To wrap up the Syfy Digital Press Tour, we got access to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter area at Universal Studios Islands of Adventure theme park. I’ve been following this place eagerly since opening, with a family trip planned in a couple months – but a “preview” without having to deal with the huge crowds? That would be just amazing…
There was a nice ice sculpture with the Syfy logo where the drinks were poured through to chill them, a sushi selection and appetizers brought around. For dinner I was sitting with Rosa from Gizmodo, Laura from TotallyHer.com and a gentleman from Geekscape who’s name I’ve unfortunately lost. Dinner consisted of courses of a combination bowl of lobster bisque and corn chowder, a micro-green salad, filet mignon and sea bass, and a potato-onion tart. Overall, a tasty meal, although our waiter did seem to have a problem with the concept of lactose intolerance. Taking the dollop of sour cream off the bisque/chowder does not exactly make it more tolerable…
Dessert was saved for Hogsmeade…we were taken to the Wizarding World area, where we were greeted by the Hogwarts Express conductor, and ahead lay a large dessert spread, another bar for drinks, and the Butterbeer truck. The buildings are quite detailed, with snow-covered rooftops (weird to see in 80+ degrees) and crooked facades. You can hear the squeal of a mandrake, fortunately for us behind glass. And in the rest rooms, you can hear Moaning Myrtle giggling and talking.
Everyone headed into Zonkos and Honeydukes to look around – the two shops are adjoined, and actually quite small – I can see this being rather difficult to get around during a crowded day in the park. In fact, none of the shops were particularly spacious. After taking a few pictures and a brief chat with Ashley Eckstein, I went outside and grabbed a frozen butterbeer – tasty, but brain-freeze inducing!
I met up with Rosa again who wanted a ride buddy, so we hit the attractions, all three of which were were able to walk on immediately (fat chance of that ever happening again!) First stop was Flight of the Hippogriff, a rather small coaster, nothing terribly exciting except for a couple turns, which was perhaps more interesting in that it was dark and the ride isn’t illuminated at all. You do see Buckbeak out in the garden though.
After that, we went to the crown jewel, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. The entrance to this is below Hogwarts Castle, which in the dark had a fairly realistic look. Plenty of lockers were available to stow your stuff, but I understand the wait just for the lockers can be long! After stowing our cameras, we journeyed through the queue area, which is VERY detailed. Every portrait I saw moved, and some talked, such as the four founders of Hogwarts. You also pass through Dumbledore’s office, where he even appears and greets you, the Dark Arts classroom, pass the Fat Lady’s portrait into the Gryffindor Common Room, just before boarding the ride. The actual boarding area is magically decorated with what seems like thousands of floating candles.
Now there has been a fair amount of controversy about the attraction not being able to accommodate larger folks, and they have test chairs at the loading area to find out if you can ride or not. A person ahead of me was tested, but I was glad to find out I apparently wasn’t close enough to be tested. We boarded the vehicle, which loads sideways along a moving walkway, with two other guests, and away we went.
In the attraction, you take part in a journey on a broom featuring dragons, spiders, and other things as you follow Harry on his broom. You tilt forward and back and swoop side to side with an amazing amount of motion. The ride is amazing and immersive, although some transitions between different areas can break the illusion, and the spider section has pretty fake looking spiders (although that may be intentional). I can see this ride being potentially problematic for people susceptible to certain types of motion sickness though.
On the way back to the main courtyard, we stopped off with the Frog Choir that made periodic appearances and got some photos with them. They also had a Tri-Wizard Spirit Rally, but I managed to miss them each time – students from the Beaubatons and Durmstrang academies put on artistic and athletic demonstrations.
We then went straight to Dragon Challenge (renamed from Dueling Dragons), which is really two suspended coasters intertwined, the Chinese Fireball (red) and Hungarian Horntail (blue). The queue area is long, but of course we didn’t have to wait – it just seemed to go on and on…you will come across the Goblet of Fire and the Tri-Wizard cup along the way.
Eventually we found ourselves at a choice – red or blue. We had heard one was more intense than the other, but didn’t know which. So we flipped Rosa’s business card (we didn’t have a coin), and went red. It was a fun coaster…again, it was in the dark, with no real lighting for references, so it make for interesting sensations as you fly up and over a loop in a dark sky. I don’t know if it is typically available at night, but it certainly was fun. At least I thought so. Rosa wasn’t much of a thrill ride person.
At this point it was time for a break, some more desserts and some drinks. I went over to Ollivanders alone to see what it was all about. I had to wait a few minutes as there was already a group inside, and then I was inside alone for a bit when Ollivander came out and began speaking to me, then several more came in and he chose one of the women to take part in the wand selection. It really is a small area, so I can understand the reports that it can be a really long wait to get in here. I didn’t find any of the effects spectacular though – fairly basic, actually. And of course, at the end, the chosen person has the choice to purchase (for a nice sum) the chosen wand (or any other they fancy), as does anyone else.
It was starting to get towards closing time, so I went back through Forbidden Journey to get photos of the queue area, and stopped in the shop for some gifts for the family, and then it was about time to head home.
It was a wonderful time overall, and a pretty surreal experience being in Hogsmeade. I can’t thank Syfy enough for offering us this opportunity to see the crown jewel in Universal Parks this way.