June 18, 2010 was the date that has been earmarked on my calendar for quite a while. The anticipation had been building for a very long time! Universal’s Islands of Adventure in Orlando had been working almost around the clock for the last 5 years to bring to life characters and scenes from the series of Harry Potter â„¢books written by J.K. Rowling. Not an easy task at all!
I was lucky enough to get two sneak peeks prior to the official opening. The first time was very much behind the scenes, and fairly early on in the building stages. I wasn’t allowed to get out of the golf buggy – not that there was too much to report back on aside from – “this is going to be big – huge!”. My second time was at a trade event. Everything except one ride was open, and absolutely no cameras were allowed. Not surprising, security was extraordinarily tight. But June 18 was only a month away by that time…
The Grand Opening
As we walked through the area leading up to the entrance to Hogsmeade, you could feel we were close to seeing something truly magical. Heading through the archway, we came face-to-face with the Howgarts Express, which was billowing steam from the smoke stack. The next thing you notice is the snow covered rooftops of the shops winding their way along the cobblestoned path. These shops include Honeydukesâ„¢, Zonkosâ„¢ and Dervish and Bangesâ„¢. At Olivandersâ„¢, they even have one person have a magic wand select them! The detail that has gone into this is incredible. The shops have all the things you would expect – Rememberalls, Magic Wands, Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavor Beans, Chocolate Frogs and more!
Winding through Hogsmeade you make your way up to the impressive castle that sits atop the hill. Inside the castle is the ride, ‘Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journeyâ„¢’, and the line you will invariably have to wait in is half the fun! As you make your way into the castle, you start to see things you’re familiar with from the movies and books – the large gold Phoenix that leads to Dumbledore’s office, the Sorting Hat (talking of course!) and the ‘Portrait Room’ that is covered in portraits that – true to form – talk and move. You will come across characters also – Dumbledore, then Harry, Ron and Hermione (and the video imagery here is ridiculously impressive). The piece de resistance for me was when it snowed inside the castle! The ride itself is a wild journey through the world of Harry Potter – where you’re attacked by the whomping willow, flying through a Quidditchâ„¢ match and coming face to face with magical creatures! This really is quite a rough ride that’s incredibly clever, and uses state-of-the-art technology. Just make sure you do it on an empty stomach!
The ‘Real’ Harry Potter
This night – the official opening, I was lucky enough to be right at the front of the thousands in attendance with a completely unobstructed view. As hoping (but not actually expected), most of the cast were there – Daniel Radcliffe (Harry), Rupert Grint (Ron), Michael Gambon (Dumbledore), Matthew Lewis (Neville), Tom Felton (Draco), Bonnie Wright (Ginny), Oliver & James Phelps (George & Fred) and Warwick Davis (Flitwick). Daniel Radcliffe waved his wand and after a fireworks & light display, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter was officially open!
Universal Studios has packages available to visit both parks – Universal Studios and Universal’s Islands of Adventure. We recommend you purchase at least a 2-Day ticket with Park-to-Park access so you can see everything these parks have to offer.
For a video and more images go the the The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Official Website.
– Jenny Crossling
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