We’re just a little obsessed with Harry Potter in this house.
I was the grown up queueing with the kids when the latest books were released. I may have elbowed an 10 year old or two out of the way to get my hands on a copy of The Prisoner Of Azkaban. I may have.
And now my 9-year-old son and I are reading the books together as he discovers Hogwarts and Muggles and wizardry for the first time himself.
It’s a wonderful time.
So when we said we were going to America on holiday this year, he’s eyes lit up as he saw a great dream coming true on the horizon – the chance to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Florida.
Let me tell you dear reader, he stood in that theme park like he’d been hypnotised. Like he’d stepped into the pages of the book he’s reading (we’re currently reading The Prisoner of Azkaban, which is heavily featured at the park). And he was in The Zone. It was a joy to behold.
The park is truly astounding. Jaw dropping even.
And I’m told by a friend on Facebook that Universal are looking at making it even BIGGER and better.
It is a gorgeous recreation of the world of Mr Potter and his wizarding adventures. They really have nailed the detail – from the talking portraits hanging on the walls of Hogwarts, to the Mandrakes potted in the greenhouse. From Hagrid’s hut nestled into the background as you queue for a ride, to to the wonderful vision as you stand in Hogsmeade and crane your neck to look up at Hogwarts (pictured above).
It looks amazing.
So what’s there?
Honeyduke’s Sweet Shop/Zonko’s Joke Shop
From the outside they look just as you imagined they would, enticing you in. However, once you step inside it’s a little disappointing.
The sweets are, well average really, and apart from a display of Chocolate Frogs and Bertie Botts Every Flavour JellyBeans nothing else really sets it apart (the ones pictured are for display).
My son browsed around for a good 15 minutes desperate to take his friends something exciting back, but ended up leaving empty handed. How is that even possible in a magical sweet shop?!
Zonko’s is equally disappointing. And equally crowded.
You have to really don’t you?
Butterbeer. Tastes of, well, sugar. Caramelly sugar. In my opinion, the frozen one is better than chilled (the frozen is like a slushy). But be warned it’s REALLY sweet. And rather expensive.
But you have to don’t you?
The Hogwart’s Express
Is just basically there to have your photo taken in front of. Which EVERYONE wants to do. Leave it until the end of your visit and you won’t end up forcefully jostling your kids to the front just to get a snap (yes, lots of people were doing this. Yes, their kids looked mortified. No, it’s not worth their embarrassment).
Flight of the Hippogriff
The worst thing about this rollercoaster ride is that it lasts like 30 seconds. It’s great, but if you’re having to queue for an hour for something that lasts less than a minute you’re going to be disappointed.
It’s more of a kids ride to be honest. My 6 year old found it utterly thrilllllling.
If Hippogriff is the kids’ ride, this is definitely for the grown ups!
Two really scary rollercoasters twisting around each other and acting like, well, duelling dragons.
Alright yes, I confess, I didn’t go on. Because you know, someone had to sit it out with the children . . .
The husband was very impressed though.
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
Yes, it’s in there. Deep inside Hogwarts!
DO NOT be put off by the queue. It’s totally worth it. This is the only ride here you can’t use a Fast Pass, but, trust me, you wouldn’t want to anyway.
The queue takes you through Hogwarts school. Through the greenhouse, passed Dumbledore’s study and the portrait wall, through a classroom – it really is superbly done.
And the ride? It’s a simulated ride through the story of Harry Potter, but it’s so exhilarating – and just a little bit scary. Dan went on with me, but refused to go on a second time with his dad because “I really don’t want to see that Dementor again”.
There is a child swap system there too, so if you have one child who doesn’t want to go on, one parent can stay with them while the other goes on, then you swap so you don’t have to queue all over again.
What you need to know
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is based at Universal Studios, Florida.
Universal is two parks – Islands of Adventure Island and Universal Studios.
Harry Potter is in Islands of Adventure and is right at the back of the park.
When you arrive through the entrance and step into Hogsmeade, it feels like the WHOLE park has decided to visit Harry Potter at the same time. It is SO busy.
Queues at the Butterbeer barrels are 20/30 people long, the wait to get into shops like Olivander’s can be longer than the actual rides and it feels like you have to fight through a sea of bodies to look at anything.
Take my advice and visit the rest of the park first then go back at 3-4pmish.
The queues have gone right down and you have a fighting chance of taking in how wonderful it all is.
Listen out for Moaning Myrtle in the public toilets.
If you just want to buy a wand don’t bother standing in the ridiculously long queue at Olivander’s.
Pop next door to the Owl Post where they have the same selection. Dan opted for Dumbledore’s wand and help it like it was gold dust all the way home!
Buy the Fast Pass. It feels like SUCH a rip off to begin with; $240 for the four of us ON TOP of what we’d already paid in entrance fees.
But it cut out wait times to nonexistent and when it’s hot and humid and the park is rammed to busting, the last thing you want to be doing is queueing for over an hour. Yes OVER an hour on some of the really popular rides.
The Islands of Adventure features six ‘lands’ including the Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Marvel Superhero Island (with the husband’s favourite, Hulk rollercoaster – shudder – and the kids and my favourite, The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman 3D simulated ride. Toon Lagoon, crayon-bright surroundings created to feel like you’re walking through cartoons and comic strips. Jurassic Park, our favourite ride here was the River Adventure where you get VERY wet! Seuss Landing, everything Dr Seuss – and some cracking shops to buy Grinch and Cat in the Hat goodies. The Lost Continent, which looks fabulous but we found the shows really disappointing – The Eighth Voyage of Sinbad Stunt Show was boring and Poseidon’s Fury ‘adventure’ was just lame.