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Inside the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. No, really. I got inside.
This is all I can show you of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal's Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Florida.
Monday night, I was a guest at private party thrown by Universal Orlando Resort to show off their newest theme park addition, which, for the most part, has been kept tightly under wraps. The Wizarding World opens one month from today, and after my walk-through last night, I can say much of it is already complete.
But no photos were allowed, and while I was completely tempted to break the rules, I heeded the words Professor Dumbledore speaks in his office at the new ride, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey:
"There will come a time when you have to choose between what is easy and what is right."
So, the gallery displaying all of the obsessive detail inside the land will have to wait.
I was blown away -- I'm still blown away -- by the amount of immersion into Harry Potter's world I experienced. I arrived at the Wizarding World at twilight, and the view through that archway in the picture above was perfect. Just perfect.
The Hogwarts Express train sits just inside on the right, the shops and restaurants of Hogsmeade line up along the path and straight ahead is the towering Hogwarts School. Just a few steps inside, you totally forget about Hulk and Spidey and the Sneetches just outside in the other Islands of Adventure.
I tried the three much-anticipated drinks to be served in the Wizarding World: nonalcoholic butterbeer, pumpkin juice and Hog's Head Brew, which does have alcohol.
I walked through Dervish and Banges, Honeydukes, Owl Post and Zonko's shops.
But, alas, I can't show you any of it. So my observations will have to do. Some random thoughts:
- There is a regular butterbeer and a frozen version. I liked the frozen version better. It was like the smoothest cream soda ever, but with a creamier finish. The regular drink will sell for $2.99 and the frozen version will cost an extra $1.
- Pumpkin juice tastes like autumn. It's not like drinking pumpkin pie, exactly -- more like something you would be served at an apple grove farm stand or the perfect punch for a Halloween party. A peek at the ingredients revealed that it's made with apple juice, pumpkin puree, apricot juice and pumpkin pie spices.
- The Hog's Head Brew is an ale made with Scottish hops and jaw-tingling malt. It is exclusive to the Wizarding World.
- Among my favorite Harry Potter merchandise: clever lanyards made to look like the ties worn by students in the different houses at Hogwarts, a Gryffindor backpack, Hedwig plush and the "I served time in Azkaban" T-shirt.
- The queue line for Flight of the Hippogriff - a re-themed roller coaster inside the Wizarding World - takes you down the path to Hagrid's Hut, complete with Hagrid's voice warning you about venturing into the forest.
- The Triwizard Cup is on display in a room all by itself in the queue line at the Dragon Challenge dueling roller coasters. A pathway is lit with floating candles a la Hogwarts.
- The new dark ride inside Hogwarts Castle, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, is not child's play. A serious list of restrictions warns away the pregnant and those with the typical heart and back problems. But it goes on to suggest that those with claustrophobic tendencies also not ride. A warning to remove and stow prosthetic limbs before riding seems particularly ominous.
- The new ride was not running, but we were allowed to walk through the entire queue. Universal is anticipating extremely long waits; it was the longest queue I have ever walked through. My best guess is that it's designed to accommodate at least two hours worth of waiting.
- Even if you're not big on thrill rides, it's probably worth walking that queue. I am still picking my jaw up off the ground after visiting Professor Dumbledore's office and the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom. You are truly right there with the characters, and they are talking directly to you. It must be seen.
- If you're a plus-sized person, it's fairly likely that you're not going to fit in the ride cars for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Just sayin'.
- When you rest on a bench inside the shaded Owlery, be sure to look up. The owls perched above you are so realistic that there's even owl poop on the rafters.
The first time you visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, enter from the Seuss Landing/Lost Continent side. That will mean turning right when you enter Islands of Adventure and going counterclockwise around the park. While you can also enter from Jurassic Park, you won't get the same view of the castle in front of you and Hogsmeade all around.
This is a theme park, and it's quite possibly the most detailed theme park "land" ever created. Don't treat it like the county fair and run from ride to ride. Plan to spend several hours here taking in all the awesome details.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opens June 18. It is included with regular admission to Universal's Islands of Adventure.