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Reader Grab Bag – Stars Wars Weekend Edition….and Harry Potter!

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This week the questions were about two subjects I know next to nothing about – Star Wars Weekends at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Harry Potter at Universal’s Islands of Adventure. Let’s learn some new stuff together!

First – “K” from the UK writes:

Your website is awesome! (Note to readers – this tactic works WAY better than “Your web site ruined our vacation! You suck!” Also, thanks, “K!”)


Next year we are heading over for the Star Wars Weekends. Our dates are from 14/05/2012 till 28/05/2012 so it will be the first 2 of the Star Wars Weekends. Do you have any specific recommendation how can we see every parade/show (recommended viewing place, how long before start should we go there)? I checked the crowd level it will be 9-10. In this case does it mean long lines for the rides or very very crowded park?  Do you have any advice how should we manage this crowd? We don’t care about the rides during these days … only the Star Wars happenings count.

Touring Plans for Star Wars Weekends? Yes, we have those in the Miscellaneous DHS plans section. Does it mean long lines or a very crowded park? Yes. Crowd level numbers correspond to wait times. AND many people will be there just for the Star Wars events. I have attended two Star Wars Weekends – once as a tourist and last year in the Great TouringPlans.com Star Tours Live Attraction and Cast Member Stalking. As long as you’re mentally prepared, the crowds for SWW can be great fun. People are in costume. The parade is fun. My one piece of advice is that unless there’s some limited edition piece of merchandise you REALLY want, avoid the queues in the sales areas. It’s a huge time waster and not a pleasant experience at all. Know ahead of time what events you want to experience, arrive early or get a FASTPASS for autograph or other celebrity sessions and ENJOY.

Another reader:

This will be our first Star Wars Weekend. I am traveling with a almost 4 yr old and a 9 yr old. They are both fans with me and my husband. My primary goal is to get them signed up for Jedi Academy where is the sign up and how soon before rope drop should I be there. Will the new optimized touring plans work for this weekend?

We have an attraction page for Jedi Training Academy that tells about the sign up process. Since Jedi is your priority, both kids should accompany an adult to the sign up area at park opening. If it were me, I’d send the other adult over to Toy Story Mania to get FASTPASSes for that attraction while the Jedis sign up. We talked about this in last week’s article.

Optimized plans will work, but don’t try to make one now. As we’ve mentioned before, we need show times for the plans to work, and those aren’t out yet for SWW yet.

What else should you know about SWW before TouringPlans.com 2012 coverage starts? Well, last year’s blog articles are a good place to start:

And, finally, the place you really should look – Studios Central’s Star Wars Weekends page.

Who’s planning to go to Star Wars Weekends? Share your tips in the comments!

And the reader who won a three month subscription to Walt Disney World and Disneyland confides:

First of all – thank you so much for all your detailed hard work.

I challenged my 9 yr old with reading the Harry Potter books, and since he is close to completion, I now have to take him to Universal’s Island of Adventure to see the ‘real thing’.  We have a 1 night stay at the Hard Rock prior to going over to Beach Club for the rest of the week.   Essentially we have 1 day in the Universal park(s).   Since I will have the Universal Fast pass is it worth going to just Islands Adventure for the day, or would you suggest trying to go to both parks for a best of tour?   Is there a touring plan for the Best of Universal & IOA, or Islands in one day?

I’m sure many parents are challenged going to Hogwarts these days, we’re just to embarrassed to talk about it.

Readers, you may have noticed that we really don’t cover Universal on our site. It’s an afterthought in the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World because it’s covered in depth in the UG’s Beyond Disney publication. While we do have plans to increase our Universal coverage, this is best thrown out to the readers. So help our parent out here. What do you think of IoA? Have you gotten your inner Potter on?  Accio comments!

The TouringPlans.com team will be back in the Magic Kingdom for New Year’s this year. Say hi if you see us! Next article coming in 2012. Send your questions to advice@touringplans.com and we’ll try our best to answer them or let you know when we can’t.

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Laurel Stewart

Laurel is a former software engineer and current student. She likes pina coladas, getting caught in the rain, and Big Thunder Mountain.

15 thoughts on “Reader Grab Bag – Stars Wars Weekend Edition….and Harry Potter!

  • FYI – if Jedi Training is a must do on your list, here’s a sneaky little trick that can help you get in line even faster. Make a breakfast reservation for the character breakfast restaurant before the park opens. (I think you can get in an hour before park opens, but call) You will have to be there EARLY to get in, but not only do you skip the crazy lines and mad rush at rope drop, but while you eat breakfast, you can leisurely send someone in your party to the Jedi Academy sign up before the park opens. We got our little Jedi there at 25 min before park opening and we were NOT the first in line – about 25 kids in front of us, but we did get a spot in the Academy. And we were there on a non-peak day. Good luck – the Jedi Academy really made his day!

  • We were there the weekend after Thanksgiving last year, staying onsite. Get to the IOA gates 30 minutes before they open to hotel guests (standard TP procedures). I second the advice to head straight for the Ollivander’s show (the queue is off to the right). It will bug you to see so many folks streaming past you while you wait to head to FJ, but it can absorb a ton of folks and still move quickly during the early entry period. And, we could not believe how long the line at the wand shop got later in the day.

    So basically – hit Olivander’s, then FJ (as many times as you like). The other two rides are not that interesting, but take your time exploring the HP land in its entirety (e.g. all the shops) – each window is worth checking out in detail.

    The Express Pass is the greatest thing ever – and you won’t feel like you have to rush in HP land because you won’t have to wait in long lines when you head out for the other lands. It also means that you don’t need to worry too much about a touring plan for the rest of the park.

    Enjoy! We can’t wait to go back.

  • We’ll be there for the first weekend of SWW. This will be my 4th time for the event. I really enjoy the experience and find it refreshing to spend time in one of my favorite parks surrounded by like-minded geeks!

    There is a concurrent charity event that first weekend (Saturday, May 19th), the Heart of Florida United Way Annual Chef’s Gala. This fund-raising (and yummy) extravaganza is held in the World Showplace Pavilion. We attended last year, and will be going back again this year. Two events for the price of one set of plane tickets. That rocks!

  • This year my son and I were at HS for the first weekend of SWW. We arrived on that first Friday an hour before the park opened. Cast members told us that all of the Jedi Training Academy were already filled. Such a bummer! For full disclosure, this was the weekend that the refurbished Star Tours ride officially opened. Possibly you will have better luck, but I would suggest getting there close to two hours early, signing up, then maybe going back to a resort for breakfast. The current process to sign up is to enter the park and head to sounds dangerous, however that weekend that is not how the sign ups happened. Other park guests told us that there were people waiting at the entrance all night that weekend, again though – this might just be because of the Star Tours opening. Good Luck!

  • You can also do a walk through of hogwarts after riding the forbidden journey, just ask when you enter the queue area. So don’t worry about seeing all the little serials when you go to ride the ride.

    I agree about going to the hogsheads for butter beer. Also, I found the food at the 3 broomsticks was pretty good for quick service.

  • Potter is a must-do for us. Islands of Adventure is a must for the roller coasters for my 13-year-old nephew, while Potter is a requirement for my 10-year-old niece.
    Gotta say that there’s no buzz about WDW on the schoolyard – either kids have been to Disney or they haven’t.
    WWHP? There’s a lot of excitement and buzz about that. So it’s a must-do.

  • If you stay on-site at Universal, you should high tail it to Harry Potterville as soon as you can enter. Go watch the Olivander’s show FIRST THING, before you ride Forbidden Journey! The lines at Olivander’s get cr-azy long later in the day, and the show isn’t worth more than a twenty minute wait.

    If you get the front-of-the-line perk from staying on site, you should be able to hit the highlights at both parks if you go during a slower period. One word of warning: Forbidden Journey is such a fantastic experience, the rest of the rides at both parks are kind of a let down, except for the Simpson’s. That is a great ride, but it has such a convoluted queue, even the express line seems to take forever.

  • I just took my 9, 10, and 13-year-old die-hard Harry Potter fans to Universal in April. It was 2 weeks before Easter so it was “busy” season but not “ridiculouly busy” season. Even then the Universal parks closed fairly early. Crowds were low at Studios but IoA was wall-to-wall people. We stayed at Hard Rock so had the Express Pass, but we still had to wait in long lines for food, bathrooms, etc. Once the HP section reaches capacity they will issue a pass with a return time (much like Disney) and you cannot enter the area until your designated time.

    So as for doing the two parks in one day, I would say “it depends.” If it’s a slower time of year and you just want to hit the highlights you can do both in one day. If it’s busy, or if the parks close early, or if you want to spend lots of time in HP soaking in the details (they are amazing), stick to IoA only.

    As for a touring plan, follow the same general advice as for Disney. Arrive at least 30 minutes before park opening (we were let in 15 mins before the official opening). Head straight to HP. There are so many details in the queue for Forbidden Journey that you don’t want to rush through. If you are first in line you won’t see them all. I would try Ollivander’s first, then FJ second. Then hit the shops. The shops are small so there will be lines to get in later in the day. You can Express Pass the other rides so save them until last. Don’t leave the area until you are certain you’ve seen everything you want to see. You may not get back in.

    You can Express Pass all the other rides, so use general touring plan advice for the rest of the park: eat at off hours, pay attention to show times, be familiar with what you do and don’t want to see before you get there. And be warned – if you take on the water rides, you will get completely, totally soaked! Jurassic Park wasn’t bad, but you will come off of the others looking like a drowned bilge rat!

  • I visited Universal Studios Florida (both parks) for the first time since WWHP debuted a few weeks ago and wrote two nice, big long blog posts about it (click my name; they’re right below the WDW posts). Basically, the overall “set design” of WWHP will knock your socks off and that alone is worth visiting it for.

  • The Universal resort Express Pass is probably the best theme park resort perk ever. The longest I’ve ever waited with it was ten minutes, and the only attractions that don’t utilize it are Forbidden Journey at IOA and Rip, Ride, Rockit at the Studios. So, it is possible to get through both parks in one day. If the parks close at 6PM though, you will probably be rushing and not enjoying yourself.
    Here’s what it comes down to imo: if you are a big fan of thrilling coasters or water rides, IOA dominates these genres. The Hulk and Dragon Challenge (it no longer duels due to a major accident though)are great coasters with fast speeds and many inversions. The water rides-Jurassic Park, Dudley Do-Right and Poppi and Bluto also provide decent theming and great thrill. These rides also offer great repeatibility and you can use your hotel express pass to ride as much as you want (bring a poncho for the water rides though!). And if you’re Potter fans you will probably want to explore the area as well.
    Indeed, if you think you would enjoy the non-Potter stuff at IOA, I’d spend my entire day there. If you don’t like thrills though, it may be worth it to also go to USF. There are some major thrills here too (Rip, Ride Rockit, the Simpsons simulator, and Mummy) but most everything else can be enjoyed by everyone.

  • So I just got back from US & IoA. If you are staying onsite, the early entry into the park will allow you to do everything you need to do at Harry Potter. I felt like I had the park to myself. As per the rest of the park it was my mom and I’s least favorite park. So I would say yes to doing both parks in one day with a park hopper option. With the front of the line pass you will not have to wait for anything unless it is a show with set times. Depending on the operating hours of the park you could get quite a bit done. Besides the Forbidden Journey on Rip Ride Rocket at US can you not use that line pass. So I set get a book, figure out what rides you want to do and make a game plan.

    My Favs IoA:
    Forbidden Journey (beware motion sickness, you can close eyes to hep) ((2nd))
    Dueling Dragons
    Olivanders Wand Shop (do first thing that morning)
    The Hulk
    Jurassic park (may get wet, I did not get wet)
    Suess Area (fun to explore, rides suck)
    Spiderman Ride

    My Favs US:
    Mummy Ride
    Shreck 4D
    Blues Brothers Show
    Animal Actors
    Rip Ride Rocket (sigle rider line)
    Jaws (wil be gone forever in january)

    For this visit two parks in one day to work, you must start that day after your one night stay, or do a half day at IoA (skip HP), then the next day do HP in the early morning then hop to US

  • We went to IOA and US for one day in early February (pre-Presidents day weekend) and like the response above, the parks closed at early hours (7pm and 6pm, respectively). We were 4 adults and wanted to do both parks. Being the low season, we were able to accomplish the highlights, but by no means did we hit everything. We were also not staying on property, so we didn’t have the Universal Fastpass.

    We were the first non-resort guests through the turn styles and headed straight for Potter. After riding Forbidden Journey twice (you can’t help but get off that ride and immediately get in line again!), we spent another hour or so wandering around Potterland. We were also able to hit Jurassic Park, Spiderman and Hulk in IOA. Then we crossed over to US and rode Rip Rocket, Simpsons, Men In Black, and the Mummy. We then headed back over to IOA and spent the last few hours in Potterland.

    I learned a lot of great tips from the DIS boards, so I would recommend checking those out. The best tips I found were:
    -Don’t bring a bag to Universal. They’re very strict about putting your stuff in lockers. You can bypass many lines by not having to store your stuff in a locker. Cargo pants are your friend!
    -Single Rider line for Forbidden Journey. We ended up riding FJ 8 times in one day. Yes, this ride is that awesome. Using the single rider line really helps you skip the long lines. And sometimes my husband and I got to ride together (although don’t count on it, as it is a single rider line)
    -Buy Butterbeer (frozen is better!) from inside Hog’s Head Tavern instead of outside from the carts. There are no lines and its the same price!

    Sorry this has turned into a long response, but I was asking the same questions as the person above before our trip and I hope this helps with some answers! If they’re going in the low season and have Universal Fastpass, they should be able to hit most of what they want in both parks. That being said, if you really want to delve into IOA (i.e. see shows, etc) you might just want to stick to one park. We are attraction junkies so we wanted to hit as many as possible and US has rides that were not to be missed (Rip Rocket and Simpsons). Definitely worth the one day detour from WDW.

  • I don’t know what time of year the family going to Universal is traveling, but I was just there in early November, non-peak season, and the Universal parks closed quite early – 7 p.m. for Islands of Adventure, 6 p.m. for Universal Studios. Under those circumstances, it might not be worthwhile to pay extra for the Universal equivalent of park hopper passes. Even with the Universal version of a FastPass, you’d be hard pressed to see all of one park in just one day. My sister and her family spent nearly a full day just in the Harry Potter section.

  • I just want to say I’m excited to hear the responses to this post. DH and I are kicking around the idea of a May trip for SWW and our first trip to Uni/IoA for HP.


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