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Photo 84/365: Disney diary day 6

Universal Studios. Where do I start? How about with utter disappointment. Okay, that's a bit harsh, but let's put it this way...we only lasted about four hours before we hoofed it back to Disney double time. 

We got to Universal just as it opened, tickets pre-purchased and ready to go. Our only goal was to see Harry Potter world, but because they've spread the Harry Potter activities across both their parks, it's necessary to purchase park hopper tickets to see both. I smell a money making scheme, but the idea of riding the train between the two was appealing anyhow, so we didn't grumble too much. We headed for Diagon Alley immediately and were pretty excited about the feel of the place. It really felt like a deep, magical alley! And look, there's all the places from the book! We ducked into Ollivanders first, but struggled to understand the layout of the store and the difference between the wands. It took some time to find anyone willing to help us, and ended up getting tips from another guest because Universal doesn't do "cast members" like Disney. To the extent, in fact, that 20 minutes after the place had opened the line to buy a wand was already 20 minutes long, and the cashiers, far from being in character, were obviously annoyed. At this point I just felt sorry for was going to be a longer day for them than me if that was their attitude about it.

But back outside it became very clear very fast that the very things that make Diagon Alley so magical feeling—it's dark, close construction with narrow streets and tall buildings blocking out the sun, were also the things that were going to make it a struggle to enjoy. As the morning wore on the crowds increased exponentially making the alleyway naturally difficult to maneuver. We'd gotten an interactive wand and were having a great time trying it out at the various magical spots. This was at least as good as the interactive games in Disney, because you actually had to move the wand the right way in order to trigger the magic spell, so it was really fun to master. But the lines for each magical spot were becoming almost unbearable, likely because there were no workers there to help kids figure out how to use them so you'd have a kid in the front taking ten minutes or more trying to get it work and becoming increasingly frustrated while their panicked parents frantically tried to save the day they'd paid a lot of money for. And where that wasn't happeniing, you had kids who stood there triggering the magic again and again and again. Staff management would have gone a long way here.

If you're not into rides, which we really aren't, Diagon Alley is pretty much just a very expensive shopping mall, so once we'd finished the wand spots and enjoyed visiting all the stores Harry and friends visited in the book, we had our taste of butter beer (yum), and hopped the train to Hogsmeade. Calvin enjoyed it. I enjoyed the fact that there hadn't really been a line yet, since it was still early. I was looking forward to Hogsmeade and it's open air feeling, but again narrow streets and unlimited admission meant frustrating crowds. We mastered all the wand spots, bought frogs at Honeydukes, considered the hippogriph ride at Hagrid's but decided 60 minutes was too long a wait for so short a ride with no surprises, and decided to have our lunch at Hogsmeade early...until we found that also had over an hour wait just to get in. Say what??? This is counter service! So instead we decided to hop the train back to Diagon Alley and eat at the Leaky Cauldron. 

The return train trip had a 45 minute line, and we found ourselves back in Diagon Alley at just the wrong time to try and get lunch. The line at the Leaky Cauldron was also really long. Now we had some debating to do. Our plan for the day had been to spend the morning in Diagon Alley, hop the traint o Hogsmeade, have lunch, experience Hogsmeade, train back, dinner at Leaky, home for early bedtime. Now that plan was shot. It was nearly 1:00 and we were already done shopping and magicking our wand, and while we really wanted to experience Harry's dining options, the food display was actually almost as unappealing as the long line, plus we'd had enough of the increasingly dense crowds and rude attitudes of workers. This was not Disney. 

So we decided to make our way back to the front of the park and a ride back to the happiest place on earth, figuring we'd find something to eat along the way, only the food options and prices were also unappealing. That's how we found ourselves at Hollywood Studios just after 2:00, hungry, hangry, even, tired, and irritable. Then we found our first Disney photographer and all was right with the world. We put our name in for a table service meal at the Sci-Fi Dine-In (good timing since who eats at 3:00?) and went next door to grab a snack at Baseline Taphouse (counter service, no wait) to hold us over. The food in both places was delicious, cast members everywhere were helpful and welcoming. We enjoyed some Star Wars things, shopped a bit, and because there isn't a whole lot to do at Hollywood Studios either, were back at Caribbean Beach enjoying the pool during everyone else's dinner time. Then we enjoyed a delicious meal at Spyglass Grill while watching park fireworks over the tree tops (yes, a late dinner, but when lunch is at 3, who can blame us?).

And that's how Disney saved our day after Universal tried to ruin it.

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