ORLANDO – Three years after Universal Studios Islands of Adventures shocked and amazed fans with the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the attraction has not lost a bit of luster. Even though the final book has long been written and even the 8-part movie series has come to a close, the amazing recreation of J.K. Rowling's fantasy world remains the most popular draw in the park.
Universal Studios was once the "other park" of Orlando. Its journey behind the curtain of a Hollywood movie set and its innovative special effect oriented rides were something of a side attraction to take in while visiting Disney. That all changed in 1999 when a second park, Islands of Adventure, was opened – a mystical world where the magic of Dr. Seuss, Marvel Comic Heroes and Jurassic Park came to life.
|The snow-capped roofs of Hogsmeade|
Over the years, the park has continued to evolve, but its biggest leap forward occurred in 2010, when after nearly three years of construction, Universal unveiled the long-awaited Harry Potter attraction in conjunction with the opening of the franchise's seventh film: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows.
Universal recreated the world of Harry Potter to such a realistic degree that fantasy and reality are at times difficult to distinguish. As you enter, you witness a perfectly-sculpted recreation of Hogsmeade, outfitted with many gift shops and restaurants from the Harry Potter series including Dervish and Banges, Ollivander's, Zonko's Joke Shop, Honeydukes, The Hog's Head and The Three Broomsticks.
Butter Beer is even sold as a refreshment. Cold or even frozen, the cream soda-like drink is topped with a frothy cream head, which tastes a bit like cream-cheese icing, making for a delicious way to cool off in the Florida heat.
Walking up the hill, one finally comes upon Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in all of its realistic glory. The scale recreation of the magnificent medieval castle houses the feature attraction, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Perhaps the most spectacular three-dimensional amusement ride ever when it was constructed, it remains pretty much unrivaled in the theme park world.
|Hogswart Castle as seen on the approach|
The best description I can think of is a cross between a coaster, a simulator and a high-tech dark ride. The Forbidden Journey so seamlessly blends 3-D simulation with actual constructed sets that you become immersed in what seems like an utterly-impossible experience – something out of a science fiction movie.
When I was a young child, I remember fantasizing about inhabiting the worlds of my favorite books and movies – The Hobbit, Star Wars, etc. For fans of the Harry Potter series, that fantasy is as close to reality as it has ever been. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is nothing short of awe-inspiring in every sense and three years after I first visited the attraction, it remains every bit as impressive, as the long lines can attest.
Wait time for the Forbidden Journey can be long, and it's still not included in an Express Pass, but the line moves at a constant flow and once inside the castle, guests are treated to an added element of realism, walking the hallowed halls of Hogwarts and experiencing life-like apparitions from the movie as they haunt the grounds, making most of the wait a fun attraction in its own right.
The Forbidden Journey blends adventures from the movie into a storyline involving the rider, including a quidditch match. While the ride is quite adventurous, it's still suitable for the roller coaster squeamish.
There's also a scale recreation of the famous Hogwarts Express steam engine, as well as several other fantastic opportunities to take pictures in scenes from the books and movies. Plan on an hour or so just to visit the Harry Potter attractions, plus you'll enjoy the spectacular Jurassic Park River Adventure where you'll have a thrilling, up close encounter with a life-like T-Rex, the thrilling Hulk speed coaster, a 3-D Spiderman adventure, Dr. Doom's Fear Fall and much, much more.
If you're thinking of visiting soon, consider this. For a limited time, Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort is celebrating its upcoming 2014 opening with a special preview offer, allowing guests to be among the first to experience Universal Orlando’s newest property: a beautiful throwback hotel, inspired by iconic beach resorts of the 1950’s and 60’s.
Guests can experience the resort's new family suites with rates starting at $104 per night for a seven-night stay to $134 per night for a three-night stay – a savings of 47 percent off regular prices. The introductory offer is currently available for stays from March 31 to June 14, 2014. Call 888-273-1311 or visit www.universalorlando.com for more information.