Wednesday, March 7, 2018

2017: The Year of Travel | Universal Studios Hollywood

Our last day in the Los Angeles area was dedicated to visiting Universal Studios Hollywood. The last time I visited was when I was in grade school and Andrew and the kids had never been. I remember this park a lot better than others I visited when I was younger so I was excited to go back with the whoel family. We didn't have ton of expectations and were all there for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter which proved to be just as amazing as we could've hoped for. Considering the amount of rain we had the day before, this day turned out to be absolutely perfect with clear blue skies. We specifcally picked a day to go when lines were at their shortest which also make the day a success.

Considering the price of tickets to Universal, you'd think their process of online ticket purchasing would be more streamlined. That wasn't the case. Our plans were pretty up in the air so we didn't purchase tickets until the morning of the day and purchasing them online for the discount was apparently not the best idea. When we arrived and tried to get to get in, they couldn't find our tickets in their system. For some reason, online purchases are delayed and several phone calls had to be made before we were finally able to enter the park. Since we arrived a little after opening time, this set us back even further in our timeline and was a less than magical way to start our day.

We've heard a lot of great things about the Wizarding World and it really lived up to all the hype. The intricate details were everywhere and they did an amazing job recreating everything from Hogwarts Castle to Hagrid's Hut to the streets of Hogsmeade. We are huge Potterheads so this was a dream come true for all of us and the perfect time to visit, especially since we had just recently marathoned the movies with the kids.

We gawked at Hogwarts Castle, grabbed frozen Butterbeer, enjoyed a performance, and then waited in line for the wand demonstration at Ollivanders. This turned out to be our longest line of the day at roughly 20 minutes. We thought the line would grow later in the day, but it was never more than 10 minutes after us. The performance was just like you'd imagine it to be and wouldn't normally be anything spectacular except that Jadon was selected to pick his wand. As one of the only kids in the group, it wasn't super surprising, but it was one of the best experiences we could've asked for.

Jadon decided not to keep the wand that had "chosen" him during the demonstration and instead went shopping in the store. He had saved all his vacation money for Harry Potter knowing that he was going to get a wand and robe so Andrew went with him to get fitted right away. The store had an overhwelming number of wands available, but the kids were able to make their choices a lot faster than it would've taken me. Jadon ended up with Dumbledore's Elder Wand and a Gryffindor robe while Isabelle deliberated between Voldemort's and Hermione's wands. In the end evil won and Isabelle went away with Voldemort's wand. She was so jealous of Jadon's robe that she even took out a loan for an early birthday present and got a Slytherin robe before the day was done.

The two rides in the Harry Potter section of the park had lines of only 5-10 minutes long which was really nice. Jadon didn't get too sick on the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride so he was able to ride on that as much as Andrew and I could manage. Isabelle unfortunately was barely too short, but she did enjoy the Flight of the Hypogriff ride which is a kiddie coaster right by Hagrid's Hut.

If there was a downside to having next to nothing lines, it would be that we still had to walk through the giant queue through Hogwarts Castle. I've never seen anything like it. It took us through the castle and the detail was amazing from what we saw as we walked through. It really would've been fun to take our time and enjoy it, but it was more important to us to quickly get through.

We really didn't have much else planned outside of the Wizarding World except the Studio Tour which we treked across the park for at the end of the day. Because we didn't limit our time in the Wizarding World, it was the only other thing we did in the park. We managed one last ride in Harry Potter World (Jadon and me on the Forbidden Journey while Andrew and Isabelle rode the Flight of the Hypogriff) before we had to leave for the airport.

In retrospect, it would've been better to dedicate a full day to Universal. If we had gotten there earlier and stayed until the park closed, we would've been able to do everything we wanted to do. Instead, we chose to go on a day we knew would be cut short so that we could avoid the crowds. It was worth it so we didn't have to waste time in lines, but it also meant we missed out on the rest of the park. I'm not sure the kids took much notice though because they both listed Harry Potter World as one of their highlights of 2017. It was the perfect time for us to visit and I'm so glad we were able to make it happen.
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