January 12 & 13, 2017
I LOVE Harry Potter. I happily admit that I am a nerd and proud of it. On our last trip to Universal in 2013, I got a wand when we visited Hogsmeade and Hogwarts at Universal Islands of Adventure. It was a great trip, even though the Forbidden Journey ride scared Rhiannon. I’ve been wanting to see the new Diagon Alley at Universal Studios and thanks to hurricane Matthew, the opportunity presented itself.
There is always a silver lining. Rhiannon was supposed to have her USA Bowling tournament in October 2016 in Raleigh, but because of the hurricane and flooding afterward, we couldn’t go. The silver lining is the next tournament was in Orlando Florida! I was so excited and the kids were also thrilled to be going to Orlando.
Since we couldn’t leave until I got off work, we were a little late getting on the road. We were planning on driving until we needed to stop so we didn’t book a room in advance. We hoped to make it to Jacksonville, FL. Thankfully we made great time and ended up stopping in St. Augustine (one of my favorite cities). As always, I pulled up my Tripadvisor app to check rates and reviews. We decided on the Best Western right off I95 and being able to book directly through the Tripadvisor site is quick and convenient. I love this site and use it all the time in planning our travel. I’m also a Top Reviewer.
The hotel was nice and exactly what we expected based on the reviews. It was clean and comfy and the staff was super friendly. You can check out the full review here.
A quick breakfast at the hotel then on the road for the couple hour drive to the park. Since we are going back to Universal/Disney in November for Thanksgiving, we got season passes. We bought the Power Pass over the regular season pass because the regular blacks out the whole summer and we wanted to make at least one visit this summer.
I need to rant for just a minute. Universal tickets START at $155 a day for one park. They should be ashamed of themselves! If you want express passes, that adds an additional almost$70-100. That is insane. They are making Disney look almost cheap! Sorry, I’m off my soap box now, I just needed to get that off my chest.
*Tip* At the Universal Studios entrance there are a couple of computers over by the bathrooms/lockers to the right of Will Call that may have a shorter line than the main windows. We used them and avoided the line completely.
We planned to head to Diagon Alley first but as we passed the Transformers ride, the line was short so we stopped to ride. This ride was in beta testing during our last visit and we were lucky enough to be some of the first people to ride it. It was as fun and thrilling as we remembered.
I was bouncing up and down by the time we hit “London” and it was worse when I spotted the Knight Bus! We stood in line for the photo op and talked to the shrunken head, who was hilarious!
Passing through the bricks we entered Diagon Alley and it was like stepping into the pages of the books! The Weasley’s shop is one of the first ones you see and is so cool, it looks just like it did in the movie! We stopped in Madam Malkins where I tried on a robe and got insulted by the magic mirror lol. I would love to have a robe but $110 is a little steep. Tom did buy Rhiannon and I lanyards, Griffindor with a Prefect badge for Rhiannon and Slytherin with Head Girl badge for me. He is so sweet and even though I would not have picked Slytherin for myself, I know he picked it because it is green, my favorite color. Isn’t that romantic?
The line to Gringott’s was 20 minutes so we jumped in. Going through the line is almost as fun as the ride itself. They have the goblins in there working away counting the money. The ride was so exciting and sort of a hybrid between a coaster and the VR type rides like Spiderman and Transformers. It is more kid friendly than the other Harry Potter ride. The only thing I didn’t like is that it is a really short ride. I would be disappointed if I waited a couple hours for a ride that short.
*Tip* Get to the park at opening or as close to opening as you can. Go straight to the more popular rides (like Escape From Gringotts) to avoid the long lines later in the day.
Tom got a Dragon Scale beer from the Leaky Caldron and Rhiannon and I had a butterbeer and ice cream from Florean Fortescue’s. Rhiannon had chocolate raspberry and I had Earl Grey Lavender and Clotted Cream with shortbread crumbles. It was very British and VERY delicious!
I could have just spent the day in Harry Potter world but Tom was ready to move on so we headed next door to Springfield and The Simpsons. First, we made a quick stop at Men in Black where I waxed Tom and Rhiannon on the scores! They’ve added some new attractions to the Simpsons area as well since our last trip. They have a couple new rides and the Duff Brewery. It is an open air bar by the lake. Tom and I had a beer while Rhiannon rode the Kang and Kudos Twirl and Hurl. Unfortunately, Rhiannon’s favorite ride the Simpsons, was down for maintenance.
We wanted to ride the Rip Ride Rockit before heading to the other park. As we were in the 20 minute line, the 10% chance of rain showed up. We were next in line when they shut down because of the rain. Thankfully the rain stopped and about 10 minutes later we got to ride it. I love that ride, the best part is picking your own music. Mine was Limp Bizkit!
The Hogwart’s Express was awesome. The red train is beautiful and I love the props through the line. The best part was passing through the wall between platforms 9 and 10. Watch out for the Dementors on the train!
The rain had started back by the time we pulled into Hogmeade. We hit the packed Honeydukes candy store then went to ride the Hulk, one of the best coasters anywhere! I heard they updated it but the only thing I saw different was the large Hulk figure destroying the track at the entrance to the ride line. It doesn’t need changing though. The ride was as fun as ever. Since we were already wet, Tom and Rhiannon rode Ripsaw Falls and got soaked, then we all rode Jurassic Park and got wet again.
The rain wasn’t going away so we decided to head to our hotel. It was only about an hour until park closing any way. On the way out we rode the High in the Sky Trolley and stopped in the sweet shop below for some huge cookies and muffins. Even with the rain, it was a great day. We also got season passes and will be back hopefully several times this year. I definitely want to spend more time with Harry!
Stay tuned for the next post to read about the rest of the trip and the USA Bowling Tournament.
Live Your Adventure!
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