Suck it, Epcot.
Cue John William’s sweeping Harry Potter theme; release the parchment-toting owls; inhale the sweet smell of frothy Butterbeer. I had arrived. To my right was Hogsmeade in all of its quirky and crooked chimney glory, and to my left was the towering and formidable Hogwarts Castle. And everywhere in between was everybody and their mother. Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?
I have been a loyal and avid Harry Potter fan since 2001 when I started reading the books before the first film, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, was released. When news of a Harry Potter theme park surfaced, I hopped online and began searching for tickets. Our family had planned a cruise for December, 2010, and as luck would have it, Orlando, Florida was one of the ports of call.
During the months leading up to the trip, I made a habit of walking around the family home in my cloak, wand ready, getting into my “inner witch.” Finally, after brewing several concoctions, practicing transfiguration on the cat (sorry Oliver!), and playing numerous Quidditch matches, my parents suspected something was up. Long story short, they purchased tickets, and we were on our way.
We arrived at Universal’s Islands of Adventure around 10 a.m. I barreled through the crowds, stepped on a few toes, and figured my family could fend for themselves. However, one cannot simply enter the Wizarding World of Harry Potter; I learned this the hard way. Do not stampede your way through the Islands of Adventure, expecting to waltz right into the Three Broomsticks and sit down with a pint of Butterbeer. Security will find you, and I’ll leave it at that.
As soon as you enter the Islands of Adventure Theme Park, locate the line for Wizarding World tickets. If you want to visit every shop, attraction, and ride, plan on arriving at Islands of Adventure at 7 a.m., even though the park doesn’t open until two hours later. The line for the park starts bright and early, and is just one of the many you will stand in throughout the day.
I stood in an hour-long line to wait for a ticket that gave me a time to wait in yet another line. This ticket would eventually allow me to enter the park. The ticket is usually for two hours later in the day, so I explored the Islands of Adventure until it was our time to enter the Wizarding World. Plan to enter this line at least fifteen minutes before your assigned time as it forms quickly. Of course, I can chuckle at the long wait now, but in the stifling Orlando heat, it was no laughing matter.
As with many things, considerations need to be taken into account. The lack of communication and inadequate signage around the park is partly to blame for the long waits and confusion. Also, once you leave the Wizarding World, that’s it. You cannot turn around and re-enter, you must wait in the lines and get the necessary tickets again. So make sure you’ve stocked up on Chocolate Frogs and Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavour Beans before exiting! Unless Harry lets you borrow his invisibility cloak to sneak back in, you’re out of luck.
After what seemed like an eternity of waiting in lines to get tickets to wait in more lines, my ticket was called and I dashed ahead into the Wizarding World. It was magnificent! I was immediately greeted by the sweet, scrumptious smell of Butterbeer and the dulcet tones of the Hogwarts Singers.
Due to time constraints, we only had time for one ride. If you find yourself in this situation, head directly for the Hogwarts Castle and get in line for the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride. It is by far the most sought after ride in the park and was well worth the hour and a half wait. Plus, a good portion of the line takes place in the castle, which is everything I had hoped it would be - dank, but magical and delightful. Old, crooked, and oddly shaped talking paintings cover every inch of the towering walls, just like in the films. Dumbledore’s office is also on display which is a great photo opportunity. There is so much attention to detail, it’s impossible not to stop and marvel at the amazing work and artistry.
The shops in Hogsmeade are equally enchanting. Be sure to grab a mug of cold, bubbly Butterbeer to sip on while you peruse Hogsmeade, Harry Potter and Co.’s local shops and dives. Don’t forget to stop in the Honeydukes, the candy shop, and grab a couple Chocolate Frogs. They are fairly large, and come with a collectible wizard card. The shops’ wares are sold in sturdy packaging which can be saved and used as cute display items or knick-knacks. I have my collectible Butterbeer mug and Chocolate Frog box on a shelf in my apartment.
While my experience at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter wasn’t exactly the fun-filled, non-stop, magical adventure I had imagined it to be, I had a pretty good time – endless lines and huge crowds aside.