NOTE: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando is divided into two lands at two parks. This article is about the Hogsmeade land, home of Hogwarts Castle, at Islands of Adventure. The other land, which is located at Universal Studios Florida, is The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley. The two parks and two lands are connected by the Hogwarts Express train. Speaking of the train, check out my editorial, Why the Hogwarts Express may change everything at Florida's theme parks.
OK, now that you know the breakdown, let's take a look at the original Potter land, Hogsmeade:
Immerse Yourself in Potter Lore
Theme parks and park designers are fond of using some variation of the word "immersion" when describing their lands and attractions. Sometimes, it's warranted; often, the barely-there themeing makes their use of the word questionable at best and blatantly, knowingly false at worst.
The folks from Universal parks and Warner Bros. films, however, clearly aspired to grand-scale immersion when they developed The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It is one of the -- if not the -- most richly detailed, immersive environments ever presented at a theme park. It takes the art of park storytelling to new and breathtaking levels.
Inside Hogsmeade's gates, nearly everything and everybody stay true to the Harry Potter mythology. There is no sunscreen for sale in any of the shops. Why would anyone in the snow-dappled village need SPF 30 (never mind the blazing Florida sun that shines above this fictional land)? Items that are for sale, including quidditch quaffles and exploding bonbons are all actualizations of the fanciful things conjured by Potter author, J.K. Rowling. Both casual and ardent fans of her wildly popular books and the films they inspired will revel when they visit the park, and Rowling's world comes to life around them.
How immersive and painstakingly detailed is Universal's paean to Potter? Sure, whimsical discoveries abound, such as musical instruments that play themselves and a growling, fang-baring Monster Book of Monsters. But consider some of The Wizarding World's more mundane details. For example, many of the storefronts in Hogsmeade, over a thousand years old according to Rowling's lore, have settled through the millennium. There isn't a straight line to be found. The glass in the shops' windows have imperfections and sag in their weather-beaten frames. That is an astonishing commitment to the story.
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But Oh, the Ride!Hogwarts Castle, which dramatically announces itself when guests reach the end of the village and suddenly see it towering high on a hill, is everything a muggle who's been invited to the off-limits shrine could hope for. Meandering through the hallowed halls on their way to the Fobidden Journey ride, guests encounter all sorts of wizardry, including portraits that, astonishingly, start talking and moving and snow that begins falling from the ceiling. Even without the ride, the tour through Hogwarts is an incredible standalone attraction.
But oh, the ride! Using a breakthrough robotics ride system, filmed sequences projected onto mini domed Ominmax screens, and lavishly appointed scenic design elements, the Fobidden Journey is pure magic. It's a technical tour-de-force that sends riders flying along with Harry and his wizarding friends for a one-of-a kind adventure. Close encounters with a fire-breathing dragon and a thrashing Whomping Willow redefine immersion for this wholly immersive attraction.
Wizarding World's impressive immersion, however, sometimes comes at the expense of theme park practicality. Hogwarts Castle and the Forbidden journey ride have been designed to handle enormous crowds. But the shops are all built to scale--to serve the story, no doubt--and the tight quarters can't comfortably accommodate the hordes of muggles who visit on busy days.
Another quibble: The two coasters, particularly the massive Dragon Challenge ride, seem out of place in the otherwise meticulously themed land. They are repurposed holdovers from Wizarding World's previous incarnation as Islands of Adventure's Lost Continent. I suspect that they would not have been part of the plan had Wizarding World been designed to occupy an empty space.
I also suspect that the remains of the park's truncated Lost Continent is destined to be lost forever, since Universal is likely to have more Potter plans up its robed sleeve. Should that happen, muggles will no doubt clamor to be immersed in more of The Wizarding World.
Entrance to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is included in the general admission to Islands of Adventure. Note that a two-park ticket is required in order to ride the Hogwarts Express.
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Tip: Guests at Universal Orlando's hotels can enter IOA one hour before the general public.
See the Land
Photo Gallery of the Wizarding World
Take an extensive virtual tour of the land.
- Exclusive About.com Video of the Wizarding World
Wizarding World Grand Opening Photo Gallery
See the stars of the films who attended the kickoff event.
Rides and Attractions:
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
Can you handle it? Height requirement: 48 inches.
Note that the vehicles may not accommodate heavier guests with certain body types. Test seats are available prior to boarding. The physical thrills are relatively mild, but the psychological "gotcha" thrills are intense.
The signature Hogsmeade attraction uses advanced robotics to send guests on a wild journey alongside Harry, Hermione, and Ron where they experience many iconic scenes from the films. It is the most advanced, stunning park ride anywhere. See my review of Forbidden Journey.
Can you handle it? Height requirement: 54 inches.
Don't be fooled! Just because it is located in Potter land does not mean that this is a toned-down family ride. It is an intense, high-thrills coaster with lots of inversions and positive G-forces.
An outstanding inverted coaster, Dragon Challenge offers two tracks (with two different rides).
Flight of the Hippogriff
Can you handle it? Height requirement: 36 inches.
The family coaster climbs a mere 43 feet and reaches a top speed of 29 mph, making it fairly accessible to all but the most thrill-averse guests.
Loosely themed to the Potter mythology, guests pass Hagrid's Hut and encounter a Hippogriff while aboard the coaster.
What's to Eat
The Three Broomsticks tavern offers Potter-specific fare such as Cornish Pasties (pastry puffs filled with minced beef and vegetables) and strawberry and peanut butter ice cream. Conventional grub, such as fish and chips, is also available. The food is quite good. The Hog's Head bar features butterbeer (frozen and non-frozen), which has traces of shortbread and butterscotch and is addictive, pumpkin juice, and "real" alcoholic beverages. Discover other places to eat at the resort in my feature, best Universal Orlando dining.
What's for Sale?
Ollivanders wand shop features a charming, brief show in which "the wand chooses the wizard" (a lucky chosen youngster). The shop accommodates only about 25 guests at a time, and the line to get in can grow long. Wands are for sale in an adjacent store.
Other stores include Zonko's (a joke shop made famous by the Weasley twins) with Potter oddities like Extendable Ears; Dervish and Banges, which offers a lot of Quidditch gear; Honeydukes, a sweets shop with gastronomical curiosities such as Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavour Beans (including--ew!--fish and cheese flavors).