The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: A Guide

With Orlando a mere three hours to the north, it sometimes surprises me that my family doesn’t go more frequently. Every time we end up going though, I remember why we don’t. It’s hot. It’s really crowded. The food is pretty expensive. I get sunburn every time or some other comparable injury. What drew us was the relatively recent opening of HARRY POTTER WORLD. Everyone I know has given it positive reviews, and this was my parents’ and sister’s second visit because they liked it so much, so I trusted them.

The day started off pretty shaky. My dad is a fan of leaving AEAP (as early as possible), regardless of family opinion. His target time was “no later than six AM, gang!” My mom though, easily counters this by sunscreening everyone, filling up 5 or 6 water bottles, and calling the kennel to check on the dog, all before we depart the house. Anyway, we hit the road at 7:30 and got there three hours later, failing to beat the crowds. The park takes up a pretty sizeable section of Islands of Adventure and is adjacent to Universal Studios. (The palm trees encircling the neighboring Jurassic Park section really framed the Hogwarts Castle nicely.) After riding The Incredible Hulk and The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman (my old favorite!), we headed to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter! No one calls it that. In fact, today was the first I heard of it. It’s Harry Potter World.

So, if you decide to go – which you should if you like theme parks at all and find yourself in the central Florida area – here are a few notes about the park.

Orlando? But it’s so hot! That’s an astute observation. And yeah, it was weird to see a snowy castle in heat that easily exceeded 90 degrees. But the streets were curvy and narrow and had a bunch of stores mentioned in both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. It was sort of a mixture of the two, so I didn’t totally know what they were going for, but it definitely had ambience. Some of the storefronts were just exhibits (really good exhibits, at that), but many of the stores had replications for sale of items mentioned in the books, like robes, wands, and owls (they were puppets). It was all ridiculously overpriced, as you would expect, but there were still lines just to get into the stores.

The rides were also really well done, in terms of effects. The main attraction of this section of the park is a simulation ride that takes place inside the castle. The line begins far outside of the castle and snakes its way through what felt like a 5-minute walk to the actual ride (with no line) – that is to say, it’s massive and appropriately so. We were fortunate enough to only wait 45 minutes, but there must’ve been hellishly long lines on opening day. We rode it twice because it was so cool, even though the ride is apparently notorious for its technical difficulties. The line itself takes you through a very ill-lit tour of the castle, complete with talking portraits, Dumbledore’s office (!), and the dungeon classrooms. So cool. I heard actual British people in line behind us talking in their British accents. I wondered if they were fake. I wouldn’t have put it past them.

Anyway, the ride simulated some kind of mission to watch a quidditch match. If you’ve been on the Spiderman ride, you’ll know what I mean when I say they are very similar. It’s not like a roller coaster, but it sort of feels like one anyway because of the decent effects and jolting around. There were dementors and a lot of scenery from Hogwarts and all. I think they tried to blend elements from several of the books, because the Triwizard Tournament was going on, but there were also dementors at the quidditch game, and a lot of stuff from the second book and the Forbidden Forest. It doesn’t matter though, because it was so cool! Also there was a random spritz of water that sprayed onto my shirt that I wasn’t too happy about, but I let it slide.

After riding that, we went on what used to be Dueling Dragons, but what is now a Harry Potter/dragon-themed ride. It was pretty much the same – that is to say, really shaky and curvy. I felt really sick afterwards, so of course we headed to the type of restaurant that served huge chicken drumsticks (and other massive platters of meat). But I got the fish and chips. Anyway, quaint as this all sounds, it was really, really expensive. The food was decent and everything, and the atmosphere was interesting, but part of me still can’t believe how expensive theme parks have become. I guess it didn’t really matter since there were huge crowds and people from all over the country (and world) coming to hang out in Orlando (the crown gem of central Florida).

So, after hitting a few of the rides some more times, we just sort of walked around and went into the stores. After buying nothing, we left the park and drove back in torrential rain. Overall, a great day.

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