2 July 2014

Universal's The Wizarding World of Harry Potter EXPERIENCE & REVIEW

As it's nearly Summer, i thought i'd share with you my thoughts on an exciting theme park that i don't think i ever spoke about. You can read all about Disney in my posts which is posted during the Summer two years running, but today i'll share my thoughts and experience at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Two years ago, i was lucky enough to visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida. Although Universal, as a whole, isn't really my thing, visiting the Harry Potter segment of the park was amazing, and the attention to detail was out of this world. If you're looking for a review full of photos, then this one isn't for you as i think that the detail and imagery is what makes the Wizarding World what it is and i don't want to ruin it for you. So i've just put a few in so you can see what to expect. If you really wanted to have a look for yourself, there are images all over the internet.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter now spans both of the Universal Orlando parks, but i will only be talking about the slightly older segment, representing Hogsmeade, which can be found in the Islands of Adventure park. Diagon Alley is now being built in the Universal Studio park and will be opening some time in the Summer of 2014.

Opened in June of 2010, Hogsmeade took two and a half years to build after it's announcement in 2007. Hogsmeade is home to three rides, including Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey in the iconic Hogwarts School building. It also boasts the Olivanders experience, The Three Broomsticks Pub, Honeydukes Sweet Shop and Zoncos Joke Shop. Both regular and frozen Butter Beer can also be purchased from carts on the street. 

Walking into Hogsmeade is spectacular; it's everything you'd hope it would be with it's mismatched, snow topped buildings, cobbled looking streets, quirky shop signs and the infamous Hogwarts Castle towering over in the background. The attention to detail is amazing, something even Walt Disney would be impressed with. (If you haven't noticed by now, i'm really a Disney girl). There are smells and sounds coming from all around, which bring you right into the story. There are things that, i'm sure, someone who's not a huge Harry Potter fan would miss but if you know your Potter then you'll be delighted. Don't miss Moaning Mertle harassing women in the toilet, or Professer Lockhart being his charismatic self in the window of Flourish and Blotts, see if you can find Sirius' Wanted poster and watch it come alive. It really is quite something, and that's something to go for if nothing else.

Along the street in Hogsmeade, you'll find shop fronts as well as walk in stores. Some have been recreated from the Harry Potter franchise, but others have been created especially for the park. As you may know if you're familiar with the story, but Olivanders can usually be found in Diagon Alley and not in Hogsmeade, but when the Diagon Alley portion of the Universal Studios park is completed  in Summer 2014 there will be an Olivanders in both. The one found in Hogsmeade is portrayed as a branch of the original where Harry picks up his wand in The Philosopher Stone. Unlike the other establishments, Olivanders can create quite a wait time as guests are allowed in, in groups of only 20 to experience the famous 'the wand chooses the wizard' mantra linked with the shop. A guest is selected by Olivander himself to test a variety of wands until the right one is found. I won't give too much away, but there are a few mishaps on the journey of finding the right one. After finishing with the experience, you enter the larger wand shop to purchase your own. I have to admit that i'm glad that i did it but in peak Florida heat, it was a bit much for me to stand in the blazing sun to wait for a five minute performance. Personally, if i hadn't already done it, i don't think i would choose to if the queue is very long. There's no cover to shelter guests while waiting outside and although it is something special, it's just a bit much.

You can also get a good look at the Hogwarts Express, found at the entrance to Hogsmeade, and it makes for a great photo opportunity. If you're lucky, the controller might be there too and you can have your photograph taken with him too. It's huge, puffing smoke and whistling too which is a lovely addition. You can also find The Owl Post in Hogsmeade, a working post office where postcards and letters will be delivered with an official Hogsmeade postmark. You'll also be able to purchase stationary, stamps and owl-related gifts.

The Three Broomsticks is the main dining establishment in Hogsmeade, selling a variety of British themed meals and beverages, including Butter Beer. Butter Beer, which can be bought in a souvenir mug or plastic, is a non-alcoholic drink that can be drunk frozen or regular. In the Three Broomsticks you can spot ghosts and house elves hiding in the rafters, another lovely detail. You have the choice to sit inside or out, but it can get very busy so try to eat before or after the lunchtime rush for a slightly better chance of bagging a table.

In Honeydukes Sweet Shop you can buy some of your favourite Harry Potter sweet treats, including a chocolate frog, peppermint toads, sherbet lemons and the famous Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans.

The other stores available for the purchase of merchandise are Dervish and Banges; selling magical items and Quidditch supplies, Zonkos the joke store and Filch's Emporium of Confiscated Goods; a general gift shop selling souvenirs such as clothing and stationary.

As i said earlier there are three rides: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, the Dragon Challenge and the Flight of the Hippogriff. The Forbidden Journey can be found inside the Hogwarts Castle and is simulator touring the castle, following Harry, Ron and Herminone on their broomsticks. Now, if you're prone to getting motion sickness then you might want to think about sitting this one out. You do find yourself getting thrown around quite a lot and moving from dark space to light, and there's also some flashing lights. However, it really does put you right into the movie. You feel as though Harry is talking to you, and asking you to follow him through the twists and turns of the outside castle walls. Before even getting here, you take a tour through the castle itself and interact with some of the movies favourite characters including the Sorting Hat, a speech from Albus Dumbledore, watching Harry, Ron and Hermione escape a class using the Invisibility Cloak, give the Fat Lady the password and listen to the paintings on the wall talking to each other. Again, the detail is spot on and there's plenty to keep yourself occupied in the often long queue. Personally, i am so glad that i didn't sit this one out as although afterwards i did feel nauseous, it's the most iconic ride to the Wizarding World and completely encapsulates the films. It's worth it just for walking through the replica of Hogwarts, as it feels as though you're right there. I'm glad i've done it, but i'm not sure i would do it again.

The Dragon Challenge is a duelling roller coaster, built with two tracks that weave and intertwine with each other as if going head-to-head. It's name comes from the first task of the Tri-Wizard Tournament in which Harry had to duel a dragon, and steal it's egg, from The Goblet of Fire. Each coaster is named after one of the well-known species of dragon: The Hungarian Horntail and The Chinese Fireball. On your way up to ride the roller coaster, you pass many Potter relics such as the Tri-Wizard Cup and the Goblet of Fire, as well as Hagrid's Hut and the blue, stolen Ford Anglia belonging to Ron's parents. This ride i actually did give a miss, as upside down coaster are definitely not my thing, it did look brilliant though and i think the concept is ingenious.

The last ride is the Flight of the Hippogriff, and if you haven't watched the films or read the books then you won't know that a Hippogriff is a winged creature with the front legs, wings and head of an eagle with the hind legs and tail of a horse. It's features include a steel coloured beak, piercing orange eyes and deadly talons on it's front legs. The Flight of the Hippogriff is a family orientated roller coaster and it's story is that Hagrid is teaching young wizards all about the Hippogriff, just like in the film and book the Prisoner of Azkaban.  On your way to your lesson you'll pass by Hagrid's Hut in the grounds of the castle, and using a wicker replica of the creature Hagrid will guide you in how to approach the Hippogriff perched on it's nest. You'll then embark on a fast, quickly twisting and turning roller coaster themed to feel like your flying on the mystical creature. I really enjoyed this ride, it was a lot of fun and is definitely very quick, you'll find yourself shooting round the corners but it is over fairly quickly. The line can be found to be fairly long so you'll have to work out whether it's worth it for you, and your family.

Overall, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is an amazing experience for non-fans and Potter-buffs alike. It is a fairly small patch of the park that they have packed with detail and attractions. I've heard that the Dragon Challenge and the Flight of the Hippogriff were previously different themed rides, and the basic ride hasn't been changed, they've just had a face lift and theming change. I think that's a little sad, and something you would never find in Disney as everything there is built for it's purpose. However, it is a special place and for Potter-buffs it really is something special. I think it'll be even more exciting once the new Diagon Alley section is built in the Universal Studios park as it'll make the Harry Potter segment a lot bigger and the Hogwarts Express will be able to take you from Hogsmeade straight to Diagon Alley. It really is quite the experience, and something special to do while on holiday - especially if you're a Potterhead.


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