Posts Tagged ‘wizarding world’

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 14: Hog’s Head Brew at the Hog’s Head

by on December 14, 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 FOURTEEN: Hog’s Head Ale at the Hog’s Head (Islands of Adventure)

HogsHeadBrew

Hog’s Head Ale.

 

Our latest entry comes from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade Village.  Hog’s Head Brew is exclusively made for Universal by the Florida Beer Company. The brew is amber in color, with a slightly off-white head. The taste is surprisingly good for a theme park beer, with hints of a good Scottish ale while having a crisp taste. The Hog’s Head pub itself is ripped straight out of the pages of JK Rowling’s novels, and also played an important role in the film series as it was where the Hogwarts students formed Dumbledore’s Army in Order of the Phoenix.

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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 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

Leaky_BangersAndMash

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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New Universal Orlando Wizarding World Two-Park Touring Plans

by on July 23, 2014

Gringotts Queue

Learn everything you’ve always wanted to know (but were afraid to ask) about visiting both Gringotts and Hogwarts with our new Wizarding World two-park touring plans! (photos by Seth Kubersky)

A few days ago, we published our newly updated Universal Studios Florida touring plans, which provide step-by-step instructions for tackling Diagon Alley and the crowds at the Gringotts bank ride with maximum efficiency. Those guides are now available as premium touring plans that can be copied and edited in Lines, with versions for Early Entry guests and for those staying off-site.

Today, we’re following up with the first installment of our most frequently requested touring plan: one-day/two-park plans covering both sides of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. These new plans cover both Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure. They feature all Harry Potter attractions (including rides on the Hogwarts Express in both directions) in a single day, and assume you have a Park-To-Park (Universal lingo for “parkhopper”) ticket.

[Note: If you caught the early edition of this post, you may notice that the touring plans have changed slightly. Using the latest data crunched overnight, we've tweaked the morning attraction order to squeeze in one extra attraction! Similar upgrades have already been made to the premium one day USF/Diagon Alley plans we've previously published. You're welcome!]
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New Wizarding World of Harry Potter Diagon Alley Touring Plans

by on July 19, 2014

Diagon Alley touring plans

Massive crowds await inside the Gringotts bank. Be prepared with our new Wizarding World of Harry Potter Diagon Alley touring plans! (Photos by Seth Kubersky)

It’s been a little over a week since the grand opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley, and Universal Studios Florida‘s blockbuster new attraction continues to attract astoundingly oversized crowds. While you won’t find the massive queue clogging park walkways that accompanied the opening of the original Wizarding World in Islands of Adventure, thanks to greatly improved crowd control procedures, guests are still waiting upwards of 5 hours on a daily basis just to Escape from Gringotts. While the new “multidimensional” thrill machine is certainly a marvel, we here at Touring Plans are congenitally allergic to advising any of our readers to invest half their vacation day in any one attraction, at the expense of experiencing everything else that Universal has to offer. In that spirt, we offer our newly updated Wizarding World of Harry Potter Diagon Alley Touring Plans, along with a comprehensive commentary with everything you need to know in order to open your magical bank account with a bare minimum (relatively speaking) of waiting.

The following Diagon Alley touring plans are based on first-hand observations conducted during pre-opening media previews, soft openings, and daily operations during grand opening week. The plans were optimized based on a peak day (9.5 out of 10 on our crowd calendar) and may need modification once off-season arrives with shorter hours. As operational patterns evolve, we’ll continue to update our plans for maximum efficiency.

These plans will also shortly be available as premium plans on TouringPlans.com and in our Lines app, so subscribers will be able to copy and edit them at will. Be aware that our system is not yet able to properly account for the queuing and return time tickets required to enter Diagon Alley, and may therefore return inappropriate results for that area’s attractions; for the moment, we recommend editing the attraction order manually through our website, and using “evaluate” instead of “optimize” for Diagon Alley plans.

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SATURDAY SIX: Six Surprises of Universal’s Hogwarts Express

by on July 12, 2014

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Surprises of Universal’s Hogwarts Express. With the opening of Diagon Alley this week, most of the headlines have been focused on Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. Whether it’s the incredible animatronics inside the queue, the amazing ride itself, the seemingly never-ending outdoor portion of the extended queue, or the oft-reported downtime, much of the week’s conversation has been spent on the newest E-Ticket attraction at Universal Studios Florida. However, right next door to Diagon Alley another ride opened on the same day with almost no issues, but has received much less fanfare. Maybe it’s a case of the squeaky wheel gets the oil, but for our money the Hogwarts Express was one of the most wonderful additions to the Wizarding World expansion.

The Hogwarts Express is the first attraction in theme park history to go from one park to another. With all the details in the King’s Cross and Hogsmeade stations along with the ride itself, this edition of the SATURDAY SIX is going to look at six of our favorite surprises of this newest attraction, starting with…

# 6 – Live Musicians in King’s Cross Station

HE_music2

A saxophone player that would make Bleeding Gums Murphy and Lisa Simpson proud (photo by Brandon Glover)

The word you are going to see in pretty much every review of anything related to the Wizarding World at Universal is authenticity, and one small touch that adds so much depth to the experience of King’s Cross is the live musicians that play as you walk into the queue. You can hear men and women playing violins, guitars, and saxophones as you enter the cavernous building. All that’s missing is a hat to leave tips in.

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Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts REVIEW [Minor Spoilers]

by on July 1, 2014

 

gringotts review

A panoramic view of the majestic Gringotts bank lobby. (photos by Seth Kubersky)

As PotterWatch wraps up with the approach of Diagon Alley’s July 8 official opening date, I’m proud to present Touring Plans’ first in-depth review of the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter attractions. During the recent VIP preview week, I spent nearly 12 hours exploring the expansion at Universal Studios Florida, and was the only member of the media to successfully ride the Gringotts attraction three times. I’ve distilled that first-hand experience into the following Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts review, which will appear in edited form in the 2015 edition of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, as well as other affiliated titles.

Bear in mind, the following opinions and information are based on a preview of the attraction, and is subject to change once the area is open to the public. BEWARE: Minor spoilers ahead.

 

Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts

5 STARS

APPEAL BY AGE

  • PRESCHOOL 2 stars
  • GRADE SCHOOL 4 stars
  • TEENS 5 stars
  • YOUNG ADULTS 5 stars
  • OVER 30 5 stars
  • SENIORS 4 stars

What it is Super-high-tech 3-D dark ride with roller coaster elements.
Scope and scale Super-headliner.
When to go Immediately after park opening or just before closing.
Special comments Expect loooong waits in line; 42″ minimum height requirement.
Authors’ rating The ultimate realization of “Ride The Movies!”; Not to be missed; 5 stars
Duration of ride 4 1⁄2 minutes.
Probable waiting time per 100 people ahead of you 4 minutes.
Loading speed Moderate-Fast.

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SATURDAY SIX: Six Surprises of Universal’s Diagon Alley

by on June 21, 2014

This week’s SATURDAY SIX covers Six Surprises of Universal’s Diagon Alley. The Universal Orlando Resort held its big Diagon Alley media event this week, and TouringPlans’ own Seth Kubersky was on hand each night of the the three day event. For this red carpet event, Universal flew in some major players from the Potter movie universe, including the usual crew of Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood) and the Phelps twins (Fred and George Weasley), but also used the Floo Network and brought in Bonnie Wright (Ginny Weasley), Domhnall Gleason (Bill Weasley), Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy), Matt Lewis (Neville Longbottom), Warwick Davis (Professor Flitwick), Robbie Coltrain (Hagrid), and Helena Bonham Carter (Bellatrix Lestrange). For the first time ever, media and VIPs were able to ride on the Hogwarts Express and Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, along with experiencing everything in Diagon Alley itself.  The Leaky Cauldron. Carkitt Market. Knockturn Alley. All of it.

We’ll cover all the big stuff in due time (especially with the newly announced July 8 Grand Opening date for all guests), but today we’re going to look at six surprises within Diagon Alley that had us grinning wider than Ron Weasley after seeing a Veela.

# 6 – Gringotts Bank Notes

GringottsBankNote1

Gringotts bank note (photo by Seth Kubersky)

After many years Universal finally has its version of Disney Dollars in the form of Gringotts Bank Notes. Located in Carkitt Market, the Gringotts Money Exchange will allow guests to exchange their Muggle money for Gringotts Bank Notes (in $10 or $20 denominations), which can then be used as souvenirs or as currency to purchase anything in the Wizarding World or on Universal property. Even more impressive is the goblin animatronic that interacts with the guestsincluding looking directly at the person talking to it. Both creepy and fun.

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PotterWatch: Diagon Alley Media Event Preparations and Hogsmeade Interactive Windows

by on June 16, 2014

Potterwatch hogsmeade interactive windows

The media is about to descend upon The Wizarding World of Harry Potter — Diagon Alley at Universal Orlando (photos by Seth Kubersky)

The past week has been a wild emotional roller coaster for Wizarding World of Harry Potter fans on PotterWatch, with last Monday’s euphoric unveiling of Universal Studios Florida‘s London waterfront giving way to days of rain-drenched waiting for non-existent Diagon Alley technical rehearsals. Though it now seems certain we won’t see the inside of Diagon Alley until this week’s media preview, we did get look at preparations for the upcoming VIP event. And over at Islands of Adventure, we have exciting photos of all the new interactive windows recently installed throughout Hogsmeade.

Diagon Alley Media Event Preparations

Team member training, executive inspections, and promotional filming precluded any possible soft openings at Diagon Alley this week, but you can see the staging equipment being prepared for the media preview that begins this Tuesday.

 

The last construction walls have been removed, fully revealing the forested berm that block the view of Gringotts.

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