Free Disney Dining is Back!

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They say that timing is everything. I’m not sure who “they” are, but in this case, they’re right. Time your winter Disney trip right, and you could be eating for free! A family of four, staying 6 nights in a Moderate or Deluxe resort, can save $1,000 on their vacation! Hey, with that kind of savings, you could add a visit to Harry Potter over at Universal Islands of Adventure.

Get the details on the offer here. And then let me know if you would like help booking your trip.

Is July too early to start dreaming about the holidays at Disney? I think not!

WWoHP Pt. 2: Eating around Hogsmeadiagonwarts

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In my last post, I gave some tips on avoiding lines in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and my opinion on Butterbeer.  (The short of it:  too darned sweet.)  So let’s talk food.

First, there are very few places to actually eat within the Wizarding World.  I guess those kids get everything they could desire in the Hogwarts dining hall, the most amazing school cafeteria ever, so they don’t eat out much.

The only restaurant in WWoHP is the Three Broomsticks, and like everything else there, the theming is spot-on.

On our first trip to visit Mr. Potter, we didn’t make reservations, the crowds were ginormous, and we couldn’t eat within WWoHP. Instead, we left the area and went to Mythos (hands-down the best restaurant in Universal, and located a very short walk from the gates of the Wizarding World.) We were disappointed to learn however that we were not allowed back IN to the World after leaving, until after 3pm when the crowds thinned out. Be forewarned that this is a possibility, especially during peak season.
On my second trip, because I was at the WWoHP at 8am, I planned ahead and made breakfast reservations.
I went for the Traditional English Breakfast, which includes scrambled eggs, baked beans, mushrooms, grilled tomato, sausage links, English bacon, a croissant, potatoes, and black pudding.  I’m a sucker for black pudding.  Unfortunately, it was pretty awful.  It tasted like the heat lamps had sucked the flavor and moistness from everything.  The eggs had the consistency of bad reconstituted powdered buffet eggs, and the mushrooms and black pudding were so dry as to be inedible.  The beans tasted like they came straight from the Heinz can.  I forgot to take a  picture until half-way through my meal, and have chosen not to show you the half-eaten food.  You’re welcome.
Other breakfast choices are oatmeal (Porridge breakfast), a continental breakfast, American breakfast (eggs, potatos, bacon, etc.), pancakes, and smoked salmon.  I suspect that the American breakfast will have many of the same issues as the English, so you are probably better off with the other choices if you go.
I didn’t eat dinner there, but my helpful brother did, and sent me his photo of the roast chicken.  He said they enjoyed it.  He’s fairly discerning, so I’m guessing it was OK, but I won’t be going back there for the food.  Looks alright, though.  I’m giving it 2 Mice.  It’s worth a peek for the theming.
Connected to the Three Broomsticks is the Hogs Head pub.  They serve a variety of non-alcoholic drinks (including butterbeer and pumpkin juice) as well as bottled and draft beers.  Draft includes Guinness and Boddingtons, as well as their own Hogs Head Brew (a red ale).  It’s the kind of place that you wish existed in real-life, near your house.  Because chances are when you’re in Universal, it will be too crowded, and you’ll be too busy, to hang around drinking beer and chatting by the fire.  The pub gets 4 Mice.
Don’t miss Honeyduke’s and Zonko’s.  You may be tempted to skip the shops in favor of rides, but they truly are the most charming part of the experience.  The detail is incredible.  The two shops are connected, and there is a small counter where they connect that sells baked goods, including cauldron cakes and treacle tarts.
Final piece of advice.  Don’t buy your chocolate frog at Honeydukes, then expect to carry it around all day, unless you like melted frog.  They are available at the large shop at the entrance to Islands of Adventure on your way out.  If you forget, just remember the wisdom of Ron Weasley, “Rotten luck.  Besides, it’s the cards you want.”

WWoHP Pt. 1: So what does Butterbeer taste like?

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I’ll admit it.  As much as I love visiting Walt Disney World, our family vacation last summer was overshadowed by a certain Boy Who Lived.  Of course, I mean our planned side trip to Universal Studios’ Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  I’ve read all of the books, our 10 year old daughter is half-way through the series, and of course we’ve seen all of the movies again and again and again. 

So as happy as we were to be going to WDW, the biggest question on all of our minds was, “What does Butterbeer taste like?”  Let me start by saying, this is not the best thing to plan your WWoHP day around.  In fact, that singlemindedness of purpose really threw off our visit.  Hopefully this cautionary tale will  help you to navigate this weird amalgamation of Diagon Alley, Hogsmeade, and Hogwarts more like a returning 5th year than a goggling muggle-raised 1st year.

Tip 1:  If at all possible, stay in a Universal partner hotel to gain early admission.

During peak season, early admission is really crucial to being able to fully enjoy the WWoHP.  The difference that hour makes between standing in long lines and being generally miserable vs. experiencing the magic and wonder of Potter is worth the aggravation of switching hotels.  I’ve been to WWoHP twice now – the first time we day tripped over to Universal from our base at Animal Kingdom Lodge, and the second I stayed at the Loews Royal Pacific Resort.  For convenience and early admission, the Loews was definitely the better option.  Theming is good (though not Disney), rooms are fine, and the pool area is wonderful.  If you don’t stay at a qualifying Universal hotel, this is what you may experience when you get to the park. 

See what looks like the front of that line?  That’s about a quarter mile from the entrance to the WWoHP.  The kid biting her nails to the right is mine – at what felt like the end of the line.  By the time we were allowed in, the line stretched another quarter mile behind us.  Seriously, get the early admission.  When I returned and stayed at Universal, I walked right in as soon as the gates opened to a completely empty World, and spent a leisurely hour poking through the shops.  It was lovely.  The first time was not.  Behold.

Tip 2:  Focus on what is important to you first.  Do not get distracted. 

Oh, how easy this sounds, and how difficult it is.  The magic begins as you approach the entrance…


…encounter the Hogwarts Express to your right…

…and find yourself in the magical town of Hogsmeadiagonwarts.

(Note the butterbeer stand stationed straight ahead.)

But really, don’t get distracted.  We made the fateful mistake of stopping for Butterbeer first.  As a result, we waited in line for almost two hours for Forbidden Journey, and never did make it to Olivander’s. There are really only two good options to choose from when you first enter.  Either get in line for Harry Potter & The Forbidden Journey, or for Olivander’s Wand Shop.  (Lagniappe:  stow your stuff in the lockers near the Hogwarts Express if you’re riding Forbidden Journey.  The locker line is very long near the attraction.)  If you are prone to motion sickness, or are traveling with kids who are frightened of the dark, dementors, or giant spiders, skip The Forbidden Journey.  After riding it, I spent the next 20 minutes hanging out with Moaning Myrtle in the cool ladies restroom while my family took in the sights.  Even if you’re not traveling with kids, you’ll want to see the show at Olivander’s.  It’s very fun.  But the line gets ridiculously long.  My advice:  go to Olivander’s first, then go to the Forbidden Journey.  The line gets long at Journey, but it is so well themed and entertaining, that it’s not an awful wait.  The line for Olivander’s is all outdoors and not at all entertaining.

Tip 3:  Be warned – the expensive front-of-the-line passes you can purchase at Universal are not honored for Forbidden Journey. 

If you are planning to spend a good amount of time at the rest of Universal and ride the larger rides, it may be worth the extra expense.  But if your main destination is WWoHP, and you don’t ride coasters, don’t bother.  During peak season it’s almost not worth buying the pass anyway, because now so many people are just forking over the extra money that the lines for the express are long, too.  (And it’s not honored at the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit coaster, either.) 

After you’ve hit the two main attractions, if you like coasters, head to Dragon Challenge.  It is truly fantastic.

Tip 4:  Only after you’ve ridden the coasters should you consider getting some butterbeer. 

Seriously, and not just because of the lines.  Once you taste it you’ll understand.  Butterbeer is one of the most sickeningly sweet things you will ever drink.  It’s like cream soda with butterscotch syrup added, with a dollop of butterscotch flavored cool whip layered on the top.  No joke – it is sweeeeet.  My daughter and husband, both with massive sweet teeth (tooths?), loved it.  I took two sips, and bought a pumpkin juice instead.  The good news is that the pumpkin juice is surprisingly delicious and refreshing!  It’s basically apple juice with pumpkin puree and pumpkin pie spice, which sounds odd, but is very good.

Butterbeer comes in two forms – draft, or frozen.  Here’s the draft:

And here’s the frozen:

We were being “purists” the first time around, and only tried the draft.  On my return trip, I tried the frozen, and it is definitely the way to go.  The colder temperature is really necessary to balance the sweetness. 

So to sum up Part 1:  Get there early, Don’t get distracted, Consider whether Express pass is worth it to you, and get a frozen Butterbeer AFTER you’ve ridden the coasters.

Next up in Part 2:  Eating around Hogsmeadiagonwarts.