Riding a broomstick through Hogwarts, skirting the field above a Quidditch match and riding into the Forbidden Forest, is a thrill Universal in Orlando has made come alive off the pages of the Harry Potter series of books.
Universal Studios and Island of Adventure, its companion park, offer in their Wizarding World of Harry Potter experience more than a theme park ride. They have created the experience of Hogwarts, the wizarding school, a trip to the village of Hogsmeade complete with many of its shops, the Hogwarts Express and even a taste of butterbeer and pumpkin juice.
Universal even makes standing in line for a ride an event at the Hogwarts Castle as “wizards” call out to the muggles and riders actually walk through the great hall of Hogwarts, before they get on the ride.
The walls are adorned with photographs that speak to one another, and even quibble at times, much like in the movies, and at one point you even walk through the herbolgy classroom.
“It is amazing. Very little detail makes the castle look old. It has 20-foot high ceilings, and from top to bottom portraits are moving,” said my daughter Celia, at 19 still enamoured by Potter.
“It is really cool.”
At one point even snow falls on you, “and it’s real snow, it melts on your tongue,” said Theo, my 16 year old.
And the ride has not even started yet.
Once it begins, it takes the experience to another level, taking a seat you shoot up using “floo powder” and embark on a wild ride, dropping and pitching as though on a broomstick, with Harry flying along.
Along the way, you encounter with a dragon, spiders and the whomping willow, just for fun.
Upon her first visit to the park, J.K. Rowling, author of the Potter books, perhaps put it best in a promotional video, saying “the completeness of the vision is really breathtaking.”
Outside Hogwarts, there is lots to do in Hogsmeade village, candy and treats at Honeydukes, a visit to Olivanders wand shop, where you can buy your own wand, and there is Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods, Zonko’s, Hog’s Head Pub and Three Broomsticks, all selling Potter-themed wares, and food.
There are other rides too, such as the Flight of the Hippogriff and the Dragon Challenge.
As complete an experience as Potter is, it is just one part of the island resort, which boasts other major attractions such as Jurassic Park, Spider-Man — a ride similar to the Hogwarts experience — and the perfectly designed and executed Dr. Seuss-themed village.
Other major rides in the studio parks compete with Potter for the live experience style ride, such as Terminator and Transformers, which sees Autobots and Decepticons square off and riders, racing through the streets, get a bird’s-eye view of the action, dodging punches and rocket attacks as they go.
At the end of a long, busy day at Universal, it is offering something special this year, a celebration of its 100th anniversary showing clips from its movies with a fireworks, light and water display.
It is a perfect end to a day enjoying great rides, watching clips of some great movies by the water, with a colourful, explosive display as its backdrop.