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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.

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A welcome open area on the right is shaded by a large overhang and supplied with benches so younger kids, the elderly or anyone who just needs a break from the Florida heat can take a seat for a breather. While sitting, you can admire the Owl Post area, where you can actually send letters if you want to gloat to friends back home. If you stand outside, you can hear angry parents berating their children, including a dad who’s angry about a low grade on an exam, in a nod to the Howler letters Hogwarts children receive in the books when a parent is especially angry. The bright red envelopes, when opened, release the loud voice of a parent shouting at a child, loud enough for the entire school to hear.

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Before long, you’re bound to notice two lines. The one stretching down the middle of the Hogsmeade avenue, leading towards a small wooden cart, is for butterbeer, the Potter drink described in the books as indescribably delicious. The park equivalent comes in two varieties, regular, which is likened by those in the know to cream soda, and frozen. However, if you head over to the Three Broomsticks restaurant, the main eating establishment in the Potter park, you can get both butterbeer and pumpkin juice, another popular beverage with visitors.

For me, the line was a little long for the butterbeer and timing didn’t work out for a meal at the Three Broomsticks, but the restaurant has traditional British fare in keeping with Harry Potter’s origins. Some may love it, while others may be a little leery. However, one of my favorite landmarks was located right near the restaurant – an animated "Have you seen this wizard?" poster, which was hung in Hogsmeade in Harry Potter Book No. 3. Like the fictional version, the Universal poster features then-fugitive criminal Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) laughing maniacally just above instructions to notify Ministry of Magic officials if you happen to spot him.

The other line – besides the one for butterbeer – is people waiting for the privilege of entering Ollivanders Wand Shop, and unless the line is prohibitively long and you really can’t take the time, it’s worth the wait. (Yes, die-hards, in the books, Ollivanders isn’t located in Hogsmeade. According to park lore, this is a separate shop, a spin-off within the Ollivanders franchise.) The line moves slowly because inside the shop, which sells wands to Hogwarts students, a wandkeeper performs a show for 20 visitors at a time, picking a lucky visitor to try out wands just as Harry does during his visit. While I can’t speak for any substitutes, the wandkeeper I saw was phenomenal, with dramatic pauses and a kindly smile that invited the rest of the audience to share in the magic.

Are you a ride daredevil? Then you have three to choose from within the Wizarding World, the tamest of which is Flight of the Hippogriff, a smaller roller coaster based on a winged creature that Harry rides during the course of the novels. A plus with this one is that you get to see the cabin that serves as the home of Hagrid, the school’s gamekeeper. Flight of the Hippogriff is the tamest of the Potter attractions, but it does take some dips so beware if you really can’t stand any sort of roller coaster motions.

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