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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This was great! I am admittedly a Potterhead (or whatever they're called), although I'm pretty sure my status will be revoked since I haven't been here yet. I can't help it! All my trips to Orlando are Disney and I am too lazy (broke) to rent a car and take a day trip there! Plus, what would I give up in WDW?!?! Sorry, rant over.
Hey, I'm right there with ya – I'm pretty devoted to WDW! I'd a thousand times rather go there. Universal is fun but it doesn't have that Disney FEELING, y'know? That having been said, the Potter stuff is just impressive enough to lure me over on an, oh, I don't know 1:10 Universal:Disney ratio.
Haha, same as Kellie above! I LOVE Harry Potter, but I have yet to get over to see it! Every time I am down at Disney I'm like, "well, I have a Disney annual pass…why spend more money?!?" Maybe once Diagon Aley opens (and the craziness of it dies down!) I'll get over there to check it out!
Ha, yeah, I want to see Diagon Alley, but I definitely want to wait a year or so – it's bound to be a MADHOUSE.