The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Finally made it to Universal Orlando. The single reason we travelled to the east coast of America – many other great reasons later materialised… We are staying on International Drive, which seems to be the main drag where all of the tourist hotels are. We are very close to Disney World, the second Disneyland location in the US with a lot more theme areas for older kids. I’m sure it’s all very awesome and very Disney but we just won’t get there this time.
There is an awesome bus service called the i-Ride Trolley. It has two main routes (green and red) that simply cruise up and down International Drive picking up people from 40+ stops and dropping them at hotels and theme parks – all for $1.25 per adult and kids ride free. Only hassle is that it doesn’t give change and we only had a $5 note. Still a cheap ride. It’s a great service and when we hopped on, we were surprised to find the seats were not the usual bus seats but wooden park benches. We dubbed it “The Knight Bus” (from HP2). It is setup like a San Francisco cable car – hence “trolley”. Very cool. However, the trolley doesn’t go to Universal Studios and so it dropped us about 1km away. We had to walk the rest of the way, over the interstate (this one was only a small one with 5 lanes each way). Finally arrived – hot in the humid Orlando climate.
We picked this time of the year to go on this holiday for several reasons: Lil & Jem will be on Easter school holidays, the Aussie dollar is really strong against the USD ($1.075 today!) and US schools will not be on holidays – or so we thought. They are now on Spring Break, not in May like we originally looked up. Not only that, I think all of them decided to come to Orlando, and more specifially Universal Studios. As a good mate of mine said, b****y tourists. I know, can you believe it? I haven’t seen any sign of a US recession in the places we’ve been. Locals are spending it up on both east and west coasts.
Harry Potter Wizarding World was great. They had the Hogwarts castle up on the hill and Hogsmeade down below. The tour through the castle was really cool. They had photo frames everywhere like in the movie and the pictures kept moving. They also have some moving framed pictures of the Hogwarts founders (with sound) having an argument – from their picture frames (which are obviously cleverly disguised flat screens). They looked very realistic with backgrounds that looked like canvas. They also had Harry Ron and Hermione standing on a stair case landing and talking, obviously on another screen but with the lighting and colours, they looked like they were really there.
The castle also has a ride called Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. I was looking forward to a tour of the entire castle based on the rides at Disney. We sat side-by-side, were strapped into our seats and a safety bar came down to hold us in tight. I began wondering why… The ride started and then it became obvious. Universal are right into the 4D experience! The carriage of 4 seats was thrown around in every direction with a huge 3D screen showing harry flying on his broomstick and we were right behind him! Dipping under bridges through trees and into tunnels. We even flew around the Quiddich pitch! Not only did we have the 3D images that were wider then perfiferal view, but they also had moving props. As we swung around sharply, Arragog appeared right infront of our face (I mean the size of 2 people). There were also dementors, ghosts and all sorts of *nice* stuff. Lil & Jem were a little rattled but it was otherwise pretty AWESOME! In true Universal 4D style, we got sprayed at various parts of the ride (just like in Shrek 4D – again I hope with water). None of us had the nerve to try “Flight of the Hippogriff” or “Dragon Challenge”.
We went to Olivanders and for the Wand Experience where there was a little magic during the “wand chooses the wizard” routine. The best shops were HoneyDukes (full of lollies and sweets) and Zonkos (trick stuff). We got some Bertie Bott’s Every Favour Jellybeans. Flavours included all the usual suspects like Marshmallow, Blueberry, Sherbet Lemon, Green Apple, Cherry and Watermelon – all of which tasted just like the name describes. BUT, it also included other “flavours” like Grass, Sausage, Black Pepper, Ear Wax, Earthworms, Vomit, Soap, Dirt and Bogies – again true to their name (can’t validate the last one) – gross man!
The whole place was really well done, except the shops are pretty small. I guess they look more authentic, but the queues to get in to the shops were pretty long. It was a 2 hour queue to get on to the ride in the castle in the humidity and scorching heat. However, there were fans blowing misty air over the queues so that was pretty nice. We met some nice people from York in England that were front of us and some nice people behind us were from Canada. I really enjoy meeting people and having a yarn. Most of them are very receptive when they learn we are from Sydney.
Too tired at the end of the 11 hour day at Harry Potter World to walk the 1km back to the bus stop. Found another bus (“Lynx”) that hooked us up back on the i-Ride circuit for $1 per adult, but not back to the stop we got off on the way there. Hopped off that bus and they gave us Transfers for the i-Ride meaning we don’t have to buy another ticket to get home. Changed buses and we got dropped off right outside our hotel. Great service and really cheap. Now, only 1km walk through the cheese maze to find our room.