Two weeks ago the Hubby and I flew down to Orlando, Florida to spend a week with my Mom at Universal Studios.
We stayed at a hotel on the Universal park campus and were a short bus ride away from the gates. The hotel is called Cabana Bay Beach Resort and it was… an experience. It’s styled after Vegas resorts of the 1950s-60s: classic cars parked outside of the main entrance, posters bearing over-the-top Beaver Cleaveresque-like messages like “Have a SWELL day” plastered up throughout the hallways and elevators, 50s music and retro commercials playing in the main dining area, a Jack LaLanne exercise studio and a bowling alley.
It was all very over the top. By the end of the week my ears were beginning to bleed every time I heard the electric guitar of a surf song come out over the speakers. But the pool area was nice:
We had four-day passes for Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. The two parks are connected and I wouldn’t recommend doing one without the other. If you are there, like we were, first and foremost to experience the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, you really want to purchase the two-park pass; Diagon Alley is in Universal Studios and Hogsmeade and Hogwarts are in Islands of Adventure. The two villages are connected by – of course – the Hogwarts Express.
We hit the park early on Tuesday morning. We decided that since Harry Potter was the main event, we would spend the first day doing Harry Potter Things and save the rest of the parks for other days. So we walked through City Walk and past a bunch of eye-catching temptations, and we made our way to the back end of the park where we began looking for Diagon Alley. We knew we were in the right area when we found King’s Cross:
And then the Knight Bus:
We looked around, but didn’t see anything advertising Diagon Alley. We walked past a park employee who asked us if we were looking for Diagon Alley, and he pointed toward a plain brick wall with several entryways that looked somewhat like the entrance to a public bathroom. We walked through – slightly bemused – and then gasped and laughed in delight: We had wandered into Diagon Alley!
On our right was Quality Quidditch Supplies. On our left was the Leaky Cauldron. Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes, Gregorovitch’s wand shop. We saw storefronts for a House Elf placement agency, an armory, an owl post. We exchanged our muggle money for wizard currency. And in the middle of Diagon Alley we came across Gringott’s Bank.
Escape from Gringott’s is the big ride in Diagon Alley. Like many of the new rides at Universal it was a 4D “roller coaster” that uses high tech 3D goggles to help give the impression of swooping dives, explosions, crashes and spins.
After the ride the Hubby was thirsty and so purchased a butterbeer.
We slunk down Knockturn Alley and browsed in Borgin and Burke’s. I went into Olivander’s to purchase a wand. One of the interactive wands chose me, and I spent some time at the exhibits that allow wand-carrying visitors to cast spells, causing fountains to spray and animatronic exhibits to come to life.
Finally it was time to head over to Hogsmeade and so we made our way to Platform 9-3/4 and boarded the Hogwart’s Express.
The train ride was neat. Me, the Hubby and Mom were assigned to an individual seating compartment, and screens on both sides of the train were used to transform this from a simple ride to the other park into another Harry Potter experience. On the “window” side, forests flashed by, Hagrid waves from his motorcycle, and the Weasley’s car makes an appearance. On the door, silhouettes of Ron, Hermione and Harry converse in worried tones about strange happenings on the train. At one point the music darkens, and the wispy shadow of a dementor appears and leaves a frosty handprint on the screen.
But we made it into town just fine.
Hogsmeade was hopping.
We spent some time shopping in Dervish and Bangs and then wandered through the “snow-covered” town. It took us unawares when we rounded the corner and found Hogwarts. Hogwarts – right there! – rising up in front of us.
We walked through the Hogwarts ride and saw some of the inner workings of the castle. The neatest part was the hall of portraits. The portraits of course moved and spoke to each other.
It was still early in the day when we left Hogsmeade and Hogwarts. We were pretty much done with crowds and walking around. On our way toward the exit we passed through an area called The Lost Continent and saw this:
Wow! The giant stone-looking hand and trident belonged to a ride called Poseidon’s Fury, which we noticed had a wait time of only five minutes so we decided to give it a go – one last ride of day.
Oh my Flying Spaghetti Monster that was the WORST ride/show that I had not ever expected to experience at a modern theme park. Just…I can’t even…Cheesy is the only world to describe this decades-old ride. One live actor leads you from room to room, danger befalls our poor group, and it ends with an all out battle between Poseiden and some made up ancient enemy of Poseiden. The special effects were horrendous, the Greek mythology butchered. If Mock The Movie had a live version, this would be perfect event for them to do. For a better idea of the experience, check out Jenna V.’s Yelp review of the show. As we left the attraction we looked around at the outside of the building and marveled that such a cool exterior housed such an oddball main event.
After that we made our way back to the hotel, because if that ride wasn’t a sign that we should throw in the towel that day, I don’t know what would have been!