My beautiful, kind, funny friend from college, Megan is getting married in three weeks! Magstad and I not only played lacrosse together in college, but we were roommates for two fantastic, story filled years. Still to this day we laugh about that one time we saved a spider and caught it on video, or our many, many inside jokes/sayings. Needless to say, I am totally excited for her big day!
Watch the spider make one last attempt at freedom here
We celebrated her bachelorette party with a trip to Disney and Harry Potter World in late March. While I’d been to Harry Potter World (Universal’s Islands of Adventure only) twice previously, I’d never been to Disney before so as you can imagine I was eager to see what the fuss was about.
We stayed at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, walking distance from the Magic Kingdom. Entering into the park for the first time I had two overwhelming thoughts.
1. Whoa, this is a crazy amount of people crammed in here.
2. Wow, no wonder people say this is magical.
Despite the crowds, my head was on swivel taking everything from the castle to the rides. We had fast passes to three rides, which helped shape our itinerary, with the rest of our day being filled out using the Disney app to monitor ride line lengths. This app was so easy and convenient to use as you could order food, check the status of rides, and even view your photos. Growing up near Cedar Point during the age of flip phones, it was a total guessing game as to what the queue lines would be until you walked across the park to the entrance of the desired ride. Using the Disney app, we cut over to rides that had abnormally short lines, maximizing our time in the park, despite crisscrossing and backtracking multiple times, throughout the day. We were also able to order food from the various restaurants through the app, alleviating the need to stand in line for meals, again a huge time saver. A friend recommended that if we all had matching shirts that we get a few extra perks. We found the truth of this right away as we were pulled to a side by a Disney photographer and had a 15 minute photo shoot in front of the castle. Our photographer, who was also from Michigan was a great time, even making the effort to blow up our ring balloon for us, setting the tone for the rest of the day. We found that all employees we encountered went above and beyond, truly selling that special Disney experience.
After lunch and our first fast pass of the day, The Haunted Mansion, we decided to take a break and pick out prime front row spots to watch the Festival of Fantasy Parade. I was surprised, to say the least, at my own level of emotion as I became a giddy 32 year old caught up in seeing the Princesses for the first time. I can only imagine the even more heightened experience as a kid.
Post parade we rushed to our second fast pass, at Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin. It was highly entertaining, despite how absolutely terrible I am at that style of arcade game. One must do for my friends was the Mad Tea Party, aka the Teacups ride! It was a favorite from when they were children and we survived it as adults, albeit rather woozy from being dizzy. So much laughter though.
Following this ride we fit in the Pirates of the Caribbean before we continued on to our last fast pass of the day. Due to Splash Mountain breaking down in the morning, our pass had gotten pushed to the evening. As the ride was finally up and running we hurried to the entrance, excited, as Court had made signs specifically for this ride and we were pumped and ready for the cameras. Earlier, while we were riding the Pirates of the Caribbean we’d totally missed the cameras so we were anticipating getting the perfect pic for Splash Mountain. Alas, as we were about to head up the final ramp for the big Splash Mountain drop, the ride broke down again leaving us stranded on the stalled incline. Soon workers showed up and helped us out of our logs, whereupon we promptly got escorted through the back scenes of the ride and to the back lot where we exited. It was quite the experience to say the least. Eventually we did get back in line once the ride opened, scoring that perfect pic, although we did get rather soaked.
After completing our last fast pass and jumping on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, we headed back to the castle to get prime viewing of the iconic fireworks show. I’d been expecting spectacular fireworks, however was I again underestimating Disney. The fireworks were truly a show with the castle being turned into a mega screen and the whole experience focused on an inspirational tale. Don’t judge me if I tell you I teared up. My first time in the Magic Kingdom blew away any expectations I had going into the park and now I understand why people hold Disney as in special regard. Tired and footsore, we turned in for the night, looking forward to Harry Potter the next morning.
I’d previously been to Universal’s Islands of Adventure’s Harry Potter World twice before in Winter/Spring 2011 shortly after the park opened. I was excited to return as we were planning on park hopping between the two Potter worlds on our one day at Universal. We started at Universal’s Islands of Adventure where we hurried to the Harry Potter realm to partake in the famous butterbeer and jump in line for the castle, which is the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. The ride was just as fun as I’d remembered it, especially with the fast paced line that weaves you through iconic rooms and recognizable items from the movies. The locker storage was super easy and convenient and when one of our lockers wouldn’t open to our finger print, an employee was right there to assist.
After exiting the castle, we jumped in line for the Flight of the Hippogriff roller coaster. I remembered the ride being fairly disappointing, but held off sharing my time warped reservations for the groups thoughts. Afterward, everyone had the same feelings as I’d remembered as the ride was so very short that it made waiting in line seem hardly worth it. We ended up timing the ride at 28 seconds.
Laughing, we made our way to the Hogwarts Express train station where we would make our way to Diagon Alley, the newest addition to the Harry Potter World, at Universal Studios. The train and Diagon Alley were not built the last time I’d been to Universal so I was eagerly anticipating the new experiences.The train surpassed any of my expectations as the window turned out to be a screen which it made it appear as though we were actually on the way from Hogwarts, passing familiar scenery and people. The door and frosted windows to the hallway were also screens were we watched the outlines of Harry and his gang walk past along with dementor attacks and chocolate frogs. We hardly knew where to look. Both train rides we took were unique, showing different scenes and audio.
Minutes later we’d arrived at Universal Studios, walking out into the familiar scenes of the Knight Bus and the Black residence of 12 Grimmauld Place. If you watch closely you can spot Kreacher scowling from an upstairs windows.
The entrance to Diagon Alley was unassuming, but this effect aided in granting the feeling of actually entering into the magical world. All of the iconic shops were present in the famous alley, e.g., Borgin & Burkes, The Leaky Cauldron, Flourish & Blots, Ollivanders and of course Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes. The street ends at the famous Gringotts Wizarding Bank, which is both topped by a fire breathing dragon and home to the Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts.
We headed straight to the ride, having to house our baggage in lockers again, only for a fee this time in contrast to the free ones at Hogwarts. The wait was well worth it for the fantastic ride, which now ranks as one of my favorites I’ve ever experienced. The ride followed a unique story that is separate from the books, leaving the riders guessing at every turn. The 3D effects were quite remarkable, as I dodged phantom objects more than once throughout.
Following Gringotts we stopped to purchase the above photo from the ride when the worker I was chatting with threw in a free ‘magical’ moving picture session that takes about 20 minutes. We walked across the street from the bank, where we donned robes, wands and had a photo session were we showed off our amateur acting skills in front of a green screen. Lots of laughing ensued. You can see the final product in the link here
Another fun activity while we were exploring the park was the ability to cast ‘real’ spells throughout Diagon Alley. By standing on various metal plates and following the indicated wand pattern you could flip through books, turn on lights, or make a fountain shoot water. It was highly entertaining and we all took turns embracing the magic.
Wrapping up our time in Diagon Alley, we boarded the train back to Universal’s Islands of Adventure. After finishing our Harry Potter excursions, we took the time to explore the rest of Islands of Adventure where the teachers in our group delighted in Dr. Seuss Landing, and we all loved Jurassic Park.
The next morning we had a busy day planned as we were bound and determined to utilize our Disney park Hopper. We spent the morning at the Animal Kingdom, taking Disney’s convenient bus system to easily travel from our hotel to the park of interest. It is quite easy to see why Animal Kingdom is such a favorite, especially on the Kilimanjaro Safari ride as it felt like you were right there among the animals. One of baby giraffes even wandered over to say hello!
While we were in Animal Kingdom, we jumped in line for the Avatar Flight of Passage, which was a first for everyone. It was almost a two and a half hour wait with every room misleading you into thinking it would be the last. We started to get frustrated by the end as it felt like the line was never ending. That being said, we were all smiles upon finishing the ride, which was nothing like we’d ever experienced before. We never left the the room or the seat we were in but the visuals made you feel like you were actually flying on one of the Banshee. Your seat even felt like the animal was breathing beneath you. It was quite remarkable and one of my favorite rides I’ve gone on, perhaps tying the Gringott’s Bank from the previous day. Knowing we only had a half a day at Animal Kingdom, we reluctantly left as we still had Hollywood Studios to explore.
Throughout our Disney experience, I was blown away with the level of detail and how different the parks were throughout. Hollywood Studios was just plain fun and full of movie nostalgia. We went to the 40 minute Beauty and the Beast Live on the Stage play that had us humming along to every favorite song before heading to use our fast pass in Toy Story Mania! where again the details went above and beyond.
Despite its age, the Star Tours – The Adventures Continue was entertaining and I can imagine how high tech the ride was when it opened. We caught one of the last times for A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration, which again exceeded any expectations I had going into the auditorium. Everyone was belting the songs, even the Dad behind me who had never seen the show before and was horrified by Anna initially getting engaged to a stranger. Given how much I enjoyed the ending as an adult where Elsa made it ‘actually’ snow, I can only imagine how magical that would be as a kid.
We ended our time at Hollywood Studios riding The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, which had been open and closed throughout our time there due to mechanical issues. It was my friends’ favorite ride and we thankfully were able to get on just in time!
We ended the night and our time at Disney hurrying back to Magic Kingdom to catch the fireworks one last time. We sprinted all the way to security and made it just in time to catch the last five minutes of the show! Afterward, we rode the Mad Tea Party one last time before jumping in line at the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train just as the park was closing.
It was a truly jam packed bachelorette party and with having it be my first time at Disney I garnered a whole new appreciation as to why people love this park! In our short time there we only saw a fraction of what experiences are available to visitors. I foresee more adventures to Disney in my future!