Sunday, November 9, 2014

Harry Potter's Magic Spell on Universal Studios

Outside Flourish & Blotts
By Kevin Hunsperger
@kevinhunsperger & @my123cents on Twitter

Harry Potter first entered our lives in 2007.  My oldest son had just started second grade when my wife read him "Harry Potter & The Sorcerer's Stone."  I didn't pick up the books until the last one was released, but got hooked quickly.  We'd read the book and then see the movie.  We got caught up by the time Half Blood Prince was released in theaters and actually saw it on the big screen.

Butterbeer break
Four years ago, our family ventured to Universal Studios in Orlando, where we were in awe of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  A portion of Islands of Adventure has been transformed into Hogsmeade and Hogwarts.  Rides like the Harry Potter & The Forbidden Journey, Flight of the Hippogriff, and Dragon Challenge add to the excitement of all the shops, including Honeydukes Sweetshop and Ollivander's Wand Shop.  There are places to get your fill of Pumpkin Juice, Butterbeer, and Gillywater.  It's the ultimate place for Harry Potter fans.

Waiting for the Hogwarts Express
Earlier this year, the Wizarding World expanded into the Universal Studios side of the part.  Now, you can hop aboard the Hogwarts Express and take it back and forth, assuming you have a ticket to both parks.  The train ride is reminiscent of the movies, it's by far the most relaxing of the five Potter themed rides at the park.

In the bank lobby 
Speaking of other rides, the only other new ride added with the addition is Escape from Gringotts.  Because it's a new attraction, the wait time was between 60 and 90 minutes (in October), although on our last day there, we went straight to that ride when the park opened.  Our wait time that morning was about 40 minutes.  It's a 3-D thrill ride with twists and turns, but not nearly as jostling as the Forbidden Journey ride.  But a little kid did barf on the way out and right in the path of where people were walking.

The dragon 
On top of Gringotts bank is a giant fire-breathing dragon.  Almost like clockwork every 10 minutes, a ball of fire shoots from his mouth.  There are plenty of stores along Diagon Alley, including Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour,  Weasley's Wizard Wheezes, and the Leaky Cauldron.  We ate lunch at the Cauldron, and although pricey, it was delicious.  I had the Bangers and Mash.  The one interesting thing is there are no basic drinks in the restaurant.  It's all Pumpkin Juice, Butterbeer, or Gillywater (which is a bottle of water with a $4.25 price tag).  You won't find a soda on the menu.  After we sat down and started eating, we were offered a complimentary cup of water.

Working her magic

One of the other really cool parts of the whole Wizarding World Experience now is the interactive wands they sell in addition to the usual collector's wands.  These interactive wands can be used at the various store fronts (that have a special marking in front of them) and the holder of the wand can perform some magical task.  A sensor in the window reacts to the sensor in the wand to make things happen.  There's a cake topper that dances around, a tape measurer that comes unrolled, among other things.  It's neat, but again, an added price of about $50 per wand.

Don't touch wands
Compared to most of the other attractions and experiences at Universal, it's obvious Harry Potter and his posse are breathing new life into the theme park.  They've managed to cast a spell on my family and millions of others.  While not on the same level of Disney's magic, the folks who built this portion of the park have done a great job.

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