Every year for about the past five years now, Terry’s birthday (and my dad’s too, actually) has fallen while we’ve been on holiday. Which just isn’t fair, is it? I’m currently campaigning to have my own birthday moved to June, so I can ALSO celebrate somewhere hot and sunny, but for now I’m just taking comfort in the fact that wherever Terry chooses to celebrate his birthday, I get to go too.
This year, Terry wanted to celebrate his birthday at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Which kinda makes my “high tea, followed by a trip to Zara” seem a bit shoddy, really, doesn’t it?
(It wasn’t really.)
(I got a really nice jacket in Zara.)
(And champagne with my high tea.)
For those of you who’ve never heard of it, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a new(ish) addition to the Universal Studios Islands of Adventure Theme Park, and is designed to look like Hogsmeade, from the Harry Potter books (well, d’duh!), with Hogwarts itself as the centrepiece.
The park actually opened on Terry’s birthday, two years ago. Unfortunately for us, that was the day before we due to fly home from Florida that year, and as people had been queuing overnight just to get into the parking lot, we decided to give it a miss. Being the huge Harry Potter fans that we are, though, we weren’t going to let that happen twice, so on Terry’s birthday this year we got up bright and early (well, we got up early, anyway. I’m never exactly “bright” at that time in the morning. Or, you know, any other time, really.) and off we went.
The park was busy. Like, REALLY busy. Like, “OMG, not even the Magic Kingdom on 4th of July that time was this busy”. Seriously, we’re no strangers to Florida’s theme parks, and how crowded they can get, but at Harry Potter World, you would walk into a store and then have to just stand there and wait for the wall-to-wall tide of people to gently carry you to different parts of it. So it was busy. That was the only negative, though, because the park itself is just amazing. I think it’s probably the most visually stunning of all of the Florida parks, and they’ve done a fantastic job of re-creating the Harry Potter world: in fact, I got a bit teary as we walked into Hogsmeade, and then turned the corner to see Hogwarts looming over us, it was just that perfect.
Inside Hogwarts castle is the main attraction in this section of the park: the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride. We had to queue for over an hour to get onto it, but trust me: it was worth it. And I say that as someone who won’t generally wait for anything if I don’t have to.
(There was a man in line behind me who kept cracking gum in my ear. I wanted to kill him. It was still worth it, though.)
The ride is really hard to describe: it’s kind of a cross between a simulator and a… rollercoaster? OK, hold that thought: it’s totally not a rollercoaster, which was a relief to me, because I HATE rollercoasters, and had spent the entire wait going, “Is this a rollercoaster? No, seriously, is it a rollercoaster? Because I’m not going on it if it’s a rollercoaster. Do you think it’s a rollercoaster?” And no matter how many times Terry told me that, NO, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, IT IS NOT A ROLLERCOASTER, WOMAN, I wouldn’t believe him. But it wasn’t a rollercoaster. It was, as I have just learned from the Wiki page about it, a “robocoaster”. Hee! It – and I quote, because I’m lazy:
“ allows the seats to pivot while being held above the track by a robotic arm. However, the ride is not a roller coaster but a scenic dark ride. The experience includes scenes such as flying around Hogwarts castle, encountering the Whomping Willow and a horde of Dementors, and being caught in a Quidditch match. The ride performs such movements as dropping, spinning around, twisting and turning. The ride does not go upside down, though there are a few moments when riders are flat on their backs.”
It’s totally awesome. There’s also holographic versions of Harry, Ron, Hermione and a lot of the other characters (played by the actors from the movies) and… yeah, it’s just awesome. In fact, we liked it so much, we rode it twice, which turned out to be a good thing because on our first ride, the car broke down briefly. It started up again after about 30 seconds or so, so we didn’t think it was a big deal, but during the second ride, we realised we’d missed quite a bit of it, so we were glad we’d gone back. (We were also glad we’d chosen to take the “single riders” line, which, as the name suggests, means they will just slot you into any spare seat in the cars, rather than seating your party together. You do get split up from your friends/family, but only by a few minutes, and it takes the wait time from something like 90 minutes to something like 15 minutes, so it’s definitely worth doing. It also allows you to walk around singing, “All the single riders! All the single riders! Aaaaall the single riders! All the single riders!” to the tune of Beyonce’s “Single Ladies”, and that rocks, too. I’m singing it now, in fact.)
After our first ride on Forbidden Journey, we went to the Three Broomsticks, for lunch and Butterbeer:
The lunch was just OK: pretty standard theme-park fare. The Butterbeer, though, was fantastic: Terry had actually got a recipe for Butterbeer off the Internet back in December, and had made some himself, and he was pleased to find that his attempt was pretty close to what they were selling in the park. It’s super-sweet, and tastes a bit like butterscotch. It’s also impossible to drink without ending up with a pretty impressive Butterbeer Moustache, so that’s fun, too.
And that was our day at Harry Potter World. We also walked around the rest of the Islands of Adventure Park, which we’ve visited a few times now, and did some of the rides there. None of them involved giant castles and snow-capped streets, though, so we apparently didn’t take any photos for the rest of the day. There’s always next time…