I’ve returned from my conquest of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and it was phenomenal! If you were to grade it, it would definitely receive an Outstanding! So, who’s┬áready for a photo-intensive run-down of the park?

If you’ve read my first DW post, you’ll know that avoiding crowds and kids is all about timing. Being there the last week of September, kids were in school mostly and adults were at work mostly. The crowd levels and lines were VERY manageable. I’d been reading about people going on The Forbidden Journey and waiting a couple of hours to ride just once. The lines were so short most of the time we just walked on a few times in a row. Same for the Dragon Challenge coasters. I’ve seen pictures of Hogsmeade during peak season and the lines just to enter the shops. No such problems for us. We even waited for the Ollivander’s show a few times, hoping we’d get picked (no such luck *sigh*). We did everything (except for Flight of the Hippogriff) at least 5 times and still had time to go through the rest of Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios.

So, what’s the park like, you ask? The main entrance takes you to Hogsmeade Station, which is where you’ll find the Hogwarts Express. You can get your picture taken with the conductor, even. On the other side of the path is Zonko’s and Honeydukes. Zonko’s is where to go to buy Extendable Ears, Pygmy Puffs and more. Honeydukes is where you’ll go to satisfy your sweet tooth with Chocolate Frogs and Bertie Bott’s Beans, amongst other treats. I got a Cauldron Cake as well, and those things are delicious. It’s chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate. Yum! Next door is The Three Broomsticks and The Hog’s Head pub. The Three Broomsticks is like a cafeteria – you’ll order your English-inspired meal and pick it up at the window. We had the Cornish Pasties and Shepard’s Pie, both of which were delicious. And that’s a vote of confidence from my friend since she’s a pretty picky eater. A word of warning, however – if you want sodas, bring it with you from somewhere else in the park. The only drinks they serve in Wizarding World are butterbeer, pumpkin juice, waters and teas. Butterbeer is liquid crack, let me tell you. They serve it either cold or frozen; it’s like a slushie. You can also get them in souvenir mugs, which of course I got. If you go the mug route, you do get discounted refills. The pumpkin juice is also delicious. If you don’t like pumpkin pies, however, just skip it. We killed a couple hours in The Hog’s Head to give our feet some time to recover from all the walking, and they have a specialty drink too. But it’s more adult. They have a micro-brew called Hog’s Head Brew, and it was a quite tasty Scottish ale. They of course also sell this is a souvenir mug.

Across from the food and drink is the entrance to the Dragon Challenge coasters. Fittingly, this is themed around The Goblet of Fire. Through the path are signs you’d imagine they would’ve had in the crowds at the tournament, then you enter a pavilion with the Goblet of Fire. You continue down a path and run into the Triwizard Cup and the eggs they are supposed to be retrieving from their dragons. You get to choose between the Chinese Fireball (red) and the Hungarian Horntail (blue). Personally I prefer the blue one because it has more twists, turns and loops than the red one.

Next up is the Owl Post, Dervish and Banges and Ollivander’s. The show inside Ollivander’s is quite fun. They shuffle you into a small room and Ollivander chooses someone from the crowd to find their wand. Usually it’s a child, much to the adults’ dismay. And by adults I mean those who are there that grew up reading the books, are avid HP fans and don’t have any kids. I understand they don’t want to discriminate, but it’s a real bummer when they pick someone who doesn’t speak English. There’s a lot of awkward pausing because the person doesn’t know what Ollivander wants them to do. The demonstration is pretty cool. Ollivander picks out a few wands, the person tries ringing bells and levitating objects to disastrous results. Then magically, Ollivander picks the right wand. Then you get spit out into Dervish and Banges and the Owl Post, where you can buy your own wand and other Hogwarts-related gear like robes, scarves and more. While in the Owl Post I got postcards for a lot of my friends. Outside there is a seating pavilion and a stand where you can get your postcards stamped from Hogsmeade and mail them off (they also sell collectible stamps inside).

Next up is the main attraction – Hogwarts Castle. On the right is the Flight of the Hippogriff, which is where you’ll catch a glimpse of Hagrid’s hut. Side note – for those who’ve been at Islands of Adventure before HP opened – the Dragon Challenge coasters were once Dueling Dragons and Flight of the Hippogriff was once Flying Unicorns. They retrofitted these rides to mesh with the new HP theme. You will have to store your belongings inside lockers for The Forbidden Journey and Dragon Challenge, but you’ll definitely want to keep your cameras in your pockets while in line for The Forbidden Journey. You’ll be passing through the dungeons, Herbology greenhouses, Dumbledore’s office, the Hall of Portraits, the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom and Gryffindor’s common room before entering the Room of Requirement to enter the ride. Take a moment to look at the ceiling before you get seated – it looks like the ceiling of the Great Hall with floating candles. The ride itself is great. Hermione transports you through the Floo network to fly and meet up with Harry and Ron on their way to the Quidditch pitch. You’re taken through a series of twists and turns while avoiding a dragon, the Whomping Willow, dementors and spiders. Overall, it was a great dark ride. One thing that bugs me though is that the staff refer to everyone as muggles – but muggles can’t see dementors, only feel their presence. So I’m not a muggle since I can see them, right? A girl can dream… The Forbidden Journey spits you out into Filch’s Emporium, which is the biggest gift shop inside HP. It’s got a really wide selection of trinkets to take home with you.

A couple of things I learned:

– Buy all souvenirs, especially chocolate, at the end of the day. You’ll avoid carrying around a lot of unnecessary weight, and in the case of chocolate, it won’t melt in the Florida sun. I got a replica of Lucius Malfoy’s pimp cane and I would have been very encumbered trying to carry that around all day.

– If going during the slow season, there’s a cut-through in line for the Dragon Challenge. As you exit the castle, there’s a path up the hill on the right that will take you back up to the castle entrance and it cuts out a lot of the line.

– Keep an eye out at all times inside the shops, you never know when you’ll see something magical in the rafters of the buildings. They even have Moaning Myrtle haunting the bathroom.

– The secondary entrance is via Jurassic Park. The bridge crossing into HP gives you a spectacular view and photo spot with Hogwarts. There’s also another butterbeer cart here that is usually not as crowded as the main one outside The Three Broomsticks. I’ve also read that this is the entrance to use during the peak seasons since most people will be taking the main entrance.

I’ve heard rumors that they’re already planning on expanding HP and completely taking over The Lost Continent, and I couldn’t be happier. They need a Leaky Cauldron and Diagon Alley. As it stands now, The Lost Continent seems kind of off since there’s not much to it now aside from Mythos and a few shows and shops. And I definitely will be going back at some point in the future during December because I can only imagine the Christmas decorations around the holidays.

I can’t wait until next time!!