Muggle Mania: Visiting Wizarding World, the Harry Potter Theme Park

by Natalie on December 11, 2011

Florida’s Harry Potter theme Park, Universal Orlando Resort’s Wizarding World, isn’t just for kids. Read how the park casts its spell over four adult Muggles.

Entrance to Harry Potter theme park

By Natalie Pompilio, Contributing Writer

When my sister and I were making our plans to visit the Harry Potter theme park at Universal Orlando Resort (the Wizarding World of Harry Potter) in Florida, the question we got most frequently was, “How many kids are in your party?”

Posing for photos at the Harry Potter theme park

To which we answered, “None.”

Because we grown-ups like Harry Potter – and theme parks —  too.  That’s why, along with two adult friends, we spent the first weekend in December checking out the wizarding playground based on the books by J.K. Rowling.

Trying out a wand at the Harry Potter theme park

We’re serious fans. We’re the people who buy the books at midnight and spend the next day reading, the people who have www.mugglenet.com bookmarked on their computers, the people who see the movies multiple times – sometimes in costume. My sister even named her youngest daughter Luna, inspired by a Potter character.

Hogwarts Express, Harry Potter theme park

The entire site is divided into two separate parks: Universal’s Islands of Adventure theme park, which includes the Harry Potter rides, and the Universal Studios Florida theme park.  They are within easy walking distance of each other and you can buy one pass for both parks.

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride, Harry Potter theme park

Here’s what I liked best:

The Forbidden Journey. This simulated ride takes you out of the castle, through the quidditch pitch, and on a mini adventure with Harry and his friends. I’ll admit it: We rode this six times in three days.  We’d read other guides that said to run to this ride immediately upon getting to the Harry Potter section of the park and it was good advice.  We never waited long, and the waits we had was off-set by the many things to see in the castle.

Hogwarts, Harry Potter theme park

Going during the off-season. The weather was still lovely in early December– in the high 60s and low 70s – and we had no problem with crowds, save for inside the HP-themed stores. We never waited more than 10 minutes to get on a ride. Things were even more low-key after dark, when the castle and Hogsmeade looked amazing lit up. We took the opportunity to visit Ollivander’s wand shop then, when there was no line waiting for the brief performance featuring a wand choosing a wizard.

 Wanted signs at the Harry Potter theme park

The attention to detail. It was excellent, from Moaning Myrtle’s whining overheard in the women’s bathroom to the clerk who handed me the credit card slip and said, “Could you sign this for the Ministry?” I loved the shop windows: one featured a screaming Mandrake, another a display of Gilderoy Lockhart books, another quidditch bludgers trying to break out of their case.

Drinking Butterbeer, Harry Potter theme park

Butterbeer. While my companions found it a little too sweet, I thought the Butterbeer was quite tasty. I had mine frozen and it was like a butterscotch slushie. We enjoyed ours over lunch at The Three Broomsticks, where the menu included Shepherd’s Pie and Roast chicken.

Hanging with costumed employees at the Harry Potter theme park

The employees. I was amused each time they greeted us with a “Welcome, Muggles.” They were patient and helpful, allowing us to try on robes and scarves, generally make a mess of things and take pictures, and then not buy anything. The conductor standing outside of the Hogwarts’ Express never lost his smile, even when my sister gave him a little extra hug. (“I couldn’t help myself,” she explained.)

Employee interaction at the Harry Potter theme park

WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN BETTER:

More rides. There are three Harry Potter-themed rides and only one, the Forbidden Journey, featured HP characters. The other two are roller coasters. One, the Dragon Challenge, is a good coaster, complete with twists and upside down turns. The other, the Flight of the Hippogriff, is a slower, less challenging coaster.  (Although my sister screamed on that one, too.)

Also, there are no Harry Potter-rides for fans shorter than 36 inches. The Forbidden Journey requires riders to be 48 inches tall and the Dragon Challenge minimum height is 54 inches.

Merchandise for sale at the Harry Potter theme park

Bigger stores with more variety of merchandise.  Where, we wondered, was Dobby the House Elf? Or any merchandise with Voldemort, scary as he may be? Why couldn’t we pick up a duplicate of Mrs. Weasley’s amazing clock? The stores themselves were also on the small side.

Directions to Hogwarts, Harry Potter theme park

More, more, more! The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is actually a small part of Universal’s Islands of Adventure. We had many ideas for additional attractions: A Gringotts ride? A tour of the Weasley home?  According to an Associated Press article published this week, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando will be expanded. Since the attraction opened in June of last year, attendance has jumped by about 50 percent. An additional Wizarding World will be opened at the Universal Studios theme park in Hollywood, Calif. in the next five years.

Another view of Hogwarts, Harry Potter theme park

A few recommendations and observations:

Staying on site is great. You can walk to the parks or take the water taxi from the park’s on site hotel, the Loews Royal Pacific Resort. (We walked every time.) You also have access to the park one hour earlier and a pass that allows you to short cut lines. (In our case, this didn’t make much of a difference.)

Three days is the perfect amount of time to stay.  A three day pass to both parks, with taxes, is about $160.

When you’re not Pottering around, there are a few other rides in Islands of Adventure that are worthwhile. I particularly recommend “Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls,” a log flume. Trust me: You will be soaked. The 3-D “Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man” ride was also very cool.

Take the time to visit rides in the other Universal Park, too. We loved the “Simpsons” ride and the “Revenge of the Mummy” simulated coaster. The “Men In Black”ride, however,  didn’t do it for me.

Bring your own stamps. Sounds silly, but when  you go the Owl Post, you’ll find that a packet of 10 stamps costs $14.95. (Postcards are $1 each.) You can use your own stamps and still get them stamped with a Hogsmeade postmark.

Trying on wizarding robes at the Harry Potter theme park

Whip out that AAA card. It’s good for 10 percent off purchases upon presentation. That can add up, especially when wands run $30 and new wizarding robes are $100. (And you’ll be surprised by how many people go around in full garb.)

| Natalie Pompilio is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia. Her goal is to visit all 7 continents before she turns 65. Watch out, Australia and Antarctica.

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Lynette Young December 11, 2011 at 12:31 pm

I think we were there the same time you were! The lines were non-existant, I have heard from friends that during ‘peak’ vacation times there was over an hour wait just to get in a gift shop! We OD’d on butter beer and pumpkin juice for sure, and have now (almost) mastered the drinks at home.

I’m going to flip through my pictures now to see if you are in any of them! (We went Tuesday December 6th).

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Heather December 12, 2011 at 7:43 am

My husband and I visited the park in August and were completely disappointed in the castle. We didn’t ride the Forbidden Journey ride as we’re not coaster riders. The inside of the castle, in the walking through only part was disappointing. There wasn;t enough to look @ to make it worth the 2 hour wait to get it. The Hogsmeade atmosphere however was amazing! The stores were definately too small and crowded. The Three Broomsticks was great! It was just like being in the movies. We won’t be returning to WWoHP.

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Tricia December 12, 2011 at 10:15 am

Hi Heather,
I think you really need to ride the Forbidden Journey to get the full effect of the castle. I can see why if you just walked through you’d be disappointed. The ride isn’t actually a coaster at all. There are some twists and turns but it’s really the video that makes you feel like you’re moving.

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Heidi December 12, 2011 at 10:29 am

While I love going to the WWoHP with my kids, there’s something magical about being there with peers – especially during fan-organized events. I’m on the team for Ascendio, who’re having an event there in July – we had one in July of 2010 too – and when it’s not crowded and approaching midnight and people are in robes drinking Butterbeer, there’s nothing like it!

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Maria December 12, 2011 at 10:39 am

Great article, NTGO! I knew all that journalism education would take you places!

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Maria December 12, 2011 at 10:51 am

I took my daughter in July as her Sweet 16 gift. Only Zonko’s reminded me to use my AAA card at checkout. Enjoyed the Three Broomsticks and the candy we brought home. The shops are very crowded in the summer and that section of the park was full by 10AM. There were things I did not buy at the Harry Potter Exhibition in NYC because I thought I would find them at WWoHP (such as movie posters) but I didn’t see them. Frozen Butterbeer is a wonderful thing…the line is shorter in the HogsHead bar. In the wand shop, they will let you know which wand best fits you based on your birthday, but you have to ask. We’re just finishing the last bottle of Pumpkin juice saved in the back of the fridge… will definitely go back.

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@TravelEater December 12, 2011 at 4:14 pm

Glad you enjoyed Wizarding World. We did too, although I think the adults in our party liked it better than the kids (6 and 8, Forbidden Journey was too scary for them, and they wouldn’t try Dragon Challenge). Which dragon did you like better – Chinese Fireball or Hungarian Horntail?
I thought frozen Butterbeer was better too. Here are my thoughts on Universal (and Disney) snacks: http://traveleater.wordpress.com/snacks-disneyworld-the-wizarding-world-of-harry-potter/ I was impressed with the Ton-Tongue Toffee I brought home.

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Alison December 12, 2011 at 5:13 pm

You are right that Wizarding World is a great place for Muggles of any age to visit. It is such welcome news that the park will be expanded. Hopefully there will be plenty more attractions to visit, and also they will have more shopping available. The shops have amazing authentic detail but they are very small. I really hope that Snape and Voldemort will be found somewhere in the expanded park – they are completely absent in the existing Wizarding World unfortunately.

The only downside is the lines. At busy times waits of 2 hours for Forbidden Journey are not unknown. But at quiet times you really must take time to view all the details in the line. The attention to detail is spectacular.

Of course no one should leave without sampling Butter Beer!

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cailin December 12, 2011 at 5:31 pm

all i have to say is “jealous”!!!!!!!! :)

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Mitchel December 12, 2011 at 9:10 pm

I thought it was funny how all three reference about what was in the shop windows (a screaming Mandrake, a rouge bludger, Gilderoy Lockhart books) were featured in The Chamber of Secrets.

Anyways, you helped me answer a lot of the questions I had about my trip there in January! Thanks!

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Abby December 12, 2011 at 10:11 pm

Looks so cool! I grew up in Orlando; my high school is actually right across from Universal Studios. My mom and aunt went to this themepark a few months ago. I was soo jealous!!

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Leslie33 December 12, 2011 at 11:06 pm

Thank you for sharing this. Look forward to touring WWOHP in April. Will definitely visit the shops.

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Angie Orth of Angie Away December 14, 2011 at 11:26 am

I was lucky enough to be a part of the launch of Wizarding World last year. Can definitely say it was my favorite business trip of all time. Hanging with the cast for a week “at” Hogwart’s was just unforgettable. And I’ve been back twice! Really fun for Potterphiles. Great post!

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Natalie December 15, 2011 at 10:11 am

Hi, TravelEater –

Honestly, I couldn’t tell the dragon coasters apart. I’m not even sure which one we went on first. We were too busy walking through the (empty) line set up and looking at the signs for the Triwizard Champions. (That’s another little detail I liked: When you were bolted in the coaster, the attendants said, “Good luck, Champions.”)I can’t wait to go back and take your advice and get the Ton Tongue Toffee!

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TravelEater August 31, 2012 at 9:56 pm

Yes, the staff are excellent at indulging guests’ Potterphilia (I wish Universal would instill a similar attitude in their non Potter staff too…)
A friend went to Universal recently and brought me another Ton Tongue Toffee … Not sure if it was a bad batch or the novelty has worn off or what … But it wasn’t as good as the first one (not that it stopped me from eating it!)

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JoAnna December 16, 2011 at 11:19 am

Fun! Sounds like a really cool place!

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Steve December 27, 2011 at 2:31 pm

Just got back. outrageous crowds today so going to try again in a couple of days. Rained too so all the Harry Potter shops were crammed with people trying to stay dry. I loved the look of the area. we were shocked at the price of the express passes – $130 each! And rides queues were over two hours in places! Hopefully next visit will be a better experience

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Ronnie December 30, 2011 at 3:38 am

My wife and I visited in July at the peak times, we got there early and only waited about 15 minutes. The Forbidden Journey is excellent as is the butterbeer, the other two rides are re-hashes of previous rides but are still great. Found your blog through Tripadvisor forum and will keep up with your travels.

Ronnie (Scotland)

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