I’d love to tell you that I’ve been hard at work with my writing all this time. That would be true; I have been. There are several projects underway right now that I would love to tell you all about… and yet…
All I want to write about today is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
For over a month now, my husband and I have been visiting Hogsmeade and Hogwarts several days a week with my brother, his girlfriend, our friend Brent, and sometimes my mother. Since we’re all Harry Potter fans, it never gets old. Most of us are also writers (or storytellers in some way), too, so seeing such a large and excellent monument to fiction is pretty thrilling.
For those of you who haven’t had the opportunity to visit Islands of Adventure in Orlando since the attraction opened, I’ll take you on a basic tour.
The Wizarding World is part of the larger park (Islands of Adventure) that includes other themes such as Dr. Seuss and Marvel Comics, among others. When you enter IoA, if you want to get directly to Harry Potter, you’ll take a right and pass through Seuss Landing, continuing to your left through The Lost Continent, and soon enough you’ll see the Hogwarts Express – a stationary train engine that marks the entrance to the Wizarding World. An archway above you as you walk in reads “Please Respect The Spell Limits.”
(photo by Mike Pynn)
Hogsmeade, the fictional shopping center of the British wizarding world, stands fully realized – if a bit smaller and less functional than the books and films suggested. The buildings are realistic and true to the Rowling canon, with crooked towers and smoke stacks all rising high into the air. I normally make a half-hearted joke about the fake snow that caps the rooftops in the 100-degree heat of Orlando, Florida. Then I buy some butterbeer to cool off.
Butterbeer is great. You can find it in three locations: Hog’s Head, The Three Broomsticks, and a large keg kiosk just outside Honeyduke’s. Note: there is almost always an enormous line at the butterbeer keg, and they frequently run out of frozen.
I get the frozen butterbeer because many people have remarked that the regular is too rich. It’s non-alcoholic, though you can go into the Hog’s Head pub or the Three Broomsticks restaurant (not very vegetarian-friendly!) to get more adult drinks, if you like. I’m happy with the butterbeer.
In addition to the stores listed above, Hogsmeade also includes Zonko’s, the Owl Post (where you can send mail with an actual postmark from Hogsmeade), Dervish and Banges, and Ollivander’s Wand Shop. Other storefronts are just façades, though I would love to see more open later on.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter includes three rides, two of which are repurposed from earlier IoA rides. The first you will see, on your right as you enter the attraction, is the Dragon Challenge. If you’ve been to IoA before, you’ll recognize this as Dueling Dragons. The queue is pretty neat; everything looks like the triwizard tournament as you wait to ride. I’m a fairly big wuss, so I don’t often get on big, scary rides with over-the-shoulder harnesses, so I can’t say whether the experience itself has changed since Dueling Dragons. Maybe someone can post here to share some details.
The next ride is on your right just after you walk through Hogsmeade. It used to be a simple, kid-friendly rollercoaster called Flight of the Unicorn. Now it’s the same thing, only called Flight of the Hippogriff. 🙂 This is a pretty fun, short coaster. You’ll see Hagrid’s hut and hear his voice in the queue, and you’ll see Buckbeak as the ride begins.
Finally, you’ll have reached the grand finale of the Wizarding World: Hogwarts. The entire castle rises above Hogsmeade like a watchful giant. It is brand new to Islands of Adventure, and it is impressive.
Essentially, Hogwarts is just an elaborate queue, but it is worth every minute you’ll spend waiting (and you may spend many). Even if you don’t plan to ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, treat yourself to the queue. It begins with a short walk through the castle walkway, and then you reach the outside gardens and greenhouse. If you get bored there, don’t worry. The real fun begins once you enter the castle.
Inside you will see paintings that move and talk – they are NOT cheesy – and you’ll move through your favorite parts of the castle, including Griffindor’s common room, Dumbledore’s office, and the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom. Essential props such as the pensieve appear throughout, and you will likely need to take a turn through the queue again to see everything.
Dumbledore himself (still alive and well at this point, apparently) and Harry, Ron, and Hermione all make fun appearances to set up the ride experience for The Forbidden Journey.
This is another ride that requires over-the-shoulder harnesses, so I actually haven’t been on. My husband and brother have been stuck momentarily as the ride shut down on them – apparently a common problem, and I have heard/read many complaints of severe motion sickness from other riders. The most frequent comment I hear about this ride, however, is that it is completely awesome. If you’ve been on, will you share your thoughts?
Once you exit the ride, you enter a gift shop that would make any Harry Potter fan empty his wallet on the spot, though I’d love to see some more Hufflepuff/Ravenclaw representation.
So that’s it. I often stand in the middle of Hogsmeade and look up at the rooftops and around at the awe-struck tourists, and I wonder what it must have felt like to be JK Rowling when she stepped into the attraction for the first time. This is her world, her imagination, realized and tangible, for the rest of us Muggles to experience. That must have been amazing for her to see.
It definitely is for the fans!
Have you been to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter yet? Do you plan to?