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The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Last summer my family took a vacation to Orlando, Florida. While there we visited Universal Orlando Resort, and of course, we went to the renowned Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The acute attention to detail portrayed in the park was matched by the astounding thrill of the rides as they took us through Harry Potter’s life.
As we took the last turn through Universal to get there, I was overtaken with excitement. Thoughts were racing through my head. I was already planning the whole day out, and then I saw it. The archway that connected Universal with the fictional town of Hogsmede was right in front of me! I entered the quaint little village with its cobble stone street and houses covered with snow. Although I knew the snow wasn’t real, it looked so real that I almost couldn’t tell the difference. I was awestruck, but then I turned my head to the right.
There it was. The legendary Hogwarts Express! Steam was escaping from the fixed replica and a conductor was standing at the entrance to Hogsmede Station. I got shivers down my back as I looked at it. I could picture myself riding through Great Britain on my way to Hogwarts. It was remarkable! After many pictures, we continued on through Hogsmede.
The first ride we came up to was the Dragon Challenge. This ride is set in Harry’s fourth year of school in which he takes place in the Triwizard Tournament. As we walked through the line we went through the “back stage” of the tournament where the competitors would prepare. The ride actually consists of two twin roller coasters that race against each other at top speeds. It is very thrilling with many twists and turns and a big loop. It was definitely a good idea to go on that ride before lunch.
As we rounded the corner we saw Zonko’s Joke Shop and Honeydukes (two fictional stores created by J.K. Rowling). We started in Zonko’s and saw all of the joke toys that J.K. Rowling invented. In Honeydukes, all of the candy that was seen in the Harry Potter books and movies was available to buy. I bought a Cauldron Cake and a Chocolate Frog.
Chocolate frogs are probably the most famous dessert in the Harry Potter Universe. Although they are just a piece of chocolate in the shape of a frog, they come in the authentic box and with a card with a picture of a famous witch or wizard. A Cauldron Cake consists of a small piece of chocolate cake in the shape of a cauldron. Inside of it is a chocolate mouse and the handle is made out of hardened chocolate. It was made for chocolate lovers. The thing that makes it great is that it tastes wonderful, and it is part of the Harry Potter Universe. What more could a chocolate loving Harry Potter fan want?
Across the street from the two shops, was another shop. It was Dervish and Banges, yet another one of Miss. Rowling’s fabulous creations. Dervish and Banges is made, in the park, for fans of Harry Potter to buy recreations of famous artifacts from the movies. There are many items inspired by the World of Harry Potter. Of course, the most important room for fans is the wand room. In there, fans can by recreations of wands from their favorite witch or wizard. The best part of Dervish and Banges, for me, was finding the wand that fit my birthday. Although this is not how wands are chosen in the Harry Potter Universe, it was still great to have a wand that was truly meant for me. Other things that were sold in Dervish and Banges were robes, Quidditch (a wizard sport) equipment, and other collectables from Harry Potter’s world. Another great part of Dervish and Banges was that I got to send an Owl Post. This is mail in the Wizarding World that is sent by owls. Some of my family members are huge Harry Potter fans, so I sent them a post card from Hogsmede with the official Hogwarts stamp. I imagine that it was very exciting for them to see receive this.
The last store we went into was the best one of all. Although it is found in Diagon Alley in the books and movies, it is set in Hogsmede because no one wants to miss this store. It is Ollivander’s Wand Shop. It is the most popular store in the park. The line to get into the store was almost two hours long! However, no true Harry Potter fan would mind waiting that long to enter the famous store. Once in the store, we got to see the ceremony of the wand choosing the wizard. All Harry Potter fans know how important it is for the wand to choose the wizard. It’s amazing to see this recreation in the muggle (non-magical) world.
After walking for that long, it was time for lunch. We had lunch at the illustrious Three Broomsticks Inn, so named for its iconic three broomsticks mounted to the entrance. Before entering the restaurant, there is a sign outside with the wanted poster for Serious Black, an escaped prisoner. It adds an authenticity to the area because it is a moving picture as depicted in the movies. Once inside the Three Broomsticks, we saw the dining room and it looked just like it did in the movies. We ordered and got our meal. The best part of the meal was definitely the well-known drink from the wizarding world, butterbeer. This non-alcoholic beverage is enjoyed by wizards and muggles alike. I loved it! It definitely kept the Harry Potter experience real.
After lunch, we continued walking, and we arrived at the grounds of Hogwarts. There was a roller coaster called Flight of the Hippogriff. This one wasn’t as high speed as the Dragon Challenge, but it was still thrilling and fun. The ride took us on a trip around the grounds of Hogwarts. We saw the hut of the game keeper, Hagrid, and the Weasley’s Ford Anglia that got lost after crashing into the Whomping Willow. The roller coaster was built with the head of a hippogriff (a flying animal with a horse body, but an eagle head) and it made it feel like we were actually flying on a hippogriff like Harry did in his third year of school.
After that ride it was time for the “piece de resistance.” I finally saw Hogwarts Castle! I was ecstatic to finally be there. That was what I had been waiting for the whole day. I saw the stone gargoyles guarding the entrance to the path leading up to the castle. In the castle there is one of the most technically advanced rides in the world. It’s called Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. The line to get to the ride is a journey in itself. It was two hours long! This may seem like a long time to weight, but it goes by very fast.
This line isn’t just a normal line. It is a Harry Potter fan’s dream line. We started off a bit away from the castle gate, and then we progressed down the path and into the first room of the castle. In that room, everyone is hurrying around trying to find a locker to put their stuff in so they can get back into line. Once back in line, we passed by a recreation of the Mirror of Erised and the One-Eyed Witch Statue (both are well-known artifacts from the Harry Potter World). As we continued on, we went out of the castle and waited outside. That part of the line probably took between forty-five minutes to an hour. Before the line went inside, we passed through an outside greenhouse and saw the mythical plant called a mandrake. Once inside, we passed more statues, and then we headed into Albus Dumbledore’s office. All of the details as seen in the movies and read in the books can be seen in this recreation of the Headmaster’s office. As I turned around, I saw the famous Pensieve that was crucial to the plot of Harry Potter and helped Harry fight Lord Voldemort. After that, the line moves into the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, where we were greeted by Harry, Ron, and Hermione. The last leg of the line took us through hallways, by moving pictures, and up to the Room of Requirement where we boarded the ride. That’s where I found it that it was definitely worth the wait.
As we sat on the magical benches, the overhead harnesses were brought down over us, and then, the ride took off! We soared through the Floo Network (a mode of magical transportation) and snuck to the Astronomy Tower so that we could get to the Quidditch Match undetected. However, things went wrong and we traveled all throughout Hogwarts and encountered many familiar creatures from the story. In the end we successfully made it to the Great Hall where Harry congratulated us for a job well-done.
The way this ride was presented was magical in itself. The benches were hooked up to long mechanical arms that would move us through the ride. We would tip forward and backward, swing fast from side to side, and twist and turn in any way imaginable. Every so often, we would come to an inverted half-domed screen. The screen would show us a scene that was filmed specifically for this ride. The shape of the dome in conjunction with the special effects going on around us gave the allusion that we were actually flying. Other scenes in the ride were actually built with all the attention to detail that was given to the rest of the park.
Universal Orlando’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter was definitely the highlight of our vacation. As a big Harry Potter fan, I most certainly appreciate all of the attention to detail and I commend Universal for the outstanding job they did recreating the World of Harry Potter. It is obvious to see the success Harry Potter has brought to Universal in Orlando, so it was great to hear that Harry Potter was going to Universal in Hollywood. This great news was also accompanied by greater news that stated that the Wizarding World in Orlando is to be expanded. As any Harry Potter fan would be, I am ecstatic and I cannot wait to visit not only the Wizarding World in Hollywood, but also the expanded Wizarding World in Orlando, Florida. For right now, though, I can only fantasize as to what the future has in store for Harry Potter.