And it only cost me a hundred dollars! Which, I suppose makes it the wizarding equivalent to those degrees you pay for and get in your cat's name. But I'm getting ahead of myself here. Guys, I went to Universal Studio's Wizarding World of Harry Potter!!! I was in St. Petersburg, FL for a wedding and was all "Hey, Orlando's only two hours away, HOGWARTS IS WITHIN MY GRASP!" So I went! And let me tell you...it was awesome.
For those of you who don't know, Wizarding World has been open just over a year. It's not its own theme part but one of the "islands" in Universal's Islands of Adventure. It's fairly small and only has three rides. None of this is to say it isn't awesome, but it's only a half a day or day trip.
Welcome to snowy Hogsmeade, located in sunny Florida!
When you first walk into the Wizarding World, the snow-tipped roofs of Hogsmeade make you feel like you've walked right onto a movie set. Right away you see a replica Hogwarts Express. The store fronts are a mix between faux stores (with very detailed and interesting items in their windows) and live shops that you can go inside and purchase from.
I've been on the real Hogwarts Express too. Just sayin'.
There is a Zonko's, filled with all sorts of weird joke toys and items that almost look like set pieces. They even had plush pygmy puffs for sale, which I went back to several times until I finally convinced myself that I do not need to own more stuffed things. Next door is Honeydukes, where they sell almost every candy imaginable, including all your favorites from the books like chocolate frogs, Bertie Botts, cauldron cakes, pineapple cubes and more.
EAT ALL OF THE CANDY.
One of the best parts of the park is the Three Broomsticks, which is a working restaurant. The restaurant is enormous and everything they serve is actually what you would expect from a wizarding pub - chicken, turkey legs, ribs, shepard's pie. The staff at the Three Broomsticks are all dressed in costume and, actually, all the park staff are dressed up, in different types of outfits that fit the theme of whichever area or store they work in.
I looked for Madam Rosemerta, but didn't find her.
Plus, something else interesting is that they don't sell any branded food in the Wizarding World. All the candy is Honeydukes brand. If you want something to drink, you can get butterbeer, pumpkin juice, cider, lemonade but you won't find a Coke for sale. It's details like this that show me the park's creators really took their job seriously and were definitely going for as immersive an experience as possible.
Other Hogsmeade stores included an owl post office where they actually have a person whose entire job is to stamp the postcards and stationary you buy with a Hogsmeade owl stamp. There is Dervish and Banges, where you can find all sorts of shirts and clothing (including high quality scarves, ties and full robes) and other cool merchandise.
The fake owl shit is a lovely touch.
There is Ollivander's Wand Shop (which is in Diagon Alley, not Hogsmeade, but whatever) where you can purchase high quality replica wands. I believe they put on a wand testing/purchasing show, but I didn't see it because the line was unreal. And because I'm sure they would have picked a stupid child to be the one to go through the wand testing even though no child could appreciate it much as I could. Just sayin'.
This store does not belong here.
At this point, I know what you're all thinking. BUT MEGAN, HOW WAS THE BUTTERBEER? I'm happy to report, IT IS DELICIOUS. It comes in two varieties, regular and frozen, which is like a delicious butterbeer slushie. Maybe it's bold to say it's the greatest thing I've ever tasted, but I'm in the mood to make bold statements.
Random, but cool, was a little show they put on wheresome ladies dressed up as students from Beauxbatons and danced with ribbons and guys dressed up as students from Durmstrang did dance fighting with staffs.
Of the park's three rides, two were awesome and one downright blew chunks. The Flight of the Hippogriff is a repurposed rickety-ass little roller coaster that jerks you around and lasts about 25 seconds. Don't even bother with this one, since a half hour line is not worth it. The Dragon Challenge is another repuposed coaster, but it is badass. It's a dueling inverted coaster and you're either in the Hungarian Horntail coaster or the Chinese Fireball coaster. Plus, there was literally no line for it (maybe all the children are too short to ride?) which gives it even more points.
The Ford Anglia.
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is the main attraction of the park, which takes place inside the replica Hogwarts. The line is crazy long for this one, but most of it takes you through a tour of the inside of Hogwarts, thus making the line part of the ride. Before you get inside, you start out inside one of Hogwarts' greenhouses, which has plants that are real, but look like they could have jumped right out of the pages of a Herbology textbook. Once you move inside the castle, there are all sorts of cool statues and interesting paintings. You see the Mirror of Erised, the house jewels, the sorting hat, among other things. Many of the rooms included talking paintings. You go through Dumbledore's office (there's even a pensieve!) where a video of Dumbledore plays. A video of Harry, Ron and Hermione plays in the Defense Against The Dark Arts classroom.
Mother. Lovin'. Hogwarts.
For the ride itself, you sit in an enchanted bench that brings you through a narrative where Harry tries to sneak you into a quidditch match, but gets you into all sorts of trouble. The bench moves you between video sets and real life sets that include a Quidditch match, the Forbidden Forest (Aragog actually spits on you), the Whomping Willow, Dementors, and the Chamber of Secrets. It certainly isn't a scary ride, but very cool and a must for everyone to experience once.
Overall, the whole thing? Super awesome and so much to eat, buy and look at. Definitely a must for a huge Harry Potter fan.