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Quality Time

Father and daughter explore The Wizarding World of Harry Potter for a memorable adventure.

March/April 2016 Issue

BEFORE YOU GO

To visit Orlando, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides.

Your AAA Travel professional can assist you in planning a Universal Orlando Resort getaway, including a seven-night vacation.

 

The Wizarding World of Harry PotterTM at Universal Orlando Resort is a logical destination for Potter’s fans. But for the uninitiated – those who have not read the seven books or watched the eight movies – a visit to this place is perhaps best enjoyed when accompanied by a millennial who grew up standing in lines at midnight to buy the books, who bought every movie, and who read and watched the aforementioned many times over. Recently, my daughter, Annie – a true “Potterhead” – accompanied me and her mother to this magical place.

train

In Title: Hogwarts, authentic in detail, houses a 4-D ride.Randy Cosby

Above: Hogwarts Express connects the two worlds of Harry Potter. Universal Orlando Resort

The Harry Potter lands are located in adjacent parks: Hogsmeade is in Universal’s Islands of Adventure, while Diagon Alley is in Universal Studios Florida. A two-park pass is required to visit both lands and to ride the Hogwarts Express, which is quite an attraction. Be sure to ride the train both ways and pay attention to both sides of the train compartment.

Each park has an exciting 4-D ride. Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts in Diagon Alley is a wild ride through the cavernous vaults of a bank prominent in the series. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey in Hogsmeade is equally exciting, first transporting riders through Hogwarts, the wizarding school attended by Harry, and then soaring high above the castle and countryside in a game of Quidditch (the sport popular with Hogwarts’ students).

There also are two traditional roller coasters in Hogsmeade: Flight of the Hippogriff, a rather sedate family-friendly ride, and Dragon Challenge, a twisting, flipping, wrenching experience for those with iron stomachs.

And speaking of stomachs, visitors of a certain girth are advised to check out the “test” seats outside Hogwarts and Gringotts for the 4-D rides. While there’s not a weight limit, the seat has a sort of overhead harness that must click to secure the rider.

It’s in the Details

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is all about the atmosphere and authenticity of the re-creation of J.K. Rowling’s wizard-filled world.

The buildings in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade are exceptionally well done. The former is reminiscent of an early Victorian London neighborhood, and the latter could be any quaint storybook European town. The immense fire-breathing dragon protecting Gringotts should not be missed, especially after dark.

But it’s the names on the shops that ring out like old friends to those in the know. Ollivanders, the purveyor of the wands, is especially popular. Unlike earlier wands sold when Hogsmeade first opened in 2010, the wands now being sold are capable of casting “spells” ranging from bringing an empty disjointed suit of knight’s armor to life to activating a stream of water that sometimes dampens unsuspecting passersby.

Perhaps the most important tip to a visitor, especially one with Potterheads in tow, is bring money. In addition to wands – that retail for nearly $50 – shops sell everything from chocolate frogs and color-coded apparel for all four Hogwarts “houses,” to specialty stationary and jewelry. Butterbeer, a sweet concoction that tastes suspiciously like root beer laced with butterscotch flavoring, is worth trying once, but butterbeer-flavored ice cream is better.

The restaurants in Potter’s worlds are designed to please the eye of those familiar with the intended landscape. However, just outside the entrance to Hogsmeade, in the Lost Continent section of the park, is Mythos. The restaurant has a great menu, good food, and excellent service. CityWalk, an entertainment center between the entrances to the two parks, has nearly 20 restaurants and a variety of other shops.

When searching for accommodations, remember that guests in Universal Orlando’s hotels get a one-hour head start in the morning at one of the parks (as determined by the resort); check with your travel agent for current options when scheduling a trip. A new hotel, Sapphire Falls, opens July 14 at the resort.

Visiting Universal Orlando was a wonderful adventure, but for this Muggle (a mortal without magic), the spell was cast while watching my daughter – now a young adult – light up as she explored Harry’s world.

Randy Cosby is a contributor from St. Louis, Mo.


 

Potter Pilgrimage

Familiar details come alive for Potter fan at Universal Orlando Resort.

I was 11 years old when I read the first Harry Potter book – the same age as Harry in The Sorcerer’s Stone. So my pilgrimage to The Wizarding World of Harry PotterTM at Universal Orlando Resort was long overdue, and gallopin’ gargoyles, it did not disappoint.

statue

In title: A goblin at work inside Gringotts. Universal Orlando Resort

Above: A fire-breathing dragon protects the contents inside Gringotts bank. Randy Cosby

Hogsmeade and Hogwarts castle lie in Islands of Adventure, with Diagon Alley in the neighboring Universal Studios Florida. The Hogwarts Express train links the two parks. The train ride is so lifelike that passengers can experience Harry, Ron, and Hermione strolling down the corridor outside the compartment.

Inside Hogwarts is a fun 4D ride, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. You’ll be so busy in line, you won’t notice the incredible detail in each room, so make sure to return to the castle later and tell the line worker you want “the tour only.” He or she will let you into an empty lane to explore the castle at your leisure.

The crooked roofs of Hogsmeade and picturesque Hogwarts are wonderful, but Diagon Alley is the real gem. Here, you’ll want to ride Escape from Gringotts, but plan time to explore all the shops. From Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes to the Magical Menagerie, fans can shop just like Harry and even take a turn down dark Knockturn Alley. Don’t forget to grab a cold butterbeer or pumpkin juice and maybe a chocolate frog to take home.

Make sure to visit Ollivanders for a chance to consult Ollivander himself. One lucky person from each group is chosen to try his or her hand at several different wands until the right one is found. I was one of the lucky ones to be chosen.

With the purchase of an interactive wand, available in shops in both parks, park guests can seek out little medallions set into the pavement, wave a wand in the correct shape, and cast a spell. Perhaps you’ll turn on a light, or open a book in a storefront, or even cause water to shoot out at an unsuspecting bystander.

The details within Harry’s wizard worlds are delightful, but just strolling down streets familiar from your imagination, surrounded by people purposefully waving wands and wearing robes, is an experience like no other.

Annie Cosby is a new contributor from St. Louis, Mo.

 


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