Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Universal's Wizarding World of Harry Potter

I wanted to write about this while it was fresh in my mind. You see, this past weekend we visited Orlando (our usual yearly trip). Mainly because Star Wars Celebration was being held there this year, and we were also dying to see the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal's Islands of Adventure!

To be completely honest, I went in with questionable expectations. One day, I would think "Universal had to have gotten this right, it's going to be amazing!" The next day, my mind would veer off along the track of "It's Universal, not Disney...I shouldn't expect too much or I'll end up disappointed".

And in the end? Well, in the end my opinion was somewhere between those two trains of thought.

First, I'm not sure if Universal didn't expect the turnout they've gotten for their Harry Potter themed area at IOA, or if they just really are that daft about crowd control and the like. Because when you enter the park, despite the fact that the quickest way to WWoHP is to walk through Seuss Landing and the Lost Continent, they direct you to the left--through Marvel Island, Toon Lagoon and Jurassic Park. Okay, I guess that they're probably trying to distract you along the way, maybe hoping to slow up the crowds who only go to IOA to see WWoHP. But bueno.

View of the Hogsmeade buildings
Thankfully, after a long unnecessary walk, you are greeted with what are at first some amazing sights of Hogsmeade and Hogwarts. Despite the crowds, I couldn't help but feel completely taken in by the scenery--and by the butterbeer! First things first, and all that ;)

We continued on to the new attraction, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, which is located inside "Hogwarts"...and this is where we first began to notice the telltale signs of the fact that we were in Universal, not Disney. From afar, everything looked great--but
Me, Steve, Melissa and Emily in front of Hogwarts
once you were in line, and especially in the extended queue that snakes through the "Herbology greenhouse", you could see that the castle was a mere facade and right behind it was a giant white building that obviously didn't fit in with the theme at all. The thing was, they could have given that building a paint job, made Hogwart's walls a little higher, etc...and hidden that completely mispaced white building. Of course I understand that this is where the ride is housed, but that's not my point.

And yes, we waited a long time for that ride--nearly two hours, actually. Was it worth it? I think so. I wouldn' t have wanted to wait longer than that, or wait that long had I been on it recently, but the attraction itself is exceptional. Sort of like a really intense version of Soarin' at EPCOT.

Now, the other issue I take with Universal is the fact that they force you to store your belongings/bags in lockers before you go on most rides--including this one. It's nice to not worry about losing anything, sure, but I would have liked to have my camera with me in the queue. And for the Forbidden Journey ride in particular, we waited about 20-30 minutes just to put our bags in a locker! There
Lunch at the Three Broomsticks--note my pumpkin juice!
really have to be better ways to accomplish this if they are going to insist that you stow your belongings, and excuse me for being a Disney snob, but Disney would have done it right.

Immediately after the Forbidden Journey, it was time for Dueling Drag--oops, excuse me, I mean "Dragon Challenge".

(For those of you who don't know, when they built WWoHP, they basically just renamed the coaster that was already there and threw a few Harry Potter-esque things in the queue to make it fit into the theme. Smart, and surely a money saver, but again...Disney would have re-vamped it much better.)

Ugh, I realize that I'm whining a lot about how much better Disney would have done things. Sorry. It's just that...well, it's the truth. However--Universal did get a lot right with WWoHP. For instance:
Steve with the yummy frozen butterbeer

  • Butterbeer and Pumpkin Juice. They's got them, and them's awesome. (Although we did the frozen butterbeer and I've heard not-so-great things about the regular butterbeer)
  • The Three Broomsticks. Great theming, amazing food. We all ate different things (there were eight of us there) and we all agreed that it was the best quick service theme park food we'd ever had.
  • The Forbidden Journey ride, as previously mentioned, and at least the inside part of the queue for it.
  • The stores (their theming and products), especially Honeyduke's (although I have to be honest about having some complaints here too, and I'll get into that in a moment)
  • The general look of Hogsmeade and Hogwarts, barring the fact that you can see a bit too much of the "outside world" for my taste

Cauldron Cakes (nothing but good things!) at Honeyduke's
My complaints about the stores--well, this first bit is a complaint I hate to make, honestly. Basically, the stores are built to scale. They are small. And crowded. And full of stuff. And I love all of these things, because admittedly...that's the way it should be. Unfortunately, they simply aren't built to handle the crowds of us muggles who visit WWoHP. You can barely move once you get inside, and on a regular basis there are waits of anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes to get in at all--longer for Ollivander's!

Speaking of Ollivander's...what can I say? You can wait in a much shorter line to just get into the store. Or you can not have any idea that there even is a much shorter line hidden in the back, and wait upwards of an hour (surely it's shorter sometimes, but not for most of the time we were there and that's how long we waited--an hour) to view the interactive experience. Which is really cool, mainly because in doing so you actually get to see the area of the shop that looks exactly as Ollivander's did in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. But parents be warned! They may choose your child, and a wand will choose him or her, and I wouldn't want to be on the parental end of that tale. Because you will either be spending $30 on a wand, or dealing with your child pitching a fit. I feel compelled to mention that at Disney, when they choose children to participate in Jedi Academy, those children get to keep the Jedi Academy robes that they wear. For free. Hint hint, Universal.

All in all, it was a great experience. I'm glad we went; maybe we'll even go back again in a couple of years. I certainly suggest a visit to all big Harry Potter fans such as ourselves. And if you go expecting not perfection, but "just enough" won't be disappointed.

1 comment:

  1. Beth (friend of Shane n Mark) LivingstonAugust 28, 2010 at 3:22 PM

    Oh my gosh! Love the info on Harry Potter WW! My son and I plan to get there this October and can not wait! Thanks for the info.