Saturday, 14 December 2013

We’re Off to See the Wizard

USA Trip 2013: Blog Post #6

“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” 
 J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Hog's Head Inn
About 6 months before this trip I went on to Amazon and purchased the full box set of Harry Potter movies.  While I felt like a bit of a cheat for not reading the books instead, I barely have time to read the novels I’m really interested in, let alone the ones I’m reading because I think I should. 

After many hours of Hogwarts viewing, I felt as ready as I’d ever be to truly appreciate the theming of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (WWoHP).  For anyone wondering if I think this prior research was worthwhile, I definitely think it was.  Obviously a huge Harry Potter fan will pick up the finer features of the park in much more focused way than I ever could, but for the short time we were there, my movie-watching research was sufficient.

The WWoHP is one of six themed lands inside Universal’s Island’s of Adventure.  However this land has such a loyal following that people often talk about it as if it’s a park all on it’s own. 

There are 3 rides within the WWoHP.  The Dragon Challenge is a pair of duelling roller coasters that looked way too big and scary for this timid family.  The Flight of the Hippogriff is a tamer, much more child-friendly coaster, but it’s uncomfortable jerky movements meant that once was enough for Oskar and I. 

The third, and by far most impressive, ride is Harry Potter and The Forbidden Journey.  Coaster-come-Motion simulator, this ride is supposed to simulate a broomstick ride through many scenes from the movie.  It’s a difficult ride to explain, but it’s scary, exciting, technically brilliant, and a little bit nauseating, all at the same time.

Hogwarts Castle.  The Forbidden Journey ride is inside. 
 I was aware that scenes on the ride included giant spiders and Dementors, so I did a lot of research and asked a lot of online questions before finally deciding that I would take my almost 6 year old on the ride.  Once on the ride I was completely convinced that I had made a huge mistake.  The ride was far too scary for a child of his age.  I was so worried that I didn’t actually take the time to relax and enjoy the ride.  The seats are like small booths and your body is pressed hard against the back of the seat by an over the shoulder harness.  I was desperate to reach out and reassure my son, but from where I was sitting I couldn’t even see him, let alone touch him.  An audio recording of our ride would have been humorous as I’m sure I spent the whole ride yelling at Oskar to close his eyes. 

It turns out that my stress was all a waste of time.  Oskar admits to feeling a little bit scared, but found the overall experience quite enjoyable.  He was the only one of the three of us who did.  While I was busy panicking over my son’s wellbeing, Scott was busy trying to hold down his breakfast.   3D screens make my husband feel slightly unwell.  When paired with a seat that flings you around at every possible angle, the result was one of extreme nausea.  For the following half hour, Scott sat calmly on a park bench while Oskar and I tried out the Hippogriff coaster. 

The ride itself is only one part of the Forbidden Journey experience.  The queuing area is the largest I have ever seen, and it is also the most elaborately detailed.  Even if you have no interest in the ride, it’s worth taking the time to walk through the queue line.  The detailing is so intricate, it feels as though you have been transported into the movie and are taking a walk through Hogwarts castle. 

As I mentioned in one of my earlier posts, the Forbidden Journey Ride has no express pass.  It is just so popular that adding an express pass option would make the standby queue far too long.  Also, entering through an express entrance would mean bypassing the interesting walk through the castle.  For this reason it makes sense to ride this attraction as early as possible in the day.  If this isn’t an option, leave it for the end of the day.  We rode it about 30 minutes into our hour of early entry.  Even at that time of the day, the queue had a wait of over 30 minutes - the longest wait of our whole trip.  If the huge queuing area was full, I can only imagine that the wait would be closer to about 4 hours.   While it’s a great ride, I don’t think there is any theme park attraction on this planet that I would be happy to wait longer than 45 minutes for. 

Ollivander's Wand Shop
The first half of our hour of early entry was spent at Ollivander’s Wand Shop.  Half of the shop stages a short interactive show.  Only about 10 people are allowed into this area at a time and then one lucky volunteer is chosen by Mr Ollivander to find the perfect wand.  As the lucky volunteer tries out a series of unsuitable wands, minor mayhem ensues inside the shop.  After all, it is not the wizard that picks his wand, it’s the wand that picks the wizard.  The show was cute and charming, but it would have been all the more special if it had been one of us who had been chosen.  Unfortunately it wasn’t our lucky day. 

Because such a small amount of people can enter the shop at the same time, the queues for this attraction get understandably longer as the day progresses.

After the show is finished, you’re a herded like cattle into the accompanying gift store.  Caught in the moment the temptation is strong to part with your hard earned dollars in exchange for what is essentially a pointless wooden wand.  With a large dose of self-restraint, we left the 
store empty handed.

After we had rushed around and ticked off the big-draw attractions, we had the time to relax and enjoy the theming of the area.  The first stop was Hog's Head Inn.  I was not going to leave the park without first tasting the famous Butterbeer.  There is a regular version and a frozen version, and from research it seems that the frozen version is more popular.  Unsure whether or not we would like it, we got one frozen pint to share.  This stuff is yummy!  One pint was not enough and Scott went back later in the day to get more.  I’m not sure how best to describe this non-alcoholic drink, but there are many websites which compare it’s taste to Creaming Soda.  I detected similarities to vanilla cola.  Either way, I do wish you could purchase it here in New Zealand.  Since returning home, we have suffered from some pretty strong cravings.  

Yum - Butterbeer!
Oh no, it's all gone!
A moving mandrake in one of the
shop's windows.
After finishing off our beer I went into the Moaning Murtle bathrooms to rinse out our souvenir pint glass. Then, for the next half an hour or so, I rushed around taking photos of the various shop windows.  I rushed so not to keep Scott and Oskar waiting.  They had not watched the Harry Potter movies with me, so the theming meant much less to them.  By this time they were ready to leave the WWoHP and do rides in the surrounding lands. 

In all, I thought the whole area was stunning.  I understand that JK Rowling was very pedantic about what she did and didn’t want included in this come-to-life version of her novels.  I am pleased she had such a strong say in the area's construction, as the result is pretty special.  Once they open the second Harry Potter area in 2014, the pull to go back is going to be strong.

The Owl Post
Honeydukes' Candy Store

Harry Potter fans are looking forward to 2014 when the Hogwarts Express comes to life.

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