Now we are officially in the summer months, odds are good that some families will be winging their way to that magical land known as Orlando. Walt Disney World, Universal Studios and various water parks are calling their names.
One of the most popular sections of Universal Studios is Harry Potter’s Wizarding World. What follows is the account of three adults’ experiences, along with grades and recommendations in case it is on your list to visit.
My friends Carol, Lynne and I are staunch Harry Potter fans and so decided to go to Islands of Adventure last November just to visit Harry Potter’s Wizarding World for the day. We sprinted from the parking lot, jogged through Seuss Landing and other sections to finally arrive at the entrance gates.
First impressions were brilliant; Hogsmeade was the pages of the books brought to life, and the Hogwarts Express greeted us at the entrance along with a charming conductor who answered questions and happily took photos with everyone. We may not be children, but we could barely contain our excitement.
We had purchased Express Passes for the day, knowing that we would have limited time, but these are not valid on the Forbidden Journey ride, and so we decided to get that one out of the way first.
Forbidden Journey – Grade A+
Before you even enter the castle, there are example seats for larger passengers to try out. I realise it’s not exactly anyone’s proudest moment to see if they can fit whilst in public, but honestly if you’re even slightly concerned you need to take advantage of this opportunity to make sure you’ll fit.
You do not want to wait the one-plus hour to get inside the castle to the ride and then be pulled aside by a staff member to test a seat, only to find that it’s no cigar and you’re not allowed to go.
Note that as you walk into the castle, you’re heading to the locker rooms first, not the queue, unless you aren’t carrying bags etc… Sprint ahead of any crowd going in to get to those lockers, which are located in a small space next to a popular shop; anything to save you some time in that line.
You start off briefly inside the castle and then spend approximately half of your queue time outside. In November’s temperatures it was quite pleasant, and there are fans at points throughout the wait to cool you down. If you’re there in the summer you’ll definitely want a bottle of water at your side.
The second half is inside the castle. I won’t ruin the surprises – I’ll just say it’s very well done and worth seeing. Most interesting time I’ve spent in line for a ride.
The Forbidden Journey is an incredible mix of mechanics and digital technology. Honestly, we were all in awe, breathless, squealing like kids…the best ride of its kind I’ve ever been on; by a landslide. Some portions might be scary for young children, depending on their disposition.
You know your kids better than anyone else, but odds are if they faint away when faced with a harsh episode of Spongebob Squarepants this is not the ride for them. This is an exaggerated example, but you know what I’m saying.
As we alighted Forbidden Journey, all three of us agreed that we would come back to the park just for that one ride.
Once you’ve retrieved your belongings from the lockers, you’re into Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods. It was extremely busy in there when we went, but we managed to get our purchases sorted pretty quickly.
Piece of advice: Take advantage of their offer to have your goods waiting for you at the Trading Company store as you exit the park, that way you won’t be weighed down by them through the day.
Flight of the Hippogriff – Grade C+
Our Express Pass covered this ride and as we were walking by we figured why not? It was only a five-to-10 minute wait with the pass, whereas everyone else was being told at least an hour. I believe we found out later that day that the wait was exceptionally long because some maintenance was being done on some of the cars. This is definitely the family roller coaster of the bunch. Some good twists and turns, but nothing to make wee Johnny lose his lunch.
There are a few familiar sights from the books: a Hippogriff in its nest, Hagrid’s Hut; all well done, but our main complaint was the length of the ride relative to the wait to get on it. If I had lined up for an hour with or without children, I would have felt cheated. It is the shortest ride of the lot, and there were whispers of “That’s it?” at the end. Don’t get me wrong, your children will be fans, but if I were you I would either spring for the Express Pass or only go when the wait is 20-30 minutes at the most. For adults travelling with no children, if you have to skip a ride at Harry Potter due to time constraints, this is the one to leave behind.
Dragon Challenge – Grade B
I am a huge roller coaster fan – my friends, not so much. I cajoled them onto this ride, and as our Express Passes were valid for it, they reluctantly agreed. This is a roller coaster in every sense of the word; no visual trickery here.
We barely had any wait thanks to our passes, and by the way, there are some seats on these for larger-sized passengers. We only went on one of the dragons (apparently each one is a different ride but with equal thrills) and although I would have been back in line in a heartbeat, I definitely would have been going alone. I really enjoyed it. My wimpy companions were simply not roller coaster people. This is also why Forbidden Journey is such a great ride for all; you get the thrills but not the sheer terror some experience on traditional high-end theme park attractions.
Three Broomsticks – Grade D
After the trauma they experienced on Dragon Challenge, the least I could do was take my still stumbling friends to lunch. We passed the line-up for Butterbeer (this stuff was so ridiculously popular, why they didn’t have more outlets for it was beyond me) and headed into the fabled pub.
Thankfully there wasn’t any line to speak of, so we got to the cashier quite quickly. You order your food there, and then pick it up tray-style from the House Elves to your right.
The first hint that this was not going to be indicative of the cuisine in the books was when the family next to me received their plate of wedge fries and two small pieces of fried chicken, I’m talking wing level, that must have come from some mystical miniature hen.
Presentation wasn’t high on the list of priorities either. We ordered the Cornish Pasties, Fish and Chips, Shepherd’s Pie, Strawberry and Peanut Butter Ice Cream and Chocolate Trifle along with Butterbeer all around. Nice to get it here instead of lining up outside.
We went to our table, and surveyed our surroundings. The only reason I give this place a “D” instead of an “F” is that the interior design was interesting and the Fish and Chips were pretty good. The Cornish Pasties, on the other hand, were awful and small.
They had an odd spice in them that did them no favours. The salad was pitiful; iceberg lettuce plus other odd vegetables at their blandest. The Shepherd’s Pie seemed to possess exactly the same filling as the pasties! None of us were at all impressed, which brought on grimaces all around.
The one scoop of ice cream was OK, but at $3.99 stuck in the throat a bit on the way down, and my Chocolate Trifle was nice enough; probably the best of the lot.
We did understand that fun parks are not known for their haute cuisine, but considering the fact that food plays quite a big role in the Harry Potter books, the Three Broomsticks was a letdown. Trust me – I’ll eat Burger King any day of the week, I’m no Anthony Bourdain. Their menu needs help. Some of the House Elves looked pretty miserable as well. If I’d been wearing socks I might have considered giving them to a couple.
Note: You will almost definitely have to take the kids in here, so you might want to try the Fish and Chips or the Giant Turkey Leg, which looked good from afar, but I can’t review it because we didn’t have it. Butterbeer was delicious but I certainly couldn’t drink gallons of it, and I like sweet. One large glass per person should be enough for anyone.
Ollivander’s – Grade B
Luckily I had swotted up on the Wizarding World ahead of time so I knew that Ollivander’s was a show rather than the place where you buy your wands. I was neither here nor there about seeing it but Carol, age 48 I hasten to add, was desperately keen to go. I therefore volunteered to wait in line whilst the other two went off to make purchases as our Express Passes were not accepted here. You should know that you will wait in line for everything, even shops like Honeydukes that stock such things as Chocolate Frogs and Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans.
I stood in the queue for Ollivander’s for over an hour, and people were allowed in every 20 to 25 minutes in chunks of about 35. A wizard counts the number at the door – like a nightclub doorman in a pointy hat.
Finally I was at the threshold and my compatriots “magically” reappeared. I had of course informed all around me that I was one person holding a place for three. It’s usually understood at theme parks, but letting others know is good etiquette.
We were all let into a room with two-storey height walls, a desk, and a staircase to nowhere where a gentleman clad in robes stood at the top.
The Ollivander’s show has been well thought out, and the actor was excellent. Our biggest issue with this attraction is that when he descends the staircase, the table behind which he stands and chooses a child for the wand selection is standard height sitting on the floor. Lynne is 5ft tall, and she really couldn’t see him or the child clearly. I’m 5ft 7in and I wasn’t seeing it all either as I was near the back of the pack.
My advice? Your children will love this show, but make sure you get them close to the front of the room the minute you’re in the door. And the show is only about 10 to 15 minutes long at the most. The time between letting people in is deceptive.
The Owl Post – Grade B
After Ollivander’s you are encouraged to visit the Owl Post. This is a small shop and very busy. There is a wide selection of wands in boxes. Not only can you choose one of the main characters’ wands, you can also go with a Celtic design for the month of your birth. I went a little nuts here. Determined, apparently, to remain single for the rest of my life, I purchased myself a Gryffindor gown, tie and scarf along with a wand and owl puppet.
Perfect first date garb. Checkout was pretty speedy, but only one member of staff seemed to be au fait with what wands went with what birthdates, and as the information was nowhere on the boxes, she was in constant demand – being yelled at by wizards from all directions requiring her expertise. We found the staff pleasant and courteous, if a little harrassed. Again, expect line-ups into the Owl Post, although you may be able to circumvent if you visit Ollivander’s first. Either way, comfortable shoes are a must.
After the Owl Post we slowly made our way out of the park. I wish there had been a spell to rejuvenate knees and feet.
As I mentioned before, we would go back to Harry Potter just for The Forbidden Journey again. We were there on Veteran’s Day, although admittedly in the slower part of the season, and with some savvy planning we did everything in five hours, which is good because our feet couldn’t have taken much more.
Note that my reviews are from a Harry Potter fan, but adult’s point of view. Children will be absolutely under the spell of the place – I’m just trying to prepare you for what to expect so you can maybe utilise your time well if you’re restricted.
Final note: When we went to pick up our stuff at the Trading Company at the end of the day, the process was very quick. We also noticed that they sold a majority of shop goods in there, including Chocolate Frogs for which my friends had lined up for some time in the park.