The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: dispatches from a diehard fan
The Harry Potter theme park in Orlando, Fla., more than lived up to its hype for this fan.
I’ve read all the books. I've seen all the movies. (And yes, you might have seen me at a number of midnight showings.) I've also been known to spend time with equally fanatic friends debating whether butterbeer actually has alcohol in it and trying to remember the name of Ginny’s Weasley's Pygmy Puff. (It’s Arnold). So it’s probably a given that I’d be predisposed to love the Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park.Skip to next paragraph
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But guess what – I'm just back from a four-day trip to Orlando and I have to tell you that it's even better than I thought.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened as part of the Islands of Adventure theme park located at Universal Studios Florida. First opening its Hogsmeade gates in 2010, it’s been mostly well-received by travel writers and Potter fans alike. A California equivalent, located at Universal Studios Hollywood, is scheduled to open sometime between 2014 and 2016.
The park itself is created to look like the village of Hogsmeade, a small area located near Harry’s school, Hogwarts, where magic students can go on the weekends to shop and socialize once they’ve reached their third year. Some of the most memorable scenes in the village take place during the winter, and this Florida version of Hogsmeade is built as if you stumbled upon it in January, with snow-covered roofs that glisten in the sunlight and smoke streaming from chimneys as if the building’s inhabitants were huddled around a fire.
Visitors to the Wizarding World walk through tall gray gates to enter the village of Hogsmeade and are greeted by the Hogwarts Express, the red train students use to get to school. To the left, there's a row of shops. Memorable locations from the books include Zonko’s Joke Shop and Honeydukes, a candy shop, with products fans will recognize from the books, items like Fanged Frisbees. (These were forbidden to Hogwarts students, of course, by crotchety caretaker Argus Filch).
Other Hogsmeade stores include Gladrags Wizardwear and Dervish and Banges, which, among other things, sells Quidditch equipment. The window shops are all enticing. In one, a replica of Hermione’s beautiful dress that she wears to the school formal, the Yule Ball, is on display. Another features a shrieking mandrake, a plant that resembles a crying baby that Harry and his friends are forced to tend in Harry Potter Book No. 2. There are also portraits of Gilderoy Lockhart (as he is in the second movie, played by Kenneth Branagh) in another window, looking self-satisfied as always.