Saturday 22 October 2011

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Ever loved a book or movie so much that you wanted to jump into that imaginary world? I’ve had one prior experience where I go to do so at the Las Vegas Hilton's Star Trek Experience. The sets and scenes were so lifelike and combined with live actors, the experience was unbelievably realistic.

That experience, however, pales in comparison to a visit to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Orlando. There, in Central Florida, is a small area of land right out of the pages of the book (or the movie interpretation thereof).

As you enter Hogsmeade, the Hogwarts Express has just pulled into the station, steam billowing from the engine.

Strolling through town you can have a meal at the Three Broomsticks or Hogs Head and perhaps sample some butterbeer. If shopping is more your goal, you can stop at Ollivanders to buy a wand, check out the latest quidditch equipment, buy some gags at Weasleys Wizarding Wheezes or perhaps a chocolate frog from Honeydukes.

Anything that you could imagine to buy is there from the Monster Book of Monsters, a snitch, quidditch balls, or perhaps a new set of Hogwarts robes. And, if nature calls and you visit the bathroom, you’ll find Moaning Mrytle whining in there as well. No detail has been overlooked.

There are three rides in the world. A tame rollercoaster (Flight of the Hippogriff), an intense pair of rollercoasters whose tracks intertwine (Dragon Challenge), and the centerpiece: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.

I’m going to start this off by saying that no words will do this ride justice; it needs to be experienced. Suffice it to say, it is the most technologically advanced, realistic, thrilling ride I’ve ever seen.

The ride is set inside Hogwarts Castle. You enter through the front gates and work your way through the grounds, past the arboretum, Gryffindor's common room (with the Fat Lady having a few words to say), through the corridors where the portraits talk and argue, to Dumbledore’s office where he greets you and advises that you’ve been invited to a long lecture by Professor Binns on the history of magic.

On route however, you run into Harry, Ron and Hermione in the Defense of the Dark Arts classroom and are advised that it’s best to skip the lecture and join Ron & Harry on the quidditch pitch. Hermione instructs you to meet her in the Room of Requirement where she will perform a spell to enchant a classroom bench to fly.

Once there, the “ride portion” begins. Assisted by encompassing video screens, live sets and the choreographed simulator, you fly through Hogwarts, getting chased by Hagrid’s missing dragon, then spiders in the Forbidden Forest, dementors and a basilisk before surfacing for a portion of the quidditch match and finally flying into the Great Hall for the big finish. As I said, no words will do I justice, but take my advice, you must try it for yourself.

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