Today I had the amazing opportunity to finally walk through the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure - and bring it all back to you in pictures and video.
I am notoriously long-winded in my reviews of new attractions but I can easily sum of the entirety of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in one word: Wow. There is really nothing more to say. There is “wow” everywhere you look.
In my 3-hour visit to the Wizarding World, I experienced all there is to see… except the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride which shut down just before I reached the entrance. But I will return soon enough to experience that. Surprisingly, despite the fact that I did not see the new multi-million dollar attraction, I am still blown away by the what I experienced throughout Hogsmeade Village. It’s the most detailed theme park environment I have ever stepped foot in.
But before I elaborate further on what made the Wizarding World so incredible for me to see, I’d like to let you see it first.
(To see the inside of Hogwarts Castle and the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride queue, visit this post. To see an assortment of merchandise from the Wizarding World, visit this post. For everything else, read on…)
Right now, I bring you what I believe is the first full video walk through of Hogsmeade Village, from the entrance all the way up to Hogwarts Castle.
Update: Here is video of one of many variations on the Ollivander’s Wand Shop experience:
Update #2: And now we bring you a full video of the Flight of the Hippogriff roller coaster, including walking through the queue and seeing Hagrid’s hut and the animatronic Buckbeak:
Update #3: The most amazing part of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is the level of detail found throughout Hogsmeade Village, in its shops, and its surrounding areas. Here’s a video tour of some of the more interesting sights including Zonko’s Joke Shop, Honeydukes, Hog’s Head Pub, Owlry, Dervish & Banges (including the Monster Book of Monsters), Filch’s Emporium and much more:
Update #4: Performances take place every so often in the streets between Hogsmeade Village and Hogwarts Castle. One of these is part of the Triwizard Tournament in which the girls from Beauxbatons dance with ribbons and guys from Durmstrang show off their staff-wielding skills. Here’s a video of the whole show:
Afterward, guests have a chance to pose for a photo with the performers. You can my picture with them in the slideshow at the bottom of this post.
Update #5: The other street performance that occasionally takes place is the Hogwarts frog choir singing an assortment of Potter-related songs a capella. Here is a video of a few of the songs:
Update #6: The former Dueling Dragons roller coaster has been remade into Dragon Challenge for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The ride brings guests into the Triwizard Tournament and the queue begins in the champions’ tent, continuing past the Triwizard cup. Here’s a video walkthrough of the first half of the queue (the rest was too dark for my camera to pick up and mostly made up of winding, un-themed rocky walls):
Update #7: Within the bathrooms of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, you’ll hear a familiar voice. Moaning Myrtle haunts the restrooms, wailing her familiar whines. Here’s a video (don’t worry, nothing inappropriate is shown):
You can find one more Wizarding World video from inside Hogwarts Castle and the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride here.
Here are some of my favorite sights throughout the Wizarding World (in no particular order):
And here’s a slideshow of our full 150+ photo gallery taking you through it all!
So what makes the Wizarding World of Harry Potter so unique? Does it live up to all the hype? Is it truly a “theme park within a theme park”? Answers: Detail, yes, and yes.
As I wrote above, I didn’t get to ride the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey attraction today, which is thought of as the cornerstone of the Wizarding World experience. Yet despite that, even after spending 3 solid hours walking around, I was not even remotely finished. You can’t step three feet in Hogsmeade Village without seeing something new, different, and unique.
I am not a huge Harry Potter fan. I only recently watched all six films for the first time to prepare for my visit to the Wizarding World. But even as a non-fan, the Wizarding World got me excited. To see the world found by the Potter films (and books) recreated in real life is breathtaking. I’m sure all the anticipation of getting inside fueled my excitement, but when I finally stepped into Hogsmeade Village, my eyes were wide open (despite being only on 4 hours of sleep) and I could not stop smiling.
While the rest of Islands of Adventure does an adequate job of transporting guests to another world, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is truly immersive. Not only does it make you forget about the real world, it makes you forget you’re even in a theme park. Around every corner guests will find something to laugh at, a smiling face to talk with (in character), and… plenty to spend money on.
Unlike Main Street USA at Disney’s Magic Kingdom, which evokes a feeling of the early 1900s, the Wizarding World goes beyond a feeling. It puts you IN the world of Harry Potter. Countless windows to “closed” shops are filled with animated goodies including a quill that writes on its own and plants that move. Within the shops, you will encounter owls that subtly come to life, moving props hanging from the ceiling, directed sound effects as you pass through tight areas, and so much more. Even if you’re not shopping, the shops are attractions unto themselves.
Ollivander’s Wand Shop is the highlight of all of the shop-based experiences. It is not required to pass through the shop to buy a wand. You can simply enter through the Owlry or Dervish & Banges and get one. But if you skip Ollivander’s, you’re missing a wonderfully magical show. The technology employed in the show is rather simple. A few moving items here, a few lights and sounds there. But it all pulls together, combined with some choice music and acting, to give everyone in the room warm and fuzzies. It is true that around 20-25 people are let in at once and only 1 out of that group is chosen to try out a magic wand as part of the show. But no one else seemed to mind. I certainly didn’t. It’s great fun to see what happens. The wait will be long at first, but it will be worth it.
I didn’t get a chance to sample food from the Three Broomsticks, but I did enjoy a cold Butterbeer from the cart outside. It’s crisp and refreshing and the vanilla-based foam on top does indeed leave you with a Butterbeer mustache. Honeydukes offers what seems like hundreds of unique candies to snack on and a fridge full of Pumpkin Juice. Zonko’s Joke Shop has an incredible assortment of Wizarding World-exclusive merchandise that will baffle many but appeal to hardcore Potter fans.
So what of the rides? Dueling Dragons has been one of my favorite roller coasters for a long time. Now that it is Dragon Challenge, the queue has a much more comprehensive story that leads up to the thrilling ride. Flight of the Hippogriff is a huge improvement over its former Flying Unicorn identity. While the Hagrid-based story didn’t totally come across for me (all you get is a few scattered audio cues from Hagrid), the animatronic Hippogriff at the base of the coaster’s lift hill is a wonderful touch. Moreover, the ride offers incredible views of Hogsmeade Village and Hogwarts Castle. It’s a short ride, but should be enjoyed for the visuals if nothing else.
The average visitor to the park who may not be as much of a fan of themed environments as I am will certainly enjoy the two re-themed attractions. From what I’ve heard, Forbidden Journey is a pretty amazing ride as well. But will the average guest appreciate the smaller details throughout the area? Maybe not. With the busy summer months coming in, the Hogsmeade streets will fill up quickly and the cramped shops even faster. Rumors of the stores in Hogsmeade being small are completely true. Even with today’s small preview group of a few hundred people, the Wizarding World felt full. I don’t want to imagine a few thousand people all trying to get in.
Cramped space aside, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, in my opinion, lives up to all of the hype. Lines will be long at first, but when all of that dies down, I may have found my new regular theme park hang out.
Photos by Michelle Moss, Ricky Brigante
Video by Ricky Brigante