Let me preface by telling everyone what a game changer Express Pass at all the HP attractions is. No more getting up at the crack of dawn just to ride Gringotts or FJ once a day before the waits balloon to 1.5 hours or more.
We literally walked on all three of the major HP attractions regardless of the time of day. That addition is huge because you can arrive a half hour after park opening and ride pretty much as often as you like, provided you are at one of the three premier hotels that provide complimentary Unlimited Express.
Our Club Level experience at Hard Rock was actually really nice. A light continental breakfast before heading out is enough to hold you over until the afternoon. Eating at the buffets for $20 a pop makes you stuff yourself to think you are getting your money's worth, and you are sort of useless for the first few hours, in my opinion.
All of the Express lines were under 5 minutes, except Ripsaw Falls. That was over 20 minutes, but we did go at the hottest time of year. JP River Adventure and Bilge Rat Barges were always walk ons.
Reign of Kong - I think I have a new top 5 ride... I can't understand why so many people ripped on that attraction. I would expect it was because of long waits whereas we never waited more than 5 minutes. We rode it 8 times during our stay and got to experience all of the "tour guides". I think if we waited for 2 hours, it may have been a different story.
Butterbeer and parking prices have gone up since our last visit, and I personally think the prices are now borderline ridiculous. This being said, I found out the parking is not part of the Lowes hotels, but it is contracted by a separate company, and they set the prices, then bill the hotel.
The parks were immaculate, and the cast members were great as always. We asked about the Immigration Tour on MIB, and they were happy to have us wait a couple minutes for a tour guide. It was really cool to be down there, and everyone in line was asking how we got down to he lower level from up above. I was joking with them saying it was $49.95... :)
We did more riding on this trip than ever before. It was the hottest time of year and the parks were as busy as I have ever seen them.
I finally get the Jimmy Fallon ride as I didn't know the barbershop quartet (they are great, by the way) was simply to keep you entertained while waiting for you ticket color to be displayed in the lobbies. The ride was actually just a Jimmy Neutron clone for the most part, but the theming in that building is amazing. You normally have to reserve a return time, but Express holders are let in immediately.
I noticed all of the good candy in Honeydukes and the store in Diagon Alley has been replaced with common garbage you can buy in any grocery store with inflated prices (like M&Ms).
We tried to get into Toothsome for some late night milkshakes, but that place was insane any time we tried to walk in, so we ended up leaving without buying anything but some Macaroons, which were insanely expensive, but the best I have ever had.
Mythos didn't fail to impress as they change their menu constantly, so there is always something new. I got the Pad Thai and cleaned the plate. It was amazing.
Basically, you can now let all of the Cabana Bay and Sapphire Falls guests kill themselves getting up for early entry and do whatever you want at any time of day, including HP rides. HUGE improvement...
The EP queue for HP takes you up a side stairwell and puts you right in front of Dumbledore's office, so you can stop and take all the pics you want while people pass you. Gringotts EP line takes you through the bank "lobby", so you can stop and take pics as well, but people will blow right past you if you are taking your time.
The EP line for Gringotts was always a quick stop at the photo booth, which we blew right past, and it was straight to the elevator. The Hogwarts Express EP line basically gets you right to the platform right before the part that winds 2-3 times before you are assigned a row. It was literally a walk on at both end no matter what time of day.
The Hulk is a bit different and the new launch tunnel is way better. You can hear the audio from from Spiderman and the track still "roars". The queue is all new as well. The reactor effects are much better and the ride itself is way smoother than before.
All in all it was a great trip and I had never seen the parks busier. If you are staying at Hard Rock, Royal Pacific, or Portofino Bay, do yourself a favor and sleep in. There is no need for early entry at all anymore. We managed to hit every ride in both parks (including all HP rides) on our second day before 3PM and we arrived after 10AM. Then we hit all of our favorites again (some multiple times) in the evening.
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