Josh Goes to Universal – Harry Potter World errrrr…Wizarding World

by josh on December 11, 2012

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is really why we’re here.

Wizarding World has single-handedly revitalized Universal’s operation in Florida. From 2010 to 2011, Islands of Adventure’s attendance was up 29%, from 5,949,000 to 7,647,000. This year, Walt Disney World’s attendance is down nearly 3%. Resort Occupancy is below 80% for the first time since I began running this website and Magical Express ridership is down by more than 100,000. When Test Track was closed for “RENEWAL,” Epcot attendance was down over 10% compared to the same period last year. Even DVC members are using their points to stay on property and skip visiting the Disney Parks. That’s why you saw the recent $299 Annual Pass promotion.

Disney’s response seems to be new bathrooms, a couple of neat queues, and a “Next Generation Experience” no one seems to want.

Universal’s response to their own success has been to streamline the Transformers attraction opening in June and expand Harry Potter to Universal Studios. Rumors indicate that you’ll be able to take the Hogwart’s Express from the London section at Universal to the Hogwarts section here at Islands of Adventure. Furthermore, it’s expected that there will be various storylines during the ride. For example, the lights may flicker as the train shakes from a dementor attack. The Gringott’s attraction is also supposed to be mind blowing.

That said, Wizarding World is really just one new attraction.

Flight of the Hippogriff was previously known as the Flying Unicorn.

It’s just a mostly un-themed kiddie coaster.

It’s still fun when there’s no wait like today.

And Dragon Challenge is a rebranded Dueling Dragons, which no longer duel after several accidents.

It’s totally wild though. Between the Disney Parks, SeaWorld, and Universal, I’d put Dragon Challenge as the second most intense coaster – only behind Manta at SeaWorld. I’m not sure if that’s debatable.

On a day like today, the posted wait is 5 minutes, or basically as long as it takes to walk the gigantic queue. There’s also a dedicated line for the front row, which is worth waiting a few extra minutes for.

We’ll return for better queue and on-ride photos. I purchased a “waist bag” for Tom and a wrist strap today, so on-ride photos of the more intense attractions should be possible.  Wearing these things virtually guarantees I will never find a wife. Dragon Challenge is an inverted coaster with top speeds of 60 miles per hour and a 115 foot drop.

On the plus side, I took some pictures of stuff:




























Not the greatest pictures in the world – for whatever reason all of the Harry Potter stores are extremely cramped and dark. But they have a lot of quality merchandise, most of which can be purchased online.

The thing about Wizarding World is that everything is themed perfectly.

The execution is astounding.

The newer “New Fantasyland” doesn’t even measure up.

I have never read a Harry Potter book because reading is for losers, but anyone will appreciate the detail.

It doesn’t even matter if you know where you’re being transported to.

You’re there.

Three Broomsticks is the quick service arm of Wizarding World, serving up what I consider to be the best fast food at Islands of Adventure.

Menu:













The barbecue items should look familiar from Thunder Falls over in Jurassic Park. The benefit here would be that the food should still be hot by the time you arrive at your table. Unlike Thunder Falls, you pay first and then continue to pick up your freshly plated food.

As far as I’m concerned, Frozen Butterbeer is the best beverage in the world. I think my favorite thing about it is the consistency. It doesn’t suffer at all from the usual problem with frozen drinks, where you get to the point where there’s just ice in the bottom that’s impossible to slurp up. That and the butterscotch flavor. And it’s 30 cents less than LeFou’s Frozen Apple Juice.

I’m assuming it’s expertly themed. You can see that there’s all of six people here in the middle of the afternoon.

A little holiday cheer.

The Three Broomsticks.

My favorite part about Three Broomsticks is that they have a very authentic bird problem. They’re always chasing birds out of that place.

Outdoor seating is pleasant when it isn’t too warm out.

With a nice view.

Also inside is Hog Head’s Pub. You’ll find it on the opposite side of where you order.

With some authentically European brews.

As well as “Hog’s Head Brew.” Protip: it’s called Safari Amber at Animal Kingdom.

Hog’s Head (in particular) or Three Broomsticks are the best places to purchase Butterbeer or the other assorted Potter drinks. They accept the Annual Pass discount along with shorter lines in air-conditioning.

But on a day like today where there aren’t any lines anywhere, you could walk up and purchase whatever you wanted without a wait.

Inside Zonko’s, you’ll find more stuff:








That Duck on a Bike will be mine.

And at Honeydukes, more stuff:















It may remind you of Main Street Confectionery.

There’s also Olivanders, which this isn’t a picture of.

With its limited capacity, the usual advice is to head straight to it in the morning and then over to Forbidden Journey next. You could also do things in reverse – hitting Forbidden Journey and then Olivanders as your last two attractions of the day.

With tax, wands cost just south of $32. They’re easiest to purchase at the cart outside the exit to Forbidden Journey.

Forbidden Journey really is something else. I’m not sure if I’m really doing the Wizarding World justice here without pictures of what the rides are. I haven’t seen a video that does justice either. You should buy the hype though – the experience is pretty extraordinary.

We’ll return to Wizarding World for a better look, but this should give you an idea about what to expect if you haven’t really looked into it yet.

Next up is The Lost Continent.

{ 43 comments… read them below or add one }

Brian B December 11, 2012 at 5:22 pm

This I like. Hopefully WDW abandons the Avatar nonsense and does a full out star wars area.

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Alison December 11, 2012 at 5:27 pm

I just can not thank you enough for taking up Islands and Universal. Once little one hits 48″ we will go up!

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Amanda December 11, 2012 at 5:55 pm

Thank you!!! Please clarify what you are and are not allowed to bring on rides. I’m getting conflicting info! Some sites/books say you have to store EVERYTHING. Does that include a cell phone? Wallet? Belly bag/fanny pack? Are you officially allowed to bring a camera with a wrist strap???

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Andy from Disney Parks Planning December 11, 2012 at 7:05 pm

Great updates! Love Universal! I have to laugh at those people who “defend” New Fantasyland by saying that it was NOT a reaction to WWoHP. The fact of the matter is that Disney announced New Fantasyland just weeks after (I think it was after…) Universal provided most of the details about the WWoHP. I think the WWoHP beats New Fantasyland by a long shot (like you said).

Simply stated, Disney’s response was mediocre compared to the WWoHP.

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mesaboy2 December 11, 2012 at 7:09 pm

@Amanda. Simply put, no loose articles on six of the rides. These rides include Hulk, Dragon Challenge, and Forbidden Journey at IoA and Men In Black, Revenge of the Mummy, and Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit at the Studios. As Josh noted in a previous report, lockers are provided at all these attractions for free for a limited time, and this length of time changes based on the wait time of the respective attraction. The Team Members at Universal shouldn’t give you any problems with small fannypacks nor anything that can go in your pockets. However, it is completely possible that a cell phone in your pocket–particularly at Forbidden Journey–could fall out. I recommend pockets with closeable flaps (cargo shorts) for any day at Universal doing the intense rides.

@Josh. Great posts as usual. My family has hit Universal in the WWoHP era a bunch of times now and think it is a great change of place from Disney.

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Andy from Disney Parks Planning December 11, 2012 at 7:26 pm

Hmm…Mesaboy2. I wonder where I’ve seen that name before…

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josh December 11, 2012 at 7:27 pm

It’s like a DISboards convention up in hurrrr.

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josh December 11, 2012 at 7:27 pm

Are we on a cruise?

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Andy from Disney Parks Planning December 11, 2012 at 7:45 pm

@Josh I don’t quite think we’re at reunion status yet, as no one has mentioned entitlement or threatened to log off and never log on again…

Oh and another awesome UOR (yeah, I’m too lazy to type the full name out) update, as always!

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pfalcioni December 11, 2012 at 7:57 pm

A few weeks ago I was searching the internet in vain for some good overview shots of IofA to show the hubby so he sort of knows what to expect when we visit. I was annoyed that you had teased us with the possibility of a Universal Walkabout, then never delivered.

Now, here I am, apologizing for doubting you. And after perusing your over-hdr’ed images, my husband is thinking it won’t be such a bad place to spend a few days after all.

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Melody December 11, 2012 at 8:59 pm

Thanks for doing this. We have been debating whether to go back to Universal (last went about 12 years ago). After looking at these posts, I don’t think that we are going to make time for it. Harry Potterland certainly looks cool (and I did read the books), but it’s one area with one ride that appeals to us. Doesn’t seem at all worth the trouble but I will keep looking for the updates to see what else is in Universal these days.

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Ferg December 11, 2012 at 9:20 pm

I am not a HP fan at all. At all. But I agree, we found the themeing to be quite amazing and Forbidden Journey is probably one of my top favorite rides I’ve ever experienced. I can only imagine what it is like for people who actually understand all of what they are seeing/experiencing.

And you are right, that Butterbeer has a foam head made of crack or something.

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Mike December 11, 2012 at 11:01 pm

I find it a bit funny that you mention how much attendance is up there yet down at Disney world, however the deadest of days at WDW still seem quite a bit more crowded than it is there.

Oh and I’m going to give a spoiler to the Lost Continent… that walk through “ride” f’ing sucks when it’s the least bit crowded… not sure how it’ll fair with you and the other 12 people in the park.

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ocalla December 12, 2012 at 4:24 am

Josh: I have been trying to get my family to Universal since HP opened!!! Maybe now I can show them your visit and change their minds :)

thanks for the great report!

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James N December 12, 2012 at 4:42 am

The pumpkin juice they sell at the Butterbeer cart is oddly delicious too. It’s a strange taste but you quickly grow to like it. Definitely not as good as Butterbeer though.

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Kristie December 12, 2012 at 6:31 am

I want to go to The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter so badly, but my kids are 44in and 31in and I just can’t see going until they are both a little taller. It might be a few years.

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Grumpopotamus December 12, 2012 at 7:05 am

I went to Universal last summer with my daughter in the first week of July. WWoHP is incredible. I was one of those buy-my-book-at-midnight people so I was pretty hopped up about going and I had a completely unrealistic expectation of how they were going to pull it off. They actually exceeded my expectations! From the details in Three Broomsticks to the merchandise in Zonko’s and Honeydukes, I felt like I was there. We enjoyed the rest of Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios too.

Also FYI I was not allowed even the tiniest fanny pack on any ride there, I always had to use the lockers.

And I agree they put crack in the Butterbeer. Tasted soooooo good on a hot July day! When it’s hot and the lines are long, Hog’s Head Pub is far and away the best place to pick up a Butterbeer.

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tanya December 12, 2012 at 7:11 am

Josh, you should read the books. I’m a pretty big loser as I’ve read them a number of times, and have them on kindle too. You know you’re a loser too, come on!! It really makes WWoHP that much more awesome if you know what ton tongue toffee is.

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John December 12, 2012 at 7:12 am

Spent one solo weekend at Universal after many family trips to WDW. I did enjoy it, although would not be as much fun with kids under 10, I will stick to WDW with family until then. The one thing I dislike about universal is the Extremely LONG pre-shows. They may be fine when the park is very crowded, but on an average day it just takes to much time to do an attraction when there is literally nobody in line!
Also, I think the Hulk ride is WAY overrated, was fun, but I didn’t find it that thrilling, maybe I just had too high expectations.

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Bianca Mar December 12, 2012 at 7:30 am

Hi, Josh!

Could you tell us what day you were in WWoHP and what time you ate at Three Broomsticks?
Congrats for your posts. They´re awesome!

Thank you!

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Natasha December 12, 2012 at 8:06 am

“Wearing these things virtually guarantees I will never find a wife.” LOL! You always make me laugh Josh!!

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Brian Noble December 12, 2012 at 8:07 am

“I find it a bit funny that you mention how much attendance is up there yet down at Disney world, however the deadest of days at WDW still seem quite a bit more crowded than it is there.”

Here’s 2011′s report. We should get 2012′s in another 2-3 months or so. WDW parks were either flat or up very slightly (0-1%) in 2011. IoA was up almost 30%, and that was improving on an already excellent 2010 with a half-year of the Potterverse operating. This is during a period where Orlando tourism overall is “up in the middle single
digit percentages.” In other words, WDW under-performed relative to Orlando tourism generally, while Universal way way over-performed.

http://www.aecom.com/deployedfiles/Internet/Capabilities/Economics/_documents/Theme%20Index%202011.pdf

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LesliePR December 12, 2012 at 9:23 am

How long did it take you to do this particular area???? Anybody?

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cupcake December 12, 2012 at 12:30 pm

I’m an Orlando local who has only been to Universal twice, both times just for HHN. If the folks on the DIS are any indication, that means I am qualified to start my own Universal planning and advice blog, so I better get to it!

But, anyway, the WWoHP decor is pretty cute, although I think, as someone who has no interest in HP, that a lot of the charm and references would be lost on me. I’d totally love to try whatever a “pumpkin fizz” is, though.

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Monica December 12, 2012 at 1:07 pm

Holy amazing Hogwarts souvenirs, Batman! I think my wallet is going to suffer much more in the Wizarding World than in MK, given 3.5 Potterheads in our party (all ages) and only 1 Princesshead (kindergartener).

It strike me as significant that someone who hasn’t read the books is impressed with the theming, so I’m guessing us bookfans will be blissed out.

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Ali December 12, 2012 at 1:42 pm

Sooo pleased you have taken a look at Uni and IoA Josh ;0) we are from the UK and will be skipping Disney next Easter !!!! and concentrating on these 2 parks, SW, AQ and Busch too. The Harry Potter films are great, especially the first one where you will see a lot of the theming in IoA park. Can’t wait now ! though will have to go to DTD for a Disney fix !

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Pembo December 12, 2012 at 1:45 pm

LesliePR – Wizarding World can be done quickly if you aren’t into the details. We are big Potter fans so we spent 3 hours in the morning, a couple hours in the afternoon and came back after 6 and stayed until 9. So basically the whole day. We ate at Three Broomsticks for breakfast and dinner and never had to wait. YUM! Butterbeer is amazing.

And I wore a small fannypack and my camera attached every one of the 10 times I rode FJ. The single rider line is awesome for FJ.

Josh – you failed to get a picture of my favorite thing – Cauldron Cakes at Honeydukes. :)

Loved this post!!!

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Adge December 12, 2012 at 2:48 pm

As much as I love Disney, I had to make a solo trip when WWoHP opened. I was so blown away by the theming, they thought of everything. I am a Harry Potter fan and felt as if I was immersed in the story. Great job with the review.

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Terri -back home is So. Cal December 12, 2012 at 4:52 pm

We finally did WWoHP this last Oct. and loved it! My DD13 was grinning from ear to ear when we got there! We had the Shepards Pie (so good) and Pasties (just so-so) and of course a frozen butter beer-that we really tasty! But even better tasting was the one my daughter got free at the end of the day. We made our way back to WWoHP to finish up our day and she wanted to get another butterbeer. I told her she could, she would have to spend her own money though. (we had also bought a pumpkin juice to bring home to share). We were their last customers of the day at the outside location and when the employee went to ring it up the register had already been closed out-she handed the money back to my daughter and told her “Enjoy, this one is free!” Needless to say both of us were very happy about that.

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Anonymous December 12, 2012 at 8:49 pm

Reading is so for losers and I only saw half of the first HP movie , but it does look cute. Sort of like being in England with out the horrible weather. I think you sold me, now I need to know what hotel to stay at I know there is a HardRock and a tropical themed one? Thanks

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wongck December 13, 2012 at 4:22 am

Thanks !!
So it does seems crowded at IOA,
May be I can make a day trip there around this time of the year.

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shalom December 13, 2012 at 7:43 am

pfalcioni,
Why not just use google maps? And, like SeaWorld (and unlike WDW), you can drop your little guy into the Universal parks and “walk” around a fair percentage of them.

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Figaro December 13, 2012 at 11:47 am

I wanted to see the owls. :(

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teller80 December 13, 2012 at 2:04 pm

Is it me, or are the t-shirts really wrinkled at Universal? Are they that way at Disney and I didn’t notice?

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Steve December 13, 2012 at 2:39 pm

Josh, did you catch the Frog Choir (and the other performances) whilst there?

“Next up is The Lost Continent” – that should be a short post then. ;)

“Sort of like being in England with out the horrible weather” – excuse me but the weather here in England is… well, erm, yes it’s grim. :) But otherwise everywhere in England looks just like those pictures. Yes indeed. ;) (BTW the other on-site hotels are Loews Royal Pacific resort and the Portofino Bay hotel)

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RebeccaMcK December 13, 2012 at 3:07 pm

I’ve heard good things about the Royal Pacific resort there. Can’t believe I only had one butterbeer the one time I went to WWoHP (thus far – maybe another solo trip will be in order soon….I went in November 2010; but I’d like to wait for the cool additions to be done). LOVE the Forbidden Journey ride. My most favorite ride EVER. Before you sit in your seat for that ride, there is a very small “drawer” in the area where your back would go, to put something small in – but I didn’t find it in time to put my little disposable camera in it before having to sit down and pull the harness down. So I held that camera very carefully between my hands and was careful to not press any button during the ride.
(When you get on the ride, the floor moves like when you’re boarding Little Mermaid or the Haunted Mansion buggies….so you might feel a little rushed like I did at the time.) Rode it twice. I had the cornish pasties for lunch at the Three Broomsticks…they were okay but more like empanadas because they were spicier than I’m used to cornish pasties being (my English grandma made great ones). And the foam on the non-frozen butterbeer I had stayed there all the way down….great drink. Read the books….they’re way better than the movies (which got more exciting later on but the books are still always better – movies leave things out).

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Ali December 13, 2012 at 3:08 pm

@ teller80, yes the Disney clothing is really wrinkled too, I am always moaning about how the clothing looks, for the prices they charge the creases should be steamed out ( or something) :)

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RA December 13, 2012 at 5:12 pm

You can buy many of the HP souvenirs, including wands, at the other, larger souvenir stores at IOA and US if the ones in WWOHP are very crowded, as they were when we visited in August. The Universal store at the airport has a pretty good selection as well. I don’t think anyone mentioned the unfrozen butterbeer – two of my four family members actually preferred this to the frozen. I liked it, but favored the frozen. I think this has been well-publicized in many places, but the only place you can buy butterbeer in Universal is in the WWOHP – it is not sold anywhere else in IOA.

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Melanie December 13, 2012 at 8:26 pm

My now 20 year old son is a big Harry Potter fan. Did the whole midnight bookstore party thing for the last 2 books. So when we went to WDW in January 2011 he broke off from the family to make a solo visit. Arranged his own transport and paid for it all himself – a rare event for a poor college student. Anyhow, he absolutely loved it. Said he felt like he was really there in Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. He very nearly succumbed to the lure of a Gryffindor scarf. So he did the whole thing on his own, then went through it all again after running into college friends there on a break from sports camp. He said he would gladly visit WWOHP again.

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mahannie December 15, 2012 at 12:52 pm

Thanks, Josh, for the visit to WWOHP. If you are at all a fan, the attention to detail is amazing! I broke my time at the Forbidden Journey into three parts. One part was to walk through the whole queue (you can see/hear mandrakes peeping out of the ground in the greenhouse part). Then there was the castle tour (which parallels the regular line but ends shortly before you get onto the ride). This is where you can leisurely take in everything and take as many pictures as you want without holding up the regular line- highly recommended!After that, the single rider line was awesome! On the day I went solo, I rode it 10 times, it is my favorite theme park ride.

Agree with the others that butterbeer is SO TASTY! I couldn’t decide which version I preferred more. I tried recreating it at home but it’s not the same. Buy it at the Hog’s Head Tavern instead of outside at the kiosks. Only a handful of people in front of you instead of dozens. I was also able to show my AAA card for a small discount there.

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Emelee1053 December 17, 2012 at 8:39 am

Thanks, Josh, for a great review. I’m a Disney AP holder, DVC member, Disney all the way. That said, I’ve been to WWoHP 3 times, and continue to be amazed by the details. Shrieking plants in the shop window: I stood there for awhile just watching the passersby reacting to them. The Frog Chorus is cute, as are the dancers from the Tournament movie. Did you know that JK Rowling had final say on EVERYTHING that went on here? Part of the charm, along with the frustration, is the small scale of the shops, etc., but she was insistent because they more closely reflect an accurate picture of shops in the UK. If the proposed London end is half as good, .. ride Firbidden Journey then watch the trip through Gringott’s and just imagine where they could go with that. I can’t wait! PS You gotta read the books. While the movies explain a lot, there are even more images in the books that are referenced at WWoHP. Or you can listen to them on CD while you’re driving around in that horrible I-4 traffic…

Hopefully you’ll continue with this review and include the new Spiderman ride, which I thought was great, and Minions, which I didn’t get to last trip. Sinbad is a great show, esp. when a sit down break is needed, and the stunt performers are amazing.

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Em December 26, 2012 at 2:14 pm

I wish I had back the hour I waited for the Lost Continent, how did it ever need all those ropes for lines of people? Really, for a walk through attraction whose special effects might have been impressive in the 80′s – but I didn’t have Josh’s guide on what to see and do, thus I wasted time on that dumb thing!!!! I can’t believe it’s still in operation!

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Alodie January 4, 2013 at 6:14 pm

I was able to go a few weeks ago! I’m not a fan of the books or movies, just never got into it, but I love this land!!! The butterbeer is the best drink I’ve ever had at an amusement park, sorry Disney. I can’t wait to come back cos I had barely one day to explore the whole place.

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