I’ll just put it out there. I’m a huge Harry Potter fan. But, as was evidenced during a recent trip to Universal Studio’s Islands of Adventure, so are thousands of other Muggles. For those of you unfamiliar with Harry Potter, that’s unmagical people.
My husband very kindly indulged my obsession to make the excursion to the newly opened Wizarding World of Harry Potter during our Orlando vacation. I researched the park thoroughly before we went and got a game plan in place.
Now, I’m not usually an early morning person, but for my favorite boy wizard, I made an exception. I hit the floor at 6:30 a.m. We arrived at the gate at 8:40 and were pleasantly surprised they were letting guest in ahead of the 9 a.m. opening. I suspect this has a great deal to do with Harry. We followed the mass exodus of humanity making their way past the colorful lands of Marvel Superheroes, Dr. Seuss and the mystical Lost Continent. We were all on a mission…a mission for magic.
Then we finally saw it in the distance. The torrents of Hogwarts were just how I imagined they would be. I could just picture Harry, Ron and Hermione catching up on their studies or trying to find the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets. The detail throughout the Wizarding World is unmatched in any other themed land I’ve visited.
The famous scarlett Hogwarts Express, which carries Harry away from the Dursleys and 4 Privet Drive, greets you as you enter. It periodically blows steam, seeming ready for its next journey, bringing students to study at the school of witchcraft and wizardry.
Glancing up the stone street, you see many familiar Hogsmeade sites–Zonko’s, Honeydukes, the Owl Post, The Three Broomsticks, Hog’s Head Pub, Dervish and Banges. They’re all here. Although, one of the most popular shops is Ollivander’s, which was somehow transported from Diagon Alley to Hogsmeade. I didn’t question the magic of that one.
I read J.K. Rowling wanted everything in the park to be authentic to her vision of Harry’s world. All of the shops are made to scale, just as you see in the film version of young Harry. They are so small in fact, we even had to wait in line to shop at Dervish and Banges. Yes, I waited in line to buy a $30 Gryffindor t-shirt. Don’t judge me.
Back to our arrival, we hoofed it past all of the snow-capped buildings to get in line for the park’s main attraction: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. I knew as the day progressed, the wait would be unbearable. So, this ride was first on my list. We queued up and prepared to enter the castle that so many of us have dreamed of entering. Universal has really made this dream come true, and it seemed so real.
The Sorting Hat gave us our final safety instructions before we boarded our “enchanted bench” for our adventure with Harry. The ride uses a mix of video screens, a track, and animatronics to achieve the dazzling effects. You fly past Hogwarts following Harry’s Nimbus 2000. The ride itself moves at a fast past and it was hard to catch everything with one ride. We were chased by a Hungarian Horntail Dragon, made a trip through the Forbidden Forest where we were attacked by the giant acromantula, Aragog. After being nearly crushed by the Whomping Willow, we are shot into the Quidditch pitch where Draco Malfoy berated Harry for bringing Muggles into Hogwarts. We were then attacked by Dementors before Harry cast his protective Patronus charm and saved us.
After disembarking from our bench, we checked out the picture from the ride, decided it was too embarrassing to purchase, then went to extensively tour Hogsmeade. All of the cast members in the Wizarding World stayed true to character. One young witch was excited to see a boy holding a Hippogriff, only to find out it was stuffed and she had been tricked!
The Wizarding World also offers many of the delectable treats mentioned throughout the Harry Potter series–Chocolate Frogs, Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, Pumpkin Juice, strawberry and peanut butter ice cream, cauldron cakes and of course, Butterbeer.
I dare you to drink a glass of Butterbeer without getting a thick, delicious mustache. It is, quite nearly, impossible.
I have to admit, even though the details were incredible, the crowds took away from some of the magic. Given that’s it’s one of the best selling series of all time, I can’t say I was surprised. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, I say it’s a must-see.
My husband enjoyed himself, but not to the geeky extent I did. Since he’s never read the books and only partly payed attention to most of the movies, he’s not as well versed in all things Potter. He equated this to someone having watched The Empire Strikes back without having first seen A New Hope.
I’ve heard rumors of expansion at the park and look forward to seeing more of the world I love so much come alive!