All of us in front of the Hogwart’s Express, inside the train, Really at the Leaky Cauldron
It was the next day and we were headed for Harry Potter World! First, we went to some ticket place to get discounted tickets, and we hit a grocery store to bring lunch. We ended up getting 4-day passes for the cost of a little over 2 days. They were paper tickets and we had to bring them to the park, and show them multiple times each day. We were going to both parks, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, because each has part of Harry Potter World, connected by the Hogwarts Express Train (well played, Universal Studios). We did a good job of keeping track of the tickets, though I did worry a little. Parking also was not fun, there was a fee of course, and a fairly long walk from our parking spot to the entrance, and then to HPW. Overall, though, we were in good spirits and ready to be entertained.
Suessland and Gringott’s
I have to say, I do not like crowds, I do not like heat, and we really did well on both counts. The week we chose was one of the less busy times for the park. It is hurricane season and the beginning of the school year, so many people do not plan their theme park vacation during the last week of August. We waited not at all for many rides, actually letting people in front of us in some cases, as we looked at the elaborate scenes in line for the HPW rides, and later for the Mummy ride. It did rain every day, and was a little intense one afternoon, but this didn’t affect our experience. We weathered the worse storm in the indoors Mummy rollercoaster, which we rode as many times as we wanted with no waiting. The movie is a little dated, but it’s an awesome roller coaster! I also personally loved Spiderman, also indoors, more rollercoaster and 3-D effects, and no line. There are lots of indoor options during rain.
We were there from open to close that first day, and I’m a little embarrassed to say how much I enjoyed myself. I really prefer actual life experiences to artificial amusement park ones but the rides were just so entertaining. It turns out I really like the simulated projections, especially the 3-D ones. I preferred them to the roller coasters, which I also went on because why not. The Simpsons ride was especially awesome because it was a cool simulation ride and incorporated a cynical take on amusement parks that matches my own cynicism, yet here we were at an amusement park! So meta and breaking the 4th wall, etc. The kids really liked the Hulk roller coaster, I think that was their favorite. We all liked the Harry Potter rides and shops, we also caught a couple of live shows in HPW which were excellent. We ate at the Leaky Cauldron and also at the Three Broomsticks, something I would normally never do because of budget worries, but this was a bit of a splurge vacation, the food was good and we really enjoyed ourselves. The scenery is great throughout.
Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes, Stan Shunpike and the night bus, Diagon Alley
We pretty much repeated this on day 2 and 3, going back to our favorite rides, trying to go to the best Universal rides outside of HPW though they hadn’t been on our radar before arriving, enjoying the short lines and lack of crowds in general. At night we saw the light show on the HPW castle and also watched part of the Universal Studios fireworks and light display over the lake. We had one late morning and went thrifting while the kids swam in the pool and otherwise lounged at the rental apartment, but the thrift shop was mostly a disappointment.
The third day we packed ourselves out of the apartment and after our last day at the park (we never used our 4th day passes, 3 days seemed enough) headed for a farmstay I had arranged. It was time for part 3 of the trip.
Final thoughts and tips:
1) Don’t be afraid to go during “hurricane season”. Orlando is not near the ocean, so it might rain every day but likely won’t have serious flooding. The low crowd volume/short lines are worth it!
2) Universal has many awesome rides outside of HPW that should not be missed, easy to find lists of these. A surprise favorite for us was the Poseidon Adventure. Shrek we thought was overrated. E.T. was excellent for younger kids, esp if they saw the movie.
3) It’s ok not to buy the $100 HPW wands. Watch other people use them to see the cool effects that happen in the shop windows and displays. Spend instead on butterbeer, English pub food and excellent desserts in the restaurants.
4) Go at night to see the light shows. Spend a morning at your accommodations to enjoy the pool or just to relax in between time at the parks.
5) See the live shows, especially the short but excellent HPW shows. We also saw Sinbad (ok), the Hollywood make up/special effects show (pretty good), the Blues Brothers (I’m a fan), a Stomp type street show (great), and a random Marilyn Monroe street performance (cute).
6) Make sure you see the Gringott’s dragon breathe fire!