A Day Without Magic: low marks for Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter

First, let me preface: I am a Harry Potter geek. Though I’m not big into fantasy, MG, or YA lit, that bright boy charmed me from the moment my hubby (who IS a total YA & fantasy geek) convinced me to give the book a try over a decade ago. I’ve devoured each book since.

 I hate to do this. It’s a new year, and I’m trying to focus on the positive in life. But Sunday…Sunday stunk as much as rotten pollyjuice potion.

Over a year ago, I won two tickets to Universal Orlando. It’s been a fight to get them (another story, another day) but we FINALLY  marked our calendars for Janurary 20th: the day we’d experience The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

We were more excited than if we’d nabbed tickets to the Quiddich World Cup. Kiddo rushed to finish reading Chamber of Secrets (almost made it—he’s only in 3rd grade). We watched a marathon of movies. We hoped for a chilly day so the snow dusting the roofs in  the quaint town of Hogsmeade wouldn’t be too ironic due to the sweltering average Orlando temperatures.

The first faux pas came when we tried to buy an additional ticket. We’re local, we’re Florida residents—we expected to find some type of discount. Nada, unless we wanted to buy three days. Then our local newspaper listed a Florida resident discount in its entertainment section. Yippee. I couldn’t find it on the UniversalOrlando.com site, so I called.

They had never heard of it. And laughed when I asked if they’d honor the price.

So we purchased the ticket at FULL PRICE. {Shivers. Those who know me realize I never pay full price for anything.}

Our assigned day of fun arrived with promises of cool weather and slightly overcast skies—a perfect backdrop to mimic Harry’s land of enchantment. We rushed through the park gates as soon as they opened for us “regular” guests (hotel guests are allowed in an hour early) and raced towards the castle. My heart fluttered as we passed through the stone arch marking our transformation from mere tourists to muggles. We lingered for a moment to gape at the Hogwarts Express and snap a pic. The Hogwarts Express! A stampede of muggles and aspiring witchcraft and wizardry students in various Potter attire pushed through the narrow alleyway, barely gazing in the shop windows as all prepared to storm the castle. The stately towers of Hogwarts rose above the foliage, yet less than ten minutes after the park opened, the wait for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey clocked in at 75 minutes. Whaat? Flight of the Hippogriff (a 30-second kiddie coaster) 80 minutes. And the real coaster—The Dragon Challenge—closed for ‘area enhancements.’ Bloody hell.

Now, since I’m a local, I don’t go to any theme park during high season. But it was mid-January. The lines shouldn’t be this long…

We checked back several times and the line never wavered. (Oh, what I would have done for a Time-Turner!) By early afternoon we couldn’t resist and we joined the queue. I never made it on the ride. Once you wind through the maze of line outside you must deposit all your worldly belongings in lockers for the last hour wait. I’m not good with lines normally, but vicious allergies made the idea of standing in a confined space without any water, tissues, or throat lozenges impossible. With a tear, I fled from the line and crowds to the rainforest of Jurassic Park while the hubby and kiddo waited.

I’m glad I fled. The ride broke twice while they were strapped in and flying high. Holy freakout, Harry.

Instead I waited 25 minutes for a frozen butterbeer (yum!) and saw the tops of the Beauxbatons and Drumstrang students twirl and stomp on the little stage.

{Aside: check out the “Public Convinces” as Moaning Myrtle‘s voice entertains you in the loo.}

While the shop windows lining the narrow street in Hogsmeade are lavishly decorated with notions and displays that will surely delight any Potter fan, most are merely facades, and “Closed” signs hang behind their  glass paned doors. The shops that are open are excruciatingly tight; expect to push through as if they were giving away free Nimbus 2000s. No one can leave without buying some of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans at Honeydukes. The line for Olivander’s (just to watch one of 25 people go through the wand selection process) runs up to 90 minutes long, so we skipped that also. We oohhed and ahhhed over much of the merchandise in the cramped stores, but as expected, the prices seemed as high as a wanted wizard’s ransom. Be warned.


We bit the bullet and joined the line for Flight of the Hippogriff. Kiddo stood just an inch shy of riding on the massive looping Hulk coaster, and we couldn’t imagine leaving Islands of Adventure without at least one spin on the tracks. But we did.  The Hippogriff must have been insulted, because in the first ten minutes we waited, the coaster broke down twice. With passengers aboard, stranded.

Yeeah, we abandoned that line.

Of course, we stopped in for a pint at the Hog’s Head Pub. The decor was charming, the beer & cider cold, the line long (Hubby asked if they were brewing it behind the bar), the “suggested tip”  fleecing. (You’re pouring a beer behind a counter, you get a buck. It’s not table service. You’re not earning a 25% tip on a $7.95 pint.)

With a sigh, we left Hogsmeade and dragged the last dregs of our beers along to watch The Eighth Voyage of Sinbad Stunt Show. Cheesy, but the kiddo laughed, and it was lovely to actually sit and relax. Except…fifteen minutes into the show the actors disappeared and the show abruptly ended due to “technical difficulties.” Come on!

We were done. We stopped at the Caro-Suess-el as we wandered to the exit. A fifteen minute wait–okay. Except our wait grew as we kept getting bypassed by the Express Pass people. The entire carousel would be filled up by Brazillian tour groups who breezed past as we stood still. You see, for an additional $29.99 – $49.99 (on top of the $96 one-day one-park ticket) you can walk right onto most the rides, leaving all of us people who can’t or won’t spend the extra feeling like dirty mudbloods. 

For once, I say Disney does it better. MUCH better. Their fast past system is wonderful. Yes, I’ll take a FREE ticket to come back to a crowed ride at an assigned time. Works like a charm and makes a theme park visit much more magical.

Universal needs to study harder. Long lines, too tight quarters, poor fast pass system, and at least four attraction fails. Of the three Wizarding World attractions, two broke and one was closed. Though the facades were breathtaking, the magic just wasn’t happening.

5 thoughts on “A Day Without Magic: low marks for Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter

  1. Jennifer

    I could not possibly agree more. I am a huge Potter fan and we shelled out the extra cash so we could enter an hour early and the lines were still ridiculous. They do the fast pass thing but I thing you have to stay at one of their hotels in order to use it which is crazy. Disney has been at it longer but you would think Universal would have caught on by now. My daughter works at Disney World so I am a little bias 🙂
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  2. Shawna

    That is why I am so glad we bought passes. We went twice before school started back up and it was extremely crowded. My research though tells me that it has been that way since the attraction has been open. Our plan is to go and do what we want and don't stress if we don't do everything.
    I think you just went on a bum day. None of the rides broke down when we were there. Too bad you didn't check the website. It will list the rides that are closed for maintenance and such. We ate at Three Broomsticks at I was not impressed at all. I got a salad without the chicken and was still charged the same. $9 for iceberg lettuce with two slices of tomato, cucumber and croutons-yikes!!

  3. StephScottYA

    Wow, so frustrating! I agree with you on being annoyed at not getting local discounts. It sounds like Universal was not truly prepared for the onslaught of HP fandom. And it's been open for a year at least, if not two, right? I haven't been to Disney in years but like you said, I understand their fast pass system makes it far more worthwhile.


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