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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Warning:  Very, very long post.  Not food related in the slightest.  Contains a lot of spoilers about the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and other random Harry Potter related information.  
We are back from visiting Orlando!  I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving with family and friends.  And if you went out then I hope the Black Friday crowds didn't drive you insane.  We were traveling via the friendly skies so we didn't venture out and experience the shopping crowds.  But after the visit we had in Orlando, I can tell you that no crowd, NO CROWD could possibly compare to the complete and total chaos that is the Wizarding World Of Harry Potter (WWOHP).  I went down with the expectation that it was going to be insanely packed and was 100% correct.  When the park opened in June, people were lined up all the way outside of City Walk to get in.  Some people waited for 8 hours and never got to see anything.  The attraction has died down since then, and what we experienced wasn't even close to that, but it still wasn't pretty.  Disney was just as crazy.
Bottles of Pumpkin Juice at WWOHP

Having said that, the trip was awesome and quite relaxing, even with the insane crowds.  I'm sure that sounds odd, but our Disney trips have always been "jam as much as possible into the shortest amount of time and run a marathon during marathon weekend."  Granted, it still was a "jam as much as possible into the shortest amount of time" trip, but I did not participate in marathon weekend.  It was nice to be at Disney and not wake up at 2 am to go run 26.2 miles.  It was also nice to enjoy the parks at our leisure.  We've been there enough to know what rides are worth it and what rides we could miss.  We checked out a few shows that we've often overlooked and just took it easy enjoying what we know are our favorites.

I know that this is a food blog, but I'm going to take a short diversion from my blog's intentions to talk about the trip.  It's a quick and easy way to communicate with family and friends about the experience for those who are interested.  Plus, it was so amazing that it is necessary to document somewhere.  It will probably give a few spoilers about WWOHP so if you do not want to hear about it (or if you simply don't care about Harry Potter), I won't be offended if you decide not to read.  :)  It will also be a very long post as I have a lot to say!
Inside Disney's Grand Floridian Resort

We arrived on Tuesday evening and checked into the hotel before heading to Downtown Disney to browse the shops and dine at my favorite sandwich shop, Earl of Sandwich.  One of the main reasons why I wanted to head to Orlando at this chaotic time was because of the holiday decorations.  Disney decks out their hotels and theme parks in beautiful holiday decor.  Downtown Disney was no different.    Some of the parks (Epcot, Animal Kingdom, Universal) didn't start their holiday celebrations until the day we were leaving (sad face), but that is also when hordes of people start to arrive in Orlando so we opted to go at Thanksgiving.  We checked out some of my favorite shops in Downtown Disney, including the Christmas store, and then went back to the hotel to prepare for our big day in the morning.
Sign at Seuss Landing directing to WWOHP
I had started to look at the #wwohp hashtag on Twitter to see what people were saying about lines before we even got to Orlando.  Unsurprisingly, many posts were discussing how the WWOHP was the busiest that it has been since it opened and the park was once again giving out timed entrances into the Wizarding World.  If you haven't been to Universal Orlando, WWOHP is at Islands of Adventure.  The theme park is separated into several different areas:  Marvel Super Hero Island, Toon Lagoon, Jurassic Park, The Lost Continent, Seuss Landing, and Harry Potter.  Pre-WWOHP, guests could roam freely through any of the themed areas with no problem.  Since Harry arrived, guests often flock to the wizarding world and stay huddled there for most of the day.  The good news is that guests who are interested in riding other rides often find little wait time.  The bad news is that guests who are interested in visiting Harry's world often find that the 20 acre world fills up incredibly fast and many people are unwilling to leave once they get in, with good reason.  Once the crowd is at maximum capacity, Universal employees rope off both entrances to the area and begin to issue timed entrances just to get into the world.  (This does not mean that once you get inside you will have less of a wait time.)

Wizards from Durmstrang Institute and Beauxbaton Academy

Ron and I arrived at the entrance to Islands of Adventure at 8:00 a.m.  The park was set to open at 9:00 a.m. and guests who stayed on Universal property were able to enter the park one hour prior to its opening.  It was incredibly frustrating watching hundreds of people dart right past me for those 30 minutes, but at 8:30, the "regular" folk were let in and shuffled off to the left of the theme park, headed in the direction away from Harry Potter.  After walking like penguins for about 10 minutes, we were stopped at Toon Lagoon.  Universal employees began to give us a speech, "We will take you the safest way in . . . absolutely no running . . . you will be waiting in many lines today, this is just one of them . . ."  At 8:55 a.m., we started to head over to WWOHP.

A few years ago, Ron and I went down to Orlando for a marathon weekend in January.  We had checked out Islands of Adventure one of the days we were down there and were blown away by the lack of wait times.  Ron rode the Hulk within the first 3 minutes of our entrance inside the park.  Spiderman's wait was 2 minutes.  We rode Jurassic Park's River Adventure within 5 minutes of entering the ride queue.  All of the "wait" time was spent walking through the queue just to get to the ride entrance.  Once we got there, we had a boat entirely to ourselves.  We had literally covered all of Islands of Adventure, including random rides like the Seuss trolley, within 2 hours of the park's opening.  On Wednesday, I'm pretty sure that anyone visiting Islands of Adventure could have done the same thing, save for the WWOHP.  Every single person was headed in that direction.  There were absolutely no wait lines for any of the other rides.  I am so grateful that Ron was being such a good sport and did not suggest any diversions.  I'm sure he wanted to, but he saw the look in my eyes, knowing that it was not even an option, and kindly kept quiet.
Top of Hogwarts and Village of Hogsmeade
Eventually, we made our way to the entrance of Hogsmeade.  In the series, Hogsmeade is the only all-wizarding village in Britain.  It was the ideal choice of location to feature in the WWOHP because of its proximity to the Hogwarts castle.  It is often featured in the books because 3rd year + students are sometimes allowed to visit for weekend trips with permission.  There is also a hidden path from Hogsmeade to Hogwarts that is often frequented by the Weasley brothers and Harry.  The High Street is home to shops like Zonko's Joke Shop and Honeydukes Sweet Shop.  It is also located near the train station used by the Hogwarts Express, the train that the students board at Kings Cross in London on platform 9 3/4, to get to and from Hogwarts.

Entrance to Hogsmeade off of The Lost Continent
I am not going to lie.  The minute that we rounded the bend and I saw the Hogsmeade archway and the snowcapped buildings, I started to tear up.  I was honestly in complete amazement and I felt just as Harry did when he encountered the magical world for the first time (Harry's first experience was at Diagon Alley in Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone).  The WWOHP was absolutely mind-blowing, of course to no surprise.  Construction of the world cost nearly $236 million and J.K. Rowling (author of the Harry Potter series) had a huge role in ensuring the park's success, doing everything from overseeing the park's layout and approving the recipe for Butterbeer.

As we walked into Hogsmeade, I cannot imagine the look on my face.  The Hogwarts Express, complete with billowing steam and the iconic whistle, was to my right.  Zonko's Joke Shop and Honeydukes Sweet Shop was to my left.  Directly in front of me were more magical shops, restaurants, and a Butterbeer truck!  There were also a ton of people, as you can tell from the picture, but this was nothing near what we saw later in the day.  Thank goodness we opted to go first thing in the morning.  Despite the crowds, for a theme park, everyone seemed pretty respectful of everyone else.  Everyone is trying to take in as much as possible, so people are kind enough to get out of your way if you want a photograph.

Frozen Mug of Butterbeer
My first stop was to grab a Butterbeer.  Butterbeer, as mentioned previously, is a drink of choice among younger wizards.  It tastes like a buttery-shortbread-cream soda-butterscotch treat.  We forked over the $11.95 for the frozen version with the commemorative mug while Ron opted for the regular version.  Now, I'm not usually a theme-park diner.  I have been known to pay $5 for a regular apple at places that only sell caramel apples.  But, this was a once in a lifetime experience, so I downed the entire frozen butterbeer on our walk over to Hogwarts.  This would later turn out to be a stupid idea considering I hadn't eaten breakfast and was loaded on nothing but sugar for the 5 hours before lunch.  But, it was totally worth it at the time.  Butterbeer is so delicious!  And if you are wondering, the WWOHP's Butterbeer was 100 times better than the Butterbeer I made at home.  I'm pretty positive I totally mis-measured with that recipe... oops.

Potages Cauldron Shop
I grabbed tons of pictures as we continued to head towards the main attraction, the Hogwarts castle.  Hogsmeade is filled with tons of side shops that are display shops only, meaning that visitors can not go inside.  However, this certainly does not take away from the experience because the shop windows are full of magic!  I was blown away by the level of detail that went into these shops:  authentic looking magical books complete with wizard photos (in the wizard world, the people in the pictures are able to move from photo to photo), wands hanging seemingly from midair, Potages cauldron shops (this shop is in Diagon Alley, but a "branch" was moved to Hogsmeade for theme park purposes), musical instruments playing themselves, a plant store where baby mandrakes scream, and wizard robes being measured by a tape measurer at Gladrags Wizardwear.  The details were endless.  We passed a few more Butterbeer drink trolleys with other wizard staples such as pumpkin juice.  I didn't buy any pumpkin juice because I hadn't heard the best reviews, but the bottles looked fun!  We also passed near the Gringotts Bank, aka a standard ATM but themed to the goblet bank as featured in Harry Potter.
Standing in line after entering Hogwarts grounds.
RIDE SPOILER ALERT:  The main attraction inside the Wizarding World is the ride inside the Hogwarts castle.  Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is the heart of the Harry Potter series.  It is here where wizards attend school for 7 years (ages 11-17) and is featured in every single book in the series.  The wait for the main attraction, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, was about 90 minutes when we arrived, but we didn't care.  With butterbeer in hand, we got in line.  The ride is "the forbidden journey" because the castle is forbidden to muggles (non-wizard folks).  The line weaves its way inside the castle and guests can interact with various characters and props from the Harry Potter series through-out the queue.  You'll recognize the Mirror of Erised and the Hogwarts house jewels.  You'll stand in the Herbology greenhouse where plants line the lights above and mandrakes are planted and contained in a cage.
Map of the Hogwarts Castle grounds

One of my favorite props was the map of the Hogwarts grounds.  (Did you know:  when the film-makers were first creating the sets for the movies, they contacted J.K. to receive help on the layout.  She quickly drew up a sketch of the grounds and the map hung on a bulletin board inside the director's office at Leavesden Studios for the entire ten years that the series was filmed?).

Wizard portaits that move and talk to other Wizards
You'll encounter talking portraits and meet all four founders of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry: Godric Gryffindor, Salazar Slytherin, Helga Hufflepuff, and Rowena Ravenclaw.  You weave past the giant gargoyle that guards Dumbledore's office and then head directly into Dumbledore's office where an incredibly life-like Dumbledore extends a welcome to all Muggles, directing them to Professor Binns lecture on the history of the school.  You next head into the Defense Against the Dark Arts room where various dark magical objects are placed through-out.  Then, the lifelike trio appears from under the Invisibility Cloak, and directs all guests to meet them in the Room of Requirement to sneak out to a Quidditch match.  Ron Weasley casts a spell and depending on how long you are in the room, you might experience one of several different spells.  We got snowed on before we were ushered out of the room but I did hear a different spell cast while we were leaving.  The sorting hat also makes an appearance.  Shortly after you see the hat, you are almost ready for the ride.  You're ushered onto an "enchanted bench" and off you go!
Chalkboard inside the Defense Against the Dark Arts room
The ride itself is a one of a kind experience.  It is an amazingly faithful recreation of the Harry Potter series in its entirety.  The ride uses cutting-edge technology that includes a high-tech robotic arm device and a high-def video projection system that creates 3-D holograms.  Basically, you sit in your enchanted bench and the arm moves you from scene to scene.  Some scenes are animatronics and others are movies.

After you are locked into your bench, Hermione casts a spell, dusts you with floo powder and off you go!  The robot arm moves you insync with the film footage that is projected before you and you fly off to the Astronomy Tower.  After you depart, you get an unbelievably gorgeous view of the castle and you begin flying with Harry and Ron around Hogwarts.  Then Hagrid asks if you've seen a loose dragon!  Naturally, the dragon appears moments later and the movie switches to a real set where you fly through burned debris and encounter the dragon himself, complete with smoke and heat.  Next, you encounter the giant spiders, called Acromantulas, that first made their appearance in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.  SO, SO GROSS!!  This is definitely not a scene for those who are afraid of spiders.  I kept my eyes shut for nearly the entire time on my first ride through because I was going to faint.  The spiders are giant, incredibly life-like, and actually squirt fake water-venom on you.  Poor Ron had his mouth open at the time.
Entrance to Hogsmeade from Jurassic Park

Hermione gets you out of the spiders but then you are warned to watch out for the Whomping Willow, a magical enchanted tree that fights back whenever anyone goes near it.  It was here that my initial experience started to go downhill.  You never go backwards or upside down on the ride, but the robotic arms tip you all the way onto your back and it makes for a very bumpy experience.  My stomach, full of nothing but sugary Butterbeer, started to lash out.  The Whomping Willow throws you back into the film and into the Quidditch pitch while a Quidditch match (wizard sport) is taking place.  The scenes are incredible as you actually feel like you are flying in the middle of a match and Malfoy (Harry's enemy) appears long enough to insult Harry ("Showing off for your Muggle admirers, Potter?").  But, as quick as the match appears, it disappears after it is interrupted by a dementor (dark magic guards of the Wizard prison) attack.  Harry leads you away but your bench falls into the Chamber of Secrets and you are then shifted back into the world of animatronics.  You see the snakes curled up in the chamber and the dementors surround you but Harry arrives to cast the "Expecto Patronum" spell to repel the dementors and save you.  But then the Chamber begins to cave in and you need to quickly escape!  Thankfully, you do, and you enter back into the movie footage, flying over the Black Lake and then into the Great Hall where students, professors and Dumbledore congratulate you and welcome your return.

Store window outside of Dervish and Banges

RIDE SPOILER ALERT ENDS:  Honestly, I was blown away.  I have never experienced such a ride in my entire life.  But, as mentioned above, I did start to get quite ill in the middle.  I was so disappointed with my stomach for making the ride slightly less enjoyable on the first time I rode it!  But, I got some food in my stomach to sop up the Butterbeer, braced myself for the experience and rode it again later in the day and absolutely loved the entire thing.  It is honestly amazing.  Perhaps the best tip I read before visiting WWOHP was to do the following:  Wait in line to experience the queue's special effects at least once and to ride the ride with other members of your party.  After this, go back through to experience the queue again as a walking tour without going on the ride.  After this, ride the ride subsequent times as a single rider, but leave carry-on items or bags with other members who are not riding at that same time.  Leaving your bag behind is important because once you get into the castle, you are directed to stow your bags in a locker.  You are not able to go into the single riders line until you get past this point.  The line for people riding with bags is usually completely full as people have spent the morning shopping, whereas the line for people riding without bags is usually nonexistent.  Once you are directed to go up the stairs as a single rider, you bypass all of the excitement inside the queue, but you literally get to ride the ride within minutes of arriving at the front.  I left Ron at the front of the castle with my bag, walked up the stairs, rounded the corner, and got seated immediately.  The ride was 4 minutes long and I was back to Ron within 7 minutes.  He had the same experience.  Totally worth it, even if it means not experiencing the ride with your family or friends.
Inside the Hogs Head
Ron and I did not elect to eat inside WWOHP.  I had done a lot of research before arriving at the park and basically knew that I was not going to particularly enjoy the options.  The main restaurant is The Three Broomsticks, a popular pub located on High Street and well-known in the series. The inside looks exactly as portrayed in the films.  The menu includes authentic British fare with entrees like fish and chips, shephard's pie, Cornish pasty, and turkey legs.  We didn't stick around inside for too long because the employees were kind of mean if you didn't intend to eat there, with good reason I suppose.  Next to the Three Broomsticks was the Hog's Head.  The Hog's Head is a pub that attracts more unusual guests as many are known to hide their faces.  In the series, the barman is Aberforth Dumbledore, the brother to Hogwarts Headmaster, Albus Dumbledore.  The Hog's Head has had quite a profound impact in the series as it was here that Sybill Trelawney revealed the prophecy to Professor Dumbledore which connected Lord Voldemort and Harry, ultimately sealing their fate.  It is also where Dumbledore's Army met for the first time in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.  It plays a huge role in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the seventh and final book, serving as an entrance and evacuation point before the Battle of Hogwarts (to be seen in Deathly Hallows Part Two this July).  The snarling hog behind the bar made for a great effect.  The pub has its own exclusive brew, Hogs Head Ale, that Ron drank and enjoyed while I sampled.
Enchanted flying brooms inside Dervish and Banges

Tons of Harry Potter merchandise can be purchased inside the park.  Caution:  You can go broke here.  After exiting the Forbidden Journey ride, you can stop at Filch's Emporium and purchase tons of replicas from the Potter films such as clothing, frames, stuffed animals, and other souvenirs.  Dervish and Banges sells Quidditch supplies, wands, other magical merchandise, and is attached to the Owl Post.  At the Owl Post, you can buy post with Owl stamps and receive a Hogsmeade seal to mail out from the village.  The line to get into the Owl Post varies during what time of day you go, but it took me about 60 minutes total to get inside, pay for and quickly write my postcards, and mail them.  After placing my post in the slot, I was told that my owl would pick up my post and take it out to deliver that night.  Naturally, I wrote one to myself.  I can't wait until it arrives!
Puking Pastilles and Extendable Ears at Zonko's Joke Shop
Other merchandise can be purchased at Zonko's and Honeydukes.  At Zonko's, the store sells various toy and joke magical gifts from the series such as puking pastilles.  The number of items in this store is endless and it was nearly impossible to get an idea of everything that was there because of the crowd.  But, I decided that it was well worth it to buy a jar of "U No Poo: The Constipation Sensation That's Gripping the Nation."  In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Fred and George Weasley debut their joke shop, Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes, and advertise for "U No Poo" on a window outside their store.  It is essentially just a jar full of green M and M's that I will likely never eat, but it was well worth the $5 to have such a fun souvenir.
Inside Honeydukes Sweet Shop
Cauldron Cakes inside Honeydukes Sweet Shop
Honeydukes is one of the most famous wizarding confectionaries in the world.  In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry enters the sweet shop illegally using a trapdoor in the cellar.  Inside Honeydukes at WWOHP, you can find all of the famous sweets that are mentioned through-out the series, such as chocolate frogs, acid pops, cauldron cakes, and treacle fudge.  I decided not to grab anything from inside Honeydukes, not because I didn't want anything but because the line was horrendously long!  To purchase an item inside Honeydukes, the wait was about 45 minutes.  Later in the day, I saw a wait of about 60 minutes just to get inside Honeydukes.  One of the employees was actually swearing quite loudly because she couldn't get around people with the trolley to restock the shelves.  All of these stores were so small inside and it was somewhat maddening to try and navigate your way through them.  Although slightly less magical, a wonderful tip is to acknowledge that the Universal Orlando store inside the Orlando airport sells a number of Harry Potter souvenirs, mainly the notable "popular" items.  You can buy replica wands, robes, clothes, stuffed animals (Buckbeak, Pigmy Puff, Fluffy, Hedwig), keychains/magnets, candy (chocolate frogs, acid pops, bertie bott's every-flavour bean), quaffle toys, sneakoscopes, mugs, and many other items before boarding your plane.  You can also purchase all of the merchandise online at the Universal Orlando Wizarding World store.
Ollivanders Wand Shop

The one attraction that we did not do was Ollivanders Wand Shop.  In the series, Ollivanders is located in Diagon Alley, but a branch was placed in Hogsmeade to serve as an attraction.  Ollivanders is where a wand chooses its wizard, aka where wizards get their wands before they head off to Hogwarts  I feel almost guilty admitting this, but I elected not to do Ollivanders even before we left for Orlando.  The reason:  several sites recommended against it if you did not have children.  Once we got down there, I quickly decided that my decision to avoid it was the correct one.  The line was absolutely insane (120 minutes; mostly waiting outside in the 90 degree sun) and the shop inside was so tiny and people are escorted in 20 at a time.  So, sadly I cannot provide a first-hand experience with the wand shop, but because I have read what occurs inside I know that Ollivander typically chooses one child to test a variety of wands until the right one is found.  The special effects during the testing phase are similar to Harry's experience in Sorceror's Stone:  shelves break with the bad wands and lights shine, wind blows, and music pipes when the right wand has been found.  After the experience, everyone is escorted into Dervish and Banges to purchase a souvenir wand.  I have read that if you dress your child in some type of Harry Potter related article of clothing, he/she has a better shot at getting chosen.  I've also read that it is important to get into this line first thing in the morning.
Sign encouraging TwiWizard champion Harry Potter
Ron elected to go on the Dragon's Challenge roller coaster by himself.  I can't go upside down on rides.  This is a proven fact, several instances of illness have confirmed this each and every time I have gone upside down, and as my initial experience with Forbidden Journey was somewhat discouraging, I decided not to test it as I was having the BEST DAY EVER.  Thus, I stayed off while Ron rode the coaster and it was during this time that I visited Honeydukes, Zonko's, and just sat down and took in the scenery.  Afterwards, Ron told me that I had to walk through the line to see some of the props because they were awesome.  One fantastic thing about the WWOHP is that they allow you to go through the queues to experience the props and scenery even if you are not riding.  This ride is themed to the fourth book in the series, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, in which Harry and 3 other wizards participate in the Triwizard tournament.
Enchanted floating candles

The first task for the wizards is to capture a golden egg while fending off a dragon.  The ride is a high-speed roller coaster in which two of the dragons (the Hungarian Horntail and the Chinese Firebolt) swoop and swirl through-out the sky, nearly colliding at one point (Ron was in the front and almost had a heart attack when he saw the oncoming coaster!).  This ride is somewhat "borrowed" from a previous Universal attraction, the Dueling Dragons, but Ron loved it nonetheless.  As you walk through the queue, you see encouraging signs dedicated to each of the champions.  You can also get a beautiful view of the castle from this line.  Other notable appearances are made by Mr. Weasley's enchanted car, the Triwizard cup itself, the golden eggs, and some very cool floating candles!
Hagrid's Hut
Flight of the Hippogriff is the last ride in WWOHP.  Like the Dragon Challenge, it served as a previous coaster, The Flying Unicorn, but was re-themed for the WWOHP.  This is a shorter, more kid-friendly roller coaster that features Buckbeak, the Hippogriff.  Buckbeak made his Harry Potter debut in the third book, Harry Potter and the Prizoner of Azkaban, and was Hagrid's pet before he saved Sirius's life and went to live with Sirius.  As you walk through the line queue, you see an amazing replication of Hagrid's hut.  The ride itself is very short, but it's fun to ride for a quick thrill, especially for younger kids.  However, if you have limited time in Harry Potter and if the line is over 20 minutes long, I wouldn't advise waiting around.  The only thing that you will really miss is watching a life-sized version of Buckbeak bow to you as you go up the first hill.  Naturally, I forgot to bow back, but whatever.  I was too excited and completely giddy the entire day.  I think I need to go back with a much calmer frame of mind to actually remember the experience!  For this ride, you can always walk through the line to take a picture of Hagrid's hut and Buckbeak in his nest if you don't have the time to ride the ride..
Gilderoy pays a visit!
Honestly, the park is incredible for wizard lovers and non-wizard lovers alike.  Of course, being a fan of the series and the movies will certainly help you understand the minute details and story-lines themed throughout (I'd recommend brushing up on the topic if you are unfamiliar), but the enchantment is enough to take your imagination to a new level.  The amount of detail in this park is just truly remarkable.  I ventured down some tiny back alley, one that is used for Universal employees and not frequented much by Muggles, and discovered more magic!  The window that connects to the Three Broomsticks makes noise as though dishes are being washed, magically, on the inside.  Combine that with Moaning Myrtle's bathroom visit, the Harry Potter themed music through-out the park, the Hogwarts conductor, the visit from the frog choir, and the tremendous amount of magical detail in every small crevice of this park, and anyone is sure to have a good time.
The Hogwarts Express

I'm certain that this park is going to be an amazing experience for everyone for a very long time.  The Forbidden Journey will likely take theme park rides to a whole new level and parks around the world will need to reconstruct their own ride experiences to match that of the one inside Hogwarts!  It was amazing experience and I am so glad we were able to go.  We stopped back a few times during the day, but most of our WWOHP experience occurred from 9:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.  The crowds at WWOHP seemed to triple throughout the day.  We stayed in Islands of Adventure until around 6:00 and went on several other rides.  Worth noting was that I was less than impressed with Spiderman after riding the Forbidden Journey.  The new technology just blew Spiderman's 3D experience out of the water.  Though, Spiderman still rocks, I'm wondering if other spots in Universal are going to start upgrading.
Main Street, Magic Kingdom, Orlando, FL
The Disney portion:  Usually, I am such a die-hard Disney fan.  But, this trip was dedicated to Harry and I have to admit that he took the cake.  However, our day with Disney World was magical as always.  On Thanksgiving, we woke up at 7 a.m. to head to the Disney parks.  We were at Magic Kingdom by 9 a.m. and decided that getting soaked on Splash Mountain was an appropriate first ride of the day.  We got our FastPass for Thunder Mountain, checked out the new updates to Winnie the Pooh, then made our way to Epcot where we took in a few rides, got our FastPass for Soarin', which had a 120 minute wait at all times through-out the day, then walked around the World Showcase.  I had made reservations well in advance (highly encouraged no matter what time of year you are going) and we ate a delicious Thanksgiving meal at Rose and Crown Pub in the United Kingdom.  Then, we took the ferry over to MGM Hollywood Studios where we watched the Indiana Jones stunt show, the 3D Muppet show, and waited for 80 unfortunate minutes to ride the Toy Story ride for our first time.  I kicked Ron's butt:  his score - 91,000, my score - 131,000.  Toy Story - eh, not so much.  It kept breaking down.
Lights at Osbourne Spectacle of Lights
After leaving, we walked over to the backlots to experience the Osbourne Spectacle of Lights.  They were absolutely breathtaking.  Then, we boarded the ferry back to Epcot to ride Soarin' and to grab a quick bite for dinner.  After Illuminations, we made our way back to Magic Kingdom where we finished the day with some more fireworks and some glorious Celebration Fudge from Mickey's Confectionary.  We were on the shuttle back to our hotel at 11:30 p.m., exhausted and with some serious cramping in our legs, but feeling as though we totally got our money's worth for the Park-Hopper pass.  That greedy little mouse took $289 from us on Thursday, but we showed him that we could totally make the most of it by spending 15 hours in his parks!

On Friday morning, we left.  We were in Orlando for such a short visit this time around and I honestly think it was best.  Originally, I was bummed that we weren't staying for longer, but I don't think I could have taken much more.  The first week in January seems to be a really good time to go.  It can be a bit chilly, but crowds are sometimes nonexistent and I was just not loving the crowds in the parks at this time of year.  But all in all it was an absolute wonderful visit.  When we originally made the trip, it was to check out the site for our then-planned May wedding.  Though plans shifted and I was seriously bummed when we saw the venue (wedding plans again!?!), the trip was a success.  The only downfall was being far from our families on Thanksgiving, but luckily, Christmas is right around the corner and our visit back to the 'Burgh is quickly approaching!
Side view of Enchanted Cinderella's Castle


  1. Absolutely amazing. Glad you had such a great experience.

  2. It looks awesome but it's nothing compared to the experience at the WB Studios in Leavesden, England. Everything there is authentic which makes it more magical. The actual sets, costumes, props... its all there. Nothing will ever beat that. The amount of Detail in hogsmeade and diagon alley IS friggin incredible the boxes of the candy the wands the buildings the castles the rides is incredible also the only thing different is the placement of diagon alley’s entrance, artificial potted plants and olivanders entrance.