The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Universal's Islands of Adventure

2011 Thanksgiving week family vacation to Northeast and East Central Florida including visits to St. Augustine, Universal and Cirque du Soleil.

Page 1 St. Augustine
Page 2 Universal
Page 3 Downtown Disney

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
Sheraton Vistana Resort - Lake BuenaVista, Florida
Sheraton Vistana Resort

Monday ­ day 3 

We spent the first full day in Lake Buena Vista catching up with family, shopping and playing tennis. I did not care for the Sheraton Vistana Resort. The grounds and rooms of the time share were just average. The internet service was terrible, often taking 20 minutes or more for us to log in. multiple times a day. Why they make it so hard to go online when you have to have a key even to enter the grounds, I have no idea. Then the internet service went down entirely, the last 24 hours that we were there. 

The worst thing was the Sheraton Vistana Resort sales team. It was annoying enough having multiple recorded messages left on the phone each day, which we had to listen to for fear we would miss a message we really needed. Then they started calling live, as early as 7:30AM. We unplugged the phones for the last 3 days of our vacation.

Great Egret (Ardea alba) - Florida
Great Egret (Ardea alba)  (Prints of this photo for sale)

Tuesday ­ day 4

We spent all day and evening at Universal Islands of Adventure. On our way in, we stopped to ride "One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish," but quickly continued to the The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, where we spent most of the day. The food was fair and I like the community of Hogsmeade, but the crowds were so bad in the area! The best part was the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride, which may be the best theme park ride anywhere. The line to the start of the ride is a treat as it gives a tour of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and includes several very nice effects.

There are many little things which help make The Wizarding World of Harry Potter special, such as the the displays and figures in the windows, the smoke curling up from the chimneys and the sound of Moaning Myrtle haunting the rest room.

One tip to save a long wait in line: everyone wants to try the Butterbeer and pumpkin juice at Hogsmeade, but there is no reason to get in the long line at the cart. The line is much shorter at the Three Broomsticks and you will want to check out the decor of this tavern anyway.

A branch of the Diagon Alley Ollivanders Wand Shop has opened at Hogsmeade. The line to get probably was longer than it was worth, but we were there to see all of the Harry Potter Wizarding World. Finally, we were admitted with a group of about 20 people. One child was plucked from the crowd to have a wand select them. When the child tries the first few wands, some thing explodes or falls, but finally the child is given the correct wand and the room resonates. Everyone gets a chance to select and purchase a wand in the attached Dervish and Banges magic shop (and many other locations around the Universal parks).

Hogsmeade - The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

conductor of the Hogwarts Express
Jesi and Mary exchanging trivia with the conductor of the Hogwarts Express

Hogwarts Frog Choir Universal Islands of Adventure
Hogwarts Frog Choir at Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Mary Lipp, Jesi Lipp - The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Mary and Jesi

We had lunch at the Three Broomsticks. Some of us had Fish and Chips, Cornish pasties, and shepherds pie. Others split the The Great Feast - a platter for four at $49.99. It included tossed salad, rotisserie smoked chicken, char grilled ribs, roasted corn on the cob and roasted potatoes. Nothing was outstanding, but it was at the upper level of theme park food.

Three Broomsticks
Three Broomsticks

Our family at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Me, Fay, William. Thomas, Linda, Jesi, Mary, Nancy & John in front of Hogwarts

We saw only a little of the rest of Islands of Adventure. When we entered the next "island" (Jurassic Park) the first thing we did was stop at a snack bar to get Cokes and Diet Cokes. No pop is sold in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

It was getting late enough that we didn't have a lot of time for other rides. Half of us sat out while others did roller coasters, but as a group we rode The Amazing Adventures of Spider Man - a 3-D simulator ride set in New York where a gang of super villains is stealing the Statue of Liberty. Not bad, but less impressive than other rides.

As it grew dark, we returned to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter for a second ride on Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. The line was shorter now and we jumped most of the way through the line for the ride by taking the single rider line. You do miss a lot by doing this and I recommend not doing it on your first ride.

The ride itself uses KUKA robocoaster technology, which permits the seats to pivot while being held above the track by a robotic arm. The journey includes flying around Hogwarts castle, encountering the Whomping Willow and a horde of Dementors, and participating in a Quidditch match. Unless you stick your head out to search to the sides, you see no other enchanted bench and the illusions are very effective. It isn't a roller coaster, but there is dropping, spinning around, twisting and turning, so it may not be for everyone. There is a minimum height of 4' to take the ride and a room near the start has a place while one family member can stay with the children watching one of the Harry Potter movies, while others ride. The person who waited is then at the front of the line.

Hogwarts - the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry  (Prints of this photo for sale)

Islands of Adventure Lagoon at night
Islands of Adventure Lagoon and Marvel Super Hero Island  (Prints of this photo for sale)

As we left the park near closing time, we returned to Seuss Landing where we rode the Caro-Seuss-el. This was one of my favorite things all day.

Caro-Seuss-el - Seus Landing
Linda, Jesi and Mary on the Caro-Seuss-el

William Lipp and Keith Stokes riding the Caro-Seuss-el
William and I on the Caro-Seuss-el

Before leaving Universal Orlando CityWalk, we stopped for supper at Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville Cafe. I enjoyed the live music and the food was perfectly acceptable.

Wednesday ­ day 5 

We returned to Universal, but spent our time in Universal Studios. I didn't want to have to keep checking my camera, so there are no photos until this evening.

My favorite Universal Studios ride by far was Men in Black Alien Attack which combines arcade shooting with a ride. We all did it twice and wish I had gone one more time. Shrek 4-D was much less impressive, but it was fun seeing a new short Shrek movie. Terminator 2: 3-D was a combination movie/live performance which was more impressive.

Universal Orlando's Horror Make-Up Show was a huge disappointment. I thought it was going to show us quality effects, but it was mostly juvenile humor and a waste of time. I was embarrassed that I had talked everyone into going.

In the evening. Linda and I had supper at the Bahama Breeze located near our resort. It was much better than I expected and the Crab Claws St. Thomas (Blue crabs in Island citrus butter with fire toasted Cuban bread for 13.59) was the best dish of the entire trip! 

Crab Claws St. Thomas - Bahama Breeze
Crab Claws St. Thomas

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copyright 2011-2012 by Keith Stokes.