Monday, December 19, 2011

Florida Holiday 2011 Trip Report - Come to Hogwarts for the Holidays!

Florida Holiday 2011 Trip Report

We hadn't been to Universal Studios Florida in a long time. As you may have heard, there was some new stuff to see there. Yes, our goal was to visit the awkwardly named park-within-a-park Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and oh there are many things to discuss about that. We'll get there eventually, but it's a long walk.

Florida Holiday 2011 Trip Report

We passed by this odd construction on our way into CityWalk. The monster in front is throwing me off; anyone have any ideas what this could be? I've heard everything from an elaborate new store to a mini-golf course.

11.27.11 - Universal Studios Florida

I'd heard that Universal doesn't decorate or do much for the holiday season, but that turned out to be very wrong. They only "don't do much" in comparison to Disney. Islands of Adventure concentrates most of it's decorating to Seuss Landing, turning it into Whoville. Awww...

Florida Holiday 2011 Trip Report

{Ace Ventura} "YEEEEUMMY!!!" {/Ace Ventura}

Florida Holiday 2011 Trip Report

Team Jacob! But not that Jacob!

Florida Holiday 2011 Trip Report

Oh, Merlin's beard we're here already!

Alright, since this is my first visit to WWOHP (I'll just call it Hogsmeade from now on), I'll talk a little bit about what I thought of the park with an eye towards setting, park design, and how successful it is in immersing you into a fictional city. In short, this is the part where I nerd it up.

Overall, it is very impressive indeed and the very best part is, in fact, that set design. Built into about half of the Lost Continent "land" of IOA (the more whimsical fairy tale area rather than the more serious mysterious myths and legendary legends section), Hogsmeade is maybe just a little bit bigger than the Germany village of EPCOT's World Showcase. They look and feel somewhat similar as well, with all the shops sort of flowing into each-other and an overall very effective "this is a real little town that is hundreds of years old" feel.

Florida Holiday 2011 Trip Report

Pictured: A bunch a book-readin' loser nerds nerding out.

This does bring up some oddities though. In World Showcase, each little international city is purposefully designed to look special no matter what direction you enter them from and there's enough transitional space so that it isn't too jarring going from, say, Norway to China. Now, this is partially because Walt Disney World has the benefit of space. Universal, sadly, must cram things in where they can fit, which results in sights like this:

Florida Holiday 2011 Trip Report

Yeah. Additionally, Hogsmeade is really only intended to be entered from the counterclockwise path we took. What you see above is the other entrance.

Now on top of this, you have the number of people who want to visit a Harry Potter theme park vs. book-accurate recreations of Ollivander's and the Three Broomsticks. The result is a deeply uneasy compromise, and you end up seeing things like a line for Ollivander's that is longer then the one for the flagship ride. As for the Three Broomsticks:

Florida Holiday 2011 Trip Report

Pictured: Authentic English pub.

Our meal at the Three Boomsticks brought my attention to another very important difference between Disney and Universal: Disney cast members are the nicest people on the planet. Their main motivation is for you to take your time and enjoy your experiences to the fullest.

Universal people want you to get your food, get on your ride, and get out. Okay, maybe not, but everything in the Three Groomsticks felt rushed as hell. And I probably ought to mention that it's a cafeteria, not a sit-down restaurant. Eh, at least the food is pretty good.

Florida Holiday 2011 Trip Report

As far as drinks, since everyone seems curious about this. Butterbeer is... pretty good. On recommendation, I went for the frozen version. I actually rather liked the pumpkin juice better. I have a soft spot for drinks that smell like pumpkins and for things served in containers shaped like fruit. Little touches like that, and the Cauldron Cakes on display above, make me happy.

11.27.11 - Universal Studios Florida

A-yi-yi, this is running long! I'll end here with my review of the one new ride in Wizarding World: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Housed inside (seemingly at least) Hogwarts Castle, which is an amazing achievement in itself, rising like a rude gesture in Mickey's face into the sky, the ride is so state of the art, nobody really knows how to describe it. Attendants will compare it to Soarin' or Star Tours only because there is nothing out there at all like it. If there is one ride that is somewhat similar, it's the Spider-Man ride in the same park. Even then, Harry Potter and the Forbin Project is like Spider-Man on some kind of mood-altering substance.

Before you get on the actual ride, you experience what is, in my opinion, the most outstanding part of the overall attraction: the tour through Hogwarts. On busy days, I suppose you have a lot of time in each room of the castle and enough time to see each little show in each room. The effects are outstanding and the little details and in-jokes are terrific. Unfortunately, when the wait is short you are rushed through the rooms to get all but shoved into your ride vehicle at the end. There is an alternative, the "walking tour", which starts through an alternate pathway at first, then you join the real queue in Dumbledore's office. It's designed for kids too little to ride but is a fun experience for anyone.

Which brings us to the ride itself... Ye Gods. The technology is superb, certainly, but the whole thing is like a rude gesture in the face of people who still think Harry Potter is for little kids. And that rude gesture takes the form of a Dementor eight inches away from you.

Since "Will I Be Able To Handle 'Harry Potter: Friendship is Magic' Because of (enter thing person is afraid of here)" posts pop up so often on DISboards, I give you a public service announcement:Auntie Tricia's Handy-Dandy Islands of Adventure 'Harry Potter and the Gooey Kablooey' Disclaimer Warning Sign Translation Guide!
What Universal's Official Warning Signs Say: Vague warning, something about claustrophobia.What They Really Mean: This ride was made for people who are fond of being locked in a very snug box (and mind you, I am thin) which is arranged in such a way that the ride feels like a solo excursion even though your friends are six inches to the right and left of you.What Universal's Official Warning Signs Say: Guests who suffer motion sickness maybe shouldn't ride, or something.What They Really Mean: Guests who may freak the eff out when their flying box starts falling backwards should be at least aware that this is going to happen. It's cool though; you never actually go upside-down, right?What Universal's Official Warning Signs Say: This ride involves smoke and lighting effects.What They Really Mean: Hey, do you enjoy monsters and dragons and giant spiders and more giant spiders and oh God, giant spiders everywhere and giant spiders for nigh on twenty damn minutes and antisocial trees and demons who eat your sanity popping up like a couple of feet away from your face for the whole ride? Of course you do! Who wouldn't?

Next post, more fun in Universal! And a decreasing likelihood that this trip report will be finished by Christmas...

On to Part Seven!


Sketch of the Day!

11.26.11 - Universal vs. Disney


Albertonykus said...

The PSA is so true for these attractions in general.

Anonymous said...

"I actually rather liked the pumpkin juice better. I have a soft spot for drinks that smell like pumpkins and for things served in containers shaped like fruit."

If you haven't already, then I recommend trying pumpkin eggnog. It's surprisingly awesome.

"Little touches like that, and the Cauldron Cakes on display above, make me happy."

They look good. Are they more cakey or fudgey in texture? Also, is that caramel in them or something else?