Monday, July 5, 2010

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Part 1

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What? Another non cooking post? It isn't a trend, I just returned from an amazing and exhausting trip with my daughter and 2 of her friends. The highlight was Universal's Island of Adventure's newest attraction: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Wow!
We arrived in Orlando on Thursday night and I spoke to a few hotel guests about the park. One man told me they went on Monday and waited 3 hours to get into that section of the park and the lines for the Hogwarts ride was 5 hours. Ugh! My theory all along was that Friday would be the slowest day because it is transition day for vacations. Your are either preparing to get to your destination or winding down the last day or two and getting in beach time, souvenir shopping etc. We decided to get an early start at the park in the morning.
Once in we were directed to follow a roped off pathway and we snaked all over the park. In and out of picnic areas, a children's playground, along walls, it was sort of crazy. And all this time people are walking right by us heading to Harry. We finally reached a point where they gave us tickets that we would need to get INTO the Harry Potter area. We spent maybe 20 minutes snaking along this line, it wasn't that bad. When we entered Harry Potter, they took our tickets and we crossed a bridge. We were faced with 2 choices. Forward into Hogsmeade or to the left to Hogwarts. We decided to do the Hogwarts experience first.
The architecture is the most impressive part of the experience. The details, the snow, the cobblestones, it is like jumping into the beloved books. We entered the gates and went into the castle. Universal has these great lockers at almost every ride. You go to a kiosk for a bank of lockers and are prompted on screen. It captures your fingerprint and opens a locker for you. No keys. When you return you let it capture your fingerprint and the locker opens. No cost. However, not all fingerprints are easily captured, and if it rejects you once, you are better off sharing with a friend. We ran into a problem not getting a fingerprint read to get back into a locker. An attendant let us in and we provided a photo ID to prove the stuff belonged to us. After the lockers you enter the queue. In typical theme park queue, we snaked back and forth along the backside of Hogwarts. It moves consistently, and you can see the next level is an outdoor classroom, Herbology. There are plants hanging overhead, plenty of fans and a display of the Mandrakes, a plant from the books that looks like a baby and screams when pulled up! Then you enter Hogwarts through large doors. The long corridor is lined with statues of the Hogwarts founders and the large vials of jewels that represent the houses of Hogwarts and their standings in the school. At the end of the hallway is the Phoenix that guards the entrance to Dumbledore's Office. As you snake through Dumbledore's Office, the outside of the queue is lined with glass cases filled with crystal balls and wizarding things, the pensieve is there and Dumbledore is high above his desk on a balcony talking to us we pass. You pass in the front row of the queue so you can take pictures and see all the details. We then walk into the classroom of the Defense Against the Dark Arts. Again the queue zig zags and you see Hermoine, Harry and Ron on a balcony talking about quidditch and hiding under the Invisibility Cloak. The classroom looks like the movies, and there is plenty to look at as you move along. The Hogwarts Hallways are filled with pictures that talk, and one tall room full of portraits that argue back and forth. Pretty funny. We enter the Room of Requirement and the Gryffindor Common Room. More interesting things to look at, but these rooms go quickly as we are approaching the ride. That may be the only problem. The line moves slow in the heat outside, and almost too fast for a Potter fan to see all the cool stuff inside! And then the ride.

You sit 4 to a row and take off. Hermoine casts a flying spell, Wingardium Leviosa perhaps, it is hard to hear, and whoosh! You fly through these passages and out in the sky to Hogwarts. There are many different scenarios, and it goes fast so I can't remember all the scenes. You follow Harry onto the quidditch pitch, go into the forest and see the giant spiders, there are dementors and of course Valdemort. The ride itself is jerky, fast and not for the faint of heart. I was a little disappointed because my mom is a Harry fan and I think it is too much for a 70 something. As the highlight of the books, I was hoping it would be more friendly. The ride exits into a gift shop, but the crowd is a mess. There are screens above with photos from the ride and everyone stops right there. An attendant is shooing people to the photo counter to see their pictures from the ride, but the lockers are the other way which is where everyone's money is! The gift shop is full of shirts and stuffed animals, trinkets and stuff from the Hogwarts houses. Of course the cool stuff, scarves and ties from Gryffindor, Harry's house, is sold out. But this gift shop is the least crowded of the shops, and there aren't many to choose from.

As we left Hogwarts, the Flight of the Hippogriff is right there. The ride had been shut down because of a guest not following the rules. We decided to hang out since it wasn't mechanical, the wait could be short. In less than 5 minutes we walked right on. This is a very low key roller coaster, ideal for young kids. It is a "wicker" roller coaster and the Hippogriff bows before it takes off, which is a signal to a Muggle that it is tamed. It takes you on a short ride by Hagrid's hut. There was a cart selling wands in the plaza area, and the line was 20 deep. A sign of what was to come in Hogsmeade. This is all that is in the Hogwarts section, so off we go to Hogsmeade.

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