Thursday, June 23, 2011

Harry Potter Land!

For my birthday last summer, my parents bought me a one-year pass to Universal Studios in Orlando, which, of course, meant a whole year of visiting The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Islands of Adventure. I've been meaning to report on what it's like since last August, but I got distracted. Lucky for me, I happen to know that many of my friends have not yet had a chance to see Harry Potter Land, so I hope they (and you, dear reader) will appreciate my account of this -- for lack of a better word -- magical amusement park.

Actually, magical is the best word. Harry Potter Land is like the dreams of my youth come to life. To be honest, I'm still waiting for an owl to arrive and tell me Hogwarts is a graduate school,* but until then, I can wander through a winter wonderland in 90-degree Florida weather. Now if that's not magic, what is?

The whole experience was fantastic (or fantastical, whichever you prefer). For one, I drank Butterbeer! Much as I suspected, it tastes like cream soda (though perhaps a bit sweeter), but what made it really special was the foam they added to the top like the head of a real beer. The foam tasted like butterscotch. Delightful. Oh, and unlike real beer foam, this foam doesn't dissipate over time.

They also have a frozen variety, but it's not that great. The foam doesn't mix as well when the soda part has the consistency of an Icee. So then you just get a mouth full of cream. If you ever get a chance, Butterbeer may or may not be even better if you add rum. Though, as far as I know, they don't sell rum in the park, so you're going to have to make your own chances. Proceed with that at your own risk.

In addition to the Butterbeer vendors, they have Ollivander's, Honeydukes', and Zonko's joke shop, all of which were extremely crowded.

To sum up my first experience with the shops, allow me to quote a mother I overheard calling out to her husband: (said in a vaguely New Jersey-ish accent) "We're standing in line for a store... A STORE!" Everything is an attraction, so everything had a line. I'm no huge fan of queuing, but I understand; they had to control crowding in the shops somehow. I mean, come on, there were chocolate frogs! People were falling all over themselves to pay $10 for one. Upon my second visit, the crowds had thinned a little, but you can still expect lots of people to be there. After all, you can buy wands! And robes! And Remembralls!

The park has two roller coasters, both of which are basically renamed versions of roller coasters that already existed at Islands of Adventure. The new names are "Flight of the Hippogriff" and "Dragon's Challenge." The former is, euphemistically, "family friendly." The latter is the big, scary one with loops and whatnot. If you like that sort of thing, which I do, you should definitely ride it twice. The Dragon's Challenge is actually two separate roller coasters intertwined, so it seems like you could crash into the other track. It's great. And each track is slightly different, hence why you should ride it twice.

But the main attraction of Harry Potter Land is, of course, Hogwarts Castle.

The last time I was there, the line to get into Hogwarts was between 60 and 90 minutes long, but you can't visit Harry Potter Land without touring Hogwarts, can you? First off, the line is slightly shorter if you don't bring your bags, so ditch those at Hogsmeade station (next to the Hogwarts Express) before you get to the Castle. Otherwise, you'll be forced to wait in line to use a locker. Once you've gotten through the front door, the real line begins.

Yeah, it's long, but I already told you that. And on the bright side, it is shaded from the blistering Florida heat AND you get to see the Hogwarts greenhouse. After the bulk of your wait is over, you get to see the inside of the Castle. Here a few of the wonders you can expect to see:

Sorting hat

Weird interpretation of the House hourglasses

Talking portraits!

Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom

A griffin door. Get it?

You think that's cool? Wait! There's more! At the end of the tour is a ride! (Note: you can save a lot of time by going in the single riders line, which is to the left of the regular line when you first enter the castle, but if you take that option, you miss the tour entirely, so you can't do that until you've done the tour at least once. This is Hogwarts, for goodness' sake!)

I don't have pictures of the ride because I was, well, riding, but even if I did, I wouldn't want to spoil it for you. You need to see it for yourself. This ride was unlike any other I've ever ridden, except maybe the Spiderman ride at the same park, but even though I can make that comparison, the Harry Potter ride was unique.

It was like a roller coaster, but it moved in every direction: up, down, sideways, backwards. It was the Universal Studios equivalent of Willy Wonka's elevator. Visually, it was an amazing mix of giant 3D screens and animatronic wonders. You get to run from a dragon, fly around the Quidditch pitch, brave the Forbidden Forest, and more! I recommend riding it over and over again. Unless you have motion sickness; in which case, that sucks for you. You can always take the tour and skip the ride. That's still pretty good.

Well, that's about all I've got. I hope you've enjoyed this advertisement, paid for by Universal Orlando.** If you decide to make a trip to Orlando sometime in the next couple months, let me know. Maybe I could show you around the Wizard World of Harry Potter myself.

*Now that I'm going to grad school in Scotland, maybe my wish will come true, but more on that another time.
**In my dreams. Hopefully someone over there is reading.

1 comment:

  1. I NEED A REMEMBRALL. Also, I need to visit TWWoHP, but that goes without saying.