The Port of Entry // These words greeted us as we entered the park
We took a break from the road in sunny Orlando, Florida. I am an unabashed Harry Potter and theme park fan, and so spending a day at Islands of Adventure when we were passing right by seemed like a no-brainer. Although my family spent countless vacations park-hopping, Casey and I hadn’t been to one in years.
Our tickets allowed us to enter the park an hour before the “actual” opening, and I, like the nerd that I am, did a lot to research in order to maximize our experience (my Dad has zero tolerance for queues and used to call Disney “The Wonderful World of Waiting”… I seemed to have inherited this impatience). Casey and I came up with a loose plan of attack (thanks for all of the assistance, Murphy fam!) and armed with a park map app and a homemade Deathly Hallows shirt (I already owned up to both my nerdiness and my fandom – I wasn’t joking) we hit the park around 7:30 am.
Hogsmeade // “Please mind the Spell Limits” // Hogwarts // Hogwarts Express
Our plan worked out wonderfully. We were some of the first people to enter, and went through the Hogwarts castle twice, rode both Dragon coasters and strolled through Hogsmeade before the park actually opened. In fact, we were able to hit most of the other big rides – The Incredible Hulk, Dr. Doom, Spiderman – before anyone really showed up. We wandered the park until around 11am, drank a deliciously sweet and frozen Butterbeer (at Three Broomsticks – again, thanks Murphys for the tip!) and then cut out for an early lunch – just as the crowds were beginning to swell.
Butterbeer on the patio at Three Broomsticks
After a leisurely lunch, we walked over to Universal Studios, and went on a couple of rides. Nothing nearly as exciting as Islands of Adventure, but I did enjoy beating Casey at the Men in Black ride, both of us were surprised by how fun the Mummy coaster was, and were impressed by the new Transformers ride. Casey also convinced me to go on the Rip Ride coaster which scared the bejeezus out me (I am normally a coaster fanatic, but something about the straight up-ness of the first incline and drop were extremely frightening). The cool part about the coaster though is that you choose music that plays from speakers in the headrest – we chose Daft Punk and agreed that it was surprisingly well-suited to the ride’s excitement level. The other crazy part about that ride is that they VIDEO you the entire time. Nope, no cheesy single photo, an entire film of your face, to the music that you chose. Casey and I cracked up at my ridiculous overreactions – it was absolutely hilarious to see the fear/emotions once you were back on solid ground.
Casey loves the Simpsons
There were a couple of things we had missed before at Islands of Adventure, so we headed back into that park – mostly to go on the Jurassic Park ride (neither of us wanted to be wet earlier in the day, so we planned to hit this one almost last). Although I vaguely remembered getting wet, I had forgotten just how soaked you are at the end of the ride – I had been to Islands of Adventure years ago, and only remembered that my brother was so little and so freaked out by the T-Rex that he hid under the seat and we couldn’t find him in the ride photo! Anyways, I’m glad we saved it for the end of the day.
While we waited to dry off a bit (we had about a 2 hour drive ahead of us to Casey’s parents once we left the park) we wandered through Hogsmeade again. Casey wanted to ride the Dragon coaster, which he declared his favorite ride of the day (the green one, not the red, FYI). After that, I noticed that the line for Ollivander’s shop had dwindled drastically, and I suggested we check it out.
If you’re not well-versed in Harry Potter, Ollivander’s is a wand shop, where each wizard is chosen by a certain wand (the wand chooses the wizard, not the other way around). I had heard good things about the “show” at Universal, where one audience member is chosen to have a wand choose them. The line, which had been hovering around the 3 hour mark all day, seemed to indicate that the experience was worth seeing. We waited about a half an hour, and then were ushered into the dark and dusty shop. I was impressed (as I had been all day) with the level of detail and thoughtfulness the designers put into everything and was excited to witness some kid’s day getting made as they received “their” wand. However, Ollivander descended his staircase, peered into the crowd, studying us, and instead of an enthusiastic child, who does he choose to get a wand? Me. The 25-year old dream-ruiner, in her stupid Deathly Hallows t-shirt. I basically died. If I wasn’t the reluctant center of attention, I think I actually would have enjoyed the way that the wand “chose” me (just a heads up, my wand is made of reed and dragon heart string, and indicates that I have a “fiery” and “bold” personality). Casey thought it was just about the funniest thing ever (but despite that, did not manage to take a photo of my mortification).
All in all, a great, fun day. We definitely recommend a visit, and I am especially excited to hear more about the new “Diagon Alley” section that is going to connect the two parks.
Have you been to Universal? What did you think? Although we were very impressed (okay, mostly me) with the level of detail and the way the designers and engineers carried out each section’s/ride’s theme and story, we felt that some of them (particularly the Forbidden Journey), just weren’t exciting enough. Are we just adrenaline junkies or did you feel the same?