So the vacation is officially over and I am back in Hong Kong. As I attempt to get myself integrated back into work and the time zone I can take a few moments to reflect on one of the more anticipated days of the trip, which was a short jaunt to Orlando to take in the new Harry Potter area at Universal Studios.
Lines, Lines, and More Lines….
Just after July 4th, I went on a short road trip with my mom. Our first stop was Universal Studios, Orlando. Here we had wanted to see the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter exhibit. And the day went something like this.
- Line up to park.
- Line up to go through security.
- Line up to get the ticket into the park.
- Line up to get into the Harry Potter section.
- Line up to get something to eat.
- Line up to go on one of the 4 attractions in the Harry Potter section.
And that was all we had time for. There are 4 attractions in the Harry Potter section. One is a 4D style ride that takes you into Hogwarts Castle. There are 2 roller coasters; Flight of the Hippogryph and Dragon Challenge (which my friend tells me is Dueling Dragons an existing ride which has actually been repurposed for the Potter section). There is also an exhibit/show that takes place in Olivander’s Wand Shop. This trip we did the Hogwart’s ride and that was it. The two roller coasters have fast-pass options to upgrade to, but the other HP attractions do not (at least for now). Note that the Hogwart’s ride requires you to put all bags and belongings in tiny lockers once you get into the first part of the castle. This proved to be yet another bottleneck area.
As I mentioned we actually had to line up just to get into the HP area, which itself was about a 2 hour wait in a line the extended counterclockwise around the park back through the Jurassic Park section. Getting into the Hogwart’s ride was another 2 hour line. Once you get up into the castle proper, there are some things to see while in the line, but there are no videos or things to occupy your time (unlike The Simpson’s ride for example) for the 1st hour while you are outside, so attendees just have to sweat it out. Once you make it back inside the castle there are more interesting things to see like the portrait room and the fat lady. You encounter Dumbledore and eventually Harry and crew (video projections, but fairly well done) all portrayed by the film actors. The ride itself is very similar to Spiderman or The Simpson’s in that it is a combination of movement, set pieces, and video with many of the film HP characters making appearances. It’s a hanging ride so you are sitting in a seat but your feet are hanging off the seat’s edge once you are lifted from the ground. It’s as fun as such rides get and HP fans (of the films) will enjoy looking for recognizable places such. I won’t spoil the narrative, but it is basically what one would expect and in some ways it is just like watching a part of one of the films. It lasts about as long as similar rides, but in the context of waiting to get into the area and then waiting the the line for the ride itself (roughly 4 hours) it seems dismally short.
Would you like ‘pies’ with that, sir?
The best thing about the exhibit is some of the attention to detail. The area looks like it was taken right out of the movie. The architecture feels appropriate, the food feels like it belongs (Meat pies, Shepard’s pie, etc) and the Butterbeer is actually pretty good (a cross between butterscotch, root-beer, and cream soda). Still the park attraction suffers from missed opportunities. The Hogwart’s Express is just a static engine good for a photo op and not much else. It could have been an actual ride that took people around Isles of Adventure (much like the Disney train does). Most of the buildings are simply cosmetic and not open for any actual business, the exceptions being The Three Broomsticks (a decent restaurant as park food goes) and a few other shops are for selling standard and themed souvenirs. The area is also in a perpetual state of winter, with fake snow capping buildings and plastic icicles hanging down. I gather this is to represent the time period of ‘winter break’ when Harry and crew typically visit the fictional locale. Still, it would have been far more interesting to take the approach of a seasonal area that could change with the seasons (one of the key things that occurs around Hogwarts in the films as the students progress through the school year). However, being fixed as it is I would say that visiting the area in winter time would be a better overall experience.
All in all it was interesting to see, but the wait times were horrendous and when combined with the heat it was a rather grueling day. If you do plan to go in the near future, expect to spend a full day in that area. I imagine the area will be fun (but equally crowded) around times like Halloween and when the last two films come out. HP fans will love the pastiche of it all, and I do believe that I saw a few attendees doing some HP cosplay for photo ops. But for the casual attendee, I think that the attraction will be loads of fun in about 5 – 10 years when it’s become a bit old and you can find certain times of year where you can race through it and see everything.