Why to Skip Harry Potter World (But Not Universal)
When you go on vacation, you deserve to have the time of your life. But don’t go to Harry Potter World expecting to find it. From disappointing lack of interactions to mediocre rides, you’re better off hanging out at one Universal theme park or another, but not paying the money to jump from park to park. Here are three really good reasons to skip Harry Potter World and spend your time on something else.
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Character Interactions Are Minimal
Let me preface this by saying we LOVE Harry Potter. We’re big fans, with multiple rounds through the books and movies. We were really looking forward to experiencing the wizarding world for ourselves. We did not go into this with a “meh” attitude, hoping to be thrilled by something we weren’t remotely interested in. With that caveat, let’s jump in.
If you’re hoping to interact with characters like in Hollywood, where you can take a picture with Marilyn Monroe, or at Disney, where Buzz, Woody, and all the characters love to pose with you, don’t. In all seriousness, the only character we ever saw the whole time we were there was Stan Shunpike with the Knight Bus. There wasn’t anyone in Diagon Alley, Knockturn Alley, Hogsmeade, or at Hogwarts to banter with or pose for an opportune phone with. No Harry, no Ron, no Hermione, no Ginny...none of your favorites, or even your not-favorites.
Exhibit Interactions Are Minimal
Interactions with exhibits were minimal, too. At Number 12 Grimmauld Place, there was only a photo op to pose in front of the door. You couldn’t go inside, there wasn’t any fancy way to make the door appear. Nothing. You could pose with Hagrid’s motorcycle and sidecar, too, but it didn’t do anything cool, either.
There were plenty of shops to explore, but they were all a variation on a Harry Potter themed gift shop. If you didn’t want to buy anything, then there wasn’t much to do in the shops. Some had circular staircases to a balcony with more interesting-looking shelves, but could you actually go up to the second floor? Nope. Here is my actual expression at the robot goblin we saw, rather than an actor (thanks to The Lad for grabbing this without my knowledge for a true candid shot).
The one exception is Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour, where you could actually order ice cream in a commemorative “glass” (actually made of plastic, not glass). You expect to pay outrageous prices for ice cream at a theme park, so that’s fine. But you’d hope it actually tasted good. This ice cream was gross! What a disappointment. We tried the Sticky Toffee Pudding flavour (actual Sticky Toffee Pudding is about the most delicious thing you’ll ever eat), which was really vanilla with a few graham cracker bits thrown in. We also tried Clotted Cream, which IRL is also delicious. This tasted like sour milk. Do not waste your money.
We didn’t see an owlery where you could meet Hedwig, Pigwidgeon, Errol, or the other family owls. Nothing like the shops you’d expect to find after experiencing the story yourself.
In Gringott’s, there was a circular staircase going down into a basement area, but you couldn’t go down there, either. You can only gaze at them and wonder what’s on the other end.
Even the wand actions were not as exciting as The Lad and I expected. We tried a few, but we were glad we borrowed a friend’s wand from their trip, instead of splurging and buying our own since it ended up being rather disappointing.
Rides Are Only Okay
With the exception of the Hogwarts Quidditch Ride, which was fairly spectacular, the rest of the rides in Harry Potter World weren’t that great. Don’t wait in line for the Hippogriff ride or the Gringott’s ride. You’re much better off trying out The Hulk or the Transformers ride. Jurassic Park and Revenge of the Mummy are pretty good, too.
Riding the train from Platform 9 ¾ should have been better. We were required to stay in our compartment, when there should have been characters wandering the halls to interact with (weren’t there all types of shenanigans in the corridors on the train to school?), and a food trolley to buy snacks from. Instead, you sat in a room with strangers and looked at a screen that sort of mimicked looking out a window. It wasn’t worth the extra money we spent on a park-to-park ticket to get in to Islands of Adventure, just to get to see both sides of the Harry Potter World. Islands of Adventure has other great rides, but the HP ones weren’t it.
Theme Parks Rock
You’ll love spending time at Universal, no matter which ride you choose. But if you keep your expectations low, you’ll love it even more, because you’ll be surprised at how much fun you have. Plan to go early to avoid the heat, and just enjoy the time you spend. Not everything will go right for you, but having a good attitude can turn an okay day into a fun vacation memory.