Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Wild About Harry

Halloween Horror Nights was only the first of three days we'd spend at Universal Studios Orlando (and Islands of Adventure). The very next day, we were back to enjoy the theme parks in their normal states, and to see the new Harry Potter area, Diagon Alley, that had been built since our last visit.

Some of the highlights from Day 2:

The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man. We started out with this 3D simulator ride. It's starting to feel a touch long in the tooth next to the Harry Potter ride and others, but it's still pretty fun. The story is almost totally incoherent, though. (Maybe if I'd read more Spider-man comics, it would make sense?)

Skull Island: Reign of Kong. This is the newest ride at Universal, and continues in the current vogue of mixing projection movies, 3D glasses, and animatronics. It's a gentle enough ride that no lap bar is required, but the motion simulation is still convincing enough to sell the ride's various gags. Being brand new, you often have to wait a while to ride it. We waited nearly an hour, and it may not have been worth that. But cut that wait time in half, and it's pretty fun. That said, there was a lot of fun stuff in the queue to entertain you during the wait.

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. This was the original Potter ride, in the Hogsmeade section of the park. Riding it again, I'm still convinced this is the best theme park ride in Orlando. All the elements blend together perfectly, really selling the sense of flight. Plus, it features so many of the characters from the films -- including Harry, Hermione, and Ron. I can't imagine visiting Orlando and not riding this ride. Multiple times.

The Hogwarts Express. This is a new ride of sorts, a train that connects the Hogsmeade area of one Universal Park with the new Diagon Alley area of the other. As you're taken across, a movie plays on your window to suggest your journey between Hogwarts school and London. Not worth waiting long to do, as such, but a far easier (and more entertaining) way of getting between the parks than walking.

Diagon Alley. Not a new ride, but the actual new area of the park itself, and worthy of mention all its own. It's fantastic. You get to it just as the book describes. There's a rather bland looking brick wall in the park with two openings; you'd imagine walking around into a stadium bathroom or something. Instead, you walk into freaking Diagon Alley. Shop fronts everywhere, including one that only sells Butterbeer, another that sells only fantastical stuffed animals, and many, many more. There's a dragon perched on the roof of Gringotts Bank. Plus a dark and shadowy path into Knockturn Alley, where a dimly lit store sells only Slytherin and Death Eater themed merchandise. And it's all perfectly hidden from view until you're standing inside it. Brilliantly realized.

Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. This is the new Potter ride in Diagon Alley. It's a 3D simulator like the Forbidden Journey, but sits you in more conventional roller coaster cars for the trip. The villains take a larger role here, with Helena Bonham Carter and Ralph Fiennes reprising their roles as Bellatrix and Voldemort. This ride is perhaps not as good as the original Potter ride (just because the bar was set so high), but the queue is jaw-dropping, walking you through the lobby and offices of bank, and then taking you (via fake elevator) down into the vaults for the ride itself.

The Hogwarts Express. After spending a long time in Diagon Alley, we actually rode the train back to Hogsmeade just to see what movie played in the opposite direction. It's a little more involved than simply the same elements shown in reverse, but it still is ultimately more of a distraction than a ride. Check it off the list only if you must have the full Harry Potter experience.

That took care of our second theme park day. We'd be back at Universal one more day before the whole trip was over, but our next stop on the trip: Disney World.

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