By Rebecca Lynch
Chocolate frogs, a virtual dragon chase, and a refreshing glass of butterbeer are merely pieces of the fantastically realistic Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park at Universal Studios in Orlando, Fla.
Shops from Diagon Alley are incorporated into a replica of the village of Hogsmeade, which leads up to the remarkably realistic re-creation of Hogwarts castle. The authenticity of the park is the heart of the awesome experience for fans of the series.
Everything about the park is designed to make visitors feel as if they have entered Harry’s world. The creators fleshed out the smaller details to truly transport visitors into the books and movies. All staff members wear robes or some other costume, the colors of the shops’ interiors match those in the movies, and all architecture is seemingly taken straight out of the movies.
In the films, music plays a huge role in defining Harry’s world. In the park, scores from the movies are being played everywhere. The music fits each area. Upon entering the park, visitors hear the same music that plays when Harry first steps into Diagon Alley. Classic themes from the first movie swell around the castle. Lively music from the Quidditch Cup is played in The Three Broomsticks.
An impressive a cappella group occasionally performs various scores vocally in the gap between the Hogsmeade and Hogwarts.
The highlight of the park lies within Hogwarts on The Forbidden Journey. Groups of four fly through various rooms featuring different parts of the world. Some rooms feature interactive props such as the dragon’s head breathing hot steam, spitting spiders, and the chill-inducing Dementors. Other rooms feature a video screen where riders follow Harry and Ron through flying around Hogwarts and then in a Quidditch match. The entire ride is surprisingly realistic and intensely thrilling.
The park only has two other rollercoasters: one designed for children and a crazy twisting and flipping one meant for rollercoaster enthusiasts. With only those options everyone flocks to The Forbidden Journey, making the wait-time extremely long.
The shops are not designed for crowds. Some require a wait line to get in, and the space inside is so crammed that shoppers are climbing over each other to move to the next section. Store products are also limited. There’s one for signature candy from the series, another for joke products, one for wands and journals, and another for series merchandise. In the ultimate place for Harry Potter fans, the product selection should extend beyond the basic apparel, mugs, and stuffed animals.
Besides the rides, the wonderfully rich butterbeer makes up for the frustrating crowds. It can be bought cold or frozen and both types feature cream soda with butterscotch. The delicious frothy topping tastes like shortbread cookies.
The park has one restaurant from the series: The Three Broomsticks. The ordering process was designed for crowds, where patrons order at a computer station and then wait in line for the food. Only five meal types were available, but because they were already prepared, the serving system was efficient. The food wasn’t fantastic, but the flavor and density of the meal made it satisfying overall.
The restaurant itself features all wooden architecture and a variety of seating. The tables and chairs appear sturdy yet worn, capturing the atmosphere portrayed in the books.
Created atmospheres such as in The Three Broomsticks is the exactly what makes the theme park the perfect place for any fan. The details are well-designed and fun to find. If you listen closely, you may hear Moaning Myrtle in the bathrooms.