In late January of 2020 I got a call from my sister. She and my niece were going to Universal Orlando and since I had purchased an annual pass in December I thought I could get an early start on using it! Little did I know that it would be my last time seeing any of my family in person for over a year and that the annual pass would go unused after…
this fun and thrilling visit to Universal Orlando. We met up very early on a Wednesday morning, in line at the entrance to the Islands of Adventure. Our hope was to get in line at Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure right away as that is by far the most popular ride. That was not to be as it was raining off and on all that day, and even though the rain did not really affect our fun it did close Hagrid’s for that day!
Even though I live about an hour away, I had not been to Universal for many years! I was a huge fan of the Harry Potter books and as a photographer I could not wait to see and photograph all the great Harry Potter related scenes!
We made our way with the crowd to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and I swear, it was the most thrilling feeling I have had in a while! You know that little kid feeling where your stomach tightens, your heart races a bit and your eyes are taking it all in, and you can hardly believe what you are seeing. It was so much like what I had imagined when I was reading the books and even more.
Even though it was not cold on this late January morning, in Florida, the snow on the roofs of these Hogsmeade buildings just made you feel like it was cold out!
I wanted to see Hogwarts castle next so we walked through Hogsmeade and as we came around the end of the village this is the view I saw!
I had to get a closer view!
We went into the castle for the Hogwarts ride. It was so cool flying around on a broom! Not a great place for photography so you will have to check it out yourself!
FYI- All of the rides that have a lot of movement do not allow you to bring anything on the ride, for your and others’ safety. So do not bring anything too large with you as you must load all your belongings, ie. cameras, purses, backpacks, into a locker prior to getting into line. There are a lot more small lockers than big lockers so keep that in mind as well. I did take my phone with me but kept it in a zipped pocket as some of the rides are pretty jerky and some go upside down!
I just could not get enough of Hogwarts Castle.
My niece wanted to hit some of the other parts of the Islands of Adventure before it got too crowded so we walked on with a promise to come back to the Wizarding World later in the day!
We walked by the Jurassic Park area.
We knew we would not have enough time in a day to see and ride everything so we bypassed a few areas and rides. We thought we would be back soon to experience these on another day (but that was not to be!). My niece has been an annual pass holder for a number of years so she steered us to the rides she thought we should not miss. We headed over to Universal Studios.
Both my sister and niece had their favorite rides but their most favorite was Men in Black Alien Attack. I did not get why this was until we were seated in the cars in the ride and I realized that the competitive streak that runs through my family was being satisfied on this ride! Each seat has a ray gun attached. You can shoot aliens as you go through the ride and it gives you a score at the end! We actually rode this one 3 times and my score got better each time! My niece is a champ at this and I did not even get close to her score! I was too busy shooting aliens to take any photos so again… use that imagination!
The Revenge of the Mummy ride was also one of their favorites… not sure it was for me! But there were some interesting sights along the waiting line (one of those things Universal is good at) and so I did get some images before the ride just about scared the ???? out of me!
I am always looking for interesting scenes and even small details to highlight my visits everywhere I go so I found some great ones at Universal also.
We stopped for lunch at a place that brought back so many memories, Lombards Seafood Grille.
Many years ago, for one of our best Thanksgivings, my whole family met at Universal for the day! My niece was only a little baby and my nephew (a future college football player) was too short for some rides and almost fell out of the boat on the Jaws ride, he was so scared! We made reservations at a restaurant for Thanksgiving dinner. It was the best Thanksgiving meal ever. The food was beyond excellent and the service was incredible! They even took care of the food and bottles for my little niece! The best part was after dinner, we got up and walked away from the mess and dishes and had a heck of a fun day with no football, etc.!
So my sister and I decided to stop here again. Anyway, we had a great lunch, awesome service again and we got to reminisce and tell my niece what she had been too young to remember about Lombards and Universal.
By this time we were ready to check out Diagon Alley, the more commercial part of the Harry Potter experience.
One of the things I did not mention above was the big number of kids and adults who are dressed in the garb of the Harry Potter world! These are guests, not employees! It makes the experience even more like you are actually in the world!
There are many shops and so, of course, I had to check out the Ollivander Wand shop! We checked out many wands but the one that picked me was a beauty that has a device in it that makes the displays in some of the other shop windows come to life!
It is so much fun to be a kid for a few hours and get my geek on!
I saw the dragon that sits on top of Gringott’s Bank.
I really wanted to try to get an image when it was breathing fire so we asked around and found out that there is a schedule of sorts. So we waited around for about 30 minutes and I was able to get this shot!
My niece had talked to one of her many friends that work at Universal and so we ran back over to the Movie Backlot part of the park so we could see one of the live acts that they have for entertainment. The Beat Builders is a group of contractor/musicians who use their building tools to work the beat with some lively background music.
They asked for volunteers and my niece (who at age 5-6 years had stood in the middle of the recital dance floor and cried), volunteered to help the guys with their big final number!
We decided to make one last visit to the Wizarding World so we walked back to the train station and using gate 9 3/4 were able to board the Hogwarts Express one last time! By the way, we were joined by the Slitherin wizard, Severus Snape, in our train car! Those guests go all out!
I made a couple more images of Hogsmeade and Hogwarts and we headed back to the City Walk section for dinner.
We ended our day with a walk through City Walk and had another great meal at a Fusion Bistro Sushi and Sake Bar. We sat at the bar as the bartenders are a show all onto themselves. Plus there are cool video games in the bar that effect the video screens overhead!
I just had to get an image of the Universal Globe! Wish I had been there during Blue Hour… next time!
It was a long day and we did not get to see all of Universal but it was still a totally fun and thrilling experience. About 6 weeks later the pandemic had reached the point where everything was closed. My annual pass was extended by about 3 months due to the closure so I am now waiting to get my second vaccine so I feel more comfortable even with all the safety changes and precautions Universal and other theme parks in Florida are using to help stop the spread of COVID 19 and get back to entertaining us.
Once things get back to normal, make a trip to Florida, and check out Universal Orlando. If you are a Harry Potter fan, be ready to be thrilled!
For more details on Universal Orlando Resort and their COVID limitations and safety procedures please check our their website.
These and other images can be seen in a larger version in my Gallery.
My next post will be on one of my favorite places in the US, Longwood Gardens. Made a visit just before we were shut down for COVID.
That is all for now!