Harry Potter

One-Day/Two-Parks; A Universal Orlando Trip Report

by on December 17, 2014

The gate to the Studios.

The gate to the Studios.

…in which our intrepid couple travels outside the Disney bubble and lives to tell about it.

Step 1 – Transportation from Walt Disney World to Universal and Park Tickets

While planning for a particularly long vacation to Walt Disney World, my husband and I decided to squeeze in a day over at Universal Orlando Resort to try out a one-day / two-park touring plan of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Instantly we were faced with the question, “How do we get there?” We were planning on taking Disney’s Magical Express from the airport and would not have a car while on vacation. Would we dare to use the public transportation and hop a bus? We had seen a harrowing,(although hilarious) YouTube video of a British couple who took this route. It didn’t work out so well for them, and they splurged for a cab ride on the way back. Yes, busing was out of the question. We were on a time limit and didn’t have the three hours it took these poor folks just to get to the park. Well, with rental car and busing out of the question, that left us with a taxi.

We did our homework and priced up the fares using the Mears Transportation website. It didn’t seem too terrible, and this is really what we were leaning towards, until I read in the fine print that even if stuck in traffic, the meter is running. We wanted to be on the roadways during rush hour traffic. This probably was not a good plan either. Well, what to do? Do we just forget about Universal? No! Where there is a will, there is a way. And after more research we discovered that some of the travel agencies that sell tickets also sell transportation packages. Now we’re talking!

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25 Drinks of Christmas Countdown – Day 16: Fishy Green Ale at the Fountain of Fair Fortune

by on December 16, 2014

The Christmas season is my absolute favorite time of the year. Growing up, one of the little things I loved most was getting an Advent calendar and counting down the days until Santa would be coming down the chimney. As I grew older, I had to leave Advent calendars in the rear view mirror,* but I still miss that daily countdown building anticipation to the big day. So, we’re going to start a virtual Advent calendar here at TouringPlans. For 2014, we are going to countdown our favorite drinks at Walt Disney World and the Universal Orlando Resort.

Criteria: Drinks can be alcoholic or nonalcoholic. Drinks can come from any venue on property as well as the Disney Cruise Line. Bonus points awarded for atmosphere where drink is served. Any drink with glow cubes is immediately disqualified. Ready? Let’s go!

DAY SIXTEEN: Fishy Green Ale at the Fountain of Fair Fortune

25Drinks_FishyGreenAle1

Fishy Green Ale. (photo by Brandon Glover)

 

One of the most unique and original drinks created for Diagon Alley earlier this summer was Fishy Green Ale. Like the original Butterbeer and then the Flaming Moe in Springfield, Universal has created a theme park signature drink that was like no other. The drink itself is green in color with a creamy mint taste along with some hints of cinnamon. At the bottom of the drink are plump blueberry “fish eggs.” The Fishy Green Ale comes with a bigger straw than the other drinks to be able to suck these “eggs” up and they almost explode in your mouth. The non-alcoholic Fishy Green Ale may not be  for everyone, but those who enjoy it are going to love it. 

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25 Drinks of Christmas Countdown – Day 11: Tongue Tying Lemon Squash at the Leaky Cauldron

by on December 11, 2014

The Christmas season is my absolute favorite time of the year. Growing up, one of the little things I loved most was getting an Advent calendar and counting down the days until Santa would be coming down the chimney. As I grew older, I had to leave Advent calendars in the rear view mirror,* but I still miss that daily countdown building anticipation to the big day. So, we’re going to start a virtual Advent calendar here at TouringPlans. For 2014, we are going to countdown our favorite drinks at Walt Disney World and the Universal Orlando Resort.

Criteria: Drinks can be alcoholic or nonalcoholic. Drinks can come from any venue on property as well as the Disney Cruise Line. Bonus points awarded for atmosphere where drink is served. Any drink with glow cubes is immediately disqualified. Ready? Let’s go!

DAY ELEVEN: Tongue Tying Lemon Squash at the Leaky Cauldron (Universal Studios Florida)

25Drinks_lemonSquash1

Tongue Tying Lemon Squash in Diagon Alley. (photo by Brandon Glover)

 

When Universal opened Diagon Alley early this summer, we knew there would be a variety of new drinks making their debut, but we didn’t know which ones or how good they would be. One the surprises of the bunch was Tongue Tying Lemon Squash. Filled with fresh lemon pulp along with hints of vanilla, this version of lemonade immediately became the best on property, and let’s face it, nothing beats an ice cold lemonade on a hot day touring the theme parks. Our recommendation is to head into the Leaky Cauldron, grab a Banger Sandwich and a Tongue Tying Lemon Squash, and just soak in the incredible atmosphere.

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25 Drinks of Christmas Countdown – Day 7: Pumpkin Fizz at the Three Broomsicks

by on December 7, 2014

The Christmas season is my absolute favorite time of the year. Growing up, one of the little things I loved most was getting an Advent calendar and counting down the days until Santa would be coming down the chimney. As I grew older, I had to leave Advent calendars in the rear view mirror,* but I still miss that daily countdown building anticipation to the big day. So, we’re going to start a virtual Advent calendar here at TouringPlans. For 2014, we are going to countdown our favorite drinks at Walt Disney World and the Universal Orlando Resort.

Criteria: Drinks can be alcoholic or nonalcoholic. Drinks can come from any venue on property as well as the Disney Cruise Line. Bonus points awarded for atmosphere where drink is served. Any drink with glow cubes is immediately disqualified. Ready? Let’s go!

DAY SEVEN: Pumpkin Fizz at the Three Broomsticks (Islands of Adventure)

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Pumpkin Fizz at the Three Broomsicks. (photo by Brandon Glover)

 

When the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade Village opened in 2010, it brought along several drinks straight out of the pages of the Potter books by JK Rowling. Everyone knows Butterbeer and Pumpkin Juice, the latter of which has a very distinctive pumpkin cap to the bottle. While both those beverages have seemingly become a ubiquitous part of experiencing WWOHP, what is lesser known is that another drink from the books is served inside the Three BroomsticksPumpkin Fizz is a carbonated version of Pumpkin Juice and has the taste of pumpkin pie soda. You’ll find hints of cinnamon, nutmeg and even a bit of apple cider in Pumpkin Fizz, making it a great drink to enjoy during the holiday season. 

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SATURDAY SIX: Six “Easter Eggs” at the Universal Orlando Resort

by on November 22, 2014

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six “Easter Eggs” at the Universal Orlando Resort. The Universal theme parks are filled with extraordinary features, from the incredible dragon atop Gringotts bank in Diagon Alley, to the hilarious games of chance in front of The Simpsons Ride, but my favorite ones are the subtle – almost hidden -details that most guests don’t even notice while touring the park. I like to think of these details as Easter eggs, similar to the ones most of us are familiar with in movies (and, in Hollywood, no one is better than Disney Pixar.) Now, some of these details are almost impossible to find unless you know where to look for them, while others are hidden in plain sight, but all of them, whether consciously or subconsciously, add to the overall immersion at Universal.  Today we are going to look at six of these Easter eggs, several of which even longtime Universal fans may have not noticed before. Remember that clicking on any picture will bring it up in full size, keep your head on a swivel, and let’s start counting down…

# 6 – Mickey Ears in Twister… Ride It Out

Our first stop is at an attraction that may not be around for much longer, Twister… Ride It Out. Based around the movie Twister from 1996 (and one of your humble authors favorite guilty pleasures,) the attraction’s pre-show has guests walking through a house that has been ravaged by a tornado. One of the pieces of debris inside the house is a car coming through the roof. If you look closely at the passenger side front tire of the vehicle, you will see a pair of the iconic Mickey Ears.

Universal_EasterEggs_Twister_MickeyEars

Twister… Ride It Out at Universal Studios Florida. (photo by Brandon Glover)

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Does Diagon Alley Feel Like Home (London)?

by on September 16, 2014

The actual Diagon Alley Set from the Warner Bros. Studio Tour

The actual Diagon Alley Set from the Warner Bros. Studio Tour

Ed. – We’re happy to bring back our International Youth Correspondent for another kid’s eye article. We’re also grateful to the Duncan family for being so accommodating when we rang them up and asked to borrow their children for a day.

When I heard that Universal Studios Florida was to welcome Diagon Alley as a new land, and that it was to be connected to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter already existing as Hogsmeade in Universal’s Islands of Adventure, by the Hogwarts Express train, I was thrilled. I am a colossal Harry Potter fan and had already visited the Warner Bros. Studio Tour in London, where the eight Harry Potter movies were filmed, for an audio guided tour of the sets. I couldn’t wait to see how Universal was going to duplicate the original Diagon Alley set, replicate my home of London in general, and build the Knight Bus, Platform 9¾, and, of course, Gringotts Bank.

So when we visited Orlando this summer, my brother and I decided to adopt some American parents for the day, Len Testa and Laurel Stewart – the TouringPlans legends – to take us around the new area and attractions. Len had even concocted a back story in case someone asked how my brother and I got our English accents; we were to reply: “From our nanny, Mary Poppins.” And to do so with a perfectly straight face! I would have totally failed and was so glad we didn’t have to use this in the end.

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Universal Orlando Early Park Admission Changes Starting September 2 [UPDATED 8/30/14]

by on August 30, 2014

Early Park Admission Sign

Big changes are coming in September to Universal Orlando’s Early Park Admission perk (Photo by Seth Kubersky)

As the summer season comes to a close, we’ve gotten word of some upcoming changes to Universal Orlando Early Park Admission policies that are scheduled to go into effect early next month.

While no details have been officially announced, we’ve confirmed this information with guest service leads at both parks, and we believe the following modifications will be made to Universal Orlando’s early park admission perk (otherwise known as “early entry” or “early admission”) offered to guests at the resort’s four on-site hotels.

We will be on hand to report on the new procedures, and we will update the information on our Early Park Admission page as policy changes develop.

[Note: Universal Orlando has recently confirmed an update to the off-season early entry, see below for bolded changes]

Early Park Admission General Information

Universal Orlando offers admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter areas at Islands of Adventure (Hogsmeade) and/or Universal Studios Florida (Diagon Alley) one hour before regular park opening. This perk is given for free to all guests staying at a Universal Resort Hotel. Guests with certain types of “vacation packages” (most commonly sold by Universal Parks & Resorts Vacations and involving both accommodations at a Universal partner hotel and theme park admission) are also allowed in early.

The turnstiles to the park(s) participating in early entry should open approximately 90 minutes before the official opening time. Both hotel and day guests will be admitted to the park, and each eligible guest will need to show his or her own room key to pass beyond the park’s entry plaza during the early admission hour. Guests not eligible for early admission will be held in an alternative area to await the official opening time.

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SATURDAY SIX: Top Six Counter Service Restaurants at the Universal Orlando Resort

by on August 23, 2014

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at the Top Six Counter Service Restaurants at the Universal Orlando Resort. Last year we looked at the overall top six restaurants on property, and because both the Three Broomsticks and Fast Food Boulevard made that list, they were ineligible for this one. Speaking of which, later this year when The Cowfish opens in CityWalk we may have to revisit our original list because there have been some pretty impressive venues (including Antojitos and Vivo) who have made quite an impression since their debut. However, today we are looking resort wide for the counter service restaurants that we love the most, starting with….

# 6 – Thunder Falls Terrace (Islands of Adventure)

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Thunder Falls Terrace

 

Located in Jurassic Park, Thunder Falls Terrace has several things going for it. The first is its menu. Unlike your typical theme park counter service, this location eschews traditional fare like hot dogs and chicken fingers and instead has items such as charbroiled ribs and rotisserie chicken. It is also one of the only counter service locations where you can get a mixed green salad made in front of your eyes.  There are several large seating areas inside (along with  tables outside as well) with one area has a fantastic view of where the Jurassic Park River Adventure boats splash down. This is even more fun to watch when guests walk by this area not realizing they are about to be in the Splash Zone and get soaked.

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Universal Orlando Offers Celebration of Harry Potter in 2015

by on August 14, 2014

Hogwarts Express

Hogwarts Express ©Universal

Universal Orlando announced a three day Harry Potter themed event today, the Celebration of Harry Potter, for January 30 to February 1, 2015. The fan event will offer appearances from actors of the Harry Potter films and an expo in addition to exclusive access to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley for ticket holders.

Guests may choose from a package that includes:

  • Three nights in a Universal or Universal partner hotel
  • Three day park-to-park admission to Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure
  • An evening dessert party in Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley
  • Reserved seating for actor appearances and discussions
  • Early park admission to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (one hour)
  • Breakfast at Three Broomsticks
  • A welcome pack and commemorative merchandise

Annual Passholders may opt for a package that does not include park admission (but does include the hotel stay). The minimum stay for either package is three nights.

Guests who don’t wish to book the full packages may choose admission only, which will include actor appearances and the expo.

The event package for two adults starts at $555 for the partner hotel ($357 AP), $657 for Cabana Bay ($465 AP), and $855 for Royal Pacific Resort ($657 AP). Packages must be booked by phone at 1-888-343-8991 starting Thursday, August 21 at noon Eastern time.

The Universal Crowd Calendar has not yet been updated for this event. This year’s celebration of Harry Potter in late January had low overall park crowd levels, but many fans in the Wizarding World areas.

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SATURDAY SIX: Top Six New Food Options in Diagon Alley’s Leaky Cauldron

by on August 2, 2014

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Top Six New Food Options in Universal’s Diagon Alley. We began our mouthwatering journey into Diagon Alley two weeks ago when we went through the best new drinks and continued last week by looking at the best new snacks. Today we finish up our glutonous trilogy by hopping into the Leaky Cauldron and checking out the newest food options inside the Wizarding World. Offering traditional British pub fare, the Leaky Cauldron serves a menu that differs wildly from the standard hamburgers, chicken fingers and pizza that we’ve become used to inside the theme parks. Our All-Star blue ribbon panel of experts sat down and tried everything, and today we’re counting down the best of the best….

# 6 –  Bangers & Mash

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Bangers & Mash (photo by Brandon Glover)

 

Bangers & Mash delivers in a big way. Two large pieces of sausage sitting on top of mashed potatoes with onion gravy and servings of vegetables to top off the plate. Seeing real vegetables instead of french fries at a quick service restaurant still takes some getting used to, but it is definitely something long needed in the theme park world. One day we are going to have to have an official Bangers & Mash Taste Test between Walt Disney World and Universal. Settling once and for all which venue has the best version of this dish with entries from Rose & Crown (Epcot,) Raglan Road (Downtown Disney,) Finnegan’s (Universal Studios Florida,) and the Leaky Cauldron. ($11.99)

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