Today’s guest blogger is Charon, The Odd Angel. She’s gone to The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter, and here’s her review:
It was probably a fortunate thing the crowds were as thick as they were that day in the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter park at Universal’s Islands of Adventure. And this is really saying something, as I completely and utterly detest crowds. This was the very worst sort of crowd as well, the thick kind where you can’t help but come into physical contact with the people adjacent to you and feel compelled to check to see if your handbag or wallet is in its last remembered location on your person. Yet I call this circumstance a fortunate one. Please allow me to explain.
Having read J.K. Rowling’s seven books from which WWOHP (as employees refer to it) was drawn and constructed, and having read them in and out of academic settings (complete with a college level final exam question regarding mirrors, doubles and their associated significance), I was very much looking forward to my experience at Universal’s latest offering. I actually felt the hairs on my neck stand tall as I walked beneath the iron sign that told me I was entering Hogsmeade, and saw the buildings of the town covered in snow. I actually felt my skin ripple with goosebumps as I looked up and saw Hogwarts perched atop the hill in the distance. I broke into a wide smile as I laid eyes on the Hogswarts Express locomotive, not even ten yards away from me, and the conductor who diligently checked his watch and the engine brakes even as he posed for photos with patrons in front of the massive cowcatcher.
My glee quickly faded when I and the rest of my party were swept into the courtyards in the wake of way too many patrons occupying the space provided. I had no set agenda, but nevertheless thought it would be impossible to see and do all that I would wish to within the time I had available. As it turned out I needn’t have worried.
The three rides, the park’s title dark ride and two (well, three, actually) roller coasters, had wait times of an hour and a quarter, one hour and a scant twenty minutes respectively. Choosing the last of the three put us on the Dragon Challenge, a pair of suspended racing coasters with distinctly different rides. Ironically it was the short wait time that got me my first real taste of WWOHP. Since wait times can be extremely long, the line is designed to be entertaining, an environment unto itself. Getting to walk the line tunnels not once, but twice (two coasters in one, remember … ) afforded me a walk through the halls of Hogwarts after hours. We wound through the Great Hall beneath the suspended candles and swirling sky, looked closely at the clue artifacts from Goblet of Fire days, slowed when the darkness was nearly complete about us and quickened our pace when light or sounds just ahead beckoned. The space was endless at times.
It was wonderful.
Too soon, though, both rides were completed and we were thrust back into the maelstrom of people in the commons. Our guides, encouraged by my positive reaction to the line experience, immediately steered us toward the hour-long line for the Hippogriff children’s coaster. When I looked at them as though they were out of their minds, they merely asked my indulgence. Once more, the open space and freedom of the line provided a close look at Hagrid’s Cottage and the Weasley’s flying car, which barked at us with an ailing horn from the tangle of vegetation that held it captive. All along the staircase leading to these were banners of loyalty for the Quidditch teams from all three Witchcraft and Wizardry schools. As patrons shot by us to join the ride line, we took our time, enjoying the space and the environment.
This environment and the experience of it is by far the most wonderful portion of WWOHP. I had thought that a visit to Ollivander’s would have topped the list, but I never even got inside. The cold, hard and somewhat heartbreaking truth of the matter of Ollivander’s is that even after a wait in a line that can exceed two hours, and even after you and your family are ushered into the shop, there is, at best, a five percent chance that your child will be chosen for the wand ceremony.
You read that right: An excruciatingly long wait, after which you may well have to explain to a child, in the most gentle manner and best way you know how, why they weren’t chosen. This is not a terrific paradigm in which to teach the importance of self-esteem, let me tell you. And if your child IS chosen? Let’s just say you’d better buy that wand outright. In fact there are trained staff members who take you aside and encourage you to do so, reminding you all the while that it’s all about the children, yours in particular at that moment.
No pressure, of course …
Upon learning this, I nearly went through the Dragon Challenge line once more to repair the pleasant illusion I had been holding up to that point. Fortunately there were a few more surprises that our guides had in store for us, most notably upon exiting the dark ride, about which I will only say that I now understand why nearly everyone I had asked about it previously had informed me they would never ride it again. It’s intense. To put it mildly …. (The wait time is worth it, however, as the tour of chosen interiors of Hogwarts did wonders to reestablish my illusion).
Encased in glass in one of the pillars holding up the roof timbers of Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods is the Marauder’s Map. It would have been very, very easy for me to remain there for hours on end, watching the footprints come and go, along with their associated names, as they moved through the corridors of the paper version of Hogwarts. Once more, though, uncomfortably close to myriad strangers, I extricated myself from the shop and met the rest of our party just outside.
I asked about several Diagon Alley storefronts and was immensely disappointed to find out that the majority of them were merely facades. There were animated window displays in many of them, but for the most part, they were for the eyes only. The two main exceptions on our trip were Honeyduke’s and Zonko’s. I was willing to brave the crowds to get in and look about (and to procure a few things for certain friends along the way …) but the sheer number of people packed into such a small space was enough to discourage me from buying much more than my budget (and waistline) would allow.
Exasperated, but also feeling as though I was being rescued from my more impulsive and spend-happy child self, I implored our guides to show us something that would end our experience in Hogmeade on a high note rather than a frustrated and slightly disappointed one. They were more than happy to oblige. Just behind Honeyduke’s and Zonko’s is a alleyway. It leads to a dead end, so there were no patrons there at all, but this allowed us to hear the muffled discussions within the walls of the shops that lined the alley. Again, environment had rescued the day for me. It was the prefect space in which to breathe deeply and regroup, for the best experience, in my humble opinion, was still to come.
Our guests led us across the commons to the comparatively deserted entryway to The Three Broomsticks. Once inside, any semblance of the theme park or the Real World outside fell away. Even the patrons, seated for a family style lunch, could feel the difference, and spoke in lower, calmer voices as they took their meal. The place was tall, open and airy. You could look straight up through nearly five levels of construction to get to know the character of the building. All the trappings of a Witch’s and Wizard’s tavern were there, from antlers (fabulous antlers all … ) and other mythic hunting trophies, broomsticks to bulletin board offerings, graffiti and paper flyers, including Sirius Black’s famous Wanted poster. From the outdoor patio you could see straight up the hill to Hogwarts.
This was the feeling on which I had hoped to end my visit to WWOHP and I had ended up here due to the density of the crowds and the astute choices of our guides as to how to avoid more unwanted closeness.
And this is why I maintain that the crowds were the best asset I had that day. They created a situation in which the choices made led to truly magical experiences in fantastic environments, rather than too much money spent or disappointment after a large investment of time and hope. They led to something much more similar to the experiences all of Rowling’s characters would have had, rather than merely another theme park adventure.
If you are a Harry Potter fan in the least, WWOHP is worth going to, seeing, doing, and waiting in lines, if that is something you do well. I don’t, particularly, so I was grateful for the experience of off-campus life the way young Witches and Wizards in Rowling’s world might live it. It isn’t often that I come away from a theme park attraction deep in thought, and this, to me, is a good sign that those who built WWOHP made decisions and choices based on deep thoughts of their own.
It truly makes all the difference.
For more information, or to book a vacation, visit Universal Orlando’s Website!