In honor of the final… Gulp… Harry Potter film being released in theatres this week. The Lovely Erica has book ended her report on The Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 2 Premiere with this look at the Wizarding World Of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Orlando Florida! I really didn’t realized how much time and detail went into building the park… And I must say… I’m impressed Orlando! Impressed indeed!
“Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you” was JK Rowling’s promise to fans at emotional and ginormous July 7 Trafalgar Square world premiere for the final film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 2. Although she meant that Harry Potter lives in the books and the movies, there is currently one place on Earth where this is literally true — Hogwarts is waiting to welcome one and all — in Orlando, Florida! Universal Studios opened up the Wizarding World of Harry Potter last year so my sister and I just had to go visit!
And let me say they did an amazing job! They’re using just about every tool in the tool box to make you feel like you’re in the world of Harry Potter. All the details are there from the ATM machine (Gringotts) to the bathroom (complete with Moaning Myrtle) to the stroller (pram) parking.
The journey begins with the Hogwarts Express, of course! Be on the lookout for the conductor who periodically shows up for pictures.
The first stop is in Hogsmeade where there is plenty to see and do as you make your way to Hogwarts. The first stop may be to visit Honeyduke’s where they have a whole mess of candy from Chocolate Frogs (complete with collectable wizard cards featuring the 4 house founders) to Chocolate Cauldrons. There’s also Pepper Imps, Ton Tongue Toffee, Bertie Bott’s every flavor beans and everything else they showed in the movie.
Honeyduke’s is connected to Zonko’s where you can buy a lot of the toys. Beware of a little ceremony at the cash register if you take a Pygmy Puff home! It really captures the movie so well that you expect the Weasley twins to pop up!
This is also where you can board your first ride, the Dragon Challenge. There are two different roller coasters which are synched so that you pass within 18 inches of each other. You should ride both coasters, but if you have time for only one, I’d suggest picking the red dragon, the Chinese Fireball, since the ride is smoother and you can see the blue coaster coming at you. (Hint for express pass holders: it’s worth going through the regular line to see the dragon eggs, Tri-wizard cup, etc…)
Of course you need to eat while you’re there and the Three Broomsticks is actually pretty tasty with different options including the much heralded butterbeer which is a tasty cross between root beer and butterscotch…very tasty in the frozen form as well! (The frozen variety provides an amusing foam mustache if you drink it willy nilly — makes for a great picture!) as you sit and eat, you can marvel at the interior design and look out for the occasional shadow of owls flying by.
For something liquid with more punch, you can get Hog’s Head beer. Hog’s Head is attached to the Three Broomsticks and is towards the rear of the restaurant. Trivia fact: they designed Hog’s Head for the theme park before they designed it for the movie. You may want to linger a little at the bar since the Hog moves every so often!
There is also a lovely patio out back with a glorious view of Hogwarts, but we’ll get to that in a second. When you exit the patio, you’ll see a touch of Gringotts with an ATM (after all, Gringotts is in Diagon Alley, not Hogsmeade).
Which is where we run into one shop which technically shouldn’t be here – Ollivander’s. But it’s so much fun, who cares! This was actually the longest line of the trip, but totally worth it since it’s so well done. Ah the joy!
They re-enact the wand choosing scene from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (aka Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone). Mr. Ollivander seems to pick a child in maybe the second row, someone a little more shy than brash. Mind you, it does take a while to cycle everyone through — it’s about 15 minutes for 15 people so count the heads in front of you and that will give you a roundabout estimate on the wait time.
After you finish with the ceremony, you exit through the gift shop (of course!) and will wind up in Owl Post/Bangs and Dervish where it’s rather easy to drop large amounts of cash…indeed, it was so unexpectedly cold in December that every third person was wearing a newly purchased Hogwarts scarf.
At Owl Post, you can get a wand selected for you depending on your birthday. You can also send post cards and letters that will have an owl post cancellation stamp! (Hint: They do have special Harry Potter stamps available, but they cost a LOT more than regular postage so consider bringing your own.)
In Bang and Dervish, make sure you look up and see the brooms hovering by, ready for flight!
As you continue your journey toward Hogwart’s don’t miss the store facades along the way. You can see Hermione’s Yule Ball dress, Professor Lockhart’s biographies and you can hear the cries of the mandrake rake, the rattle of Quidditch balls wanting to fly free and Moaning Myrtle in the bathroom. No detail is left out!
The next area is the Stone Circle which represents the place where Hermione punched Draco in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Really it’s a little performing area where the frog choir will come out and sing a few songs with some adorable frogs. After the show they will form 2 lines for pictures with the sings and frogs for a few minutes
There is also a Tri-wizard spirit rally where the girls from Beauxbaton and the boys from Durmstrang will perform. They also pose for pictures afterwards, but they will form only one line so not as many people get pictures.
The choir and spirit rally alternate starting at the top of the hour and the half-hour mark.
After that, you get your first view of the magnificent Hogwarts castle. It really is stunning. It’s designed to look enormous, but I have a feeling that it’s not since it’s so cleverly designed. (Hint: Best photo spot — the bridge to Jurassic Park)
As you make your way up the hill, you’ll pass by the Flight of the Hippogriff ride which is the tamest of the three rides here at the Wizarding World. This is a tribute to Hagrid complete with a scarecrow (who is wearing Hogwarts robes), the gamekeeper’s hut and Buckbeak himself.
You can also get a good view of Hogwart’s castle from the top of the coaster (yes, I took pictures while we were up there!)
After that, our next stop is the castle and the signature ride, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey!
You line up through the castle and make your journey through the classrooms. It’s funny but in the main line, there are actually 2 kinds of people….those who are going ahead to the ride and the rest of us who are staring in wonder at the re-creation of various rooms and need to stop and stare. We’re talking about the Defense Against Dark Arts classroom, the Griffydor common room, a miniature version of the grand staircase, etc…
So you’re pretty much hypnotized by everything before you even get to the ride which is fantastic. I get a little dizzy with simulated rides so fair warning to others out there like me. However, it was worth the splitting headache!
You exit through Filch’s Emporium which is a gift shop filled with some merchandise you can’t get elsewhere. As always, it’s worth examining the details of the shop as you can see the Marauder’s Map in action with people walking everywhere!
And that’s the journey through the Wizarding World of Harry Potter! The closest you can get to a set visit until they open up Leavesden Studios.
Definitely worth a visit and I will likely be returning as, rumor has it, they will be expanding the World to include elements from books 5-7. Can’t wait!