A theme park gift under $10? Theme Park Insider: 2016 Year in Review
The morning was deceptively sunny. The sky really did try to hold the fort, and managed this successfully until about 9.30. We arrived at the park around 8am and joined the queue of excited guests looking longingly at the Universal Hotel VIPs who were allowed to enter the park early.
When the gates finally opened, we slip-slided our way through the puddles (flip-flops are not suitable footwear after / during rain, especially not at the Universal parks which, I’ve noticed, both seem to promote high slippery ground surfaces), and became quite stressed when we were denied access to Harry Potter world through Zeuss Landing. We were made to walk alllllll the way round the whole other side of the park. I see the logistical reasoning for doing this. I just moaned about it….I was tired!
When we skidded through Jurassic Park and entered the feeder lanes (roped lanes prepared in readiness to funnel the crowds), we were thrilled to see the wait time for FJ was only 35 minutes. Due to the urgency to get in the queue, I didn’t absorb the wonder of approaching Hogwarts or entering Hogsmead; we legged it straight into the castle and encountered what I can only describe as an utterly crazy bag-store system.
To deviate slightly:
- The bag store area has been designed as a bottle-neck so it is a constant fight to enter / exit.
- The machines that you need to use in order to access a locker are very temperamental – especially when you want to get your bag OUT. I had to try several times. I knew I was entering the correct locker number and using the correct finger (you have to use your fingerprint for security), but still it said ‘not recognised’. Then a helpful girl behind me (obviously a local) said that they do this all the time, and to try wiping my finger and the screen. It worked first time after doing this.
- It was very stressful trying to find a locker, let alone trying to deal with a broken machine, because it is very dark inside and there are hoards of people all around you, pushing and panicking, crouching beneath you, I saw several people trip up…
- You need to be quite determined, confident and quick to experience this without too much discomfort.
- I recommend, if you are in a party of 3 or more, send one or two people into the locker area with all the bags and arrange to wait for them round the corner in the queue, of if retrieving items, sometimes away from the entrance to the castle.
- I’ve also read in quite a few place – it’s best to go without a bag…but I think this would be difficult for families. I was in a party of four adults, and we had three bags between us. Unless you are rich enough to spend money on water and food throughout the whole day, you’re going to have a bag with you.
- Lastly (sorry!) I don’t understand why they didn’t situate the lockers away from the queue. As it is, they are integrated into the queue so for everyone that has bags (queuing on the right) it is a race to store your bag and rejoin with queue without dropping behind too many places. Ludicrous!
The queuing area through the greenhouse and the castle is beautiful and in the greenhouse there are two or three water fountains situated here and there – make use of these as it gets quite hot. Inside the castle there so many cool things to look at – statues, the phoenix, talking / moving paintings…my favourite was the little show that Harry, Hermione and Ron do as holograms, they are basically outlining the storyline of the ride, but they look so real! And try and watch the whole show, because at the end Ron (I think it’s Ron) makes it snow by accident and real snow actually falls from the ceiling! Magic.
Also, plenty of people were taking photos in the castle, but if you’re like us you will have left your camera safely locked away in your stored bag. Remember to take it out and keep it in your pocket during the ride.
And so we arrive at the ride itself…WOW. It is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before in my life. The technical side of it…well, it’s similar to Spidey in that you’re on a track which moves between animatronics and film footage on large screens, but instead of the track being beneath you, it’s behind you – your four-seater capsule is stuck onto the track like a lollipop attached to its stick. This means that you can be directed (theoretically) to face any degrees within 360, although you don’t actually go upside-down, the motion is more of a swinging, lurching, accelerating…yes you actually feel like you’re riding a broomstick. It’s sensational.
The storyline is immense…SPOILERS AHEAD. You’re escaping from a Muggle guided tour of the castle and strapped to this special broomstick, supposedly to watch Harry in a quidditch match. However, you accidentally end up in the Forbidden Forest and suddenly you’re dodging dementors, the whomping willow, giant spiders, a dragon and even YKW himself. My favourite bit was when the dragon breathed fire!
(NOTE: For the most extreme experience sit on the left side – as you’re sitting on the ‘broomstick’ not facing it. This is the best for speed, acceleration, adrenaline rush. Sit in the middle for the tamest experience, and sit in the righthand seat for medium rush, but also to get the dragon’s firey breath in your face! YEAH!)
I won’t spoil the ending, but you evade certain death ten times over and want to do it again…immediately!
Re-entering the locker area is a bit of a challenge, as (at least to me) the signage is poor and due to the exit spilling you out into a shop (of course) reaching the locker area means wading through crowds. However, don’t (like me) rush to the nearest exit for dear fresh air, instead keep right in the shop and there is a wide archway which leads into the back of the locker area. Don’t go through the front of the castle again as you will have to battling with the queue, again.
Also it’s a good idea to remember, not only your locker number, but also your locker area number (1 – 10 I think) as this will help you relocate your stuff.
Well, okay so this amazing experience took us until approx 9.30am and boy were we glad we rushed to FJ…the wait time was now 110 minutes and the queue was winding out of the castle and out of sight!!! Unfortunately by this time is was really tipping it down and we donned ponchos and joined the crowds. However, it being Spring Break (we were unaware of this when booking our holiday) and it being rainy and cold, looking round Hogsmead wasn’t the best experience. It was packed. We managed to race onto Duelling Dragons which was only 10mins queue, and this was as fantastic as I remembered. One of my favourite coasters and I reckon Fire (the red one) is definitely the best.
We also only had to queue for 15 mins for a Butterbeer from a stall in the street. It was SOOOOO sweet! I’d heard people compare it to butterscotch, but this was butterscotch with extra sugar on top. The froth was my favourite part and I could have enjoyed a whole bowl of that. The actual drink itself I found a bit bitter (perhaps compared with the froth) and I couldn’t finish it. Definitely worth the $5 or so.
The only shop we went in was the joke and sweet shop. The others all had massive queues and we just weren’t that bothered to be honest! The sweet shop was brilliant and I took loads of cool photos in there, so many gorgeous colours! I did buy a chocolate frog for $10, but for my friend’s birthday present, and I did treat myself to some jelly beans.
Then we got the heck out of dodge and retreated to Zuess Landing, found a canteen type place and rested from the rain. By this point we were cold, wet and a bit down right miserable. We decided to cheer ourselves up by going on Spidey…THREE TIMES! That did the trick. There was no queue and we had a blast. I know there’s been some discussion on here for a good revamp, but I still think Spidey’s got it.
We decided to head over to the Studios to do some of their indoor attractions and thoroughly enjoyed Twister and the Mummy (a much better locker area / system), had fun on MIB and were a bit miffed at the Simpsons (wouldn’t bother with that again). The Mummy was even more amazing than ever before – ahhh the ceiling of fire! The backwards, the darkness, the speed, the beetles!!! Brilliant.
We tried to get a drink in the Irish pub, but they were clearly over-populated and under-staffed. We sat at a table and waited for service for about 20mins before leaving. We did try and order at the bar, but were told three times that we couldn’t order at the bar unless we were sitting at the bar, and as there were no spare seats, we had to wait at a table for…no-one.
Nevermind. We were all quite happy to be heading home early and with enough time to return another day, we didn’t mind that we hadn’t ridden everything. To be honest, I felt really sorry for the families we saw charging about in the rain, dragging soggy children through the crowds, Spongebob looking decidedly more like seaweed throughout the day. They clearly only had one day to fit everything in and (good on them) were determined the make the most of it. As for us, we returned to our warm car, our warm villa and enjoyed a couple of cocktails in our cosy front room… Content in the knowledge that we would get to ride Harry Potter once more.
Hope you have a wicked time in June. Look out for the wonky chimneys atop some of the shops in Hogsmead. They look so funny and an impressive architectual feat!
Also something I thought of...If you are intent on buying a wand but dont want / have time to wait to get into Olivanders, you can buy one from the large merchandise shop on the left as you enter Universal Studios. There was one lady stood behind a stall and there was no-one but us around! We had a good chat with her, got to hold all the wands and even play with them...and we weren't even buying one :-P
This definitely put me the mood for my Summer vacation in the Sunshine state. Thanks :D
Despite my name being a great fit for it - I'm not actually a Harry Potter fan, but I cant wait to get on the ride! Do you think it will affect my enjoyment if I dont know exact plots etc? I know what quidditch is etc and the very basics as I have seen the first film but thats it.
Hey Kelly - you do have a good name for Harry Potter! TBH I don't think it would spoil your enjoyment not having read the books, however you might increase your enjoyment by watching a couple more of the films in the name of research! Obviously it's a stand-alone experience and will be amazing whatever, but it's also fun to walk around the castle going 'oh look it's the Fat Lady...oh look there's the sorting hat... now we're in the potions lab...' but you're guarenteed to have an awesome time whatever!
Looking forward to hearing what you guys think of it!
However if the queue's short and doesn't spill out of the castle, there's not much point and I'd go in the front way.
Although of course, I'm not guaranteeing there won't be any Hogwarts patrol active in the area who might prevent you from cheating the system! But if I were going back, I would definitely try this, worth avoiding mayhem. Good thinking!
When I was there in October, the huge line out of the front of the building was not for the ride, but for the lockers. Since I had trained everyone in my party to travel light, we skipped past at least a hundred people in line for the lockers and got immediately in the queue for the ride.
Another way to fight the crowds on this ride is to use the single rider line which peels off to the left in the same lobby area that the lockers are in. You will not be able to see anyone that you are riding with, so it does not matter if you share the same vehicle.
I have always disliked how you have to pay for the ones outside the water rides. I understand they have places for the bags but it makes me so nervous. As for the potter ones you just can't be nice when you go in there. I found if you went to the one that was closest to the queue it was quieter. As for "jumping out of line" you practically have to do this on every ride... the more time you waste getting a locker the more people are getting in line ahead of you. Just because you can get in hallway in potter then go to the locker doesnt mean you're jumping out of line just means you didn't know to go to the locker first like all the other rides. And by all the other I mean the other 6 or 7.
Edit: I will add that I have always had Express Pass and this might help on the locker headache. Like I said we have only gone over time once and thats because it broke down.
Rob - I admire your ability to get your group to pack light - I guess it's about making sacrifices. I wasn't prepared to leave my video camera behind, I always needed a jumper in case I got cold, had to carry suntan cream, bug spray...you get the idea! If you can go without a bag - do it! I just couldn't.
It was so helpful having my gran with us last time, who is in a wheelchair, wasn't bothered about the rides and slept most of the day :-) Bless her for holding our bags all day!
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