A couple of years ago my husband I both had conferences in Orlando on opposite ends of the same week. I suggested we meet in the middle and spend a day at Harry Potter World. He said no to that, but when I was looking for somewhere for us to go on vacation he suggested we go to Orlando to do that and get out of the cold weather. I figured since we were making a vacation of it we should also do some Disney stuff. I hadn’t been to Magic Kingdom since I was around 10 and Animal Kingdom didn’t exist the last time I was there, so I thought it would be fun to do those too. So this post doesn’t get unreasonably long I think I will split this up into a post about Universal and a post about Disney.
We stayed at the Hyatt Place across from Universal Studios. On the map it looked like it was basically across the street from the parking and thus something walkable. Technically it’s true you could walk if need be, but because of the way the roads were it was more like a mile as opposed to walking across the street. The hotel had a free shuttle, but it had very prescribed trips in the morning and afternoon and was only really usable if you were planning on spending the entire day at the park. We took it over the first day, but wound up driving and paying for parking the second day because we didn’t go over until the afternoon. The actual physical hotel was great, but there were a few service issues that didn’t make the overall experience great. I really liked the room. It had a nice big sitting area with a sectional in it plus a desk and a little wet bar. The room was nice and quiet. I never heard stuff from the hall or other rooms once we were inside our room, which is often not the case in hotels.
We did have a couple of problems though. First by the time we got there late on Tuesday night they did not have any king rooms available even though that is what we reserved. We spent the first night in a room with two double beds. We sleep in a king bed a home, so sharing a double bed is not something I find a tenable sleeping solution if I actually want to sleep, so we each took one bed. I asked the next morning and they were able to move us into a king room that had opened up. To their credit they did relocate all our stuff for us once the room was ready while were gone at Universal for the day. We just had to stop and get our new key when we got back. However for the next two days we for some reason could not get the wifi to work in our new room. The front desk’s only response was we’ll report it to our tech team and someone will call you. We never received a call. Although weirdly days later we had a message on our room phone from them that would have come while we were in the room, but the phone never rang. We finally got wifi for our last two nights.
In order to go to all of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter you have to buy tickets for both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure parks plus the park-to-park add-on so that you can move between the two parks on the same day. It really is a giant racket. I figured since we were going to two parks we needed two days. That was an incorrect assumption, especially since I don’t do roller coasters. I don’t like anything with big drops and with the back issues I’ve had the last couple of years I didn’t want to aggravate anything by doing even the smaller coasters. We pretty much stuck to the kid rides and shows, so we were able to do pretty much everything we wanted to do in one day. Even if we had ridden every ride in the park we probably still could have done everything in one day. We apparently were there on one of the least busy weeks of the year and there wasn’t really much of a line for most things. It did wind up thunderstorming at the very end of our first day so we left before the Hogwart’s Lights, which did give us an incentive to return for a second day.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is very well done. The Diagon Alley, which is the original part of Harry Potter, is the far better part of the park. You really do feel like you’re in some hidden old time London type place. There are a lot more stores in Diagon Alley than Hogsmeade as well. Hogsmeade, which is the newer part of the park built in Islands of Adventure was not nearly as cool to me. It does have the Hogwarts’ castle and the night time lights, which were very impressive and worth the stupid amount of time we spent just hanging around waiting for them. It also has the two roller coasters that exist currently if you’re into that. Since I didn’t go on the one that goes inside the castle and presumably has the special effects I can’t say if it’s worth it or not, but if you don’t care about roller coasters and can only afford to do one park I would definitely say pay for Universal Studios and go to Diagon Alley. The train ride between the two parks is well done as well. There is a slightly different story in each direction, so it if you’re going to pay for the park-to-park option it does make sense to take the Hogwart’s Express in both directions.
I’m not going to lie one of the top reasons I wanted to go to Harry Potter World was to try the butterbeer. It was totally worth it. I tried it in multiple forms. I started with the original, which is kind of like a cream soda with a buttery flavored foam on top. For an afternoon snack I got some of the butterbeer ice cream. It was a disappointment. It didn’t really have much buttery flavor at all. It mostly just tasted like vanilla to me. On our second day I had the frozen butterbeer. It was definitely the best version I had. The problem with the original version is that the foam mostly stays on top while you’re drinking it and then you’re left with a big pile of buttery foam at the end. With the frozen drink the foam seemed to sink and mix in which gave you a nice buttery flavor throughout the whole drink. I don’t know if it was due the consistence or because you get a straw spoon thing with the frozen version and not the original and where the straw was stuck in was where the foam seemed to sink. The internet tells me that the best version is actually the hot version, but that apparently is at the California park and not the Florida one or it least it wasn’t when we were there.
As I mentioned previously we really didn’t need two days at the Universal parks, so we definitely didn’t need to spend another full day there. I wanted to go over in the afternoon so we could see a couple of the shows we didn’t see the first day and so we could see the Hogwart’s lights. So in the morning we decided to go mini golfing. I am terrible at mini golfing, but I love it. We went to a place that had two different courses so we played both of them. I actually got 1 hole in one on the first course and 2 on the second one. It was an excellent way to spend the morning as opposed to wandering around Universal again.
The Hogwart’s lights didn’t end until the park closed, so to make finding dinner easy and to wait for some of the traffic to die down we decided to eat at the Mexican restaurant inside Universal CityWalk. CityWalk is an area with lots of restaurants, shops, and a movie theater that sits between the two parks. You can go there without having tickets to the Universal parks. You just have to go through the Universal security (metal detectors and bag scanners) before you go in. It was a good choice because I felt like dining around Orlando was an ordeal. Everything is chain restaurants, which I’m not the biggest fan of. Stuff is all super crowded and traffic is terrible. I can’t even imagine being there when it’s peak season. This just meant it was easy and not the ordeal dinner was every other night we were there.
Stay tuned for part two of our trip tomorrow.