Walt Disney World & World Travels

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Today’s guest post is from Megan, a 16 year old who knows Harry Potter as well or better than JK Rowling herself.  As excited as Megan was to go to check out the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Islands of Adventure, she was also a bit worried that it wouldn’t live up to her expectations.  Here are her thoughts on WWoHP:

I first started reading the Harry Potter series in first grade, just after Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was released.  I went to the midnight release parties for the final three books and stayed up all night to read them.  I’ve seen all the movies and read the books a million times over.  Now, as I am starting eleventh grade, they are still my favorite books.  I have grown up with Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and the entire Weasley family.  I know all the details in all the books.  I have extremely detailed, over-developed pictures in my head of Hogwarts castle, Hogsmeade village, and the Hogwarts Express.  Needless to say, I had high expectations for the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

The morning started around 7, much earlier than I like to wake up in the summer, when we got ready to leave our room at Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort for a night at Loews Portofino Bay Resort at Universal. We checked in at the resort and got to Islands of Adventure around 8:40—just in time to get back to the Wizarding World for early entry.  Early Entry was a great resort benefit, especially since we were there for the Wizarding World’s opening week.  At regular opening, there was a 4 hour wait just to get into the Harry Potter section of the park.  We cut across a couple islands and arrived at the entrance to the Wizarding World.

We walked into the beautiful, snow-capped village of Hogsmeade, where we could see the Hogwarts Express pulled into station and landmarks like the Three Broomsticks that readers have been imagining since the beginning of the series.  The Hog’s Head Pub and Zonko’s Joke Shop are also there, as well as a new, second location of Ollivander’s wand shop.  Throughout the village there are stands selling all types of wizarding necessities: wands, brooms, and cool, frothy butterbeer.

After entering the Wizarding World, we headed to its headlining attraction: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.  The queue area for this attraction is almost as good as the ride; Hogwarts is holding an open house for muggles (non-magical people), and you are on a tour of the castle.  On your tour you go through the Herbology greenhouses, various classrooms, and hallways in which some of the portraits may start moving and talking in their frames.  The effects in the castle are fantastic; it’s impossible to tell which portraits will move and which will not, and the oil paintings are beautiful.  I will not divulge much about the ride except a quick warning.  If you get motion sick, take Dramamine before you ride; the Forbidden Journey is an absolute don’t-miss, but it’s much more enjoyable if you don’t feel like hurling.

After we rode the Forbidden Journey, we made a short walk over to Flight of the Hippogriff, a small, fairly gentle coaster with a cute theme, based on Harry and Hermione’s rides on Buckbeak in the third book.  It’s faster than I expected, but the track is similar to Goofy’s Barnstormer at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom.  The rest of the family went to ride Dragon Challenge while I recovered from my Forbidden Journey motion sickness (Really, be prepared and take the Dramamine before you ride!).  Dragon Challenge is based on the first event of the Triwizard Tournament, when Harry has to capture an egg from a particularly volatile dragon.  There are two tracks for the coaster, each a little different.  Supposedly, the blue track is better than the red track, but if you get a chance, try both and compare them.

After hitting all three attractions in the Wizarding World, we stopped at a stand for butterbeer.  Cold and sweet, butterbeer is the Coca Cola of the magical world; it is a butterscotch-flavored soda with a thick, foamy head like a beer, available regular or frozen.  Though rich, it is a decadent way to cool off on a hot day.

Butterbeer in hand, we wandered around Hogsmeade and the area surrounding Hogwarts Castle.  The attention to detail in the Wizarding World is truly incredible—a step up over everything else in Universal and even areas of Disney (Am I going to be excommunicated as a heretic for saying that?).  As a rabidly obsessed and picky Harry Potter fan, I don’t do this often, but I give the Wizarding World of Harry Potter my stamp of approval.

As a former Disney Cast Member, I’ve always refused to go to that “other park”, they were the enemy, opening Universal Studios the summer I was on the College Program at Disney.   Now that I’m more “mature”, and with the opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter; it was time to give in and spend some time at Universal.

Our vacation happened to line up for the week of the grand opening of Harry Potter.  I knew the park was going to be packed beyond packed so I did what any good travel agent would do and researched my options.  The three Universal Resort Hotels offer what looked to be the answer: a Universal Express pass that allows you to skip all of the lines on participating rides AND gains you early entry in to the park.  I also knew that you could buy a head of the line pass, but at $60-$87 per person per day, it made more sense to look at staying on site and getting all of the resort benefits.  I also learned that the pass you can buy, is not exactly the same as the one included for resort guest.  The “bought pass” is only good for 1 day, and can only be used once per ride/attraction.  The resort guest Express Pass is good from check in through check out and can be used multiple times on the rides/attractions.   The three resorts are all owned/run by Loews Hotels, a company known for very nice, deluxe hotels.  Loews Royal Pacific, Loews Hard Rock Hotel and Loews Portofino Bay Resort.

I ended up splurging a little and booked a night at the Portofino Bay Resort.   This is a beautiful resort, that is built to be reminiscent of a sleepy seaside village, Portofino, Italy.  The rack rates are a little bit pricey, but there are some good deals to be had and the benefits of staying on property are well worth it!  A quick overview of resort benefits:  Universal Express Pass (good from check-in through day of check out), good for multiple uses, 1 hour Early Entry into the parks (makes all the difference in the world if you want to get into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter), complimentary transportation to the parks by boat or bus, room charging privileges, and priority seating at certain restaurants.  That can be very useful!

Our stay at Portofino Bay Resort was a little unusual; we were only there for 1 night during the middle of our vacation, so we didn’t get to enjoy the resort as much as I would have liked to.  We arrived and checked in at 8am.  Check in was very quick & easy.  We were given our room keys (but not the room number as it wasn’t ready yet).  The room keys work as your Universal Express Pass, with a bar code on there that is scanned at each ride.  Our luggage was given to bell services, the car handed off to the valet and we were given directions out to the boat that would take us to Universal Studios & Islands of Adventure.  We were so excited about getting to the parks, that we might not have seen a whole lot on the way to the boat but what we did see was absolutely beautiful!  It felt like we were in an Italian seaside town.  We made our way to the boat dock and I noticed a few things right away that I was impressed with: there was a canopy area with benches and fans.  On a super hot day, that was really appreciated!

We spent the day at both parks; Universal Studios & Islands of Adventure and took advantage of another resort benefit, early entry into the park.  We went straight back to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and when we showed our room keys we were sent a different way and straight in before the park “officially” opened.  I’ll write about Wizarding World and all of the rest of the parks in other posts, but for now I’ll just say WOW!!!! The Universal Express pass allowed us to skip the regular line for most rides in the park (very few don’t have an express line) so we were able to get a lot done in a short amount of time.

After a very full day visiting the parks, we went back to our resort looking forward to having some dinner & pool time.  I had received a call on my cell phone early in the day informing me that we would need to come back to the desk for new room keys, so that’s where we went as soon as we got off the boat.  We recieved our room information and a porter got our luggage and gave us a tour of the resort on the way to our room.  The service was wonderful, but I did feel that the room was 6 miles away from the desk.  The room was actually in a very good location for convenience to the pools.  We had a view of the villa pool from our room, which was very nice.  Standard rooms are 460 square feet (good size!) our deluxe room was 490 square feet with 2 queen beds and a (requested, not guaranteed) sofa sleeper.  The bathroom had separate shower & tub, super soft cotton robes and the 13year olds’ favorite thing a telephone in the bathroom.   The room was beautiful and the beds were the most comfortable beds ever!

We got settled, changed into our bathing suits and headed to the pool to relax and have dinner.  Yes, you read that right we were going to have dinner at the pool.  There is a pizza place, casual restaurant next to the Beach Pool.  However, they were closing as we got there so we went to Sal’s Market & Deli (on the other side of the resort).  Ordered pizza & salad, and brought it back to the pool to eat.  Sat at a table overlooking the pool and the movie by the pool (Harry Potter that night), it was very relaxing and the food was excellent.  The pool area was very nice, lot’s of tables, lot’s of chairs & chaise lounges.  There is a sandy zero entry area, several hot tubs, a kids pool and a Roman Aquaduct Slide.  My family loves slides, and rates all of them.  This one was allright, but not great.  It was slow and the pool was not super warm.  The hot tub was very warm and felt great after a long day in the themeparks!

Next to Sal’s Market, they sold gelato.  As a treat, Jon & Megan went and got gelato for the 4 of us to enjoy while we watched the poolside movie.  Super creamy & very rich, the gelato was excellent!  The poolside movie was a great idea, but not executed all that well.  The blow up screen kept deflating because they couldn’t keep it plugged in close enough to the pool (cord was too short).  It was fun, but almost funnier watching the screen deflate.

After a wonderful nights sleep on those super comfy beds, we checked out and headed back to the parks.  The “boys” went ahead and managed to get in for early entry, my daughter & I were a few minutes late and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter had a 4 hour wait at 9am when it opened.  We used our Universal Express passes (good for both check in & check out day) and rode some other rides while the boys spent more time in Wizard World.  After another full day of parks, we rode the boat back to Portofino Bay, collected our luggage from bell services and the valet pulled the car around.  While we waited on the car, another of the valets offered and brought us bottled water.  A very thoughtful and appreciated gesture!  That was a great way to leave, on a high note.

I can honestly say that I will go back, and next time I might need to check out the Royal Pacific or the Hard Rock…..

Here are some pictures of the Loews Portofino Bay Resort and our room:

This is the deal that people wait for all year: FREE Dining.  What is FREE Dining?  Quite simply it’s a great way to take the family to Disney World, eat well and save money.  Put another way; it’s a really good deal!

With the FREE Dining promotion, a family of 4 can the the Disney Dining Plan free.  Book a 5 night 6 day Magic Your Way Package (including tickets, and hotel accomodations) in a standard room at select Disney Moderate Resorts for only $1843.  That comes out to about $77 per person per day.  This promotion is also available for Deluxe Resorts and Deluxe Villa Resorts.

If you would prefer to stay at a Disney Value Resort, good news!  The Quick Service dining plan is FREE with stays at Disney’s Value Resorts between August 15th and October 2nd.

Other length of stays and packages are available.  This is a great way to take the family to Disney World and save money and is a very popular promotion!  Don’t wait too long to book or your dates may disappear!   Booking begins today and goes through August 14, 2010.   Contact your Second Star Travels agent today for a no-obligation quote!

Vegas Certified Travel Professional.

Sometimes Mom & Dad need a getaway of their own,  that’s when you call me about a trip to Vegas!

Back in March I completed my training with Royal Caribbean and earned a Specialist Designation.  Press release is just going out now.  I really enjoyed my training at the University of WOW!  and look forward to my continuing training.

University of WOW Certification.

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