The deeper we walked into the castle, the more magic we saw. Winding passageways opened to familiar spaces, such as Dumbledore’s office and the Gryffindor common room. Paintings argued with each other while the Sorting Hat pondered its decision. After a while, we wondered: Is this the ride? The line was so short that we were whizzing through the snaking walkways in Hogwarts, but we finally found our way to the ride. Flying above Hogwarts with Harry, his friends, and a few Dementors is certainly an adventure worth waiting for, but the off-season’s small crowds added instant gratification to our fun.
Most wonderful season of all
My coworker and I were exploring Universal’s Islands of Adventure™ in Orlando, Florida—in one of the least crowded times of year—a treat after several long days of training during a tech conference at the Walt Disney World® Resort. The conference ended on a Thursday, so one of my coworkers and I decided to stay for a long weekend to enjoy Orlando’s theme parks. It was early October, so kids were back in school and most others were saving their vacation days for the holidays. This meant we could enjoy the famous Florida theme parks without the crazy lines. And, without the stress of crowds, I was able to reach a new level of adventure.
Around the world
The conference ended early on its last day, so people could go home or go play. Since we were already in Disney World, we decided to explore the parks just steps away before heading to Universal Studios Florida™.
Our timing for visiting Epcot® was perfect because the International Food & Wine Festival was in full swing. We explored the Global Marketplace at a leisurely place, tasting exotic bites and drinks. On a whim, we attended a cheese seminar where I learned the art of pairing cheese with wine and cocktails.
After fully stuffing ourselves, we made our way to the ever-famous Magic Kingdom® Park. Being October, Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party had taken over the park. Since most coasters are too extreme for me, I enjoyed the family fun activities. No matter your age, you’re filled with glee when you see Mickey Mouse walking towards you. My coworker Jon wasn’t as coaster-shy, but there were plenty of thrills for him. He hit up Splash Mountain and Space Mountain, and we both enjoyed the Haunted Mansion and a spectacular fireworks show.
The next day, we drove 15 minutes outside of Disney World to Orlando Tree Trek Adventure Park. We swung Tarzan-style and climbed 50 feet up to the canopy of a pine forest. I’m glad our group was small, because I took my time crossing the challenging bridges and swinging my way to the zipline finish, which dropped us down 425 feet.
At the end, Jon asked, “How do you feel?”
I replied, “Have to admit, that scared me a bit, but I feel better for doing it. Kind of great, actually.”
Later that day, we began our Universal adventure at Universal CityWalk™, which was lined with themed restaurants. A live mariachi band sang “La Macarena” from a Mexican restaurant, and just a few doors down, dueling pianos encouraged tavern patrons to sing along to Billy Joel. I wanted to spend the entire night there, but Jon encouraged me to join him on some rides.
I usually keep to the kiddy rides and carnival games, so I had my mind set on holding Jon’s personal items while he rode the bigger coasters. This decision went out the window as soon as we made it to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™.
A Potter superfan, Jon had us racing through Islands of Adventure to get to Hogsmeade™. We arrived in the evening, and the dark seemed to hug Hogsmeade’s mystical shops. Harry’s wizarding world seemed more magical in the dark, and we played like kids as we practiced our wand flicks. Feeling a bit of magic inside, I joined Jon on the 3D ride over Hogwarts™. I exited the ride feeling more confident about thrills, and Jon was enamored.
Next was Jurassic Park River Adventure™. After getting spit in the face from a dinosaur and marveling at a giant animatronic King Kong on the Skull Island: Reign of Kong™ ride, I was feeling braver than Jon, who was hesitant to sit in the seats on the sides of the rides. But, the next ride would really test my nerves: The Incredible Hulk Coaster®.
Pushing the throttle
The Incredible Hulk Coaster was a true-blue thrill ride, with fast speeds, loops, and twists. I stared up at the towering Hot Wheels®-style track and thought, I don’t know if I can do this. Jon was already putting his personal items in a nearby locker, and I followed suit. The wait time was 10 minutes, so I had that long to decide if I would get on or not.
While in line, we talked about the fun we were having and how amazing it was that the lines were so short. Then Jon said, “I didn’t want to say this earlier, but you almost didn’t go on any rides. Aren’t you glad you did? Isn’t this awesome!?”
I smiled and realized that I was having a great time, and that fear was only preventing me from experiencing the most the parks had to offer. I replied to Jon, “You’re right. This is awesome! I’m glad I decided to ride instead of stand on the sidelines.”
With that statement, I decided I would tackle this green behemoth. We were strapped in tight and within a few seconds, shot out of a tube. My heart jumped as we accelerated in a split-second. I yelled in excitement as we hurdled across the tracks. When I stepped off, my body felt weak from my muscles being tense, but mentally I was floating from the thrill of the ride and from conquering it.
On the way to the airport, we enthusiastically recounted our trip to the Lyft driver. She shared her experience on Universal’s Escape from Gringotts™ ride in Diagon Alley™. I made a mental note on that one. When Jon and I got to our gate, I dug through my backpack for a snack and came across the photo I had stuffed in there after our Incredible Hulk ride. I looked at our faces frozen in excitement and let out a short laugh. To think, I wasn’t going to go on any rides.
Thanks, off-season Orlando. It was fun.