Thursday, July 10th, 2014
Seeing pictures of hours-long lines at Universal Orlando Resort, full of fellow Harry Potter fans eager to get into the newest Wizarding World on it’s first day, got us scheming: How can you get into Diagon Alley before the crowds?! Obviously no day will be as busy as that opening day, but still. Here are some places to stay that will get you in an hour earlier than most muggles!
Stay at a Universal hotel. All four of them, Loews Portofino Hotel, Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando, Loews Royal Pacific Resort (named one of American Baby’s Most Baby-Friendly Resorts), and the brand-new, moderately priced Cabana Bay Beach Resort grant you early access to both Universal parks. Read all the fine print here, but the bottom line is, there’s not much fine print. As long as you have park tickets and an active room key for one of the hotels, you can get in early, which usually means 8am versus 9am. The other obvious advantage to a Universal Hotel is you’re right next to the parks and can either walk or ride a free shuttle, skipping the parking hassle. Hey, every minute counts!
There’s a $135 per adult, per night, tax-inclusive offer for a four-night stay at the Cabana Bay Beach Resort that includes multi-day park-to-park tickets and some breakfasts, so it’s a deal, as long as you can do a four-night getaway. Travel has to be August 17 to October 2, or November 30 to December 18, and must be booked by July 31. Start here. There are upgrade options too!
Buy a Universal Orlando package. Quite a few hotels in the area partner with Universal Orlando Resort and, if you buy a Universal-specific package, you’ll be granted those same benefits (early admission, park-to-park tickets) for about half the cost, you’ll just need to drive to the parks. For instance, Hilton Orlando’s “Universal Orlando Vacation” package boasts early admission and two park-to-park tickets for just $102/night for two people through December 18th, 2014, and $50 off if you book four or more nights using the promo code UNITRAVEL. (Based on availability, and some blackout days apply.) Those savings will buy you a serious amount of butterbeer and probably a wand, too!
Watch one staffer’s 11-year-old’s take on the Hogsmeade features at Universal Orlando Resort.
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Friday, January 24th, 2014
If you’ve got a wizard-in-training at home, you might want to start planning a trip to Universal Orlando. Since 2010, Universal’s Islands of Adventure has been home to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, a magical land with rides, shops, and restaurants that transports you into J.K. Rowling’s beloved books. This summer, the company plans to open another Harry Potter-themed area, Diagon Alley, at its sister park Universal Studios. A Hogwarts Express train (the place where Harry, Ron, and Hermoine—the three main characters in the series—first met) will transport you between the two parks. My daughter, who started reading the books shortly after her eighth birthday, flipped when I told her that. (Side note: Check out her HP Birthday party from a couple of years ago.)
I listened in on a webcast yesterday, and then spoke with Mark Woodbury, president of Universal Creative, to try to pry a few more details out of him. I wondered how long the train ride would be, and while he couldn’t give me a time, he promised that it would be “an experience.” Once you’re in Diagon Alley (the area in London where Harry and the other wizards buy their wands and other supplies for wizardry), you’ll see the Knight Bus, a purple double-decker that provides emergency transport for a stranded wizard. Although Woodbury told me that kids won’t be able to climb in and pretend to drive (that would be a fun photo opp), he did say that the bus would have interactive features. He hinted that it will involve a “shrunken head.” I had no idea what he could possibly be talking about, but my daughter thinks it might have something to do with the animated shrunken head that Harry Potter once encountered on the Knight Bus.
Diagon Alley will also feature Escape from Gringotts—a multisensory ride that’s along the lines of Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey in the Wizarding World. This one will take guests through the vaults of the Goblin bank. There’s no word on other rides yet, but Woodbury mentioned that Universal will be announcing some things in the next couple of months that will especially appeal to younger Harry Potter fans.
The new area will also have its own Ollivander’s Wand Shop, a popular attraction in The Wizarding World. A few years ago, my family waited in line over two hours to get in—but we were rewarded because my daughter was among a few guests chosen to participate in a “wand experience,” similar to how the wand choose Harry in the books and movies. Woodbury told me that the location in Diagon Alley will make the experience interactive for many more guests. Tons of shops and restaurants (including ones that serve Butterbeer and strawberry-peanut butter ice cream) are also planned.
If you’re thinking about where to stay if you do make a trip this summer, keep in mind that the Cabana Bay Beach Resort, a new, value-priced hotel on Universal grounds with family suites, a bowling alley, and a lazy river ride, will open in March.
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