This post is part 5 of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Without Kids series. All photos in this post were taken by me on a Samsung Galaxy S6.
I’m gonna be real with y’all right now: despite the fact that all 3 of our park days began at Islands of Adventure thanks to it being the only early opening one, we didn’t really want to ride much of the stuff in there. It just didn’t appeal to us, outside of Hogsmeade stuff. If you also like Marvel comics, King Kong, Jurassic Park (note: there are no apparent references to Jurassic World in this area of the park, which is kind of fine by me lol) water rides or Dr. Seuss, you’ll find other rides and attractions that appeal to you. But if you’re just here for Hogsmeade, that’s cool too.
Hogsmeade is the place everyone makes a beeline for upon early entry to the park. It’s smaller than Diagon Alley and has fewer shops, but also has more rides. It opened first, in 2010 after being announced in 2007, and features Dragon Challenge, Flight of the Hippogriff and Forbidden Journey. You can eat at the Three Broomsticks and drink at the Hog’s Head. You can also decrease your bank account balance at the Owl Post (stationery and actually sending postcards), Honeydukes (candy), Dervish and Banges (clothing and such), Ollivander’s (wands) and shop the gift shop at the end of Forbidden Journey.
In here, it’s winter all the time.
When we got here on our first park day, having not yet eaten breakfast, we noticed the short line for Dragon Challenge. This ride is intensely serious about you not bringing stuff on it, so much so that there is a metal detector to ensure your pockets are empty. I later learned this is due to some incidents of flying items injuring people in 2011 and leading to the dragons not truly dueling anymore. Instead, the red Chinese Fireball coaster has a head start on the blue Hungarian Horntail coaster. Stowing our stuff was our first experience with the free ride lockers.
Here’s how they work: a touchscreen prompts you to start your locker rental and asks for your fingerprint, which you also give to enter the park or ride the Hogwarts Express. I used the same finger for all these occasions, my right thumb. I don’t know if that makes a difference or not, though. It assigns you a locker that looks deceptively small but is very deep inside. My backpack fit, though sometimes on its side, along with my small crossbody purse, Charlie’s phone and his wallet. Make sure to press the green button once all your items are in the locker or it won’t lock.
Every time we needed to use a locker, we were within the free range of time, which is shown to you on the touchscreen and varies depending on how long the ride’s line is. If you’d rather use that locker for a longer time, you can pay for it. We did have a problem with the Men in Black locker where it said our locker was disabled upon our return, but a park employee sorted that out lickety-split.
Some rides are stricter than others–Dragon Challenge makes you put everything in a locker, but Forbbiden Journey allows you to bring your phone. So, I have no photos of the cool stuff along the way in the Dragon Challenge line, including the Goblet of Fire, Triwizard Cup and flying Ford Anglia. Such is life.
Dragon Challenge is an intense roller coaster. Your legs are dangling from the ride car and you will go upside down. It was too intense for us in the end and we’re glad we did it before gobbling up a big English breakfast. The red and blue dragons are different, so you might want to watch POV videos of both before choosing which one you want to ride.
Okay, so on our second park day, we focused entirely on Islands of Adventure. We happily walked right past Dragon Challenge and instead went for the Hogwarts castle, home to Forbidden Journey.
Remember to bring your phone for this one because the line is almost as fun as the ride and you will want to take pictures. You weave your way through the Herbology greenhouses and enter the castle, where you’ll see cool stuff like the phoenix statue outside Dumbledore’s office, intricate tapestries, the House points jewels (Gryffindor was winning as always), the Pensieve, the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom and a tall room that features talking portraits of all four House founders having a conversation between one another, mainly about you because it’s implied that we’re all Muggles who have been given special permission to visit the castle. (Salazar Slytherin isn’t too happy about that, but Helga Hufflepuff points out that maybe some of the visitors could receive Hogwarts letters soon.)
You’re not supposed to use flash photography in the line, so I didn’t, but a lot of it is in very dim lighting.
The ride is…kind of a motion simulator, but your car (4 people seated side by side) does move around, though never upside down. Of course Wikipedia has a play-by-play of the entire ride, if you wish to read that. You go around a lot of the castle grounds, including the Forbidden Forest, so you will see Aragog and the Whomping Willow. You also find yourself as part of a Quidditch game and pursued by dementors before flying over the lake and into the Great Hall. Harry, Ron and Hermione mainly guide you through this journey, though you also see Draco and then pretty much everyone in Gryffindor at the end. This ride was a major blast and we rode it twice, nearly thrice. (The third time, the line was quite a bit longer and we were tired.)
I also rode the Flight of the Hippogriff, which was a cute and gentle rollercoaster suitable for families, kind of like the Mine Train at Six Flags Over Georgia. It has a lap restraint with netting that goes all the way to the floor and holds you in, though there are not any loops or upside-down parts. It’s themed after Harry riding Buckbeak during class in Prisoner of Azkaban and Hagrid even reminds you to make sure to bow to the hippogriff first.
Hogsmeade is a great place to enjoy a butterbeer. Red wheeled tankers are parked in at least two places, offering cold and frozen versions. Frozen comes from a swirling tap, kind of like Slushies, and I chose that one. It is refreshing and very, very sweet with a foamy head. Charlie got cold, which is tasty but not as intensely sweet. If you like Frappuccinos, you’ll like frozen.
There are lots of shaded areas in Hogsmeade where you can sit and enjoy your beverage, including an alcove just outside Hog’s Head, but we ducked into the bar to enjoy the benefit of air conditioning. The bar is actually attached to Three Broomsticks and does serve alcohol, but we did not imbibe. Instead, we just took a table and enjoyed the atmosphere. There is a taxidermied hog’s head behind the bar that moves around from time to time.
On our third park day, we had breakfast at the Three Broomsticks. They offer basically the same breakfast menu as the Leaky Cauldron, but have a display featuring plastic models of each dish, kind of like restaurants do in Japan. While Charlie got the English breakfast again, I got a pancake meal this time, featuring 3 large pancakes, bacon and sausage. Oh, huh, I didn’t take a photo…Anyway, it was good!
A thoughtful detail I especially liked about the Three Broomsticks and every other place in Wizarding World: light fixtures that looked as if they could possibly be gas-powered. They’re not, of course, but many feature a very linear design typical of gas-powered chandeliers. Since there’s no electricity in the wizarding world, it is entirely possible they might still be using gas lighting along with candle flames.
The chandeliers inside Honeydukes are a good example. Electric chandeliers have mostly moved away from this design since electric wires don’t need to travel in strict straight lines! (Oh, almost forgot to mention: the butterbeer fudge is just okay. Compared to the ice cream and drink, it’s not nearly as flavorful for some reason.)
All but one of our journeys on the Hogwarts Express began at Hogsmeade, so I’ll cover it here. The walk to the train platform is kind of long, but the payoff is worth it. You sit 6 to a train compartment, 3 facing 3, and both the door and window are actually screens, so you do not get to see the actual journey between parks. Instead you get fun Harry Potter themed visuals–if you’re departing from Hogsmeade, it’s themed like you’re leaving school for the summer, but if you’re departing from Diagon Alley, it’s themed like you’re arriving for the school year. It’s cute and makes the journey fun, plus the compartment is comfortable and cool. Even if you’re not big on Harry Potter, this is the most efficient way to move between parks since you don’t have to walk all the way to the main entrance, exit and then go to the other park. I actually don’t know what the policy is on going park to park via main entrances; there isn’t any hand-stamping, so maybe they base it off your ticket? Look, just take the train, it’s easier!
In the conclusion of this series/magnum opus, we’ll take a look at some stuff to do outside the parks, because yes, that’s a thing.
Are you also a Harry Potter loving millennial thinking of visiting Universal Studios Florida? Do you have any questions? Please don’t hesitate to ask!