We just got home from Orlando, Florida. I have to admit, not much about the state appeals to me. We went for an extended-family vacation 10 years ago, and I’d have been quite content to never go back except that my husband’s youngest brother is down there with his two kids, and so is Harry Potter.
We couldn’t get down there in April for my niece’s quinceanera, so we decided it would be our vacation destination this summer to make up for it. It was a great excuse to visit Hogsmeade and Hogwart’s School for Witchcraft and Wizardry.
We got there late afternoon Saturday and went swimming in the pool near our condo unit. At 6:45 p.m. For 45 minutes. In the shade. And it was cloudy. Guess what? All four of us burned. Guess what else? I was the sunscreen Nazi all week after that. We got little scorches here and there, but no major burns, thank goodness. (Note: Fed up with substandard sunscreens, I recently read this article and followed their guidelines. They worked!)
Monday we dragged Number Two to Cocoa Beach. She hates it.
Raised-in-New-England Me: “I have to admit, even though the water’s too warm, it’s clearer than back home.”
Number Two: “No, it’s not. It’s full of sand.”
But her father likes it, and Number One does to a certain extent, and that two hours was the only time I completely relaxed and felt at peace. I could lounge in the ocean for days.
Wednesday and Thursday were spent at Universal’s Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios. I think overall we liked Studios better. The layout is SO much more walking friendly, especially for people who hate crowds, and the rides were better. Though by the end of the day we were really tired of the format: Shuffle into a room. Wait. Get talked to, either by a video or a person. Shuffle into another room. Wait more. Get talked to more. Go into the main ride/room. Enjoy the main feature. Leave.
Our favorite ride was the Mummy. Number Two hates roller coasters, too, but she proclaimed this one “awesome!” Why? It was indoors, and in the dark. They could have done anything to her as long as she didn’t have to see it coming. 🙂
But the real highlight of the whole trip was Hogsmeade and the castle.
If you’re a Harry Potter fan, this is a must. Yeah, it’s the most crowded area of the more crowded park. But it’s FANTASTIC. The details they’ve put into it are incredible. We couldn’t stop staring up at Hogwart’s. The Hippogriff and Dragon rides are fun, too. But the most cool things (besides the castle) were drinking Butterbeer and shopping in Honeyduke’s, Zonko’s, Dervish & Banges, and “Filch’s Emporium,” the latter of which is the main store at the end of the castle ride. We skipped Ollivander’s because we have wands and they had a long line outside.
Okay, you have to overlook that they combined Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley in one place. 🙂 And I’ll admit, most of the things we bought we could probably have gotten elsewhere, possibly for less. But there’s something special about buying a Marauder’s Map mug under Hogwart’s, while on a fantastic vacation with my family. It’s a symbol, not just an object.
I know the Internet is full of reviews and advice about attending the parks and everything, but here’s mine anyway.
Buy the Express Pass. If you go for two days, get it for two days. And buy in advance. We saved $80 doing that, though the cost of tickets and express pass combined choked me. The line for Despicable Me was a wait of 100 minutes. We got on the ride in 20. It’s the best way to be sure you get to do everything you want to do, and not spend your entire day waiting. It gets you preferred seating in the shows, too.
The meal deal works, but I wouldn’t do it again. We did it for the first day and got more than our money’s worth since we stayed to park close. We wanted to eat in the Three Broomsticks the second day, and ended up eating in another sit-down restaurant, too. The prices for the Meal Deal restaurants aren’t low, but they’re more reasonable than I expected. It’s nice to get dessert, but that was the weakest part of the meal for me. There was a good range of choices, and the food was decent, but I wouldn’t have minded eating less.
Wear a hat. I think it saved me. We were lucky, because it was only super-hot in the mornings. Wednesday it was actually cool after a storm went through (while we were in Hogwart’s! Bonus!). Thursday not so much, and the hat made the sun half tolerable.
Did you go on vacation this year? Where, and how was it? If you ever visited The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, what did you think?