A Muggle’s Guide to the Wizarding World

Mari Cohen

Entrance to the Wizarding World Park
A sign welcomes park visitors to Hogsmeade as they pass through the portal to the Wizarding World.
Bertie Bott's every flavor beans
The shelves of Honeydukes are stocked full of Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans, a candy from the Harry Potter books..
Hogwarts Castle
The impressively detailed Hogwarts Castle, which contains the Forbidden Journey ride, is an integral part of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Sign that says "Support Potter!"
A sign located near the Dragon Challenge Ride implores viewers to support Harry Potter in the Triwizard Tournament.

There’s something about the world of the Harry Potter series that is just so desirable. Despite the undeniable darkness of some of the books, the wizarding world possesses a fascinating, mysterious air that regular Earth cannot compete with. The Harry Potter books bring to mind brightly colored jets of light, secret passages, and broomstick flights, often making the Muggle world look positively mundane.
I’ve lived vicariously through Harry by reading the books over and over, but I’ve nevertheless always harbored a secret dream of experiencing his world for myself. Yes, I am aware that that this is unrealistic. Still, I will admit to having felt a slight flicker of disappointment on my 11th birthday when I did not receive a letter from Hogwarts, and I’m sure many other Harry Potter fans can confess the same. Faced with no choice, I learned to accept my status as a permanent outsider to the wizarding world.
However, this all changed when I heard about the plans for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park in Orlando, Florida. Finally, I would have the chance to stroll the streets of Hogsmeade and pass through the doors of Hogwarts. I set out for the theme park this midwinter break, hoping above all for a chance to immerse myself in the world that I’ve always loved.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park is currently just a small piece of the larger Universal Studios Islands of Adventure park in Orlando. The Islands of Adventure park has been around since 1999 and contains six other themed parts. The Harry Potter part replaced older attractions and opened for the first time in the summer of 2010. It hosts the street of Hogsmeade, which contains a multitude of shops as well as a restaurant. It also contains three rides: the Forbidden Journey, which is located in Hogwarts castle; the Dragon Challenge; and the Flight of the Hippogriff.
Hogsmeade is meticulously detailed and picteresque. It looks like a little English village plopped into the middle of Florida, complete with snow that frosts the brown thatched rooftops. Its quaint British mood sets it apart from the tacky-theme-park feel of the rest of Islands of Adventure. As you enter, you can see Hogwarts castle looming in the background. It’s the real deal, reminiscent of the Hogwarts castle in the movies and true to the description in the books.
Of course, this effect is greatly inhibited by the constant presence of huge crowds. The Wizarding World is still a very new attraction and is therefore packed with people. Lines for the rides are long, shops are stuffed to the brim, and there’s a lot of traffic moving up and down the street.
There are ways to combat this, but they add a lot to the price tag. If you stay in one of the Loews hotels located right near the park, you can enter the park an hour before its official opening time, and you receive an express pass that allows you to jump to the front of the line for most attractions. The express pass can also be purchased separately from Universal. Though the park can still be enjoyed without these options, they definitely add to the experience.  My family stayed at one of the Leows hotels and entering the park early was a huge plus. We got to experience a few precious moments of a quiet, peaceful Hogsmeade as we raced through on our way to get in line for the Forbidden Journey.
The Forbidden Journey is the main attraction — the star of the show.  It’s an incredibly immersing indoor ride that weaves together different images from the Harry Potter series. The ride combines virtual reality and actual built sets, and the transitions between the two are seamless. I found the virtual reality scenes, which use the movie representations of Hogwarts, to be completely enveloping. Though the visual quality of the video was slightly blurry and stretched, the combination of the movement of my seat and the movement of the video made it seem incredibly real. I really felt like I was flying over the grounds and playing Quidditch. When my “broomstick” headed for a tree or other obstacle, I ducked my head, as if I might actually hit it.
The ride doesn’t have much of a storyline. Everything goes by extremely fast, so that the small bit of story the creators tried to put in is mostly lost on the riders. Still, the scenes are familiar.  Harry, Ron, Hermione, Malfoy, and Hagrid, played by their movie actors, make appearances, and other creatures from the books show up as well. Voldemort is strangely missing, even though it seems that he would add another thrilling, scary aspect to the ride.
Because the Forbidden Journey is new and extremely popular, its lines are very long. The wait often exceeds an hour, and the express passes do not work on the Forbidden Journey because it’s new. The only way around this long wait is to stay at a hotel that gives you the option to get in early and rush to the Forbidden Journey. This would give you a wait time  closer to 20 minutes.
The pain of the usual long wait is somewhat alleviated by the fact that the queue for the Forbidden Journey is an attraction in itself. The long line weaves through Hogwarts castle. It passes movie props such as the Mirror of Erised, the portrait of the Fat Lady, and various statues. The castle also features an impressively done wall of portraits. The people in the frames move around just as they do in the series, yet the portraits remarkably retain an oil-painting texture.
As you walk through the line, you get to see lifelike holograms of Dumbledore and of Harry, Ron, and Hermione that appear across a room and speak to you. The holograms look a little flat and aren’t perfect, but the effect is still cool.
There are some problems with the queue. Whether or not you get to fully appreciate the inside of the castle depends entirely on the pace of the line. I walked through the line twice, but it was a short wait and I had to move briskly. I didn’t get to catch all of the speeches by the holograms, and I would have liked to spend more time looking at the portraits. In addition, in some parts of the queue there is nothing to see, and the wait in these places would be boring in busy times. Still, the Forbidden Journey ride and the chance to see the inside of the castle are worth the wait.
The other two rides are less remarkable. The Dragon Challenge and the Flight of the Hippogriff are both outdoor roller coasters that existed before the making of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and were simply given new names and a slightly different look so that they would fit the Harry Potter theme. In my opinion, Universal took the easy way out. I would have liked to see more creative, new rides.
Still, the rides in themselves are not bad. The Flight of the Hippogriff is a small, short kiddie roller coaster. It’s not exactly thrilling, but on the way up you do get to see lifelike Buckbeak the Hippogriff and a replica of Hagrid’s hut, which are located next to the roller coaster. It is a good choice for younger children. The Dragon Challenge, which roller coaster enthusiasts will enjoy, is actually made up of two different, intertwining roller coasters, each named for a dragon from the book series: The Hungarian Horntail and the Chinese Fireball. They are similar but not exactly the same. The two dragon coasters are large and fast and feature several upside down loops.
For these rides, you can use an express pass if you have one, which will drastically reduce wait times. If you don’t have an express pass, I suggest you skip the Hippogriff, because it is really short and not worth a long wait.
After you’ve experienced the rides, it’s time to move onto the shops of Hogsmeade. There are several shops, all with well-decorated, colorful windows. Dervish and Banges sells wizarding memorabilia. Zonko’s joke shop contains tons of products, many of which are right from the books. Ollivander’s sells wands and features an interactive presentation where Ollivander, played by an actor, chooses someone from the crowd to try out different wands. The effects are cool, but the line to see the presentation is long, and Ollivander is bound to choose a little kid, so high school students will likely be among those watching in the backgrounds.
Honeydukes, the book’s famed candy store, is stuffed with sweets, but I was disappointed with the selection. It sells Pepper Imps, Peppermint Toads, Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans, Chocolate Frogs, and Sugar Quills, all of which come from the books. But besides those, most of the candy is regular stuff that you could get at any other candy store. I would have loved to see them incorporate more candy from the books, such as Fizzing Whizbees, Cockroach Clusters, or Acid Pops.
Of course, the Wizarding World merchandise is often overpriced, like that of most theme parks. The prices range from fairly reasonable to ridiculous. For example, a Chocolate Frog costs 10 dollars. It’s a big piece of chocolate, but that price is still   outrageous.
I was pleasantly surprised with the food. There are a few snack carts and butterbeer carts around the park, but the Three Broomsticks pub, modeled after the the popular Hogsmeade bar in the books, is the main dining option. I was expecting normal theme park food: greasy and gross. But the Three Broomsticks serves traditional English fare, such as fish and chips, shepherd’s pie, and Cornish pasties, among others.It’s not exactly gourmet, but it’s tasty and much better than the usual theme park food. The Three Broomsticks also has tall, spacious ceilings and looks just like an English pub. There’s plenty of room for seating inside and outside.
As I looked forward to my trip to the park, I was extremely excited to try butterbeer. Butterbeer is probably the most popular non-alcoholic beverage in Harry’s world, and fans have long speculated about its taste. I have always imagined it tasting like a variation on root beer, but the theme park version was more of a thick cream soda. It was good, albeit loaded with sugar. Pumpkin juice was also quite good. More refreshing and less thick than butterbeer, it taste like spiced apple cider.
The two butterbeer carts in the park often have huge lines. It’s more efficient to pop into the Hog’s Head bar, which is connected to the Three Broomsticks and generally has shorter lines.
Some park’s staff members were actually in character, speaking in British accents or greeting crowds as “Muggles.” The actor playing the Hogwarts express conductor was a highlight. He was impeccably in character, and it was enjoyable to carry on a conversation with him. However, there was a lot of inconsistency in the staff category. Many staff members were not at all in character, which damaged the illusion.
Overall, I found it difficult to immerse myself in the world in the way I had hoped. I never was fully able to shake the feeling that I was visiting an attraction. The huge crowd and the out-of-character staff were factors, but the main reason was that I had gone into it with unrealistic expectations. A theme park is a theme park, and we still live firmly in the Muggle world. There’s no way they could have made it seem perfectly real.
Still, I recommend the park to all devoted Harry Potter fans. It may not be an immersion, but it’s still an adventure, and it’s still fun to walk around and take in the details. It can be taken almost as a monument to the series. Though they will have to experience it more as viewers than insiders, Harry Potter enthusiasts will nevertheless enjoy the chance to explore a tribute to they books they love.