When we asked our seventeen year old grandson, who has been a huge Harry Potter fan since age six when the first book was published, if he wanted to go with us to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which opened in summer of 2010 at Universal Orlando Resort, Florida, he said, “No, thanks, but that is just for little kids, I’m sure.” Soon after the park opened one of his friends went and reported, “It’s great, and it is for teens and even adults!” So we were off, flying to Orlando, only not on a magical broom!
Within Islands of Adventure Park at Universal the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is for even the most avid devotees. They say, “It is just like I imagined!”…and that is an amazing accomplishment! Our grandson has read all of the series so many times he could almost quote the books, and he agreed that for the most part, the new theme park accurately depicts the scenes and events from the book. The main drawback is the crowds! We were there in October after it opened in July and the Wizarding World was manageably crowded, with about an hour wait for the rides and long lines for purchases in Diagon Alley at Ollivander’s Wand Shop, Zonko’s Joke Shop, Dervish and Banges, the Owl Post Office and Honeyduke’s Sweet Emporium shops, but the workers told us it was only about one third the crowd as in summer. There are already plans underway for expansion soon because success has been huge with fans coming from all over the world.
You can purchase everything from wands to graduation robes, fake owls, a growling text books, jokes, magic tricks, and souvenirs of all kinds and collectable candy jars. Since your purchases cannot go on the rides, you can leave them in lockers ($20 for all day) or you can have them sent free to the entrance for you to retrieve when you leave the park. If you are a Harry Potter fan a visit to Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter will be a highlight forever in your memory!
First, on passing through the archway into Hogsmeade the conductor of the Hogwarts Express train greeted us. In spite of the crowds, walking into the medieval village of Hogsmeade, with snow covered pointy roofs and some cobbled streets, is wonderful. Dining crowd-handling in the Three Broomsticks Restaurant is very well done, with many selections for breakfast, lunch, and dinner from which to choose. The meals are definitely “Harry Potter” English in nature, well -prepared, and the line moves very quickly. The dining hall itself looks much like the movie, and it is fun to have real pumpkin juice or butter beer, both of which are really good but really sweet.
The roller coaster rides are just scary enough to be quite fun and turning upside down is not as bad as it appears. There are a few enactments from the Harry Potter series of books going on throughout the day in various parts of the theme park, and some of these include a live Harry Potter and Hermione and Ron. And, of course, there is a battle of wands to witness. The line into Hogwarts Castle moves through a labyrinth with weird plants in pots and hanging baskets, and you feel like you have come into one of the Professor Sprout’s Greenhouse mentioned in the books were magical plants are being cultivated. The castle itself has wonderful dimly lit halls with all kinds of things from the books to delight you as you move along or wait. There are really talking portraits and characters move in and out of the frames. We saw Headmaster Dumbledore’s office and he lectured us. We were greeted by Harry, Hermione, and their friends (via amazing holograms).
The ride through the castle is, according to teens, “the best ride they have ever had anywhere!” We boarded a traincar and moved into a pitch dark part of Hogwarts Castle and had a bumpy, up and down, all around experience of all kind of scary things including Dementors of Azkaban coming at us. Potter led us on his broomstick and we felt as if we were flying over the Forbidden Forest and whirling us around in a Quidditch Match, reminiscent of scenes from all the books, It ended with graduation from Hogwarts and hologram figures bidding us good-bye. It was so fun, but I still can’t figure out if it is a simulated ride or if we actually moved through the environs in front of our eyes.
For a great place to stay with many bargains for resorts, hotels, and restaurants, choose from the many accommodations in Kissimmee, FL, just a ten minute drive from Universal.
Many other fun places and rides at Universal Islands of Adventure are for all ages and interests, such as Jurassic Park, Sinbad and Poseidon Adventures of the Lost Continent, Dr. Seuss, and many of your favorite cartoon characters featured in rides and attractions in different areas of the resort. And Universal Studios is a great experience in seeing how movies are made and participating in various aspects of film-makiing, just for fun. Special effects are great to watch. There are many restaurants from which to choose along the water at Universal Orlando Resort, and Universal CityWalk has shops with most unusual items and entertainment of all kinds.
But no visit to Orlando or Universal is complete without seeing the WONDERFUL Blue Man Group Show at Aquos Theater there. This show is delightful for any age, with clean humor that will keep everyone in the audience laughing throughout the nearly two hours, twice nightly. The three men who have blue heads, faces, and hands and never utter a word or crack a smile give you a show you will be smiling about for years to come. Their percussive musical talents are used in such imaginative ways as to thrill and surprise the audience throughout, and they play most unusual instruments in addition to a unique drum setup. The gyrating neon colors on the live band performing above their heads is eye-catching and fun to watch. And if you buy a program before the performance, you can have, at the end of the show, a Blue Man autograph it in a very unique way as you have your photo made with him. This is a show NOT TO MISS! And you do not have to have tickets to Universal to go to Aqueos Theater.