What to Expect at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Orlando
While walking through the gates into Universal Studios Island of Adventure you can't help but notice the spires of Hogwarts Castle looming over the trees. Peeking at you from across the pond. You half expect to see Hagrid waiting along the shore swinging his big rusty lantern. Unlike the enchanted movie though we muggles had to walk the long way. And walk we did, passed Jurassic Park, Dudley Do-right, and Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges until finally our feet arrived at a familiar wooden bridge, and there the wonders began.
Looming high above the gate, watching with warm stones and sun stricken shingles is Hogwarts castle. Inside you’ll find dark halls, talking paintings, and a ride that you definitely won’t want to miss. You might even run into the Headmaster. I won’t spoil the ride for you, but I recommend not eating lunch (or a tall cold butterbeer) before hand. As an added bonus, if you’ve already ridden the ride once, go back through on the singles line. You won’t be with your family, but you can sometimes get through in less than 15 minutes instead of the usual 60-70.
Outside the walls of Hogwarts, there awaits a lively show put on by the Hogwarts choir (and their singing frogs), plus the students of Durmstrang, and Beauxbatons Academy. Their joyous songs leading the way into the bustling town of Hogsmeade, Filled daily with anxious tourist, and delicious frozen butterbeer! Trust me on this one, when the thermometer says 90+ in the middle of summer in Florida you want the frozen butterbeer. After riding dragons and filling yourselves with every flavor beans it’s only a quick broomstick flight to the train station. There you’ll ride the Hogwarts express all the way to London (and back if you wish). Leaving no magical stone unturned. A special treat is aboard the train as well, and I’m not talking about the sweets trolley! When planning your trip please keep in mind that in order to ride the train you must purchase a pass for both parks. If you don’t you can purchase the other park at the train station, but the wait is usually long and in the sun.
London holds both obvious and secret surprises. You can meet the knight bus and it’s shrunken head, or walk along the streets as Creature keeps a close eye on you muggles from the windows. Look sharp! For behind one of the walls is a passageway to Diagon Alley! We missed it the first time so keep a good look out. Diagon Alley leaves nothing to be desired. Golden statues, shops everywhere with creatures, cauldrons, wands, and even writing shops where you can purchase your very own quill pen and ink. Your kids especially will love the wands. They can either purchase a regular wand, a collectors, or the "special" wands that will let them perform magic! With every purchase, you will receive a map of designated areas where your little ones can perform spells of their very own. Keep a close watch though; you wouldn’t want them muddling down into Knockturn Alley.
At the end of Diagon Alley is the Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts ride. The designers did a marvelous job of creating the massive several story-tilted bank including a giant white dragon. If you're lucky, you might even see him breath fire! Inside the bank, just like in the movies, you’ll find goblins and gold everywhere just make sure not to cross them. A goblin is not forgiving. The average wait time is between 70 - 110 minutes.
Of all the rides and attractions in the new Harry Potter addition this ride ended up being our least favorite for several reason. Most of which was do to a poor design in line placement and merging, but don't let that deter you from trying it out. You might still love the ride. Here is a small run through of what you and your family will experience. SPOILER ALERT!!
Now for the ride itself. As an adrenaline junky I wish to warn you ahead of time. This ride does have it's fun twist and turns, but is more suited for younger riders (guessing roughly between 6-13). The ride starts off well. You scramble into a mining car and start on your merry tour only to be attacked by some death eaters including the vile Bellatrix Lestrange! The tracks crack beneath your feet and you receive a loud WOOSH as you plummet into the depths! Great start right? But the ride should have been named Harry Potter and Friends Escape From Gringotts while you watch. My husband and I were expecting to be more directly in the action like the transformers ride. Except for a few moments where you're face to face with some armored trolls you spend most of the ride being shuffled from spot to spot by Ron’s brother (Think it was Charles Weasley). However, as I stated before your children might still love the dragon's breathe on their face while being surrounded by stalagmites. The only way to really find out is to give the ride a chance.
Over the years my family and I have enjoyed Universal Studios as it has grown and changed over the years. From the introduction to Shrek to the lovably Minions, and all are a great way to spend the day with your loved ones. But the Wizarding World of Harry Potter has taken it to a new level. From the moment you step into Hogsmeade you feel transported, at least for a short while, to a place where magic really happens and expelliarmous might really work even for you.