The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (part 1)

(cheers, from Diagon Alley!)

I'll try to keep this short and sweet, but I can't NOT share photos and advice with you guys, on how to do the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. So this will be broken up into four posts so as not to overwhelm.

As most of you know, Fedora and I took an epic 3-day jaunt through Universal Studios Orlando, to play at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. If you are a Harry Potter fan, you should also do this. It was more fun than you can fit into a Gringott's Bank vault, and despite 3 full days spent entirely in their two Harry Potter-themed areas of the park we still didn't see everything.

(we got approximately 300 photos of this feat of prop making)

Getting in:
Get a Park-to-Park pass so you can see both Hogsmeade (the original WWoHP park, in Islands of Adventure) and Diagon Alley/Nocturne Alley/Horizont Alley (the new one, in the main Universal property) AND experience the awesome train ride between the two. Yes, you take the Hogwarts Express to get between the two parks.

As with all theme parks, the earlier you arrive the better. We were told during busy times it's best to ride the rides early in the AM or after 4pm. We deliberately timed this vacation to be during a dead time (which, admittedly, it was crowded. Not crazy, but we did not have the place to ourselves), and the longest wait we experienced was 20 minutes.

BE AWARE that Islands of Adventure (where Hogsmeade is) closes at 7pm but Universal's main park (where Diagon Alley is) has variable closing times. For us it was 8pm (Sun), 7pm (Mon), and 6pm (Tues), which screwed over some of our plans.

Staying there:
We stayed at Monumental Movieland, for $57/night (through a USAA deal) for a 2-bed room. The hotel was excellent, considering how little time we spent there: everything was clean, no weird smells or stains, the staff was friendly (if exhausted all the time), there's a fantastic restaurant connected to it (called Black Angus, with Leslie the best waitress ever), and it's only about a mile walk from Universal.

For us, it was cheaper than staying at one of the on-site hotels, which are still a small distance from the park (staying at an on-site park gets you into Universal an hour before they open, and you can make reservations at The Three Broomsticks restaurant. BUT we were there in mid-January, so it was crowded but we ate there without a reservation, without a problem). If you want to stay at an on-site hotel, the Loews Portofino Bay is the most affordable.

(nice not to have to do THOSE dishes)

(Fedora's preferred method of transportation. Needless to say, we walked a lot)

Of course, staying at a basic hotel meant no free shuttle to/from the airport, so we used Mears Transportation, which was the cheapest and also very nice and easy ($32/person round trip).

And after the park closed we had to go ranging for dinner. We can tell you to absolutely avoid the George and Dragon pub on International Drive, and to absolutely enjoy your awesome NY-style pizza at Broadway New York Pizza.

Dressing the part:
We were bummed that we didn't have enough time to throw together Hogwarts uniforms (not that we could pass for teenagers), but we paid homage to our geekdom by dressing for our houses. As a dedicated Ravenclaw, I wore blue and bronze everything I could (clothes, jewelry, eyeshadow, hair decorations, etc). As a Gryffindor, Fedora followed suit.

(hard to tell, but my jewelry is all bronze bird-related)

(that's parchment brow bone highlight, two shades of bronze on my lid, a blue as liner, and blue mascara)

(I rocked the blue hair extension, and this day bowed to the silver-replacing-bronze-in-Ravenclaw decision done for the movies. However, I will never be okay with the raven-replacing-eagle-in-Ravenclaw decision done for the movies, because that's just stupid.)

You can buy all manner of Hogwarts wearables, from robes to knitted "R" Ron sweaters to quidditch shirts and more. But we didn't want to buy stuff, we wanted to have experiences, so we refrained. Also, as a tip: a lot of those items can be had via Etsy, Storenvy, and eBay for a fraction of what is charged in the park.

(but this beauty is worth the cash)

(this would be, too, if it didn't have a curse on it. Damn you, Draco Malfoy!)

Next time (yes, there will be another trip out there) we've decided we'll make our version of house robes (emeritus professors, perhaps?), plus fun things like wand holsters.

Breaking news: On day 2, after epic fun and then a solid downpour all afternoon (which I loved), Fedora and I wandered to the seating area behind The Three Broomsticks, which gives you a great view of Hogwarts Castle. At night, in the rain, with a hot butterbeer in my was magical.
We reminisced about the past 3 years of adventures we've had, from vacations to unemployment. And then Fedora asked if I'd like to be his companion for a lifetime of adventures, and presented a ring (with his wand, and an "Accio Ring!", and some awesome slight of hand magic). I had to ask "Is this a proposal?!" because I'm a little slow on the uptake. And yes! It was. And of course, I said yes.
And then (after some kissing) I texted a photo of the ring on my hand to my family, answered my mother's immediate phone call while his friends texted him congrats, and whirled around The Three Broomsticks while the Yule Ball Waltz played in the background.

I can't believe I'm engaged!

(and I'm grateful for my epic coworkers, especially Megan, who made this for me:)

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