It’s hard to say who was most excited to see the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando. Carol and I have been going to the movies on opening day for years, but Simon had some Christmas money saved for Honeydukes candy shop! It had been eight months since the park opened, but there were still crowds lined up at 9 am outside the gates. The Wizarding World is part of Islands of Adventure, one of two Universal Studios theme parks in Orlando, Florida.
We stayed at a Universal Studios hotel for ease and early access. Even in January, the slowest time of the year, the shops and attractions were packed by 10 am. Early in the morning is the most magical time. It’s easy to imagine you really are walking down the street of Hogsmeade Village, the snow covered shops which the Hogwarts students visit on special weekends.
It is the detail that makes it convincing. Universal hired staff from England so the clerks sound convincing. J. K. Rowling was rigorous in her demands. For example, she wouldn’t let pop be sold because it would detract from the illusion. Only pumpkin juice and sweet, frothy butterbeer can be found. The shops are full of great detail, such as chained brooms shaking with excitement, wand choosing ceremonies, and a marauder’s map with footsteps running around it.
But first to Honeydukes, the candy shop! There were Bertie Bots Every Flavour Beans, Cauldron Cakes, and Chocolate Frogs with wizard cards, all at exorbitant prices. This display shows how licorice is made.
After stuffing your face, a small family rollercoaster called Flight of the Hippogriff takes you past Hagrid’s hut and Buckbeak. Dragon Challenge is two intersecting, high speed roller coasters. The main attraction is in Hogwarts Castle itself. You walk through the boar statues at the gates into Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. The walkthrough as you wait in line is an attraction in itself. The ride is a motion simulator ride based on the robots used in automotive plants. Strapped into a seat, you fly through the castle grounds. There’s a combination of specially filmed scenes of the actors and three dimensional sets as you rotate and pivot along a track. It’s absolutely stunning, but can be hard on imaginative kids. They throw everything at you on this ride: spiders, dragons, dementors, and even the whomping willow takes a swipe at you.
Since there are so many references to the books and movies, you may wish to read and watch them again from the library before you visit. We have the DVDs on Blu-ray now. One of the treasures of our collection are the bookcds narrated by Jim Dale. An incredible voice actor, he does a great job reading all the characters. In the Deathly Hallows that is 146 different characters!
Another cool thing to check out of CPL is The unofficial Harry Potter cookbook: from cauldron cakes to knickerbocker glory--more than 150 magical recipes for wizards and non-wizards alike. It’s available as a regular or electronic book. Remember Magic Eye books? Now there’s Harry Potter Magic Eye® book: 3D magical creatures, beasts and beings. There are also many books of criticism, translations in different languages, and even The complete idiot's guide to the world of Harry Potter. Get them now, because Harry Potter mania will only increase as we near the release of the final movie July 15.
Next summer, watch for Harry Potter parties at a library near you.