We visited Universal's Islands of Adventure on one of the busiest days of December - the park closed for capacity in early afternoon. We were lucky, because we had early admission, and at 7:00am we were already making a beeline for the Harry Potter area. The line for 'Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey' was minimal - maybe fifteen minutes? - and we rode the ride twice. (Hint: Take the single rider line. You'll be in and out within a quarter of an hour.) Afterwards we were able to wander the streets with ease. We popped into each of the shops briefly, to get an idea of we would want to buy, but the thought of carrying everything in our pockets all day was disheartening, so we decided to come back later to make our purchases. BIG MISTAKE. When we attempted to return to the Wizarding World, we had to get a return 'ticket' to let us back into the area around 5 o'clock. It was only noon! The alternative would have been to wait in a 2+ hour queue, just to get into Hogsmeade. No thanks!! We went off and experienced the rest of Universal, came back at 5, and went to town. We had dinner at The Three Broomsticks, which was only a fifteen minute wait - not bad at all. While the boys did the Dragon Challenge, I waited in line to get into the shops. Le sigh. I should've done my spending in the morning, but I could never have predicted that the place would get so crowded Universal would make you join a queue just to give them money!
Entrance to Hogsmeade
THE ATTRACTIONS OF HARRY POTTER LAND
HARRY POTTER AND THE FORBIDDEN JOURNEY: AMAZING ride inside the great Hogwarts Castle that looms over Hogsmeade. Best theme park ride I've ever been on, I think. It combines video screen technology and "live action" effects to really thrill you and immerse you in the world of Hogwarts. It's almost necessary to go through the long queue at least once to get the background story - something about Hagrid's lost a dragon, and Harry, Hermione and Ron are sneaking you around the school. It's like walking through the movie set....you visit Dumbledore's office, the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, Portrait galleries, and more. Total wish fulfillment. Once on the ride itself, you fly across a Quidditch pitch and encounter spiders, dementors and dragons. I took tons of pictures of the queue line here, check it out for tour of the castle and other trip photos.
Hogwarts Castle, which houses Harry Potter & The Forbidden Journey
FILCH'S EMPORIUM: This is the shop you land in when you exit the Forbidden Journey, so it is CROWDED. Always. Some of the more unique items for sale included Hogwarts-themed pins (I bought one with the Ravenclaw crest) and scarves with the House emblems on them. Unfortunately, when we were there only Hufflepuff scarves remained, and as one person exclaimed, "NO ONE WANTS TO BE IN HUFFLEPUFF!!!"
THREE BROOMSTICKS: Great British food. The fish & chips were crisp and hot, and the Shepherd's Pie was delicious. Yes, it was pricey, but trust me, there was little else in the park worth eating. We tried the Hog's Head Ale, an exclusive beer found only in Hogsmeade, and butter beer and pumpkin juice. Butter beer is very addictive; had the weather been warmer I imagine we'd have downed it by the gallon. It was very crowded, but wait was minimal.
DERVISH & BANGS/OLLIVANDER'S/OWL POST: This is where you'll drop most of your money for wizard-themed goods. Some of the offerings were pretty neat - I really liked the wax seal sets sold in the Owl Post area. The wands you've heard so much about are also here; if you want to wait in an especially long line, wait to see the Ollivander's 'show' where a child is matched to a wand. The wait line for this shop was over an hour, so by the time you got in it almost felt like you *had* to buy something to justify all that standing around.
DRAGON CHALLENGE: Seanie went on the two roller coasters and loved it. I, being a squeamish wimp, declined the opportunity.
HONEYDUKES/ZONKO'S: The candy shop had many of the candies you read about in the books, like Bertie Bott's Beans (Jelly Bellies), Pepper Imps, Fizzing Whizbees, Chocolate Frogs, Fudge Flies, chocolate wands and cauldrons. Other items I expected to see were sold out, I think - there wasn't a Sugar Quill to be found! Bottled pumpkin juice was available for purchase, but unfortunately no bottled butter beer.
Harry Potter candy.
Hogsmeade's shops and streets were all made to match the look of the movies - including how they were spaced. Unless you go right when the park opens, it's insanely crowded in the shops, with hardly room to move. Even the streets rapidly fill up and employees have to direct traffic flow.
But Hogsmeade looks amazing. On such a cold day, it looks and feels just like a frosty English morning and you can really pretend you're in Harry's world. In a couple of years, when the crowds die down, this should be a really amazing place to wander. Right now, though, it's just insane.
In the morning, while the crowds were elsewhere.
So that's Harry Potter Land...what was the rest of the park like? Let's go through it, "island" by "island":
MARVEL SUPERHERO ISLAND: Two of the biggest draws in the Marvel area are The Incredible Hulk Coaster and Doctor Doom's Fearfall, but we didn't go on them because I'm not a roller coaster fan...especially not if I have to wait 75+ minutes to ride it. (Yeah, that was what the wait times were like. Crazy, huh?) But we did go on the Spider-Man ride, and it was pretty entertaining. Definitely one of the better rides in the park; gotta love that 3-D action!
JURASSIC PARK: Dinosaurs are EPIC and AWESOME, so how could I not be excited about Jurassic Park? It's a fun area, with an assortment of activities for all ages. The Jurassic Park Discovery Center, modeled after the movie's Visitor Center, is a great place to sneak some education into your childrens' fun. It's not quite as interesting as an adult, though. Several animatronic dinosaurs seemed to be broken, too, as they weren't moving at all.
Pteranodon Flyers looked like it was fun, but we couldn't go on it because we lacked a small child. It's the first ride I've ever seen that had a maximum height requirement - how weird is that? "Guests over 56" must be accomapnied by a child meeting the 36" height requirement." LAME WAY TO HARSH ON MY DINOSAUR BUZZ.
The River Adventure is pretty fun; since it was really cold so the park employees spent a lot of time standing around, desperately trying to convince us to ride.
Dinosaur it up in Jurassic Park!
TOON LAGOON: The big problem with Toon Lagoon is it feels very, very dated. I mean, who reads newspaper comic strips anymore? OK, I admit that I do, but even I wasn't familiar with many of the characters in this area. Also, that terrifying Cathy sitting atop a mountain of ice cream with her legs spread wide will haunt me and my boyfriend in our nightmares....UGH. But the rides in this area are fun - even though it was really bloody cold, we enjoyed Bluto's Bilge-Rat Barges and Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls. But who watches Popeye anymore? My boyfriend didn't even know who Dudly Do-Right was! As charming and nostalgic as this 'island' is, I think Universal might do well to rework the rides for a new theme and scrap the Toon Lagoon.
After the two water rides and the Jurassic Park River Adventure, we were soaked, so we tried to use one of the drying machines. It's expensive - I think $5 for a few minutes - and ineffective; next time, I'll remember to bring a garbage bag to cover my clothes up. At least the drying machine is cheaper than ponying up for the $8 Universal Studios poncho.
THE LOST CONTINENT: This is another area that is staged really well, but feels dated. It looks great, and as you walk past the shops and food stands you could easily believe you're about to have an awesome, Indiana Jones-style adventure! But this area doesn't really have any good attractions anymore. Poseidon's Fury is a cheesy attraction full of bad acting and worse costumes. The effects are neat, I'll give them that - I loved going through the whirlpool tunnel and large flames always get my attention. But as the showcase of 'The Lost Continent' Island, Poseidon's Fury lacks the punch it needs.
The other attraction in this area, The Eighth Voyage of Sindbad, is just awful. Cheesy, hammy acting. (The villainess will bring to mind that old Power Rangers nemesis, Rita Repulsa.) Lame story. Garish, hideous costumes. Godawful script. Do yourself a favor and skip it!
Some of the rides in this area were repurposed in Harry Potter land, which explains why it's so small.
At least it looks cool...?
SEUSS LANDING: We didn't spend much time here, but I have to admit it's a cute area. It really looks like a Seuss book brought to life! But it targets a younger audience, much like Disney's Toon Town.
Talk about an exhausting day. My feet were killing me by the end of it. But it was so, so SO awesome.