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Pottermania at Universal Studios, Orlando

Published in the Chronicle/Advisor

As the final and eight movie of the Harry Potter series winds down its triumphant stomp of all previous box offices records, it seemed like a jolly good time to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal, Orlando.

Given our preference for Disney World when making the Florida theme park trek, it was only the lure of the bespectacled wizard that got us to book a two-day visit to Universal Studios. Universal is actually two parks, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. The Wizarding World is one of the Islands of Adventure.

We arrived at the Orlando Airport in the morning and already missed the well-oiled Disney transportation system— no rows of buses waiting to whisk us away. Instead we settled for a cab ride to the Hilton Grand Vacation Resort. We choose the Hilton across from Seaworld because they were offering a fabulous rate for a two bedroom villa and ($99 a night). Yes, there was a catch —a mere 90-minute time-share presentation. It was a big unit and a very nice resort but we weren’t in the market for a timeshare of any kind for any reason. Suffice it to say we will never take a discounted hotel room of any size for listening to timeshare pitch.

Transportation continued to be an issue at the 33-acre Hilton property as well as our decision not to choose one of the three hotels on Universal’s property. The Hilton resort was so large (and it was raining) we called for a ride to take us from our end to the restaurants or main pool. While their website promised free transportation to Universal, it was once in the morning and once in the evening which didn’t work for us. Otherwise we were back in a $20 cab ride to and from the theme park.

But enough about the accommodations, let’s get to the main event! For all serious Potter fans, it was worth the trip and the $85 one-day one-park admission.  Wizarding World was extremely crowded, and quite small by theme park standards (three attractions) and still wonderful. The showcase ride is Harry Potter and the Forbidden Adventure, the latest in thrill ride technology, a robotic arm roller coaster. It is not for those who fear heights as you soar high above Hogwarts on a magical bench! It was one of the best rides I have been on ever for sheer excitement and an authentic feel of being in the story.

We lunched at the Three Broomsticks, a cafeteria style restaurant. Stay away from the turkey drumsticks and choose the fish and chips instead. Don’t forget to order a Butterbeer. Our stop after lunch was at Ollivanders wand shop we experienced a charming magic wand experience.  Honeydukes, the sweet shop, was a required a stop as was a wander through Zonko’s a toy and gag shop. Not quite up to Fred and George’s standards for jokes and gags but then again they were wizards and we were mere muggles.

The Hogs Head Pub was a welcome spot for the adults to sip a real British beer (or two) while waiting for the teenagers to repeat every ride.  I’m not sure when the park would be less crowded, it has been a blockbuster for Universal since it opened a little over a year ago.

We did a few other rides while at the Islands including the Incredible Hulk Coaster (gasp I was upside down for a long time) and the Amazing Adventures of Spider Man.  The park had lots to offer including some outstanding restaurant choices.—over 50 in all.  City Walk Universal offered us dining at Emeril’s. BAM!

The 12,000-bottle wine cellar was only part of the draw along with the cuisine of celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse. We could watch the chefs at work in the huge open kitchen (Emeril was having a night off I guess). It was definitely white tablecloth fine dining with prices to match but well worth it.  It didn’t matter that we wearing theme park attire, waiters hovered behind every chair. Whatever you order, do not skip dessert. The banana cream pie with caramel sauce and shaved chocolate is to die for. It was so good; I might start with it next time. I might order two pieces and skip the entrée. Not really but close. The double thick cut pork chop slathered in a tamarind glaze and served with 
bourbon-mashed sweet potatoes was outstanding.  A bowl of the Seafood & Andouille Gumbo was very satisfying. The other entrée we tried was the pan seared sea scallops 
with a mango beurre blanc. Did I say, YUM?

If your budget doesn’t allow for fine dining, we also grabbed a terrific “have it your way” burger at the Whopper Bar on City Walk.

Next time we visit, and we will, we’ll stay at one of the three hotels on the property so we can walk back at forth and take advantage of early and late park hours. Maybe we’ll even squeeze in a visit to the other part of Universal Studios. If you are sad about the end of the Harry Potter series, a visit to the Wizarding World might be in order to feel the magic once again. Brilliant idea!

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