Dying to check out the new Harry Potter-themed amusement park at Universal Studios in Orlando, FL? Two very lucky readers had the chance to visit earlier this month, and were kind enough to share their experiences with Teenreads.com. Below, Kelly O'Brien from Jacksonville, FL recounts her recent trip to Universal Studios' The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, where she describes the ways in which the park has lived up to her high expectations, and gives us some helpful tips on what to expect from a first-time visit. Kelly's no stranger to the Teenreads.com blog -- she previously shared her opening-day review of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince with us, here. Be sure to check back later on today for our second interview on this fantastical new vacation spot with Alina Abramovich from Ottawa, ON.
Question: When did you visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter? Who did you go with?
Answer: I visited the park July 2nd, 2010. I went with my church's youth group -- there were about 21 people who went. We are big fans of Harry Potter; we've even nicknamed are old youth minister Dumbledore.
Q: What rides, activities or attractions were you most excited about?
A: I was excited about EVERYTHING, but I was most excited about going on the Forbidden Journey ride. I'd heard it was the best ride out of the three there.
Q: How closely did the attractions match the books and movies?
A: As soon as you walk under the arch and come upon the Hogwarts Express, it's like you've walked onto the set of Harry Potter. The Butter Beer cart is there to welcome you. All the restaurants and storefronts were right out of the movie --- it was pure delight to experience!
The arch at Hogsmeade
Q: If you could've stayed at one attraction all day, what would it be?
A: That would be the Forbidden Journey ride. It only lasts about 5 minutes, but it's a fantastic 5 minutes. I can't really describe it. But, you're flying with Harry, and you face a Dragon, Aragog and his children, Dementors. It was a fast-paced/fantastic/awesome journey! I loved every minute of it!
Q: What was your favorite attraction? And your least favorite?
A: My favorite was a tie between the Forbidden Journey ride and the Dragon Challenge ride (though they did not build the Dragon Challenge for the Harry Potter park, it was already there). They were very fun to go on. My least favorite thing would be "The Flight of the Hippogriff"; it's good for the kiddies, but not very exciting.
Q: Did you sample any of the Harry Potter-themed food at the Three Broomsticks or Hog's Head Pub? If so, what did you think of it (we're particularly curious about the Butter Beer!)?
A: Yes! We had lunch at the Three Broomsticks, which was a great experience that anybody who visits the park must go and try! I had Fish and Chips, which were delicious! One of my friends, Marc, has been to London and said they were very authentic. All the food looked like they took the time to get as close as they could to the London originals. I wish I could have tried everything!
And of course, I had to try the Butter Beer! I had the non-frozen one, which was very sweet, like a cream soda mixed with a little bit of butterscotch and a whole lot of foam. It leaves you with a nice mustache! I heard the frozen was better, but I didn't get a chance to try it. One of my other friends had the pumpkin juice, and she said it tasted like a spicy soda. But, if you get pumpkin juice at the park, I would suggest buying it at The Three Broomsticks and not the kind sold out of the bottle. They say it tastes better.
Q: What shops from the series were you excited to visit? What kinds of souvenirs did they sell? Did you purchase anything for yourself, or anyone else back home?
A: I was excited to see Ollivander's and Honeydukes! Unfortunately, I didn't get to visit Ollivander's because the lines were so long and I wasn't planning on buying a wand (which are about $30 for regular one and I think $50 for Harry's and others' wands). But, I did visit Honeydukes and Zonko's (which are in the same building). Honeydukes has all the favorites from the book: Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Bean, Chocolate Frogs, Acid Pops, etc., while Zonko's has Sneakoscopes and Remembralls, along with other novelties. I bought my mom and myself t-shirts and coffee mugs from Filch's Emporium (which you enter on your way off the Forbidden Journey ride), and spent over $80 on those items alone.
Q: Was there something you felt was missing from the park that you would've liked to see included?
A: Yes. Though the park was so much fun, I did feel like they could have done so much more. My friend Rachel was disappointed that the park didn't feature any "Dark" wizards (her favorite is Bellatrix). Why not include Nocturn Alley? Or even make an Azkaban ride? The Great Hall could have been another restaurant! I would have loved to see the Burrow! Things like that. More rides would have been nice, since the only ride they built for the theme park was "Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey."
Hogwarts Express --- And yes, you can get your picture taken with the conductor!
Q: Can you describe your overall experience at the park? Did it live up to your expectations? Why or why not?
A: Overall, I love the park! When you're there, you're not focused on the things they didn't do, but the things that they did! I think it lived up to my expectations. One of the things they did a really good job with was the people who work there! I felt welcome, and they made my experience that much more enjoyable!
Q: Would you visit the park again if you had the chance?
A: Yes, yes, and yes! Since the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is part of Universal's Islands of Adventure, you don't just have the Harry Potter park to explore, but everything Islands has to offer. Harry Potter is just the cherry on top!
Q: Would you recommend the park to your friends? And what would you tell them about it?
A: Yes, I would recommend it! I would tell them to be prepared to have fun, but also that they are going to spend a pretty penny! Nothing on the menu at The Three Broomsticks is less then $10, plus all the souvenirs are around the same price. So, I would be sure to bring water bottles, since even bottled water can be pricey! But I assure you, you will have FUN!