The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal: A Soft Opening Review

by Barry Hom, PassPorter Guest Contributor
Last modified 06-10-2010

Photo illustrating Walt Disney World - Touring

I must admit -- I know very little about Harry Potter! I have a vague idea of who Harry Potter is and a general idea of his world, but I've never read the books or seen the movies. You can call me a "sub-muggle." Even so, I was very excited when Universal Orlando announced the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I wanted to see what Universal Creative could develop from the Harry Potter literature and movies. I wanted to see how they would re-theme part of the Lost Continent and what the new ride would be like. The new area’s official opening is June 18, but I had heard the Wizarding World of Harry Potter was in soft opening mode. I took a chance and visited Islands of Adventure on June 5, 2010 to see if I could get into the new area. Sure enough, I did!

Wizarding World of Harry Potter photo
Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Wizarding World of Harry Potter

I entered the Harry Potter land at around 9:30 am. The area was running for another hour. As I entered, I looked around and smiled. I loved how the theming was. I knew next to nothing about Harry Potter's environment, but I felt the theming captured the essence of his world. I loved the triangular-shaped, snowed-on rooftop buildings. It felt odd to see snow in the 90+-degree Florida heat! The Hogwarts Express train sat at the entrance. Several fake storefronts have Potter-themed merchandise.

The area has a few shops. I looked around the candy shop, Honeydukes. The store was wall-to-wall candy. The neatest item was cauldron cakes, chocolate concoctions shaped like cauldron pots. The Dervish & Banges gift shop is outside the exit of the Dragon's Challenge ride and sells dragon-themed merchandise. There’s a small post office called the Owl’s Post and has a neat stack of oddly shaped packages above it. There were several other gift shops and restaurants I didn't have a chance to experience.

The shops were nicely themed and had a good but pricey selection of merchandise, but they were small. The merchandise was very close together and had very narrow walking areas. When the shops were crowded, it was very hard to move. When I was in Dervish & Banges gift shop, I couldn't move at all.

The land has two live shows. One is an acapella group who sing Harry Potter-themed songs. Another is a Triwizards Tournament celebration group with martial artists and ribbon dancers. The dancers and singers from these shows are available for photo ops after their performances.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter has three rides: the Flight of the Hippogriff, Dragon’s Challenge, and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Two rides are rethemed rides from the Lost Continent. The Flight of the Hippogriff is the rethemed Flying Unicorn roller coaster. You are riding a man-made Hippogriff to practice riding a real one. A nesting Hippogriff sits by the lift hill.

The Dragon Challenge was once known as Dueling Dragons. Fire dragon is now Chinese Fireball and Ice dragon is now Hungarian Horntail. The ride is pretty much the same. I feel that the theming was a missed opportunity. Dueling Dragons had one of the most extravagantly themed queues of all theme parks. Now that great theming is all gone. The exterior queue had many student-made banners of different dragon themes. The entrance to the castle was decorated with several lovely flags. Inside the castle, however, there were miles of miles of blank stone walls. I hope that more theming is added to the castle in the future.

The piece de resistance ride in the land is Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. I describe the ride as a next generation Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man. As groundbreaking the Spider-Man ride was and still is, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey breaks the barriers once again. The ride is basically a Kuka arm on a track. What is a Kuka arm? If you’ve ever seen a commercial for GM or a similar car manufacturer, you've seen video from the assembly line that has robotic arms with tools at the end. A Kuka arm is a robotic arm with you on the end instead of the tool.

Before you ride, the queue line winds through the castle. You'll see many moving and talking portraits and paintings. Harry Potter's friends appear and talk to you. The castle was amazing and heavily themed.

Then you approach the ride loading area. I waited 75 minutes for my ride, but the line never felt long. The line moved fairly quickly and had a lot of neat stuff to see. Each Kula arm, or as they call them, "magic benches" holds four guests with over-the-shoulder restraints (like Rock 'n' Roller Coaster at Disney's Hollywood Studios). The magic benches load off a moving sidewalk (much like Magic Kingdom's Haunted Mansion) and you load onto the ride vehicle. Pull down the restraint and you are ready!

The ride takes you on a flight over castles and into a Quidditch tournament. Most of the ride has a lot of scary scenes of dragons, skeletons, and a big spider. Watch out – one of these beast spit at you! As you fly from scene to scene, you tilt back and forth on your bench. The magic bench never flips you over or turns you around. Still, I was saying “Whoa, whoa!” many times! I was quite amazed at the ride.

The Forbidden Journey ride gives a great sensation of flight. Two scenes are small, inverted IMAX screens. One IMAX scene has you flying over a castle. This really made me feel like I was flying and it felt like a mini-Soarin’. As a matter of fact, I would call this ride a really fast Soarin’. I haven’t experienced a ride like Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey before.

Even though I enjoyed the Harry Potter ride, I did find the story a bit hard to follow. There were so many neat things to see on the ride that it was a sensory overload to me. I was busy being so amazed that I didn’t know why I was going through a castle or flying around. The Spider-Man ride's story is rather easy to follow. With the Forbidden Journey ride, I remember seeing a lot of scary things like dragons and I remember the great IMAX scenes of the Quidditch tournament but not a cohesive story. The ride also made me a bit queasy and nauseous. I had to catch my breath at the end of the ride. It’s important to note what the ride did it me, as I’ve been on many crazy rides on my theme park adventures!

Also, I’ve heard guests of a larger size may not be able to fit on the ride vehicles. If you have to use the double-strap seat on the Incredible Hulk Coaster, you may not be able to go on the ride. Always use the test seats near the entrance if you are not sure. There’s also an onride camera. The pictures are $29.95 for one photo and $5 additional for a second photo. These are the pricest onride photos ever!

Even though the Wizarding World of Harry Potter has some flaws, I did enjoy it and it is a great addition to Islands of Adventure. I will need to ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey again to figure out the storyline. Oh, and they also serve Butterbeer in the area. What does Butterbeer taste like? Well, it tastes like the official drink of the Federation -- root beer!

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter photo
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey castle

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About the Author:
Barry Hom is a roller coaster and theme park enthusiast. To date, he has ridden 498 roller coasters and has visited theme and amusement parks in 20 states and 5 countries. He is also a self-proclaimed "Star Trek" geek. He is looking forward to making another obscure "Star Trek" reference in his next PassPorter newsletter article.

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Reader Comments:

Thanks for the great review.

     mcc0313 on June 10, 2010 @ 4:53 pm
Great article and review. I am really looking forward to this area but may wait until next year rather than this October as I am sure the lines will be crazy! The story probably is easier to understand if one has read the books or seen the movies but glad to know it was still enjoyable even if you have not. Also thanks for the info on the butterbeer. I was wondering what that would be like!

     minushka72 on June 10, 2010 @ 6:51 pm
The food is quite good. Butterbeer is like cream soda with a butterscotch foam head. It is available cold or frozen, and with a souvenier mug.

Three Broomsticks offers food a cut above most theme park food, including great apple pie. The attention to detail and quality throughout the Harry Potter area is impressive. My son spent a lot of time just enjoying the various little touches along the street.

     Tarakas on June 10, 2010 @ 9:45 pm
Thanks for the review. I can't wait for our visit in Sept.!smiley for :D

     home4us123 on June 11, 2010 @ 8:19 am
Thanks for the review. We can't wait to check it out

     jimmymac on June 11, 2010 @ 9:04 am
Looking forward to checking out the WWOHP next year. Thanks for the review!

     Pikesterb415 on June 11, 2010 @ 9:46 am
Great review, thanks! smiley for :) I'm hoping to surprise my bunch with a quick visit over fall break...WWOHP is definitely on my list!

     Silver-n-Gold on June 11, 2010 @ 12:58 pm
:mad: I don't read this newsletter for Universal information. If you folks want to start one for them, fine, but don't mix Disney with the very inferior Universal!

     PrincessMindy on June 17, 2010 @ 12:54 pm
Thanks for the review! I can't wait to go. I am crossing my fingers for next summer.

     BethC on June 21, 2010 @ 9:28 am
Heading there in 10 Days.
thanks for the information.

     DisneyDaddy on July 18, 2010 @ 9:43 pm
We went for 1 day before going to Disney. We were disappointed. We spent over 4 hundred dollars for an experience that left us all going phooey. It was too crowded! We literally couldn't move on the major walking thourough fare of Hogsmeade. It was a 2 hour wait for the main ride. We never got into the stores because of the waiting line. We ended up spending a majority of our time in the Jurassic Park area. The food there wasn't great either. We got the meal deal for our family since a 15 and 16 year old boy can eat their body weight at these parks. My 15 year old wouldn't finish his burger and was reluctant to try anything else.

My advice is to wait and let the crowds die down. I'm sure that we would have enjoyed the experience if we could have actually participated in any of the stores or other rides.

We were so grateful to get to WDW the next day.

     Scrappytexmom on August 4, 2010 @ 1:19 am
We spent one night, two days at Universal this July in the middle of a Disney trip. We stayed on-site at Universal with a Harry Potter package so that we could get into the park for the ride an hour early each day. On the first day, the ride was down for a bit, but we stayed in line and each rode it once before heading to other parts of the park (both sides of Universal). We got the meal deal on the first day. I didn't come close to getting my money's worth, but the food was good (chicken tenders). On the second day, we had our breakfast at Three Broomsticks. You choose from several "plates" and get to select one drink. Half of us got butterbeer (like cream soda, a bit) and the other half got pumpkin juice. It was good. We had a late reservation time (9:30) so that we could ride HP again. I rode it once more ( a bit queasy), but my niece and nephew (12 and 14) rode it four more times before breakfast! After that, we decided to return to Disney (even though we had at least half a day left on our Universal tickets.) It was definitely worth it to stay on-site because the wait was negligible. I did see lots of people walk away because they couldn't fit in the seats. The castle tour is worth it though if you know the story. Also...HP and the FJ does have a single rider's line which is how the kids rode it so many times in a row. I will definitely go back for this. OH...and the long line outside Ollivander's wand shop isn't necessary unless you need the wand to "choose" you. I bought one by going into the other shop. They will also postmark your letters/postcards with Hogsmeade which is an inexpensive souvenir...
But...bring your own stamps. The HP ones are way too expensive.

     Deb. on September 10, 2010 @ 9:45 pm
Maybe we just went at a bad time.Triple bad time actually.We went the day after the Seventh movie part1 opened,a Saturday,and a day after 7 fabulous days at WDW.
We couldn't be more disappointed with our experience.The Location was small,the few stores were so crowded the lines wrapped around the buildings and then some(about two hours + at the end of the line). The best thing I can say was the Butterbeer was very good,I preferred the frozen,my Wife the regular.
Although you can wait forever to get in to Ollivanders,they do sell wands,and tshirts from a cart in the very back of the park. They missed the boat on animation,and the WOW appeal you might expect from such a potentially great park,but the oddest thing was one of the clerks at Honeydukes made an awfully rude comment about my Wifes Mickey Mouse tshirt.Not very friendly "cast members"

     ChukkerB on December 28, 2010 @ 7:21 pm
My son works at Universal and they are encouraged to mock Disney shirts as part of the competition between the parks. Many of the kids work part time both at Universal and at Disney and really don't favor one over the other.

     Darrell on January 21, 2011 @ 9:15 am
We went to universal last august. It was a horrible time!!!!!!

After 3 Emails to universal about food allergies for eating at the Three Broomsticks,

we arrived with no answer, and found out to our horror that the expensive breakfast that we had paid for had nothing we could eat except fruit!!!

we were furious that no body had contacted us about this.

Not only that but my wife got FOOD POISONING from them

it turns out that they don't actually cook anything at the restaurants they are only reheated.

My wife was in the bathroom for 2 hours in the 95 degree heat and when my daughter and i came out of a ride found her on the floor of the park unable to get up.

do you think that anyone came over to help!!!!

can you imagine that happening at Disney???

It took over 2 hours to get medical to help her and then evacuate (pardon the pun) her from the park it turns out that BOTH of their wheelchairs were occupied.

We had to walk her to a minivan which they drove us back to our hotel.

She had no strength for 3 days!!!!!!! wasted most of a day fighting with them. They refused to take responsibility for her getting sick even though it happened an hour after eating.

As far as the ride went. 90 minutes waiting in heat then only had one line of people in castle. the people behind us were rushing us through the lines so fast to get to the ride we missed all of the stuff in the castle. and the ride stopped with us resting on our chests in the restraints. good ride but not worth it in any sense of the word.

still fighting with their insurance to get reimbursement for lost time

last time we will be at universal........... almost ruined a great vacation but 10 days at disney helped recover the lost fun!!!!

     DisneyDaddy on April 7, 2011 @ 1:02 pm
It was pouring rain last week (3/2011) when we had planned to go to the Wizarding World. Before we could get on the Forbidden Journey ride, we had to pack up our belongings in lockers that were provided for free for an hour. We had no idea that part of the queue would be located outside, where a downpour started. We became soaked. Of course, we had stowed all of our raingear in the lockers. After we got our belongs back, I had to put the rain poncho over my wet clothes. I am so glad that we only spent on day at Islands of Adventure, and spent 4 days in Disney!

     Spedred on April 7, 2011 @ 1:46 pm
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Updated 06-10-2010 - Article #486 

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