If you have been a follower of my blog for quite a lengthy period, you may already be familiar with my slight obsession with all things Harry Potter. Although I’m not an extreme ‘hardcore’ fan, I love the films, the books and escaping into the ‘world of magic’ (ha ha). So, when I arrived at the recently opened Wizarding World Of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando on my recent trip to Florida, to say I was excited was a huge understatement. I had high hopes of the rides, the shops and the atmosphere and armed with $80 for some Hogsmede purchases, I quite literally ran to the entrance.
As The Wizarding World is still a very new attraction at Universal Orlando, inevitably it is also the most popular. Whilst the other ‘lands’ in the theme park were averagely populated, ‘Hogsmede’ was absolutely jam packed with fellow Potter lovers and there was barely any space to move around, so it was pretty hard to take decent photographs. Despite this, I went in ALL of the shops, tried Butterbeer (I say tried, I had several mugs of it) and queued for two hours for The Forbidden Journey ride. I was pleasantly surprised by the authenticity of the buildings and the products being sold, as despite the hefty price tag on pretty much everything (I mean everything), they are sound replicas of the real thing.
The rides at the Wizarding World admittedly were not the best rides I’ve ever experienced and unfortunately due to the bad weather (even Florida, the place that’s known as the Sunny State gets rain sometimes) the Dragon Challenge ride was closed. However, they were very true to the books and the films and make you feel as though you were immersed Potter’s World for all of three minutes.
The Forbidden Journey (set inside Hogwarts castle) appeared to be the most popular ride during my visit as despite arriving early, the waiting time was 2 hours and stayed this way throughout the day (reaching a peak queuing time of 190 minutes). I am NOT a good queue-er (although realistically, who is) and tend to get extremely impatient after ten minutes or so, however I was excited by the prospect of seeing the inside of Hogwarts Castle and so soldiered on. Luckily the heat wasn’t stifling enough to deter us from queuing and once we’d reached the inside of the castle, it was definitely all worth it!
Prior to visiting the park, I had watched several videos of visitors touring the castle so I already knew what was in store. Unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed to take my camera through for some reason, but if you would like a better view of what the inside is like, feel free to search for a tour on YouTube.
Once entering the castle, you come across the famous entrance to Dumbledore’s office, which looks amazing in the flesh and you really felt as though you could have stepped into it, been enclosed by the wings of the bird and transported to meet the headmaster of Hogwarts. Next up, you come across a hall of moving paintings – which are probably one of the most iconic things about Hogwarts (or in my opinion it is anyway). As you walk through, it is evident the paintings are of course television screens behind a frame, however the effect of lots of paintings talking at once is quite atmospheric.
As you continue through the castle, you enter Dumbledore’s office and are treated to a 3D holographic image of the man himself. I can’t express enough how realistic the holograms look, it’s hard to believe that it’s just an image as everything from his hair to his hands looks like it’s standing in front of you. The same effect is given in the next room, the Defence Against The Dark Arts Classroom, where Harry, Ron and Hermione invite you to join them on a dangerous ride around the castle grounds, which links to the actual ride itself. I haven’t looked into how these holograms are created (because quite frankly, I probably wouldn’t understand how they work) but they are utterly amazing – and seeing them was probably my favourite/most memorable part of the day.
The ride itself is mediocre. If you suffer from motion sickness, then this ride really isn’t for you. You sit in a little pod with three others and are told by Hermonie that you have to escape the castle in order to tour the grounds and experience Qudditch. As quick as a flash, you then swoosh (sorry, only word I could think of) around the corridors of Hogwarts before being greeted by a fire breathing dragon (which I have to say is AMAZING).
You are then tilted forwards and watch a projection of Harry on his broom, whilst the cart you are sitting on jolts and moves around to motion following him. Personally, I think watching a screen is a bit of a cop out on the creators part as this not only makes you feel sick and dizzy but the picture is blurry as it moves so fast and it would be far more effective if we could experience the Quiddich field in its entirety rather than on another screen.
Saying this however, the parts of the ride where you do experience real Hogwarts ‘sets’ and characters (such as very realistic looking life-size dementors an inch away from your face) was unforgettable and amazing! I won’t waffle on about the intricate details of the ride, in case you are planning a trip there (or are fed up of my waffling) however the ride evoked a mixed reaction from my mum, my brother and I and although it was great to experience the inside of the famous castle, it wasn’t perhaps worth the two hour wait.
One of my favourite (and tastiest) memories from the day was tasting the ‘traditional wizard’ beverage of Butterbeer, which despite paying $11.95 for a mug and the drink, was delicious. It is described as being a mix of ‘butterscotch’ and ‘shortbread’ which is pretty accurate. It’s not overly sickly or sweet, but deliciously calorific. I bought a Butterbeer mug, which could then be refilled for $4.95 which wasn’t too bad (about £2.90) however, as I have previously said – everything is pretty overpriced due to the sheer volume of people coming in on a daily basis.
The lunch at Hogsmede pub ‘The Three Broomsticks’ however, wasn’t the best (nor the worst) meal I’ve ever had and is pretty much just a glorified fast food restaurant – which it certainly is not in the movies! It did stay true (or at least try to) the English cuisine which would have most likely to have been served in the original Three Broomsticks. Shepherd’s Pie and English Fish & Chips feature on the relatively cheap menu (although the portions are miniscule) however I settled on a baked potato. The interior also stays true to the original decor, however uselessly I forgot to take pictures whilst we were eating.
The shopping at Hogsmede was probably the most exciting part of the experience, as this is where the creators have really stayed true to the original film. Honeydukes is amazing – my photos don’t do it any justice – and you can kit yourself out with a wand and Hogwarts uniform if you so wish (and have the money!). I bought two chocolate frogs which are $9.95 each and a box of Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans, which do indeed feature vomit, earwax and bogey flavours. I was on the brink of buying a ‘collectors’ replica of Hermonie’s wand however my mum quite rightly pointed out, ‘when are you going to use that?’. For $35 pre tax, I thought against buying a wand that would most likely sit on a shelf collecting dust but I did try and get as many photos of the ‘magical sticks’ as possible.
Overall, I had a fantastic time at The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter and if you are in Florida, it’s definitely worth a visit (although as its quite a small sector of the main park, you can look round in less than a day). The rainy weather created a very authentic English atmosphere and although it seemed the primary focus of the park was making money (and making you queue) rather than recreating the magic of Mr Potter’s world, it was enjoyable nevertheless and I would definitely go back again! If you can afford it, it is worth getting a fast pass ticket which are around $60 extra per person, because it saves you standing around in the stifling heat. However, if not – it’s a great way to top up your tan.