I’ll begin by saying that there’s nothing deep about this post. It’s simply a recounting of my trip to Harry Potter world!!! I will excessively use the words “cool”, “neat”, “awesome”, “fun”, and other words like that. Also, it’s a little long. You’ve been warned.
As a lover of amusement parks and an avid Harry Potter fan (read: “nerd”), I’ve wanted to visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Orlando for quite some time. But since tickets are expensive, Orlando is far away, and we are still a few years away from being able to take the kids I didn’t think it would happen anytime soon. I have been talking about going for a couple of years but the timing wasn’t right, and I couldn’t justify spending the extra money on a trip like that. But, a couple months ago, I decided I was just going to make it happen. I’m in a place in my life where I’m trying to be more intentional and seize more opportunities. Obviously this would require a little more planning and commitment, but I felt like it was worth it. And if it was supposed to happen, it would! Plus, I was in need of a girls’ trip and I thought it would be good for me! So I asked a few girlfriends of mine if they would want to go with me. We decided we would figure out what it might cost, look at our respective budgets, and take a few days to decide if we could go. I found a great Groupon deal for a hotel room and got ticket price info and estimated what we might spend on gas and food. I had already begun gathering all of the baby items we don’t use anymore (or won’t need for POSSIBLE future babies😉) and some things from my parents’ garage that they’ve been wanting to get rid of and I had sold a few of those items on Varage Sale. I felt like I could save my money in time so I decided that I would go no matter what! Of the friends I asked, 2 girls said they were IN (my YOUNG friends, Lindsey and Hannah)! So we booked our hotel, bought our tickets, and made our plans!
We planned to leave on a Sunday, drive all day, get up early on Monday and spend that whole day at Universal, then drive home on Tuesday. It was going to be a fast and furious trip and we were so excited!
I started packing like 5 years in advance. Ok I’m exaggerating a little…but I did start packing early! I was pumped up okay?
We counted down the days until it was time to leave. Lindsey constantly checked Universal’s app to see what the wait times were for the rides just to try to get an idea of what it would be like on the day we went (yes, they have this and you should use it if you’re going).
On the day we (finally!) left, we had an incredible and tiring trip driving to Orlando. We laughed, sang, danced, talked, ate, did yoga poses at rest stops, opened a bag of bacon maple jerky that smelled like a dirty diaper…it was great. A wonderful start to the trip. Once we arrived in Orlando (VERY late that night), we drove into downtown Disney to eat dinner. We chose downtown Disney for 2 reasons: 1) it’s Disney! and 2) it was one of the only places still open. We were STARVING so we settled on an Irish pub inside downtown Disney. They were featuring an Irish band playing cover songs. They were talented musicians but the lead singer was…atrocious…and LUCKY FOR US he LOVED audience participation! So we spent our entire meal quickly stuffing our food into our mouths, praying we could finish eating and get the heck outta there before he came to our table. We were doing ok until Lindsey decided- during one of the more audience-participation-y songs- that it would be a good idea to video the guy singing to “make a memory” or something. And he SPOTTED her. And took that as an invitation to come over to our table and shove the microphone in our faces so that we could sing whatever that line of the song was. So, that part was fun, especially considering I know my mouth was FULL of food. I’m sure we gave the other people there a solid vacation memory.
Lindsey’s chocolate melted so she tried to re-solidify it in the air vent
The big Lego dragon inside Downtown Disney!
After dinner, we made our way to the hotel, crawled into bed and settled in for a good 3 1/2 hours of sleep……..
We were up bright and early and excited for the day! We got to the park as soon as it opened at 8am. We grabbed a quick breakfast inside the park and polished it off with some ibuprofen to try to prevent the inevitable headaches/body aches that come from riding roller coasters all day (amusement parks are SERIOUS business, you guys). Then, we hit the park! We did not purchase Express Passes so we had to wait in the longer line just like all of those other PEASANTS who can’t afford $5,000 tickets. So we knew we had to be strategic about what we rode and when we rode it. Lindsey and Hannah had both been to Universal, so I deferred to their good judgment to plan our day well. Our plan was to go straight to Diagon Alley, ride the Gringotts ride, get on the Hogwarts Express train and ride it to Hogsmeade (which is inside Islands of Adventure), then do all of the fun Hogsmeade stuff and the rest of Islands of Adventure, then ride the train back to Diagon Alley and finish our day inside there and the rest of Universal. But on our way to Diagon Alley we saw that the wait time for the Transformers ride was only 10 minutes, which is apparently very unusual, so we quickly got in line so we could check that one off of our list. I was definitely anxious to get to the Harry Potter stuff but Transformers was SO much fun and the perfect way to start the day! It got our adrenaline pumping and got us super excited!
After that, we went straight to Diagon Alley. I was finally there! And…let me just say…wow. It was like stepping into a completely different world. That section of the park is designed to look like a street in London. You can see King’s Cross station, Grimmauld Place (where, if you knock on the door, Kreacher will peek from behind an upstairs window curtain!), and The Leaky Cauldron. The Knight Bus is parked there, too! And Diagon Alley is truly hidden behind some brick walls. I mean, if you didn’t know it was there, you wouldn’t even know it existed because you can’t see it. Just like the books!
When we first got inside I may have gotten a little emotional because it was just so cool. The details are amazing. Every single inch of Diagon Alley and Knockturn Alley is exactly as I imagined it would be.
Once inside Diagon Alley, we headed straight for Gringott’s to get in line for the ride, called “Escape from Gringott’s”. The wait time was 45 minutes, which wasn’t too horrible considering most of the line was indoors and there are such fun things to see and experience. The line took us through the lobby of Gringott’s, which was pretty incredible. The floors, the chandeliers, the life-like goblins working at their desks…so cool! “Escape from Gringott’s” is an indoor 3-D coaster type ride that is interactive. And it. was. amazing. I screamed and laughed like a kid! I wanted to ride it over and over again. BUT, the line was too long and we had much more to do…
After that, we boarded the Hogwarts Express at King’s Cross Station, Platform 9 3/4 (so cool) to go to Islands of Adventure. The train does move and the windows are actually screens to make it seem like you’re riding through London and the English countryside (with appearances from some of your favorite Potter characters). The doors to each compartment close and are also screens that look like the shadows of Harry, Ron, and Hermione are walking past and you can hear them talking. Though, it was painfully obvious that Emma Watson wasn’t available to do any of the voice acting, and they didn’t think it was important to spend too much time finding a comparable voice actor to play her part. I’m not even sure if the actress was British (“Honestly, Ron, it’s me, Reese Witherspoon!”…inside joke).
Either way, though, it’s much better than just walking over to Islands of Adventure, amiright?
Once inside Hogsmeade, I visited the Moaning Myrtle-haunted restroom (oh yeah) and got my much-anticipated FROZEN BUTTERBEER!!!! It was as delicious as I expected it to be:). Oh, and Hogwarts is just cool.
I sipped the butterbeer as we waited in line at Hogwarts for “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey”. The line for that took us through the greenhouse, Dumbledore’s office, and the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom. It was another indoor/interactive ride, but it moved all over the place and there were Whomping Willows, giant spiders, and Dementors all UP in my face. Yikes! I remember screaming pretty loud a few times during that one…
After that, we rode the “Dueling Dragons” (a fun, classic roller coaster) and walked through Hogsmeade. This part of Harry Potter World is smaller so we finished there pretty quickly and made our way into the rest of Islands of Adventure.
We ate lunch in Jurassic Park and kept trying to get in line for the Jurassic Park ride, but, with a 75 minute wait almost all day, we had to put that at the bottom of our priority list. The only other ride we were able to ride in that part of the park was the Hulk ride. It was a long wait but it was so much fun and so worth the wait! We walked around for awhile, and, of course, I HAD to purchase a souvenir for Jud at one of the Marvel stores (a stuffed “Captain America”).
We felt it was wisest to spend the rest of our time inside of Universal. We still wanted to ride the Gringotts ride again, do more Harry Potter stuff, and try to ride a few more rides inside Universal, so we boarded the Hogwarts Express, again, and made our way back. And, guess what! British people in our compartment with us AGAIN! Is this something Universal does to make you feel more Harry Potter-y??
Once we were back inside Diagon Alley, we took a quick ice cream break at Florean Fortescue’s (delicious). Then we ventured back into the “muggle world” and rode the E.T. ride…which was absolutely adorable and so fun because you get to ride a “bike” through the air and then E.T. hilariously says your name at the end of the ride. Next, we rode the Men in Black ride (and fought real aliens!). Then we did the Twister experience…where Bill Paxton comes on screen to condescend to you, and possibly attempt to seduce you….?? All while talking about tornadoes. Either way, it was cheesy and totally worth it.
We got in line for the Mummy, because there was SUPPOSEDLY a 35 minute wait, but after waiting almost 40 minutes, we were still not even halfway through the line. So, we bailed. Because…Harry Potter. Duh. Life is too short for Brendan Fraser and his shenanigans, bro.
We ventured back over to Diagon Alley and enjoyed dinner at The Leaky Cauldron. I had a sausage sandwich thing that looked absolutely disgusting, but actually tasted pretty good.
Once we were done with dinner, it was after 8pm, and the park closes at 10. So, we had enough time to do what we wanted, but we didn’t have any time to waste. We rushed over to the Gringotts ride, and, thankfully, the line was MUCH shorter than it was that morning. We were exhausted but running on some pretty sweet adrenaline, and that, combined with the end-of-the-day craziness, made the second time around so much more fun! It made me want to ride it over and over and over again!
After Gringotts, we browsed through Diagon Alley a little more (which looked really cool at night!) and I bought the remainder of my souvenirs. I got Ministry of Magic and Hogwarts coffee mugs for my parents (fellow Harry Potter fans) and myself and a Chocolate Frog for Justin. Then, we went over to Weasleys’ Wizarding Wheezes where I purchased Pygmy Puffs for Iris and Charlotte. At the register they asked me if I wanted to participate in the official naming ceremony for the Pygmy Puffs that I was “adopting”. During the ceremony, you tell them the name you’ve chosen for your Pygmy Puff, then they ring a large bell and announce the names to the whole store. So…of COURSE I wanted to do this! Because I’m a winner. I videoed the ceremony so Iris and Charlotte could actually be part of it:).
And here’s the Gringott’s dragon doing her thing…
Once we finished there, it was about 9:45 and the only other thing we REALLY wanted to do was get a donut from Lard Lad Donuts in Simpson-land. This was going to be the final thing we did, the last HURRAH, the icing on the cake (or the donut) of our day at Universal Studios. We planned to get them on our way out of the park because they are so huge and difficult to eat in one sitting, let alone carry around the park all day. Plus it was going to be a really good treat on the way back to the hotel. Now, I should mention that Lindsey LOVES these donuts and had been talking about them quite a bit leading up to the trip, and all day while we were there. It made Hannah and me pretty excited about them. And, even though we were exhausted from walking for almost 14 hours, the walk/run to the donut shop to get there before the park closed was much easier knowing there was a donut waiting for us at the end of it. So you can imagine the HORROR we experienced when we reached the shop to find out THEY HAD CLOSED EARLY. Just…because. And when we got up to the window the girl inside was making some delicious creation (I’m guessing for herself) and when she saw us she shooed us away! Ha!
Needless to say, we were a little disappointed but we refused to let that rejection be our final moment in the park! No way! Not today, donut lady! You can’t take our joy!
It was almost 10:00, but we saw that they were still running the “Rip, Ride, Rock-it”, which had been temporarily shut down for maintenance earlier in the day. So, we HAULED it to get there. We made it just in time and were able to get on the ride pretty quickly. This roller coaster is really fast and steep and crazy AND you get to choose your own music to listen to on the ride! How cool is that? Of course, if you don’t choose your music within like 5 seconds, you’ve lost your chance (us). AND, if you’re worried you didn’t get properly buckled in and you’re literally fearing for your life the whole time (Hannah) you don’t enjoy the ride as much…….BUT, after it was over and we were all still alive, we decided that it was really fun and a great way to end the day!
After that, we dragged ourselves to the car and sleepily made our way back to the hotel. We were exhausted and exhilarated. That was some of the best sleep I’ve had in awhile.
The next morning we slept in, ate a delicious breakfast at Keke’s Café (which we couldn’t decide if it was pronounced “Kiki’s” or “Keek’s”), then started the long drive back home, which was just as fun as the rest of the trip…lots of talking, laughing, and dancing. A wonderful end to a fantastic experience! I so enjoyed my time with Lindsey and Hannah. Taking a trip with someone is a surefire way to get to know them much better. At the end of the trip, I liked them even more than I did before we left! So, overall I would say it was an extremely successful experience!
Even though I had a blast, I was excited to get back home to my family! The kids were happy to see me and they loved their souvenirs! We watched the video of the Pygmy Puff naming ceremony about 15 times that week.
I’m so very grateful that I had the opportunity to get away for a few days. It’s important for me to make time for things like that. Obviously girls’ trips like that don’t happen very often, but I usually make it a priority to find time during each week to make sure I’m doing something for myself, something to blow off a little steam, something that enriches me in some way. Not just sitting around and watching tv (though I do that sometimes and sometimes it’s exactly what I need), but things like reading, planning/dreaming, spending time with friends, taking a workout class, roaming the aisles at Target, etc. I learned very early on in motherhood that I don’t function well if I don’t make time for things like that, because I start to feel like I’m losing myself a little, and it impacts every other area of my life. I am VERY grateful to have a husband and parents who are supportive of this and who are always willing to help me have that time when I need it. I know I promised at the beginning that this wasn’t going to be a meaningful blog post, but maybe I lied:)….So…..PLEASE make sure you make it a priority to make time for yourself. Whether you’re a stay at home mom, or working mom, or a dad, or not a parent at all…it’s important for your emotional well-being. I’m sure it will look differently for everyone, as everyone has different interests and different ways of relieving stress. But, no matter what, it’s vital!
Thanks for reading!