MY DREAM CAME TRUE!
Reviews of bucket-list-worthy things to do all over the world

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Hogsmeade!

(note: I visited The Wizarding World during Thanksgiving week in 2010 and then again December 8-10, 2015. This review reflects my 2010 experience with updates where noted to reflect my 2015 experience.)

I felt a smile creep onto my face as my family and I entered Islands of Adventure at Universal Orlando Resort. Our first stop: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Hogsmeade!

Hogsmeade

My heart soared as we walked through the entrance to the Wizarding World, accompanied by John William's brilliant Harry Potter music. A friendly conductor stood by the engine car of the Hogwarts Express, ready to pose for photos. We got our photos and then explored the shops of Hogsmeade, with their animated window displays rivaling anything at any other theme park.

Inside the shops, we found more magic. In Dervish and Banges, there were broomsticks floating above our heads and a "real" Monster Book of Monsters in a cage. When my brother poked a finger inside the cage, the book's response was priceless! Unfortunately, the magic broomsticks and the caged Monster Book of Monsters weren't for sale, but Hogwarts school robes were ($99.95 in 2010; $109.95 in 2015). We each pulled on a robe, and for a moment, we all felt and looked like Hogwarts students.

We purchased some postcards for friends and family back home. Once they were addressed and ready to send off, an employee standing at a desk outside Owl Post gave them the Hogsmeade “cancellation” (it's placed on the return address side of the card). Then, she pushed the postcards into the mail slot. “The owls will pick them up tonight and get them on their way," she said. I couldn't hide a grin!

After a quick stop at the restrooms, where we heard Moaning Myrtle lamenting just inside the entrance, we visited Honeydukes and Zonkos. The large "live" chocolate frog and "puking" girl in the window displays were the highlights there.

We purchased a chocolate frog ($9.95 in 2010; $10.95 in 2015) and then my mom, brother, and I ceremoniously opened the package. Inside was a cool 3-D trading card and a very yummy chocolate frog.

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey

The wait time for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ranged from 60 to 90 minutes on the days we visited in 2010 (10-15 minutes in 2015). I'd heard that much of this wait time can be bypassed, if you're willing to ride separate from your family or friends (as a single-rider), which we were.

Before joining the single-rider queue, we wanted to check out the inside of Hogwarts Castle at our own pace, and so we told the employee at the head of the line that we would like a self-guided tour.

We were directed to a special entrance, away from the forbidding line. First, we entered a stairwell lined with portraits of the founders of Hogwarts. The images in the portraits moved and talked to one another just like they do in the Harry Potter movies!

We continued on our tour and found ourselves in Dumbledore’s office. Suddenly, Dumbledore magically appeared in jaw-dropping 3-D and spoke to us. If I didn't know better, I would have thought he was really there. In the next room, we found a similarly-realistic Ron, Hermione, and Harry. A botched spell by Ron caused snow to fall down on us. Of course, Hermione quickly put a stop to that.

Moving on, we came face to face with the Fat Lady portrait. She seemed to address us directly as she hurried us along to the Gryffindor common room, where there were more talking portraits.

Then, our “tour” was over. We were directed through Filch's Emporium of Confiscated Goods (a gift shop below the castle), where we checked out a "real" Marauder's Map in action. Then we headed back to the ride entrance, this time to actually ride the ride.

The single-rider queue led us past some of the sights we'd seen on our "tour." At the Gryffindor common room, instead of being directed to the gift shop, we entered the very last portion of the queue, where a realistic sorting hat gave us instructions like, “you must be more than goblin size, forty-eight inches tall” and instructed guests not to ride “if flying makes you queasy."

When our turns came, we climbed onto an “enchanted bench” (each bench accommodates four riders) and pulled on the shoulder harness. Soon Hermione appeared, a puff of green smoke enveloped our bench, and we began our journey.

The ride combines motion simulation with immersive live-action sets, alternating between the two. My favorite parts were the live sets. We traveled through a bridge as it was being attacked by a dragon, and later came face to fire-breathing-face with him. We visited a dark forest where huge spiders spit “venom” at us and the Whomping Willow tried to whomp us as we lay helplessly on our backs. We were also stalked by scarily-realistic dementors.

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey completely transported me into Harry’s world. Thanks to the speedy single-rider line, we rode it multiple times during our visit.

Note that the "tour" and single-rider queues bypass the Mirror of Erised (In the Harry Potter books and movies, the mirror shows people their heart’s desire.), the greenhouse, and some rather-cool statues, and so if the wait times aren't too long, you might wish to wait in the regular queue at least once.

Tip: Backpacks, purses, and loose items are not allowed on Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (or Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts  at Universal Studios Florida), however "fanny packs" (waist packs) were allowed during our visits. If you bring a backpack, purse, or loose items, you must store them in one of the complimentary lockers near the queue. Note that if you leave items in the lockers for extended periods you will be charged.

Flight of the Hippogriff

The wait time for Flight of the Hippogriff (a tame roller coaster) was generally 30 minutes during the days we visited in 2010 (5-10 minutes in 2015). The queue took us past Hagrid’s hut, and when we paused to admire it, we heard Fang inside!

The ride itself offered beautiful views of Hogwarts Castle, but for me, the highlight was the "real" Hippogriff who gently bowed his head as our coaster passed by.

Dragon Challenge

The queue for the loop-the-loop roller coaster, Dragon Challenge, winds through cavern-like tunnels.  My favorite part of the queue was a room where candles "magically" floated near the ceiling, reminiscent of the Great Hall.

After waiting in the queue, riders were allowed to choose which of the two "dragons" (coasters) they would like to ride: the Chinese Fireball or the Hungarian Horntail. The coasters raced on separate tracks, occasionally come threateningly close to touching one another. I joined the 35-minute queue to check out all of the waiting area features, but since roller coasters don’t really appeal to me, I decided not to ride. My thirteen-year-old brother eagerly rode the Dragon Challenge coaster as a single-rider and declared it “Great!”

Hog’s Head Pub

At Hog’s Head Pub, we checked out the moving hog’s head on the wall behind the bartender as we ordered frozen butterbeers. The sweet, caramel-butterscotch-flavored slushy drink with whipped marshmellowy topping was absolutely delicious. We savored every last drop.

Three Broomsticks

Our dinners at Three Broomsticks restaurant were scrumptious half-chickens with sweet corn-on-the-cob and tasty seasoned potatoes. For dessert, we had pumpkin juice which reminded me of spiced apple cider. Intermittently, shadows of house elves and owls appeared in the upper level of the restaurant. It was fun to watch for them as we ate!

Ollivanders

About thirty people were allowed inside Ollivanders for each audience-participation show. During our visit, the shopkeeper selected an eleven-year-old girl. He asked her a few questions and measured her arm with a tape measure. Then, he handed her a wand to try. When she waved it, wand boxes shot out from a shelf in disarray. He fixed them quickly with his own wand. Then he offered her another wand. Waving this one wilted some flowers. Finally, the girl was given a wand that caused music to play and the girl to be bathed in bright light. The shopkeeper declared that this was her wand. Watching the show was like stepping into the movie and experiencing Harry's magical moment. I only wish everyone had the chance to be the chosen one.

Hogsmeade at night

As the sun set and the streets of Hogsmeade, with their lighted window displays, quieted, we took in the atmosphere of the enchanting place. In the distance, stood Hogwarts Castle, bathed in purple light, its windows glowing. It was one of the most enchanting moments I've ever had in a theme park.

Final Thoughts

I would highly recommend a trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, especially for anyone who enjoyed the Harry Potter movies or books. Visiting Hogwarts and its grounds on The Forbidden Journey ride; seeing a Hippogriff; tasting butterbeer, pumpkin juice, and a chocolate frog; trying on a Hogwarts robe; and mailing postcards at Owl Post were wonderful experiences that my family and I will never forget.

I did this in 2010 and 2015 in Orlando, Florida, USA.

Jen (California, USA)



You might also enjoy my 2015 review of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley.