I was still a teen when I got hooked on the magic of a boy named Harry. I can honestly say that reading these books changed, and saved my life in ways that many people don't understand. How can a kid's book change your life? Well, it did.
You can read my open letter to JK Rowling HERE. It remained secret for a long time, but it feels good to tell the world that being sad, or depressed shouldn't be a stigma.
So because of this, and many other things that I won't go into detail with now, I can say that I'm a Harry Potter super fan, or simply (and proudly) a Potterhead.
Going to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Studios, and Islands of Adventure Florida had been my dream every since it was announced in 2007.
HERE ARE THE MAIN THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:
If you are going to the park for the first time, there are certain things you should know so you can make every second count.
1. GET A MULTI-PARK TICKET.
You have the choice of purchasing a single park admission (Universal Studios OR Islands of Adventure) or a multi-pass or park hopper ticket. GET BOTH. WHY? The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is actually split in both parks. While Islands of Adventure opened the HP World in 2010, an expansion of this magical world was opened in the Universal Studios area in 2014. Both areas are connected by the Hogwarts Express. YOU WON'T BE ABLE TO RIDE THE HOGWARTS EXPRESS unless you have a ticket for both parks. Believe me. It's worth it.
2. HOW THE WIZARDING WORLD IS DIVIDED
Islands of Adventure houses Hogsmeade, many shops and restaurants, the Flight of the Hippogriff, and the Hogwarts Castle with the Forbidden Journey ride. Take the Hogwarts Express to King's Cross (located on the Universal Studios side) and enter the mysterious Diagon Alley where you can find Gringotts Bank and a fire breathing dragon on top of it.
WHAT TO DO FIRST.
The very first thing a true fan should do is to get your own magic wand at Olivander's. Whether you enter through Universal or Islands of Adventure, both sides have an Olivander's store. This should be your first stop as the lines can get long, and there's no fast pass for it. They will let about 20 people inside at the time for a "mini-show" to meet the man himself, Mr. Olivander. He will pick a random lucky person from the group to hold wands and recreate the famous scene when Harry's wand chose him. It's a very cool experience to see so close and in person. But don't worry, if you are not chosen (they only chose ONE person per group- usually a kid, duh!) You will be then guided to the shop, where you can purchase your own wand.
WHAT KIND OF WANDS DO THEY HAVE?
You can choose regular, character-based wands, interactive character wands, or your own wand based on your birthday. If we talk about looks, some wands tend to lean towards the "dark side", but it's pretty cool to see what wand you'll get. The store personnel is usually standing by in robes ready to assist you. The interactive wands are more expensive, but totally worth it. WHAT DO THEY DO? With your purchase, you'll receive a map of Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade with every single interactive point in the land, along with the specific magic spells that will allow you to showcase your magic skills...
WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY "MAGIC SKILLS"?
Step on the symbols marking the magic spots (carved in gold on the ground), wave your wand in the way it specifies as you say the spell and just watch what happens. You will see it rain on other bystanders, lights flicker, things float, etc. There are dozens of places for you to practice your magic with your wand! But remember! The WAND chooses the wizard, not the other way around.
3. RIDE THE HOGWARTS EXPRESS
One of the most memorable moments of my life - don't judge- was when standing in line, there I was, awaiting patiently at King's Cross, right at platform 9 & 3/4 (which you can find between platform 9 and 10 - wink wink) when suddenly, I hear it. The powerful whistle of the Hogwarts Express as it approached our station. I think I didn't cry just because my daughter was watching me, but I almost did. I did squeal. This amazing replica of the iconic locomotive is as beautiful as it looks on the films. When you board, they will seat about seven to eight people per cart, and close your door. The cart compartments look EXACTLY as they look in the movies. Before departure, pay attention to the glazed doors of the cart. You'll see shadows of the characters "talking on the hallway", the Trolley lady, and even dementors looking to take you to Azkaban. Watch the window when the train is in motion to observe the beautiful landscape and the view to Hogwarts/Diagon Alley. You are not supposed to take pictures or video inside the train... (sad face).
4. RIDE EVERYTHING.
Besides the Hogwarts Express, there are only a couple of actual rides inside Harry Potter World's, but there is SO much to do! Go into the Hogwarts Castle and see it inside while waiting in line to ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Look around, enjoy the magic!
Before you enter the Forbidden Journey ride you will have to put ALL your belongings in a locker. No backpacks, no lose items are allowed in this ride. Do you remember the scene when Ron took the old Ford for a ride and landed on the Whomping Willow? Well, this ride will feel like this. The magic bench (in which you will be seating) is controlled by a robot arm. Combine this with the most amazing flying simulator, incredible props, and special effects, and you go on the ride of your life.
The flight of the Hippogriff is a roller coaster designed to feel as if you were flying on Buckbeak, the hippogriff. It's fun and short, but not as amazing as THE ESCAPE FROM GRINGOTTS. Yeah. You literally (or simulator-ally) go all the way down into the vault in one of those little carts guided by a goblin. Then it gets intense. That freaking dragon, man! It's a great thrill! You almost have to ride this twice to be able to appreciate everything there is to see as it goes magically fast. Oh, before I forget, stay outside Gringotts for a while and watch the dragon on the top of the building breath fire. We timed it to be every 15-20 minutes or so. It's great!
5. DRINK BUTTERBEER.
I'm not a fan of sweet, creamy/sparkling drinks, but I obviously had to try butterbeer. I've had it before at a different venue, but NOTHING, and I repeat, NOTHING compares to this butterbeer. IT WAS AMAZING! Not too sweet, not too simple. It was just the perfect combination of sparkling, and creamy buttery flavors. I opted to have it cold, but apparently you can also order it hot.
6. DINE AT THE THREE BROOMSTICKS, Leaky Cauldron OR have a brew AT HOG'S HEAD.
Great food, simple menu and the portions are big. Two can split some plates. Reasonably priced as well (for a theme park). The atmosphere is cozy and the service is quite organized.
7. THE SHOPS!!!!
SO many shops! Most have basically the same merchandise but organized differently, so it's fun to see the props and different decor of each store. Definitely don't miss Weasley's Wizard Wheezes trick and candy store. It's very entertaining. Also, I was a little disappointed to see that they don't have a lot of small souvenir items for sale (other than key chains). I was hoping to find cool Harry Potter inspired jewelry, or car stickers, or you know, things like that... nope. Most stuff was apparel, and expensive collector's items. There are stores dedicated to Quidditch items and apparel, others to robes, and you can even get your own post owl!
8. EXPLORE DIAGON ALLEY.
When you are in Diagon Alley you must adventure towards a small, not so crowded, alleyways and you'll be surprise what you'll find. If you dare, you'll find yourself in Knockturn Alley. There you'll see Borgin and Burkes, a store dedicated to the dark arts, just like the one Harry fell in after saying the wrong name with the floo powder. A replica of a moving, very life-like Nagini is showcased on the store's display.
9. DON'T FORGET TO STOP BY GRIMMAULD PLACE AND THE KNIGHT BUS.
Outside Diagon Alley, on the Universal Studio's side, you can see a beautiful replica of Grimmauld Place. It's funny that I got excited to see it, but most people walk by it thinking it's just a decorative building... well... it is, but you can still see it and take a pic, while imagining you were part of the Order of the Phoenix. The Knight bus is next to it. Go inside. Take a selfie.
10. WATCH THE CASTLE AT NIGHT.
Since we only did one day at Universal (first mistake), we stayed there ALL day and into the night, to be able to do most attractions. When night falls, it's a wonderful spectacle at Hogsmeade. Yes, you need to make your way towards Hogwarts and watch the light show. Just like they do it at Disney on Cinderella's castle, Hogwarts has nothing to be ashamed of. It was actually superior than the one at Disney (READ THAT REVIEW HERE). They play a very familiar tune that dances to the marvelous lights reflected on the Castle. I have no words to describe it, so watch this video instead and see for yourself: (disclaimer, it was Christmas time celebration when we were there, so they probably change it according to the season).
SO MUCH TO DO! The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is fascinating, and truly a magical experience. From the snow covered roofs of Hogsmeade, to the whistle of the Hogwarts Express, you will be delighted with this world and will want to go home and read (or reread) all seven books. Yes. Do it. I know you want to.
IF YOU WANT TO READ THE BOOKS, GET THIS SET: Harry Potter Books 1-7. It's worth every penny.
Till next time.