When I visited Hogsmeade in 2012 with my Mother-In-Law only 1/2 of The Wizarding World was open during that time. Diagon Alley and the Hogwarts Express Train did not open until 2014. As a fan of the books and movies I will confess that I was a bit star struck by the park it's self. With the attention to detail in all elements of the Wizarding World it is hard not to just giggle in delight that you are standing there seeing it in person. My few meager pictures do not do justice to the park or the experience. And even with two visits in the same day I know there was still so much that I missed.
The actual rides in the park were great. Universal Studios has really mastered state-of-the-art 4-D attractions and technology. The Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringott's ride is amazing! I would also highly recommend the walking tour of the castle ride as there are no waiting lines but they give you the opportunity to see how amazing the castle details are from the inside if you are not interested in the ride. Plus you can take all the time you wish checking out the details and rooms/props along the way. I believe that other rides also have the walking tours but I only asked to go on the tour of the castle.
In some cases Anthony rode a few rides solo. He is a bit braver than I am (please no upside down adventures or spinning in circles for this little wizard) but a little known fact is that I put my back out as I was getting dressed at the hotel the morning of our Universal visit. I have never had back issues before and have not experienced this type of pain radiating across my lower back except maybe during child birth. Oh dear God it was intense and immediate. I was a little concerned with some of the jarring of the rides that they would take an awful situation and make it a thousand times worse. I did not complain because I was so excited to be there but when I first put it out I was worried I would not even be able to stand up. It took me 10 minutes to just get my clothes on. I really rocked the Advil all day at the park but honestly between my back and feet I was experiencing a very significant amount of pain the entire day. I have decided that my ability to function with pain is exceedingly high. If only I had brought my wand with me I am sure there is a spell for back issues. The good news is I only had one significant flair up after originally putting it out. Of course I was sitting at a restaurant eating breakfast not even moving around when it happened. And unfortunately it was on our travel day back to Boise. Longest plane rides of my life.
Another favorite ride of mine was the actual Hogwarts Express - Kings Cross Station. I felt like a little kid as we disappeared through the brick wall of Platform 9 3/4 (just like in the movies). On the train you wind your way through the British countryside, keeping watch outside your window. You never know who or what you might see flying, swooping or lurking just outside the train. You might also encounter an adventure or two along the way as other passengers shadows are on their way to their own compartments and you can overhear their conversations. We rode the train both directions and each ride was unique. I totally loved it!
We took time to visit the makers of fine wands since 382 BC, Ollivanders. In the books and movies it is one of the wizarding world’s premier wand shops. While there we were able to witness the magical experience of a wand choosing a wizard. And of course you can purchase your own wands in the shop. Since I do have my own wand already I did not select a new one but I will admit I was tempted to purchase one of their interactive wands. Wizards can perform spells around the park and if cast correctly things happen. There is a map to show you where to find the special medallions on the ground and from there you perform the spell outlined on the medallion. You wave your wand, recite the spell, and watch as the magic unfold. Some times it takes a bit of practice to swish your wand properly. It was pretty neat to watch kids delight in creating the magic in the shop windows and with some of the statues (like the mermaid above who would spit water at you if you did the spell correctly). The only thing that stopped me was the $50 price tag and the fact that the interactive wands are much more delicate than the wand I purchased previously. The next time we travel back to the Wizarding World I am going to see if I can borrow G's wand so I can play around too without forking out the funds. Why should the kids have all the fun?
I did have some Pumpkin Juice while we were there but my favorite is the slushy ice cold Butter Beer. Oh, it is so delicious on a hot day! We did not end up eating at any of the restaurants in the Wizarding World but I would like to sample the food some day. I though it might be fun to try the Leaky Cauldron which features traditional British Pub Fare or Three Broomsticks which is a rustic tavern. I also need to revisit Honeydukes (Hogsmeade's legendary sweet shop) to pick up some unique treats. I was worried the Florida heat would melt the chocolate frogs I had my eye on. They also have Acid Pops, exploding bonbons, Cauldron Cakes, treacle fudge and Fizzing Whizzbees.
Although I have been sorted and am from the Gryffindor house (more about that later) I was very drawn to Knockturn Alley. Borgin and Burkes was one of my favorite shops even though it specializes in Dark Art supplies. Death Eater Masks, skulls, costume replicas and shelves full of sinister items. It was so creepy and cool I could not get enough.
We also happened to be in the right place at the right time and enjoyed the 10 minute show by the Frog Choir which was composed of four singers, two of whom are holding large amphibians sitting on pillows. The choir is inspired by a brief scene in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the group sang quite a few cappella wizarding-related songs, including “Hedwig's Theme” and “Something Wicked This Way Comes." It was really entertaining and I was even able to nab a picture with them after the performance as I was right by the stage when they appeared.