In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade and have never heard of this Harry Potter bloke, I’m starting off with a two minute clip (featuring finger puppets!) that’ll more or less bring you up to speed.
Go ahead and watch, I’ll wait.
I love Harry Potter, so before we left Florida we had to make a detour to Orlando’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter to see how well the theme park portrayed the world of Hogwarts.
Tickets were outrageously expensive, access required hiking through Dr. Seuss-land, and there were hoards of overly-rambunctious children running around screaming and frothing at the mouth, but none of that mattered once we reached the gates of Hogsmeade.
Whoever designed the Wizarding World of Harry Potter did a great job capturing the ambiance of Hogsmeade, with its snow-capped buildings and fancifully-attired worker elves selling butterbeer from wooden barrels. We were surprised by the extent to which it actually felt like a quaint little wizarding village (ableit one full of ridiculous muggles). Well done, Universal Studios, well done.
Once we finished running around and squeeling in delight our initial inspection, we discovered that there are essentially three things you can do here: eat like a wizard, ride like a wizard, or shop like a very wealthy wizard who needs a lot of over-priced stuff.
Butterbeer at the Three Broomsticks
The Hog’s Head wasn’t open for business, so we opted for lunch at the Three Broomsticks. Given the length of the line we figured it would take forever and a day to get our food, but nope! The menu was quirky (what the heck is a Cornish pasty?), but we settled on the shepherd’s pie (which was terrible) and the fish and chips (which were, no pun intended, magical).
And, of course, a butterbeer.
A deliciously creamy butterbeer, tasting strongly of butterscotch and imbued with a hint of euphoric ecstasy. Yes, it’s served in a plastic cup, but you gotta let little things like that slide to keep the dream alive. We’re in Hogsmeade!
Vomiting the Previously-Imbibed Butterbeer on a Rollercoaster
OK, so we didn’t actually up-chuck our butterbeer (I know, ew), but that’s only because we avoided two of the three rides. We had no intention of enjoying the Dueling Dragon Challenge or the Flight of the Hippogriff roller coasters, even though there were supposedly some pretty cool sights along the queue lines (like the Triwizard Cup and Hagrid’s Hut).
However, we absolutely could not miss the signature ride, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Not only is it the only to see inside Hogwarts, but the ride itself utilizes cutting-edge robocoaster technology. Riders are strapped four abreast on an “enchanted bench” connected to a robotic arm that can pivot on six axes at once while simultaneously moving along the track… the result is a surprisingly-immersive roller coaster/virtual reality hybrid machine that wooshes you through traditional dark ride sections interspersed with video sequences synced to the motions of the bench. Over all, very impressive.
In the spirit of complete honesty, though, I’ll admit that I found the experience mildly terrifying (it’s OK, I compensated by repeatedly squeezing my eyes shut). While more emotionally than physically disturbing, I did experience a little nausea, and only part of that was due to the disgusting spider that spit in my eye.
Before getting on the ride itself, the thirty minute wait in line winds through Dumbledore’s office, the Gryffindor common room, corridors with talking portraits, the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, and a hollographic conversation with Harry, Ron, and Hermione that establishes the backstory for how a bunch of muggles like us are going to be able to fly around the castle. Unfortunately you can’t bring any bags or large cameras on the ride with you, though, so we weren’t able to capture any of this on film.
Finding the Right Wand
The main thoroughfare of Hogsmeade is lined with all your favorite shops: Zonko’s Toy and Joke Store, Honeydukes, Ollivanders Wand Shop, and the Owl Post, where postcards will actually get delivered with an authentic Hogsmeade postmark.
We bought some of Bertie’s Every Flavored Beans at Honeydukes and had a few fun surprises. Luckily we didn’t encounter any earwax or snot (which a Honeydukes employee gleefully assured us were included… I assume she was joking, but she was very convincing), but we did stumble on black pepper, jalapeno, and what was apparently dirt.
Next door was Ollivanders Wand Shop, where a handful of patient participants could watch a real demonstration of Ollivander finding just the right wand for a lucky lass or lad. There was quite a line, though, so if you’re the impatient type you can just wander into the store next door to buy wands “like” those used by Harry, Ron, Hermione, and other major characters. Kali was particularly enthralled with Voldemort’s wand (should we be worried?), but at sixty bucks a pop he decided to carve his own from a stick of wood. More economical, and hopefully slightly less evil.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter was quite an experience. Yes, it’s all a big tourist trap, gimmicky, and overly commercialized. All that notwithstanding, though, we certainly enjoyed ourselves, and I’d say Universal has actually done a pretty good job recreating a slice of Hogsmeade in central Florida.
What do you think? Have you ever been or do you want to go to the Harry Potter Theme Park?