The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

by Julie Bookman

Since it opened in 2010, the $265 million Potter section has brought capacity crowds to Universal Orlando Resort’s Islands of Adventure park. On the recent day I visited with a Potter-loving daughter and other youngsters, the theme park was bursting at the seams.

“It was definitely worth it to stay at an official Universal property,” says Jennifer Aqua of Sandy Springs, who recently ventured to Orlando with husband Stephen Szabo and their three kids to soak up some Pottermania. When you stay at one of three Universal properties, such as the Loews Portofino Bay, your hotel key card doubles as an “Express” pass that lets you bypass the regular wait line for most rides in both Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios. Another Universal guest benefit: You get a one-hour jump on the rest of the Muggles (human types) and gain entrance at 7 a.m. That’s what the Aqua-Szabo family did, and also what we did. We rose in the dark to be at the water taxi dock by 6:30 a.m. – just to be smack at the entrance gates by 7 a.m.

Two things pop into your head: How the heck did all these other folks already beat us here? And: How on Earth did they dream up this place? For the true Potter fan, this is the next best thing to reading the book series for the first time. Unlike the Universal Studios park next door (with rides and attractions inspired by movies from E.T. to Twister), or the rest of the Islands of Adventure park, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter feels intimate – a world unto itself. You’re surrounded by “veddy British” places such as the Hog’s Head pub. You’re saying “hello” to fellow book lovers, many wearing their gold-and-red Gryffindor scarves or Hogwarts robes.

Jennifer Aqua said that her three kids, including Harry Potter expert Abigail, 14 (who has read every book 10 times), had initially been given a vacation choice, but the Wizarding World at Universal “won out over going someplace fancier, like the Bahamas.” In the end, Abigail “was not disappointed,” Aqua said. “I can say that Harry Potter lived up to our expectations. We did everything we wanted to do, and two days was enough.”

Thanks to the early-bird scheme, our group rode the multimedia Forbidden Journey ride twice in one day, then again the following day. We spoke to a number of guests who declared it the “greatest ride ever,” and plenty said they felt as if they were actually following Harry Potter on a wicked-fast broom ride. Equally exhilarating was the one-hour walk through the Hogwarts castle on the way to boarding our “brooms.” There’s so much to examine throughout the immense castle, including props from some of the Harry Potter films, that we actually wanted to go through the line all over again.

We want to go back to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. But for now, a good book with a fantastical plot will have to do.

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