This trip we did the unthinkable. We spent time away from Disney! Actually this trip wasn’t all about Disney. It was a family reunion that happened to be close enough to Disney we could sneak off there for a few days. My nieces expressed an interest in seeing the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and we were the only members of the family insane enough to spend time away from the cooling waters of the beach to brave the parks.
Now I loved the Harry Potter books, and enjoyed the movies. The idea of seeing it all come to life did interest me, but not enough for us ever to take the time away from Disney to make the trip. There just didn’t seem to be enough in the rest of Universal to tempt us to make the journey. It took my nieces wanting to go to tip the scales.
We arrived early, though we missed rope drop it seemed and headed back immediately to the Forbidden Journey, which meant walking through half the park and all of Hogsmeade without stopping in hopes of not standing in line forever for this ride. Universal doesn’t do fast passes like Disney, but they do offer an Express Pass, which costs from $29.99 to $59.99 depending on the day you visit and doesn’t include the Forbidden Journey. We had four people. We’d already bought park tickets, we weren’t about to add on another $240!
Even with heading right there I believe we waited over an hour to even enter the castle. The queue outside the castle is ok. There was one spot along the line that you could clearly see the square building the castle is connected to, which broke the illusion a bit. But I will say the queue through the castle was amazing. From the phoenix statue that leads to Dumbledore’s office to the Sorting Hat it’s a wonderfully immersing experience. There are paintings that move and talk, and a nice story where Harry, Ron and Hermoine speak as well as Dumbledore. You are at Hogwarts! The ride was like nothing Disney has, and moves in ways nothing at Disney does. I loved it. From there we worked our way back to Hogsmeade, exploring the town and of course trying Butterbeer! YUM! We got two regular and two frozen so everyone could try it both ways. I’m not sure which is my favorite, though my second round was the frozen to help combat the heat.
We visited Ollivander’s Wand Shop, which has a cute little show/experience, but is far too poorly laid out and crowded. Disney (yes you’re going to hear comparison’s over and over — all in all, Disney wins) has a much better flow to it. Shops are crowded, but nothing like this. It was difficult to move, hard to make it from one end to the other and the doors from the show open into an already packed shop where often people are moving towards you instead of away making it hard to even get in. This went for all the shops from Zonko’s to Honeydukes. In Honeydukes/Zonkos (the shops flow into each other with the cash register being the dividing line) the line to check out was so long there were aisles you couldn’t even look in. I did manage to get a chocolate frog and it hasn’t hopped away yet! I also got some Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans and have been lucky so far! No ear wax!
I will say I liked the window decorations along the alley, and the screaming Mandrake. I also loved the detail of Moaning Myrtle in the bathrooms. That had me snickering as we walked in. The detail along the shops is fantastic and you really feel like you’re entering the movie — except for the crowds!
We considered doing one or both roller coasters, but a threatening storm had shut them down so we made our way out of Hogsmeade over to Marvel Island to get lunch. We did purchase the Universal Meal Deal and cups, but I’m not convinced of it’s value. Perhaps if we were doing both parks it may have felt more economical, but since we didn’t find enough to do in Island’s of Adventure to stay until close and were limited to three restaurants, I’m not sure we’d do it again. The food was nothing spectacular. And having to carry the souvenir drink cup around all day was just annoying. In fact each of us almost lost ours at least once, leaving it behind as we shopped, only to realize after we walked away and having to run back to reclaim it. It became a running joke as we left each area of someone to ask if we had all our cups.
We arrived at Marvel Island just in time to see the Super Hero Parade, which wasn’t much of a parade at all, but a few super heroes on bikes driving through the crowd. We saw Rogue, Cyclops, Storm, Captain America, Wolverine and Spiderman. Both the husband and I are big X-men fans. He’s been reading the comics since he was a child and I started in the 1990’s. We enjoy the movies. These characters were…unimpressive. Cyclops looked horrible. Wolverine’s claws even with a fast drive by looked plastic and you could see the hair net line under Spiderman’s mask. We did later see Captain America on the street for pictures. He was shorter than I would have expected, but had a good chin for the mask. We also ran into Doctor Doom (and got a picture with my husband). It felt rushed. Very little character interaction. At Disney when I’m with Mickey I know I’m with Mickey. (Kids, stop reading now and skip ahead a bit – Spoilers!) Yes, intellectually I know there’s a person in that costume, but Disney does such a good job of training their people that Mickey is Mickey and Donald is Donald and Goofy is Goofy. You have no doubt who you are meeting. This didn’t have that feel. It was almost as if you could have been standing next to a statue. Now to be fair Doctor Doom did pose with his hands around the necks of the two men who approached him before us which made everyone laugh, but it wasn’t the same. The same thing happened when we met Spiderman. He just seemed to be a man in a costume doing the same poses over and over for pictures. It didn’t feel like you were meeting Spiderman. Stitch has tried to steal me away from my husband, pointing at my husband to look at something else, while taking my arm to walk off with me. Tigger bounces with me. Pooh Bear rubs his tummy and lets me know they aren’t feeding him enough honey so I’ll say something to his people, who then promise him some in a few minutes. Spiderman just posed…over and over.
I think I’m glad we didn’t see any of the X-men for a meet and greet – I’m sure I would have been disappointed.
Now all that said, I can report my husband loved Marvel Island, and his picture with Doctor Doom and Spiderman.
Of course we rode the Spiderman ride. The line was insane. It moved from room to room with no hint or clue to where the end was. Each time you thought you might be entering the actual ride you moved into another room of queue lines. There were videos playing, letting you enter the story which was cute, but both husband and I commented on the props in the Daily Bugle office you walked through. They were unfinished. The bagel on a desk was grey, and so was the sandwich. The phone was a fake rotary dial and the cord connecting the handset to the base was missing. I wonder if they weren’t trying to portray in some manner a comic book setting where sometimes the background wasn’t detailed, but this just felt like sloppy set design to me. The ride though made up for the queue. Again it moved in ways that Disney rides don’t, in a vary similar manner to the Forbidden Journey. It was fun, and we enjoyed it.
It was another hot day, so we decided to hit a water ride. As we walked we came upon Popeye and Bluto’s Bilge Rat Barges and decided to give it a try. We expected something similar to the Rapids at Animal Kingdom. We were wrong. In Animal Kingdom you may get wet. Here you will get wet. Very wet. Soaked even. Put your electronics in the center compartment, not your pockets! There is a reason they have a People Dryer outside this ride (though we skipped it allowing the sun to do it’s work). We were dripping as we left this ride. My socks were still wet when we got back to the hotel hours later!
After this we traveled to Jurassic Park. We’d cut our nieces loose to explore so it was just husband and I. I think he was a little over done after the Tower of Terror the other day, so when they came on the loudspeaker in line to announce the single rider line was short, he cheerfully suggested I take that while he happily waited for me. I loved it. Especially the T-rex right at the drop.
We met back up with our nieces just as it started to storm and slipped into the Eight Voyage of Sinbad Stunt Show, only to have it end after a few minutes due to technical difficulties. At least we were out of the storm. We headed off to dinner at Circus McGurkus Cafe Stoo-pendous, one of our three options with the meal deal and realized there wasn’t much else we wanted to do. We made our way back to Hogsmeade to check the waits on the roller coasters (deciding that 90 minutes was more than we wanted to try to wait with another storm approaching), did a little shopping and then made our way out of the parks by 6:00 pm.
If we ever do it again I think we’ll opt for both parks. I do love the Minions and would have loved to ride Despicable Me Minion Mayhem. I’m not sure we’d do the Meal Deal, which even with both parks limits you to six restaurants and very basic fare. I’ve heard rumors of a Harry Potter expansion with Gringotts (I think they could do an amazing ride going to the vaults), which may tempt me, but I’m not sure it would be enough to convince us to take time out of Disney to return. We might need something more like someone traveling with us who really wants to go.