Let me first begin with a couple of disclaimers and/or other contextualizing moves regarding my relationship to the whole Harry Potter thing and also to theme parks generally. I like Harry Potter just fine. I read the first three books, enjoyed them– thoroughly enjoyed the third one– but then I got bogged down in the fourth book and just stuck to the movies after that, some of which make more sense to me than others. As for theme parks: it’s complicated, but while I am okay with your typical shopping, shows, and some theme park rides (including motion-oriented ones), I do not enjoy roller coasters one little bit and would generally prefer to do something else.
On the other hand, I am married to a woman who developed a very popular course at EMU on Harry Potter, who has done scholarship on it, and who was even quoted in an eOnline story about the series. And while our son Will hasn’t gotten around to reading them yet, he too is a big ol’ fan of them, having had the books read to him by Annette when he was much younger. And she is also a fan of roller coasters and he is trying to be more of a fan of them. So given this, it was just a matter of time before we were going to be visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Orlando on a holiday trip to the in-laws.
Here’s a link to the flickr set of pictures of the trip, most of which was to Harry Potter-land. A few scattered thoughts about it all:
- This is one of the “lands” in the large Universal Studios complex of “lands” that included The Simpsons-oriented “Krustyland” (fun ride, btw), a sort of Americana-land, New York-land, Hollywood-land, Marvel comics-land featuring the also fun Spiderman ride and the “no way I’m getting on that thing” Incredible Hulk roller coaster, etc. So a lot to offer, but it was very clear where everyone was going. We arrived at the park by 8:30 am and the line for the big HP ride was already 135 minutes long. So we decided to take in the other things first– Jurassic Park-land, for example. It was all a ghost town compared to Potterville. And the rest of Universal was fun and all, but not worth it without Harry Potter. I have to wonder why a) Warner Brothers didn’t build their own HP-themed park, and b) why Disney didn’t try to get in on that action.
- In summary, the “Wizarding World” is a very convincing set of the town of Hogsmeade with Zonko’s and Honeydukes (“jokes” and candy, all one big store), the cafeteria-style “inn” of The Three Broomsticks, the wand shop (too much of a mob scene to even contemplate going into), a small and a large roller coaster (Will and Annette rode the smaller one), and the big enchilada, “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey,” aka the Hogwarts ride, aka the castle. Honestly, if it weren’t for all the damn tourists and palm trees in the distance, you’d think they’d done some of the filming there.
- Like I said, I like Harry Potter things (and I might get back to the other books after this), but I’m not a fanatic. But I have to say one the coolest things about this place was seeing the hardcore fans interacting with it all. There were a number of kids in Hogwarts robes, for example.
- Among the many features catering specifically to the HP fan was “butter beer,” which was available “regular” or “frozen” (like margaritas) and which sort of tasted like a super-sweet cream soda with hints of butterscotch. They also had real beer and pretty decent food– actually, I was surprised all-around at the less than crappy food, though maybe my expectations had been pretty low.
- As for the big ride itself: first off, the wait was not nearly as long as advertised out front– more like an hour or 75 minutes rather than two. Without giving anything away, it is essentially a “motion ride” with some real motion thrown in. You’re strapped into these seats that move around in many different tilting directions to give you real motion and you watch simulated motion being projected around you. For me after the ride, there was very much a sense of “I don’t really know how they did that.” It’s pretty intense, but not roller coaster unpleasant, and I enjoyed it, though I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t been worried that my keys had fallen out of my pockets during one of the many twists and turns.
- In a way, the wait wasn’t long enough because they take you through a series of rooms in the “castle” that show lots of very cool Harry Potter geeky things and I kind of felt like we were being rushed by them in the name of getting on the damn ride. Oh, and it empties out into what is one of the most claustrophobic gift shops I’ve ever been in, albeit one that sells lots of neat HP geekware.
- So definitely thumbs up. If I were to do this again (and if they make expansions to the attraction, I assume there will be a next time), I’d do it all in one day instead of two, and I’d do whatever I could to not go right after Christmas, the busiest week of the year for these places. The crowd got pretty intense a couple of times, but I suppose this is going to stay pretty popular and crowded for years to come.