Harry Potter

Seth Kubersky’s Best Week Ever September 3, 2015: Universal Orlando Update

by on September 2, 2015

In case you hadn’t heard, a little project I’ve been working on for most of the past year was finally published recently. Ironically, I’ve been so busy writing about Universal Orlando, and giving interviews about the book, that I haven’t had time to actually enjoy the resort in weeks. So, on the eve of my extended absence from Florida, I took one last Best Week Ever look at some Universal Orlando updates, including a couple attractions that won’t be around by the time I get back.

Universal Orlando is currently offering Early Park Admission to all Annual Passholders on weekdays in September. So my day started bright and early, before Islands of Adventure’s 8 a.m. opening. There’s no time at the parks quite as peaceful as pre-opening on a beautiful morning!

 

 

Only IOA is currently opening early entry, so the iconic lighthouse was my first destination.

 

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SATURDAY SIX: The Six Best Drinks, Snacks and Food options at DIAGON ALLEY

by on July 11, 2015

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Best Drinks, Snacks, and Food Options at DIAGON ALLEY. We are still celebrating the one year anniversary of Universal’s Diagon Alley, and today we are going to look at the unsung hero of this incredible land. No, not our favorite ride the Hogwart’s Express. No, not the love of our lives Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees. Not even the glorious dragon sitting high atop Gringotts Bank breathing fire. Forget all that stuff, our unsung hero is the new themed food and beverage items Diagon Alley brought into our lives… things we had no idea we were missing but now can’t live without! As theme park foodies it’s going to be pretty much impossible to narrow our list down to just the top six, but we’re going to try anyway starting with…

# 6 – Butterbeer Ice Cream

The biggest debate in theme parks right now is not who’s better between Universal and Disney, or the Raptor Experience and Val the Velociraptor, but instead it is the hotly contested debate of which style of Butterbeer is the best? Many will stand by the traditional Butterbeer, while others swear by the Frozen version. Your humble author’s opinion is that hot Butterbeer trumps them all, but there is something to be said about Butterbeer Ice Cream that made it’s debut with Diagon Alley. Available at Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlor (but the pros know to skip that line and head over to Fountain of Fair Fortune instead) Butterbeer ice cream is mostly vanilla soft-serve with swirls of Butterbeer flavoring. Like the Butterbeer drinks, the ice cream is very sweet, but it certainly feels right eating inside the Wizarding World. Now when exactly will Universal start selling a Butterbeer float?!

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Butterbeer Ice Cream. (photo by Brandon Glover)

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SATURDAY SIX: Six Reasons We Love Universal’s DIAGON ALLEY

by on July 11, 2015

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Reasons We Love Universal’s DIAGON ALLEY. Who can believe it was just one year ago that Diagon Alley opened at Universal Studios Florida and changed the way we looked at immersive lands inside a theme park forever? When Hogsmeade Village opened in Islands of Adventure in 2010, it immediately became a gold standard and had industry-changing effects on themed merchandise as well as food and beverage. You can make a case that Butterbeer alone changed the entire future of the Universal parks by becoming such a phenomenon that it helped the $250 Million area pay for itself within six months. That immediate and unqualified success led to a fast tracking of many things, including Diagon Alley. 

But could Universal Creative top Hogsmeade Village, with the iconic Hogwarts Castle facade for Forbidden Journey, interactive show stopper Ollivanders, and wonderfully detailed areas like the Hog’s Head pub? SPOILER ALERT: Yes. Yes, they did. Today we are going to look six of the many reasons we love Diagon Alley and to narrow down our list we consulted with an expert in Muggle Studies, Megan Stump. You may remember Meg from last year’s #PotterWatch, where she was on hand for 30 straight days leading up to the grand opening. So grab your favorite Pygmy Puff (or Horcrux, if you’re Voldemort) and settle in for the countdown, starting with….

# 6 – The Entrance

One of the most unforgettable moments of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was Harry’s entrance into Diagon Alley. It was his introduction to the wizarding world, but was also ours. It was something both real and fantastical at the same time. Harry entered Diagon Alley through a magical brick wall, which revealed an entrance after an elaborate shifting of the bricks. In order to accommodate more than 500 Muggles a day into the land, Universal had to be a little creative in recreating this experience. They succeeded by having guests walk through a brick wall which slowly reveals the wonder of Diagon Alley before them.

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To get into Diagon Alley, guests enter the London Waterfront area to find a magical brick wall… (photo by Brandon Glover)

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Potterheads Amelia Brose and Sasha Atherton enter Diagon Alley for the very first time. An unforgettable experience. (photo by Megan Stump)

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8 Ways to Celebrate Universal Orlando’s 25th Anniversary

by on June 19, 2015

It’s the first theme park for which I have memories of all the excitement and fanfare of its opening days. Universal Studios Florida was the fifth major theme park to open in the Orlando area, 25 years ago on June 7, 1990. Although the anniversary day has come and gone, and the special concert series is coming to a close, there are still ways to celebrate Universal Orlando’s 25th anniversary.

25th Anniversary decorations

Admittedly the decorations are not as over-the-top as many of us would have hoped or imagined, but it’s still a nice touch to see the banners at the entrance of Universal Studios Florida as well as along Production Central and the Hollywood Backlot. These are essentially the same as what can be seen during Mardi Gras or the celebration during the holiday season. They are nice and the emblem is simple and classy.

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The Three Broomsticks: The Best Quick-Service Restaurant at Universal Orlando

by on March 30, 2015

On the one hand, it’s extraordinarily easy to pick The Three Broomsticks as the best quick-service restaurant at all of Universal Orlando Resort – it’s one of the best-themed experiences to be had in the entire industry, generally, let alone a culinary one, specifically. (Of course, the accomplishment is only abetted by Harry Potter’s whimsical mythology and engrossing details, which already does much to transform eating into a magical experience [no pun intended].)

The Three Broomsticks facade

Image © Dan Hatfield

On the other hand, however, it’s a rather controversial choice. First, there’s the little matter of Three Broomsticks’s competition at the resort, which is considerable; everything from the quick-service Fast Food Boulevard to CityWalk’s ever-expanding options to, of course, that other Potter establishment, The Leaky Cauldron, offer compelling reasons – especially of the gastronomical kind – to stay away from the first Wizarding World’s dive.

There’s also the little matter of the restaurant’s menu not being the most expansive, and that the quality of its food, while still substantial, isn’t of the same level as, say, Mythos, Islands of Adventure’s flagship eatery just down the path a ways (though the latter is a full-service stop, which might be comparing apples to oranges).

It’s actually a testament to The Three Broomsticks’s wonderfully addictive atmosphere that the restaurant more than manages to make up for its shortcomings, and that the overall experience truly is greater than the sum of its individual parts.

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Updated Universal Orlando Content Now Online to Celebrate Upcoming Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando

by on March 16, 2015

I’ve written tens of thousands of sentences in the nearly 5 years I’ve been working for The Unofficial Guide and Touring Plans, but this one is the most exciting: The Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando, our first stand-alone guidebook dedicated to the home of Harry Potter, is on its way!

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The Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando is on its way! (Not to scale; book not shown actual size).

The Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando is available now for pre-order, and is listed on Amazon.com with an August 11 release date. If you know The Unofficial Guides and Touring Plans from our Disney coverage, you may be wondering, “Why create a guide for Universal Orlando?” Well, as the author (along with co-authors Bob Sehlinger and Len Testa) of the new book, I’m glad you asked!

The short answer is that we listen to our readers, and we watch where people are spending their vacation time and dollars. Ever since the opening of the first Wizarding World of Harry Potter in 2010, and especially since the debut of Diagon Alley in 2014, interest in and attendance at Universal Orlando has exploded. Every day, more and more Central Florida visitors are choosing Universal as their primary destination, or at making it a significant sideline.

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SATURDAY SIX: Six Theme Park Questions For the Magic 8 Ball

by on March 14, 2015

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Theme Park Questions For the Magic 8 Ball. Theme park fans have a lot of questions. In fact, the mailbag at the Saturday Six offices is stuffed with letters from fans asking about their favorite Orlando parks. Unfortunately, thanks to TV being our babysitter growing up, our reading comprehension isn’t that great. We hired some interns to handle the mail, but they are even worse because of YouTube, Vine and Twitter (enjoy life now because we’re all doomed when this generation takes control of things.) So we did the only thing that we could do given the circumstances….we made up our own questions.

# 6 – What will Avatarland do in the area of merchandise?

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A Na’vi makes the bond with 15.99% APR. (photo by Matt Cleary)

Disney has slowly been giving us information on the upcoming Avatar expansion at Animal Kingdom, including the groundbreaking ceremony in early 2014 in which Imagineers used 10 foot shovels. Several attractions have been vaguely teased, and the point is always stressed that this land is attempting to be one of the most amazing experiences in theme park history. It’s James Cameron and Walt Disney Imagineering, two of the best in the world at what they do.

However, one thing that hasn’t been mentioned at all is what kind of retail opportunities there will be in this land, if any. Avatar is the most successful movie in the history of cinema, but it does not lead itself to the traditional methods of merchandising that Universal has used for its Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The third act of Avatar is hinged on the fact that the humans have nothing to offer the Na’vi, because the natives of Pandora have no use for materialistic things. What are those materialistic things? Shirts, action figures, magnets, and pretty much anything else you would find in a theme park gift shop.

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SATURDAY SIX SPECIAL EDITION: Inaugural 2015 Theme Park Awards (AKA “The Burgys”)

by on February 21, 2015

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The most coveted theme park award of all… The Golden Burgy.

This week’s SATURDAY SIX presents the Inaugural 2015 Theme Park Awards. This weekend, while the rest of the world is preparing for The Oscars and spending hours watching awards given to films they haven’t even heard of, let alone watched (not to mention the outright Best Picture snubs of Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: Winter Soldier), readers of this column will be able to see their favorite theme park attractions get the attention they deserve. The Golden Burgy, theme park media’s highest award, is being handed out to the rides, shows, restaurants, and experiences that truly stood out over the past year.

Just as the Academy Awards hand out their lesser prizes before the main show, we’d like to present two of our minor awards before we get to the big ones. First, a Golden Burgy goes to the Holy Land Experience in the category of Best Theme Park Food Pun for their Garden of Eaten Chicken Salad Sandwich. Interestingly enough, Holy Land had all the nominees in this category including JerusaLamb, Land of Milk (no honey,and My Cup Overflows Souvenir Refillable Cup. The category of Biggest Theme Park Free Fall experience was the tightest race of all the nominees. Falcon’s Fury at Busch Gardens was the favorite to win, but the coveted Golden Burgy instead went to SeaWorld’s stock price. Now that’s a drop.

With those out of the way, allow us to present to you the Inaugural SATURDAY SIX Theme Park Awards, starting with…

# 6 – Best New Ride Experience – Diagon Alley’s Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts 

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The rotunda inside Gringotts bank includes an incredible view. And this is just the queue! (photo by Tom Bricker)

What else needs to be said about Universal’s newest E-Ticket attraction? The queue for Escape From Gringotts is one of the best in theme park history, loaded with magical details from the Harry Potter films. There are incredible goblin animatronics and million dollar chandeliers hanging above that make the Gringotts Bank lobby almost an attraction by itself.

Unlike IOA’s Forbidden Journey’s “best of” trip through the first four Potter films, Escape From Gringotts places guests directly into events from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II. Ingeniously showing a movie scene from another perspective, Escape From Gringotts takes Universal’s motto of Ride The Movies to the next level.

Worst New Ride Experience – Being attacked by bees on Rip Ride Rocket 

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“Oh the humanity!” Swarms of bees attack riders on Universal Studios Florida’s Rip Ride Rockit. (photo by Mike Sperduto and Matt Cleary.)

While just a minor blip on the radar in 2014, the story of Rip Ride Rockit having a minor problem with bees was enough for us to envision the plot of a new horror film.

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Universal Orlando Early Park Admission Now at Islands of Adventure Only

by on January 23, 2015

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Universal Orlando Early Park Admission policies have changed once again. (photo by Seth Kubersky)

Welcome back to the never-ending saga of Universal Orlando Early Park Admission procedures. As of January 20, 2015, Universal has yet again adjusted the popular perk offered to their on-site hotel guests. Early Park Admission to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which allows eligible guests into the resort’s most popular area one hour before the general public, is now restricted to only Hogsmeade at Islands of Adventure.

A quick recap: IOA offered early entry hours from the time the first Harry Potter land opened in 2010 until last year. Once Diagon Alley opened last summer, both parks opened for early park admission until the summer season ended, at which point only Universal Studios Florida was opened. This made sense, as most guests are primarily interested in the new Diagon Alley, and early park admission was the best time by far to experience Escape from Gringotts without a lengthy wait.

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2015 Celebration of Harry Potter Schedule and Autograph Session Information

by on January 16, 2015

Celebration of Harry Potter schedule and autograph information

Plan your Celebration of Harry Potter weekend with event schedules and autograph advice.

If Dani’s recent blog post about Universal Orlando‘s upcoming Celebration of Harry Potter event inspired you to attend, you’re probably looking for some hard information on the weekend-long fan convention kicking off at Universal Studios Florida on January 30th. Fear not, muggles, because we’ve found the full details on the Celebration of Harry Potter schedule and autograph session information to help you snag some face time with your favorite wizarding stars.

 

Celebration of Harry Potter Basic Information

The Celebration of Harry Potter, scheduled for January 30 through February 1, 2015, brings Harry Potter fans together with the actors and artists who helped create the blockbuster franchise. Similar to sci-fi and comic book conventions held around the country, the Celebration features panel discussions and question & answer sessions where guests can see some of the series’ stars in person, and possibly get an autograph. Confirmed participants in 2015 include Michael Gambon (Dumbledore), Robbie Coltrane (Hagrid), Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood), and James and Oliver Phelps (Fred and George Weasley). Paul Harris, the choreographer who created “wand combat” for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, will also attend to lead popular masterclasses in wizard dueling.

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