For those who have never met me, don’t know me, or have never read a blog post on here, I am a huge Harry Potter fan. I grew up with the books, and then the films, and I have been the studio tour (only once so far). The next logical step was to visit the Wizarding World, and I was possibly looking forward to it more than the rest of Orlando (sorry Mum and Dad!)
Apologies once again that it has taken so long to actually write this
Universal and Island of Adventure
First things first, the parks. I’ve been to Universal in California, and while I wasn’t disappointed exactly, I wasn’t sure I got the fuss about the parks. We had never been in previous visits to Florida, and despite many friends telling me how great some of the rides were there, I never thought I had particularly missed out.
I was probably wrong. I was deadset on visiting this time after the introduction of the Wizarding World, so for the first time we decided to venture out of our Disney and Seaworld Orlando bubble, and visit the parks. They are pretty good. The rides were big, brash, innovative, and for a theme park enthusiast like myself, the parks were impressive before you factored in the Harry Potter elements!
A lot of the rides in the two parks are big. There is the exhilarating speed explosion on the Hulk, the unusual and innovative experience that is on Spiderman, but my personal favourite was the Rip Ride Rocket. We got to choose our own music, we were cranked up a vertical climb, and then we hurtled along the dipping, turning track on an insane rollercoaster ride. Absolutely loved it.
And there were other fantastic rides there too that didn’t have the wow factor in terms of size and magnitude. Like Disney, the theming of many of the rides was immense, such as Men in Black shooter and the E.T ride. Yes, we got drenched on the flume, and OK, I don’t like it nearly as much as I love Disney, but it was pretty good wondering around the themed worlds, and the different park areas.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
The main part, the pièce de résistance, the point of the passes. I had read about The Wizarding World of Harry Potter on blogs, travel websites, i’d looked at pictures in the press and social media, and I had enviously seen friends posting pictures and posts from Hogwarts and Diagon Alley. I prepared myself for walking through Hogsmeade, down Diagon Alley, and through the hallowed halls of Hogwarts, but nothing I had thought of compared to walking through the Wizarding World myself.
The first glimpse we got of the world was dripping wet walking by the dinosaur land. The castle appeared and we approached the entrance to Hogwarts and Hogsmeade. I fell in love with the place, and even though the snow covered roofs didn’t quite fit in with the hot and humid weather, it was a spectacular site. It stood proud above the village, and it housed one of the rides I was most looking forward to. The queueing area was great and one of the most unique I have been to, taking us through classrooms and ground from the film sets I love. The ride itself was fairly intense and amazing too, and without spoiling it, was probably my favourite throughout Florida! (even though I experienced my worst wheelchair moment here!)
We wondered around Hogsmeade for a while over the few days, and after having goes on both the dueling dragons tracks, we perused all of the shops multiple times. It is amazing how true to the Harry Potter feeling they have managed to make it whilst maximizing the amount they can show and sell. I ma lad that I kept my purse hidden while there, I could have easily spent an awful lot of money there! Jade naturally loved Honeydukes, and resisted buying too many sweets!
One of the best experiences came courtesy of my Dad. He had seen a platter on sale there and decided he wanted to eat at the pub, I can now say I have eaten at the Three Broomsticks!! When Jade and I spent the day on our own there, we ate our packed lunch outside as well, with the castle behind us.
We explored all the books and crannies that were on show in Hogsmeade, which meant we only had one option left. We patiently queued to get the Hogwarts Express from Hogsmeade station to Platform 9 and 3/4. Yes I know it wasn’t real. Yes, I know the pictures weren’t real. Yes, I know we didn’t travel miles. Yes it was bloody amazing! We actually ended up doing the Express ride a few times both ways, because we had to experience travelling both routes in case they were different, or we missed anything out. It was fairly brilliant, from the appearance, to the stations, to the moving windows and doors.
Diagon Alley was more magical and impressive than Hogsmeade for me, even though there was obviously no castle. There was fire breathing dragons, magical joke shops, children doing spells with their wands, it was incredible. It didn’t feel like a park, or a film-set, it genuinely felt real. I absolutely fell in love. And although the Gringotts ride was amazing, I actually think I preferred the building it was in. The animatronic goblins were insane, and the inside decor was crazy cool.
The shops were great. We spent hours wandering round Knockturn alley, being scared by a creepy cast member, and perusing the shops in the alley. The magical jokes shop was amazing, although expensive, and the variety of the shops was unbelievable. I could have bought so much, from books to jumpers, maps to pens, my eyes were so big looking at everything. I think the prices, and the choice, was too much for me, as I only settled on a skull paper weight! I desperately wanted a Marauders map (something my brother very kindly treated me to this Christmas) and would have bought one there and then had it not been for the price.
There were so many cool things they had put a lot of thought into. We had the wand experience in Ollivanders, and even though our wands chose us, the price put us off. Walking round watching people do spells in the streets was reason enough to want to buy one, never mind being chosen, but we withstood the temptation. We did buy into the gringotts money exchange, where we changed dollars for Galleons, and we then spent them on Ice-cream in Florean Fortescue’s ice-cream parlour which was amazing, And we also ate int he Leaky Cauldron,
It was nice to see the crazy level of detail that had been invested in the Wizarding World. There were secrets, like Kreacher in the window of Grimmauld place, and there was touches and finished that really finished off a truly magical experience. I am so glad we got the chance to go!!
I’ve never experienced being someone in a wheelchair before. I don’t think you can fully appreciate the feeling of being in one until you go out in public and require the use of it. And while it changed Disney for me, it didn’t leave a sour taste in my mouth. Unfortunately, some things at Universal did, and while I complained about it to the park, I couldn’t leave it unsaid in a public forum.
I am completely able in mind and body normally, and so using a wheelchair was not a pleasant experience that I have ever wanted, or would like to repeat. I never quite realised how much life is different. And I don’t just mean your viewpoint, I mean the way you’re treated and the difficulties you face.
Yes, the wheelchair did push us closer to the front of the queue on occasion, and allowed us to progress as a group in a different way, but it also displayed just how many areas are inappropriate or inaccessible for people who used and require wheelchairs. My family, Jade, and her family, were invaluable in helping me get round, and put up with the hot conditions and horrible uphill queuing areas brilliantly. The rides were not great for people fit to ride, but who struggle physically walking to them. While i accept my cast was not great on some rides, I was quite shocked that I was allowed to remove it to ride. While it let me experience the parks, I’m not entirely sure this is actually a good thing to encourage!
Most shockingly of all, however, was the staff and the treatment of myself as a wheelchair user. As someone who has a degree, and full faculties (no matter what my friend’s and family says!) I have never experienced a situation where I am not allowed to speak for myself, and any comment I make is ignored. This happened a few times, where a question was asked about my physical ability, and while I attempted to answer, I was ignored and the questions -until someone pushing my wheelchair answered. I am capable of answering for myself, and found this disgraceful, upsetting, and eye-opening. To all those who use a wheelchair, I’d like to think I ahve always treated you like any other person, and would be disappointed in myself if I ever haven’t. I may not fully understand your plight, but that small taste was sickening, and I made my feelings known.