Stephanie loves to travel. She has written numerous articles with tips, photographs, and information on places to visit.
Harry Potter Theme Park, Florida
Look out Walt Disney World; more and more often, tourists in Orlando, Florida, are heading to spend vacations at the Harry Potter Theme Park at Universal Studios instead. Since it opened on June 18, 2010, the amazing world of witches and wizardry has been delighting kids of all ages.
Based on the wildly popular book series written by J.K. Rowling, the Harry Potter theme park literally brings the magic to life. It was a good gamble for Universal Studios, despite the recession. Potter mania will never die - from books, movies and video games, toy wands and robes, to creative Harry Potter Legos, you can feed your wizarding hunger in many ways!
Although I haven't traveled across the country yet to see the new theme park, I talked to my nephews (ages 11 and 13) about their recent visit to Orlando. They were so enthusiastic about the experience, I almost felt as if I had disapparated from Oregon and ended up in Florida alongside them.
Now, I am just waiting for Harry to conjure up some cheap flights to Orlando for my family, and we'll be there faster than you can say "time turner...."
Universal Studios Opens the Harry Potter Wizarding World
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter has been open to Muggles in Orlando since June 2010. After two years of construction and building excitement, the attraction was finally revealed within the larger "Islands of Adventure" in the Universal Studios Orlando.
Harry Potter fans will be thrilled by the three exciting rides at the theme park: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Dragon Challenge and Flight of the Hippogriff. Six new Potter-based stores include items from the Weasley twins' mischievous magic and every flavor of beans. You can even enjoy a unique dining experience at Three Broomsticks and raise a Butter Beer to Harry and the gang.
Simply walking into the Wizarding World is an experience in itself. The world of Harry Potter has been so amazingly recreated that you may even forget you're in a theme park, and not actually transported to Hogsmeade and Hogwarts Castle. Talk about magic!
Just watch this video:
Experiencing the Harry Potter Wizarding World: Two Kids' Perspective
If you're considering visiting the Harry Potter Wizarding World, you'll want to get a real perspective about what to expect. My nephews, ages 11 and 13, just returned from Orlando and could not wait to share their experiences with me.
First, I talked with Brian, who will be a freshman in high school this fall. He's read all the Harry Potter books and seen the movies. This guy knows his stuff. Brian was really impressed with Hogwarts Castle (he noted that you wind your way through while waiting in line for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey). He marveled at the moving portraits, "just as cool as in the movies," and said that you don't feel like you are in a movie set, "you feel like you are actually there."
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Brian explained the Forbidden Journey ride, which is the park's main attraction (you've probably seen commercials with Harry Potter and friends riding on brooms). He said that the state-of-the-art 3D technology was very impressive. Groups of four riders get into a harness and are moved in sync with the 3D images on the screen. It feels like a roller coaster and is worth the wait in line to experience.
Brian also told me that the crowds were pretty thick and lines for the rides took 1-2 hours. Because his family stayed at a resort hotel, they had early admittance to the park at 8:00 a.m. instead of the usual 9:00 opening, which helped. Overall, he loved the Harry Potter park and would return!
Next, I talked with Conor, age 11, who will be in 7th grade in the fall. Conor told me about "Flight of the Hippogriff." This is a roller coaster ride for all ages - he said that you ride in a woven basket and the front of the coaster is a Hippogriff head. Before the ride starts, you have to bow your head to approach Buckbeak, to show him respect, just as in the book. Conor says "the ride is really cool, but it's super short." An hour-plus long wait for 40 seconds of fun.
Conor said that his favorite experience in the Harry Potter park was seeing a little girl have a wand choose her. While waiting in line for the shops (the shops are small and lines last up to an hour to get in), Olivander chooses a person from the lines to test a wand. The child is given a wand and a spell to cast - if it works, then the wand has "chosen you." Conor was very impressed, and I'm sure the young girl was too!
My nephews enjoyed a meal at Three Broomsticks, which includes Hogshead Pub at the back, and Butter Beer ("It's really good," said Conor). The boys also had some Pumpkin Juice, which Conor reviews as "apple juice with pumpkin spice in it," which he said, "tasted good, but it was too grainy."
Overall, the boys loved the new Harry Potter Theme Park and would return again! They complained about the long lines and the heat (it was June in Florida, after all). They didn't ride on the Dragon Challenge because the lines were so long, but Conor said that it looked "really cool," and he explained the two dragons that fight each other in the roller-coaster ride that you experience with your feet dangling down.
My nephews are not the only ones impressed by the new Harry Potter theme park. J.K. Rowling herself provided input into the design and planning, commenting that "the plans I've seen look incredibly exciting" and adding, "I don't think fans of the books or films will be disappointed."
Admission, Hours and Directions to the Park
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter truly is a theme park within a theme park. You don't have to pay extra to enjoy the experience, once you have admission to Universal Orlando Resort's "Islands of Adventure. As of June 2010, tickets are $79 for adults and $69.99 for children for a single day.
You may want to consider a 3-day 2-park pass to allow time to fully enjoy Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure during an extended visit to Orlando. You can save money and even get a kids eat free pass.
Harry Potter conjures up magic 365 days a year in Orlando! The parks open at 9:00 a.m. each day, and closing times vary.
From Orlando Airport, take SR-528 West 11 miles to I-4 East, then drive 2 miles to exit 75A and follow the signs to Universal Orlando.
GPS address: 6000 Universal Boulevard, Orlando, FL 32819
Universal Orlando guests are required to park at the resort parking structure. Parking is $14 for the entire day. Motorcoach/RV parking is $20. Valet parking is also available for $22 (all day).
Beyond the Park
Of course, the Harry Potter Wizarding World is not the only attraction in Orlando, Florida. If you are going to venture beyond Universal Studios, there are several other theme parks and plenty of other things to do in the area.
If you are on a theme park vacation, you are probably already aware of the Disney parks in Florida (Magic Kingdom, Disney-MGM Studios, Disney's Animal Kingdom, and EPCOT). Those that visit Universal Studios already know about the main park and Universal Islands of Adventure. Don't forget about SeaWorld, which features live animal shows and wildlife.
Adults can be delighted, as well, in Winter Park which features stained-glass works by Louis Comfort Tiffany, and in Loch Haven Park, showing American art from pre-historic times to the present at the Orlando Museum of Art.
Overall, when you visit "The City Beautiful," you'll be treated to pristine natural areas featuring 300 lakes and rivers, wildlife-filled preserves and parks, and manicured public spaces and gardens. Be sure to hit the Harry P. Leu Gardens, which showcases 50 acres of maintained flowers, plants, and trees.
Traveling to Orlando, Florida
If you are traveling to Orlando to see the Harry Potter Theme Park, consider going with a package deal. From $285 per adult, you'll have a 4-day vacation including hotel and admission to Universal Studios.
The Orlando International Airport is centrally located to many attractions in the area, including the Orange County Convention Center - should you have business travels that will take you to the Sunshine State.
Of course, overall, most people that fly to Orlando are there to enjoy a vacation! If that's the case for you, I hope you enjoy the magic at the Harry Potter Wizarding World. If you've been there, be sure to share in the comment section below!
© 2010 Stephanie Marshall