I know, I know, I have totally slacked on my blogging and I have promised this review for quite a while now. Can I tell you I fell off my broomstick and have been in the health wing while healing?? No?? Dang. And here I thought you might actually believe me.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Islands of Adventure (wow, now THAT is a mouthful), is one of the best “themed” part of any theme park I have seen in a long time. It was so amazing that I knew I would need to talk about it all by itself. So, if you flashback to my post about what to see at IOA (or just go back and re-read it), you will remember that after passing through the Lost Continent, you come upon the Hosgsmeade arch. The thing that throws me is that, everything is covered in snow. In May. In Florida. Something is seriously off here.
Anyway, once you get in, it is almost too much for your senses to take in. ESPECIALLY if you have read all of the books and seen all the movies. It sometimes felt like stills from the movie come to life, and others like pages of the book leapt out of my imagination and onto the street in front of me.
The shops catch your eyes, but you cannot miss the giant, red train that is off to the left. Yup! It is the Hogwart’s Express, just like in the movie, coming out of a tunnel and sitting right next to Hogsmeade Station, which doubles as lockers for the Dragon Challenge roller coaster. And across from the station are shops. Lots and Lots of shops, right out of the movie. There is Zonko’s, where you can purchase an extendable ear if you wish, Dervish and Bangs, where you can get Quidditch gear, and of course, Honeyduke’s where you can get your Bernie Botts’ Every Flavor Beans and, my personal favorite, a chocolate frog. And trust me, the frog is worth the price as it is SOLID milk chocolate!! As a glutard, I have to admit to being bad and not checking to see if there was flour involved in the process anywhere, but..solid, chocolate, frog! And a Wizard card!). Plus, there is an Ollivander’s, where small groups are allowed in and one lucky person gets to be fitted with a wand. BUT, if you really, REALLY want a wand, they are available for purchase from SEVERAL locations around WWoHP.
The Dueling Dragons ride has been re-named and re-themed to the Dragon Challenge. Straight out of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, it is your very own Tri-Wizard Tournament! Actually, it seems like that is the period the entire area is themed after, if you go by the performance I saw (more later). Anywho, the bad of this is that they no longer launch the dragons at the same time so that you almost feel like you are going to bump feet with someone in the other dragon. BUT, it is themed to Goblet of Fire!!! So, the queue line outside are all flags cheering on the participants, then you pass the car that flew into the whomping willow sitting calmly next to a fir tree (yeah, it bothered me a bit as well). And then you get to enter the castle! First thing you see is the goblet in the champions tent. I admit, I tried to put my name in. As you continue on, the mermaid egg clues are behind glass. More dark tunnels and then you are asked to choose between the Chinese Fireball and the Hungarian Horntail. Then whee, inverted rollercoaster time!
You finish this, there are more stops, there is a cart with butterbeer and pumpkin juice, both yum!!!! Get the frozen butter beer though, it is yummier. It tastes like liquid butterscotch with a hint of shortbread, while the pumpkin juice is available bottled (so you can do like I did and take it home), and tastes, literally, like liquid pumpkin pie. So. Friggin. Good!!! However, I would not drink it until AFTER you have gone into Hogwarts and ridden the ride as many times as you want. For the ride is kind of violent in its motions, and even my battle-hardened stomach turned a bit, causing me to become a not-so-lovely shade of green. And behind THAT is the Three Broomsticks, a great place to kick back, eat, drink, and get out of the Florida sun.
So, you continue through town, with many a shop window to look in and explore, heading toward the castle that looms over everything…the castle that you are super excited to get in, for, if you are like me, you secretly wanted to be enrolled there.
Outside, you may catch a show featuring the lovely lasses from Beauxbottoms or the strapping strongmen from Durmstrang
But, in all honestly, the real reason you are here lies ahead. HOGWARTS!! You have the option to go single rider, which will shoot you to the head of the queue, and then you can go back and get a castle tour, which will show you everything in the queue EXCEPT the greenhouse, or you can wait in line. When I was there, the wait was about 45 minutes, but I have heard that it can be longer than 90 minutes!! I could not get great pictures inside the castle, so I am not going to put many in here, so forgive me that, and continue to use your imagination like you did with the books.
First off, you have the dungeons, and the potions class. Listen carefully, you may hear a professor speaking. Then you continue out into the greenhouse, where you snake through a traditional queue line, with some odds and ends to look at, like these guys:
Eventually you work your way back into the castle, past the founder statue, past the statue that hides the entrance to Dumbledore’s office, past other images discussed in the books, into a gallery full of photos where some are talking and moving and…YAY! You find yourself in Dumbledore’s office!! The pensieve is there, along with a wall full of other treasures, then there is Dumbledore! He talks a bit and then on to the next space…the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom, which is AWESOME!!!!! So much to see in here, then Ron, Harry, and Hermione show up. You wander a bit more, pass the Fat Lady, and you are in the Griffyndor common room. I freely admit to checking the fireplace for Sirius Black’s head to pop up, and was disappointed when it did not. You continue through the castle until you find the hat that EVERYONE wants to have on their head at least once, the Sorting Hat!
And then the ride. The ride is technically called “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.” But honestly, I think everyone just calls it “Harry Potter.” The whole premise is that you are on a broomstick following Harry and the gang on an adventure in and around the castle, in a Quidditch match, into the Forbidden Forest, and encountering all sorts of beasties from the movie. The ride vehicle is a “bench” that seats 5 people, with a shoulder harness to keep you in place. This is NOT a roller coaster, but my stomach sure felt like I was on one as the ride vehicle dipped, dropped, spun, and even had me flat on my back. And, like any good theme park ride, you exit into a gift shop.
You could easily spend the entire day in this one section of the park, and it was really, most magical.
Next time will be sooner!
(ed. note — this has been sitting on my computer for about 2 weeks while I had every night rehearsal/tech/show run because I had a photo issue to figure out. Hope you enjoy it)
Ok, so last blog I talked a lot about my difficulties in eating gluten-free at Islands of Adventure (aka IOA). This time I am going to talk about how much FUN I had!!! Before we go much further, I worked at IOA when I was in college, so I have spent a LOT of time around the park. So, this trip was really just about me enjoying the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and (trying to) get pictures with some of the Avengers.
So, you pass through the turnstiles and enter “Port of Entry”. Yeah, they got real creative with the name here. Even if you have never been on a cruise, think of what you THINK a port would be like on some island, and there you have it. Basically, this is a place where you can buy any souvenirs on the way out that you don’t want to carry through the park. Granted, not EVERYTHING is available up here, but a lot of stuff is. There is also a couple of food stands and a sit down dining establishment. Honestly, my favorite part is this sign on a bridge:
Now, if you are like me, you want to get to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter as FAST as possible. So, off to the right I went, into Seuss Landing.
I kid you not, Seuss Landing is like stepping into a Dr. Seuss book! Nothing, and I mean NOTHING is in a straight line! The palm trees were brought up from Miami after Hurricane Andrew and they all have these bends that you would never see in nature. None of the buildings have corners either. It is because over a steel frame, the builders then used a polystyrene foam and carved all of the exteriors! (if you want to learn more about how they built this section, check out: http://www.disunplugged.com/2011/03/07/creativity-and-science-collide-inside-seuss-landing/) It is really cool looking and I always feel like I stepped right into the pages of a Doctor Seuss book!! If you don’t have food allergies, pick up some Green Eggs and Ham before heading into the Cat in the Hat ride. This is your traditional “dark ride” that takes you through the story. I prefer to take a spin on “One Fish, Two Fish.” You really have to listen on this ride and steer your fish up or down, depending on what is said, otherwise you might find yourself a bit wetter then when you started. Then of course, there are your Doctor Seuss shops, including a book store to peruse. I did not catch any characters as I almost literally RAN through this part of the park (hey, I wanted to spend as much time as possible with Harry), but I know they have had The Cat in the Hat, the Grinch, Things 1 & 2, and now, the Lorax.
Right after I passed under the sign, I met with what my friend so eloquently called, “The Angry Griffin.” This, and this alone lets you know that you are entering The Lost Continent. Some of the coolest things are in this section!!! And they are not rides! Visually, it has to be my favorite because it uses these mythological types of elements in its design.
There are no rides in this part of the park, but there is one of my favorite attractions, just for what they were able to do with water. Ever walk through a water tunnel? Like, the water is spinning around you and you are NOT getting wet??? This alone is worth checking out Poseidon’s Fury. The lone show of the park is also located here. It is the Eighth Voyage of Sinbad Stunt Show. It is cute, there are stunts, it gets you out of the sun for a little bit anyway.
But for me, the real draw, and the thing I was the most excited for is from a third party vendor. For those of you who do not know,a third party vendor is someone who leases space in the park to sell their wares. And this one is pretty unique. Using a Da Vinci coin press, the Master Coinminters of Mythical Metals will create a custom coin for you to wear. Every time I visit the park as a guest I get one of these. They have over 100 different designs they can press for you, and they have sheets available for you to look at that tells you what each design means. My first coin had a phoenix on it, but I took it off for a doctor’s appointment and lost it. So this trip, I knew one side was going to be the phoenix (“immortal creature, symbolizing regeneration of man’s indestructible spirit), but the second side was the challenge. I went with the kokopelli (“wandering trader, musician and story teller among the many tribes of the American southwest.”). After you place the order, Sir Cumference sets up the press, knows how many TONS of pressure needs to be generated to displace the metal to press the images, gets people to cheer and clap, sounds the gong, then releases the press with a very loud BANG! This area of the park also has a “talking fountain” that you need to watch out for. It spits! 😉
So, the next section is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I am going to just say that it is here, that it is so awesome that it needs its own post, and move on.
If you have seen the movie, you know my next line…..Welcome, to JURASSIC PARK! If you read my previous entry, you know that this is where they have gluten-free quick service meals. The other fact worth noting is that it is located exactly half-way through the park. Happy mid-point! There are dinosaurs in the brushes, vehicles from the movies, the Discover Center from the first movie, a kids area, and the Jurassic Park River Adventures which has a KILLER drop!
And if you ever wondered what life would be like inside a comic strip, Toon Lagoon is for you! This area is very, VERY wet. Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges, Dudley Do-Right’s Ripshaw Falls, and Me Ship, The Olive. ALL of these rides have water elements. But, there are some fun signs with cartoon captions that you can take pictures under, if you remember Marmaduke, you can get a picture of being dragged down the street after him, and there are some characters here to get pictures and autographs with. I did not see them, but they are there.
Lastly, we come to my second favorite part of the park. Marvel Super Hero Island! So, if you did not know, Marvel is now owned by Disney, but through some legal….something….Marvel Super Hero Island still exists. And I am so HAPPY that it does! The best ride I have EVER been on is here (The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man), and it is worth going on once, if not twice. Since I was last there in 2007, they have updated the graphics and smoothed out the ride even more. It is about 50-BAJILLION types of awesome. PLUS, there is the Incredible Hulk roller coaster. This was one of the first coasters to use the electro-magnetic launch, so you get on, move just out of the station into an incline, the magnets grab on and SHOOT you out the rest of the tube and into a loop. It is AMAZEBALLS!! Seriously awesome!! If you want to pick up a couple of comics you can do that, and they have the Marvel Super Heroes, and a couple villains to get your pictures with! Spider-Man is there pretty much all of the time, but Captain America, Cyclopes, Wolverine, Rogue, Storm, Doctor Doom and the Green Goblin are out and about as well. This trip I SO wanted to take pictures with all of them, got one with Goblin, was taking one with Spidey, went into a pose and my pants ripped from button to kneecap. OOOOPS!!! Thank GOODNESS I was standing BEHIND him when this happened!!! At first, one of the employees offered to go up to the front of the park to buy me a pair of pants sing her discount, but a manager stepped in, another employee gave me her coat to tie around and cover myself, and we headed into Toon Lagoon to find some shorts. This FANTASTIC employee (who I told Guest Relations about, and her manager), took me to 3 different retail locations until we found a pair of pants that I liked and were in my size. Sadly, this adventure met that I was unable to get any more pictures, as I had to head over to the Mouse House to work an evening shift. =(
It was a seriously fun day, you could EASILY spend a day in this park. Hell, you could spend a day in Harry Potter, and I have not even talked about that yet. If you have food allergies, pack snacks because the options are very few, very slim, and VERY far apart. But it is fun and worth the money I spent getting in.
If you have not gathered by now, I am a bit of a theme park nut. Not only did I have annual visits to Cedar Point growing up, but I moved to Orlando (after a boy) and lived and worked at either Universal or Disney over the better part of the 8 years I was there. Since I am still Seasonal at the Mouse House, I have made many return trips. But I had not been back to Universal Studios since they opened the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. And as a Potter fan I was determined to right that wrong this trip. (it also helped that I am now working again and could afford the ticket. But that is just details).
Anyway, I knew in advance I was going, so I decided to look online to see what the Gluten-Free options were. Basically, they told me to see a chef at one of their “Fine Dining” establishments. Oh oh. This could be very, very bad as my budget, both time and monetary, was for quick service dining. So, I was scared.
But, Friday morning came and I headed out to get my ticket for Islands of Adventure (aka IOA). After you find your parking in their GINORMOUS parking garages (I take a picture on my phone of where I park so I can remember), you walk. A lot. Before you reach the park entrance. So, you walk to a hub between the 2 parking garages, then you walk to CityWalk, then you walk THROUGH CityWalk, then you pick your direction. Right leads you to Universal Studios Florida, Left takes you to IOA. And past Margaritaville, which is always tempting. But the park icon is always there, leading you in like a sailor lost at sea.
So, it is always better to buy your ticket online. Learned that the hard way. The longest line I stood in all day was the line to get into the park. But it made for some fun people watching.
Once inside the park, I made my way to Guest Relations. I should have known I was in for a hard time when the person at the desk had to ask someone else what they had. When they finally found someone, I asked if they had a printout of their GF dining options. The person tried to tell me, but I told him that I would forget if I did not have a printout and I would like a list so I could peruse it at my leisure. And I had to ask a couple of times. After receiving the printout, I learned why. They spend a paragraph talking about how great the chefs are at their 4 full-service restaurants (2 in each park), in dealing with guests with gluten allergies and creating meals to “suit individual tastes and needs.” Mention was also made about how Confisco Grille at IOA has a dedicated GF menu with the following options: “Pesto Penne & Tomato Basil, made with rice noodles: Mussels; and Caesar Salad.”
I am going to actually type out the next paragraph regarding the quick service because it made me see red. And I quote: “We are pleased to provide a variety of gluten-free quick-service options. The International Food & Film Festival in USF, and the Thunder Falls Terrace in IOA, offer the following gluten-free items: roasted chicken; smoked chicken; smoked ribs; smoked turkey legs; roasted potatoes with onions, fresh herbs, salt, and pepper; roasted corn; baked potatoes; french fries cooked in canola oil; and salads.” 1 restaurant in each park offering the same menu is a “wide variety??? Plus, you know, the fruit that is available throughout the park is safe.
Needless to say, I was not a very happy person. A variety of options, with 1 food option. I am going to blog later about how much I enjoy this park, but I want to finish up on the food. Hopefully y’all will come back to read the next part where I go all giddy and fangirl.
When I finally made it to Thunder Falls, located inside the Jurassic Park section, the first thing that I noticed was that the
food was served cafeteria style. That put me on alert. Then I talked to a supervisor, who was not much help, and finally got Chef Reuben. Reuben was very good about answering my questions, letting me know that while the food was GF, it was prepared in a central facility that might not be, and while I could have BBQ sauce from the line, i could not get it out in the restaurant, because that one was GF. My options were: Rotisserie Chicken, the BBQ Chicken, the Rotisserie/BBQ combo platter, and the Grilled Chicken Salad. Then I was told to join the line, and ask that either he, or Youza (his 2nd) make my meal. So, waited in a long line for food, asked for Youza, and she put my Rotisserie Chicken plate together in the kitchen and brought it out to me.
And it was….alright. The portion was HUGE and I did not eat again that night, but the flavor was just average. But Youza and Reuben were fantastic. So, on my way out I wanted to make sure they got recognized for being knowledgeable when no one else in the restaurant was. And the new person in Guest Relations told me I didn’t have to leave Harry Potter to eat after all! Not on the list of places to eat is the Three Broomsticks. So, you can have everything served at Thunder Falls at the Three Broomsticks, as well as Potato Leek Soup and a Wedge Salad. And it is not served cafeteria style. Wish I had known that in advance…
Med Soda: $2.59
Rotisserie Chicken Platter: $10.99
No piece of mine that I was not contaminated.
Next time, I am bringing my own lunch in.
Later this week I want to talk about how much fun IOA is!
Thanks for reading!