A Marvel of Imagination, Creativity & Craftsmanship that will Delight Young & Old

by Karen Rubin

Cross under a stone archway and enter the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando © 2010 Karen Rubin/

I’ve been dying to see Harry Potter ever since I heard Universal Orlando was creating a park around the J.K. Rowling novels and Harry Potter movies. I can’t wait to see how they are able to turn what is in the mind and on the screen into an actual place, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I am as thrilled at the chance to enter the world of “Harry Potter” as a six-year old is to meet Mickey Mouse.

And now, I’m through the gate of Islands of Adventure, I walk briskly through the Moroccan-themed Port of Entry (stopping at a shop to pick up some Dramamine), dash through the colorful, whimsical Seuss Landing, and cross the bridge from the Lost World straight to Harry Potter.

I’m not alone. It seems that everyone else has the same idea.

I pause at the stone archway that leads into Hogsmeade, and once I cross over, it is every bit as if I left Muggle mundanity behind for this wondrous and magical world.

You suddenly find yourself in this bustling village – snow-topped roofs (you forget you are in Florida and the temperature is about 90 degrees), cobblestone streets, vendors selling Butterbeer and pumpkin juice from carts, and the Hogwarts Express in the station on track 9 3/4.

The Hogwarts Express and its jovial conductor greet you at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter © 2010 Karen Rubin/

The conductor is there, a round-faced, cheery man who is delighted to pose for pictures in front of the train. I can’t resist. I pose.

I take in the scene, it is absolutely perfect. Enchanting. Magical. Amazing.

You are engaged in everything, the flurry of activity and the interesting, the odd, the strangely familiar, filled with the feeling of wonder, very much as Harry did on his first visit to Hogsmeade.

As enchanting as everything is, and I want to soak it all in, we dare not tarry. We head straight for Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizarding – this awesome castle that seems to rise from a mountain – and the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride and I am worried that if we dally the wait will be terribly long.

Visible from every part of the park, the castle is amazing. Enormous. It rises from a rocky promontory. the stunning detail is marvelous to behold. I can’t wait to see inside.

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey

The Hogwarts castle, now the iconic structure at Universal Islands of Adventure, is massive, so detailed, and takes your breath away © 2010 Karen Rubin/

At the entrance gate, you can sample the seat for the ride (you can make sure you fit; they are particular about that); I take note that it has a top on it, a clue.

You aren’t allowed to take anything into the ride that doesn’t fit into a pocket. Lockers are available (they lock and reopen with a finger print), free for 80 minutes, but they are too small to hold a backpack (larger pay lockers are available at the train “station” by the Hogwarts Express).

You walk into the darkened castle, lighted as if by torches, and immediately feel the mystery inside. Then the line takes you outside again to a queue.

For us, the posted wait time was 60 minutes, but it seemed like only about 15-20 minutes of it was on the queue (under an awning) before you enter Hogwarts castle, itself.

But the castle is completely enchanting. You want time to take it all in. There are the iconic places and significant artifacts from the stories (see how well you do to identify all of them). The halls lined with the moving portraits engaged in conversations with each other that tell the story; Dumbledore’s office where Professor Dumbledore, himself, greets you. You’ll get a look at the cabinet of memories and the pensieve and see the sorting hat.

In Hogwarts, you walk through vast hallways, filled with portraits that move and have conversations with each other© 2010 Karen Rubin/

You have to get by the portrait of the Lady guarding the entrance to Gryffindor common room.

The Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom is where Harry, Ron and Hermione make an appearance.

Even if you are not able or interested in taking the ride, take the tour of the castle because before you get to the ride, you can exit off (that is where if you have a backpack you can hand it off to a non-rider in your group). By the time you siphon off to Exit those who don’t want to go on the ride, it is just about another 5 minutes to the ride, and the ride lasts 4-5 minutes.

Just before you get on the ride, there is a Child Swap – a room where you can leave your little one (and perhaps pick up a better one, the attendant jokes).

Now, I am not a roller coaster person. I typically avoid the “thrill” rides. But nothing was going to keep me away from Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.

So I prepared. I was able to buy Dramamine from a shop at the Port of Entry when we first arrived in the park (the kindly young woman went to the back to get it for me because the shop that sold it hadn’t opened yet) – this actually is my recommendation to enable anyone who gets motion sickness, to enjoy most if not all the rides in a themepark.

My other method is to get as much information I can about the ride, so I can prepare myself – how steep the drops, how sharp the turns, if it goes backwards (this one doesn’t); how long the ride lasts. I ask attendants and as many other guests as I can who have already done the ride. An older gentleman who had taken the ride reassured me that it was not more severe than the Mount Kilimanjaro coaster at Disney’s Animal Kingdom (that is the limit of my coaster tolerance, and I hadn’t even taken Dramamine for that one). What is more, I am told that the technology incorporates hydraulics instead of the older coaster technology, which apparently softens the jerkiness of sudden changes in direction.

Professor Dumbledore greets Muggles visiting Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizarding on their way to the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride housed within the castle © 2010 Karen Rubin/

At last, I am secured into this flying chair, and we are off.

The ride is like traveling through the scenes in the movie, recreating with incredible exactitude the elements and storytelling, literally immersing you in the world of Harry Potter. We travel by Floo Network, soar over Hogwarts, dashing after Harry on his Firebolt, narrowly escape a dragon attack, have a close encounter with the Whomping Willow, and get pulled into a Quidditch match.

It is an amazing and fun ride, and I am thrilled that I did it.

But if you don’t want to do the ride, go through the Hogwarts castle anyway – in fact, you can tell the attendant you aren’t riding, and you can walk the Singles line which bypasses the outside queue (there’s no Express Pass access to this ride).

Before exiting back into Hogsmeade, you find yourself in Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods. If you hadn’t stopped in the shops on the way in, it is here that you get the sense of just how clever and how detailed the Wizarding World is: the shop is full of Ministry of Magic and magical creatures merchandise, Omnioculars, and even remote control Golden Snitches; you can buy your very own Marauder’s Map and even a Deatheater mask. You can also purchase a photo from your ride.

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is the centerpiece of the Wizarding World attraction, but there are two other major rides:

The Flight of the Hippogriff is a family coaster simulating a Hippogriff training flight (in a wicker basket fashioned into a Hippogriff) over the grounds of Hogwarts castle. You can learn a few tips from Hagrid before taking flight.

Dragon Challenge is a monster of a twin high-speed roller coaster (not for the faint of heart) with many iconic elements from the Triwizard Tournament, like a blazing Goblet of Fire and shiny Triwizard Cup. Here, you choose your dragon (coaster): the Chinese Fireball or the ferocious Hungarian Horntail. Just looking at the coaster sends chills – huge drops, twists, loops where your feet dangle up. The two coasters have different rides but seem like they will collide at some points.


Harry, Ron and Hermione make an appearance in The Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom © 2010 Karen Rubin/

Having achieved my goal of doing the Harry Potter ride and seeing Hogwarts, I now can take in the full wonder of Hogsmeade. The meticulous detail – you are enthralled to spend time just looking in the windows of the shops.

I see a line into a shop… it doesn’t seem to be marked on the themepark map. I ask the fellow manning the door what people are waiting for: They are waiting to enter Ollivanders Wand Shop, for what I am told is an “interactive experience,” involving a Wandmaster and special effects, letting you experience the same type of magical moment Harry had in “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” when his wand “chooses” him.

This I have to see. So I happily wait on the 35-minute line – it goes quickly because you are watching all the street scenes and there is so much to take in. A young woman behind me gasps when she thinks she sees a bass fiddle move in the second floor window of Dervish and Banges, the magical instruments and equipment shop, featuring Quidditch equipment such as Quaffles, GoldenSnitches and brooms including the Nimbus 2001 and the Firebolt, Triwizard apparel, and magical stuff like Spectrespecs, Sneakoscopes, Omnioculars, and Remembralls.

Before we know it, it’s our turn to enter Ollivanders, “maker of fine wands since 382 BC.”

The darkened hallways of Hogwarts on the way to Harry Potter & the Forbidden Journey © 2010 Karen Rubin/

About 25 people at a time pack into the shop, which looks very much like it does in the film – an intimate, single-windowed building with the same signs, colors and details as described in the books and seen on the screen. It’s crammed floor to ceiling with boxes and boxes and boxes of wands.

The obliging Wandkeeper chooses a visiting “witch” to assist, guiding her through an exchanting experience to find her special wand. He asks a few questions, then selects a wand to try. She gives a wave and magical mishaps occur until the right “fit” is found. (She can purchase it, for $35, the wandmaster tells her as he puts the box into her hands on her way out; in the shop, there are many varieties of wands that you can purchase, associated with the Harry Potter characters.)

Other magical happenings at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter include a Howler featured in the Owl Post shop front window whose ranting can be heard by guests as they pass by; The Monster Book of Monsters in Dervish and Banges that snarls and growls at anyone who tries to get too close, and the Hog’s Head which can be seen puffing his jowls at visitors who visit the Hog’s Head pub. In the window of one shop, you see the globeds shaking with the snitches trying to burst from the quidditch set.

Take time to enjoy the shops and taverns – they are as much fun as the ride.

If you ever wondered what Fizzing Whizzbees, Cauldron Cakes, Acid Pops, Chocolate frogs, Treacle Fudge, Exploding bonbons or Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavour Beans might be, you can find them at Honeydukes where the sweetshop shelves are lined with colorful sweets.

The wandmaster at Ollivanders helps the visiting witch find the wand that's meant for her © 2010 Karen Rubin/

The Owl Post sends letters with a certified Hogsmeade postmark and sells official stamps from The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

The Zonko’s joke shop is here too, with a collection of tricks and jokes, including Extendable Ears, Boxing Telescopes, Screaming yoyos, and Sneakoscopes and sweets like Nosebleed nougat and U-No-Poo.

The dining places here continue the fantasy: The Three Broomsticks and adjacent Hog’s Head pub feature traditional British fare – Shepherd’s Pie, Cornish pastry, fish and chips – and drinks including Butterbeer and pumpkin juice (as well as actual beer, spirits and mixed drinks).

There are also a couple of “entertainments” to enjoy: Catch the Frog Choir, a presentation of songs by a small choir of Hogwarts students, who sing acappella, accompanied by their large croaking frogs.

There is also a Triwizard Spirit Rally, where a colorful procession of Hogwarts Beauxbatons and Durmstrang students whip up support for the Triwizard Tournament.

The level of detail that has been incorporated is truly fantastic. When you visit the Girls/Boys bathrooms, listen for Moaning Myrtle’s voice.

You can easily spend an entire day in the Wizarding World – there is so much to see, so many marvelous and clever details. It in fact a remarkable artistic achievement that adults will appreciate for its masterful craftsmanship.

“Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling signed off on everything, down to the temperature of the Butterbeer, I am told.

Spend time roaming Hogsmeade and exploring the shops and dining places, including The Three Broomsticks and adjacent Hog's Head Pub © 2010 Karen Rubin/

“I said right at the beginning, either we do it right or we don’t do it at all,” J.K. Rowling said during the opening of the Wizarding World last June. “The teams at Universal and Warner Bros. have done it right, so I am so happy.”

Her Harry Potter series has been translated into 69 languages with more than 400 million copies sold in over 200 territories around the world. The films, produced by Warner Bros. Pictures, have grossed more than $5.4 billion at the box office worldwide, making Harry Potter the largest-grossing film franchise in history.

Surely, the swarm of people in Hogsmeade when we visited reflected the global appeal of the characters.

Five years in the marking, Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter has been one of the most highly anticipated entertainment experiences of the year. Expectations were extremely high. Did it measure up? Absolutely.

“We have created a special place unlike anywhere else in the world,” said Tom Williams, chairman and CEO for Universal Parks and Resorts. “The adventures of Harry Potter are among the most popular of our time – and we are bringing them to life. We will put our guests in the middle of a Harry Potter adventure. They will feel as if they are in the movies with Harry and his friends.”

And that is the truth.

Mischief managed.

The Harry Potter website is part of the fun! It certainly sets the

A child enjoys the magical experience of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter © 2010 Karen Rubin/

Visiting Universal Orlando Resort

Universal Orlando Resortis a theme park destination that places you in the heart of some of pop culture’s most incredible and timeless stories. The resort consists of two major theme parks – Universal Studios (which puts you into the movies) and Islands of Adventure as well as Universal CityWalk, a 30-acre restaurant, shopping and nighttime entertainment complex (we enjoyed the Hard Rock Cafe and Rising Star karaoke club during our visit); and three magnificently themed on-site hotels – the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, Hard Rock Hotel and the Loews Royal Pacific Resort. Flagship experiences featured in the theme parks include “The Simpsons Ride,” “Revenge of the Mummy – The Ride,” “The Incredible Hulk Coaster” and “The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man.”

A major advantage to staying in one of the three Universal Orlando Resort world-class on-site hotels is that your room card-key lets you go through the Express Pass line, saving hours of waiting at participating rides and attractions (a feature which is worth $87 per person, per day). Other advantages include the near access (you don’t fight traffic and parking to get into the park, you can take a relaxing, 7-minute boat ride from the Loews Portofino Bay and the Hard Rock Hotel, or simply take a 13-minute walk along the water). You also have the privilege of entering the park an hour before the official opening.

For entertainment, catch the Frog Choir, Hogwarts students who sing acappella, accompanied by their large croaking frogs © 2010 Karen Rubin/

Another reason to choose these hotels is the sheer magnificence of the themed experience that is carried over to the hotels (Loews Portofino Bay is one of my favorite hotels in the world), the top-notch service, resort-style amenities. Also, the hotels have after-hours “camp” and baby-sitting available, so you can go back and enjoy CityWalk . It also significantly extends your themed experience – you can go back to the hotel during the day to relax and get a second wind, and then return to CityWalk for all the restaurants, entertainment places that are open until 2 a.m. (More about the Loews Portofino Bay to come).

There are a score of different ticketing and vacation package options, including single day/single park, multi-day, two-park, peak/non-peak, Park to Park VIP Ticket. You can buy a one-day Express Pass which lets you avoid the lines (quantities are limited and pricing goes up with demand). Purchasing tickets online is cheaper than at the gate (check for special deals), and then you just go directly to an automated machine to issue the ticket, like at an airline e-ticket machine. All the different ticket options and special deals (like a Meal Deal) are explained

Dragon Challenge is a monster of a twin high-speed roller coaster (not for the faint of heart) with iconic elements from the Triwizard Tournament© 2010 Karen Rubin/

If you’re considering Orlando, whether booking an Orlando vacation at or specific hotels, check into some of these awesome specifics, such as the new Universal ‘Wizarding World of Harry Potter’.

Vacation packages are available with the three on-site hotels (packages start at $650/adult, $1553 for a family of four), as well as partner hotels (4-Night Vacations start at $285 per adult; $829 for a family of four). We recently stayed at Coco Key Hotel & Waterpark, one of the partner hotels which offers free shuttle service to Universal Orlando, has a major on-property waterpark (free to guests), and offers excellent value (CoCo Key Hotel and Water Resort-Orlando, 7400 International Drive, Orlando, FL 32819, 321-206-4377, 877-875-4681,,

Vacation packages at the partner hotels offer Early Park Admission to experience The Wizarding World of Harry Potter; Breakfast at the Three Broomsticks (one per person); Commemorative ticket – one per person; 3-Day Base Ticket to both Universal Orlando theme parks (one theme park, per day) and access to live entertainment at Universal CityWalk.

More information is available at

[HARRY POTTER, characters, names and related indicia are trademarks of and © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Harry Potter Publishing Rights © JKR.]

See also: CoCo Key Hotel & Waterpark-Orlando is Built for Family Fun

Friday, 1 October, 2010


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About Travel Features Syndicate

Karen Rubin is an eclectic travel writer who has been spanning the globe for more than 30 years reporting on interesting, intriguing people and places to explore for magazines, newspapers and online. She publishes Travel Features Syndicate in newspapers and online including, Huffington Post and and blogs at "Travel is a life-changing and an interactive experience that mutually benefits travelers and community." Contact Karen at 'Like' us at

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