(I thought I’d go ahead and journal about this since I want to remember it.)
Back in January we started talking about day trips to the parks up in Orlando for spring. We have annual passes to Universal this year, so we knew we wanted to go there. Plus, we haven’t seen the newest Harry Potter addition (there’s two of them now), and Gracie is an obsessive Harry Potter fan (Hufflepuff! I’m also Hufflepuff, and Tom is Ravenclaw- we’ve been sorted by the sorting hat…) so we knew that’s the first place we would go.
We’re about four hours from Disney and Universal by car, and since it’s not the easiest thing to find a pet sitter for all our crew *plus* someone to tend the garden properly (it’s a bigger deal than it seems and one day of bad watering, or no watering, can cause tons of damage…) it’s easier to do day trips to the parks than plan vacations where we stay there.
Plus, honestly, after one full day in any park, you kinda just want to come home, crash in your own bed, and spend the next few days recovering. A full day in the park is not relaxing – it’s SUPER fun, and exciting, but not really relaxing. So getting to come home the night of a park day is really blissful. It’s like a mini-break.
Anyway, stuff came up all spring. Finally, around Easter, I set my mind to us finding a time to go. I watched the crowd calendars, and the weather, and after two weeks of rain, humid, hot weather, we hit a good day.
We woke Gracie up at 6am- I told her to get dressed, and she told me it was too early for school, and then I told her we were going to Universal and she flipped out. She got dressed (complete with her Hufflepuff school tie) and we hit the road.
Four or so hours later, with a few stops for gas and facilities, we were at the park.
I didn’t realize that the parks (there’s two of them at Universal- Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios) closed early that day- 6pm. So we didn’t have much time. But the park attendance was super light, so we knew if we skipped a leisurely lunch, we’d do fine.
To be honest, I like it SO much better when we don’t stop for lunch. I hate eating in the fast food restaurants in the parks except for a rare few exceptions. Imagine eating in a giant (kinda gross) warehouse with people crammed in all sides of you. While you eat, people push past, trying to find an empty table.
I can see why it’s necessary, especially larger families that need a break from the rides and need a cool place to sit and gather themselves for a while, but when it’s just a small family (two of which are vegetarians, one of which is an insanely picky eat [me], and one of which isn’t too interested in giant meals [Gracie]), it’s easier to not take the 45 minutes for the counter service and waiting for a table. We just pack sandwiches in a little cooler and purchase drinks and snacks all over the park. Find a shady place with a breeze and not many people and it’s the best quick meal you will have in a park.
Anyway. We started out in Islands of Adventure, so we could do the original Harry Potter part of the park, and then take the Harry Potter train (which is also a ride/attraction) over to Universal Studios and spend most of the day there.
We actually stopped and did the little People Mover thing in Suess Landing, which is a kid-friendly part of the park devoted to Dr. Suess. There’s lots of tiny rides in there, but Gracie is getting a little too big for them, and we were shorter on time than we’d like, so she was okay with just doing the Sky High Trolley Train Ride. It’s not a big deal, but if you like taking photos, or just want an overview of the parks, I really recommend it. I always like to start out on that ride for that reason.
After that, we headed back to Hogsmeade, which is the original Harry Potter park.
We poked around in the shops, Gracie bought some much-saved for and much desired Hufflepuff gear (headband, pin, emblems, stickers, etc.), and then we rode the two original Harry Potter rides. One, Forbidden Journey, is a full-blown attraction, and it’s amazing. The other is a medium-sized coaster, Flight of the Hippogriff, which is a little intense but very short. Good for older kids. Gracie does NOT like coasters, but she does enjoy the smaller ones.
While we were waiting to get on Forbidden Journey, a very sweet cast member (also a Hufflepuff- all the cast members in the harry Potter themed part of the parks are sorted into their houses and wear their house uniforms) told us a bit about the new Harry Potter ride, and suggested we also check out “The Mummy” ride when we were at the other side of the park. This will come up later on in our day…
After doing the Harry Potter stuff, Gracie got a glass of frozen Butterbeer (kind of like a butterscotch milkshake)- a lot of which I drank, to be honest. It’s REALLY good. Like, REALLY good. So good. (okay, enough…)
Then Gracie stopped to pick out another wand (she has Hermione’s, this time she chose Luna Lovegood’s) and we tried the new interactive features around the park. There’s several spots in the parks where you stand with your wand and incant a spell with certain motions, and interactive features will turn on in front of you.
Then we boarded the train at Hogsmeade station that takes you to the other park on Universal property- Universal Studios. That’s also where the new Diagon Alley is.
The train was excellent- it’s an actual train and in the area where the windows are, they show different Harry Potter adventures in 3-D. 15 minutes later, we were at the other park- themed for London, with a secret entrance to Diagon Alley tucked in.
I gotta say, they have done an AMAZING job with this part of the park. The London street face is lovely, and then Diagon Alley is *inside* of it, full of shops from the novels (Grace was especially wanting to see Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes and was thrilled when we found it was there), and a lot of it is in the shade, which is fantastic when you’ve been in the sun all day. It’s a good place to spend time.
There’s also another amazing ride back there- Escape from Gringott’s. We rode that, and then got some Butterbeer flavored ice cream, which is basically soft, creamy vanilla fluffy ice cream with butterscotch swirled in. (Again, allow me to try and express just how GOOD Butterbeer-flavored anything is. And I don’t even love Butterscotch.)
After that, we headed back to the “real world” of Universal Studios and did a few things around the park.
Men In Black was a definite for us- it’s like Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin, in that you board little cars and aim your blaster at various alien targets throughout the ride and try and score as many points as you can.
Then we went around to The Mummy. Gracie was a little nervous, but ready to try it. Unfortunately, we didn’t realize that The Mummy is definitely an in-the-dark coaster. Like, full-on. I would compare it to Rock-n-Roller Coaster at Disney. It was Gracie’s first coaster besides Space Mountain (which she does not like) and it shook her up. I felt *so* bad. She was a little pissed off (quiet and irritated with us) for a few seconds but then we let her choose the next ride and she recovered. We went into the bathroom after the ride and she told me that she was going to go on school Monday and tell all her friends about it, so it became her own little personal legend. She’s proud of it, but she probably won’t ride it again.
For the next ride, Gracie chose “Disaster”, which is sort of this half-hour movie making experience. They basically walk you through making a movie, and at the end, they screen the movie and different audience members are in it. Lots of audience interaction and funny stuff. She loved it, we got chosen for the movie at the end, and it was really fun. Great way to end the day.
The park was closing as we finished Disaster, so we headed out. Gracie stopped to get a Gold Frog, which she regretted not buying when we were in the Potter part of the parks, but it turned out to be for the best since it’s a solid chocolate frog that would have melted if we’d carried it all day. Bonus was that she got Helga Hufflepuff’s card inside, and she was thrilled about that. She also tried a Churro for the first time, and loved it.
She’s normally not a big junk food eater (she’d easily choose water over soda, never finishes a serving of ice cream, , so when she asks for treats at the parks, we don’t say no.
We got to the car, headed home, and by 11:30pm, we were all showered, unpacked, and in our beds.
Lovely day- I can’t wait to do it again!leave a comment...