Dustysage and I recently got the chance to experience the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter land at Islands of Adventure. Below is a pictorial and review with MINOR SPOILERS.
Passing through the barrier walls and into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter was something of a mindblower. I felt that I had taken a step into the books of J.K. Rowling. I am no crazy fan of the books or movies. I think they are great, full of vibrant imagination, but not my cup of tea. In other words I am a muggle. But knowledge of the books is not required to feel totally immersed and enjoy this beautiful new area of the park.
As we had just an hour to explore the Wizarding World before the area opened to regular park guests, we headed first to the far end of the land towards Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. This is the location of the flagship attraction; Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Visitors enter and are immediately directed to store loose articles FOR FREE in lockers. We threw our stuff into a locker and then headed into the halls of Hogwart's Castle.
The queue wanders through the school and through insanely themed environments from the story's famed school.
Just one of the friendly "students" at the school
The school has welcomed visitors to their halls. Meanwhile, Harry, Hermoine and Ron plan to sneak you to a Quiditch match. Their plan is to have you meet them in the room of requirement and give you a seat on a school bench that Hermoine will enchant so that it flies along with them.
Dumbledore welcomes visitors in one of the most elaborate rooms of the queue.
Harry Hermoine and Ron give you the run down in the Dark Arts Classroom. There are special effects in this room which will delight (and perhaps surprise) you if you can avoid the spoilers long enough.
The Fat lady guards the door to Gryffindor house
The boarding spiel is cleverly masked in the form of the brilliant talking portrait effect
The amazing animatronic sorting hat gives you a brief rundown on how to board and what to do.
You board in a Haunted Mansion style area where a conveyer "belt" floor moves at the same speed as the ride system. You hop in to an empty school bench an pull the over the shoulder restraint down. The seating is comfortable and does not obstruct view at all. Hermoine appears above you and casts her spell. Immediately your bench comes to life and you are lifted up and into your forbidden journey.
The boarding area
The ride is a mix of digital projections, lush practical sets, animatronics, and special effects. The ride mechanism, a smoothly moving Kuka robotic arm on a rolling track, is 100% hidden the entire time. This allows you to suspend reality and let yourself believe that you are actually flying. Think of the ride as the most elaborate dark ride ever. Sort of a cross between Sorin', Spiderman, and Indy. But this ride defies classification and sets a new high standard for themed attractions.
This was the first time in a LONG time that I got chills, my eyes got watery, I got a little emotional, and I let myself believe the reality the ride was trying to convey. I was dodging a dragon, escaping dementors, and fighting off the Womping Willow. Every theme park trick is used here to it's very best and the end result is an immersive world of believable reality.
This is the BEST theme park ride since The Amazing Spiderman and Disney's Indiana Jones Adventure. In fact I would say that Disney has been beaten like a red headed step child at it's own game. This is great storytelling at it's best. Islands of Adventure now has the two best theme park attractions in the world, hands down. If you are in the Orlando area, Islands should be your first stop this Summer.
After riding the ride twice, decided to explore the rest of Hogsmeade. Some of the other Quidditch teams.
We took a trip over to Boar's head pub and bellied up to the bar for a serving of Butterbeer. It is offered regular and frozen. I preferred the frozen. Butterbeer is like a mix of butterscotch and cream soda. It is delicious! And stick around a while and see the hog come to life.
We took a trip into Olivanders and witnessed two children learning how to choose wands.
A spell gone awry causes wands to shoot out of the wall
We then wandered the stores.
My big complaint with the stores is that although they are very accurate and intimate, they are far too small for theme park crowds and get overwhelmingly full. Claustrophobics need not apply here. Seriously. We were in a small controlled group of visitors, I can only imagine how bad this situation will become on opening day. Will every shop require a queue?
We had just enough time left to check out what happened to Dueling Dragons in the Potter make over. Originally Dueling Dragons told the story of two dragons, Fire and Ice, that were locked in an eternal struggle with each other, leaving a path of destruction behind them. The queue used to tell the story of all of the knights that fell while fighting these dragons. It was a beautiful immersive queue.
What has happened to this once amazingly detailed queue in the transition is disgustingly sad. All of the detailed themeing has been torn out and the halls darkened. Tournament banners along the outside queue and the goblet of fire inside are the only noticeable touches. Very very sad indeed. I am just so appalled that such a lovely queue has been stripped down to nearly nothing. This is the only real sour note in Potter land.
Overall the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a stunning success of story telling and immersion. The sets are fully fleshed out, the details are ALL there, and the main attraction is better than anything Disney has ever done stateside. Our main concern is capacity of the shops and traffic flow. The land is intimate and tightly packed. From the flow of the traffic to the size of the aisles in the shops, it is all authentic to what the Potter world would actually look like. No liberties have been taken to accommodate the hordes of people that will be descending on this one portion of the park. We have to wonder if J. K. Rowling has insisted a bit too much on accuracy to the point of making the land almost impassable in crowded conditions.
It will be a mad house on opening day to be sure. We experienced the area in a limited group and the land already felt very tight, and the shops difficult to navigate. The line for the main attraction was swelling to an hour and a half, and there was a line of 15 minuted to get into Olivander's wand shop. Three Broom Sticks restaurant and the Boar's Head Tavern were pleasantly busy and Dragon Challenge was a walk on. Unfortunately, we missed the land's only other attraction, Flight of the Hippogriff (a kiddie coaster); but, we are told that it contains a full sized Hippogriff animatronic next to the queue.
Our visit was a magical experience indeed and we can't thank our tour guides, and MiceChat fans, enough for their kindness and generosity. Universal has created the single best theme park attraction in the world, it is an achievement nearly beyond belief.
Looking for more Harry? Please stop by Kevin Yee's review of this amazing attraction (he loved it too): Wild about Harry