Friday, July 12, 2013

Florida Update #8 - Universal Islands of Adventure


We got up early for our last day in Orlando. I knew I wanted to spend a full day at Islands of Adventure because it's the home of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and I am a HUGE Harry Potter fan. I expected (and hoped) that we would spend a good chunk of the day in this area, and had really high expectations for this park.


  • Wizarding World of Harry Potter
    • Ollivanders Wand Shop
    • Flight of the Hippogriff
    • Dragon Challenge
    • Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
    • Drink Butterbeer at The Three Broomsticks
  • Seuss Landing
    • High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train (skipped - height limit)
    • Caro-Seuss-el
    • Cat in the Hat
    • One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish
    • Seuss Character Zone
    • Oh the Stories You'll Hear
    • If I Ran the Zoo
  • Marvel Superhero Island
    • Incredible Hulk Coaster
    • Doctor Doom's Fear Fall
    • Amazing Adventures of Superman (skipped - too long)
  • Toon Lagoon
    • Me Ship the Olive (skipped - just another splash playground)
    • Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls (skipped - height limit)
  • Jurassic Park
    • Pteranodon Flyers (skipped - look dangerous)
    • Jurassic Park Discovery Center

Our Day - Details

We got to the park early enough to park on the top deck of the parking deck (they start at the top and move down as the levels fill). When we got into the park we immediately headed for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. We went right past the Hogwarts Express and into Hogsmeade. (I wish I had stopped to take a picture of us in front of the train - the line for pictures was so long when we went later, so this is the only picture I have.) When you enter, you pass Zonko's Joke Shop, Honeydukes Sweet Shop, The Three Broomsticks Restaurant, and the Owl Post before reaching Ollivanders Wand Shop. There are many other "fake" storefronts from a combination of Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley - the attention to detail on the stores was pretty incredible!

We immediately got in line for Ollivanders Wand Shop. If you don't get to Ollivanders right when the park opens, it is likely to have an extremely long line (1-2 hours!). They only allow about 20 people in at a time for the short show, so the line will grow very quickly. You can't actually purchase a wand in the shop, so if you aren't a huge Potter fan and don't care about seeing the show, this could easily be something to skip. We waited about 30 minutes, and for me it was worth it (I'm not sure my husband would give the same answer). If you have a young child, stick them in front and make them look cute - maybe they will get chosen to try out different wands! (Note: If you are chosen to participate in the show, you still have to purchase the wand they "give" to you. Also, they sell wands all over this part of the park, including multiple stores and street kiosks, so you don't have to wait in this line to purchase a wand!).

Sorry for the blurry picture - they don't allow flash photography, and my hands were shaking I was so excited!

After the show, you exit Ollivanders and go into Dervish and Banges where you can purchase replicas of any of the characters' wands from the Harry Potter movies (along with a number of other items). You can also pass through to the Owl Post to see the Monster Book of Monsters (Harry's book for Care of Magical Creatures) and purchase clothing and other Hogwarts memorabilia. 

After the wand show we got in line for Flight of the Hippogriff. M was just barely tall enough (36" height minimum), but she was able to ride and really enjoyed it! It is definitely a real roller coaster, so you have to know your child to determine if they would enjoy a ride like this. I sat next to her and kept my arm around her the whole time, but she didn't seem scared at all.

 Next was the Dragon Challenge Coaster (adults only). The line was surprisingly short for this (only 10 minutes!) - maybe people were still strolling around Hogsmeade? The coaster is actually two different rides - a blue side and a red side. They are similar, but not exactly the same. I didn't ride both, so I can't compare, but it may be worth riding again if you have time.

Finally, we got in line for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. We were told that this was not a roller coaster, but rather a simulation, so we convinced my dad to ride with us. We planned to use the child swap, but M was asleep in the stroller. I talked with one of the attendants, and she said to wait in line then find my mom when we exited and tell the attendants on the other end that we were doing the "outside child swap" and they would let us back on. We didn't end up following through, but it sounded easy!

The line for this ride was practically part of the ride (if you're a Potter fan). You start in the dungeon below Hogwarts (they have free lockers here where you can store any bags or items that might fall out of your pockets). You will see the greenhouse, the Sorting Hat, a hall with talking pictures, Dumbledore's office, the Room of Requirement, and the Gryffindor common room. You then enter the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom where you see Harry, Ron and Hermione who convince you to ride an enchanted bench. When you reach the front of the line, you get onto the bench (there is no floor under you, so I had to sit on my flip flops) which rides through Hogwarts (of course you get into some trouble along the way!). There are signs everywhere warning about motion sickness, and they aren't kidding - I don't normally get sick on rides, but I was very queasy by the end. I'm not sure I would attempt this right after eating! My mom opted to skip this one, so we decided to stop for an early lunch instead.
Gryffindor Common Room
Can you see Dumbledore behind us?

Harry, Ron and Hermione in the Defense Against the Dark Arts Classroom

We ate an early lunch (around 11am) at The Three Broomsticks. I would strongly suggest eating at off times (either early or late) because the restaurants get really crowded around noon. We had no trouble ordering or finding a table, and the food was actually really good. I think M ate more here than she did the rest of the vacation - chicken fingers, corn on the cob, apple sauce, grapes, and milk! I got a Frozen Butterbeer, which was absolutely amazing (it tasted kind of like cream soda, but with a caramel creme on top)!

(Note: I later got another regular Butterbeer - I had to compare!- and I would suggest getting BOTH. They actually taste very different, but both were really good.)


Our next stop was Seuss Landing. We started at The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride, which looked like so much fun. It is a train ride that goes all around Seuss Landing. While it is high in the air, it looked like a very tame ride. Unfortunately, they must have changed the height restrictions fairly recently. Everything I read online (including the Universal Map?) said 34", but when we got in line they said the limit was 40". I found it kind of humorous (and frustrating) that she was able to ride the Flight of the Hippogriff roller coaster (which was just as high in the air, and at a much faster speed), but wasn't allowed on the trolley train ride. 

M was really upset, but we moved on the Caro-Seuss-el (carousel). We waited in line for about 10 minutes, and then they told us they were closing the ride because the music wasn't working. We weren't off to a good start.

Our next attempt was The Cat in the Hat ride. The line was pretty long - about 30 minutes (which felt like 4 hours with a child who had just been told she couldn't ride the last two rides). The area where you wait in line is very small and crowded, and you move extremely slowly, so it made the line feel longer than it really was. They do have some things to look at - a house with Sally and her brother, lines from The Cat in the Hat book, etc.

When we finally got on the ride, I was pleasantly surprised. I honestly wasn't expecting much after the tiny waiting area, but they obviously used up all of the space for the ride. It was very well done, and pretty long for a children's ride. There was a lot to see, and if there wasn't such a long wait I probably would have done this one again!

Next, we went over to explore the Once-ler's house. The Lorax statue was standing in the middle with Truffola trees all around. There were speakers coming from the Once-ler's house so you could listen to the story of the Lorax. M liked running back and forth along the path, and kept knocking on the little door hoping the Once-ler would answer!


The Caro-Seuss-el was back up by this time, so we got back in line for a quick ride. The line for this stays pretty short, and M probably would have ridden a few time to choose different characters to ride, but we all wanted to move on.

The last ride in Seuss Landing was One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. This was another excruciating line. The wait said 30 minutes, and I think it was pretty close to accurate, but it felt like an eternity. There is very little shade in this line, and the line moves so slowly! There were also a lot of Express Pass holders riding this ride, which made the line move even slower. It was basically a Dumbo-type ride, but the fish around the outside spray you with water as you spin around. Expect to get wet on this one!

As we were getting off the ride, we could see several characters gathering for greetings. We walked over and were able to meet The Grinch, Sam I Am, Thing 1 and Thing 2, and The Cat in the Hat with barely any wait. Unlike Disney, the character greeting lines weren't very well organized, but it wasn't crowded enough to matter. There were some park employees there monitoring, but it was mostly a free-for-all. People seemed to be much less polite than at any of the other theme parks we visited, but we agreed that the heat was probably making everyone a little cranky (at the end of this day we were actually wishing it had rained again to cool things down!).

The characters didn't stay out for long (did I mention how hot it was?), but we were able to get pictures with all of these in less than 10 minutes. We grabbed a spot in the shade under an umbrella and waited for Oh! The Stories You'll Hear!

The show was very cute! All of the characters danced around together, and the narrator read The Lorax. After the show, the characters came down for a few more minutes for greetings. M was able to meet the Lorax (the last character we had missed) before they all went inside again.

M was ready for a nap at this point, so my husband and I split off to hit a few of the bigger rides on Marvel Superhero Island. The Incredible Hulk Coaster was really good, but Doctor Doom's Fear Fall was a waste of time (luckily we used the single's line for this and waited less than 15 minutes). We skipped the Amazing Adventures of Superman because the line was too long and I was getting frustrated with all the Express Pass people again.

We had planed to stop in Toon Lagoon for Me Ship the Olive and Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls, but we ended up skipping all of this area. Me Ship the Olive was just another spash pad / playground area (we had our fill yesterday), and I don't know what made me think M could ride the log flume, but it had a 44" height minimum. The rest of Toon Lagoon was more carnival-style games (someone must like those...).

Our last stop was Jurassic Park. I had high hopes for this, even after the letdown at DinoLand USA in Animal Kingdom. It was better than Animal Kingdom's version, but still not a huge hit.

We skipped Pteranodon Flyers because I was uncomfortable with the idea of M riding in a seat by herself. It is so bizarre to me that this ride has a shorter height minimum than the Seuss Trolley Train.

Instead, we went over to the Jurassic Park Discovery Center. There were some neat dinosaur statues, including some with viewfinders inside them so you could see from the vantage point of a dinosaur.

They also had "The Nursery" where you could watch a baby dinosaur hatch from an egg. Well, you could watch it on the screen above you unless you were one of the lucky few who was able to get close enough in the front to actually see. I didn't get a chance to look at the DNA Sequencing area (M was getting bored), but I think there may be some interesting things to explore when she is a little older.

It was 4:45, and we probably could have left the park at this point, but we decided to go back to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter to roam through the shops. We stopped in Honeydukes and Zonko's, but they were both so crowded that we left pretty quickly.

Our our way out M wanted to play in If I Ran the Zoo, which was yet another splash pad / playground. It had some cute interactive areas where you could turn cranks or step on pedals to make characters appear. There was also a photo area where you could see the child's reflection next to Dr. Seuss characters. We skipped the actual splash area (it was nice how they separated the splash areas so you could choose to play without getting wet), and M still had fun.


Our overall impression - The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Seuss Landing were great, even (or especially) for toddlers! I personally could have skipped the rest (except maybe the Incredible Hulk coaster - I would do that again). I think we could have spent the whole day in those two sections of the park and had a great day. I would do it again!

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