Universal Orlando is opening the Wizarding World of Harry Potter officially on June 18th. Just two short weeks away. However, it is unofficially conducting “Test Openings” (since everyone who works there says it’s not a soft opening) and has been since Tuesday of this week. Today we heard that it would be open for a while, so we took the chance and made the ride. Someone slipped us some Felix Felicis, because we were in luck!
Since Universal has started admitting guests who purchased the special packages on May 28th, they also have been admitting guests who have stayed at their hotel. Of course, they’ve denied it completely. But today as we arrived, we did see signs saying that there was a preview specifically for them. The park opened a little early as a very large crowd had gathered. While some of the crowd dispersed through the rest of the park towards Marvel and Hulk, most of the crowd headed right towards one place in hopes that it would be open. To many amazed and astonished faces, the gates to the Wizarding World were wide open. The yellow shirt baddies suddenly turned into little rays of sunshine welcoming us in.
*Racheal and I are both writing this review, and we will keep it as spoiler free as possible. But be warned. We will also sprinkle tips throughout.It’s exciting stuff.
We had to fight temptation to walk past all the other great stuff in Hogsmeade Village and rush right towards Hogwarts, home of Harry Potters Forbidden Journey. The staff was dead on, dressed in all the great school colors. As we walked in many were cluttering around the lockers, which are required, and therefore are free. The lockers are even themed to the look of the castle. After stowing our gear we were off to take a tour through Hogwarts. Our tour starts off where we assume is the dungeon. The Mirror of Erised (found in Book and movie one) and the statue of a humpback witch (main passage in book 3). We are then lead out to the greenhouse where we have all manners of plants growing under the faithful watch of Professor Sprout. The detail in here is pretty amazing, with all kinds of plants hanging about and even some Mandrakes in a cage. It’s said that the Mandrakes will scream every few minutes. Into the castle, we are greeted by statues of Godric Gryffindor and Salazar Slytherin. Through here we enter Professor Dumbledores office, and have the good professor tell us that we are going to be taking part in a lecture in the Defense Against the Dark Arts Class. We also pass by the Pensive (in mostly in books 5-6) Here we are met by Harry, Ron and Hermione who tell us that the lecture we’re going to have is really boring and that we should come with them to play some Quidditch instead. Worth noting that this is pretty much where any kind of storyline ends. The rest of the queue is filled with amazing talking portraits, including the house founders (Rowena Ravenclaw, Helga Hufflepuff, and Salazar Slytherin..we don’t remember if Gryffindor was there or not) the fat lady, and a few other wizards and witches. We are also met by the Sorting Hat who is telling us safety procedures. You load the magical benches and you’re off! This is where our step by step will end.
We will say that the ride uses a mix of Kuka Robo Arm technology, Imax type domes and Audio Animatronics. It is full of leg choppers (moments where you think you’re going to lose your limbs) as many of the effects come really close to the vehicle. The ride itself is flat out amazing. It’s pretty much incomparable to anything you’ve ever seen. The best way to describe it is a mix of Spiderman and Soarin Over California with a little Haunted Mansion on Steroids thrown in. It is a little scary, as you do have all kinds of creatures popping out at you in the dark.
We had very few issues with the ride, but the biggest one being that it made us a little queezy. The dark ride portions were dead on, but the screen portions felt too much at times. Not out of sync, just too much. They moved mostly flawless from scenes though, which is a big plus. The other problem is that it really didn’t have much of a story. There was basically every major bad guy from the book, minus You Know Who, and it seemed just a big jumble of situations. A lot of the effects were working, but we also got the feeling that there were some that weren’t. Size is a big issue with this, but the big rule of thumb is that if you can fit on Dragons Challenge in the regular seats, you should be able to fit this. Those of you with large chests or wide shoulders, or large bellies that make it difficult to fit into normal harnesses will have a problem. Erik is 6’0 and 250 lbs, and he fit with no problem at all. It depends on the body shape, really. We heard another website who tried to ride it at 5’10” and 230lbs who couldn’t get on at all.
The queue line is the absolute best queue line, hands down. The End. You can go through this thing and spend hours upon hours seeing all the different things that are happening. Cameras and cell phones must be stowed before riding, but the cool thing is that they have little compartments under your butt(lower back actually) that you can put your smaller belongings in. This works out greatly because the staff seems to encourage you to take pictures of everything, except the ride itself. The staff is another issue. They are amazing! We had two staff members talking with us as we did the child swap (Nate and Heather) who knew so much about everything and seemed so enthusiastic about the job. They even kept pretty close to character, telling us to vote for their house and even arguing back and forth over which house was better.
So, tips. Make a beeline for the attraction first thing. It gets busy really quick. If you want to take pictures, ride it first then go back again through the queue. Do not eat (or drink Butterbeer) before you ride, take this one on an empty stomach. Trust me on that one. Take your time in each scene and try to spot all the great stuff that there is to see.
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This has so much potential. The shop is amazing, stacked full of wands, and looking like it’s ripped completely from the movie. The actor we had was dead on in his portrayal of the shopkeeper. A group of about 20 people cram inside the shop and one person (usually a child) is chosen. After a few tries at a wand, the wind rustles and the shopkeeper gets a look of wonder on his face. Yes, this is the one. Just as you’ve seen in the movies, the wand chooses you. The whole experience was chilling. Very well done. However, it is very very small. The rest of the crowd is then ushered into the Owl Post which is also very small, and very hard to move around in. This is fine right now, but when you have the crush of the summer crowds. Well, it’s not going to be very pretty or nice.
However, this is still a must see. The wizard in the shop does an amazing job, and the effects are really top notch, but very practical. Everything also seems very authentic, with an inch of dust layered on the boxes and shelves. The wand you get from the Owl Post isn’t so detailed, but still, very well done.
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The former coaster, Dueling Dragons was housed here. It still is, but under a different name. I won’t bore you with details about how it used to be, only that it was much more detailed and had a lot more to it. Now we go down the path with flags from the three schools and the four champions from the Triwizard Tournament (Book 4) and into the Champions tent where we see the Goblet of Fire. We also see a few other artifacts from the movie, and we also see the Triwizard Cup. We also see the golden eggs that were part of the second challenge. Then on to the coaster. If you’ve been on the ride before the change, chances are you’ll be disappointed. If you haven’t you’ll be thrilled, but there are vast spaces of nothing in the queue. Music fills the air, which helps, but again, where everything else is amazing, this kind of falls flat. Walking up to the queue, we also see the Ford Angelina, which really doesn’t seem like it belongs. Maybe this path is supposed to represent the forbidden forest, but, for now it just seems out of place.
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Flight of the Hippogriff
This is the best of the two rehabs. You walk past Hagrids Hut where you can hear him telling you to stay out of the Forbidden Forest and you hear Fang barking. A few cool things here and there, but the main attraction is Buckbeak sitting the nest. As you go up the lift, he bows. It’s really a cool animatronic, and very realistic. It used to be called the Flying Unicorn, and while both have charm, Buckbeak makes this version a little better.
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The shops are pretty much dead on. You see the Owlry as you walk out of the Owl Post, and it’s so authentic that there is actually owl poop on the rafters and the floor. The owls are animatronic,and they do look fairly realistic. You can hear them hooting and occasionally moving about. The other shops kind of blend in together, with our two favorite being Zonkos and Honeydukes. Both shops represent fairly well how they were meant in the books and the movies, and both are also very small. There is all kinds of things to see and do in Zonkos, mostly gags and a lot of T shirts, as well as some classic tin toys. Honeydukes has just about every single treat from the movie that they can. Of course they take some liberties with things, but it’s really cool to go through and see what you can point out from the books and movies.Cauldron Cakes are delicious, and best eaten right away as they are pure chocolate and melt easily. A few years ago there were some Harry Potter candies on the market. It was quite frankly crap. The stuff at Honeydukes seems to be better thought out and very good quality. It’s simple stuff with weird names, but it’s all clever and all seems very tasty.
Three Broomsticks is a good experiment in counter service. You are seated as you come in, and directed to where you get your food from. The food looks like standard stuff, though they were serving breakfast. Hogs Head Pub is attached and can get rather long lines as they serve Butterbeer and Hogs Head Brew. We absolutely love Butterbeer, and Erik loved the Brew a little too much. Butterbeer is like a Cream Soda milkshake without it being ice cream..if that makes sense. It’s very sweet, and very smooth. The foam is the best part, and gives a hint of butterscotch and you can get it fresh or frozen, we are arguing about which is best, but for the most part they are both great. The Brew is very like a mix of Killians Irish Red and Yuengling. Pumpkin Juice was also a favorite. It’s served cold in a collectible bottle and tastes like a very thick cider with a hint of pumpkin pie. Very delicious, but not for everyone.
The Hogwarts Express is stationary, which is very disappointing to some. It works here, but it would have been cool to ride it. The team members are very good, and do their jobs well.
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It’s really one show, but split into three parts. We see three schools with their specialized show, Durmstrang does a cool choreographed stick fight, Beuaxbatons does a sensual and fun ribbon dance, and Hogwarts does the frog choir. Of the three, Erik liked the Durmstrang students and Racheal liked the Frog Choir. The cool thing here is the animatronics of the frogs. The singing, eh, well it’s pretty much standard acapella theme park band stuff. Nothing spectacular here.
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The front of the park has been completely transformed into Harry Potter. You can buy wands, shirts and more.
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In CityWalk it’s looking like you’ll be able to buy limited Potter merchandise, as they are starting a transformation.
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We were also able to meet all kinds of great people, including several folks on Twitter who were following not only us but #potterwatch. The growing consensus of everyone was that FJ was amazing, the shops were dead on, and though small, the area delivers.
Overall it’s a great addition to the park. The area is very cramped and will be murder with the crowds. All that aside, it’s going to be a real crowd pleaser for Potter fans. Non Potter fans will like the wonder of it all, and Disney fans. Well, they aren’t really going to like it none to much. The big question is can Potter take down Disney? If Universal keeps this up, yes. I suspect that this area is just a test for a much larger area in the very near future.The Wizarding World has it’s Grand Opening on June 18th.
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