If we geek about it, we speak about it here at IoM, and Christmas is definitely something we geek about! And you guys know how much I geek out about theme parks…so I’m glad that, even though I live in Virginia and not someplace like Orlando, I still have a Christmas theme park event I can write about in Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s Christmas Town.  Earlier this year though, I had the good fortune of visiting Universal Orlando’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  Though not technically a Christmas-themed attraction, there was plenty of snow and even a couple of snowmen to make it the perfect holiday event.

I’ve been meaning to write this review for quite some time now…is Wizarding World of Harry Potter worth the trip to Orlando for Harry Potter fans, especially if you’re already checked out the park?  Check out my full review after the jump!

Really, it makes sense to kind of take on the Wizarding World of Harry Potter by each attraction, rather than as a lump sum of its whole:

  • Hogsmeade: The entire Wizarding World is themed as Hogsmeade – the little town near Hogwarts that the kids travel to regularly.  I’m not a Harry Potter expert, but I think some of the shops in the part are actually from Diagon Alley, which may or not be in Hogsmeade…don’t really know Potter geography.  Maybe someone can help me out with that.  Anywho, regardless of accuracy, it sure looks like it’s been plucked straight from the movies, with an attention to detail that’s stunning.  Truly, the whole of it is a wonder to behold and, fan or not, it’s sure to take your breath away.  I was AMAZED (putting it mildly) at how gorgeous it all is.  A step up from anything I’ve ever seen in a theme park before.The shops are pretty fantastic but, as expected, the whole place is so swamped, that it’s a claustrophobic person’s worst nightmare.  Most shops are uncomfortably packed with visitors, and the only shop that actually does anything to limit the number of people in the store at one time is the wand store, with lines ranging up to over an hour.  I get that it’s new and of course it’s going to be crowded, but I can’t help but feel like crowd control could have been better handled, especially in the case of the Three Broomsticks restaurant.
  • Three Broomsticks: Again, attention to detail was fabulous here – if you look hard enough, you’ll even see a silhouette of Dobie walk by every once in a while.  The food strived to be more than regular theme park food, but the turkey leg I had was too salty to really eat.  My wife enjoyed her fish n’ chips.  One thing you’ll notice is that, though they sell Bud Light and other beers, nowhere in Wizarding World is soda served.  The wife had a frozen butterbeer (and loved it) and I had the Hog’s Head Beer (I think it was called), a pretty decent amber ale along the lines of a Killian’s Irish Red.Thankfully, we hit everything we had wanted to hit in the Wizarding World before hitting Three Broomsticks, because it was the least pleasurable experience there.  No signs tell you to wait to be seated, so I got yelled at when I started heading towards an open table.  We were asked (since we were a party of two) if we’d be willing to share our table with another couple.  We did, and that was fine…until they left, and less than three minutes later, we were rushed out and even accused of  “seating ourselves,” because we were two people taking up a four-top.  We left and complained about the experience, but ultimately nothing came of it, and it REALLY left a sour taste in my mouth.  Not only that, we sat by the exit to the Hog’s Head Tavern to finish up our butterbeer (yes, we were rushed out before we finished) and they had an employee standing by the exit (not labeled), telling people that they couldn’t come through that way and the entrance was in back.  I think a sign would have been just fan, rather than have to have an employee literally tell everybody who tried to enter (the exit faces the main throughway, whereas the entrance is in back) to go around the building.  After our frustrating experience with the restaurant, this really stuck out to me as poor handling of crowd control.
  • Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey: But our experience wasn’t all bad – the main attraction, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, is almost like two rides – a walkthrough of Hogwarts, and the actual ride, a mix of Universal’s own Spider-Man ride and Disney’s Haunted Mansion with some technology I’ve never seen before to truly make a unique ride experience like nothing I’ve ridden before.  I’ll go on record saying it’s truly the most impressive ride I’ve EVER been on.  Absolutely spectacular, with giant set pieces and just a hell of a lot of fun.  Absolutely brilliant ride design.  The walk through of Hogwarts is no slouch either, and I enjoyed seeing all the little Easter Eggs and rooms I was familiar with from the movies.  Loved the ride so much that we rode it twice – it was worth the wait both times.  My only qualm?  Well,the ride wasn’t build for “larger riders.”  Keep in mind that I don’t even have to ride the big boy seat on roller coasters, but I had to sit in the larger riders seat for this ride.  No big deal, except for the fact that the benches with the larger riders seats put these seats on each end…so if you and your wife have to both sit in the seats, you can’t sit together.  Just seemed like a design flaw that could be easily remedied.
  • Dragon Challenge: Nothing much has changed from Universal’s original Dueling Dragons ride, save for themeing throughout the line queue to make it match the Potter movies.  Again a ton of great Easter Eggs, and Dueling Dragons is a hell of a roller coaster, so well worth riding again, even if you’ve been on the ride before.
  • Flight of the Hypogriff: Another re-themed right, originally Flight of the Unicorn.  It’s a short roller coaster, and really meant for the younger set.  Still, it’s a great deal of fun considering how short it is.  And you get to see a Hypogriff, and Hagrid’s hut.

Despite my bad experiences in the Three Broomsticks, and with the lack of decent crowd control, I can’t help but feel like Wizarding World of Harry Potter really is, to be corny, a pretty magical experience.  If you’re a fan of the movies, or the books, it’s more than worth the trip to Florida, and you will end spending most of the day in it…though that’s mostly due to lines.  I’d obviously recommend waiting until the lines die down a bit before you decide to make the trip, unless you want an exercise in frustration, however.  Overall though, I think the pictures below will speak for themselves in how lovely this theme park experience really is.