The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando

by kellie abrahamson
Now that I’m safe at home I can admit it: I am not what you would consider a Harry Potter fan. Before this assignment I had only ever seen bits and pieces of the first movie and, while it seemed okay for a kiddie flick, I just didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. I have friends who are true Potterheads- grown people obsessed beyond all reason. It bewildered me then. Now, I think I get it. After experiencing the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Universal Orlando’s newest addition, my eyes are opened and I am intrigued.
The Wizarding World is 20 acres of Harry Potter’s world seemingly picked up and plopped into Islands of Adventure. Just past the gates you enter the Streets of Hogsmeade Village, an all-Wizarding community Harry and his pals often visit in the books and films. The cobblestone pathway winds you past Hogsmeade Station, where a conductor waits, pocket watch in hand, while the Hogwarts Express sits nearby occasionally sending steam into the air. Beneath the snow-covered rooftops are shops and restaurants straight out of the novels. Pass these and you’ll find a breathtaking sight even a Muggle can appreciate: the majestic and absolutely massive Hogwarts Castle, which towers over the landscape and makes Cinderella’s castle in Disney World look like a toy.
Woefully unprepared for my journey into Harry Potter’s world, I managed a movie marathon before my trip (the first four films in one day- five and six are saved on my TiVo to be watched very soon) and found myself glad for the crash course. I was blown away by the detail Universal Creative put into this venture. The storefronts were nearly identical to what you’ve seen in the films. Some, like Honeydukes, Zonko’s and Ollivander’s, you can actually enter. Others, like Tomes and Scrolls, Gladrags Wizardwear and Dominic Maestro’s, are not accessible but one could spend hours peering into their windows and dissecting their displays. The creators also threw in some Easter Eggs that few but the hardcore would notice- the Gringotts ATM tucked into one corner and Moaning Myrtle’s auditory appearance in the restrooms will no doubt have true fans geeking out.
The attractions are what most people are interested in. Those who have visited Islands of Adventure have probably already experienced two of the three rides in the Wizarding World. Dragon Challenge, a rollercoaster many will remember as Dueling Dragons, lets daring guests take a wild ride on either a Chinese Fireball or a Hungarian Horntail, two of the dragons Triwizard Tournament contestants faced in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. As you wait in line for your turn, you’ll get to walk through a champion’s tent and see some artifacts such as the legendary Goblet of Fire itself. Next is the Flight of the Hippogriff, formerly known as the Flying Unicorn. The queue for this family coaster takes fans past Hagrid’s hut and pumpkin patch before introducing you to a baby Hippograff as you make your twisting expedition over the Forbidden Forest. Then there’s the Wizarding World’s crown jewel: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. The line for this ride is most impressive. Fans will get to walk through Hogwarts and see the Mirror of Erised, the Hogwarts House Jewels, talking portraits, Dumbledore’s office, the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom and the Gryffindor common room. Then there’s the attraction itself, a state of the art dark ride that takes you through the floo network, into a Quidditch match and into the Chamber of Secrets where you’ll come face to soul-sucking face with a Dementor and other baddies.
Shopping at the Wizarding World is nearly as fun as the rides. Once you’ve witnessed the wand fitting at Ollivander’s (an interactive show where a wand is chosen, or rather does the choosing, for a lucky audience member), you’re whisked away into the Owl Post where you can buy one of your very own or send a postcard to a friend postmarked from Hogsmeade. Adjacent to the Owl Post is Dervish and Banges where The Monster Book of Monsters is on display and where you can buy a Nimbus 2000 broomstick, owl plushies and Hogwarts robes and scarves. T-shirts and other Potter apparel and Ministry of Magic gear can be found at Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods. Zonko’s Joke Shop has Sneakoscopes, Extendable Ears and Screaming Yo-yos while Honeydukes right next door has all of the goodies Ron Weasley noshed on throughout the series: chocolate frogs, Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, Cauldron Cakes, Fizzing Whizzbees and other sugary treats that you can’t get anywhere else.
Unless you want sweets for lunch, your only dining option in Hogsmeade is the Three Broomsticks Inn. The counter-service restaurant features a nice selection of traditional English cuisine including shepherd’s pie, Cornish pasties and fish and chips. Almost as good as the food is the ambiance. The tavern is dimly-lit and its stone walls are covered with antlers in varying sizes, old framed photos and, naturally, broomsticks. Truly observant diners might also see the shadow of an owl or a house-elf high up in the dark wood rafters. You won’t be able to get your hands on a Diet Coke with your meal; JK Rowling herself vetoed Muggle beverages in favor of more authentic refreshments. Bottled pumpkin juice, pear cider and Butterbeer, a sort of very sweet butterscotch cream soda served ice cold or frozen, can be found in the restaurant and at the massive Butterbeer cart in the center of Hogsmeade. Butterbeer is the only non-alcoholic beverage found at Hog’s Head, a pub adjacent to Three Broomsticks that also features Hogs Head Brew, a draft beer crafted specifically for the park. Sorry fans, Firewhiskey is not on the menu.
If you go, expect long, long lines. On opening day people waited for up to eight hours to enter the Wizarding World in a line that snaked from the entrance to Hogsmeade, through Islands of Adventure, out the main gate and into CityWalk. Now that it’s been open for a few days the lines won’t be that crazy, but you can count on a wait until the buzz dies down. If you want to avoid any delay your best bet would be to book a room in one of Universal’s three on-site hotels. Resort guests are admitted into the Wizarding World an hour before everyone else and they get to skip regular attraction lines by using their Universal Express ride access. Even then, expect long lines for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Ollivander’s and the Butterbeer cart- these are all things fans have been dying to experience for years so plan accordingly to avoid spending all day waiting to see them too.
After being full immersed in the world of Harry Potter I’m not yet a true fan, but I’m well on my way. Universal Orlando has truly brought this magical series to life and if a Muggle like me loves it, fanatics will be in heaven.