This installment does not actually take place in the magical world of Disney. It takes place in another part of Florida, not too far away from Disney. It's another theme park with its own magical land nestled inside.
I'm talking about Universal Studios, ladies and gentlemen.
But not just any part of Universal Studios.
You better believe we powerwalked our happy little butts right on over to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter!
But, I'm getting ahead of myself. Our journey begins the night before, as we're chillin' out maxin' relaxin' all cool in our hotel room on Monday night. Wes and I are debating on whether we want to go back out to refill our complimentary cups for the evening, get some food, check out the arcade room, or even check out the little store. I'm busy, planning our attack of Harry Potter World for the next day when I suddenly realize I'm an idiot. In all of the traveling, flying, and packing, I completely forgot to print our tickets for Universal.
Obviously, I go into a mad panic and Wes and I go in search of a printer. What kind of a hotel has a printer for their guests? Well, in case you were wondering, this one does not. But, in our exploration for a printer, we found bathrooms and the arcade room, so it kind of evens out.
The next five minutes consisted of Wes trying to get me to go to the front desk to ask if they would print them out for me, and me not-so-calmly asking him why in the world they would print out tickets to their freaking competition.
So, in the end Wes won and we walked up to the nice lady at the front desk and wouldn't you know she offered to print those tickets right off. These Disney people are quite possible the nicest humans in existence. But, I guess you kind of have to be to work at the happiest place on Earth. I also had to assure her that the rest of the week would be spent in Disney parks because I was terrified for whatever reason.
The next morning, I find myself being picked up by yet another Uber. He was a nice guy, which I had been finding out was what Uber drivers were probably like, and off we went to the very packed drop-off location at Universal. Wes and I pretty much just followed the crowd, made our way across those things they have at airports that make you walk really fast, and we were there. Kind of. Just like Disney, this was also my first time at Universal and I was pretty much in awe here, too. You get into the park without actually getting in. There are restaurants and shops and it's all just really tall and exciting. (I'm from West Virginia if you can't tell by my amazement.)
We find our way over to the actual entrance to the park and wait in line to get in. I see other Potterheads around us, their wands already in hand. The second we're through the gate, we book it to Diagon Alley. Wes is trying to get me to look at other stuff, and I oblige him a little, but I'm really just trying to get to the only important part of this place. And there, across the water, I saw London. Well, I saw the fountain, the Night Bus, and the train station. And Sirius Black's house, no big deal.
Then we were walking through a wall and TA-DA there's Gringotts Bank, The Leaky freaking Cauldron, and Ollivanders. Like, I don't know if you can tell by my face, but I'm seriously geeking out right about now.
I mean, the dragon on Gringotts Bank BLOWS FIRE. There are witches walking around to show you how to use your wands. The Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes was all bright and cheery, looking just like it does in the movies, guy taking his hat off and on included. Obviously I'm running around like a chicken with its head cut off, completely amazed and excited.
First stop: Ollivanders. I really needed my own wand like the 12 year old I am inside. Wes and I both end up getting the interactive wands so we can practice our magic around the park. I got Hermione's wand, and, after much debate, Wes got Dumbledore's wand. We are more than ready to try these babies out. But first, we must ride.
I drag Wes towards Gringotts to ride Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts. As I wait for him to put his bag in a locker, I overhear the workers out front telling other would-be riders that the ride was having some technical difficulties and was shut down at the moment. But, within minutes, it was back up and running.
This was my first warning, to which I did not listen.
Wes comes back out, backpack in hand, having heard the same news I had. I have to assure him the ride is actually back up and running and I make him go back to actually put his backpack away this time. Finally, we're heading inside Gringotts, using the single-riders line. While it would have been semi-cool to wait and look around at everything (the details were super cool), we make our way past pretty much everyone. We head through the stone passageways and end up in a dungeon looking place with stairs leading up, up. Finally catching up to the single-riders line, we ascend the steps not too slowly and end up on the ride within minutes. 3-D glasses on and ready, we sit back in our seats inside the same looking car Potter and his friends rode in the movies. And off we go...
...for approximately two seconds before we stop and the lights come on. Insert furious face here. But, within moments, we were coasting along the tracks. Only, the lights were still on. We could see everything. We could see through the projection showing us our journey, the tracks and floors beneath us. Angrily, I take my glasses off and pout because, like I said, I'm 12. It sucks when you build something up so high inside your head, only to have it not live up to expectations. At the conclusion of our ride, the workers apologize and give us each a Universal version of a FastPass to use anywhere that day. I did not use it for another go on that ride. Which, looking back, maybe I should have.
Next, we decide to be the young witch and wizard we were always born to be and head around Diagon Alley to the designated areas we could perform some magic. I was a pretty quick learner, probably from all of the years I used a stick to say the same spells. Wes on the other hand may have been born a Muggle. No one obviously came to his door at age 11 to tell him he was a wizard.
Not to toot my own horn, but I even got the fountain spell to work on my first try after the witch on duty warned us that it hadn't been working all day. (Hey, Universal, currently looking for a job if you need another witch.)
I also got to have lunch at The Leaky Cauldron, which literally looks just like the movies and even had the same posters. I ate fish and chips like the Londoner I wish I was and drank some Gilly Water because when in Diagon Alley...
After going through every shop and trying not to let myself buy everything I saw, we made our way to the Hogwarts Express which would take us on our way to Hogsmeade Village. Did I mention I got to walk through another wall to get to Platform 9 3/4? Because I totally did and I fan-girled the whole time. They even play a super cool little movie on the window of the train as you make your way to the village!
I may have been a little train-sick afterwards, or maybe it was a mixture of eating and then riding a train. But, do you think that stopped us from riding the rollercoaster on the other side? Heck no it didn't. The ride was Goblet of Fire themed with the Tri-Wizard Tournament dragon task being our objective. You could choose to ride one of two dragons from the movie. In the end I say "yay" rollercoaster, "boo" sickness as my lunch came back to haunt me. Thankfully, no trashcans were harmed in the making of these memories.
After a few minutes, we were A-Okay, heading over to Honeydukes and passing by the Three Broomsticks. There was even some snow on the rooftops despite the rising temperatures; seems suspect to me.
After making myself pass up on a Gryffindor scarf, we make our way to the castle.
And let me tell you, I wish I could have gone to school in a freaking castle.
I know that it's a) not a real castle, b) not a real school, and c) also not the actual set used in Harry Potter, but you know that's not important in the grand scheme of things. It's completely magical, just being there, being immersed in a story that has seriously impacted people from all over the world. And seeing these recreations of things we have read about or watched on the big screen makes us all believe in magic.
Big shout out to J.K. Rowling for creating this world and allowing us all to be a part of your imagination.
Our next stop was actually going inside the castle which houses the ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Now, going in, neither of us had any idea of what this ride was. Was it a rollercoaster? A merry-go-round? Well, incase you were wondering, it was a lot like the Star Wars ride in Hollywood Studios. Remember that one? The one that had made both of us sick?
Yeah, me too. Because there we were, minutes later after using the handy single-riders line, strapping ourselves into a fast moving chair that led us out into a dark ride around Hogwarts. Super cool effects, not-so-super effects on my stomach. I met Wes outside the ride on a bench where we sat for the next ten minutes or so trying to make sure we didn't get sick
Finally, I get myself a frozen Butterbeer (which I HIGHLY suggest) and Wes gets a regular one and off we go back to the train station. Another little movie plays in our window and we arrive at the station. Now, this was the only thing I had planned for our day so we kind of just take off walking.
There are so many different "worlds" in Universal. There was a weird talking fountain in a place that looked like Agrabah, a whole section devoted to superheroes, and lots of Dr. Seuss. The only other ride we went on was the Men in Black ride, where we used our Fast Passes, and reminded us of the Toy Story ride from the day before. After that, we said adios to Universal and called an Uber to take us back to our hotel.
About an hour later, we find ourselves relaxing in the pool which literally feels like heaven. That is until the sky got dark and we had to run back to our room thanks to another of Orlando's famous pop-up storms.
That evening, we took the bus to Disney Springs where we ate at Planet Hollywood. Wes was extremely impressed with all of the movie memorabilia, which he didn't believe me was real until a Google search proved him wrong.
We spend the lovely evening walking around, completely stuffed, looking at stores and wishing we had room for something from the Ghirardelli shop.
Tired, we head back to our hotel, ready for tomorrow's adventure at Epcot.
At least, that's what we thought we were doing tomorrow.