I think there are two types of travelers: 1. People who love to go on relaxing vacations and chill at resorts where they only thing they have to worry about is getting another fruity drink. 2. People who love seeing and doing all of the things and want to do as much as they can, which leaves little time for downtime. We’ve never been really big into relaxing trips…We like to see and do as many things as humanly possible that we can’t do or see where we live. We usually jam a ton of things into every trip, even the shorter ones. I always say I can sleep when I get home 😉 Over the weekend we took a quick Friday-Monday trip down to Florida! It was my first time ever visiting the Sunshine State and I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but I really liked it!
I didn’t take my camera though, so unfortunately, I only have iPhone photos to share. If you can hang with my iPhone snaps (edited with the VSCO Cam app), then read on for more about the trip!
We started the trip with my family in Siesta Key. My aunt has a condo there and my Dad and stepmom were staying in another condo a few doors down. This beach was one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever been to! The gulf was clear, warm, and calm enough to float on just your back without having to be scared of waves. And the sand. The sand! The sand is so silky and smooth it feels like you’re walking on a pile of confectioners sugar! We rented a kayak and took it out into the gulf for a while, but there are no photos of it because I was scared to bring my phone out there.
After some quality family time we woke up before the sun and headed back to Orlando to Universal Studios! This was John’s 30th birthday gift from me, BUT I can’t lie and say that it wasn’t also kind of for me too. I’ve been wanting to go to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter since they opened the first one at Islands of Adventure a few years ago and was excited that the trip would finally give me a chance to go! I started reading the Harry Potter series the summer I turned 11 and went to get the very last book at Barnes and Noble at midnight with my mom and sister the year I turned 18, so I feel like I grew up with Harry Potter!
After reading a lot of things about WWOHP and Universal online before the trip (that’s how I am…I obsessively read up/research the destination I’m visiting before I leave) I knew to head to the Harry Potter section of the park first because it gets so busy toward the middle of the day. We started out by visiting Diagon Alley at Universal because, well, it opens an hour before Hogsmede at IOA.
THIS PLACE WAS MAGICAL. Pun (is that really a pun??) intended. I can sometimes be a more skeptical person and I have a bit of that hipster nature in me that just doesn’t care for a lot of hugely popular things like PSLs or Taylor Swift….but I freaking loved the WWOHP. I think it’s the TRUE most magical place on Earth (ha, sorry, Disney World) and it even appealed greatly to John, who’s only seen the movies and hasn’t read the books at all
12 Grimmauld place was a part of the park! One funny thing about this…SO many families were taking their photos by the door of number 13…I don’t know if they maybe haven’t read the books, or just didn’t remember it correctly, but #12 is where Harry’s Godfather, Sirius Black, lived…not #13, though that definitely sounds more spooky.
The Knight bus is also outside of Diagon Alley. You can’t actually get on it, but you can look inside and talk to the conductor…there’s also a shrunken head in the front window that talks just like the one in the movie!
We had butterbeer, of course! How can you go to the WWOHP and not?? If you’re not familiar with Harry Potter, Butterbeer is a drink that’s popular in the wizarding world. We tried both the regular and iced versions. They have a hot, too, but it’s not something that’s really good for a 90 degree day in humid Florida.
I liked the frozen butterbeer a lot! It was delicious! The cold butterbeer was okay, but not as good in my opinion. The texture of the frozen butterbeer pairs well with the creamy, butterscotch-esque flavor. John also tried Butterbeer ice cream, which was good too. PS, it is non-alcoholic, so the only side effect from drinking so many butterbeers was a sugar rush!
In my opinion, the best rides were Escape from Gringotts and the Hogwarts Express. Escape from Gringotts is an indoor 3D/4D ride, which is normally rough on me since I get motion sick, but it wasn’t too bad. I particularly liked getting to go through Gringotts bank while waiting in line.
One thing to know about the WWOHP is that there are a lot of shops to look through and they get pretty packed early on because they’re so tight. Some of the shops, like Olivanders even have lines to get in. I did not buy a wand, but I did see that you could walk around and actually use them to cast spells within the WWOHP! It seemed like a lot of fun! I kind of regret not getting one. I did get John to buy me my own stuffed Crookshanks at the “pet store”. I made a beeline to her when I got into the store and I mean, can an orange cat loving Harry Potter fan really love either one of those things if she doesn’t own her own stuffed Crookshanks??
It seemed like you didn’t really visit the WWOHP if you don’t pose on Hagrid’s motorcycle. Everyone and literally their mom were doing it! So obviously, we did it too. I thought it would be really funny to have John get in the sidecar, but apparently my idea wasn’t all that original because I later observed quite a few others doing it, too.
We also had ice cream at Florean Fortescue’s, which is where Harry Potter also got ice cream (duh). When you hang out with John, ice cream is basically a given. This was my second huge ice cream in less than 48 hours. I had choc raspberry and John had butterbeer (dude was all about some butterbeer).
When we were ready to leave Diagon Alley and head to Hogwarts we rode the Hogwarts Express! The Hogwarts Express takes you from Universal to Islands of adventure (or vice versa) and is so much fun! It is also a much easier way to get from Universal to IOA rather than walking what is probably literally a mile. They play a little video that almost looks 3D out of your “window” that basically simulates the trip to and from Hogwarts. I definitely suggest doing the train at least once in both directions because it’s different depending on which way you’re headed. I loved how realistic the King’s Cross station seemed (not that I’ve been there, but I’ve been in a train station, so I could guess it’s pretty realistic!) AND they actually have a special effect that makes it seem as though people ahead of you are passing through the wall between platforms 9 and 10 into Platform 9 and 3/4!!! They think of everything, don’t they??
At Hogsmede, the main ride is Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. And if you are at all prone to motion sickness, I’m telling you now, SKIP IT. Seriously. I took two dramamine that morning and still almost tossed every last ounce of butterbeer and mushroom breakfast pasty from the Leaky Cauldron all over the place in there. This thing spins around, has video, and is really jerky too. The downside to skipping the ride is that the line weaves its way through Hogwarts and you get to peep at Dumbledore’s office, the Gryffindor common room, the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, and more. I would suggest maybe waiting in line with a friend or someone else who wants to go and then just bounce before that ish hits the fan. Too gross of a joke?? HAHA.
When I recovered, we had lunch at the Three Broomsticks and I got to try Pumpkin Juice. I wasn’t sure if I would like it (see my earlier comments about PSLs above) but it was pretty good. It mostly tastes like cider with a ton of spices in it. It would be good heated up on a fall afternoon. It felt weird to drink it on a day where the humidity was like 88 percent.
All in all, the WWOHP is the BEST. There are so many small details hidden throughout both Hogsmede and Diagon Alley that will really appeal to die hard fans, but it’s still fun for a more casual fan like John. I think you could even enjoy it if you didn’t know much about Harry Potter at all! To get to go to both Hogsmede and Diagon Alley you have to pay for the park to park ticket. But if for some reason you can’t or don’t want to get the park to park, I would say that Diagon Alley beat out Hogsmede just slightly for me. I loved it! Hogsmede was great too though, and it’s where you can see Hogwarts!
We eventually ventured out of the WWOHP to explore the rest of Universal and IOA. I have to say that I didn’t love IOA that much, but I really liked the Jurassic Park area! They have an interactive visitor’s center that looks just like the one in the original movie.
Universal had a parade one afternoon when we were there! Spongebob, Dora the Explorer, Minions, and some other characters I didn’t know were in it. It was cute and really well done!
I thought the best ride at Universal was the Mummy Ride. It’s an indoor coaster, but has all kinds of fun effects and is really cool…plus the lines were never long.
Yes, I am short. But I am a head taller than I need to be to ride all the rides. Ha!!!
My overall opinion of Universal and Islands of Adventure are that if you really love Harry Potter, they’re definitely worth the trip, but depending on the time of year you go, one day is all you really need. Many of the other rides at Universal and IOA were the 3D indoor rides or were geared towards younger children (Minions, Shrek, etc). The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is amazing and could almost be a theme park by itself if they added a few more rides. Still, it’s so much fun that it was worth the price of entry and having sore feet by the end of the day.
I thought about this in the park and was thinking about it again as I was writing this post, but how amazing is it that something one person dreamed up became such an international phenomenon that it eventually got to be brought to life not just for the screen, but also as a tangible world for people to experience? JK Rowling was just a regular mom when she wrote Harry Potter! The idea that one person can bring so much joy to the lives of millions of people inspires and astounds me. Harry Potter meant so much to me as a kid and being able to experience a little bit of that magic in my real life was such a wonderful treat, but being there also reminded me that it’s important to always remember to make sure that your work means something.
Well, that’s about it! Not much else happened on the trip besides visiting the outlets Sunday night and my suitcase getting a free trip to Puerto Rico on the way home…but that’s another story entirely 🙂
Thanks for reading my recap of our Florida trip! To read about our other travels, click here.