When we booked our return trip to Disney this summer, my only questions were whether we’d repeat Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and if I’d really humor Miss O with a reservation at Cinderella’s Royal Table for a character meal since she’d already met all the Princesses. I should have known her love of Harry Potter was growing exponentially as we worked our way through each book, followed by its movie version, at a fairly steady pace. Lately any hint of vacation elicited an exuberant cry of “Universal!” from Miss O. Perhaps I needed one more round of consideration for our upcoming trip.
Words cannot express how excited I was when we decided to return to Disney this summer. I was smack in the middle of another of life’s low points and was convinced Miss O would lose her mind with excitement when we finally told her we were going back. I worked hard to pay off the first Disney trip and I was confident in my plan to afford the next one as well. I figured planning would be easier this time around, since it was only the three of us and we’d be following the same general park plans as the previous year. That trip was tested, proven and a lot of fun that we still talk about.
One night at dinner the conversation turned to vacations and places we’d like to visit. Miss O got excited, as expected, but instead of hoping for Disney, it turns out, Miss O is holding out hope to return to Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure so she can return to Hogwarts.
Miss O’s first experience at Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure came at the ripe old age of 5.5, because I was attending a conference in Florida and Hubs and I thought it would be fun for them to fly down and meet me. In a move of incredible generosity, one of Hubs former colleagues, gifted us three of her employee one-day-two-park-passes. We had only read up to the second Harry Potter book with Miss O before we visited Universal, so we weren’t sure how much she’d retain or even care about when she found herself immersed in it. We knew she’d recognize Hedwig and chocolate frogs, but the Knight Bus was a little too far out for her to appreciate and there’s no way she’d get on the Escape from Gringotts ride.
Whether she got the full effect or not, it didn’t seem to matter. We started that morning early, knowing we’d need to get there as close to opening as possible to get on the Hogwarts ride. We warmed her up with a walk through Seuss Landing at Islands of Adventure and she was the first rider of the day on the Caro-Seuss-el, which she absolutely loved. She was a bit wary to go on anything else, this being her first theme park with bigger rides than Canobie Lake in New Hampshire and therefore, a little daunting, so we kept on going towards the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade.
Once we got to Hogwarts castle, home of Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride, we had a bit of a wait inside, but Miss O did a great job of waiting. Hubs and I realized this would be great practice for Disney lines and Miss O was proving to be up for the challenge already. When we finally got to the front, Miss O was too little to ride, so Hubs and I rider swapped. Miss O and I sat and watched clips from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone while we waited for Hubs to return and vet the ride for me. I wasn’t excited to ride by myself, mostly because I enjoy sharing those experiences with others, but also a little because I was unsure of what exactly that ride entailed. I had no reason to worry, though. I giggled the entire time and honestly can’t wait to do it again.
We had breakfast in the Three Broomsticks and while it wasn’t the most amazing food I’ve ever had, it was pretty fun. After breakfast, Miss O waited in line for the show at Ollivander’s like a champ and was properly excited once she got inside. She was a bit said she wasn’t picked to find a wand, but that was resolved fairly quickly after our group moved into the shop and she got to pick one for herself. Hermoine’s, of course. The wand is interactive and every few feet throughout Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley, there are cleverly placed sensors that you can interact with and do “spells.” Miss O spent the rest of the day dutifully following the enclosed map and stopping to try every spell. Some worked, some didn’t, but it was fun for all of us none the less and she’s taken it to school for bring your favorite toy day more than once.
After getting sorted with a wand, we needed a snack. The previous night I discovered the joy that is Butterbeer and HAD to share it. We got in a fairly short line at the wagon in the middle of Hogsmeade and didn’t wait long. If you like butterscotch and any sort of ice cream float, this is the drink for you. It was the perfect snack for what was turning out to be a rather humid late-October day. Miss O fell in love instantly, though it proved a bit too sweet for her to finish.
We worked our way through the shops, stopping to get a Ravenclaw shirt for me and a toy snitch for Miss O in Quality Quidditch Supplies, a few Bookmarks and a rather impressive plush Hedwig at the Owl Post, and of course, some chocolate frogs complete with Wizard trading cards from Honeydukes. Now, be warned, these frogs are no joke. They are about the side of your fist and solid milk chocolate. They have heft when you lift them, which should have been my first clue, and they aren’t cheap! We bought three, thinking that’d be one for each of us. Miss O and I could barely finish one and worked on it for the next two days. Also, we didn’t realize we could actually send a postcard from the Owl Post and it will get a special Hogsmeade postmark. Miss O would have loved that.
When we finished seeing what we wanted to see in Hogsmeade, we queued up to take the Hogwarts Express to Diagon Alley, which is in Universal Studios, the other park. You need to have a park hopper pass to do that, and it’s so worth it. The “ride” is really cute and if you’re a fan of the books and/or movies, it’s definitely a fun experience. Miss O was absolutely in awe, though the bit about the dementors was completely lost on her.
Diagon Alley was amazing. It felt completely different from the Hogsmeade section and I could tell Miss O felt it, too. The park was getting busier, so it had the effect of really feeling like we just left a quiet village and arrived in a bustling city shopping area. Miss O and I did a bit of exploring and wand practice while Hubs rode Escape from Gringotts. I’m not one for roller coasters, so I didn’t bother.
There wasn’t much else for us to do in Diagon Alley after that, so we headed out into the rest of Universal Studios to get some lunch in Springfield at the Krusty Burger and see what else might be of interest. Hubs wanted to do TRANSFORMERS: The Ride 3D, which Miss O and I skipped for a snack instead, and while poking around in the gift shop waiting for him, we saw a couple taking wedding photos with Megatron.
Hubs wanted to ride Jurassic Park River Adventure, which I have zero interest in and Miss O definitely wasn’t ready for, so she and I went to go play in the giant tree house in Camp Jurassic. The afternoon storm started up shortly thereafter, but not to worry, we wizards were prepared. We found a quiet , covered spot up in the nets, got out our chocolate frog and had a picnic in the jungle. That become one of my favorite memories of the trip. Just me, Miss O, Hedwig and some chocolate in the rain.
The Universal parks didn’t have much else of interest to Miss O at that age. She wasn’t really interested in superheroes yet and the rest of the rides were too big and scary for her. We headed back to the Hogwarts Express station in Diagon Alley to return to Islands of Adventure to play a bit more in Seuss Landing before calling it a day. The wait to get back was so incredibly long I thought for sure we’d finally experience a full blown tired toddler melt down, but we waited in that seeming endless snaking line for over an hour and Miss O did not complain once!
The ride back to Islands of Adventure was as much fun as the ride over to Universal Studios and while the crowds were pretty heavy in Hogsmeade by then, we found the rest of the park to be fairly empty. Miss O was dead against going on the High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride that goes in the air above the park, but somehow we were able to convince her to go on One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish which delighted her to no end when she discovered it shoots water randomly.
We tried to get her on The Cat and the Hat ride, almost to no avail, but the team member outside the ride was so great with her and convinced her to go in and give it a look before deciding. We got to the front and she decided it wasn’t for her, so we ducked out of line and headed toward the train, which she magically decided was perfectly fine now that she had been in the air in a flying fish.
I don’t think I’d ever ridden the High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride before and I have to say, it’s quite a bit of fun for a roller-coaster-scaredy-cat like me. Miss O loved it so much we rode it three times back-to-back. On one of those trips gliding above the park, Miss O suddenly decided to try The Cat in the Hat, so we headed back over only to find the ride was down. The same team member , Trevor, was outside and he honestly looked heartbroken for Miss O. He knew what a big deal it was for her to change her mind. He told us to try back in 20 minutes and he’d let us go through the quick line when the ride was back up.
Miss O and Hubs headed back over to One Fish, Two Fish and rode that three more times back to back before Miss O finally gave in and gave it a rest. We headed back over to The Cat in the Hat, but our new friend was gone. The team member out front asked if we were Trevor’s friends and surprisingly, Miss O said “yes.” The team member said he told her about us and he asked her to let us in through the Express Pass line. Miss O was so excited and headed straight in like it was nothing and came out like it was the best thing she’d ever seen. She loved it!
We had a long, full day, so it’s no wonder Miss O remembers it fondly. I think I forgot how much fun we actually had and it makes sense she’s ready to go back. Hubs and I talked it over, considering whether the day we planned for down time in the middle of our week at Disney would be better spent at Universal again. We knew we’d be able to make it physically and Miss O proved completely capable of going full throttle at Disney last summer with no days off, we weren’t quite sure we’d be able to afford to add it on to our already carefully budgeted Disney plan.
Because the universe is amazing and Hubs has extremely generous colleagues still at Universal, we were gifted another three one-day, two-park employee passes by a different colleague and the decision was made. Not only were we returning to Disney, we were also going back to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in both Universal Parks as well. I honestly can’t believe it. I didn’t think we’d be able to top our trip last summer, but it looks like Miss O is in for quite the trip this year.
Let’s hope we remember to pack our ears and our wand.