Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Becky Does Orlando: Part Two

Day Two (pedometer count:  12,813+ steps)

Day Two we decided to try the shuttle.

A benefit of Alex being close enough to drive in (he's in Tampa) was that he had a car and could act as our chauffeur.  But the hotel had a free shuttle to all the nearby parks and in the interest of saving gas - and parking money - we decided to try it.

It was a short-lived experiment.  By later that afternoon, we were back to Alex and his car.


The difference between Universal Studios and Universal Islands of Adventure was palpable from a distance.

Not that we spent much time wandering through the various portions of the park, mind you.  No, we made a beeline to the furthest corner of the park, where the holy grail was waiting for us.  The mother of all theme park experiences.  The reason the three of us had decided that Orlando was the place to meet up:  The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

The thing about the Wizarding World is that you can see it from most other places in the park.  Look up while you're in Jurassic Park and there's Hogwarts.  But when you're in the Wizarding World, you can't see anything else.  You are completely ensconced in the illusion, and what an incredible illusion it is...

...or rather, an incredible illusion for those of us who are Harry Potter fans.  I think most of the nuance was lost on Alex, who had only read the books once, years ago, and who thought Sam and I were out of our minds to be as excited as we were.

I will say that the one thing that (stupidly) didn't occur to me before we got there was that this is a Universal attraction, and Universal is in the business of making movies.  Ergo, the basis for everything in the park was the Harry Potter movies and not the Harry Potter books.  Not that this made any large difference one way or the other, but I'm not entirely sure that a book purist who hadn't seen the movies would have been as enthralled as the general public seemed to be.

After gawking for several minutes, we headed to Ollivander's wand shop where we stood in line for close to half an hour before being taken into a dark room straight out of Sorcerer's Stone.  It was there that we met Ollivander (or at least someone who looked, er, actually nothing like him...but he was old) standing amidst shelves and shelves of wands.

Ollivander chose a boy from the twenty-five of us or so in the room and went through the process of having a wand "choose" the boy.  The kid was first given a wand that wouldn't Lumos for him, then a wand that "wilted" some flowers when he tried to Aguamenti them ("Oh, I'm sorry!" the boy said, comically genuinely, when the flowers flopped over), and then finally, after a pensive, "I wonder..." from Ollivander, the boy was given a wand that caused him to be bathed in light and the Harry Potter soundtrack to blast from surround sound speakers.  It was, in a word, awesome.

"But that's the wand that chose him!" the boy's mother said as we were ushered out of the room and into Dervish and Banges...

...where all of us could buy a wand, just like the boy's, for the bargain price of $30.

"Yeah, and it's $30!" said some other relative in return.  Blinded by the staggering array of Harry Potter-themed merchandise, I tuned out their conversation at that point, although I did later see them at the check-out, buying the wand.

When we left Dervish and Banges, Sam having bought a replica of Snape's wand which she would later trade out for an original wand in its own Ollivander's-brand box, we headed to the main ride of the Wizarding World:  Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.  On the walk to Hogwarts, we caught the tail end of the Triwizard Spirit Rally and agreed we should come back later in the day to catch the whole thing.

Though Hogwarts isn't as large as its creative construction and tricks of perspective make it out to be, it's still an impressive sight to behold as you walk up to it.

Our wait was estimated at 30 minutes, but for a ride that anticipates lines as long as 5 hours, our "wait" was little more than the amount of time it took us to walk through Hogwarts castle to get to the ride itself.  Along the way we saw the Mirror of Erised...

...walked through one of Professor Sprout's Herbology greenhouses (Mandrakes seen below)...

...sauntered past the house points system (to the right)...

...stopped in front of Dumbledore's office...

...walked through a talking portrait gallery, where the four founders argued amongst themselves about Quidditch...

...saw Dumbledore in his office (in hologram form, which was infinitely more impressive in real life than in this picture, unfortunately)...

...hit up the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom...

...where the trio, who didn't turn out well in photographs, played around with Harry's invisibility cloak...and after a stop by the Fat Lady's portrait and a glimpse of the Sorting Hat...

...we wound up in a room where candles appeared to be floating in midair around us and - quickly, quickly, it's all moving very fast now - into the ride we went.

After all that, you'd think the ride itself would be just a footnote, but it was incredible.  All Dementors and Quidditch pitches and only moderate motion sickness...

Which became serious motion sickness once we were back outside and rode the Flight of the Hippogriff, a "kiddie" rollercoaster that I wasn't a huge fan of.

At that point, we caught up with the Triwizard Spirit Rally again and this time caught the whole show, three Durmstrang students and four Beauxbatons ones parading around in an entertaining fashion for five minutes or so.  Sam and Alex then decided to ride the one other Harry Potter-themed ride in the park, a monstrous rollercoaster called the Dragon Challenge, which thrills two sets of riders by repeatedly creating the illusion mid-ride that they're going to crash into each other.  I decided to sit that one out.

And then it was time for lunch at The Three Broomsticks.

We all had butterbeer (DELICIOUS) and I had fish and chips.  While we were eating, Alex pointed out that high above us, the shadow of a broom was skipping along, sweeping itself across the second story, which we couldn't get to.  Everywhere you looked, details like that made the whole experience seem a little more "real."

After lunch, it was Honeyduke's and Zonkos, which were slightly more terrestrial than the rest of the park, though I'm not sure I can explain exactly why that was.  Maybe because they seemed more like generic candy and joke shops than anything truly unique to the Wizarding World.

At that point, we had seen pretty much everything there was to see, and Alex was looking to expand our theme park experience for the day, so we went to Jurassic Park.

"You WILL get wet.  Possibly soaked," was the message we got over and over as we stood in line for the River Adventure ride.  This was not an understatement:

We walked through Toon Lagoon...

...and Marvel Super Hero Island...

...where we rode The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man (a.k.a. The Ride that Feels Like a 3-Minute Car Wreck).  

Where to next?  "Um, I kinda want to go back to Hogwarts," I said. 

Through Seuss Landing and the Lost Continent we went and then we were back.  Only gone an hour, but how I had missed it.

After taking a picture with the conductor of the Hogwarts Express, we hit up the Hog's Head where Alex and I tried some of the Hog's Head Ale, a beer sold only at the Hog's Head.  It was delicious and the alcohol content was just high enough that after watching the frog choir...

...and then riding the Forbidden Journey a second time, and finally making a quick swing through Filch's Emporium to buy some souvenirs, my inhibitions were still lowered enough that Sam and Alex managed to talk me into riding the Dragon Challenge (note:  this is a random video I pulled off YouTube; I do not know these people):

It was actually significantly more fun (and less vomit-inducing) than most of the simulated rides we'd done.

Or maybe that was just the Hog's Head Ale talking.

It was then, at long last, time to leave the Wizarding World and go back to reality. :(

BUT OUR DAY WAS NOT OVER.  Oh no, my friends.  We took a cab back to the hotel and changed (at which point I ditched the pedometer, thus negating the accuracy of the day's total step count) before going to dinner at T.G.I.Friday's and from there we hit up the Icebar, a bar made entirely of ice in the middle of Orlando.  We'd made reservations in advance but it being somewhat early (8:45) and in the middle of the week (Tuesday) the place was pretty dead.  We had a drink in the main lobby of the bar and then were given shawls and gloves before going into the Icebar itself.

Though we'd paid for our reservations, and paid top price for a drink in the main bar earlier ("Yeah, we don't really have any whiskey that's, like, well, so you're gonna have to pay, like, $7.50 no matter what I pour you," our very blonde bartender told me, finger twirling in her hair), it was strongly implied that we were to buy another drink once we were inside the Icebar.

(Yes, our glasses were made out of ice!)  I could see how on a busier night this could be the place to be.  But it was pretty much just Sam and Alex and me in the room...

...along with a few other couples who wandered in and out but, er, let's be honest here, mostly out...

After that, it was back to the hotel for our now-traditional nightcap of rum and YouTube videos.

Oh, and I almost forgot, there was a tape loop of Moaning Myrtle playing in the bathroom at the Wizarding World.

NEXT TIME...Disney World, the wonders of small children riding terrifying rides, and my very first Cirque du Soleil!  Stay tuned...

HUGE thank you to Sam for providing many of the pictures AND the Hogsmeade video in this post. :)


  1. Looks and sounds like you guys had lots of fun!


  2. Lucky I was annoying and took so many photos. They seem so much more interesting with your descriptions. Probably up there in one of the most awesome days of my life!!!

  3. Sounds brilliant!! I'm so happy you all got to do Hogwarts!

  4. So jealous right now. Not a HP fan by any stretch of the world but escaping into a fake wizard world and enjoying butterbeer sounds so much more tantalizing than the endless school projects I have to do right now.

  5. NSA, that is such a perfect description! It was an escape. A complete and total escape. And I hands down agree with Sam that it was one of the funnest days of my life!

    And Sam, thank God you took that many pictures!! I'm especially glad you thought ahead and brought your camera when we were going through the queue at Hogwarts. In fact, I don't think I could have possibly remembered half the things we saw if you hadn't! :)

  6. You may have renewed my faith in the magic of theme parks - I MUST go see the Wizarding World now : ) I LOVE the picture of you and Alex! Seeing you two together makes me miss all of our Saucer and Celtic Crossing nights.

    Glad you had so much fun! If you like shooting games, the Toy Story Mania game at Disney's Hollywood Studios is very fun. Not so fun with a 3 month old strapped to your chest, but fun nonetheless : )

  7. Meg, did you ever see the pics on Facebook?? There are lots more there where we're all actually in them. Between me and Sam, we got SO many pictures that I'm trying not to post too many repeats in both places! :)

    And I will file Toy Story Mania away for future use if I ever go back to Disney World! (Although, for real, for the sake of my pride, maybe next time I should not sit between two people whose shooting scores end up being roughly 10 or more times my own...)