As some of the Space Center's staff know, I recently went on a two week trip to Florida with my family. We went to all four of the Disney World parks, the Kennedy Space Center, and Universal Studios. The highlight of the trip was that in the Universal Studios Islands of Adventure park the Wizarding World of Harry Potter was doing some soft openings. By now the mini-park is open, but a lot more crowded than when we went.
Once you walk into the mini-park, you are just blasted with detail. You see the Hogwarts Express first thing to your right and it's even steaming. There's a conductor hanging around in that area so you can take your picture with him.
Once past that you see that you are walking down a cobblestone street in Hogsmeade. I love that they purposely made everything look crooked. There is snow on the roofs of the buildings that sparkles in the sunlight just like real snow, and it has started melting near the top of the roof. To your right you see Zonko's joke shop and Honeydukes. Zonko's is in Hogsmeade according to the books, but combines some of Fred and George's merchandise, such as Pygmy Puffs and Extendable Ears. Honeydukes sells candy and treats. They had just to name a few: Chocolate Frogs, Pumpkin Juice, Pepper Imps, Cauldron Cakes, Acid Pops, Bertie Botts Every-Flavor Beans, Fizzing Whizzbees, and treacle fudge. Some of Zonko's merchandise were: Pygmy Puffs, Rubber Chickens, Inflatable Tongues, Sneakoscopes, Extendable Ears, Screaming Yo-Yos, Boxing Telescopes, Shrunken Heads, and Fanged Flyers.
Next thing you see on your left is Dragon Challenge, a remake of the Dueling Dragons coaster. It has two different tracks, the Chinese Fireball and the Hungarian Horntail. In the line to get on the ride you walk through the Champion's tent, which has the Goblet of Fire in the middle. Further down you see the Triwizard Cup and the champion's golden eggs.
Back in Hogsmeade, right across from Dragon Challenge you see the Three Broomsticks. The Three Broomsticks is, according to the books, the main place you go in Hogsmeade if you want to eat. (the Hog's Head is second) So in the WWOHP it is basicly that. It is a sit down restaurant that offers all sorts of foods that you would find in England, along with some strictly Harry Potter related items. The Hog's Head pub is sort of combined with the Three Broomsticks. They sell Butterbeer and some other drinks. Butterbeer is like a fine tuned root beer with butterscotch foam on the top. And yes, they have a hog's head that moves around and grunts.
Now getting further in Hogsmeade, we start to see some shops on the left that aren't ever open, but there to display some cool things from the book. Such as in one display, you see a giant Mimbulus Mimbletonia plant like the one Neville had in the 5th book. You also see some Gillyweed that Harry used in the 2nd task in the 4th book.
Across from all these displays is the owlery. They basicly took the top of the Great Hall, (not the starry part, the real ceiling) and put some owls up there,(fake) as if they were delivering the post in the mornings. There is even a real working clock with the gears moving.
Next to the Owlery is a shop called Dervish and Banges. It sells mostly odds and ends and some clothing too. Also inside is an animatronic Monster Book of Monsters in a cage that growls at the passerby. I got my robes from here. (Slytherin of course)
Going further up the street we see Ollivanders wand shop. Technically, it is supposed to be in Diagon Alley, but it just wouldn't be Harry Potter without a wand shop. Here you can have a interactive experience that is just like when Harry gets his wand in the movie. After the interactive part you can get your picture with Ollivander and then head into the shop part. They have all of the main character's wands, as well as some of the secondary characters. (Hogwarts teachers) To keep up with Slytherin mindset, I got Voldemort's wand, which is exactly 13 and a half inches just like in the books.
Now we are pretty much out of Hogsmeade and we can see Hogwarts looming up above us. To our left we see The Flight of the Hippogriff, a kiddie coaster. When on The Flight of the Hippogriff you see Hagrid's hut and his pumpkin patch, along with an animatronic hippogriff.
And now for the star attraction of the WWOHP we walk right underneath the castle to the entrance of Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Walking through just the line is amazing. I'll try to keep this quick. First we see a mock up of the Mirror of Erised and a statue. Then we walk out into the Herbology Greenhouses where we see and hear mandrakes. Then walking back into the darkness of the castle you see two more statues and the 4 House points hourglasses. (Gryffindor is in the lead of course) Now straight in front of us is the gargoyle that leads into Dumbledore's office. Then we see the first of the moving portraits that are actually videos with a layer on top of them to make them look like real paintings. We then come out into a large room which is Dumbledore's office with a 3-D hologram of Dumbledore talking to you about the ride. After that you walk into the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom where you see a hologram of Harry, Ron, and Hermione telling you that they are going to try and sneak you out of the castle to watch a game of Quidditch. We then walk into a large room that has many portraits including the four Hogwarts founders, who are interacting with each other. Then you see a mock up of the Pink Lady, the portrait that is the entrance to the Gryffindor Common Room. Then, guess what? We walk into the Gryffindor Common Room. It looks exactly like it does in the movies, with a few more moving portraits. Then at the final part of the line, we see an amazing animatronic of the Sorting Hat giving you final instructions on the ride. Then you come out into the loading area of the ride which looks like the Room of Requirement. Then you get on the ride. The seats are designed like rollercoasters that attach on the top, but this is more of a simulation of flying than a rollercoaster. You can tell that they do the best that they can to hide all the mechanisms behind the ride. I'm not going to give you an entire walkthrough of the ride, you'll just have to go there and do it for yourself but I can tell you that there is no other ride like it that has ever been created before. It combines screens with interaction, but there are a few places where you will get a little bit wet and others where you will feel the heat.
The ride ends in a shop just like any other ride. The shop is called Filch's Confiscated Goods. They have a good selection of stuffed magical creatures you can buy such as owls and phoenixes. They also have Hogwarts mugs, Quidditch supplies, pins, and Marauder's Maps.
During the day, they have shows about every 45 minutes. There are two different shows. One of them is a Hogwarts Frog Choir with 4 singers, one from each house. Two of them will always have portable anamatronic frogs that will "sing". In the other show they bring in three students from Durmstrang and four students from Beauxbatons. The students from Durmstrang do some acrobatics, and the students from Beauxbatons dance gracefully and twirl their ribbons.
Overall the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is an absolutely amazing place.(considering how much I wrote about it)
It is better than the rest of Universal. Hogwarts castle is truly an amazing work of architecture. You can see it looming above the trees almost everywhere in Universal's Islands of Adventure. Every square inch of the WWOHP (have you figured out what that stands for yet?) was checked by J.K. Rowling. Even the actors from the Harry Potter movies came and checked it out. Now I must admit that the WWOHP is better than the Space Center. (sorry Mr. Williamson) Go there.