Lebeau Family Trip Report 2017: Universal Orlando Resort Day Three
Our first two days at Universal Orlando were cut short due to rain and thunderstorms. We still had three days left to tour the parks, but the weather forecast continued to be gloomy. The girls really wanted to spend some time in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter trying out their new wands. But that was difficult during the busy afternoon hours and the evening was likely to be rained out. So I set out to get an early start on our third day to take advantage of the early admission perk offered to guests at Loews Royal Pacific.
My idea was met with some resistance. Before we left on this vacation, I had promised a more leisurely pace than our typical theme park itinerary. Armed with Express Pass, we would be able to sleep in. There was no need to set an alarm clock. But I knew we would have a much better spell-casting experience if we could beat the crowds to the park.
This morning, everyone got up early enough that we could with just a little effort take advantage of the extra hour offered to hotel guests. Mindy cast a few sideways glances my way, irritated that I was hurrying everyone along. I assured her that I would only play this card one time during the trip and that it would be worth it. I don’t think she believed me on either count, but she played along anyway.
A water taxi was waiting for us when we arrived at the dock. Thanks to the superior transportation provided by Royal Pacific, we were able to get to Islands of Adventure minutes before hotel guests were admitted. In no time at all, we were marching through an empty park with our wands at the ready.
Our destination was Hogsmeade, the only section of the park that was open early. Most guests made a beeline for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. If one were so inclined, they could ride this headliner attraction several times before the park opened to the general public.But we weren’t there for rides. We just wanted to take advantage of relative low crowds for spell-casting purposes.
My impression that morning was that Hogsmeade was empty. Looking at the pictures, “empty” is a relative term. As you can see, there are still plenty of people wandering around. But it was nothing like the congested walkways we experienced in the afternoons. The kids were able to walk from one spell location to the next with minimal waits. Frequently, there was no wait at all.
Kara took her spell-casting very seriously. I don’t know if it was a case of beginner’s luck, but she managed to trigger most of the effects within the first couple of attempts.
Spell-casting locations are marked (with a couple of exceptions) by a metal plate. The plate indicates which way you should point your wand, which gestures you should make and what magic words you should speak. The words are just a flourish, as long as you make the right motions with your wand it will have the desired effect. Cast a spell properly and you never know what will happen. This one caused a pixie to appear.
(There are some unmarked spells. If you see a sensor in a store window, point your wand at it. You may be rewarded with some form of magic.)
You can see from the look on Kara’s face that she has successfully cast another spell. Must be the Phoenix feather core she searched high and low for.
Generally speaking, the spell markers are outside of store windows. As you can see in the background, it’s not uncommon for lines to form at these locations. When the park is busy, you may have multiple children trying to cast the spell simultaneously which is more chaotic than it is fun. During early admission, we had no such issues.
All the while, I was keeping an eye on the time. I really wanted to be among the first to get into Diagon Alley which had more spell locations. During the week of our stay, early admission was never offered at Universal Studios. The only way we could beat the crowd to Diagon Alley was via the Hogswarts Express.
There were attendants outside the station preventing people from queuing up early. I asked when they would allow people to get in line for the train and they responded that since guests were not admitted to Universal Studios until 9:00, the train wouldn’t open until then. This did not turn out to be the case.
As 9:00 approached, Hogsmeade was beginning to fill up. While the number of hotel guests with access to early admission is relatively small, they are all herded into one location until the rest of the park opens. Some of them will disperse to other areas of Islands of Adventure, but a large number of guests were waiting for their opportunity to hop the Hogwarts Express to Diagon Alley.
Our arrival outside of Hogwarts signaled that we had completed this half of our spell-casting tour. There was still about fifteen minutes left until the official park open. If we were so inclined, we could have queued up for one of the attractions. But I thought it was worth it to go back to the train station to see if they were letting guests in yet.
When we returned, the same attendants were blocking people from entering. A decent-sized crowd was waiting outside of a rope for their opportunity to ride the train. Then suddenly, with no warning, one of the attendants unlatched the rope and took a step backwards. Neither one of them said a word. The crowd didn’t move at first. Then, realizing that the entrance was no longer obstructed, there was a mad rush towards the station.
Fortunately, we were well-positioned to beat the crowd. On our way in, our tickets were checked to make sure we had admission to both parks. Since the Hogwarts Express travels from one park to the other, you can only ride with a multi-park ticket.
We made it through the queue in time to see the first train of the day pull into the station. Everyone applauded. There was genuine excitement in the air as though we were about to embark on a real journey.
The train has a large capacity, so everyone who participated in that mad dash was able to board. We had previously experienced the train ride going in the opposite direction, but this was our first time traveling from Hogsmeade to Diagon Alley. The experience is different depending on which way you are traveling.
Next: Diagon Alley