Our family had been talking about going to Universal's Islands of Adventure for well over a year. My kids are at that age where they want to go on big rides. Our middle child, Julia, is a big Harry Potter fan (as am I), and had been asking to go see The Wizarding World of Harry Potter for a long time. We figured lines would be shorter in October than next March when we'll be back in Orlando, so decided this would be the trip. Julia and I did some pre-trip planning like checking out Universal's website and reading some guidebooks. Plus, I got some great info from John Ludwick who has been there a number of times.
The plan of attack was to arrive before opening, head immediately to WWoHP (the abbreviation I will use to reference The Wizarding World of Harry Potter throughout this post), then hit the rest of the park. After that, we would head back to Harry Potter to spend some more time checking it out. I'd say the plan worked very well.
We woke up at about 7am and were ready to go before 8am. As I mentioned in yesterday's post, I rented a car the night before. I also had bought the park passes online before leaving home so we wouldn't have to deal with that. I was a bit worried about rush-hour traffic, given it was a Monday, but it took less than 20 minutes. There are 2 large, 5 story parking ramps for both Universal and Islands of Adventure, and parking costs $15. When we arrived, they asked if we wanted preferred parking, which costs $5 more and puts you on 3rd floor, the same level as the moving walkways. If you are arriving early, I don't see a reason for preferred parking. We parked on 5th floor and took the elevator down to 3rd floor, then took the moving walkways towards the park entrances.
To get to the theme parks you must walk through Universal's CityWalk, an entertainment center similar to Downtown Disney. As you go through CityWalk, Islands of Adventure is straight ahead, Universal Studios to the right. It only takes 10 or so minutes to walk from the parking ramps to the park entrance. We arrived at the entrance gates at about 8:15, 45 minutes before park opening.
|Everyone was queued up on the right side, but there are gates at the center umbrellas|
They opened the gates about 10 minutes early, and it was a dash to WWoHP (well, maybe not a dash, more like a fast walk)! The quickest path is to go through Seuss Landing and The Lost Continent. That will bring you to Hogsmeade. It is so well crafted and detailed, you would think you are really on the movie set. I have never seen such attention to detail in any other theme park area (although Cars Land in California Adventure and the soon to open New Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom may be at the same level). The village is set in winter, and some of the shops include Zonko's Joke Shop (items there include Sneakoscopes, Extendable Ears, Shrunken Heads and U-No-Poo), Honeydukes (where you can buy Chocolate Frogs and Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans), Ollivanders, Dervish and Banges, the Three Broomsticks for a meal and Butterbeer, and Hog's Head Pub.
|Approaching Hogwarts Castle|
After walking through Hogsmeade you will come to the gates of Hogwarts (topped by winged boars), then straight ahead to go inside the castle and the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride!
NOTE: If you have bags or other loose items you must place them in lockers before going on this ride and any of the other thrill rides such as Dragon Challenge, The Incredible Hulk Coaster and Jurassic Park River Adventure. On Forbidden Journey, there is a small pocket near the bottom of the ride seat that you can place sunglasses, cell phone or small camera. The lockers are complimentary for at least the ride wait time so it shouldn't cost you anything, but it does cause some delays and congestion as everyone tries to use one of the locker pay machines and get their stuff into a locker. I decided to not bring my DSLR; I knew we would be running around a lot and that I probably wouldn't have much time for significant picture taking. Plus, knowing about the lockers, I didn't want to deal with that. So all pictures in this post are from my iPhone and are quite the usual, pedestrian type.
Another NOTE: If you have a phone, sunglasses or other things in your pockets, I recommend putting them into the pocket in the seat. Half way through the ride I heard something rattling around in my seat. I reached down and found my new iPhone 5 sliding around! I was wearing cargo shorts and it had slid out of my pocket!
It only took us about 10 minutes to get through the castle to the Forbidden Journey ride. I'm not going to give much away regarding the inside of the castle or the ride itself (I will upload photos of the castle to flickr once I get home and get through them all), but I will say they are both amazing!! There is so much detail inside the castle, I would consider it an attraction onto itself. The 10 minutes did not give us near enough time to explore and enjoy all the details in the castle. You will see and hear from a number of your favorite HP characters, and there are other great references from the books and films. The ride is an amazing mixture of motion simulator and roller coaster.
After coming off Forbidden Journey you are right next to Flight of the Hippogriff. This is a small roller coaster, but was OK and gives you views of Hagrid's hut. It also gives you a great up high view of Hogwarts - I wish I had my camera available to take a picture.
We then went on Dragon Challenge, originally called Dueling Dragons. It was re-themed as a Harry Potter attraction when WWoHP opened, and in the queue you will see items like the Flying Ford Anglia and the Goblet of Fire. There was no wait (it took us about 5 minutes to walk through the entire queue line). This is a major coaster with 5 inversions, and I thought it was a very jerky ride.
|The back of Ollivander's Wand Shop|
We came off Dragon Challenge back in Hogsmeade and next to Ollivander's Wand Shop. There is a small, 5 minute show in the shop where "the wand will choose the wizard." I've heard it is good, but the wait was over 45 minutes so we skipped it. In fact, this was the longest line we encountered all day! You can still get into the shop by going to the next door. My daughter bought a couple of wands, then we wandered slowly through the village, trying pumpkin juice and deciding it was time to eat, which we did in the Three Broomsticks. Again, the theming inside was meticulous. The Three Broomsticks is a counter service restaurant, but after ordering you go find a table and servers will bring your food to you. We had the choice between breakfast or lunch, and we all had breakfast meals. The meals cost about $16 and come with a drink (we got a couple of Butterbeers, which Anna and I both liked - sort of like cream soda topped with flavored whipped cream).
|Outside the Three Broomsticks|
|Inside the Three Broomsticks|
|Jurassic Park River Adventure|
We next came to Marvel Super Hero Island. After WWoHP, we spent the most time in this area and did 3 rides: The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk Coaster and Doctor Doom's Fearfall. Doctor Doom's Fearfall shoots riders 150' up into the air, and that's about it. Good for a quick thrill, but probably not worth it if the line is long (our wait was less than 15 minutes). The Incredible Hulk Coaster is bigger and badder (that is a word, right?) than Dragon Challenge. Again, I don't want to give too much away, but the ride starts with a bang and never looks back as you do a total of 7 inversions! There are some cool features that make this ride more than just another coaster - there are tunnels and trenches, and the ride makes a continuous roaring sound. The Islands of Adventure website says the ride is 2 minutes and 15 seconds long, but with all the loops, drops and turns it felt longer than that to me!
NOTE: This may be a good time to talk about motion sickness! First, I am not one to get sick on most rides - I love coasters, and going up, down, backwards or upside down usually doesn't bother me. The one thing I can't do is spinning rides - the "more intense" version of Mission: SPACE at Epcot leaves me with a headache for hours, and I will not ride the Mad Tea Party at Magic Kingdom unless I'm in control of the turntable! But Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man and The Incredible Hulk Coaster all left me feeling a bit woozy (I'm getting a headache just thinking about it). Sam and Julia both did The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man and The Incredible Hulk Coaster multiple times but once was enough for me. I did go on Forbidden Journey a second time just because it is an awesome ride. If you are prone to motion sickness you will want to avoid these 3 rides, but under no circumstance should you skip going through the Forbidden Journey queue! Once you get to the front of the line just ask a cast member to direct you to the exit.
|The Hulk, with Hogwarts in the background|
At this point it was about 1pm and we had done all the attractions we wanted to do, although we had not gone back to do a second walk through Hogsmeade or ridden WWoHP a second time. Before doing that we decided to have lunch at Confisco Grille, a full service restaurant with Italian, Mexican, Asian, Greek, and American inspired dishes. I found the interior to be somewhat strange; the wood and rock work plus stain-glass lanterns were wonderful, but the other decorations like cut-outs of Boris and Bullwinkle, a rubber floaty, and an anchor caught in a net, looked out of place. I realize the goal is to bring in elements of all the lands, but it didn't work for me.
We headed back to Hogsmeade going through Seuss Landing and The Lost Continent. In The Lost Continent we stopped to watch Poseidon's Fury, a special effects show that occurs in 3 different underground chambers. The show wasn't anything special but some of the special effects were good, especially the water tunnel.
|Outside Poseidon's Fury|
We took our time going through Hogsmeade, then went back to Hogwarts. The stated wait for Forbidden Journey was 30 minutes but it was probably only 15 or 20 minutes, and we only stopped a couple of times in the queue. I'm glad we went through the castle and did the ride a second time as I caught a number of details I missed the first time.
|Behind Hog's Head Pub|
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