Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Harry Potter and the Magical Rollercoaster

New to Fantasy Matters, Eadaoin McClean just visited The Wizarding World of Harry Potter--one of the sections of Universal's Islands of Adventure theme park in Orlando, Florida.  As part of our celebration of "Harry Potter week," she provides us with a review of some of the highlights of the park!

Wizarding World of Harry PotterAs you enter the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, you find yourself on the mainstreet of Hogsmeade village, walking past the newly arrived Hogwarts Express with the conductor waiting to greet you and pose for pictures. With snow on the roofs (even in the heat of July), the village is set as an untouched scene from mid-winter, complete with a snowman decked out in Gryffindor colours. All the familiar stores are there, from Zonko's Joke Shop to a branch of Ollivander's Wand Makers, where you can go and see which wand matches your magical ability. The lines for this show can look quite long, but people are taken through in batches of 15-20, so it moves along fast enough. Once inside, one person is chosen to select their perfect wand and the magic begins!

Afterward, a passageway to the main shop allows visitors to buy the wand of their choice, modelled after the wands of the main characters. As expected from a theme park, the amount of merchandise available is outstanding, including full Hogwarts uniforms, pumpkin juice, and sneakoscopes. Following the shopping, a great treat is a mug of butterbeer at the Three Broomsticks; unlike in the books, it is cool and refreshing with even a frozen option available for those extra hot days. If it's a bit too crowded indoors, there are two outdoor butterbeer vendors, one just inside the village gates and another closer to Hogwarts, and both have regular and frozen versions of butterbeer with special mugs to boot!

Hogwarts CastleBilled as the main attraction, the Hogwarts castle can be seen as you progress through the village. The ride inside is entitled "Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey" and is well worth the wait. The line can take more than 75 minutes, but it snakes through different rooms in the castle on your way so it's hard to become bored. First, you enter the portrait room, and if you're lucky you can witness an entire conversation between the four founders of the school. Next, Dumbledore has a special greeting for you in his office as you pass through on your way to the Defense against the Dark Arts classroom. If the line is moving quickly you might miss some of these treats but you can always go around again and pause where you need to. Waiting for you under the invisibility cloak, Harry, Ron, and Hermione reveal their plan to help you escape the History of Hogwarts lecture given by Professor Binns. From here it is onto the Room of Requirement, and the ride begins! The combination of rollercoaster and computer generated movies creates a great ride. Some sections might make little kids jump from a quick fright, and there is a 4ft height requirement, so perhaps make sure everyone in the family can comfortably ride before making the trip to Orlando!

Other rides include the re-themed rollercoasters "Dragon Challenge" and "Flight of the Hippogriff"; both were initially part of "The Lost Continent" section of Islands of Adventure under different names. "Dragon Challenge" is a dueling coaster ride with the option to ride one of two dragons--a Chinese Fireball or a Hungarian Horntail.  Each dragon is a completely different track with multiple overlapping points, and a separate front seat line is available for those seeking extra thrills.  Riding in the front seat is a considerably different experience as you pass over the other dragon coaster, and is definitely a must do! This coaster has the tallest height requirement in the entire park, so it's probably one for the parents rather than the tiny Potter fans. If the younger muggles in attendance require a high speed fix, the "Flight of the Hippogriff" is one to consider. It involves no inversions and a pretty neat wicker hippogriff car to ride in. The goal of the ride is to teach you how to ride a hippogriff correctly, and after a few tips from Hagrid, you are off to meet Buckbeak and then fly around the paddock. It is a pretty quick ride and the lines don't seem to get too long.

Overall the Wizarding World of Harry Potter does not disappoint fans of the books or movies. The rides are entertaining and thrilling, but the main experience comes from walking around the village and immersing yourself completely in the Wizarding World. The park creators seemed to pick up on the small details from the books extremely well and implement them flawlessly into the entire experience. Visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter has definitely encouraged me to re-read every book from cover to cover!

Image of Hogwarts Castle was taken by Carlos Cruz and uploaded to Wikipedia by Rstoplabe14, and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.