Universal Studios Orlando

Hogwarts Express Soft Opens (Photos, Video) and a Look at Vivo Italian Kitchen at CityWalk

Hi everyone!

We enjoyed our first rides on the Hogwarts Express at Universal Orlando yesterday, and topped it off with a Butterbeer and dinner at the new Vivo Italian Kitchen on CityWalk!

Neither of us are Potterheads, I’ve seen one film and Jeff has seen 2 of them. That is the viewpoint we are coming from. That said, I really love the original Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Islands of Adventure.

It was about 2 hours after I’d heard that the Hogwarts Express had soft opened before we had a chance to head over. I’d read that the train might stop running at 5 p.m., but we arrived a half hour later than that – and it ran all night.

Guests must have admission that allows entrance to both Universal Orlando and Islands of Adventure (on the same day) to ride the Hogwart’s Express.

There is a lengthy queue at both the Hogsmeade and King’s Cross stations, I think they will be filling up on July 8th!

The approach to the Hogsmeade station is woodsy, very different than at King’s Cross.

Hogsmeade Station had a smaller line than King’s Cross, so that is where we went first. Also…for those who have disabilities, this is a tight fit. I am 10 weeks in from a foot fracture and usually will still use a scooter for the type of walking we did yesterday (doctor’s orders). But we weren’t sure how it would work, if we could bring the scooter onboard or if we needed to leave it at the station. And if we left it at a station, would the soft opening continue where we could pick it up? I chose to try walking instead. While it wasn’t the easiest day I’ve had at the park, I can’t imagine easily taking a scooter through the queue either. I believe there is a special car for wheelchairs and/or scooters, but I’m glad I walked this time.

I thought it was really interesting to see feet on the Hogsmeade platform above us.

Hogwarts Express Porter Ben.

There are quite a few stairs at both stations, the steepest being at King’s Cross. The Hogsmead ones were climbable for me – slowly – as they were in several sections. However, the King’s Cross stairs were very steep and I took the elevator up instead. In our case, it meant we ended up skipping a small portion of the line. But I imagine that isn’t the way it always works, depending on whether there are multiple wheelchairs in line.

We made it! Again, you can see that it is a tight fit.

The station is beautifully designed, but King’s Cross is my favorite.

The turnaround for the train is very quick.

The screens on the Hogwarts Express take guests from Hogsmeade to King’s Cross. The car itself is supposed to fit up to 8, but I’m not sure we had 8 each time. The door is closed once guests enter.

Jeff gives a thumbs-up for the ride.

Here is a video of the ride from Hogsmeade to King’s Cross.

An archway at King’s Cross with the Hogwarts Express in the background.

We also took the lift down. I love all the details that include using “lift” instead of elevator and “pram” instead of carriage.

The Travel London posters in the queue remind me of the Visit London website.

I’ve only been to the real King’s Cross one time, it does have a similar feel to the real station.

We’ve been watching a show on Hulu called “Pramface” (I love British television), so I’m used to seeing the word pram now.

A violinist entertains in the station. The only difference from real life is that his case is closed, not open for tips!

We had heard that there might be a soft opening of Diagon Alley as well. There wasn’t, so we enjoyed the area with friends for a while.

Guests with special resort packages are able to enjoy Diagon Alley during this time period. Merchandise is for sale within view.

The Knight Bus.

The statue of Eros and Wyndham’s Theatre like in Piccadilly Cirus.

I thought this was an interesting view of Krustyland, which is right across the water.

After waiting a couple of hours in Universal, we headed into the King’s Cross station.

The wait time was listed at 30 minutes, but due to technical issues, we waited about one hour. I found the long wait a little claustrophobic since we weren’t moving much.


The statue of Eros on the Travel London sign.

A perfume billboard, Divine Magic.

In the queue, there is a little room that sells British beers, crisps and what looked like sandwiches. We moved past this area very quickly and didn’t get too much time to see it. Guests need to pop the top to the beer before getting back in the queue. From what I have heard, the beer can be taken on the train. This is only the second time I remember alcohol being allowed on an attraction. The first? El Rio Del Tiempo at Epcot (now not allowing it as The Gran Fiesta Tour).

The line was not terribly long, but was held up quite a bit due to whatever the train issues were.

This is a cool effect, with guests walking through the bricks. While it was reported today that team members were telling guests not to take photos of family, there was nobody up here to tell us that yesterday.

Jeff took a photo of me (and vice versa).

An animatronic owl waits with luggage at King’s Cross. I loved this touch!

Here is a spoiler-free video look at the Hogwarts Express platforms, queue, and more!

The Hogwarts Express in King’s Cross.

Hogwarts Express Platform 9 3/4.

There is a wonderful view of Hogwart’s Express on the way out of the Hogsmeade station.

Archways abound in the Hogsmeade station.

This carriage moves, and the team member kept telling the carriage not to worry – that I was only taking photos.

The ticket booth was still open, this was around 9:30 p.m. We went from day to night during the queuing and ride!

For us (non-Potterheads), we enjoyed the attraction but weren’t dazzled as much as if we were huge Potter fans. But it is a very solid attraction, and also transportation between the two parks. It might be very busy for a while once the new land opens, but it should settle into fewer crowds by fall.

The one thing we wanted to do while at Islands of Adventure was to get some frozen Butterbeers. I took some photos from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

While Jeff was getting our Butterbeers, I used a bottle of Coppertone as a quick and easy tripod and took some photos of Hogwarts Castle.

Jeff and his Butterbeer.

It was a gorgeous night, and we were the only guests on the patio of Three Broomsticks.

We hadn’t had dinner yet, so we ended up trying something new – Vivo Italian Kitchen, which is located at CityWalk. The sign was hard to read outside, it wasn’t lit up at all.

Vivo Italian Kitchen is gorgeous, with a lot of imagination put into the decor.

I love the whisks being used as lights!

We ordered iced tea and Diet Coke. The service was off the entire time, I didn’t receive a refill on my tea until the check arrived, even though I was ready for one much before that. Jeff lucked out, the server brought a wrong drink order to us and had two Diet Cokes to begin with.

Unlike the service, the food was great. My pasta was $11.95, and I had enough left over for lunch today.

Jeff enjoyed his Fettucini Chicken Alfredo ($13.95). After the sticker shock at Tutto Gusto, we found the prices very reasonable.

Our bread arrived with the meal, apparently it was still baking until then.

We didn’t purchase any dessert, we were looking for a relatively quick meal.

This is one of the most stylish new restaurants I’ve been to in a long time!

I want these lights too, they remind me of an elegant Pac Man game – especially the 3 below.

Other friends of ours have had terrific service here, we will definitely be back – the food and atmosphere are well worth the visit. It wasn’t the worst service I’ve ever had in any way, but it was “off” the whole night. I wondered aloud at least twice before she arrived if anyone was stationed to our table. And she was out of view most of the time, including when I wanted a refill. Even after I asked, it took a while – I was still dining when I requested another tea, and she brought it with the check at the end.

We look forward to the opening of Diagon Alley, and I think we may try Hot Dog Hall of Fame next!