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Friday, January 20, 2012

Review: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios, Orlando

by Tina

In the four days that we attended the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, we've come away with some great tips and notes to make your future trip there more enjoyable.  Granted, we were there over the grand opening, craziest weekend ever.  But the executives of Universal Studios theme parks expect it to be opened to packed crowds all summer long. 

Our review includes the rides, the stores and the best bets while you visit the park. 

If you have any tips and notes to share, please leave them in our comments section.  We appreciate it!

Best Bet - Use your AAA Card for discounts!  Our biggest tip of the day when visiting the park is to remember to use your AAA to get up to 10% off your purchases.  Some of the clerks may not know to accept your card so be sure to ask for a manager.  A number of the clerks we asked said they don't accept it yet, but according to the park customer services, they say they do.  We had no problem getting the discount at the restaurant.

The Rides and Features

There are only three rides within the theme park.  Whether you choose to do the rides before you shop is up to you, however we found that the stores were less crowded earlier in the day so we did our shopping first.  It seemed that everyone was shopping  later in the day and could browse and browse forever.  So our tip is to do the rides later in the day when everyone else is shopping.

Review of the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (***** Five out of Five Stars)
Restrictions: Must be 48 inches to ride
Duraction: 4 minutes
The back entrace to the park wraps you around to the left by the castle for this ride.  For die-hard Harry Potter fans, this is the signature ride of the park.  The ride uses state-of-the-art Robocoaster technology which enables the seats of four to pivot while being held above the track by the robotic arm.  Also called a "dark ride", this refers to the concept that the ride is not your traditional roller coaster taking up loads of track and sweeps of rolling and rocking trains that ride on them; rather this ride is encased in a large warehouse in which multiple chairs of four are lifted by the robotic arms and carried and swayed from scene to scene of animation, sound, music and special effects.   For everyone that experienced this ride, they all said it was the best ride they've ever been on. 

A wonderful part to this ride is that the lines to board first take you through the Hogwarts castle where you experience the various important props and scenes from the books and movies including the Mirror of Erised, the Hogwarts house jewels, high walls of talking portraits, and recreations of important rooms including Dumbledore's office, Defense Against the Dark Arts Classroom, and the Gryffindor common room where holograms of Harry, Ron and Hermoione urge you to meet up with them in the Room of Requirement for an adventure.  If you are prone to getting motion sickness, like I am, you might think twice about going on the ride.  You can tour the castle and then up to the point before others continue on to board the ride you can be escorted down the stairs to exit out through Filch's Emporium of Confiscated Goods (a flagship store of the park).  The only thing you'll miss is the talking Sorting Hat that reminds you of the safety precautions before boarding the ride. 

Flight of the Hippogriff (**** Four out of Five)
Restrictions: Must be 36" tall to ride
Duration: 1:06 minutes
This ride is gentler than the premier Forbidden Journey ride.  To reach out to the younger crowd and families, this ride teaches you the proper way to approach a Hippogriff, the bird-like creature that was saved by Harry, Ron and Hermione from being executed and in turn the Hippogriff enabled Sirius Black to escape  dementors and taken to Azkaban.  Basically, the ride is a simple roller coaster which travels around scenes from Hagrid's Hut where "students" (riders) are shown how to properly bow to a Hippogriff and then taken on a test flight.  Universal Studios must be going 'Green" because the roller coaster is a recycled ride previously called the Flying Unicorn as part of the Lost Continent.  You should plan on taking this ride after you've done everything else in the park as it does not tend to have a long line.

Dragon Challenge (**** Four out of Five)
Restrictions: Must be 54" to ride

Duraction: 2:25 minutes
This pair of dueling dragon roller coasters is the first of its kind.  It features two distinct roller coasters, or dragons, which riders can choose from before boarding.  You can choose either the Chinese Fireball or the Hungarian Horntail dragon.  These roller coasters reach speeds up to 60 mph.  Prior to the ride, the anticipation gets set by taking the queue of riders through the TriWizard tent as described in The Goblet of Fire, book four of the series.  The unique feature of this ride is the two roller coasters have three near misses as they traverse the tracks and twist and turn and invert.  Riders should be prepared and only those riders who do not get motion sickness should board, it definitely is not for the weak of heart.  Again, like the Flight of the Hippogriff, this ride was previously part of the Lost Continent and called Fire and Ice at the time.  It is still the only full inverted duel roller coaster in the world.

Hogwarts Express
As you enter the main entrace to the park (there are two entrances) you will first encounter the Hogwarts Express.  This is a photo opportunity where you can take a photo with the conductor.  You can try to stump the conductor with a question as he is supposed to be quite versed in the facts of all of the books and movies.  While we were there, it was under 90 degree heat and high humidity, so he must have been drenching in his wool conductor outfit.  But he speaks with a British accent and is a fun part of the whole experience.

The Frog Choir and Triwizard Rally
The two shows at the park are the Hogwart's Frog Choir and the Triwizard Rally featuring the Beaubaxton beauties and the Drumstrang heartthrobs.  The choir consists of a quartet of singers who have pretty good voices singing some familiar movie tunes as well as new ones.  They are dressed in school robes and two students carry pillows with singing frogs.   The rally includes the two other countries competing in the triwizard tournament and the Beaubaxton beauties do a nice ribbon dance while the Drumstrang men do a nice fight rally.  All part of the experience capture characters from the Potter series.

The Stores
By far, the most crowded area of the theme park are the stores.  The slew of Harry Potter fans are here not only to experience the rides, but to take pieces of the books and films by purchasing items like candies from Honeydukes, robes from Dervish and Banges, wands from Olivanders and T-shirts from Filch's Emporium of Confiscated Goods bearing favorite emblems.  Herewith our rating of these goods and stores:

Honeydukes $$$ (out of five, affordable yet not cheap)
As candy stores go, this one meets the expectations of the Harry Potter fan. Here you can find the candies Harry and Ron enjoyed on their train ride to Hogwarts and trips to Hogsmead including chocolate frogs, Bertie Botts Every Flavor Jelly Bean, Pepper Imps, Treacle Fudge, Cauldron Cakes and Fizzing Whizbees.  Prices are not much more than any other resort candy store.  Most items were ten dollars or less.  Our children were thrilled with the items that have the same packaging as what they saw in the movies.  Great marketing!  Prices range from $4.95 for a jar of Pepper Imps and $9.95 for the Chocolate Frog which includes a "trading" card.  A box of Bertie Bott Jelly Beans costs $9.95.  For under $10 you can purchase some fun souvenirs and savor the flavor and keep the boxes or jars.

Zonkos $$$ (out of five, affordable yet not cheap)
In the book series, Zonkos is the store where wizards can purchase novelty items.  However, we did not find the items the website claims such as extendable ears and shrunken heads.  But we did find Sneakoscopes, Snitches, Screaming Yo-Yos, and Pygmy Puffs.  A Sneakoscope and Snitch retails for $14.95 and the Remembrall is $12.95.   So for under $20 you can make some fun and unique purchases.

The Owl Post
This is not a store, but a shaded covered section where guests can rest their weary bones from all the walking they will do in the park.  Among the rafters are the owls familiar from the story that take the postal notes to their destination.  Going with this theme is a great "secret", where you can take your letters and postcards and the only place you can get the Hogwarts postmark in the world.  Surprise your Harry Potter friends and family with a letter from here and they will be thrilled to see the postage stamp and postmark.  My kids even sent letters to themselves as well as got the postmark stamp in books the brought to the park (to read while standing in long lines).

Dervish and Banges ($$$$$ Pricey) 
For the die-hard (cultish) fan, this store is where you'll find $100 school robes and upwards of $300 brooms.  You'll also find other school uniform pieces including ties, iron-on badges with the various school crests and keychains.  A big hit are the lanyards which look like the uniform ties but can hold your ticket in a plastic badge (does not come with the badge holder).  Lanyards retail for $9.95.  T-shirts range from $24 to $50, so take your pick based on the prices and logos.  You will find sweaters you cannot find in the other stores but we did not find them to be The school robes, (dry clean only) are $100 and include a wand pocket.  You can also purchase stationary items including journals and writing items.  There are also the wax seals with various school stamps.  The wand shop, Olivanders, exits through Dervish and Banges so every 15 minutes you'll get a new influx of people who fill up the store aside from the other browsers and buyers.  On a hot day those crowds can be overwhelming so exiting the store can feel like you've been released from Azkaban. 

Filch's Emporium of Confiscated Goods ($$$$ Pricey yet affordable)
Like any well planned theme park, the signature ride exits and spills out to a store to make sure you purchase something!  Named after the school keeper, Filch, this store has many of the same items as Dervish and Banges, but also carries an assortment of T-shirts you won't find there, keeping you going from store to store to see what's different.  The stock will change so we can't list what's different as that may change.  But you won't find the robes or broomsticks here.  For that you have to go to Dervish and Banges.  Mostly you will find the lanyards, keychains, good assortment of t-shirts, pins for lanyards and caps.  Prices range from $7.95 for pins and keychains to $25 on up for t-shirts and caps/hats.

Olivander's Wand Shoppe ($$$$ Pricey but a must if you're the Chosen One)
While Olivanders is not a ride, it is a fun and unique experience where you hope you are the Chosen One.  The line here builds because only 15-20 people are allowed in at a time because the shop is relatively small.  The four walls are lined from floor to 25-foot ceiling high with shelf upon shelf of wand boxes.  The shop owner sereptiously picks one of the wandering people who are told to look around the shop when they enter.  My youngest daughter was picked and given two wands to test.  Without giving too much of the surprise away, those two wands do not do the "trick".  But then, the third wand performs its magic and the room lights up and it is declared to be the wand that chose the owner.  Of course if your child is the Chosen One, you have to purchase that wand or forever be the Unloved One for at least an hour or two.  But really, you are not  obligated to make a purchase but be forewarned of the consequences.

Wands cost about $28.95, and you can pick your own within Dervish and Banges or outside the Owl Post when the store becomes overcrowded.  You can select wands that made to look like the one used by Ron, George or Fred Weasley, as well as Hermoine, Harry, Voldemort and Dumbledore, Draco Malfoy and Bealtrix.  Let's see if they can perform magic and get rid of these long lines!  In fact they do not - Drat!


The Three Broomsticks (**** Four out of Five)  TIP-Don't forget to use your AAA discount!
The only restaurant within the park is the Three Broomsticks.  But you can get the famous butterbeer outside from a beverage cart (when we were there the lines were 150 people deep) or at the Hogs Head pub which seemed to be a secret because there was rarely a line there - so we would go there to pick up a beverage.  For $8.95 for a cold butterbeer or $9.95 for a frozen butterbeer, you also get a souvenir mug and can get refills for "only" $2.75.  You can also get regular beer in a different souvenir mug for $10.95. 

As for food the restaurant is the only place to dine.  You can only make reservations for a traditional English breakfast, but for lunch or dinner it is first come first served.  After waiting in line you are pointed in the direction of a cashier where you order and pay first, then to another line to retrieve your order on a tray and carry it to a table you are escorted to.  The restaurant itself does a faithful reproduction to what you see in the movies.  The food is what you might expect in any English pub including Shepards Pie and Fish and Chips.  You can see the menu to the right.  There is also a children's menu that you have to ask for and prices are reasonble, from $4.95 for a Fish (no chips) plate, chicken fingers, turkey leg and mac 'n cheese. In addition to butterbeer, you can also choose from pear juice, pumpkin juice, and Scottish Ale. 

Location: Next to Honeydukes sweets shop
When: Doors open when the park opens
What: Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner
How much: lunch/dinner entrees: $7.99 (Cornish pasties)-$49.99 (Great feast for four or more people for $49.99)
How to pay: Cash and major credit cards

This post was previously published in June 2010.

1 comment:

  1. wow that is so cool I would love to go there it looks really fun! I would love for you to see my blog to I will visit this blog a lot. visit my blog at www.seethepowersofmind.blogspot.com


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