Last week I laced up my converse sneakers, slathered on the sunscreen and held the hand of my niece, who is eight years old although she’d like for me to note that she is almost nine, and made the journey into a magical land. My feet may have been walking in Orlando, Florida, but all my senses were taking me away to a far off fantasy land, otherwise known as The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
For anyone that has read the books or seen the movies, the land of Harry Potter is something sacred. I’ll admit that as a 32-year-old woman I was just as excited as the eight-year-old that was my tour companion. We both had no problems jumping out of bed bright and early to make it to The Three Broomsticks restaurant where we had an early seating reservation. Usually I’d be quite grumpy getting up as the sun rises but I was all smiles as the cafe attendant, who was dressed in a costume that looked more Robin Hood than Harry Potter, greeted us at the door. While the little one assured me her pancakes were some of the best she’s ever had, I have to liken this breakfast experience to eating at McDonalds, only costing five times as much as a Happy Meal. So my advice for visitors, skip the breakfast and head straight for the Butterbeer instead. There is absolutely zero ambiance in the restaurant and you’ll be itching for the whole family to finish so you can start queuing for the rides. The park’s famed Butterbeer will be enough to tide you over, or head into Honeyduke’s candy shop for some super sweets Bottom line, get stuck in and fast!
Here’s my next pearl of wisdom – get to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter as soon as the doors open. There is a magic about the streets of the theme park that disappears a bit once you are crammed into the enormous crowds, and trust me they are massive. This is a park that has not lost any of it’s shiny appeal since it first opened two years ago. People are still flooding in hourly and it can get pretty crowded. The shops themselves are no exception but they are a must visit attraction. Stepping into Ollivanders and having a magical shop attendant help your child (or adult) select their perfect wand is an experience that will take you right back to Harry’s first trip to Hogsmead. Beware of Zonko’s Joke Shop with its novelty items that include fever fudge, nosebleed noughat, screaming yo-yos and more. You will spend money here and lots of it!
When you are done exploring the snow covered rooftops of Hogsmead, it’s time to step into Hogwarts where the real fun begins with rides that will turn you this way and that, along with your stomach, so beware! The Dragon Challenge is the scariest as this truly is a roller coaster that turns upside down and all around and also comes with a height restriction so not suitable for all ages. A better bet for the whole family would be the Flight of the Hippogriff. It’s a fast paced coaster with lots of twists and turns but no stomach turning loops.
Now the one ride you simply must not miss is “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.” This is the only ride at Universal’s Islands of Adventure that does not have an Express Pass line (this is pass you can buy for an additional fee that allows you to get to the front of all lines for the rides). Therefore you should expect your wait to be at least an hour. Here’s the good news- it moves fast and there are plenty of visuals to keep you distracted as you weave your way through the Hogwarts Castle. Once you reach the ride, you are strapped in with three other individuals and away you go, legs dangling, into the castle. The 3D imagery on this ride is second to none and at several points I nearly closed my eyes as it was so incredibly real. Just imagine sitting on a broomstick aside Harry Potter as he weaves in and out of tunnels around Hogwarts. It can leave you a little queasy but it’s well worth it. My niece, however, would like to add a disclaimer: “If you are really scared of big hairy spiders, this is your worst nightmare.” A tip for those riding – leave all of your bags with someone not going on the ride, otherwise you have to wait for ages as you are allocated a locker to store all your belongings which you then have to battle to retrieve once the ride is complete. A complete and total nightmare!
Bottom line – The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is definitely worth the price of entry whether you are 8 or 80! Just plan accordingly and it will be a day to remember for the whole family.