Ever spent Christmas at Hogwarts and New Year at Cinderella’s Castle? Spending two holiday seasons in a row at two different magical places is a rare thing in my book. I could never have planned these two trips at better times than this. Spending the Christmas season at Universal Studios Orlando and the new year at Walt Disney World is the best idea I ever had. I have now returned from both and am fully prepared to download you on the highlights, tips, and tricks. So, settle in, and let’s dive into the perfect ending to 2021 and start to 2022.
Christmas at Hogwarts
This trip was better than I could have imagined. This was my second time seeing it, but my first time being able to fully appreciate it. The last time I went, I was in high school, wasn’t as invested in HP as I am now, and we went during Halloween Horror Nights so I didn’t get to go in the parks at night (not a fan of scary movies in the slightest). This time, I got to fully appreciate the trip as an obsessive nerd and also got to see both parks at night.
Seeing the holiday Hogwarts light show at night was a major highlight. If you plan to do this, I suggest waiting until it is officially dark for the best viewing. Also, they start roping off the Hogsmeade area in front of the castle at 5:30 and make it a one-way walkway. If you are not in the viewing areas, you are forced to exit the street (unless you’re inside a shop/restaurant/ride queue). The lights show happens about every 30 minutes so there are plenty of opportunities to see it before close. As a mega Potterhead, I will admit that it brought me to tears, but that may be because the final score is Leaving Hogwarts – a real tear-jerker for Potterheads.
As far as Diagon Alley nightlife is concerned, I highly recommend being in Diagon Alley when the parade at Universal Studios starts. The crowd in front of Gringotts is extremely minimal and makes for some quality picture time. I especially enjoyed it the night we visited as it sprinkled. The pavement was wet and reflected the lights and holiday decor. This time is also perfect for a picture with the dragon. Don’t forget to yell, “WELL DONE DRAGON!”
Speaking of photos, if you need a quality Hogwarts picture moment, the best time and place is the bridge leading from Hogsmeade to Jurassic Park at sunset. We went at 5:00 and the lighting is perfect, with minimal crowds. And don’t forget to strike your best running pose by the dinos and Jurassic Park Jeeps stationed in the Jurassic area.
In reference to Jurassic Park, I need to discuss the Velocicoaster. While I was extremely excited to ride this, it was a very uneasy experience. While don’t think it can actually remove you from your seat (because of physics and all that), it was a very uneasy feeling to be doing flips and corkscrews while feeling your thighs slipping. This is a ride that goes extremely fast and does all of the fun rollercoaster tricks, while only providing a lap bar. There is no chest restraint, which is already a red flag to me. We rode it once and then didn’t ride it ever again.
Moving on to rides, I will now give you the best rides to check out. My personal favorite is Hagrid’s Magical Creatures. We rode this three times and decided it is well worth an hour’s wait to do so. I will recommend riding the bike if you are long-legged. I am and while I fit fine in the sidecar, my knees were a little squished. Plus, if you are front row, and you ride the bike, it truly feels like you are steering. Super fun! Other favorite rides in the Harry Potter field include… well… all of them! They are all so much fun! From flying in a Quidditch match with Harry in Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (in the castle) to escaping the Gringotts tunnels in Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts (in the bank) there are so many adventures to have with your favorite Golden Trio. Outside the Harry Potter rides, we really loved Transformers, Spider-Man, The Hulk, and The Mummy.
As far as food goes, my favorite place to eat is The Three Broomsticks. Chicken tenders, fries, and a Butterbeer pair beautifully. We also love The Hard Rock Cafe and Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville. On the dessert side of things, I discovered that a Butterbeer ice cream from Florean Fortescues is the perfect sweet, and “The Big Pink” from Lard Lad Doughnuts in the Simpsons area is a lot for one person but delicious nonetheless. And don’t forget to drink as much Butterbeer as you can! I had four and don’t regret a single dollar spent.
Now for my highlights of the trip. While we were there, I discovered that The Potter Collector, a favorite YouTuber of mine, was going to be there supplying Harry Potter trivia for prizes. I, of course, searched him out, answered some trivia, and won Professor Slughorn’s wand. This was such an amazing experience and I couldn’t believe I even got to be in the video! AH! Another influencer moment Hallie and I encountered was Jeremy from TikTok in the line to get our picture taken with King Julian. We said hi and that we love his TikToks, and he was very nice and thankful in return. Speaking of pictures, I also spent our last morning meeting The Grinch in Whoville. Definitely worth the wait! I was insulted, but somehow felt honored by it…
On to shopping. I had a list of things I wanted to buy during my trip and I accomplished all of them. This included a matching pajama set (Hogwarts crest), a Hufflepuff spirit jersey, the George Weasley Christmas wool sweater, and my wand. A lot of people may not know, but you can actually get sorted into your own wand (not a character wand) at Ollivander’s. I regretted not doing this last time I visited Universal, so I made sure to do it this time. I got sorted into my very own wand (these are interactive, so you can use them on the spell spots)!