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.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|
|Sign at Seuss Landing directing to WWOHP|
|Wizards from Durmstrang Institute and Beauxbaton Academy|
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|
|Entrance to Hogsmeade off of The Lost Continent|
|Frozen Mug of Butterbeer|
|Potages Cauldron Shop|
|Standing in line after entering Hogwarts grounds.|
|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|
|Chalkboard inside the Defense Against the Dark Arts room|
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|
|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|
|Inside Honeydukes Sweet Shop|
|Cauldron Cakes inside Honeydukes Sweet Shop|
|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|
|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!
|Gilderoy pays a visit!|
|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|
|Lights at Osbourne Spectacle of Lights|
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|