Sunday, May 28, 2017

Our fabulous day at Universal Studios

Last summer I started reading the Harry Potter series to Bennett and Will. We were on a road trip to Austin and we didn't want them on electronics the whole time so I picked up a copy of the first HP book at Barnes and Noble and off we went. By the end of the first page I knew the kids were hooked. The problem was that reading aloud took awhile. And some nights we had to skip reading for various reasons. And Bennett got antsy. So she begged and begged until we finally said she could read them by herself and read at her own pace. I don't think we saw her again for three months.

I kid, but Bennett read the Harry Potter books everywhere. In the car, on the trampoline, at Will's soccer games and more. She was even Hermione Granger for Halloween. She was in love.

So as our upcoming Disney trip grew closer and closer we wondered if we should splurge and take Bennett to Harry Potter world. The expense (on top of an incredibly expensive trip to Disney) was very daunting. But then we realized her 9th birthday was just a few days instead of her trip and we would just go in lieu of a party and very little other gifts. It was still crazy expensive but I don't regret one penny. It was one of the best days we could have spent as a family and seeing Bennett's reaction to everything was priceless.

Let me start by saying that I knew nothing about Universal beforehand. I have been to Disney almost a dozen times since college but I had never once been to Universal. I was so overwhelmed thinking about it. Harry Potter World is in two parks. Which one do we do first? How do we maximize our time in both parks when we only have one day? I read blog posts and looked at maps until I couldn't think straight, but I am glad I did because I had a really good idea of what we were going to do before we got there and that made our day so smooth and easy.

Getting ready to leave Disney for the day. First time for everything! 

We made it! My parents stayed with us for three days at Disney and left early one morning to head home so they dropped us off at Universal.

So, after a ton of research we went to the Universal Studios park first and made our way to Diagon Alley. We ran as fast as we could until we were completely out of breath  walked briskly to the very back of the park and entered through the London side. To say that it takes your breath away the first  time you enter does not do it justice. Right before the London entrance you have to stop and see the Knight Bus and chat with the Knight Bus driver.

And then you enter through a little alley and when you turn the corner, it's well... magic. Diagon Alley just appears before your eyes out of the blue. I think all five of us gasped.

We had debated what to do first for a long time prior to arriving at Universal. We knew the lines for the best rides would get long immediately but Bennett didn't care that much about rides and the main thing she wanted to do was get a wand from Ollivander's wand shop. So we went straight there and that turned out to be the best thing we did  because nobody else was there. We had a private audience with Mr. Ollivander and he picked Bennett for the wand selection ceremony. It was absolutely amazing.

These wands are actually interactive and you can walk all around HP world and find specially marked spots where your wand will do magic. I think we spent most of our day doing that.

Lainey can do magic as well!

The Weasleys made it to Diagon Alley!

Heading into Gringotts! I cannot even begin to explain how realistic everything looked.

Bennett exchanged muggle money for Gringotts money. It was good all throughout Universal and she loved using it.

 We hung out in Diagon Alley for a bit and then tried to hurry over to to Islands of Adventure which housed the Hogsmeade section of HP World before it got too crowded. You had to buy a park to park pass to do this which is essentially a Disney World park hopper. but it was worth it. Without that pass you couldn't ride the Hogwarts express and that might have been the best thing we did all day. It looked exactly like the one in the movie. Absolutely brilliant.

Bennett found Platform 9 3/4

And here is the Hogwarts Express. Exactly like we pictured it.

The train is actually moving and does take you to another park but they have projections on the window screens that make it look as if you are rolling through the English countryside. You see scenes from the movies and see shadows outside your cart door with the characters voices. It is so well done that it just hard to describe. We loved every single minute of it.

Bennett's first glimpse of Hogwarts.

Chocolate frog? Check! Magic Wand? Check! Let's do this thing!

Talking portraits inside the castle.

We found butterbeer! And it was so so so good. Especially the frozen butterbeer.

Lunch at Three Broomsticks was our only mishap of the day. We mistakenly went right at noon. Never again. I think we waited nearly an hour to get through the line and get food. I stuck my head back in the restaurant at 2:00 out of curiosity and it was completely empty. Go figure. But the atmosphere was incredibly and they spared no expense when it came to detail. Very impressive.

More shots of HP World

We did venture out to see the rest of Universal mid afternoon and stayed for several hours checking out as much as we could in a short amount of time. Here is Lainey waiting for the Minion ride while clutching Hedwig. Oh, how I love this girl.

We loved the Woody Woodpecker rollercoaster so much that we rode it 5 times in a row. It helped that the park was almost empty and the weather coolled down and it felt amazing outside.

We headed back into HP world one more time before we left for the day. We had one more fabulous conversation with the Knight Bus Driver.

What a fabulous day! I think this was a birthday Bennett will never forget. I know that I won't.