In early April I made a weekend trip down to Orlando, Florida to visit a few friends. I started planning this trip back in the fall, after a good friend of mine from graduate school moved to Orlando to work for Disney. By the time the trip came around, I had 3 friends living in the same suburb of Orlando! It was really nice to spend time with friends from various parts of my life, while also getting in some time at Universal Orlando and Disney World!
After getting the first flight out Friday morning, my friend picked me up from the airport and we headed straight to Universal Studios and Universal Islands of Adventure to visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is split between the two parks, with Hogsmeade Village in Universal Islands of Adventure, and Diagon Alley in Universal Studios. We knew we wanted to visit both parks (and ride the Hogwarts Express), so we purchased the one-day park-to-park ticket. Next time I think I’d add the Express Pass to jump ahead of lines for the rides, since the parks got very crowded as the day went on.
Upon arrival in Hogsmeade, we stopped into a few shops, including Honeydukes, the Owl Post, and Dervish and Banges, rode the Flight of the Hippogriff (which didn’t have a very long wait and was pretty mild), had lunch at the Three Broomsticks (I ordered the fish & chips and tried my friends butterbeer), experienced Ollivanders Wand Shop, and eventually rode the Hogwarts Express to Diagon Alley.
Once in Universal Studios, we wandered around London, where we saw the Knight Bus, before heading into Diagon Alley. There was a long wait for the Escape from Gringotts ride, so my friend did the single rider option while I explored a little bit. This is where I wish I had purchased the Express Pass. Not only was the wait for the ride over an hour, but you also had to wait to put your belongings in a locker, which had an additional line to wait in. If my friend and I had both wanted to ride together, we would’ve spent almost two hours on this alone. We spent over 6 hours in the park, and I felt like we could’ve stayed much longer to do more. Had we waited those 2 hours for one ride, we wouldn’t have seen nearly as much as we did! My friend enjoyed the ride, and I think next time I’ll spring for the Express Pass so I can give it a try.
Once we met up again, we grabbed a water from Eternelle’s Elixir of Refreshment, wandered into Knockturn Alley, and explored Borgin and Burkes. We stopped into Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour, but we felt the wait was too long to order anything. On our way out of Diagon Alley we also went into Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment, Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, Wands by Gregorivich, Sugarplum’s Sweetshop, Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions, and Gringotts Money Exchange.
We peeked into the Leaky Cauldron before hopping back on the Hogwarts Express at Kings Cross Station to go back to Hogsmeade Village, where I grabbed a cider at the Hog’s Head before heading out. Neither of us rode the other ride in Hogsmeade, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. I’ve heard mixed reviews of this ride, and since I tend to have motion sickness I opted not to ride it!
Overall, I’m so happy we decided to spend the day at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I grew up reading the books and watching the movies, so it was pretty special to see it all come to life. I did have a moment when I first walked into Hogsmeade where I felt blown away. To be standing in a space that so closely resembled what I’d read about and seen in movies was incredible! The parks are so well-done that you do feel like you’re in the world of Harry Potter. No detail is left out, and as a fan of the series, visiting the parks is a really cool experience to have.
We left the park around 5pm to check into our hotel, the Yacht Club at Disney World, before grabbing dinner at the Boathouse in Disney Springs, which is a massive shopping, dining, and entertainment area. I made a reservation in advance, which I would definitely recommend!
Our Saturday was spent exploring Epcot and the International Flower and Garden Festival. One of my friends ran the Star Wars 10k (I didn’t really know it was a race weekend, and I think this contributed to the crowd sizes in a significant way), while I had breakfast at the hotel and got ready for the day. We took the boat from the Yacht Club to the back side of Epcot around 10:30am, and wandered around the park before the World Showcase opened at 11am. I had never been to Epcot before, so I was really excited to spend the day in the park. As with everything Disney, I was blown away by the details throughout the park. I also loved seeing the displays for the International Flower and Garden Festival - everything was beautiful!
Once the World Showcase opened, we started in France and worked our way back to the front of the park. Each pavilion had a separate area to order food and beverages unique to the Flower and Garden Festival. We were able to grab a booklet that laid out what each pavilion had to offer, and this was an easy way to keep track of what we had tried and what we wanted to try. Between my friends and I ordering we were able to try and share a good amount of what was available! Here’s a list of what I tried:
Fleur de Lys - France - Tarte au Chevre and La Vie en Rose Frozen Slush
Taste of Marrakesh - Morocco - Harissa Chicken Kebab
Primavera Kitchen - Italy - Pizza Toscana, Zeppole, and a Bellini
Bauernmarkt - Germany - Potato Pancake and the Hugo Cocktail (sparkling wine, elderflower and mint)
Lotus House - China - Vegetable Spring Rolls
There was so much to try that we didn’t get even close to trying everything!
We did manage to get a FastPass+ for Frozen Ever After, which was the only ride we went on, and I would recommend to any Disney fan. We spent most of our day eating and drinking our way through the World Showcase! My favorite part of the day was grabbing a pint of cider at the Rose and Crown Pub in England - it was a much-welcomed respite from the heat!
Because we had a park hopper pass, we ended the day at Magic Kingdom, with a quick stop to see Cinderella’s Castle. Saturday ended up being very warm, with a high of about 90 degrees. Needless to say, by about 5pm we were ready to rest back at the hotel!
We finished the day with dinner at the Ale & Compass Lounge, which was casual, but had great service, food and drinks! About two years ago I went to Disney with my family, and we also stayed on Disney property at the Animal Kingdom Kidani Village. One thing I remember from that trip is how great our food always was, and I had the same experience this time around. From room service to dining on site, I’ve had fantastic experiences during both visits! Because of this, and the proximity to the parks, I’d highly recommend staying on Disney property if you’re able to.
The staff at the Yacht Club were also amazing. The lady that brought breakfast to my room Saturday morning was incredible - so cheerful, happy, and pleasant! She mentioned she had been working at Disney for almost 8 years and that she still loved it - it was really great to hear, and a wonderful testament to the culture Disney has created.
After a leisurely Sunday morning packing up, I met my friends for a late brunch at First Watch before heading to the airport to go home.
I’m so glad I made the trip down to Orlando to visit friends. I’ve realized how important it is to put time and energy into my relationships, and it doesn’t hurt when those close to you live in fun cities like Orlando! I do think a trip to Orlando takes a large amount of planning if you’re going to visit any theme parks. There is so much to know about Disney World and Universal Orlando, that if you don’t do your research and plan in advance you will probably miss out on a few things. So, if you’re planning a trip to Orlando, take the time and do your research! You won’t regret it.