While in town, my lady made it very clear that not visiting Universal Studios Orlando and Harry Potter World was not an option. Thus, I booked us the Four Points International Drive and attended a Sheraton Timeshare presentation to get discounted tickets (~$107/person). The hotel shuttle took roughly thirty minutes to arrive at Universal Studios – roughly the same amount of time it would take to walk. It was a chilly January day, which definitely heated up later in the day.
Universal City Walk
Strolling through CityWalk, I remarked at how ingenous it was – to be similar to Disney’s Boardwalk. Full of shops, restaurants, clubs, and other stores designed to extract as much money from you as possible. Free to enter, of course!
Universal Studios Orlando!
We got our timeshare discount tickets at will-call, as the machines we were supposed to use were not functioning properly. Thankfully their service was quick and we entered at roughly 9am, their opening time.
Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley
Heading straight to Harry Potter World, we wanted to spend the bulk of our time enjoying the magic of Harry Potter. We waited in line at Gringotts for the main can’t-miss ride – HARRY POTTER AND THE ESCAPE FROM GRINGOTTS™. This ride requires you to store your belongings in free lockers. We brought one drawstring bag to hold water and a sweater. Note that you can bring in snacks, water, and probably small meals. No overly large bags, glass, alcohol, or coolers. Use your best judgment.
Escape from Gringotts
This was a very well done 3D ride in the vein of Transformers or Spiderman – where your vehicle rides around on a track and you see 3D screens. I don’t want to spoil it, but suffice to say go early to avoid the crazy lines!
Their main money-making machine in Potterlandia. Basic non-interactive wands cost $40, with interactive wants costing $48. Their profit margin is in excess of 600%, putting their interactive wand cost at roughly $7. Crazy! They have a large wand shop, with a wand demonstration to replicate the experience of the first book/movie – a kid (yes, it’s usually a kid) gets chosen to use a wand by a replicant Olivander. I could only think about the profits from this shop alone – thinking about all the fans, parents, and kids, who just had to have a wand (usually interactive as well).
The interactive wand component was a nice touch – within both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade in Universal Islands of Adventure, round gold symbols on the floor show you an incantation and wand movement which will cause some reaction in designated areas. I found these quite difficult – as they are designed for children. Look for the visual sensor, a small screen, make small, sharp movements (roughly in a 6’’ by 6’’ square, rather than large flourishes), and angle it from a small child’s height. It worked best with helpful Universal associates guiding us along.
Additionally, I found out another interesting tidbit – that the employees don’t get free wands! Only 25% off, and sometimes up to 50% on certain sale days. We only got one wand, but it was a very interesting and fun experience, and something to treasure in the future.
Of course, you can purchase the Harry Potter special, butterbeer, in the park, which comes in a liquid and frozen option. It’s quite delicious and sweet, as well as being non-acoholic. Think frothy cream soda. A cup is $8, with a souvenir cup being $15.
Near the bank is a small money exchange stores where you can trade your Muggle money for Harry Potter notes. These notes come in denominations of $10 and $20, and are valid throughout the park – however should you spend them, they are no longer “magic” and you get your change in Muggle money. An amazing, amazingly profitable (for Universal) souvenir if you keep them! You can purchase other souvenirs as well, such as an expensive paperweight “gold” bar.
This little hideaway was extremely dark, where you can enter Borgin and Burkes and purchase those items for dark magic. A very twisted and enjoyable experience much more to my liking. However, as expected, things cost more than I was willing to pay.
The Remainder of Universal Studios Orlando
The entire park is split up into mini-parks, with three of them being San Francisco, Hollywood, and New York. Having spent an extended amount of time in each one, it felt quite weird to be walking through facsimiles of places where I have lived and been. However, I guess for those coming to Orlando and wanting a taste of the microcosm of America, it would do the trick.
Some rides we went on were Men in Black, Shrek 4-D, Transformers 3-D, Revenge of the Mummy, and Terminator 3-D. One note about those who come from California – while I may not remember the Transformers ride in Hollywood, I do remember the Terminator one there. The Terminator ride at Universal Studios Orlando is exactly the same as the one in Universal Studios Hollywood – with the T-1000000, so save yourself the time and explore other rides or attractions.
As someone with a background in business, economics, and finance, Universal Studios Orlando is a wonderful place to be to study their pricing structures and park layout. Additionally, as a Harry Potter fan it is a must for anyone interested in the series. While I can see this being an excellent visit, I find it hard to justify more than a day (or even more than half a day) in Diagon Alley. It’s not terribly big and you could explore all of it in just a couple hours.
Lastly, I will have more, in my review of the Hogwards Express connecting Diagon Alley with the Hogsmeade Park in Universal’s Island of Adventure!
Featured image from pixabay of the beautiful Hogwarts castle. A map of the park is here.
What do you think of my musings on Universal Studios Orlando, and Harry Potter World – Diagon Alley? Let me know in the comments, or reach me directly at TheHotelion@gmail.com! Like my posts? See more here, on TravelUpdate! Follow me on Facebook (The Hotelion) or on Twitter and Instagram: @TheHotelion