The things you've heard are true. This place is amazing.
As part of my August 2011 trip to Orlando, I had to see the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Day Two (Friday, August 26, 2011): Universal's Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida
I made sure I was in front of Disney's Yacht Club Resort early to catch the Mears shuttle to the Universal Orlando Resort. This shuttle pick-up must be arranged the day before your visit, and Mears will give you a choice of times. My shuttle was due to arrive at 9:15 am, and it actually arrived early. Be aware that the shuttle will almost certainly stop at different hotels, as mine did. My shuttle also went to the Walt Disney World Dolphin, Disney's Old Key West Resort, Disney's Saratoga Springs Resort, and one of the hotels near Downtown Disney. The shuttle then went back to the first stop (the Dolphin) to pick up someone that missed the shuttle.
The first group of people to get picked up at the Dolphin, a guy from New York and his two kids, were understandably in disbelief that we had to go back. It was very frustrating, and we lost about an hour. I bumped into the New York guy later that day at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, then the next day at Disney's Hollywood Studios (in line for Toy Story Midway Mania). Due to Hurricane Irene, they had to extend their stay in Orlando.
Universal's Islands of Adventure closed at 8:00 pm and Universal Studios closed at 7:00 pm that day. I had a one day, two park hopper pass, and got to the parks after 10:00 am, so the clock was ticking!
The first stop was Universal's Islands of Adventure, hanging a right towards Seuss Landing. As I got closer to the Lost Continent section of the park, it was clear that everyone was going to the same place. The Hogsmeade sign welcomes visitors to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
In the background, you can see the blue track of the Dragon Challenge roller coaster.
Hogsmeade was a sea of humanity.
The intimate, interactive shops and eating locations at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter were bustling with activity. These establishments include Ollivanders (the place to get a wand), Dervish and Banges, Zonko's Joke Shop, Honeydukes (for candy), Three Broomsticks and Hog's Head. I did not get to see the eating locations at all.
Hogwart's Express is a popular photo spot.
Hogsmeade is filled to the brim with layers of detail.
Quite a bit of the merchandise found in these shops can be found in Universal's other stores on property or at the Universal airport retail locations, but that's beside the point. The draw here is that people want to visit the world created by J.K. Rowling that they know from the movies and books. Universal did an amazing job.
I made sure to visit the Owl Post and send a postcard to a rabid Harry Potter fan that I know.
Some of these locations have exclusive merchandise you won't find anywhere else.
I only saw this Owl Post Key chain at the Owl Post.
I am kicking myself now because I saw a sculpted Hogwarts gold pin at Universal Studios and I did not buy it. I did not see the pin anywhere else.
There is so much waiting to be discovered at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
You'll find surprises everywhere.
At Honeydukes, you can find Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans and Chocolate Frogs.
My favorite souvenir from Islands of Adventure is this Chocolate Frog pin.
Open up the box and you'll find a PVC Chocolate Frog inside. It really smells like chocolate! When I got home from my trip, the inside of my suitcase smelled like chocolate. You can also find a key chain version of the Chocolate Frog.
Remember when Harry Potter was just a kid in the Sorcerer's Stone days?
I didn't see any LEGO sets at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I'm using them to tell a story here.
Anyway, didn't you always wish you could fly with Harry Potter, Ron and Hermione?
Well, Harry Potter is all grown up now. But now you can fly with him at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Yes, at the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey attraction, you can soar through the skies with the gang at Hogwart's. You'll even see Neville.
The Forbidden Journey is unlike any other ride I've experienced. The attraction vehicles are attached to a KUKA robot arm, which pitches riders up and down, careening through Hogwart's and getting up close and personal with a gigantic dragon, Dementors, a Whomping Willow and some nasty spiders.
This attraction mixes film and animatronics, and it gets rather intense. Universal did not pull any punches, and the tone of this ride is like that of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (my favorite Harry Potter film). I thought the most exhilarating sequences were the ones where the vehicles flew through actual sets, encountering the giant animatronic creatures (especially the dragon, who is inches away from you).
I used the Single Rider line for Forbidden Journey, and only had to wait a few minutes. Given how crowded the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is, it is impressive that the regular wait time for Forbidden Journey was only 30 minutes. This seems like a high-capacity ride.
After my ride on the attraction, I saw some kids running up to their parents (who did not ride) all excited about the experience. The family was from England, and the parents were wishy-washy about riding. I told them, "you came all this way----you have to do it!"
The wait times for the rides at the Wizarding World were not bad at all. Dragon Challenge (formerly Dueling Dragons) was a walk-on when I rode that later on in the day. Part of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is made up of a section of Islands of Adventure called The Lost Continent. This includes the former Dueling Dragons roller coasters and former The Flying Unicorn roller coaster.
The Flying Unicorn was probably the most masculine looking Unicorn ever, looking sort of like a Trojan Horse.
The Flying Unicorn was re-themed to become Flight of the Hippogriff.
Flight of the Hippogriff is a mild family roller coaster.
The wait time for this was listed at 20 minutes, but the line seemed to move quickly.
The queue weaves through a forest, and under the coaster track (it's fun to see and hear the coaster roar overhead).
I knew that there was an animatronic Buckbeak here, so I had to check this out.
Buckbeak is in his nest here.
It was tough to get a good picture of him from the queue.
You can really seem him well on the coaster, right after you leave the loading station, before the lift hill.
What is Buckbeak? A Hippogriff, of course.
It's like a griffin, but instead of having the body of a lion, he's got the body of a horse.
They did not sell this LEGO Hippogriff at Universal. I've had this for years.
There was a nice Buckbeak plush for sale. I should have taken a picture of that.
Lots of artistic touches make the Wizarding World a special place.
The pupils at Hogwarts go through some intense training.
Luckily, they have some help. Harry has Hedwig the owl.
If you are looking for these toys, you'll have to try a good time traveling spell, since they were sold years ago (I have Hedwig). Or you can try eBay.
It's time to try some Butterbeer! There was a long line for this drink.
You can get a regular Butterbeer or a Frozen Butterbeer. I tried both.
I would call Butterbeer a dessert drink. It is not thirst-quenching, especially on a sunny August day in Orlando.
Of course, I had to get the special plastic Butterbeer Mug!
I then had to carry the Mug with me through Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios.
That's why I bought some cargo shorts before my vacation. The Butterbeer Mug rode lots of rides with me, safely in my pocket.
As I was walking through Jurassic Park, which is next door to the Wizarding World, I started to wonder just how far Universal was willing to go with a Harry Potter expansion. Could Jurassic Park's dinosaurs go extinct in the near future? No way, you say? Tell that to Back to the Future and King Kong.
The Jurassic Park River Adventure could be transformed into a Harry Potter ride. There's lots of Harry Potter creatures that could be substituted for dinosaurs.
The Gringotts roller coaster seen in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 is just begging to be turned into a ride somewhere at Islands of Adventure.
I passed through Jurassic Park, but did not have time to stay for any attractions there.
Universal spared no expense with the detail work at Jurassic Park.
Up next was a visit to Toon Lagoon, and a ride on Popeye and Bluto's Bilge-Rat Barges. I had never been on this ride before.
My previous visit to Islands of Adventure in 2009 was also my first visit. It was in November and kind of chilly outside. Having ridden the Bilge-Rat Barges now, I'm glad I didn't go then. You will not just get wet on this ride. You will get drenched. If the rapids don't get you soaked, the boat washing machine will.
This is the best raft ride I've been on, with fun animatronics of Popeye, Olive Oyl and Bluto (I didn't see Sweet Pea, but I think he was there).
Up next was Dudley-Do Right's Ripsaw Falls. This is also a great water ride with animatronic characters.
The drop at the end is great. You will also get soaked on this ride.
Passing through Toon Lagoon, Bullwinkle was posing for pictures.
For years, Toon Lagoon was rumored to get a Simpsons "Otto-Mobile" ride. Instead, the Simpsons replaced the Back to the Future ride at Universal Studios.
Up next was Marvel Super Hero Island, for a spin on the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man.
This is one of my favorite Universal attractions. Spider-Man riders put on 3D glasses and board ride vehicles to take a thrilling adventure with the famous web-slinger.
You'll join forces to defeat some of Spider-Man's foes.
After The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, it was time to go to Universal Studios Florida.
Getting to Universal Studios from Islands of Adventure is easy. The two parks are connected by a shopping district called Universal CityWalk (that's where I ate dinner).
There, you'll find all kinds of shops and dining locations.
At Universal Studios Florida, I experienced the E.T. Adventure, The Simpsons Ride, Men In Black Alien Attack, Revenge of the Mummy and Shrek 4-D. Universal Studios Florida will get its own trip report.
After my visit to Universal Studios, I went back to Islands of Adventure. I rode Dragon Challenge, which was a walk-on. Maybe I'm going blind or just getting old, but navigating part of the indoor queue line in near-total darkness was difficult for me (another person in line told me I could follow him). I had a similar problem at the Single Rider Line of Revenge of the Mummy at Universal Studios (climbing up stairs in total darkness).
I then went back to Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, using the Single Rider line again. I was about to board and the ride shut down. The work lights came on, and it was interesting to see the load station illuminated. After about five minutes, the ride started back up. I imagined someone getting stuck in the scene with the big animatronic dragon breathing fire right in their face over and over again.
After Harry Potter, it was time for the Incredible Hulk Coaster at Marvel Super Hero Island. I love this roller coaster, which was the last ride of my day.
On the left hand side of this picture, you can see Seuss Landing.
Seuss Landing brings the world of Dr. Seuss to life.
I walked through Seuss Landing, but did not have time to experience any of the attractions on this visit.
One the rides found here is based on One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.
These keychains were available back in 2004.
At Seuss Landing, you'll see a giant red and white striped stovepipe hat. It's home to The Cat In The Hat: Ride Inside.
This is a fantastic dark ride.
The ride features animatronic figures and couch vehicles that spin.
The Cat in the Hat ride vehicles are very similar to the ones at Men In Black Alien Attack at Universal Studios.
Thing 1 and Thing 2 make sure that something goes terribly wrong on the ride.
I saw people wearing Thing 1 and Thing 2 shirts everywhere in Orlando.
Years ago, a Mt. Crumpit Grinch sleigh ride coaster was rumored for Seuss Landing.
The ride was never built, but Universal's Islands of Adventure does host a special event called Grinchmas during the holidays.
Woody used to be the mascot for Islands of Adventure. I think Harry Potter is now.
The Islands of Adventure PVC figures were available back in 2004 at one of Universal's Outlet Mall stores.
What a great day at Islands of Adventure!
I was Courageous. I was Outrageous. I was Extraordinary! Just like their slogan says.
Before you leave the park, you might want to check out the shop right before the exit. It's marked-down merchandise, and you may see something cool (I sure did!). Universal Studios also has a store like this.
A note about the Mears shuttle: For the return trip, you need to call Mears two hours before you want them to pick you up, and you'll get to choose a time. Everyone taking the shuttle was ready early, and the return trip was fast.
Up next: A better look at Universal Studios Florida!