Harry Potter

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!

Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando

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

Universal Orlando Early Park Admission IOA

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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How to Enjoy Universal Orlando’s Harry Potter Celebration 2015 without a Special Package)

by on January 14, 2015

TouringPlans is happy to welcome Dani Dennison-Perez to the blog. Dani also writes for Orlando Informer and ThisFloridaLife.

A Celebration of Harry Potter 2015 is on the horizon. Potterheads, Muggles, and everyone else are anxiously awaiting its arrival much like young little witches and wizards waiting their turn to cross onto platform 9 ¾ for the Hogwarts Express on their first trip to Hogwarts. This event officially debuted last year and seems to be a new annual tradition (we hope). This year’s A Celebration of Harry Potter will take place January 30 – February 1, 2015.

Much in the same vein as Disney’s Star Wars Weekends, A Celebration of Harry Potter brings together celebrities from the movies, special shows and Q&A sessions, and exclusive exhibits. What’s more, it brings in a nice hefty revenue stream for Universal Orlando and Loews Hotels as vacation packages with special benefits are sold at a mind baffling rate. But what if you weren’t able to snatch up one of those enticing packages? You can still find ways to revel in the celebration.

Last year I decided not to purchase any of the packages and went about the whole thing very casually. No planning, no forethought, just showed up…. And I got nothing accomplished (though I still had fun). Here now are my tips, just keep in mind, this is based on my experience last year. Some things may be changing this year, but I am confident the same tips will apply.

Photo credit: Universal Orlando

Photo credit: Universal Orlando

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Daisy Lauren’s Best Week Ever: January 1, 2015

by on January 1, 2015

1Hi, Everyone! Welcome to a whole new year of the Best Week Ever here at Walt Disney World! Or maybe it isn’t fair to just say Walt Disney World, since I received passes to Universal Orlando Resort this Christmas! :D This week I’m excited to share my first trip there in ages, show off the new Polynesian Resort lobby, stop by Disney’s Hollywood Studios to check out the Comedy Warehouse Holiday Special, and lastly pop in Epcot for some last minute holiday fun. So what are you waiting for? Let’s get going!

I’ve mentioned before that I love Universal, but some of the rides are too intense for me. (Maybe that’s why Cat In The Hat was my first stop!) When picking an admission ticket we normally end up choosing Disney just because there’s more we can do together. However, when passes are a gift there is no decision to be made, and I was just dying to see Diagon Alley! Click “read more” below for more on my first visit!

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25 Drinks of Christmas Countdown – Day 25: Butterbeer at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

by on December 25, 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 TWENTY FIVE: Butterbeer (all versions) at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (Universal Orlando Resort)

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Frozen Butterbeer and regular Butterbeer with Hogwarts Castle standing majestically in the background.

 

The Game Changer.

When the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade Village opened in 2010, it was a brand new day at the Universal Orlando Resort. Guests were leaving with bags filled with Potter merchandise, a stark contrast for a resort that sold a ton of Thing 1 & Thing 2 shirts, but little else of note. Harry Potter and the Forbbiden Journey had a queue that guests wanted to spend more time in. Imagine that. In a world where theme parks are spending Millions (if not Billions) on getting guests through queues quicker, guests wanted to stay longer in the elaborate Forbidden Journey queue. As Vizzini would say, “Inconceivable!”

But what no one was prepared for was a little drink called Butterbeer. To say it was popular may be the understatement of the century, as Universal celebrated selling one million Butterbeers just six months after their debut. It is said that Universal made enough money of the sale of Butterbeer in those six months to completely cover the entire cost of the Wizarding World. Since the very first drinks were poured, guests have debated which was better: regular Butterbeer or frozen Butterbeer. The answer? Neither, the Hot Butterbeer is clearly the best. They are all so good they are going to collectively get the # 1 spot and, what the heck, we’re going to add in Butterbeer Ice Cream from Florean Fortescue’s as well!

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25 Drinks of Christmas Countdown – Day 20: Dragon Scale and Wizard’s Brew at the Hopping Pot

by on December 20, 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 TWENTY: Dragon Scale and Wizard’s Brew at the Hopping Pot (Universal Studios Florida)

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Dragon Scale brew inside Universal’s Diagon Alley. (photo by Brandon Glover)

 

We’re getting closer and closer to Christmas Day, so it is no surprise that some heavy hitters of the theme park drinking world are starting to come out. As we begin our final countdown to the big day we have our very first dual nomination, Dragon Scale and Wizard’s Brew at The Hopping Pot. Just as the Hog’s Head Brew is exclusive to Hogsmeade Village, Dragon Scale and Wizard’s Brew can only be found inside Diagon Alley. Dragon Scale is a malty lager, making it a great choice in the Florida heat, whereas Wizard’s Brew is a sweet stout, with flavors of chocolate and coffee. The beer tap for Dragon Scale has a dragon draped around it, similar to the iconic one standing atop Gringotts Bank, and is one of those fantastic details that sets the Wizarding World apart from lands in any theme park.

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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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