Thursday, August 12, 2010

Florida: Oh my it's Harry Potter!

Thousands of families and screaming children here we come as we took our second ride on the theme park circuit.

This time we visited Universal Studios and its sister park Islands of Adventure – home to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter!

That’s right, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter the newest addition to the park that opened around May this year and a must see for any Potter geek like me.

We arrived at Islands just after 9am and already the massive crowds were evident. Thankfully most of them must have headed straight for Potterland at the back of the park because we managed to get on the very scary Hulk rollercoaster easily.

Several of the rides were similar to ones in LA but different enough to still be fun.

We were able to beat the insane wait times by taking the single rider line which let us get on rides in less than 10 minutes and many times we got to sit next to each other anyway.

The park is divided up into sections including Jurassic Park, Superhero Island, Seuss World for the kiddies and, of course, Harry Potter.

Jurassic Park is next door to Harry Potter and by midday there was a line right through the dinosaurs just to get into the Hogsmead (the Harry Potter village for the un-Potter-educated) let alone get on any rides or into any of the stores.

I managed to give Nick a good laugh by accidentally wandering into the Jurassic Log flume “splash zone” just in time for a giant wave to hit me in the back of the head.

It didn’t take long to dry off and after killing time on various rides the crowds had dispersed enough for us to visit Hogwarts (the Harry Potter school for the un-Potter-educated).

Walking through the Hogsmead Gate it’s hard not to think you’re right there in the middle of the movie and you are only brought back to reality when you remember the throngs of people everywhere.

The attention to detail is exceptional.

Chimneys and snow-topped roofs reach up over the cobbled streets and windows are filled with Wizarding treats.

Olivandi’s Wands, the candy store and the Owl Post are all real stores and all have real queues of people outside just to experience more of the incredible detail.

Berty’s Every Flavour Jellybeans and Chocolate Frogs are for sale at over the top prices along with a variety of magical treats.

You can even step inside the Hogs Head tavern and grab a frozen or cold Butterbeer – I got mine from a roadside stand.

I don’t know how they did it, but my mug of ice cold Butterbeer tasted exactly as I’d imagined it to in my head. Very sweet and butterscotchy with a light fizz and a creamy foam on top – and no, it wasn’t alcoholic, but that would be nice. Nick said it reminded him of creaming soda,

Now, onto the rides. First up a coaster for the smaller park visitors (and the not so small), Flight of the Hippogriff, a cutesy wooded rollercoaster that swoops through the gardens around Hagrid’s home and a real Hippogriff.

Upping the scary stakes considerably, the duel dragon coaster has you whipping around loops and corners while a second coaster races around beside you. You can choose to fly with either the Hungarian Horntail or the Chinese Fireball and each is a different ride.

Thanks again to the single rider line we were able to pretty much jump on and off over and over again.

The third and final ride in Potterland came with the largest line we’d seen all day and it didn’t appear to be getting any shorter. So we joined the masses in the 90 minute queue for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter that you into the heart of Hogwarts.

Though we waited a long time, I don’t think it really took an hour and a half to get into the castle.

Just before entering the Harry Potter magic begins with a tour though the herbology gardens. Once inside I was dis pointed I couldn’t bring my camera as riders with mini digitals snap away at the amazing sights.

These descriptions will probably bore anyone who’s not a Potter fan so I don’t mind if you skip ahead now.

First you enter through a grand hall passed statues of the founders of Hogwarts, a giant Gryffin and glass tubes filled with coloured sand showing how many points each of the four houses has accumulated.

Next you come to endlessly high walls covered with talking and moving paintings, including a lovely one of Dawn French, created by flawless technology it’s hard to believe they’re not real.

As you travel deeper into Hogwarts your next stop is the headmaster’s office (just like the movie!) where by further amazing technology Professor Dumbledore welcomes you to the school.

I can’t say enough about the attention to detail. Everywhere you look there are little touches that help pull you into the fantasy – cabinets full of odd and ends, dust, worn drapes and flags, floating candles, the list goes on.

Inside a classroom Ron, Hermine and Harry appear from underneath the invisibility cloak to let you know they’re about to lead a tour before Hermine makes it magically snow from the ceiling.

A final stop by the Sorting Hat and you’re on you way on an exciting ride through the school grounds and a game of Quidditch using live action, giant scenes and special effects.

By the time we got off at 9:30pm the queue was still as long as when we went in.

With two more HP movies still to come I think the crowds will be there for a long time.

More magical, happy pictures from Hogwarts here

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