: getting there. With all the convenience of free shuttles within and between Walt Disney World properties, the major disadvantage of staying at a Disney resort for those who want to visit other theme parks - is there is no easy way to get to other venues via public transportation. It would take hours with lots of walking and several different bus routes. Luckily, after some research, I found a shuttle service (Mears) that picks up at any Disney hotel and takes you to Universal Studios for $19 a person roundtrip. You just have to make a reservation the night before your visit - we took the 8:10am shuttle and it was about an hour and a half ride door to door in a tour bus, including all the stops at the various Disney hotels for pickups. (When you get on the bus, they give you a voucher for the return trip. You can either make a reservation in advance for the return, or call at least 1 hour before you want to hop on one of the hourly buses conveniently running til 2am).
The entire area was built for a very immersive experience - there wasn't any visible 'Harry Potter' branding, they built this village as if it was a real place from that world, with careful attention to detail. Unavoidable throngs of tourists in warm temperature garb aside, we could fancy ourselves Hogwarts students on a field trip to Hogsmeade for the first time, checking out all the stores...
Our heads whipped taking it all in - loved Honeydukes candy shop, which looks exactly as it did in the movies, and is a dream in itself for kids with shelves of Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans, Chocolate Frogs, Fizzing Whizbees and many other fun sweets...
There was the cauldron shop, a must stop for any budding witch or wizard (this one was just a facade, not an actual store)...
You can also choose to have it in a plastic cup or a souvenir mug! The mug is refillable with soda and other drinks elsewhere inside Universal for $0.50 (butterbeer refills are still full price). Besides the texture and flavor, the other reason they only serve butter beer on tap, in open cups/mugs is because you can only drink it in the park - they don't sell any bottles 'to go'. While I was sad about not being able to bring any home, I also appreciate that this makes it more of a special thing to experience only at the park, in that lovely Hogsmeade setting. What they did sell 'to go', were bottles of pumpkin ale with a cute pumpkin shaped bottle top.
Harry Potter and The Forbidden Journey, and that they take the care to have free lockers before you enter the queue, so you can store your bags for an hour while you're on the ride.
Flight of the Hippogriff ride, which is more of a traditional coaster with the magical creature theme.
Three Broomsticks - a working eatery with British tavern decor, Harry Potter style of course.
I could have spent another day there just to soak up more butterbeer and repeat the Hogwarts ride!! Or just to eat/drink and hang out at Three Broomsticks or Hog's Head tavern attached to it. Some say there aren't enough rides here, and it would be great to have a whole theme park based on all the key places in the world of HP, but I personally just love the environment of Hogsmeade and what's been done to make it feel 'authentic to the fiction', and can't wait til they build out a version at Universal Studios Hollywood!!!!
[To see more photos from our visit, see the album on my Facebook page.]
After Harry Potter, we stayed for Halloween Horror Nights (for Curses), a separately ticketed event at the other part of Universal Studios. I kind of turned into Grumpy Smurf at that point - as in 'I hate haunted houses'...'I hate it when people jump out at me...with half their face 'eaten' away' - but did enjoy the general theatrical atmosphere: fog was pumped into the whole area with blue/black backlighting and horror fx music, to create a truly eerie backdrop even when you're walking between attractions. Regular guests turned into zombie-like silhouettes in the fog, and actors dressed as 'real' zombies and other monsters creeped up from seemingly nowhere the whole time. The 'best' of the costumed actors, which freaked me out on a primal level - were those dressed in orange jumpsuits with hocky masks and 'chainsaws' that they ran at you with! I of course know in my head they're actors and those are fake props - but they did a 'fantastic' job of making them give off scary chainsaw sounds, a gasoline smell and 'smoke' - so that it triggers some primitive fear response in you, a fight or flight leaning way more towards flight. I had warned Curses that if she made me go to this, she may end up with a severe fingernail marks on her arm and torn eardrums - and I pretty much delivered. I did enjoy the Despicable Me and The Simpsons rides, which were a blast (probably because they weren't designed to terrorize). Sorry I didn't take any pics of this event - I was too busy screaming and my phone battery was dead after shooting all day at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. One tip that I'll leave you with though, for those who plan to go to this event in future: if you're going to go, consider paying extra for the Express line option - the lines are insanely long at this event, and if we hadn't shelled out for the Express line passes we would have spent all night in lines and probably only get to experience 2-3 attractions versus pretty much doing them all.
Universal Studios Orlando
6000 Universal Blvd., Orlando, FL 32819
Mears Shuttle Service
$19 per person: any Disney hotel to Universal Studios Orlando and back
Reservations required: call the night before your visit
The Three Broomsticks / Hog Head
Universal Studios Orlando - Islands of Adventure - Wizarding World of Harry Potter