Sometimes, the popularity of a children’s book crosses over into the adult world. Sometimes the book is made into a movie (or seven!). And sometimes, a book becomes iconic enough to be brought to life in the real world. Such is the case for the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling.
When I first approached the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal’s Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Florida, I caught my breath. As a fan of Harry Potter and theme parks, my excitement was palpable as I crossed the threshold into Hogsmeade.
Every step through the park uncovered more and more delights. Let me take you on a little tour, with help from my fellow travel writers.
Our first stop was in front of the Hogwarts Express train to get a photo with the conductor. Then we made a beeline for the infamous butterbeer, which tastes a bit like butterscotch mixed with cream soda… but better. Since my visit, I’ve tried many times to simulate this beverage at home and can never quite get it right. I must be missing a little magic.
My oldest was anxious to ride Forbidden Journey, so we headed to Hogwarts Castle. This ride delivers high on the extreme intensity scale. My husband and teen loved it, my 8-year-old screamed through the entire ride, and I promptly vomited in the first trash can I could find at the exit (but, you know, maybe too much butterbeer?). If you want a kid’s perspective, check out Gone with the Family and read Lisa’s daughter’s description of the ride – I love it.
If you’re not up for the ride, or if you have little ones who don’t make the 48” height requirement, go through the line anyway. The designers were brilliant in making the line full of amazing visuals and castle details. Jen from The Vacation Gals has a nice write-up on the castle. You’ll see the greenhouse, talking portraits, Dolores Umbridge’s Educational Decrees lining a wall, and a classroom where realistic holograms of Harry, Ron, and Hermione speak to you about your upcoming quest. It also snows. Inside the castle.
My son and husband moved on to Dragon Challenge – the dueling roller coaster ride where two sets of cars seem to speed straight at one another. They loved it. My daughter and I headed to the much-tamer Flight of the Hippogriff. This 12-second mini roller coaster was just her speed. There were no lines, and she and a friend rode 14 times in a row before I had to pull her away.
Next we spent some time window-shopping. There are several storefronts along the path through Hogsmeade that are fascinating to see. We marveled at how tiny Hermione’s Yule Ball dress was. We bought chocolate frogs at Honeydukes. Even the restroom was fun, with Moaning Myrtle’s voice projecting from the speakers.
At Olivander’s Wand Shop, a wizard ushers small groups inside for a demonstration of how a wand chooses its owner. My son was the lucky one to be chosen for the demonstration, but was disappointed when he didn’t get a souvenir wand from his experience. (They handed him the wand box and told him he could purchase it at the register.) Another minor disappointment was the Three Broomsticks restaurant. The food was average and the experience felt more like a cafeteria than an authentic part of the Harry Potter experience. But these are minor concerns in the grand scheme of this very grand theme park.
Harry Potter Experiences in London
London also has its share of Harry Potter experiences. Lisa from Gone With the Family has gone on a full-day tour of filming sites and Emily from Wandering Educators shares her experience on the Warner Bros. Studio Tour – which looks amazing!
In Summer 2014, Diagon Alley will open at Universal Orlando. Visitors will be able to ride the Hogwarts Express from Hosgmeade to Diagon Alley, where they can experience the Leaky Cauldron, Quality Quidditch Supplies, Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes, Borgin and Burkes, and more. The new area is to culminate in the highly-anticipated Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. Rumored to be the pinnacle of theme park technology, the ride is to combine a roller coaster experience with 3D elements, but is expected to be less intense than Forbidden Journey to cater to the younger crowd.