Today was the big day! I was off to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
The park opens at 9am, and I’d already purchased and printed my ticket. I’d heard that lines often start quite early, so I wanted to get there nice and early. The hotel I was staying at advertised they were only a 15 minute walk from the park, but I thought they might have been exaggerating a bit.
I set my alarm for 7.30am, got dressed and hurried down for breakfast. Breakfast wasn’t included in my stay, but there was a restaurant with a choice of buffet or ordering from a menu. I didn’t really want the buffet because I wasn’t particularly hungry, but I figured it would be quicker than ordering so went with it. After a quick serve of bacon and eggs, I was on my way!
It turns out the hotel really was only 15 minutes from the entrance to the park. I wasn’t too sure how to get there, but there were a couple of other people walking as well so I followed them and found my way. When I got to the entrance, there was a short queue of people purchasing tickets, but since I already had my ticket I could go straight to the barriers. I showed my ticket, and they scanned my fingerprint to use as a pass-out if I wanted to leave and come back later.
In the middle of the park is a big lake, and there are separate themed worlds around the lake. The Harry Potter section is on the opposite side of the park to the main entrance, so there was still a little way to walk to get there. I was getting distracted by Dr Seuss and The Lost Continent and had to remind myself what I was there for! I figured I could come back to them later in the day if there was time, and most of the crowd seemed to be heading towards Harry Potter. Fortunately, when I got to Harry there were a lot of people but it wasn’t too crowded and the queues weren’t too bad.
The first thing you see is the gates to Hogsmeade, and off in the distance the towers of Hogwarts peak over the buildings. It was so exciting! Just inside the gate is the Hogwarts Express and the shops of Hogsmeade line the path up to Hogwarts. I stopped for a photo with the train conductor, then continued up the path to Hogwarts.
I wanted to go on the Forbidden Journey first because that’s the main ride and based on reviews I’d read the queues grow very quickly. The ride is inside the Hogwarts castle, and when I got there the sign said there was already a 75 minute wait! I followed the crowds into the queue area, and we walked non-stop for about 5 minutes through the area that was fenced off and set aside for a queue, but the queue hadn’t filled it yet.
Once we caught up with the actual queue, I had to wait for about 10 minutes, then we came to a section where there are lockers to leave bags while riding. I dropped off my backpack, then went back to queue. At that point, it goes in two directions – a queue for people riding with friends, and a queue for single riders. The single rider queue skipped almost all the way to the front, with only another 10 minutes to wait! The queue is inside the corridors of Hogwarts which are very detailed, complete with moving and talking portraits. The sorting hat was there to give us a safety warning before boarding the ride.
The Forbidden Journey ride is amazing. The overall story is that Dumbledore has opened Hogwarts to Muggles for the day, and Harry, Ron and Hermione want to take us on a tour of the castle. Hermione has enchanted a bench to fly so that we can follow Harry and Ron on their broomsticks through Hogwarts and the grounds.
Hermione appears on a balcony to welcome us to Hogwarts, then casts a spell to make the bench fly. From there the bench flies through a cloud of green smoke and we’re in Hogwarts. The ride is a combination of state of the art motion simulation and actual 3D models. Harry and Ron give us a wave from their brooms and then we’re off, flying past Hogwarts, dodging walkways and turrets. The video is incredible and actually feels 3D. I was ducking my head and dodging things, actually feeling like I was flying past the castle.
We stop for a second and Hagrid says “hello”, a massive chain dangling from his hand – he’s lost his dragon! All of a sudden there’s a fireball burst and we’re being chased by the dragon. The bench dips into a corridor, the screen moves aside and we’re actually in the castle. The dragon’s claw starts to tear through the roof, then his head appears and blasts us with a damp burst of steam.
The bench flies away and we’re in the forest, massive cobwebs hanging from above. The bench continues to twist and turn through the trees, then Aragog comes out of the shadows, hisses and squirts us as we are whisked away into a cavern.
It’s the Chamber of Secrets! Along the ground is the basilisk skeleton and animal bones. There’s a crash and a bang, and the dragon has found us! The screen discretely slips in front and Harry flies in from the side yelling for us to follow because the cavern is collapsing! With rubble falling and smoke building, we burst through into daylight and right in the middle of a Quidditch match.
Malfoy bumps Harry and yells insults, then we race around the pitch and under the stadium seats. It’s an incredible ride, and I kept ducking to avoid low lying wooden supports. After a couple of laps we fly back to the castle, through the doors and into the Entrance Hall. The students and some of the Professors are there with Dumbledore to welcome us back into the castle. Dumbledore casts a spell, we tumble through green smoke again and the bench is back to normal and the ride is over. It was amazing!
Since the singles’ queue was so short, I got off the ride and went straight back around for another go. Fortunately the exit comes out near the lockers, so I didn’t have to go all the way back through the queue area. While I was waiting for my second turn, I overheard the people in front talking about the tour of the castle. It turns out that the normal queue winds through the castle and some of the classrooms, but the singles queue skips it. Fortunately, you can just walk through the corridors afterwards so I did that after my second ride. With the castle tour, the queue actually becomes part of the ride because you walk through Dumbledore’s office and he welcomes you to Hogwarts, then Harry, Ron and Hermione are in the History of Magic classroom where Hermione says to meet her at the Room of Requirement where the bench is waiting. The talking portraits were very convincing, and didn’t even look like TV screens – they actually looked like paintings that were moving. Throughout the day I was impressed by the detail and effort put into the decorations around the park.
The Forbidden Journey exits into Filch’s Emporium, a shop selling all sorts of Harry Potter merchandise, including t-shirts, jumpers, scarves, beanies, bags and collectibles. I spent some time browsing and bought myself a small Ministry of Magic satchel, then went outside to explore the park. It was a hot, clear day and Hogwarts looked brilliant up on the hill.
As I walked towards the shops at Hogsmeade, the students of Durmstrang and Beauxbatons walked past. They were announcing that they would be doing a show later in they day, and stopped for some photos.
After spending some time in the shops, I made my way to Hagrid’s Hut to go on the Flight of the Hippogriff ride. This is a ‘family friendly’ roller coaster, where the train is shaped like a hippogriff. The track goes up and down and around a little bit, but there are no loops or spirals. Unfortunately there wasn’t a singles queue for this one, and I had to wait 40 minutes. It’s possible to purchase express tickets, but it was $60 for the day and is only applicable for a single ride on Flight of the Hippogriff and Dragon’s Challenge (the other Harry Potter roller coaster) so I decided it wasn’t worth it. The ride was ok, but was over in a minute or two and was quite rough. I was glad I tried it out, but I didn’t feel like queuing to go on it again.
To add to the theme, the staff around the park were all in Harry Potter costumes, but they were wearing different clothes depending on the area. In the shops they were wearing different types of wizarding robes, and at the Forbidden Journey they were wearing Hogwarts uniform. At the Flight of the Hippogriff ride they were wearing clothes similar to what Hagrid wore in the films, and the Dragon Challenge ride was in the theme of the Triwizard Tournament. Also, they kept calling all the park visitors Muggles. It was a lot of fun.
After riding the Hippogriff, it was time for lunch. Within Hogsmeade there’s the Hogs Head and the Three Broomsticks. These are actually under the same roof, but the bar area is themed as the Hogs Head and the Three Broomsticks serves food. The food served there has a British theme, and I had cornish pasties with salad and, of course, a Butter Beer!
I don’t know what I was expecting of Butter Beer, but it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. It was a cross between creamy soda mixed with butterscotch, and the foamy head had a creamy vanilla flavour. It was very sweet, but I loved it. It was so exciting to be actually drinking it! Naturally, I chose to get the souvenir tankard.
After lunch, I joined the queue to visit Ollivanders. Unlike the other shops which are actual shops, this one is interactive and involves a short wand choosing ceremony. They let about 20 people into the store at a time, and Ollivander picks someone from the audience and a wand selects them. It was really hot in the queue, and there was no shade, but it was definitely worth it!
Ollivander chose a young boy to come forward, and handed him three different wands, one at a time. Just like in the first film when Harry gets his wand, the boy pointed the wands at various things around the room to see if the wand was right for him. The bunch of flowers wilted, and the boxes on the shelves rattled and shook for the first two. But, when he picked up the third wand there was a bright light and a gust of wind – he had found his wand!
After the show, we all moved into the Post Office where there were wands and other things for sale. It was pretty crowded, and I’d been there earlier in the day, so I decided to move on.
It had been long enough after lunch that I thought my tummy was settled enough to tackle the Dragon Challenge. I’ve never been on a roller coaster that loops or spirals, and was a bit apprehensive – but it was Harry Potter World and I couldn’t not go on the ride!
So, I joined the queue doing my best not to think about it until I was seated. Each car carried four people. I was on the right hand side, next to a girl who was looking pretty calm. I asked her if she’d been on the ride before, and she replied no but she had been on something similar in Singapore. Her advice was to hold on and look straight ahead… The car started moving, and we crawled up the first hill. The roller coaster paused a moment at the top, then we were off! At times I didn’t know if I was up the right way or upside down. It was pretty exciting, although it was over pretty quickly and I felt pretty wobbly afterwards. Not sure that I’d go on a ride like that again, but I’m glad I’ve done it once.
I needed to take a break after that, so I bought a pumpkin juice (ingredients were a mix of apple juice, pumpkin puree and apricot puree – it was a rich fruity flavour with a strong cinnamon flavour) and sat under a tree in the Lost Continent next door for a while, watching a talking water fountain squirt water at some kids.
After that, I went back to Hogsmeade to check out the shows. Every half hour they alternate between the toad choir and a performance by the Beauxbaton and Durmstrang students. I got back there just in time for the toad choir, which was pretty cool. The choir is based on the Prisoner of Azkaban film, and there were two singing toads and a couple of students accompanying them. The Slytherin girl kept standing off to the side with her arms crossed, shooting angry glances at the Ravenclaw guy, and the conductor had to keep pulling her back into the group. The toads were pretty clever, sitting on pillows and ‘singing’ (pretty sure they were puppets…) Overall it was a good performance, but super hot in the 35 degree sun! I felt a bit sorry for them dressed in their full length robes.
The next show was on in 20 minutes, so I went for a quick walk to grab a bottle of water, then came back to the stage. The Durmstrang and Beauxbatons students walked onto the stage, then both did a dance. It was very similar to their introductory dances in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. The boys did an athletic dance with their wooden staffs, then the girls did a dance with their ribbons – both were pretty cool to watch.
From there I went back to the Dragon Challenge, this time equipped with my bag and camera and no intentions of getting back on the roller coaster. There were a lot of decorations along the path to the roller coaster, including the Goblet of Fire and Triwizard Cup. The whole area was cleverly designed to match the dragon challenge from the film, starting in the champions’ tent then going through to “battle the dragons” (ride the roller coaster).
After that I’d seen most of what the Harry Potter section had to offer, so I decided to spend a couple of hours exploring the rest of the park. I walked back past Hogwarts, then off into Jurassic Park.
The Jurassic Park section was filled with jungle plants, and had a visitor centre very similar to the one featured in the movie. In the centre there were activities like dinosaur egg incubation where you could x-ray and analyse eggs to determine the dinosaur inside, and a big T-Rex skeleton. There’s a River Adventure ride, and a dinosaur themed playground for kids.
After that is Toon Lagoon themed with cartoon characters, followed by Marvel Super Hero Island. Just as I was passing through, Spiderman and a few other Marvel super heroes drove down the main street to take photos with park visitors – it was very good timing!
I stopped near the entrance of the park for a snack, then continued on to Seuss Landing. It was a cool area, filled with larger than life Dr Seuss characters. It felt just like I’d stepped into a Dr Seuss book. I went on the Cat in the Hat ride, a cruisy trip through the story of Cat in the Cat in a slowly rotating car – not bad for a bit of fun.
The final section is the Lost Continent with an Arabian nights vibe. There was a really good looking ride called Eighth Voyage of Sindbad, but it was closed as I went past, so I just kept going back to Harry.
By now it was about 6pm, with the park open until 9pm. I wandered around the shops a bit more, and bought a few souvenirs. It was nice exploring at this time, because the crowds had died down a lot and it was much easier to get around. That being said, the crowds throughout the day weren’t as bad as I was expecting. Most of the reviews I had read before going there had probably been written just after the park had opened and it was still super busy.
I didn’t want the day to end, so I grabbed another butter beer then just sat in the park soaking up the magic and watching the sun set over Hogwarts. It was a really nice way to end a special day.
The shops slowly started to close and they called for last rides. The crowds thinned right out, and a bit after 9pm I waved goodbye to Hogwarts and made my way back through Hogsmeade for the last time.
I was exhausted after such a big day, so didn’t stop and spend any time in the Universal City Walk. It looked exciting, with lots of restaurants and bars, but I was just too tired. Also, the shuttle bus was coming to collect me at about 3.30am that night to catch my 7am flight on to San Francisco so I wanted to try and get a few hours sleep before that.
I went back to the hotel, bought a quick caesar salad from downstairs, and threw my stuff together ready to pack in the morning. I flicked through my photos, reliving the day, then went off to bed. The day was even better than I had hoped for – I had an amazing time!