Sunday, June 27, 2010

Dude, Your Book Could be a THEME PARK! (My trip to WWoHP!)

I know it's Sunday, which means it should be SUNDAY FUNDAY!!

But who cares about that, because I went to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter on Friday! And I know you all would much rather see pictures and read about my time there than get awesome links (J/K, but I'll be delivering those links tomorrow instead. I still want to spread the blogging love.) I think this is totally justifiable because Harry Potter is book-related (more on that later).

We got up at 5:30am, which if you know me in real life is SUPER early for me. I mean, I have to be at work at 8:30, I live 10 minutes from my office, and I think I roll out of bed at about 8:15 most days. So that should tell you how I feel about early wake-up calls. But we wanted to be on the road by 6 so that we could be there right when the park opened at 9, and hubs wanted to stop at Cracker Barrel for a delicious, filling breakfast to get us through the morning.

We walked into Islands of Adventure (the area of the theme park which houses WWoHP - remember, it's not a whole park on it's own, though that would be awesome) a little after 9. We did have to wait in line to get inside the Harry Potter area but it was only about 30 - 40 minutes, and the line moved the whole time. Mostly they were just herding people slowly through the park, I think, and trying to keep us from storming the gates.

So I walked through the gates into Hogsmeade, squeezed my husband's hand, and made this emoticon come to life: :D

The first thing we did was ride the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride. The wait was about 60 minutes, and the longest I ever saw the line was 90 minutes. Considering that, at one point, we were pulled out of the park (those who follow me on Twitter got to see me rant about that ordeal - it wasn't the park's fault or anything, and we got to come back later and see Hogsmeade at night so it ended up being totally fine) and went to the Universal side and waited 60 minutes for the Simpsons ride, that wait time is legit. Plus the details in the line are ah-MAZ-ing. It makes it not even seem like a wait. (And park workers-er, wizards- said single riders get on right away, if you don't want to wait at all. But then you miss out on the castle.) Here are a few of my favorite details (and trust me, this is barely the tip of the iceberg!!):
 The ride itself is awesome. I don't want to give a lot away, but suffice it to say that I've never been on a ride quite like it before - and I live two hours from Orlando, and right across Tampa Bay from Busch Gardens. The only thing is Aragog and his babies are prominently featured, and I am terrified - no, terrified - of spiders, so I spent a portion of the ride with my eyes closed, squeezing hubs' hand. I did really like that the ride featured a little cubby in the back of the seat so you could stash your camera while you ride, since all your bags, etc. have to be stored in lockers before you get in line.

The rest of Hogsmeade was awesome. Honestly, if you take away the tourists, it was like being there. The shops were small, just like they should have been, but this meant that there was about a 15 minute wait to get inside them. (Later in the night, like at the very end, though, you could walk right in with no problem. This is also the best time to go into Honeydukes if you visit in the summer because chocolate frog + Florida sun = disaster. Also they had specials on some of the baked treats, like rock cakes, pumpkin pasties, and cauldron cakes at the end of the night.)

The dragon challenge coaster and the flight of the hippogriff coaster had almost no wait - we walked right on to the dragon challenge coaster every time we went on (it's always been like that on this coaster, and since there are two completely different tracks, it's essentially two rides) and the hippogriff coaster line was about 10 minutes (never, ever more than 30 minutes that I saw). At the hippogriff coaster ride you can see Hagrid's hut, and it looks exactly like the movies. The hippogriff coaster is super fun even for a kiddy coaster - not remotely scary, and it provides a great aerial view of the park (photo op!) The details in the dragon challenge coaster - the champion's tent, the triwizard cup, are just awesome. Noticeably absent, though, are banners cheering on Cedric - I guess they decided he was a franchise traitor. Also, if you happen to be afraid of coasters or rides in general, you should still walk through the lines to see the cool stuff - there are exits or child swaps at the end of everything so you can always get off, and seeing the detail is worth it for sure. You won't be disappointed!

We ate at the Three Broomsticks/Hog's Head for dinner. The food (all English-inspired - Shepard's pie, fish and chips, pasties, etc.) was surprisingly tasty, with lots of vegetables, and the prices actually seemed semi-reasonable (around $10 for a dinner entree with side salad). The beer (Hog's Head brew) was delicious - amber in color but not too heavy/dark tasting, with just a little spice. I would totally buy a six pack. The Butterbeer was everything I thought it could be - cream soda with a hint of butter, and a butterscotch foam topping. So, so good. I got the take-home mug because refills on that are cheaper (I think around $4), so I'll bring it back next time I go. 

I got to see the end of a frog choir performance, which was funny, and the Durmstrang and Beauxbatons dancers, both pretty cool. Pretty much the only thing we skipped this time around was Ollivander's wand show, because the line was ridiculous and there was no shade, so it would have been two hours of standing in the hot sun. I know I'll be back, hopefully when it's a little quieter, so I can go then.

This place is seriously merchandise heaven. I'm writing this in my new Gryffindor PJ pants. One of my mother in law's friends works there, and she said they can't keep things in stock because they had no idea things would move off the shelf so fast.  I guess they underestimated Potter fans. But really, if people started reading the series as kids when it came out, they're at the height of their buying power now - many are in their mid or late-20s, possibly with no kids, so all of their disposable income can go to MERCH. Or they have kids who want toys. It's genius.

I do have a few gripes. I wish there was another ride or two. Compared to the other areas of Islands of Adventure, it seems smaller.  But it's also way more immersive - even the signs about the rides and the park announcements are on-theme (and most staff stay in character, too). The stores are combined, which is weird - Zonkos and Honeydukes are together, and Dervish & Bangs, Ollivanders (the part where you buy the wand), and the Owl Post are all in one (extremely crowded) shop. If you want a wand, it's actually best to get it from the cart outside the Forbidden Journey ride, although they do have a different selection, so you might want to check both places. And then there are some things that don't quite jive with the series, like Weasley products hanging up in Zonkos, but it was still fun to see them so I won't gripe about that ;)

All in all, though, the experience was truly amazing. You could spend all day there, but you could also easily spend half a day there, go enjoy the rest of the park, then head back in for dinner - because seeing Hogwarts castle lit up at night is amazing (and my camera just wouldn't capture it well enough to do it justice).

The coolest thing of all, though, is that all of this - eight hugely successful movies that launched the careers of three (and more) bright young stars, a theme park, and more - came from a book. A middle grade book. Written by a debut author.

Just remember that next time you're struggling to put your sentences together or make time to write. You better finish that book - it could be a theme park one day.


  1. Oh My God! I am so jealous of you! I want to go there so bad and it sounds like you had an amazing time, ugh I have got to save up so I can get my butt there! And the pictures gave me shivers, it looks so cool. I'm glad you had a great time. Now if you don't mind I'm going to go back and stare enviously at your pictures right now. I hope that isn't weird or anything...

  2. OMG!!!! Heather, I am BEYOND - way beyond - jealous! I have no words. I'll just sit here until the green tinge leaves my skin!!! :-)

  3. This is so cool! I looked at all of your pics on fb and they all made me so jealous. I really have to get out there.

    I LURVE those Beauxbatons dancers! I would kill someone for one of those costumes.

  4. I totally hate you right now! Okay, not really as you did give me an insight into this but I'm so jealous!! I finally made it all the way from NZ to the US but I've no chance to go to Orlando. Sadness. It is amazing how much has sprouted from the Harry Potter novels although I personally think the world could have done without the films. It seems like just a little while ago I was reading that they were making this themepark and it was coming out in 2010 and I thought, 'That's AGES away' but here we are. You look like you had a great time there! xo

  5. OMG. This is such a great post and I AM EXTREMELY JEALOUS. The way you reviewed it - both sides - is just great. It was almost like being there. Except not. So... you should pack me in your bag next time. :D

  6. Ahhh! SO jealous you live in Florida. I can't wait to go one day, and thanks for sharing!!!

  7. It looks like you had a fabulous time. Thanks so much for sharing with us!

  8. A dear friend and I were just talking about this yesterday. It sounds like so much fun! Thank you for sharing your experience!

  9. How fun! Thanks for sharing your trip with us...

  10. So jealous! I got to go in for a soft opening back in May and got stuck on the ride for 45 minutes. We were only allowed in the HP part for 2 hours and by the time they let us out of our seats and escorted us out of the castle, time was up. I missed the dragon ride (but know it from when it was Dueling Dragons) and all the shops, except the shop at the ride exit. I had no money, though, because I didn't take my purse on the ride and left it with someone else, who they made leave before we were rescued. I did get a mug of butterbeer and a bottle of pumpkin juice, though. Isn't it delish????

    I'm hoping to go back soon. Looks like they fixed the ride. :) (We heard the employees got stuck on it the day before we did.) Glad you had fun and got to take lots of pics!!

  11. wow, this was so awesome. I live on the other side of the country, currently, and am literally dying to go! Thanks you for your review, your pics, your perspective, everything.

    And now, off to take a look at some of your other posts, I like the 'feel' of this blog :)

  12. Like you said, most of the people who read it when the books came out are in their 20s now. Same applies for me. I've been a fan of the series for 11 years--exactly half my life. So naturally, this being on the list of "Things to do before I die" shouldn't be surprising :P

    It looks more amazing than I imagined. Thanks for the post!

  13. The lines are even less now - already! Went on Forbidden Journey three times, and every time wished the line was slower so we could see the entire scenes play out. Skipped the Olivander's show too, since I'm 29, and probably not going to be the lucky recipient of the wand's attention.

    The funny thing was - I was pretty moved by the whole thing! I got unexpectedly emotional, which hasn't happened at a theme park since my first time at the Magic Kingdom when I was, oh, about 8. Really well done - and the rest of the park is awesome as always too.

    In other news, I think you might live in my town. We should become friends.


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