Friday, October 28, 2016

Travel Guide: Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Harry Potter is big for my mom for a lot of sentimental reasons. Harry Potter movies play in the background as we laze around the house on holidays, or on weeknights in, etc.  I try to take my mom on a little trip once per year, and when I suggested The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, she was THRILLED. Like, emailing me Harry Potter gifs until it was time to go-thrilled :)

We went down to Orlando on a Wednesday afternoon, did the park on Thursday, and came back on Friday morning. Everyone we chatted with down there said October-December the parks are less busy (except when kids are out of school). Wednesday we took a short Uber ride to Disney Springs to walk around grab some dinner, and browse stores like Anthropologie and Zara. Touristy, sure, but we were tourists, and it was walkable and mom-friendly.

We stayed at the late 50s-themed Cabana Bay (a Universal hotel) because on-site hotel guests get into the park an hour early, get free shuttles to the park, and have any merchandise purchased in the park delivered to your room. It was bright, colorful, and filled with mid-century modern furniture. Even the shampoo and soap was era accurate! It was a little too chilly to swim (and I had to knock out work during any downtime) but the hotel had a lazy river, pools, cabanas, all that jazz. We got a good night's sleep at the hotel before lining up to get into the park at 7AM. 

Simply put, this was a great trip and I can't wait to go back. We didn't do much in the park outside of the two Harry Potter worlds, since there was so much to look at and take in, from steaming teapot shop signs to dark magic supplies in Knockturn Alley.  Nothing looked theme-park kiddie rinkydink. From the intricate carved wooden beams in The Leaky Cauldron to the different detailed costumes of each shop employee, there was so much detail and thought put into everything.  We could probably go back tomorrow and notice things we didn't see before.

Compare flights to Orlando:

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We mostly behaved ourselves when it came to souvenirs, but I couldn't resist some enamel pins and a few chocolate frogs.  

Get the prezzies without the plane ticket:

Wizarding World of Harry Potter from Alyssa De Hayes on Vimeo.


- Go to the park on a week day if you can.

- The hotel suggested we get downstairs to the shuttle by 6:30AM to enjoy our hour early in the park. We pretty much lost that hour since there wasn't any staff that we could find around the park at that time of day to ask questions, and maps were hard to come by, so we accidentally went to Islands of Adventure, which wasn't open yet, and it was a bit of a long walk for my mom to get back over to Universal Studios, and then to the Harry Potter portion. If you stay at an on-site hotel, be sure you know which side of the park to go to first!

- On the note of getting there early: We walked right into Ollivanders Wand Shop to see the wand selecting performance and then pick out a wand. I'm glad we did this first, since there was a line anytime we passed. There is also an Ollivanders in the Islands of Adventure / Hogsmeade side of the park. Since we're not super into rides, we didn't have to worry about stashing the wand in a locker very often. The interactive wand was fun since there are many places in Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley where you can do magic and make things move. 

- I pre-bought us each a meal plan, which can save you up to 30%. This got us a meal, a snack, and two beverages each. We used this for breakfast at The Leaky Cauldron, ice cream, and much-needed water bottles throughout the day. Later we had lunch at Three Broomsticks, and I bought a couple beers while I worked up the courage to get on some rides. I skipped the butterbeer after a friend who does the Orlando theme parks twice a year warned that they are super high in sugar "and will ruin your day" haha.

- Souvenirs: remember, anything you buy, you'll have to carry, or stash in a locker to ride rides, and the lockers aren't huge. If you stay in a Universal hotel, they can send any merch you buy back to your room for you. One shop mentioned being able to hold purchases at the front of the park for you when you leave, which sounded like soething they would do for any guest, regardless of which hotel they were staying in. 

- You'll get on Harry Potter's Forbidden Journey (and probably other rides) much faster if you forfeit sitting with your companions and go in the "single rider" line. You will miss some of the Hogwarts tour by taking that short cut, though. You can also take a tour of the castle without riding the ride.

- Ride the Hogwarts Express in both directions for different entertainment both ways. (We didn't do a great job planning, so we hopped between the two parks quite a bit.) The E.T. ride is adorable.

- If you stay at a Universal hotel, book a Universal airport shuttle through them. It ended up being cheaper than a taxi, but you have to book it at least 24 hours in advance.

(Many thanks to my many nerd pals who steered me in the right direction :)

Compare flights to Orlando:

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