Two weeks ago I finally went to Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I’d been looking forward to the adventure since the park opened in 2010. Orlando is an 11 hour drive from Nashville, so I didn’t expect to ever actually go, but look at what you can do when you’re a grown up! You can spend your money how you want. And I wanted to go to Harry Potter.
A few friends and I were planning to attend MegaCon this year, and I convinced the group to take the opportunity to go to the park for a day. After all, when else were we going to be in Orlando? MegaCon had its ups and downs (more on that later!), but Harry Potter was all up. Even if we hadn’t gone to a convention, the seriously lengthy trip would have been worth our one day at what I affectionately call Harry Potter Land.
Now, Harry Potter isn’t what I would consider one of my ‘main’ fandoms, but I definitely enjoyed the books and movies. And I had to apologize in advance to all my friends about my continuous squeeing, but thankfully they fangirled just as much as I did. I mean, how often does the world of a book come to life all around you? The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is inside Universal’s Islands of Adventure. Admission to the park is $85 per person, per day, which I call a pretty high pricetag for happiness, but it’s definitely worth the money.
Interestingly, Universal does not allow guests to dress up as characters while attending the park. I’m sure this is for safety reasons, as Disney has the same policy. So what did we do? Dress up as characters not from Harry Potter. We wore blazers sporting the Gotham Academy insignia.
At the front of the Harry Potter part of the park, visitors are immediatelygreeted by a life-size recreation of the Hogwarts Express. From there, it’s just a question of letting the crowds carry you along until you see everything. The main town portion is meant to be Hogsmeade, with Ollivander’s thrown in. You can go inside Honeydukes, Zonko’s, and Dervish and Banges, all canon Hogsmeade shops. There’s also the Owl Post, where you can send a letter with a special Hogsmeade postmark. Zonko’s and Honeydukes carry items you can probably guess – Chocolate Frogs, Sneakoscopes, Color Changing Hairbrushes, and Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans. Ollivander’s however, is where I spent most of my shopping time.
Ollivander’s offers a wand-choosing experience similar to what Harry goes through in the book before receiving his wand. My group chose not to wait in line to participate, as we were on a fairly tight schedule. I hear it’s quite a magical time, though, if you care to wait. Every wand costs $30, which I thought was surprisingly inexpensive for such an iconic item, especially when the same shop’s cheap polyester wizarding robes go for a staggering $100. Ollivander’s offers the wands of most of the books’ main characters, plus a few minor ones. They also have several individual designs; one for each month of the year. Many choose their birth month’s wand, but I went a different route. I’ve wanted to cosplay a Harry Potter character for a while now, but I’d been having a hard time deciding who. I’d been thinking about it all day, in fact, in and out of line, on and off of roller coasters. I finally decided on three separate wands. Yes, three. Not much of a decision, I know. And I know it’s excessive, but it’s for cosplay!That’s a good excuse, right?
I’m now the proud owner of the wands which chose: Fleur Delacour, Narcissa Malfoy, and Minerva McGonagall. And they’re all so gorgeous!! It was the best $90 I’d spent since that morning when I bought my park admission. Other than the wands, I didn’t really find anything in the shops I couldn’t live without. Well, other than a Chocolate Frog, but who could resist that?? I was surprised by the lack of new and interesting merchandise, but perhaps I’m just on the internet too much to believe anything is innovative. Most of the shops just carried t-shirts, pins, mugs, and other generic Harry Potter or Hogwarts themed items.
Besides the snow covered town of Hogsmeade, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter features two rides. One is simply an old ride given a new theme. Formerly called Dueling Dragons, the ride is now entitled Dragon Challenge. It has two roller coaster options: the Hungarian Horntail and the Chinese Fireball. Both are fun, but lacked the initial gut wrenching drop I look for in a good coaster. The Triwizard Cup theme, however, made up for the disappointingly short rides. The line wanders past signs supporting each of the Champions, the Champions’ tent, and the Cup itself.
Similarly, the other attraction’s queue was almost more fun than the actual ride. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is completely indoor and uses a combination of video screens and real scenery to make you truly feel that you’re in the world of the films. I actually shed a couple of tears while on the ride because of how genuinely awesome it was, and NOT because of the dementors and giant spiders. Not because of those.
While I never really understood what the ‘plot’ of the ride was meant to be, I really felt like we were on an adventure with Harry, Ron, and Hermione. The trio visits you while waiting in line, explaining that you’re going to see a quidditch match or something, though I’m not sure what they were saying exactly because I was too busy admiring everything in Professor Binn’s History of Magic Classroom. From there, the line goes into Dumbledore’s office to receive a
message from him. The coolest thing about waiting in line for me (besides the House Points counter, Sorting Hat, and Potions Classroom doorway), though, was getting to see moving portraits. They really looked like paintings that moved! Even the screens were textured so that any glare would just make them look that much more real. We got to witness an argument between the portraits of Hogwarts’ founders and get a bit of a Hogwarts history lesson. It was really really cool to get to see the inside of the castle.
Universal really strives to make The Wizarding World of Harry Potter a full immersion experience, even offering food mentioned in the books. I opted for the Cornish Pasties and a glass of Pear Cider while dining at the Three Broomsticks. Pumpkin Juice and an abundance of Butterbeer are offered at stands throughout the park as well. I was surprised to find the drinks somewhat lacking, but maybe my expectations were just too high. Obviously, magical drinks must be the most orgasmically delicious things on the planet. Oh, and be
careful with the Butterbeer – it’ll have you on a sugar high for HOURS. I’d recommend the frozen version because the texture is better and it’s not so toothachingly sweet.
Besides my disappointment in rides and drinks, I’d call the experience more than satisfactory. The atmosphere itself made up for any shortcomings there might have been elsewhere. And now I have my three wands to remember it by! Overall, it was a very cool experience. It was like my school letter had only gotten lost in the mail and finally arrived, 12 years late.