JENN: Let’s welcome back the one, the only, Perfect Traveling Companion, Elizabeth!
ELIZABETH: Ta-da! You’ll spoil me with those comments. My ego is getting so inflated.
JENN: She is vital to today’s discussion, which is: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios. We want to get our thoughts down before Diagon Alley opens and The Wizarding World goes all old-school-retro. And since Elizabeth not only accompanied me on a Universal trip in January of 2010, but also actually remembers what happened in all the books (whereas I briefly forgot what Gringott’s was), we NEED her.
ELIZABETH: I have my uses. I was actually surprised they built Hogsmeade first, but I guess that was the only way to include Hogwarts.
So, where shall we start?
JENN: I’m thinking I’m going to throw out an attraction, and you’re going to tell me, from a literary perspective, if it was any good. And then I will provide the philistine’s perspective.
|A philistine’s favorite perspective.
ELIZABETH: LOL, okay. I hope I can remember enough.
JENN: Let’s start with an easy one: butterbeer.
ELIZABETH: It was very tasty! Although not alcoholic, which means it fails the “exactly like the books” test. I remember it being essentially cream soda with a toffee-flavored cream topping.
JENN: I thought it was fantastic. We got the non-frozen version where everyone raves about the frozen, but I had the frozen later and prefer the regular kind. What can I say? I love bubbles.
ELIZABETH: I didn’t have the frozen either, but then I think it was January and not very hot. As for authenticity, though, I remember the place where we ate breakfast had a pretty good English Breakfast. I thought blood sausage was kind of gross, though. But delicious!
JENN: Yes, you went authentic. Me, I got pancakes. They came with a croissant, which I thought was kind of redundant. But the pumpkin juice was nice.
ELIZABETH: Yes, I think the pumpkin juice was probably the best part.
JENN: And the themeing of The Three Broomsticks? Assuming I’m getting the name right? That’s the one in Hogsmeade, right?
ELIZABETH: That’s what it was! It was well done, I thought, although I haven’t been in many real English pubs. I remember beams being visible in the ceiling.
JENN: If I’d known it would be important, I would’ve taken notes while I was reading… I swear to God I read all the books at least once! I didn’t necessarily like all of them, but I swear I read them, honest.
Okay, let’s jump to the candy shop. I completely forget what this is called.
ELIZABETH: Honeydukes, I think.
JENN: THAT’S IT!
ELIZABETH: I’m a genius!
JENN: All I know if that I bought my dad and brother chocolate frogs, and they were just milk chocolate in a frog shape. BOOOOOORING. They liked the trading cards, though.
ELIZABETH: Yeah, I got one too! I can’t remember who was on the card I got…maybe Dumbledore? I still have the jar of peppermints I got there (minus the mints); and I mean, if you want a semi-useful souvenir, the glass jars are reusable and have the “Honeydukes” logo on them.
JENN: Yeah, I have one of those too. Pretty cute, even for a barely-casual fan such as myself. I seem to recall they had a few other things from the books. Those hellacious jellybeans, for starters.
ELIZABETH: Yeah, nice idea but I didn’t want to actually eat them. And they had some other old-timey candy like lemon drops and ribbon candy. And I feel like there were cockroach clusters….
JENN: There was I think a joke shop next to it? I don’t remember what this was called either. This is why I brought you in.
ELIZABETH: Zonkos! That’s the one they just closed so they could open the Weasleys’ shop in Diagon Alley! (I DO read the articles you send me! 😉 I don’t remember a whole lot about that one… hmmm.
JENN: Well, if you don’t remember then it can’t have been that good. I shall mourn it not. But I faintly recall that it, too, featured items from the books, although I believe a lot of them didn’t really do anything.
ELIZABETH: Probably why I don’t remember much, except looking around briefly. Well, they just can’t live up to the magical pranks in the books. I want an ACTUAL nose-biting teacup.
JENN: Let’s see. Ollivander’s. We did the walk-through for this one.
ELIZABETH: Oh yes! The wands were pretty cool. And there was a bit where kids could “find their own wand” as it were. I remember wanting to buy a wand, but they were a bit pricey.
JENN: It was actually a nice set up – you walk through the shop and a wizard chooses a kid to help select a wand. <cynicism>Then he sells the kid the wand.</cynicism>
I mean, the guy playing the wizard was actually really good… but unless you were the kid in question, it was kind of like watching someone else buy a car, except you don’t know that person so you’ll never get to ride in it.
ELIZABETH: Can you imagine being the parent? “No Timmy, you can’t have the wand that chose you, it’s a scam!” Although if you’re a parent, you should be resigned to shelling out for a wand.
JENN: Ah well. That conveniently fed directly into the largest gift shop, I believe. Which admittedly had some nifty stuff. I succumbed to the siren song of a Ravenclaw scarf and a stuffed barn owl and I’m not even that into the Potterverse.
ELIZABETH: I still have my scarf! I remember there being all kinds of jerseys and such, especially for Griffindor and Slytherin, of course. Oh, and I got some stamps and post cards too. I still have a few of the stamps, although now they’re not enough to actually send anything.
JENN: Okay, I think that about covers the merchandise angle. Moving on to the rides. Let’s start with the simplest: Flight of the Hippogriff.
ELIZABETH: Let’s see…that was the rather tame roller coaster, right? The kiddie one?
JENN: Yeah. There was a cute animatronic hippogriff nodding to you as you went up the first lift. (See? I remember the thing about the nodding. I totally read these books.) Other than that it was a pretty run-of-the-mill kiddie coaster.
ELIZABETH: Yeah, not very exciting for us seasoned pros.
JENN: We hopped in line because it was short for once, but I remember the average wait time being around 50 minutes. Not worth it if you ask me.
ELIZABETH: Bleh, no.
JENN: The Dueling Dragons coaster was more our speed, although the queue was a thousand times more well-themed than the ride itself.
ELIZABETH: Yeah, I remember being kind of disappointed by the coaster itself. But then, it also can’t live up to the description in the books.
JENN: It’s fun, but it’s just a re-themed roller coaster with dual tracks. Once you’ve picked your side – Hungarian Horntail or Chinese Crested – you could be riding any ol’ dragon-themed coaster.
But the queue WAS impressive. They had various scenes from the Triwizard Tournament, and the crashed Ford… Anglia? Was that it?
ELIZABETH: Yes! I wish the car had come back for the later books… They should make a ride based on THAT adventure (are they?).
JENN: I don’t think so. I think it’s just Gringott’s and the Hogwarts Express.
ELIZABETH: Bah! It totally needs to be an alternate, high-impact coaster way to get to Hogsmeade.
JENN: Now for the big one – Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.
ELIZABETH: How many times did we ride that again?
JENN: I don’t know. Sixty-three? Seventy-five? First give us a quick rundown on authenticity and then we can talk terror and Dementors.
ELIZABETH: Right! Well, they did a good job immersing you in the scenes. I give it high marks for authenticity – just about everything was taken from the books (albeit with some embellishment). They did a pretty cool mix of screen and animatronic effects.
JENN: Let’s see… I believe it went: dragon, giant spider whose name I forget, Whomping Willow, brief Quidditch scene before you’re attacked by Dementors, escape. Please note that just about everything in that list is TRYING TO KILL YOU.
ELIZABETH: True… and the Dementors were legitimately creepy. I’d forgotten about the spider.
JENN: I almost said “Was the spider named Agrajag?” and then I realized that’s the multi-lived creature Arthur Dent keeps accidentally killing in the Hitchhiker’s Guide books. I am really no good at this Harry Potter thing.
ELIZABETH: Aragog, so you were close!
JENN: Anyway, the first time I rode the ride I was TERRIFIED. Those fancy cars take you WAAAAY up close to the scenes so it often feels like something might touch you at any moment. I don’t do touching. I can’t even ride Stitch’s Great Escape at the Magic Kingdom, that’s how much I don’t do touching. Luckily nothing does and by the time we’d ridden for the umpteenth time I was pretty desensitized, but I’m surprised more little kids don’t come off traumatized.
ELIZABETH: There definitely needs to be some personal space. I think I closed my eyes for the dragon and Dementors bits… Oh oh! Can we talk about the time the ride shut down?
JENN: YES! It was supposed to be the very last time we rode before we went home.
ELIZABETH: And then, right when we’re getting to the SUPER creepy bit with the Dementors and it’s really dark… everything stops. We sat in the dark for a little bit, which was unnerving, because I had a Dementor RIGHT IN FRONT OF MY FACE. But they eventually turned on the lights, which was AWESOME, because you could see all the equipment making everything work.
JENN: Also, it revealed that the Dementors are basically extremely large potato sacks artfully draped.
ELIZABETH: Yep, they were just big arms attached to the wall they didn’t seem so scary after that, LOL.
We were pretty lucky in that the cars didn’t have us at a particularly weird angle, but some people were leaning towards the ground or angled up to the ceiling. And you can’t move in those things: the straps are tight.
JENN: At least they let us skip the line and hop back on the ride for one last unadulterated run!
ELIZABETH: Haha, yes! So we got to end on a good note. Although that was the most awesome ride interruption I’ve ever had.
JENN: I agree!
ELIZABETH: Oh wait, and was that the one where the line took you through Hogwarts?
JENN: Yes! How did it look to your expert eye?
ELIZABETH: It was good! Very similar to the movie depictions (I mean, everything was) there were some cool effects there that are probably worth seeing on their own. I think if *I* had been designing the attraction, I would have made Hogwarts the life-size part instead of Hogsmeade. Although i guess that would have been more expensive.
JENN: Campus grounds, you mean?
ELIZABETH: Yeah, and dungeons to explore, and the classrooms, and the north tower…
JENN: That would indeed be pretty nifty.
ELIZABETH: And tunnels! They should have included the tunnels to Hogsmeade. They should make a ride based on the challenges for the sorcerer’s stone from the first book. Giant chess match, anyone? They clearly can’t keep up with my imagination!
JENN: I think you should take over.
ELIZABETH: Hahaha, I would spend ALL their money.
JENN: The only other feature of the current Wizarding World I can remember is that show they had, with the Beauxbatons and Durmstrangs or whatever you call them. If I recall, we watched this for like two minutes and then wandered off.
ELIZABETH: Ah, yeah, I vaguely remember that. Not particularly impressive. But then, in the movie they literally shot fire and live birds, and that’s hard to duplicate live.
JENN: I’ve only seen one of the movies and it wasn’t The Goblet of Fire so I have no idea how authentic it was, but if I were them I’d keep the ribbons on sticks for rhythmic gymnasts.
ELIZABETH: HAH! now THAT’S something I would pay to see. I actually thought GoF was one of the better movies. It contained my favorite line: “Oh my god. I’ve killed Harry Potter!”
ELIZABETH: It’s even better in context!
JENN: I just like yelling CONSTANT VIGILANCE!
ELIZABETH: That’s *definitely* the best catchphrase.
JENN: Let’s see, am I forgetting anything?
ELIZABETH: There was a Hogwarts Express train that you could take your picture with.
JENN: Oh, yes! The conductor was pretty funny.
ELIZABETH: Other than that I think we’ve hit everything.
JENN: So, to end our Potter post: I’ve been sending you a lot of articles about the new Diagon Alley/Knockturn Alley/Hogwarts Express expansion at Universal. As an established Potterite or Potterhead or Pottermouth or whatever you want to call yourself, what is your opinion?
ELIZABETH: It does sound very exciting. They definitely did a very good job with atmosphere for Hogsmeade, so I think having the expansion will make it feel like you’ve walked on set, which should be pretty awesome. And I’m intrigued by this Hogwarts Express ride. I just hope they add some more exciting rides and not just places to buy merchandise. But that’s the cynicism talking.
JENN: I hear there will be strawberry peanut butter ice cream, so they have my attention..
JENN: In conclusion: we’ll definitely have to go. But next year. Once the furor has died down. Late January was just about perfect.
ELIZABETH: I agree!
JENN: Thanks for providing the actual knowledge portion of the program!
ELIZABETH: I did what I could. I wish I remembered more details to compare, but ah well. Thanks for inviting me onto your blog!
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