Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Harry Potter travel tips from A to Z

As promised, my insider’s view of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter from A to Z. I hope you enjoy. If you also visited this attraction, please add your tips and comments.

Arrive early. I could also say Awesome Adventure. (Smiles) If you missed my tip on staying at an on-site hotel in yesterday’s post, read it now. It explains the early entrance perk for guests.

Butterbeer. One word: delicious. You can get it cold or frozen. I recommend the frozen. It was so refreshing, especially in the August heat. I heard from a Waitress Who Will Not Be Named that the drink, which was approved by J.K. Rowling, is a mixture of A & W Root Beer and butterscotch syrup. I have no idea if that’s true, but what I do know is that people line up to buy this treat all…day…long. Waitress Who Will Not Be Named told me that one hotel guest waited in line more than two hours to get a butterbeer for her child. Now that’s love. I’m sure Lily would have done that, too.

Castle. Towering above Hogsmeade is the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The castle, with its stately turrets and imposing presence, houses the signature ride: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Do not miss this ride and do not go in the single rider line because you will miss the incredible queue experience and the treasures it holds. I did single rider once and was sorry afterward. And yes, you can go through the queue and see all the cool stuff and NOT get on the ride.

Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom. As you wind your way through the castle you’ll pass through this classroom where Harry, Ron and Hermione convince Muggles to skip the boring lecture on the history of Hogwarts and go with them to a Quidditch match. Watch the terrific trio as they wrap the invisibility cloak around them and vanish right before your eyes. Who thought an invisibility cloak wasn’t real?

Experience at night. This recommendation comes from my sons. They loved walking through Hogsmeade at night. They said there were fewer people to navigate around and that the darkness and lighting added to its ambience.

Frog in window. What I love about the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is the attention to details. Each store window is an adventure in itself. There were things I didn’t notice on my first two visits that I noticed on my third. You will find a croaking chocolate frog in the window of the Honeydukes candy store. Go inside and you’ll find everything from Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Jelly Beans to white chocolate skulls.

Greenhouse. The queue for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey snakes through Professor Sprout’s greenhouse dressed in hanging greenery. Look for the mandrakes. Don't worry, they don't shriek.

Howler in window. Don’t miss the screaming red howler in the Owl Post window. Another magical touch that helps bring this world to life.

Intimate. The shops are small but their size really makes you feel like you are in a real place. I read somewhere that J.K. Rowling wanted it this way. She felt it would be more authentic. I have to agree. I didn’t mind the narrow aisles or tiny spaces, but then I didn’t have a stroller to maneuver through the shops. Come to think of it, I don’t remember seeing any strollers in the shops. Probably was too tight a space for them.

J. K. Rowling. The woman who created it all on a train ride from Manchester to London 20 years ago. Wow! I can’t imagine what she must have felt when she visited the Florida attraction and saw the fabulous world she had created. Here’s to literary dreams and J.K., whose imagination lives on not only in books but also in films and now an actual place.

Keep moving. There’s a lot to see and walking will help work off the calories from the butterbeer. (Smiles)

Living pictures. These talking portraits are so unbelievably cool. As you snake through the castle on your way to the Forbidden Journey ride, you’ll see various living portraits, including the founders of Hogwarts’ four houses (Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin) arguing. They can’t believe Muggles are in Hogwarts. Also, don’t miss the living portrait of Gilderoy Lockhart, surrounded by his many memoirs, in the bookstore (Tomes and Scrolls) window.

Mandrates. You will find mandrates, plants with roots shaped like babies, in the Hogwarts greenhouse. Don’t miss the animated one in the shop window in Hogsmeade.

Nimbus 2000 broomstick. Harry Potter leads us to the Quidditch match in the Forbidden Journey ride on his Nimbus 2000. We follow on an enchanted bench that Hermione makes fly. The journey includes Dementors emitting a chill, spiders dripping venom, a dragon breathing fire and a Whomping Willow moving toward you.

Owlery. Again, gotta love the attention to detail here. Owls perch on the rafters. Some move their heads, others flap their wings. Best part, there’s owl poo on the beams. Well, not real owl poo. But the creators splashed a little white here and there (sometimes under a sitting owl) to resemble crap. I know I have the mind of a 12-year-old, but you gotta love this attention to detail.

Post. Want to mail a letter with a Hogsmeade postmark, you got it. Just visit the Owlery.

Quidditch and Quill. Both of these can be found in store windows. Catch the quivering Quidditch equipment at Spintwitches (and look for the snitch that’s loose) and don’t miss the quill writing by itself across the street. Also, look for windows that contain: a cello playing by itself, pages of music flying through the air, Hermione's Yule Ball gown and tape measure that move, a spoon stirring in a cauldron and I’m sure there’s more that I just can’t think of right now.

Rides. Besides Forbidden Journey, there’s Dragon Challenge (formerly Dueling Dragons) and Flight of the Hippogriff (formerly Flight of the Unicorn). Don’t miss the hippogriff (part horse, part eagle) nestled behind the Flight of the Hippograff ride.

Sorting hat. You’ll find the sorting hat at the end of the queue for Forbidden Journey spouting off directions. I wish the ride creators could have used the sorting hat to sort people standing in the queue into the various houses. That would have been way cool. If not in this ride, perhaps build an attraction that does it. Just a thought – and a dream.

Train with conductor. Don’t miss getting your picture taken with the conductor at Hogwarts Express, just inside the entrance to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The dude is very friendly and might even tease you about being late for a lecture at school.

Umbrellas. I saw plenty of these during the hot August days. People not only used them for the typical Florida afternoon showers but to shield them from the sun. Also, take plenty of water.

Very tired. Expect to be this after you spend a day at this park. But I think it’s worth it.

Wand shop. Ollivander’s was by far my favorite shop. It was more like an experience than a shop. Don’t miss this. I know the lines are long, but they take a group of 20-something into the shop at one time so it moves right along. The dude they had playing the store clerk was totally awesome. I kept thinking, “Gawd, this guy’s for real.” He had to be an actor. He was that good. Anyway, you watch as a customer is helped. (The person selected in my group was right in front. Not sure if that improves your chances of being picked or not, but wanted to share). The customer tries a few different wands (surprises happen) until the right wand is found. The skit lasts about 5 minutes but I truly felt like I was a part of something special.

Xtra time. I know that’s not how you spell extra, but it’s getting way late and it’s back to work tomorrow. So I’m cheating a bit. But give yourself plenty of time to take in all of the magic in this place. There’s so much I haven’t even talked about that’s so incredibly cool, like Moaning Myrtle sobbing in the bathroom, the awesome hologram of Albus Dumbledore in Hogwarts and The Monster Book of Monsters snapping inside Dervish & Banges.

Yo-yos. I was walking through Zonko’s enjoying all of the joke gifts when I came across screaming yo-yos. What fun! If you’re interested in buying Hogwarts school uniforms, robes, scarves, T-shirts, and broomsticks, head to Dervish and Banges.

Zonko’s. I end with some fun, the best joke shop ever created. You’ll find sneakoscopes and extendable ears and chattering teeth and tons of other fun stuff. Don’t miss the extendable ears hanging from the ceiling as you go from Zonko’s into Honeydukes candy store.


  1. OOOH so jealous! Thx for the recap--and for telling me what butter beer tastes like-YUM!

  2. This was AWESOME! I want to go so badly after reading this post. The butterbeer sounds delicious, the living pictures sound unreal, and the wand shop? Who needed an extra reason to go in a shop? :) Thanks, Buffy! Terrific!


  3. Oh man, now I wanna go to Florida! Sounds like a great time. And the butterbeer does sound delish. I also love the Waitress Who Will Not Be Named haha -- cute!

  4. Wow! It sounds so cool. You've made me want to go.