This week’s post won’t be so much crafty, but chock-full of Harry Potter goodness, as I take a LONG walk through the finer points of our magical trip to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida!
Well, it didn’t start out magical. Thanks to a ton of airline transfers, delays, cancellations, and all-out rude customer service (don’t get me started on my utter disappointment in American Air…), we ended up spending the night at a freezing cold Dallas airport, and spending the better part of ONE of our TWO park days of our first vacation in FIFTEEN YEARS waiting for stand-by flights to Orlando. But we made it, and once we FINALLY got there, it was AWESOME. I will tell you that we were not at all interested in Disney or any other part of Universal–just Harry Potter World…!
We arrived late on the first day (after stopping by our hotel to deposit our suitcases and freshen up after our terrible ordeal), late in the afternoon. Despite it being mid-December, it was surprisingly not that crowded at first, and we were able to see much of the park in that first day.
The first step was walking through the broken brick wall into Diagon Alley, which filled me with as much excitement as Harry must’ve felt seeing it for the first time (yes, I realize he’s a fictional character, but just go with it…). All the wonky buildings and wonderful signs, advertising, and storefronts made me giddy.
(There’s me and Myla, bottom right, her probably thinking, “dang, mom’s more excited than me.”)
The first thing we did was head straight to Ollivander’s for wands. Surprisingly, probably because of the lateness of the evening, there was no one in line, and while we didn’t get chosen for the little show (only one person gets picked per “show”), it was fun to watch, and afterward, we chose our own wands out in the shop section (if you don’t mind missing the show, you can skip the line by going straight into the store side). You can also get wands in another Ollivander’s on the Hogsmeade side, as well as Gregorovitch’s wand stand in Diagon Alley.
You can either choose an interactive wand (that “opens” little spells throughout the park) or a plain wand, and one of either a famous wizard from the series, or a unique one from the wall. They’re quite solidly made, heavy, seemingly out of some sort of thick resin. We chose our wands based on the writing on the wall, and each seemed to fit us quite well: Myla chose one of Rowan, which mentioned the bearer might use their “powerful imagination and resourceful nature to make their dreams come true.” Mine was Vine, which mentioned someone who is prone to “burn the candle at both ends.” And my husband’s was Ivy, which has the power to “easily overcome obstacles.” They each came with maps of all the “spell” spots throughout the park, and seemed to match us well! (I only wish they had these descriptions inside the wand boxes! We went back later to get a photo when I realized they weren’t inside the box…)
We set about doing “spells” throughout the park. The markers on the ground (as well as the map) tell you what spell to use, and what gesture to make (see the marker on the ground by the fountain, on the right, by Myla’s feet?), and there was nearly always a park wizard around to assist.
The dragon on top of Gringott’s went off quite often, blowing a quick burst of fire, which was awesome to see.
We stopped by Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes, where Myla instantly squealed over a purple Pygmy Puff. A lovely witch at the register performed a “naming ceremony,” which she had her put it on her head, announcing that Myla was the new owner of a Pygmy Puff named “Puff,” who eats earwax and small spiders, which made Myla laugh. (Similarly, some of the cashiers would say things like, “Here’s your muggle plastic,” upon handing your credit card back.)
It was late the first night, and we took the Hogwart’s express to the Hogsmeade side (you have to have a park-to-park pass to be able to go to both sides). The train personnel on the muggle side ACT like muggles, and react as if you’re crazy if you question them about platform 9 3/4 when they take your tickets. They ask things like, “what kind of dog is that?” about Puff (because they’re muggles, and wouldn’t know anything about wizard things, right?).
I had an app that showed wait times for rides, and since it was late in the evening, we were able to go fairly quickly through the Hogwarts castle line for the Forbidden Journey ride. It was such a short line, in fact, that we didn’t really get a good look at all the fun things inside the castle! (By the second day, that same ride was SUPER crowded, and we waited nearly 45 minutes in line, which was a good time, actually, and we could enjoy looking at the castle details, and hear the talking paintings.)
Since we had done so much the first day (despite spending half the day at the airport), we slept in a bit the second day, and took our time getting to the park. It was a Monday, the first “official” day of winter school vacation, so it was MUCH more crowded than the day prior, but we were able to spend a lot of time around the park.
Again, we started in Diagon Alley. We chugged many, many foamy butterbeers (which come in frozen, chilled, and hot forms–ALL of which are amazing). We revisited the little shops, and doubled back on some of the details we didn’t get to the night before.
We saw a few of the shows we didn’t see the night before, like Celestina Warbeck and her Banshees, which sang classic songs like “You Stole My Cauldron, But You Can’t Have My Heart.” Later, we saw a wizarding theatre troop perform the Tale of the Three Brothers on the same stage.
We stopped in the Gringott’s Money Exchange, just because you can ask the goblin questions like, “Have you seen Harry Potter?” and he’ll reply, “That’s not my area of expertise.” (He also gets testy if he sees too many cameras pointed in his face.) We rode the Gringott’s ride (whose line was SUPER long the second day–and quite an uninteresting wait until you get inside–but it was worth it!). (Incidentally, for the rides, you have to store your things in a locker room near the ride entrance, and they’re only so big (our wand boxes barely fit), so you have to keep that in mind if you have large items!).
Everything was so awesome to look at! Even the building fronts that didn’t contain shops (like the House Elf Placement Agency, above right) were so beautifully designed.
We enjoyed Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream shop and got ice cream with crystals. We ate at the Three Broomsticks and the Leaky Cauldron. We drank more butterbeer.
Next, we took the train back to Hogsmeade, to explore that side a bit more.
Since Myla’s a kid (and gets her clumsiness from me), she dropped her wand a couple of times (see the chip in the skull’s eye on the left up there?), and when it wouldn’t work anymore at one of the spell sites, a wizard helper advised us to swing by the Owl Post for a FREE wand repair! At no charge, the wizard there took it to the back and got us a brand new one, which (for a clumsy wizard like myself) I thought was AWESOME.
We waited in the super-hot sun under my tiny umbrella to see the Hogwarts Toad Choir perform songs like “Something Wicked This Way Comes.” (There were only two performers with toads, though–I thought they should’ve all had them!)
I decided that despite being a grownup (and despite his lackluster paint job) I needed a foam poseable Dobby, so that was my big souvenir. We rode the Hippogriff rollercoaster ride, which (because of the much bigger crowds) was a very long, hot wait–a bit over an hour, with not much to look at in line. It’s primarily a kid’s ride, but as we had a kid (and we’re big kids ourselves) we had fun.
The shops, much more crowded the second day, were similar to the other side, but one of the bookstores had a great window display of several caged and chomping Monster Book of Monsters books, surrounded by shreds of paper. Most of the spell sites were crowded with lines of kids waiting to do the spells, so often we would just watch what they did without bothering to stand in line.
And then, sadly, it was time to go back home. But–SIGHHHH–I loved it there. I wanted to LIVE there. Not in Orlando, exactly…but in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Myla and I decided we should probably just move in. No one would notice–we’d just sort of set up in Knockturn Alley (which is in a dark and cool shady tunnel of shops in Diagon Alley). People would just assume we worked there, wouldn’t they? …It could work, right?
Well, anyway. Goodbye, Weasley Shop. Goodbye, Gringott’s Dragon. Goodbye, Hogwarts. Goodbye, Harry Potter World. Hopefully we’ll be back again soon.
I, for one, have been in a renewed Potter daze since our trip. My husband and I once read the ENTIRE series of books ages ago, and I’m I’m revisiting them by listening to them again on audiobook while I do my crafts. I forgot how GOOD they are and how very different they are from the movies! (We read the majority of them before seeing most of the movies.) Did you realize that there are nifflers and bowtruckles in the Potter books?? After seeing them in the Fantastic Beasts movie, I didn’t realize I had already read about them ages ago!
So join me next week for some Potter crafts from after our trip–where I’ll update you on my dad’s backyard garden train Hogwarts castle, show you my repainted Dobby, and feature our wand and wand-box wall displays.
In the meantime, check out these grumpy little mandrake seedling necklaces I made, for sale in my Etsy shop! I’m pretty sure they keep bad things away. At least that’s what the shady dark-robed wizard in Knockturn Alley told me…. 😀
‘Til next week!