The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (part 4)

(all aboard the Hogwarts Express!)

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.

I'm not a huge roller coaster fan, because of my fear of heights (a Quidditch player I am not!). But I promised Fedora I would ride every ride with him, and I did. Twice.

Flight of the Hippogriff (Hogsmeade):
This is the family-friendly ride, sized for little ones but at the same thrill level as, say, Thunder Mountain at Disney. Turns and speed, but no barrel rolls, and fun goodies like an animatronic Buckbeak.

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (Hogsmeade):
This one surprised me in its originality. You're in a row of four seats (legs dangling) and go through a 4-D experience with plenty of stomach-dropping thrills. The first time I went through, I was screaming. The second time, I was whooping. It's pretty fun, especially considering the fire, spider venom, etc. Be aware that there's a photo taken of your area about 1/3 of the way through the ride, with a VERY BRIGHT EFFING FLASH. Photos are available for purchase after the ride. If you want to make it truly spot-on, try glancing to your left in absolute horror for the photo. (This may take going through a few times to figure out the timing of the photo).
The line for this is fantastic, as there's an entire storyline and plenty of goodies (from house portraits to classrooms you pass by) while threading your way through Hogwarts Castle. In case you miss it: Harry, Ron, and Hermoine are sneaking you out of the deadly-dull classroom lecture (taught by a ghost- we weren't sure of the subject though we saw a Defense Against the Dark Arts chalkboard in there) to attend the quidditch match occurring- Gryffindor vs Slytherin. And oh yeah, there's a dragon on the lose, which the House Founders squabble about.

The Dragon Challenge (Hogsmeade):
I won't lie, this is the scariest coaster of the two parks. There are two experiences, the Hungarian Horntail and the Chinese Fireball, and both involve corkscrews, barrel rolls, and more time upside down than I like.
The first time around, I squeezed my eyes shut from fear, and felt nauseated for an hour afterward. So trust me when I say keep your eyes open no matter how scary it feels. Both times, I was shaken and couldn't walk straight afterward. But I'd totally ride it again, because it's thrilling. And, as with Forbidden Journey, there is a lot of stuff going on while you're waiting in line! Make sure your eyes adjust to the dark as you go, or you'll miss some Goblet of Fire artifacts and amazing details. And don't forget to look up in large rooms!

Escape from Gringotts (Diagon Alley):
This one follows a sort of Deathly Hallows timeline. The concept is that you're there to open a vault in Gringott's (safest place on Earth!) but stuff goes sideways because, it turns out, Harry, Ron, and Hermoine (as Bellatrix) are there at the same time. The special effects are really well done here, and interactive (look for Easter Eggs!). You're in a cart (in 4 rows of 4) and wearing 3-D glasses. There are a few drops, lots of disorienting turns, and fun new content. You also get "photo IDs" taken at the start (before boarding) that are available for purchase after the ride. BONUS: the employees applaud you for surviving when you return. Go us!

Hogwarts Express (between the two WWoHP locations):
You take a steam train (which looks like a solid replica of the one in the movies and, according to one of our Scottish co-riders, is spot-on to the old steam engine railway experience of the UK) either from King's Cross station to Hogsmeade platform or vice versa. Go both directions, because the experience is different both ways. This is an entirely tame ride, not a roller coaster, so appropriate for everyone. And it's got constant entertainment/amusement, both sweet and scary. And funny. Can't forget the funny. We found it a great chance to rest our feet and munch on some sweets from Honeyduke's (sadly, no sweets trolley on board).

While boarding from King's Cross Station, look for the incredible photo op at platform 9 3/4. This may require you hanging back at a corner with the luggage, camera at the ready, while the rest of your party charges through the platform.

We didn't catch all 4 shows, unfortunately. They aren't posted within WWoHP, so it's either a case of right-place-right-time, or asking an employee about them.
Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees was my favorite of the two we saw, so much that we caught it twice. That's Molly Weasley's favorite diva, and for good reason! The Sorceress of Song, the Witch Who's Always on Pitch, this extremely talented singer and her very talented 3 backup dancers/singers perform 3 full musical numbers (including my fav "You Stole my Cauldron (But You Can't Have My Heart)"). The energy is incredible, there's audience participation, and she throws out great one-liners with her diva-ness.

The Frog Choir was the other one we saw, though we didn't sit through the entire performance as it was in full sun in the midst of a thoroughfare. It's an acapella Hogwarts student quintet (or quartet, as the conductor is a Gryffindor and doesn't sing) that also has fun little "typical of their house" moments. They do pop/rockapella/beatboxing versions of known tunes like the Hogwarts March and Double Trouble. With frogs, of course, on the base line. A member from each house is present, acting exactly as you'd expect them to. It's sweet, and a great way to pass the time if you're digesting a butterbeer or waiting in line.

What we didn't see was: the Triwizard Spirit Rally (Hogsmeade is set roughly at the same time as Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire), featuring Durmstrang and Beauxbatons students performing gymnastic feats; Beadle the Bard large-scale puppet theatre (Diagon Alley is set roughly at the same time as Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince), telling stories like The Three Brothers.

And then, of course, there's the dragon atop Gringott's in Diagon Alley. Wait for it, every 7 minutes or so. And see it from every angle, because it's spectacular.

And that's it! I highly recommend WWoHP, even if you don't have kids. If you liked the books and/or the movies, you'll love the experience!

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