbidden Journey is incredible. We went through the line too quickly. The walking part of the castle is amazing. The “pictures” on the wall really talk. You get to walk through the herbology “classroom” and the common room and the defense against the dark arts classroom. The dungeons are there too. But everyone was rushing to get to the front of the line and we didn’t take enough time. I regret that. We ended up in the defense against the dark arts classroom for much longer because the ride broke. We had to wait for about 30 minutes while it was bring repaired. We were lucky enough that we were right in the front of the classroom so we got to see the holographic part with Harry, Ron, and Hermione. We got to see it many, many times. It was cute, particularly when it “snowed” on us.
The ride itself was pretty intense. It traumatized the Monkey King. As this was our first ride, it was pretty interesting to have the hot dragon breath in my face and the spider spit. However, I must say that by the end of my trip, I was pretty damn tired of things spitting in my face.
Ollivander’s Wand Shop had a line as long as any of the rides. Once inside, an actor playing Ollivander came down from a staircase, picked one child and helped him select a wand. It was neat as the child “tried” the wand. At Ollivander’s instruction, the child would use each wand to try and things would fly out of shelves and stuff. Very cool. The wand shop itself was too cramped, too small. There are several character wands: Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, Ron Weasley, Professor Dumbledore, Sirius Black, Voldemort, etc. But apparently there are also “birthday wands”. I never figured out what this meant. It had something to do with the Celtic calendar. I believe, based on the Celtic calendar, that my birth sign is the Oak. But I don’t know what my children’s signs are. And it was so crowded and my crowd-a-phobia started kicking in. So I made my children chose character wands, $28.95 a piece, and somehow I made it through to a cash register.
Ollivander’s opens up into Dervish and Bangs. If you’re uninterested in watching the Ollivander “show”, just enter the souvenir store from the entrance marked Dervish and Bangs and you can avoid the giant queue. You’ll still need to fight your way through the narrow, crowded shop though, so good luck with that.
I really dislike crowds (strange for a girl who loves live music concerts, I guess the music is the antidote for my dislike of crowds). I get really angsty and start looking for an escape route. It got so bad at Harry Potter World that when I was feeling too much, I would look at my husband and moo. It was my little joke about feeling like we were all cattle. It helped diffuse some of my anxiety. I would not have survived Universal’s parks during peak season.
Another thing that helped diffuse some of the anxiety was to allow my children to select their items, in the stores of Harry Potter World where the crowding was the most severe, and then ship them outside while I stayed and paid. I just couldn’t relax trying to watch the children and keep together as a group and everything. And my youngest is 6. Those parents who carted around a bunch of small children, well, they must 1) feel that they can afford to lose one, 2) be on some pretty strong sedatives, 3) not really give a shit, 4) all of the above.
We had breakfast at the Three Broomsticks. The food was average. The set up was odd. We had a reservation, but it didn’t matter as it wasn’t really crowded. Upon entering we were ushered to cash register #5 (I think there were 6 or so cash registers). We had to select our food and drink at the register and pay (I was lucky enough that my vacation package included breakfast vouchers for the Three Broomsticks). Then we received a receipt and had to go to serving station #5 where they scooped all the premade food out of big bains and onto plates. There were several workers standing in the seating area (which was huge) and we were directed to a table. It was all very cafeteria-esque. Not at all what I expected.
The Three Broomsticks is also Hog’s Head. I think you can buy beer and stuff at Hog’s Head, the hog’s head on the wall talks, you know, just as an aside.
The women’s bathroom in Harry Potter World had a recording of Moaning Myrtle. I thought that was a particularly clever touch. I don’t have any pictures of the bathroom. You’re welcome.
The Dragon Challenge, or whatever that roller coaster is called, is incredible. But most importantly, the line for the Dragon Challenge has the BEST spot for taking a picture of Hogwarts. I wish that I had known this before I gave all my belongings to my husband. I wore sundresses for the entire trip, save the air travel portions, and there was no way to secure my phone (I didn’t bring a camera, just the phone). If you get there, you can get in line, take the picture, and then go down this little path to get back out of line. However, if you get out of line, you’ll miss the flying car crashed right before the entrance to the inside part of the line. Also, we could have, but didn’t, use our express line pass for this ride. If we had, I believe we would have missed seeing the Tri Wizard Tournament Cup. That was the bad part of the express lines, there were actually things to see in line, at least in Harry Potter World.
Thing 1 and I went back, later in the day, to ride the Forbidden Journey a second time and we somehow accidentally ended up in the single rider line. We got on the ride itself in about 5 minutes, wait time was well over an hour, but we didn’t get to walk back through the castle. We were lucky and ended up on consecutive cars for the ride, thank you parties of 3. The ride really was so cool. The premise is that you’re following Ron and Harry to the Quidditch Pitch but Hagrid’s allowed a dragon to escape through the grounds. The ride is a trip through many memorable scenes from the movies. You’re chased by a dragon, attacked by dementors, ambushed by the giant spiders. It’s a wonderfully well done blend of film clips and real props and mist and water spit and hot air gusts and it’s not to be missed.
The only other ride in Harry Potter World is the Hippogriff. It is a very small roller coaster. It is tame enough that the Monkey King loved it. He declared this to be his favorite ride from either of the Universal Parks. But it was fast enough to be fun. The line gives a really nice view of Hagrid’s Hut. At the beginning of the ride, Buckbeak is seated in a next on the left. I wish I was allowed to take pictures while the ride was in motion because the best view of Hagrid’s Hut, and really the only view of Buckbeak, are from the Hippogriff ride.
We went to Honeydukes. Like the rest of the Harry Potter shops, long lines and a crowded shopping area ruled the day. Honeydukes opens up into Zonko’s Joke Shop. Thing 2 bought an extendable ear. She’s been leaving it all over the house to eavesdrop. Silly girl. We walked out of Honeydukes/Zonkos with said extendable ear, 3 chocolate frogs ($10/each = ouch) and 2 cauldron cakes.
The cauldron cakes were ever so tasty. Oh, and healthy-diet-while-training-for-a-race be damned. I ate more refined sugar on my little trip than I do in months. Oh, speaking of unhealthy things, butter beer is magical. It is like cream soda with more cream. You can buy frozen butter beer at the carts that are spaced strategically around Harry Potter World. Pumpkin juice is available at the carts also. I liked the regular butter beer better than frozen. I really liked the pumpkin juice also. I could at least pretend that was more healthy for me than the butter beer.
I really had fun in Islands of Adventure. The only place I didn’t really visit was the water ride section. They had these dryers outside the big water rides. For $5, you could stand in these giant, weird dryers and, well, dry off. What else would you do in a dryer?
I completely regret not buying a turkey leg. Hundreds of ren faire attendees, and Universal Park attendees, can’t be wrong. I wanted a to walk around grawing on a giant turkey leg too. 😦 How cool would that be? Instead, lunch was at Blondie’s. The food was sort of like Subway. Sort of. The pickled onions were really yummy. The pickles were anemic. The tables were sticky, and foul, and in need of bleach and a scouring pad.
My favorite non-Harry Potter ride was the Hulk. I had to ride it by myself. That part took a lot of guts. The Tower of Terror or whatever that was called was amazing. I should have ridden it a second time. Getting flung up to the top was an intense adrenaline rush. W00 hoo! Spiderman was a cool ride. We rode the Cat in the Hat 5 or 6 times. That was fun. The Monkey King liked it a lot. The Seuss train was ok. It was nice to be elevated and get to see so much of the park. The Seuss carousel was cute. Monkey King loved the Pteranodon ride, but the line was an hour and there was no express line so he was only able to ride it once. Also, the Pteranodon ride was the only one that was specifically for younger children. You had to be with a small child to ride. Only the Monkey King was small enough and my husband went with him. One fish two fish was a cute ride. We only missed a couple of attractions in the entire park. We used the hell out of the express line pass. We got onto/into everything we wanted at least once. And we left before 6 pm.
Just an aside observation, Universal does the best job ever of making sure that every ride and attraction ends in a gift shop. But they also do a pretty good job of making the wait lines more enjoyable. There are generally things to look at and fans and such. Still, the express pass makes the wait better than anything.
We ate dinner at some Italian (so they claim, Italian my ass) restaurant in City Walk. Thing 2 and the Monkey King liked the kids only buffet. My food was tasty but I really missed my whole-grain, fiber-riffic pasta and true Italian red sauce. I can’t eat out much. It kills my stomach. This restaurant wasn’t awful, but the poor service really killed it for me.
Then to make myself feel completely crap (as if the unhealthy food wasn’t doing that enough), I went to Billabong after dinner and tried on this gorgeous white dress. I’m a size 8. My clothes, even when purchased from the juniors department, are a medium. I pulled out a large in this particular dress and couldn’t even get it over my body. Unzipped. Kiss my ass Billabong. You really didn’t want my $60.
We visited Universal Studios the next day. In comparison to Islands of Adventure, it was rather dull. There were some cool things. This is definitely the park for people with little kids. There was a section that was for kids so young, my Monkey was not allowed to play in it. The Woody Woodpecker roller coaster was a big hit with the Monkey. He rode it 5 or so times. He just wanted to keep going back.
We completely traumatized the Monkey with the Krustyland and Men in Black rides. My husband loved Krustyland. It was a very good ride. My favorite ride from this park was the big coaster. I forget it’s name. Something Rip Rock it or something. I had to ride this one by myself. You get to chose the song that comes through your seat back. Really. I chose Finger Eleven’s Paralyzer. It was fun. It had eight or so loops. Oddly, the Dragon Challenge scared me more. Maybe it was less scary because I had music playing. At night, it was really neat to see this ride. So pretty.
The Twister attraction was deemed boring by Thing 1 and the husband. I didn’t go. The Earthquake was interesting. The Jaws boat ride was pretty excellent. Scared the crap out of the Monkey King. Shrek 4D is a must see. But really. Dammit. Stop spitting water in my face!
My favorite attraction at Universal’s Studio was the horror makeup thing. The two actors were really high energy and funny without being groan-inducingly cheesy. There were some very predictable gags and jokes. But the actors were so “all in” that it wasn’t trite.
I had so much fun. So did the kids. They want to go back every year. I would jump at the chance to go back.
A funny aside. My return trip was 2 days after it was announced that Bin Laden had been killed. There was less screening at the Orlando airport on my way back than there was at Hopkins on my way out. Hopkins had the Xray scanners. And, by the way, you pervy jerks. You made me stand there for a solid 4 minutes while you looked at the scanned image of my body. I asked the TSA worker why it was talking so long to be ok’d and he said that the particular screener checking my screen was consistently slow. Um, he/she had just checked the scans of the other 4 members of my traveling party. One of whom has metal medical devices. They were approved, sent through, ok’d immediately. What were you looking at? I was barely dressed! You really didn’t need to check the scan as it’s really difficult to hide something in a pair of tight capris and a spaghetti strap camisole top.
Orlando, which is far bigger and busier than Hopkins, didn’t have the xray screening. Very odd. Terrorists don’t need to attack in Cleveland. We’re in Cleveland. It’s been rainy and 45 or less degrees for two months. What exactly are you going to do to us?