My friend, Mariko, was coming to visit me from Canada and since she's a huge Harry Potter fan, I thought it was the perfect time to visit Universal Orlando Resort. I've been wanting to ride the Hogwarts Express ever since it opened a few years ago and I'm not even a Harry Potter fanatic. I've been on the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride before and was super impressed with how innovative it was, so I was excited to see what they created with the newest Harry Potter additions.
In order to ride the Hogwarts Express, we had to purchase the Park-to-Park ticket that gives you access to both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure theme parks. If you want to skip the lines, you can purchase the Universal Express Pass or the Universal Express Unlimited for an additional fee. Since we were staying at the Royal Pacific Resort, we got the Universal Express Unlimited for free and it was awesome. Another bonus we got from staying at the on-site resort was early access to the park which we took full advantage of.
We started the day at 8 AM, an hour before the park opened and headed straight to the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride. This is a fun ride that uses new technology and we loved it but Mariko got a little nauseous afterwards. If you're prone to motion sickness, this may not be the ride for you. I was fine, but I could see how this can make you a little dizzy or sick afterwards. There's a lot of twists and turns and the screen is right in front of you.
After our first ride, we took the Hogwarts Express to Universal Studios. This is what we were most excited about and it did not disappoint. We walked into Hogsmeade Station and when the train pulls up, you're in awe of this magical locomotive. It seems so real as there is even steam coming out of the smokestack.
The staff directed us into our compartment and we were seated with other guests (up to 6 people in one compartment). Once the train started moving, we saw images on the digital window of various Harry Potter characters and mythical creatures like centaurs. The whole ride was so entertaining and we loved all the little details they put into this train ride.
When we got off at King's Cross Station, we walked through an even larger train station and you see boards above with schedules and times. There's a saxophone player outside as well making you feel like you're on the streets of London.
We entered Diagon Alley first and stopped by Leaky Cauldron for breakfast. This is a restaurant designed to be a small, grubby-looking pub and inn. Unless you got the Harry Potter VIP package, you can only dine here in the morning until 10:30 AM. Poor Mariko was still feeling sick from the first ride so she wasn't able to order anything but honestly, she didn't miss much. I ordered the Pancake Breakfast and it was mediocre at best. Everything was dry and bland and on top of that, it was way overpriced. You're definitely paying for the ambience of the restaurant and not the food.
Next, we explored more of Diagon Alley and checked out all the quirky little shops. Make sure to wait by the dragon sitting on top of one of the buildings as it spits out fire every so often. We rode Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts ride and checked out all the cute, quirky stores that were in true Harry Potter fashion. The toy store makes you feel a bit claustrophobic but you also feel like you're in another world with all these crazy little toys and cashiers cheering for their new customers at the top of their lungs.
Mariko bought one of the interactive Harry Potter wands and we had a fun time casting spells on various shops. The map that came with the wand was very difficult to read and it's almost like a puzzle you have to figure out. Luckily, there are helpers nearby to help you locate the shops or you'll see other little wizards practicing their magic. Casting the spells with the wand wasn't as easy as we thought either. It took us several tries before we got the hang of it. I actually liked that they made this a little more challenging.
Once we exited Diagon Alley, we rode the classic Revenge of the Mummy ride which is still one of my favorite rides of all time. We also stopped by Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon. We didn't know what to expect with the Jimmy Fallon attraction but we enjoyed it more than we expected. The shows with the singers and Hashtag the Panda were actually more entertaining than the actual ride. Don't get me wrong, the ride was still great but I love that they added live show elements while guests waited. We had some great laughs.
Some other great rides worth mentioning at Universal Studios are Transformers, Despicable Me, Rip Ride Rockit, and The Simpsons Ride. At Islands of Adventure, there's Spider-Man, Skull Island and Jurassic Park. My only gripe with all of these rides is that they're all 4D motion simulator rides. After you do one 4D motion simulator ride, the rest all feel the same and the excitement kind of wears off. That's just me tho. I guess this is the future of amusement park rides. I'm more into the classic thrill rides like The Incredible Hulk Coaster.
The highlights of Universal to us were definitely the Hogwarts Express and the magic wand. We rode the Hogwarts Express a total of 4 times going back and forth between Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. Since we had the Universal Express Unlimited, it was possible to hop on the train right away and switch parks. Without it, we probably would have only been able to ride it once or twice. We were able to do every ride and attraction we wanted and had a great time feeling like a wizard for one day.
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