Discussion in 'Universal Studios Trip Reports' started by Travelgrrl, May 15, 2017.
LOVING your TR! (can I steal some of your gift ideas for my niece?)
Help yourself, Snow White's Mom! Thanks for reading along, you guys.
"It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live" J. K. Rowling
We arrived at Diagon Alley! It truly was amazing, and by our third day there I was even more impressed at all the little byways and things to discover. The first day was a bit more fraught, as it was Saturday and therefore busier, the Harry Potter sections are the two busiest / most congested part of both Universal parks, and I wanted to make sure that my BIL and his grandson had a super duper day, doing all we could at the Wizarding World.
First up: Gringotts! I bought a hideous (and fairly impractical, in that it was difficult to get things in and out of) fanny pack for the trip, rather than the cross body Baggellini I would usually wear, because of Universal's locker policy. If you have a 'three point' clasp on your bag, and it's small enough, you can wear it on the rides; otherwise you've got a hassle with lockers before and after most of the rides. We ladies were so equipped, but BIL had a big backpack, and later A had his Ollivander's wand box and bag, so we still had to fiddle faddle with the locker system.
We got in line (30 min standby which wasn't too bad because the park hadn't been opened long) and got through the bank lobby just fine. The goblins were in fine fettle, and everything was tickety boo.
Here I am, tickety boo in my Marauder's Map dress and Platform 9 3/4's necklace:
Just past there, we got stopped because the ride malfunctioned. We heard no announcements, but people started jamming their way out of the line, so we figured it out.
Then after about 15 min, it started again, and we were almost to the front when it went down again. This time, we could hear the (very, very quiet) recorded announcement from a Very Proper British Lady that the ride was down. If you've ever taken the tube in London, just imagine if the "Mind The Gap" announcement was delivered in a whisper.
Eventually we got on, and while I liked the ride a lot, I did think that Forbidden Journey, which we rode later that day, was even better. Universal's rides are miles above most that WDW offers, IMHO, though I love the heck out of both. My favorite Magic Kingdom ride is probably Peter Pan's Flight, which is the hokiest thing ever! But WOW! Universal rides are something else!
Next up: Magic Wands!
The original plan was to buy one interactive wand, hopefully having "A" get featured at Ollivanders (a long shot, for sure), letting him have the use of it for the day, and as he was leaving for home before sis, niece and I's remaining two days at Universal, have him leave it with his 'grandma', my elder sister. Then we would play with it!
Well, SOME of the plan worked. First off, I wasn't at Ollivanders when they went, so I never did see the Diagon Alley wand shop and ceremony; only the one in Hogsmeade (in a later part of the trip report). I made my way outside to have a cigarette and a Coke. I was almost constantly thirsty on the entire trip. It was hot and humid, hovering around 90 each day.
I also didn't realize that THERE IS NO COCA COLA IN HARRY POTTER'S WORLD. Only Pumpkin Juice and Gillywater. Opinions may differ, but for me a nice frosty Coke is the ultimate thirst quencher, and there was none in the Wizarding World. (Note to J. K. and Universal: How about having some in fountain form, and calling it Snape-a-cola, or something? I pay double!)
So when BIL, "A", little sis and niece went to Ollivanders and I headed out of Diagon Alley to a nearby snack cart for the Coke and a nearby smoking area for a break. I'm not a heavy smoker (and started when I was the ripe old age of 45!) but it had been about 4 hours since we left the resort, and I was ready for one. This will be handled in a further post, but I applaud Universal for contriving to make MANY handy smoking areas in their parks, all set off from walkways and non-smokers. Disney's approach, as you will see, differs.
So I missed Diagon Alley Ollivanders. "A" was not picked for the official ceremony, but as the group filed out, our foursome was at the back of the pack, and he was pulled aside for a mini wand ceremony in private. He's quite a shy boy; I'm sure he preferred that, in any case.
So "A" got his wand, and he spent a lot of time working spells in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. He really, really felt magical. (I'll point out that although he's little, he's read all the books!!!) Once "A" got back to the hotel room, there was no chance that he was going to leave that wand behind. He carried it, he caressed it, he slept with it. Therefore, as I'll describe later, we ended up buying a second wand for my niece a few days later on our return without "A".
He's not my kid, so I don't want to show his face too much. I have a lot of terrific photos of him doing spells in charming locales, but instead I'll share this one, where he's gazing down in rapture at his new wand. J. K. Rowling should be proud: the books are magical, the movies are magical, and the experience at the Wizarding World can be just terrifically magical, too.
We needed sustenance. I would have preferred stopping at the Leaky Cauldron for a proper meal, but instead we visited Florian Fortescue's ice cream shop. It was adorable, no line to speak of, and we grabbed seats on the steps to the left of Gringotts. There are very few places to sit down in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. Wizards don't need benches, I guess - they just conjure armchairs out of thin air like Dumbledore did for Mrs. Figg. After 3 days exploring, I DID find a few hidey holes to sit in - including a line of 3 benches along a shady end of Knockturn Alley. LOOK FOR THEM. They're the most comfortable, most cool places to sit in DA.
I got caramel brownie, but you actually got two large scoops in a cup, so I picked chocolate for the second. It was nice for the CM to offer me the choice! I found the Universal staff to be just as whimsical and accommodating at Disney's. The ice cream was simply delicious, and a cup is enough for two.
We also took photos on Hagrid's motorcycle with sidecar!
Here's a little shot down Diagon Alley's main street, from Gringott's to the brick wall entrance by the Leaky Cauldron.
Next up: Hogwarts Express and Platform 9 3/4's tickets!
My kind of report!!! Great job and love all of the special little touches, you have VERY lucky family members with all you did for them to make the trip special.
Now all we need is schumigirl to get her report going and my Fall will be complete.
Amen to that!
And thanks for your kind words, Tink!
My sister sent me a few shots from her phone's camera, so I got a few shots of my own self (I tend to snap photos of others), including this one of our 'matching' outfits. I have a Marauder's Map dress, my niece's shirt says "I solemnly swear I am up to no good" and my little sister's shirt says "Mischief managed" - the phrases that start and stop the Marauder's Map's magic.
After "A" did many spells (You'll want to keep your wrist and wand stiff, and do the motion in a compact way. If you do a big wild spell, the sensor will not read it. The effects are worth it!), we exited Diagon Alley and made our way to Kings Cross Station. Wow, it looks much like the real station!
First, we made our way through the "Pepper's Ghost" illusion where you fade into the wall at Platform 9 3/4's. I REALLY wanted to get video of this, so I hung back while the other 4 in our party went through. It's apparent where the point in the wall is (you can see people disappearing!) and also where to stand to catch the illusion on video. WELL worth taking the time and effort to try. In a later visit, my sister hung back and got a video of me charging through. You're still only a couple of people back, so it's easy enough to rejoin your party in line.
I mentioned earlier in the Pre-Trip Report that I had made "Platform 9 3/4's" tickets to hand out. Here was the moment!
We gave them to kids in the line, or teens or adults in cool outfits. My method for offering something to a child is to cup it in my hand, show it to the parent, and quietly ask them if it's OK to give it to the kid. The child is oblivious at this point so if the parent says "no", it's no harm done. (I've never had a parent say "no", at Disney either, where I give out glow bracelets after dark at the Halloween parties, etc.)
People loved them! We also played a game the last two days with Hogwarts house 'business cards' and that was a hit too, as detailed in a later report.
We saw Hedwig!
The train and the ride itself were highly impressive. First of all, just seeing the exterior of the steam train was terrific and exciting, and then the interior was just amazing. Right out of the HP films, or any other old train movie you've even seen! I leaned over my sister in my dress and asked her if she'd "Please to help me with my rucksack?" (Trading Places, 1983.)
The ride itself was fairly short but the effects were terrific. Hermione's voice here really is dreadful. In all other instances where the original or substitute voice actors were used, everyone sounds like themselves, or close enough. Here, you'd never guess that was supposed to be her.
Next up: Hogsmeade!
Lol.......that made me laugh! Soon.......real soon..........
Oh my goodness.............I did that same scene from Trading Places on the train, fake accent and all..............lol.........we thought it was funny.......although the odd couple in carriage beside us that never uttered two words the whole journey didn’t
........yep, Hermione fake voice is awful.......they could have done better with that one!
What a super time you’re all having! Glad you had so much fun in Potter.........and giving out the train tickets is adorable........would have loved to have seen that!
So enjoying reading along with you.........
Great Minds Think Alike!
Luckily, the five of us had a carriage to ourselves. Not sure what BIL thought when I shoved my bosom into my sister's face and demanded that she take my rucksack, but he kept silent, too.
We arrived in Hogsmeade! Right away we got in the regular line for Forbidden Journey; the wait was listed at 25 minutes and that was about right. It was a pretty busy Saturday so I was pleased with that. I forgot to mention earlier that I had purchased Bonine to take on Universal days just in case the rides made me queasy. I'd place myself as about a 7 out of 10 on the "Likely to get sick on a ride" scale and I had zero problems with any Universal ride, with one Bonine tablet per morning.
The queue was just terrific; we had just the right amount of time in all of the areas to hear and understand what was going on. Again, volume was a bit of a problem in some areas - the walls really ECHO in there and at Gringotts with all of the guests chatting, and therefore the sound volume, on the paintings for instance, was hit or miss.
But what a ride! I love love loved it! I found it FAR more immersive than, say, Soaring at Epcot. Went on it later in the week and it was just as good. I shrieked like a child! The best ride I've ever been on, bar none.
Afterwards, "A", niece and sister went on Flight of the Hippogriff while BIL sat on the ground in the shade of an archway, while I went in search of sustenance. Right outside Hogsmeade was the entrance to Jurassic World, so I scooted over there to a shady, out of the way smoking spot (kudos again, Universal!) and on the way back, grabbed churros and a Coke from a cart. I expected a baggie of little churros that I could share among us, but it was two gigantic ones that we split 5 ways.
The kids got off the ride a few minutes after my return from Dino World to Wizard World, and everyone was glad for the little snack.
Here's a little photo of Hogsmeade, though I believe I shot it later in the week:
The rest of the time at Hogsmeade, I took "A" up and down the street to cast spells, BIL held down the sidewalk in the shade, and sis and niece went in the shops.
Again, "A" really dug the spells. There seemed to be more CM wizards about to help with the difficult ones. In general though, Hogsmeade struck me as small and less impressive than Diagon Alley. I'm sure if I had seen it as a stand alone before the other part was open, I would have loved it. However, the combination of the two places with the train to link them is just magical. Too bad you can't enter at that part of the park and avoid the others, if you wanted a fully immersive experience!
I also took "A" into Honeydukes and you can't bring a kid into a candy store without buying him something, can you? I looked for Chocolate Frogs in a smaller size, but the only ones I saw were ginormous, the size of a baby's head and $10.95. Oh well, gigantic Chocolate Frog it is. Later when "A" opened it, he was well pleased because he got a "Dumbledore" card, and previously a friend who had been to the Wizarding World had brought him a Salazar Slytherin card.
If you've read the books, you know Dumbledore's card is the one Harry gets with his first Chocolate Frog, and indeed the card plays a pivotal role in the first book's story. So "A" was thrilled way beyond the candy, and that was worth every penny.
By this time we were all exhausted and it was after 4:00. I knew at this point that when we took the shuttle later in the week, we'd had no trouble staying until 6:30. It was far more exhausting to coordinate the day to please "A" and his grandpa than to just hang with the three of us girls, so I knew we'd make it fine.
The five of us wended our way out of the park, not stopping at anything even though Spiderman was at 5 minutes, for instance. But we came to do Harry Potter, and by golly, we did.
I like to keep track of how many adventures we had during each day, and today it was 20:
Photos on way in, Kreacher at 12 Grimmauld Place, the Knight Bus, Telephone Booth, Escape From Gringotts, Ollivanders, spells in DA, Hagrid's motorcycle, Florian Fortescue's ice cream, Knocturn Alley, Pepper's Ghost Illusion at Platform 9 3/4, giving out Hogwarts Express tickets, Hogwarts Express train ride, Forbidden Journey ride, Flight of the Hippogriff, churros snack, spells in Hogsmeade, Honeydukes and Chocolate Frog, and two things I forgot to mention: Moaning Myrtle in the bathrooms at Hogsmeade, and "A" had Butterbeer in there somewhere!
Swimming pool! Starving!
We fought end of the day traffic and made it back to WDW and Shade of Green. BIL went off for a nap (joining my elder sister, who had a TBI last fall and needs plenty of rest), and my little sister was down for the count, too.
That left niece, who had all the little children in the party clamoring for her to take them to the pool, and my elderly Mom, who either didn't need a nap after her huge day at Cinderella's Table and the Pirate's League, or had already had a short one.
She was raring to go!
I'm not a napper, but I would have killed for a quiet break to read and mostly EAT A MEAL since my entire diet for the day was at half a cup of ice cream and 1/5 of an order of churros. But my Mom needed looking after, so I took her and all the little kids to the pool. (Another of the kids' chaperones came along, too.) I was tired and hangry - partly because I care for my mother 24/7 and yet here I was, picking up the slack on vacation, too. I'm honored to take care of my Mom, but you gotta care for the caregiver, too.
There was rumor of pizza being arranged poolside, so that staved me off for awhile. We went to the Mill Pond pool this time, which now has a large slide for adults and a smaller one with large play area for little ones.
I actually got my Mom to enter the pool, which is unusual. The water was FAR warmer than other times we've been to SOG - they're really stepping up their pool game, with lifeguards, slides and temperate water! She didn't want to get her hair wet, and once she was in to her thighs, I convinced her to lean back on my ample bosom and strong shoulders and I would keep her hair dry.
She finally let go of the pool banister, realized her hair was staying dry, then just RELAXED. I could feel her instantly go limp and I softly pulled her through the water for awhile. (Photo to come; my BIL has one.)
There were various snafus with the food, but at about 8 PM we were all fed. I'd basically spent the first couple of days hungry and vowed I would make up for it in coming days!
Next up: Breakfast at O'Hana's at the Poly!
Sunday, 9/24! We had a big day ahead: breakfast at O'Hana's and then later, our first MNSSHP!
We were able to sleep in a little (well, I tiptoed out to get a fancy coffee from the stand in SOG's lobby, then read on the balcony until the others were up), then we dressed in various kinds of tropical garb and hiked over to the Poly. There's a pretty path that runs from the resort to the street that borders the Poly, and SOG guests are welcome to use it access the Poly's ferries, monorails, or restaurants. SOG even has a long golf cart "The Shady Shuttle" which you can sometimes catch to take you back or forth.
Two of the little girls in the party just LOVE my 13 year old niece, and she constantly had one or the other on her hip. On the way to the Poly, I reminded her she didn't have to carry these 5 & 7 years olds, and that they might be happy to just hold her hands. This was the adorable result:
You used to enter for the breakfast, get your entire party's photo taken at a tropical background, then have breakfast at which point Stitch, Lilo, Pluto and Mickey came around. Then they dispensed with the arrival photo, and now there's a line to meet Stitch, who doesn't come around during the meal. I had found a fun Stitch hat and little Stitch stuffies for the kids so we were in fine fettle for that.
While we waited for our table, all three little girls crawled on my niece like they were puppies:
The breakfast is served family style, and includes eggs, fried potatoes, ham, sausage, bacon, Hawaiian bread, and delicious juice. After basically being hungry for two days, I pigged out (only to regret it the following day!). Too much sausage!
When the meal was over, and we had met all the characters, my elder sister presented me with a nice Thank You card signed by others in my party for the help preparing for the trip, along with the World's Largest Cake.
We had all just stuffed ourselves; no one wanted cake. So we hauled the World's Largest Cake back to Shades of Green, and checked it with the bell captains, who kept it cold. Thankfully no one had to carry the enormous baked good the entire way from the Poly to SOG; the Shady Shuttle was dropping off other guests at the property's perimeter when we crossed the street towards SOG; so 5 of us got a ride back, cake included.
Off to a rest, for some, and off to the pool, for niece and the other kids (and some adult chaperones). This time I begged off, to get our costumes ready for the evening, braid my hair, and bring my Mom over so she could get ready for the party, too.
Next up: Our first Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party!
When we were preparing for this MNSSHP, I had visions of the 17 of us proudly walking into the Magic Kingdom in our matching Mouseketeer outfits, and marching right up to the standby line for Mickey Mouse, to get our photos taken with him before our Fastpass windows opened up. Well, none of that happened.
Here's my costume, ready to go!
I had put out the word to everyone to try to be ready by 3:00 to head over to the Poly's monorail, giving us enough time to walk, navigate through the Poly, go through security, take the monorail, and be at the entrance gate at 3:45.
With various parties among our large group, some going to the parks that day, some napping, and some at the pool, it was like herding cats. I quickly revised our plans to just getting the four of us there at that time, and even those plans were doomed.
My sister, Mom and I were getting ready but niece was AWOL at the pools with the little kids. She was a darling to pay so much attention to them, and I'm sure it was a great help to their caretakers to have her around. And I mentioned that the pools were a looooong way away from our rooms - preventing my sis or I from quickly jetting down there to retrieve her. I had asked her to be back by 2:30, but she's only a kid herself, and whatcha gonna do?
We tried calling and texting our thirtysomething nephew who was also at the pool, to no avail. 3:00 came and went, three of us were ready, and no niece. As a planner, this was just killing me. As an aunt, I sucked it up and just went with it, not wanting to spoil the beginning of our night. She got back about 3:30 or so, got ready, and we actually entered the party at 5:15. So instead of 17 of us at 3:45, I barely managed to get 4 of us there at 5:15. The best laid plans!
But were were HERE! The two parties were the only time I'd be at Disney parks this trip, so I was psyched! Because we were so late, meeting Mickey was not an option. We took a few photos at the bypass:
My sister was "Darlene", the naughtiest Mouseketeer in snakeskin capris, fake tattoos and a side ponytail; my niece went for "Cubby!
There are very few photos of me from that night, but I shot a selfie on the monorail. I usually don't wear my hair this long in the summer, but kept it that way so I could braid it for this event.
It was a pretty busy party, I would guess: the final party with CM tickets, the final party you could use military tickets, and on a Sunday. Still didn't seem too bad, until we were at the Tuesday 9/26 party which was TRULY a light crowd!
Next up: Fast passes!
By the time we got to Adventureland, it was nearly time for our first FP's to expire. But we made it onto Pirates, all the same! On the way in, I spied this couple, with a pirate and the "We Wants The Red One!" girl. I love taking photos of other people in their costumes, but since we were behind the 8 ball timewise, and it got dark so soon, that this is literally the only one I took this trip. But it was great, the next thing we knew, we were seeing Miss Red on the ride!
After the ride, we were THIRSTY. The only park day I wasn't dying of thirst was the final day at Universal, for some reason. We stopped at Pecos Bill's and had lemon slushies, Cokes and some chips. Cute Mickey straws!
I see five drinks for the four of us. So much thirst.
Next, since we had a bit of time before our Haunted Mansion FP's, we headed over to BTMRR so niece and sis could ride, while Mom and I waited it out in the spacious and charming smoking section nearby. I'll save most of this rant for a later post, but Disney has removed ALL of the smoking sections from MK except one on each furthermost part of the park. You're on Main Street? Hie yourself to BTMRR, or the outermost reaches of a path extending from the Circus area to Tomorrowland, or exit the park to a single bench outside security. Just not workable solutions. They used to have a smoking section right next to the castle! A terrible place! I'm sure non-smokers complained! Yet changes are made at MK, new rides put in, yet zero thought to creating out of the way places. Rather, they removed all but two in MK.
Rant over. Sis and niece rode BTMRR, and we all headed to the Haunted Mansion. Essential at a MNSSHP! Again, we were there at about 6:03 for a 5:00-6:00 FP but made it on. While we were clipping along in line, I got a text from older sister that they were in the parks and in fact on the ride, but the ride had stopped. We got into the stretching room, everything was going fine, got on the ride. Near a scene with some singing cats in a graveyard, the ride DID stop. Meanwhile, I got another text from older sis, which I would never read on a ride, but we were stopped for quite awhile.
SHE HAD LOST HER CANE ON THE HM RIDE! Right about then, we could sense CMs on either side of us, with flashlights, no doubt searching for my sister's cane. Eventually the ride began again, and when we got off, there was elder sis in a WDW wheelchair. They felt so bad that she lost her cane that they lent her the wheelchair until they found it (two days later, actually), handed her a fistful of FPs, and then asked her how many were in her party to which she said "17" and they gave her 17 TICKETS FOR FREE ICE CREAM. I'm pretty sure Disney meant "How many people were on the ride with you?" which was four, with the four of us right behind, but soon all 17 of us were united at the party, and full of ice cream.
Elder sister, in her loaner wheelchair, as we got ready to feast on free ice cream.
Love the costumes! I had the good fortune of meeting Roy Williams (the other adult in the MMC), having him draw a picture for me and autograph it! 1956 in Disneyland, the same year I was privileged to meet and spend a few hours visiting with Walt Disney.
Wow! Big Roy AND Walt himself! Did you know Roy Williams designed the classic mouse ears?
I think there were still only 8 of us together at this point when we stopped outside of HM to have ice cream. Then, newly minted FPs in hand, we went on Peter Pan's Flight! I love this ride (and had FPs to ride it on our next MNSSHP) but we never got to see the queue, and I noticed when you take off, the Darling's nursery is much darker than it used to be - you loose all the detail of being in the nursery, and then flying out the window! But still: Peter Pan!
After our flight, we wandered Fantasyland. It was still light out, so about 6:30 or 7? The lines for rides were quite short, for what was supposed to be a busy party. (Lines for characters, however, were loooooong!) We rode IASW, the Ariel ride, then some of our party went on Space Mountain while I waited with my Mom and sister at some tables in Tomorrowland. More and more Mouseketeers were showing up! It was getting dark and trick or treating was happening, so we hit a couple spots in Tomorrowland.
I went to have a cigarette and was looking for the end of the trail to the smoking section, when I stumbled upon a tucked away plaza that I'm pretty sure used to be one. I even asked a CM if it was a smoking section and he said "Yes". So I went and parked myself there and about 5 minutes later a different CM came and busted me, in the super nicest way EVER. I apologized but did tell him that I had checked with a CM before going there, and he said to go ahead and finish my cig, and showed me the actual area when the Tomorrowland/Circus area path was. (ie halfway to Mars.) Only at Disney can you get in trouble and it's like getting punched with a marshmallow.
Everyone got off Space Mountain and the by now 14 of us soon headed over to the handicapped accessible parade area, where the rest of our group was. Finally, all 17 Mouseketeers together!
The parade was great, there was plenty of room in the HA parade viewing spot at the hub for tons of people, with all the little ones sitting in the front, bigger kids and adults sitting behind, those in wheelchairs behind them, and then the rest of the adults standing behind. One guy got right up behind his tots in the front row, and proceeded to stand there, basically blocking the view of quite a few folks in wheelchairs. It was gently pointed out that he was welcome to grab a piece of cement and sit with his kids, or stand behind with the rest of the adults, and he grudgingly moved. Dude. You're in a prime parade spot, courtesy of your loved one in a wheelchair. Don't block the wheelchairs.
The parade was great! The night was dry and so the Headless Horseman rode, the shovel sparks flew, and Boo to You and You and YOU!
Here's a pic (parade lighting) of a big group of us preparing for the parade:
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