Halfway across the bridge, I can see the gates of Islands of Adventure in front of me, and I am thrilled! From that moment on, I completely forget to worry about the car. Being me, I had done the research and looked at the maps on Universal's website, and had plotted the quickest way to get to WWoHP, so we turned right, walked through the Dr. Suess area, and as we walked through the Lost Continent I saw it suddenly, in the distance; the rooftops of Hosgmeade. OOOoooooooo!
The terrible weather had not yet arrived, but it was cloudy, so the very first view we had was against a cloudy gray sky, and it looked exactly like a dreary, snowy English day. SWEET.
The entrance is a big stone archway with a black metal sign saying: Hogsmeade - Please respect the spell limits.
The first thing you see is the big red Hogwart's Express, which spews smoke every few seconds and looks utterly real. It manages to look clean and yet used at the same time, and it comes equipped with an engineer guy, who will happily pose for photos, speak to you completely in character with his British accent, and when not being bothered by tourists he appears to perform mainentance on the engine.
And the street stretches away before you, with cobblestones and street lamps and shops right out of Hogsmeade/Diagon Alley.
Okay, full disclosure here. It was at this point where I started crying a little. It's just so perfect.
There's an Owlery, with real fake owls flapping high in the ceiling rafters, and real fake owl poop underneath them.
The Hog's Head pub is right next to the Three Broomsticks restaurant.
Visitors can buy a butterbeer or pumpkin juice from the stand. I tasted both, and pumpkin juice is sweet with a spicy, pumpkin pie flavor. You can buy one of the pretty pumpkin-topped bottles to take home. Butterbeer is only sold in the WWoHP, and it's a two part drink: the carbonated butterbeer part and the foamy top part that they actually add separately. It tastes a little like cream soda, maybe with a hint of butterscotch, and I thought it was delicious.
There's an owl post, selling quills, sneakoscopes, and Hogwarts stationery. It was a tiny shop and extremely crowded, that's someone's back pressed up against the door.
There's a Gringott's ATM!
Several of the shops are fake, but look so real, and have wonderful details. In the picture below, the shop on the left sells quiddich supplies, and has a set of bludgers in the window, rattling around and struggling to get free of the chains. The shop on the right is a bookstore with a display of Gilderoy Lockhart books in the window.
One of the real shops is Zonko's, where you can buy pygmy puffs and extendable ears. This is a view of the fun, colorful ceiling at Zonkos.
Another real shop is Honeyduke's, which is attached to Zonko's. You can buy chocolate frogs and Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans here.
At the end of the street, visitors walk around a little curve, and then there it is. Hogwarts!
Oh, it's just breathtaking. The actual Forbidden Journey ride is in a structure right below Hogwarts, which appears to be on a mountain above you. Visitors don't get to walk around inside the castle seen above, but just to stand below and look at it is genuinely amazing.
The idea of the Forbidden Journey ride is that you are a Muggle, on a tour of Hogwarts. The tour starts outside in the greenhouse, and then goes into the Portrait Gallery, which is purely amazing. We stood for quite a while looking at the paintings, which do look exactly like a painting until suddenly it begins to move, and talk to you. The effect is flawless. (The big one at the bottom that appears black was actually moving when I took the pic.)
The next part of the tour is Dumbledore's office, where you see the pensieve, and then Dumbledore appears and gives a little talk welcoming the guests. Then into the Defense Against Dark Arts classroom, where Harry, Hermione and Ron suddenly appear and, instead of letting you suffer through the boring talk about the history of Hogwarts (which is actually really interesting, Hermione protests) they are going to sneak you out to take you on a ride.
The ride itself is a lot more intense than I expected, and I got a tiny bit motion-sick, but overall it was exciting, and really well-done. There are giant spiders (ack!), dragons, dementors, and the Whomping Willow.
The ride, of course, exits into a gift shop, Filch's Emporium of Confiscated Goods, and this is the only place in the whole of the Wizarding World that I saw items for sale with specific characters on them. There are a couple of t-shirts with Harry, one with Bellatrix (THAT BITCH!), and you can also buy a Marauder's Map and quiddich supplies.
Outside Hogwart's is a small performance area, and we were lucky enough to be right there at just the perfect time. There is a Tri-Wizard performance, with Durmstrang students performing a choreographed martial-arts type demonstration:
And Beaxbatons students doing a pretty, twirly dance. She might be a Veela, don't you think?
We heard barking coming from Hagrid's house. Fang must be home!
We headed back to the Three Broomsticks for lunch. Visitors are not allowed into the restaurant unless they are having a meal, so you really can't get a good look at the awesomeness unless you're going to eat there. But why wouldn't you want to?
Again, I did the research beforehand and all reviews said that the shepherd's pie, while delicious looking, is dry and tasteless, so I ordered the fish and chips. My fish and chips were actually very good, and Greg confirmed that the shepherd's pie is not the way to go. The butterbeer was great, and I kind of regret not shelling out the cash for the souvenir mug, which, although plastic and fairly small, was very cute. Here's my butterbeer in the generic cup:
Attached to the Three Broomsticks restaurant is the Hog's Head Pub, which sells their own specialty Hog's Head Brew beer. I didn't try the beer, but did enjoy the actual head of the hog, behind the bar. He periodically moves around and snorts.
There are two other rides in the WWoHP, one is a small, fairly gentle rollercoaster called the Flight of the Hippogriff, and also the Dragon's Challenge, which is basically just a re-theming of the already existing Dueling Dragons coaster. While I do like coasters, there was kind of a long wait, and we'd ridden Dueling Dragons, so we skipped it.
We spent some time just hanging out, and looking around. There are an amazing number of tiny, perfect details that make it so real. The sun came out, despite the dire warnings from the doomy weatherpeople, and the snow and icecicles sparkled.
Finally, we had seen everything at least twice and we were tired, so we headed off on the long journey back to the car. When we got there, it was locked, of course.
Part One: In Which We Park The Car and Walk For Miles
Part Three: In Which I Go On A Bit Longer