Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.

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I strategized for Harry Potter day: by starting in the Islands of Adventure park, where Hogwarts & Hogsmeade are, we could maximize the time we had for visiting both parks (Diagon Alley is in the Universal Studios park). I already sort of knew where everything I wanted to see in Diagon Alley was, so I needed a little bonus time to visit Hogsmeade.

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I loved that you could see Hogwarts from the I.A. entrance — but that also meant it was on the other side of the park! Walk faster!

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We went the shorter route through Seuss Landing (which we visited again on the third day) and The Lost Continent (which we did not visit again, due to other priorities and sort of forgetting that it existed).

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Who’s that nerd wearing a full hand-knit scarf and hat at Hogsmeade? Oh, right — it’s me.

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We arrived around 9am, so the crowds weren’t so bad. The first thing we did was jump into line to ride the Dragon Challenge rollercoaster. Oh, man – that woke us up in a hurry! We got in line for the very front seats on the red line, before I realized that there was an alternate line for the blue line.

It was insane: loop-de-loops and upside down and fast drops and wicked spins. You ride in a seat that is suspended from a rail above you, so your feet are dangling. There were several spots where I actually tried to pick up my feet more because I was sure were going to skim the roofs of buildings or hit the other tracks. I can’t imagine how people with long legs must feel on that ride!

Anyway, it was really exciting and awesome… as soon as we got off, we got back into line to go ride the blue line. As we passed an attendant who realized that we were repeat visitors, he whispered to us that the blue line was the best. Good news!

However, riding both lines in one go meant that we had a bit of a debacle with the lockers afterwards. You get to use a locker for free for a certain amount of time (based on the closest ride’s anticipated wait time and ride duration) and we had overstayed our allotted time. You get your stuff back after you give the machine your money, but all of our money was in the locker! This was also the most crowded locker situation, of course. Eventually I got the solo attendant on duty to help me open my locker, but it was nuts. It seemed like everyone was having problems with the lockers that morning.

(Side note: this is the only time we ever had this problem with the lockers, but I made Jason keep a little cash in his back pocket for the rest of our trip.)

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After getting that all sorted out, we decided to skip the lunch rush and got brunch at the Three Broomsticks — a traditional English plate!

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… and grabbed a butterbeer for the road at the attached Hog’s Head Pub.

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Across the road was the Owl Post, so we stopped in to grab some postcards and stamps to send to family and friends.

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(The Monster Book of Monsters was actually snarling and moving around the cage. Awesome!)

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The postcards weren’t already stamped with “Owl Post” signatures, and it was a little confusing to figure out how to get this done. I bought the postcards and souvenir postage stamps with an image of Hogwarts on them inside of the shop, but there is a counter outside of the building where you can request the Owl Post stamp for your purchased postcard (the first time I asked the outside cashier about this, I think I had phrased it wrong and she had actually sent me back inside).

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Then it was time to go to Hogwarts!

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The line to get into Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey was much crazier than the other rides we had already visited, but it was really not too bad — and it was worth the wait. The whole time you’re in line, you’re moving at least a little bit and there is always something to look at, whether it’s a setting from the movie (like the Herbology lab, the entrance to Dumbledore’s office, or the hallway with all of the talking paintings) or a set up for the ride (when you’re in the Dark Arts classroom, you can watch a video of Harry, Ron and Hermoine scheming together). It was really entertaining before we even got onto the ride!

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I made Jason take photos because I shoved everything I had into the locker before getting into the castle. (Just to give him a photo credit so he doesn’t sue me. 😛 )

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It’s not technically a 3-D ride because you’re not wearing the special glasses, but the whole thing is basically a sideways rollercoaster (though it never goes completely upside-down) through a really elaborate theater set. It’s amazing. Some people I’ve talked to have said it gave them motion sickness, but Jason and I loved it! It simulates riding on a broomstick through the castle, through the Quidditch court, and all around the grounds. It was so great! I even bought the overpriced memento photo at the end.

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After buying some goodies from Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods, it was time to grab the Hogwarts Express back to London (or Diagon Alley at Universal Studios) (with a butterbeer for the ride, of course).

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It’s not a crazy ride, of course, but you get a little film for your “journey” between the parks while you get a rare chance to sit down for a few minutes.

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After getting out at platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station, just around the corner you wander into Diagon Alley.

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We were heading to the Escape from Gringotts ride in particular, but since we knew it had a longer wait time (being a relatively newer ride), we quickly checked out the sights along the way.

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Once we were in line, I had again abandoned all of my possessions in a locker, so I made Jason take a few photos.

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The goblins moved and scribbled on their papers or whatever they were working on. That was pretty cool, because they didn’t move very mechanically. At first I thought they were real, costumed people.

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Maybe it was the (much) longer line or our aching feet, but neither of us were super thrilled by this ride. It was 3-D, but everyone rode in cars with three rows, four people per row. Of course it was cool to have a ride with Voldemort (and Bellatrix Lestrange!) as part of the story, and it was a fun story. We just didn’t come out of it wanting to do it all again like we did with the Hogwarts ride.

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We grabbed a snack and I made Jason take a photo of me with some Ravenclaw knits I had finished (finished object report coming up!) before we wandered into Knockturn Alley.

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It was starting to get late, and I knew I wanted to buy a few more souvenirs and gifts back in Hogsmeade, so we headed back to King’s Cross Station to ride the train again. The line for the return trip was much longer than our first trip, so we were really looking forward to having a minute to sit down again.

(Tip: the entertainment on the train is different each way!)

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(In all of the excitement that morning, I realized I hadn’t taken a photo of the Dragon Challenge entrance.)

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We stopped into Ollivander’s wand shop and watched the head wand master help a little girl pick out the best wand for her. Cute little show, but we only stopped in because the line was very short and we got in right away.

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I made Jason take more photos of my finished knits in front of Hogwarts, too. Seriously, you guys: this is one of the best places on earth to be a nerd.

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We grabbed dinner at the Three Broomsticks — he got fish and chips and I had Shepherd’s Pie. Then, when we were just about spent for the evening… we went on the Hogwarts ride again.

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It actually started to rain a little that night, so Islands of Adventure was closing early. We took the slightly longer route out, through Jurassic Park, Toon Lagoon, and Marvel’s Super Hero Island.

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All of the other rides had closed, but I guess it was okay to leave the log shoot ride open — we were getting wet anyway!

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At the gift shop just inside the entrance to Islands of Adventure, I very nearly fell in love with a replica of Luna Lovegood’s wand (she’s my favorite character) but I resisted. Mostly because of the price, but also because of practicality. What would I do with it at home?

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I also wanted the time-turner necklace and a replica of Umbridge’s cat pin, but, again, the prices. But a reminder: Christmas will be here soon for anyone that feels generous!

That night, we opted to take the shuttle back to the hotel (our legs were dying) and I let Jason prioritize our final day with Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure for all of the remaining rides we hadn’t yet seen.