If our earlier interview with reader Kelly O'Brien didn't pique your curiosity enough about the new Harry Potter theme park, then check out this Q&A with 16-year-old Alina Abramovich, from Ottawa, ON. Below, she describes the "wonderful, fantastic, brilliant and magical time" she had at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, detailing her favorite rides, shops and snacks on her trip.
Question: When did you visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter? Who did you go with?
Answer: I visited the Wizarding World of Harry Potter just two weeks ago --- my sister, my mum and I left for Orlando, Florida just a week after school ended. We visited the extraordinary theme park thrice during our week in Orlando, and it was simply amazing!
Q: What rides, activities or attractions were you most excited about?
A: The ride I was most excited about was definitely "Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey" --- a completely unique ride that incorporates new technology (and just the right amount of magic) that all the websites and newspapers were raving about. There was a cloud of mystery around it, and I was super excited to see what actually happened on the ride.
The attractions I was most looking forward to… well I’ve got to say all of them! I couldn’t wait to look around Zonko's, let a wand chose me at Ollivander's, eat enough candy to make me sick at Honeydukes, see Hagrid’s Hut, send a letter at the Owl Post.... Just everything!
Q: How closely did the attractions match the books and movies?
A: The attractions were spot on for the movie resemblances --- everything was a little closer together and smaller in scale than I had previously imagined, but all of it was simply amazing in the attention to detail and likeness. Most of the places I visited even matched my personal vision of what they should look like, and it was simply incredible! The architecture of the buildings was true to all the descriptions in the books and movies, down to the last stone brick and cobbled streets --- even the bathrooms fit into the theme with a dungeon-like appearance and a Moaning Murtle to startle you! It was brilliant!
The scenery and buildings weren’t the only things that matched the descriptions in the books and movies: all of the actors were completely in character, and everyone wore costumes fitting to their roles --- Ollivander, random wizards and witches, House elves… magical! Not to mention the items in window displays and inside Hogwarts castle as you waited in line for "The Forbidden Journey" --- talking portraits, mimbulus mimbletonia, mandrakes moving and screaming, the hourglasses filled with jewels, the Mirror of Erised... just everything took your breath away! It was just like being in one of the books!
Q: If you could've stayed at one attraction all day, what would it be?
A: I don’t think I would have liked to stay at just one attraction all day; there’s just so much to see and so much to do! If I really had to choose, though, I’d probably love to stay inside the Hogwarts castle --- without all the people pushing you forwards in line. The line to "The Forbidden Journey" went by WAY too quickly. I know that seems weird and that I should be happy I didn’t have to wait up to 3 hours (like the people who slept in and came late), but at the same time I would have loved to have seen all the details in the rooms leading up to the ride. You see, the ride was designed for a very long line --- so even at the very beginning you are amazed by entering a dungeon, then a herbology classroom, and finally entering through the doors of Hogwarts where you get to explore the Great Hall, Defense Against the Dark Arts, Dumbledore’s study, and so much more! Each room filled with magical instruments and knick-knacks, statues and moving portraits. You could literally go through a million times and never get bored. You discover something new every time you go through!
Q: What was your favorite attraction? And your least favorite?
A: It’s amazingly difficult to pick just one attraction that I liked above all… "The Forbidden Journey" was definitely one of the most amazing, magical things I have ever experienced, but I also loved riding both dragons in "The Dragon Challenge" (side note: try to sit in the front row, trust me), and visiting all the shops in Hogsmeade. I also loved "Flight of the Hippogriff" (which is a lot scarier than it looks :) ) and just generally exploring the grounds and seeing all sorts of awesome things like Buckbeak, the Weasleys' car and the Hogwarts Express. As for the least favourite thing… honestly I didn’t have one! I pretty much loved everything about the park! The only downside were the lines, but even so, we got there super early so we didn’t really have to wait over an hour for anything. And besides, there were lots of things to look at and do while you waited.
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 Butterbeer!)?
A: Boy, did I ever! My mum took my sister and me to the Three Broomsticks for lunch on our final day visiting the Wizarding World and we were completely delighted! It’s a completely modern and well-functioning restaurant, but with the atmosphere, food, service, tables and chairs to really get you into the Harry Potter spirit. Even the inside of the restaurant looks just like I thought it would --- with the occasional hooting and shadows of owls passing by, and the merry clinking of forks and butterbeer cups as people all around you enjoy their food. The food was amazing! I had the fish and chips and then ice cream for dessert, as well as pumpkin juice to drink (which is possibly the best juice I’ve ever had in my life! You definitely need to try this when you visit. It can be purchased in really cool, authentic bottles from house elves outside, or in a souvenir cup inside the restaurant). If you do eat at the Three Broomsticks during your visit, avoid having the Grand Feast unless you’re going to share it with someone --- I saw people ordering it, and trust me, when they mean feast, boy do they ever mean feast!
As for butterbeer, I absolutely adored it! It’s sweet, but not too sweet and really refreshing --- it tastes kind of like root beer and cream soda, but taking all the good parts of those two drinks, so that it doesn’t even really taste like either one of them. The only thing is, it is quite rich and I suggest you enjoy it on its own as opposed to an accompaniment to your meal --- but definitely try it! It’s not butterbeer like I imagined (with the warmth on a cold winter day and all that), but it’s still really delicious! Like a cool, refreshing summer version of the drink.
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: Honestly, I was excited to visit all the shops! I mean, it’s Hogsmeade! You kind of have to visit all the shops! I suppose my biggest thrill was to visit Honeydukes and Ollivander's, but Zonko’s, Filch’s Emporium, The Owl Post and Dervish and Banges were also simply fantastic!
Honeydukes, the candy store, sold --- what else --- candy! Rows upon rows of Harry Potter and British candy and sweets and chocolate! Not only that, but you could also purchase baked goods like rock cakes, pumpkin tarts (which are AMAZING), cauldron cakes (also very yummy) and treacle fudge (very sweet but delicious!)! There were chocolate wands, fizzing wizzbys, dark mark pops, Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans and of course, chocolate frogs --- not to mention the other astonishing number of outstanding sweets and goodies.
Ollivander's was more of an experience than an actual shop; that’s all I’m saying, though, so as not to ruin the amazing surprise. But, let’s just say that when the wand picks you (or someone in your group) it’s a truly, spine-tingling, magical experience! Wands are actually purchased in the Owl Post, into which you exit from Ollivander's and which is also attached to Dervish and Banges.
In the Owl Post you can also purchase stuffed Owls, see a howler, get a journal or letter supplies (including a special candle seal kit) and finally where you can send your friends and family a letter by, what else but Owl Post!
Dervish and Banges is a utopia of all things Harry Potter --- from (albeit very expensive) robes, to house scarves, flags, ties, keychains, mugs, hats, pins, pillows, T-shirts, and some more journals. Not only that, but here you can buy Quidditch supplies --- right down to actual Quaffles and Snitches, as well as a Beater set and Quidditch goggles. Here you will also find sneakascopes, plush dragons and other creatures, light-up Triwizard Cups, Rememberalls, Luna’s crazy glasses (Spectrespecs), and finally authentic racing brooms that cost a small fortune but are really nice to look at when in the store.
At Filch’s Emporium you will find the same collection of Hogwarts House items and plush toys, but all different from Dervish and Banges. At Filch’s you’ll find a stuffed Voldemort, really beautiful T-shirts (all HP related), Ministry of Magic hats and mugs as well as shirts, Gryffindor bags and caps and super long scarves. You’ll also find copies of the Marauders Map --- framed and pricey, but still really cool --- as well as sweaters and a number of other clothing items. For souvenirs, this is definitely the store where you’ll find all you need!
Finally, Zonko’s Joke Shop is also highly worth the visit, but with more of a toys in its merchandise. Inflatable blow-up tongues, Pygmy Puff T-shirts, Rememberalls, sneakascopes, puking pastilles, U-NO-POO, nosebleed nougat, ‘hair-changing’ brushes and fanged Frisbees are only a few of the super cool items which don’t really work quite as magically as they do in the books, but are awesome just the same. The thing that makes ALL the stores extra special are the details and items decorating each store and creating the perfect atmosphere for each individual environment --- they’re like attractions all on their own, just with merchandise.
I, of course, would have liked to purchase everything in sight, but I controlled my spending to buying a Gryffindor baseball cap and scarf, a chocolate frog, Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans, a pumpkin tart, a cornish pixie T-shirt, a bag of Fizzing Whizzbys and long sour strips of candy, a couple of pumpkin juices and a butterbeer. I wanted to get a wand, but only if I was the one picked in my group for my wand to choose me; I wasn’t picked so I decided to save some money for next time, when I could get a wand that chose me. In the end, even though you want to purchase everything you see, the most important thing you realize is that the memories and pictures you take back home with you are the most priceless, valuable things you can get from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Take my advice --- go easy on the souvenir spending, but do try the food and candy, since that is definitely worth buying.
Q: Was there something you felt was missing from the park that you would've liked to see included?
A: Not really actually. I thought everything was so thorough and detailed and magical and amazing that nothing was missing from my Harry Potter experience. The one thing we didn’t get to see, despite going three times, were the shows that were supposed to happen outside --- the singing frog choir and the dance-off between Durmstrang and Beauxbaton students. I don’t know if we were just there at the wrong times or days, but that would have been cool to see.
Q: Can you describe your overall experience at the park? Did it live up to your expectations? Why or why not?
A: My overall experience at the park was one of wonder and magic. I couldn’t stop smiling all day --- and even with the hot Florida sun and long days, everybody around me couldn’t stop smiling either. I can honestly say that visiting this park has been one of the most outstanding and simply best experiences of my life. It most definitely lived up to all the expectations I had and far surpassed them. Yes, it was smaller than I had pictured it, but really, you just don’t care when you step over the bridge (or under the arch --- depends how you get into the park) and are literally blown away, frozen in your tracks, your mouth gaping with awe at the scene before you. Everything was so perfectly made, so well crafted, with displays and decorations and paint and just EVERYTHING making it look like you just got off the train and stepped into everyone’s favourite fantasy book. No longer will I say that my letter to Hogwarts got lost in the mail. I was there! This experience is something I will always, always treasure.
Q: Would you visit the park again if you had the chance?
A: Um, heck yes! If I had a ticket to Florida right now, I’d already be on the plane over! This is a place you can visit over and over again and never get bored or disappointed. You just don’t have the rush and hurriedness of the first day when you want to see and do everything; you can just relax more, and enjoy everything --- noticing things you didn’t before. So ya, my answer is a huge YES! Also a question --- When, and how soon can I leave for the park?
Would you recommend the park to your friends? And what would you tell them about it?
Q: I would most definitely, one hundred and fifty percent recommend the park to all my friends! Not to mention teachers, family, neighbours, strangers on the street… I would pretty much tell them everything I’ve just told you, probably remembering a few more details to add during the telling, and also with a huge smile on my face and excited hand wavings and gestures. Most of all, I’d tell them about the wonderful, fantastic, brilliant and magical time that I had, and how part of me still misses it all, two weeks later. So you, everyone at teenreads.com, book your flight ticket, or pack up your car and go to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, for the best time of your lives!