Give me magic, gadgets, monsters, zombies, everything that seems impossible, and throw in some tough chicks with swords. That's the stuff.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

A Trip to Hogwarts

When I first learned that Universal Studios in Florida was building a Harry Potter theme park, I wanted to go so bad I could taste it. However, the distance and expense rendered a visit unlikely.

When plans were announced for a Potter land at Universal Studios Hollywood, then I knew I could start planning for a very feasible (and much less expensive) trip. This week, my family hit the road and arrived at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Quick verdict: Loved it. The whole experience made me happy. All of the little details, the rides, the food, everything.

Downside though, there are crowds. So. Many. People. We saw that they sell Front of the Line tickets and scoffed at the price (staring at $199, basically twice the cost of our 1 day ticket). However, after spending much of the day in lines, we came around to the idea that maybe getting those for the people in our group who actually enjoy rides might be worth it.

Now on to some specifics. And pictures, of course.

Forbidden Journey - Best. Ride. In. The. Park.  Combo of 3D movie-ride and animatronics.

The Weasley's Flying Car
The line for this ride starts below the castle, then winds its way through the doors, passed the potions classroom, through herbology, galleries of portraits, and Dumbledore's office.

Baby mandrakes in herbology
 Any Potter fan will adore the details: the walloped remains of the Weasley's flying car, baby mandrakes in pots, the scores for the House Cup. The moving portraits were fantastically done - subtle perfection in execution. The ride was thrilling. Our favorite parts were the Walloping Willow and dragon sequences.

Flight of the Hippogriph - The one outdoor roller coaster in the park. The line winds around Hagrid's house and pumpkin patch. This ride is very quick, a few drops and quick turns, but overall an extremely smooth ride. Not too jarring. Very good starter coaster if you have a young budding enthusiast.

Hosgmeade: There's a combo of shops here (ones that any fan knows are really in Diagon Alley, but whatever. Eventually they will expand). Zonkos was cute, but honestly not enough joke stuff. The Exploding bonbons look fun. It's connected to Honeydukes, which is a glorious candy shop. You can choose from pre-packaged items or fill a box. Dervish and Bangs had Quidditch supplies (I got myself a Hufflepuff Quidditch Captain shirt - H-Puff for life!). At the Owl Post, there are all sorts of owl stuffies, icnluding an awesome Hedwig puppet. Just outside, there was a stand with stationery, journals and postcards, as well as a mailbox so you can mail letters from Hogsmeade. I geeked out here. Bought a couple of postcards, mailed one home to have a souvenir arrive in the mail. It has a Hogsmeade postmark, as well as a Hogwarts castle postage ($14.95 for a sheet of 10 real stamps). We also walked through Gladrags. I didn't even look at the cost of the robes. I was a little afraid of the sticker shock, but they did have gowns from the ball in GOF. Hermione's dress can be seen in the front window (and if you buy an interactive wand from Ollivanders, you can make it levitate).

Hogwarts Express
Speaking of Ollivanders - it's just over an hours wait for the wand choosing. Luckily, if you just want to look around, there is another entrance, where you also might have to wait in line. Once inside, it is packed with people. I think I managed one blurry photo before I gave up. We found some wands, but at around $40 for a collectible and $47 for an interactive wand, we decided to get other souvenirs. True, the interactive wands are awesome and if you have the money, you will likely enjoy them while you are at the park. There are scattered places around the Wizarding World where you can "cast a spell" and make something happen (like the shop windows). However, I have 3 kids and of course, all would need a wand, and $150 for (lets face it) an hour of fun was pushing it.

Food and Drink: I did try a few beverages on my visit.

I started with Pumpkin juice after the Forbidden Journey ride. It comes in a very cute container and tastes like pumpkin pie. I liked it better than I thought I would, to be honest, and I would get it again.

Later in the day I tried the Butterbeer. It's served both cold and frozen. Both were delicious. You can get it in a disposable cup or in a plastic Butterbeer collectible stein. Of course, we had to get the steins. At $12, it's not cheap, but it was tasty and I will enjoy that little stein until one of the kids manages to destroy it.

While the more adventurous in our party went on rides, the other 3 went to the Three Broomsticks for breakfast. I got to try a sample and it was excellent. The ambiance inside was fantastic as well. Had we not had the kids with us, that would have been our dinner spot (I'll talk about where we found the best grub later). If I hadn't had the kids with me, I'd have been in the Hogshead Pub too. Eh, next time.

Shows: There are two shows at Wizarding World: the Toad Choir and the Tri-wizard Rally. The Toad Choir was very fun. There were 4 performers, one from each house, and they encompassed the traits of their houses perfectly.  Boychild liked the puppets.

The Tri-wizard Rally had students from Beauxbatons & Durmstrang. Lots of dancing and acrobatics, the Durmstrang boys were especially thrilling with flips and staff sparring. Girlchild loved it. Both shows are free and not too long (which is good as it is basically standing room only) and there are quite a few shows throughout the day.

Souvenirs: Lots of t-shirts. Of course, Gryffindor fans will have the best selection. I went in with the mindset that I was getting a H-Puff shirt, but I also was tempted by the Azkaban and Platform 9-3/4 shirts. Also tons of scarves, hats, ties, pins, keychains, stuffed animals, books, swords, and so on.

Rest of the Park:  We went there for the Wizarding World, but that is not all that Universal Studios has to offer.

Big Pink Donut - it's huge!
Springfield, USA - Homage to all things Simpsons, this was our 2nd favorite area. Located just next to Potter Land, it has a very fun motion ride, lots of carnival games (that we did not spring for), the Kwik-E-Mart for your favorite Simpsons merch, and the best places to eat in the park. You can get a Krustyburger, grab chicken from Cletus', head to Luigi's for pizza, get tacos from the Bumblebee Man's truck, get a flaming Moe at Moe's, enjoy some Duff in the brew garden, get a Giant Pink from Lard Lad, and more. To say that my kids are picky eaters is an understatement (my son is the honeybadger of picky eaters), and everyone was able to find something. We went there for lunch and dinner and grabbed a donut to take home.

I personally tried the pizza (standard fare, decent size slices, and comes with a side ceasar salad for $7-something). The bread sticks came 3 to a plate with marinara. Not really garlicy, more buttery, but still filling. I had to try the Buzz Cola - a zero calorie cherry soda that was quite refreshing.

Dinner was carnitas tacos from the Bumblebee Man. 2 to a plate for around $8-9. Good portion size, very filling. Skimpy on the chips though. Finished the meal with a Duff Beer. Decent lager, not heavy at all. (I'd had a bud light in the Jurassic Park line and this was much better, but then, what isn't better than Bud light?) It was fun to get a Duff beer. So I did.

I have to say that compared to other theme parks I've been to, I felt that the food was really good. Everyone found something they wanted. No one hated what they got. The childrens were fed, the hanger retreated. Whining was at a minimum (not gone, just better than it normally would be).

Other rides:

Studio Tour- The ride that started it all. I've been on this many, many times over the years and it has absolutely changed since the last time I was on it (ok, that was over 10 years ago, so time has passed). Bruce the shark is still there, as well as the backlot with facades and sets from many famous tv shows and movies. Mrs. Bates is still rocking in the window of the Bates family home. We still experience a flash flood and an earthquake, as well as the parting of the waters. The avalanche tunnel is gone and we no longer go over the rickety bridge. The giant animatronic King Kong is gone, but we do have a new 3D motion experience that was our favorite part of the tour. We head to skull island, experience a dinosaur attack and get "rescued" by Kong. The tour ended with another fast-moving 3D experience featuring a high-speed chase with the Fast and the Furious crew.

Despicable Me: Fun 3D motion ride where you "turn into a minion". I've heard that this is a good barometer of whether someone can handle other motion rides. If this is too much for them, the answer is no.

Silly Swirler: In the Minion Fun Land. Basic ride that the littles can go on. Kind of like Dumbo in that it goes around in a circle and you can move it up and down. I really wish they had a few more rides like this in the Minion zone. They have a water park, but honestly the last thing I wanted to do was chase after wet kids or deal with wet clothes after. Note: If you ever go there and want to turn the kids loose int he water park, bring water shoes and swimsuits - shoes are required and you don't want sopping wet sneakers.

Jurassic Park: You might get wet if you are sitting on the end of the row. A boat ride, dinosaurs, a big drop. It was a long wait though. Luckily, you could buy beer in line. YOU COULD BUY BEER IN LINE! It was crap light beer, but whatevs. It helped pass the time. You could also get ice cream, water and soda. It's a great idea. They need to add some of those carts to the lines at HP land.

The Simpsons Ride: I used to love watching the Simpsons, so, totally worth it for nostalgia alone. This used to be the Back to the Future ride (you're still in a Delorean, it just has a new paint job.) Another movie-motion ride. Very fun and funny.

There you have it, our trip to Wizarding World at Universal Studios Hollywood. If anyone has been to the other Wizarding Worlds, let me know how it compares!

I'll send you off with a few more pictures.


Helga Hufflepuff having a convo with the other founding members of Hogwarts.

Looking up at the castle.

Hagrid's House

Hagrid's motorcycle

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