Reviewed By: Lance Hart
Two weeks ago I was fortunate enough to be invited down to witness and experience a truly monumental moment in the history of Universal Orlando… the unveiling and public grand opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at the Islands of Adventure theme park. The Wizarding World, the first new “land” inside this park, has been under construction for the past couple of years and is simply incredible. While it was built over a section of the former “The Lost Continent” section of the park, and even includes two of that area’s former rides rethemed to fit the Wizarding World, the entire Wizarding World looks and feels like a brand new area of the park. Even more so, the addition of the Wizarding World actually finally makes the Islands of Adventure park feel “complete”.
I’ve long been a huge fan of Islands of Adventure myself, and loved almost every square-inch of the park’s rides and themed elements, however deep down there always felt like something was missing that I could never put my finger on. Many other critics out there felt that it was perhaps lacking some overly simplified “kiddie” themed section of kiddie ride elements, but I did not agree. What IOA was missing was something with a little more heart-felt connection to today’s audience and I think the Wizarding World was the perfect fit.
For your first visit to the Wizarding World I really must suggest you enter the new land as it was meant to be seen, by entering through the village of Hogsmeade. So when you enter the park, make an immediate right turn and pass through Seuss Landing and the remains of The Lost Continent towards the new portal entry to the Wizarding World itself. (“Please Respect The Spell Limits”).
Right off the bat your every sense is suddenly engaged by this new world brought to life. The crazy looking buildings all seem to list and tilt in odd angles from each other, chimney’s curve into the sky, and perhaps the most normal thing you will see is the snow covering the rooftops. That is… if seeing snow at all is normal on a typical sweltering day in Orlando. Cautiously passing by the Hogwarts Express locomotive, still churning out smoke from its stack, I was surprised to find the entrance to Dragon’s Challenge immediately to the right side of town, formerly known as Dueling Dragons. I had thought I was familiar with the lay of the land here before, but something in my brain kept screaming at me that the entrance for the old version of the ride should have been down on the other side of town. Immediately I felt all turned around… as if in a dream where you recognize the neighborhood, but all the homes are on the wrong blocks and on the wrong side of the road. That is part of the power of the Wizarding World, because it felt like the entrance to Dragon’s Challenge had been magically moved from one location to another.
Refocusing my attention on Hogsmeade itself, it’s time to get a new lay of the land. Upon entering Hogsmeade, immediately to your left will be the Zonko’s joke shop, which is connected inside to Honkeydukes’ sweets shop. As you can expect, Zonko’s is stuffed to the roof with tall shelves containing all kinds of weird and unique items. Honeydukes however is much the same concept… except every weird item you see is actually eatable. Lots of odd looking candies and sweets can be found here, including the infamous Chocolate Frogs. Just outside, impossible to miss due to it’s size and the always sizable line leading up to it, is the Butterbeer vendor wagon.
The popular beverage from the Harry Potter books has been made real, created with a top-secret recipe by Universal Orlando. Once they got the formula right, she flew across the pond to meet with J.K. Rowling and staff to brew a fresh batch and get their opinion for better or worse. It’s said the taste test was an immediate success and was given unanimous approval. Butterbeer comes in two varieties currently… a normal cool liquid version that makes a very frothy top when poured, and a frozen version where the sweet frosty top is poured on after the fact. Both are incredibly good, and the best I can describe the unique flavor is to perhaps start with an A&W cream soda as the base flavor, but then add in other flavors like butterscotch, a little caramel perhaps, mixed with nutmeg and gingerbread flavors. Either way… you will likely try it during your visit. So far Universal has reported that at least half the park guests are sampling the popular beverage every day. And if your thirsty for a coke then… you’ll have to look somewhere else. There is no soda served within the confines of the Wizarding World, but you go have a selection of other items such as beer (for adults of course), apple cider… and the unique Pumpkin Juice bottles as well, with the small pumpkin shaped caps. This is another interesting drink, though not as good as the Butterbeer. In my opinion, it was kind of like a Pumpkin flavored version of an Arizona Ice Tea. Weird… but true.
With the beverages out of the way, right next door to Honeydukes is the Three Broomsticks, themed after the poplar Inn and Pub from the book and film series. Much like the beverage selection, don’t look like burgers and hot dogs in here… but you will find theme appropriate dishes like chicken, ribs, fish and chips and shepherd’s pie as well as a variety of other desert items like apple pie (said to be extremely good) and little “cauldron cakes”. Connected to Three Broomsticks is The Hog’s Head Pub.
After all this food and drink, I’m sure you’ll be looking for the little wizards room, which is located next to the pub. The restrooms do attempt to remain true to the theme of the Wizarding World, while adding a few items of real-world magic as well such as Dyson AirBlade hand dryers. If you get a quiet moment to yourself in there, you’ll also eventually be disturbed by the voice of Moaning Myrtle.
Across the street you’ll find the rest of the Hogsmeade shops… the Owl Post, which is connected to Dervish and Banges store, where you can perhaps lots of Potter universal items themed to the various magic houses, Hogwarts themed items, postcards (which can be mailed out with a special date stamp from Hogsmeade itself, and much more. Next door is Ollivander’s… the wand shop, which is a special intimate experience, as only groups of about 20 or so are allowed into the shop at a time. Inside one guest is called forward to meet with the shopkeeper who helps the aspiring wizard be chosen by the right wand for them. It’s a trial and error process as they are handed a wand and instructed to cast a test spell. If all goes well, it’s the right fit and theirs to purchase. However usually they have to go through a couple of bad-fits and the chaos that follows before finding just the right wand.
Be warned however, I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll end up waiting in a very long line to enter Ollivander’s due to the limited capacity of the store. You don’t have to be the chosen one to buy a wand however, or even enter the main Ollivander’s shop. Ollivander’s exits right into the Owl Post, where you can buy any wand you see on the shelves. There are tons of different wands to choose from as well, from recreations of the wands from all the different characters or custom unique wands created for the Wizarding World.
Enough about the shops… I know your dying to hear more about Hogwarts itself and it doesn’t disappoint, but... I’m going to leave that tale for my next installment into this traveler’s guide to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. For now enjoy all the photos I’ve included here in Part I, including a bunch of shots of the film’s cast taken during a special press conference inside the Three Broomsticks.
Now go read: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Part 2