The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Inside the Franchise at Universal Orlando

Lisa Fritscher May 11, 2014 No Comments

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Hogsmeade Skyline

The village of Hogsmeade has a distinctive skyline.

When author J.K. Rowling burst onto the scene in 1997, no one expected the Harry Potter frenzy that was to follow. As of 2013, the seven-book series had sold nearly 450 million copies, and had been translated into a stunning 73 languages. The film series is the highest-grossing of all time, making $7.7 billion dollars in theater receipts worldwide.

In the early 2000s, Disney and Universal entered a fierce bidding war for the rights to bring Harry and his friends to the theme parks. As a bigger entity with a legendary reputation, it seemed nearly certain that Disney would win the war. They nearly succeeded in 2003, but could not come to an agreement with Rowling about the scale and scope of the project. In 2007, Universal announced to a stunned public that it had won the exclusive theme park rights to the Harry Potter franchise.

 

Bringing Harry Potter to Life
Speculation ran rampant over the next three years as Universal, Rowling, and the film and book rights holders tried to clamp down on spoilers. The rumor mill pressed on, and some of the predictions turned out to be highly accurate. But nothing could have prepared the fans for the spectacle that awaited them.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened at Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure on June 8, 2010. I was not able to attend, as Dad and I were RVing around the American Southwest, but from all reports, the Grand Opening was a phenomenal success. With appearances by some of the films’ most iconic stars and an opening ceremony that was broadcast worldwide, some fans lined up as early as midnight the night before. By late morning, the line to get into the Wizarding World was eight hours long! Though tempers occasionally flared as guests waited in the near-recordbreaking summer heat, almost all agreed that the Wizarding World was worth the hassles.

 

Hogwarts Portrait Gallery

Be sure to check out the lovingly recreated Hogwarts, including the Portrait Gallery seen here, even if your kids are too small for the ride.

Phase One: Hogsmeade
Located part of the Lost Continent section of Islands of Adventure, the first phase of the Wizarding World replicates Hogsmeade, the magical village that plays an important role in the books and films. With a skyline dominated by Hogwarts Castle, the village is known for its winding pathways, shop windows filled with magical items, and a blend of age and mystery that perfectly captures the atmosphere of Hogsmeade as described in the films and novels.

The anchor attraction is Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, located inside Hogwarts Castle. The queue winds through the castle, which recreates many of the most iconic rooms from the stories. High-tech video projections featuring the film cast draw guests into the adventure that awaits them. Even if your kids are too small to meet the 48-inch height requirement for the ride, take them on a stroll through the queue. If you or they are big fans, consider letting other guests pass by while you soak in the details.

The ride uses KUKA robot arms to create a highly immersive experience in which four people, each with his own over-the-shoulder restraint system, sit along an enchanted bench. The bench, attached to a robot arm, is able to pivot, swerve and spin in any direction, creating a smooth ride that gives a realistic feeling of flight. The scenes use a combination of old dark ride traditions, high-tech motion simulation and high-definition projections to create what is arguably the most believable ride experience in the world. Interestingly, not only did Universal win exclusive theme park rights to Harry Potter, it also won an exclusive ten-year contract to use KUKA ride technology in U.S. theme parks.

 

Honeydukes

Leave time for shopping at such iconic locations as Honeyduke’s.

Other Attractions
Although Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is Hogsmeade’s star, it is by no means the only thing that it is worth doing. Dueling Dragons was rethemed to create the Dragon Challenge, a pair of inverted roller coasters that recreate elements of the Triwizard Tournament. Those over 54 inches tall can choose to ride the Chinese Fireball or the Hungarian Horntail dragon. Each side provides a slightly different experience.

Don’t miss the Flying Hippogriff, a kid-sized coaster with a height restriction of just 36 inches. Even the adults will love the fun of flying around Hagrid’s Hut. Keep an eye out for the animatronic hippogriff as you ride!

Ollivanders Wand Shop is a must-see experience for the entire family. Guests enter the shop in groups of 20, and one child is selected to test the premise that “the wand chooses the wizard.” After the interactive show, you will exit into a bigger shop where you can purchase wands and numerous other items of Potter merchandise.

Butterbeer stands are located at both ends of Hogsmeade. The nonalcoholic beverage is a favorite of Potter fans. Also available is pumpkin juice, a blend of pumpkin and other fruit flavors that is mentioned frequently throughout the series. For a sweet treat, stop by Honeyduke’s for Every Flavor Beans, Chocolate Frogs and other iconic offerings.

If you get hungry, the Three Broomsticks offers hearty counter service dishes in a recreation of the famed tavern. Prices are reasonable and portions are huge. Plan to split unless your family is extremely hungry. If the adults are so inclined, the attached Hog’s Head Pub sells a house beer along with several known brands, and also provides a full bar.

Part of the fun of Hogsmeade is wandering through the various shops, so allow plenty of time in your schedule. If your family loves Harry Potter as much as we do, the squeals of delight will be audible from the adults as well as the kids! From moderately priced robes and brooms to expensive collector’s items, each piece of merchandise is something truly special.

 

Phase Two: Diagon Alley
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter was an immediate hit, raising attendance at Islands of Adventure by an estimated 36 percent in 2010. Just one year later, Universal announced plans to expand. Located inside Universal Studios, the other gated theme park in the Universal Orlando complex, the expansion replaced the Amity area including the Jaws ride.

Opening in the summer of 2014, the new section recreates Diagon Alley, the magical street that exists inside London in the books and films. The anchor attraction is Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, a high-thrill ride based on the one that travels between the vaults at the Gringotts wizard bank. Shops will include a branch of Ollivanders and Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes, while food will be available at the Leaky Cauldron. Fans of the Death Eaters will be happy to know that Knockturn Alley is also recreated, with shopping available at Borgin and Burkes.

The Hogwarts Express will transport guests with park-to-park admission privileges between Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. The interactive journey is rumored to provide different adventures in each direction, making it worthwhile to take a round trip. I plan to visit shortly after the expansion is complete, and will publish a detailed review at that time.

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Lisa is a full-time travel writer. She lives in an RV with her disabled father and writes about their experiences. Although she has no children of her own, Lisa loves being an Aunt to her own relatives and the children of all her friends. You can follow her adventures on her blog, Travel Confessions.

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