The last time I visited a Universal Studios I was 10 and on a family holiday to California and I can’t believe it’s taken this long for me to make it to the Florida parks – especially since the addition of the Wizarding World I love so much.
The Florida site seems bigger for sure, and there are some new additions worth a mention (like the 4D King Kong ride) as well as some nostalgic favourites (e.g. the Jurassic Park log flume) which are starting to show their age against newer areas:
Universal Studios is actually comprised of two parks and the Wizarding World is split across both – with Hogsmeade and Hogwarts in the main park, while Diagon Alley and Gringotts are in the Islands of Adventure Park. It’s an entirely profit-driven move by Universal as you have to purchase tickets which get you into both parks to get the full experience.
Apparently there was a bidding war with Disney for the Wizarding World and Universal won. I can only assume they are still trying to recoup their expenditure because our visit was not cheap. But was it worth it…?
There are two Owl Posts – one in each park and while this one is purely decorative, you can actually use the one in Diagon Alley to send mail (including Wizarding World purchases).
For a small fortune you can also buy a wand which will make certain objects in the village windows move when you wave it at them.
There is something very unsettling about experiencing a supposedly snow-capped village in warm sunshine, while wearing tropical print shorts (ASOS Tall – Old).
But it’s even more unsettling when you’re making your way from the village to Hogwarts and you bump into a T-Rex. Don’t worry though, he calmed down after a Butterbeer (or several).
Hagrids Hut marks the entrance to the “Flight of the Hippogriff Ride” which is a smaller ride in the shadow of Hogwarts. Worth a go but by no means the main attraction in this part of the park.
The Hogwarts ride itself is like the majority of the rides in Universal Studios – a simulation coaster. You join Harry flying on a broomstick through the castle and grounds and while it’s not a patch on the Avatar Ride at Disney, it’s certainly good fun.
What Universal have done exceptionally well here and on other newer rides is to enhance the experience of queueing for the ride. Here, you wind your way through the Hogwarts grounds, via the herbology greenhouses, through corridors lined with talking portraits, passed Dumbledores office (above) and eventually into a classroom where you meet the famous 3 (Harry, Ron & Hermione) and get to experience a little magic with some more special effects.
When night falls Hogwarts is put under a new spell and it’s fabulous to watch it light up.
I had to get a picture of it in my house colours…
Part two and our second day: We entered via Universal Studios but boarded a train at Hogsmeade Station to make our way over to Diagon Alley in the Islands of Adventure park.
For me this was where the park could use some improvement as the story starts to vere away from the books and even the films. The story that plays out on the train ride throws together characters who had little to no interaction in the stories and I found it frustrating that the park and ride developers hadn’t done as much research as they maybe should have given the scale the story plays out on. And don’t even get me started on what passed for “Toad in the Hole” at the Leaky Cauldron…
Diagon Alley itself is true to fiction. It’s dominated by Gringotts (the main attraction in this part of the wizarding world) and the dragon from the seventh book spews out flames over the street sporadically.
Much like the Hogwarts ride, they’ve tried to make the queue an equal part of the attraction and it’s certainly a visual feast – but only once you get indoors.
The ride itself is thrilling – you take a runaway cart on a ride through Gringotts which will leave your stomach lurching. But again, it fell down on story for me and I found the inaccuracies too distracting from the overall experience.
Back on the Alley, you can visit Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes, Florean Fortescue’s or, if you’re feeling brave, Knockturn Alley.
There’s no show in this part of the park after dark (instead a light show plays out on the lagoon) but it’s worth taking a quick detour back to Diagon Alley before closing to see it lit up at night.
There’s a wide variety of restaurants outside the theme park and we rounded off our magical excursion with a trip to the Hard Rock Cafe.