Published in Where Orlando magazine, By Sarah Sekula
Muggles rejoice! The time has finally come to experience firsthand the spellbinding world of Harry Potter and his magical friends. From the shop selling Chocolate Frogs to the villagers roaming about, every nook and cranny of the $200-million-plus attraction immerses you into J.K. Rowling’s vision based on the author’s “Harry Potter” book series and scenes from the feature films. At 20 acres, the theme-park within a theme park is enough to keep anyone enchanted. Here’s an hour-by-hour way to plan a fun-filled day with Harry.
A ‘Wand’erful Welcome
9 a.m. – Pass through the arched entryway and capture your first glimpse of Hogsmeade village, where the postcard-perfect shops and eateries are all appropriately capped with snow, and Hogwarts Express whistles in the background. Make a beeline toward Ollivanders wand shop in Diagon Alley. Inside, you’ll be surrounded by 10,000 multi-colored wands stacked in boxes from floor to ceiling. Soon enough, an inquisitive wandkeeper will guide you through the one-of-a-kind experience where the wand chooses you.
10 a.m. – With wand in hand, you are now magically prepared to trek over to Hogwarts castle and experience Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, a ride which boasts some pretty impressive technological feats. For starters, the creators have managed to make the magisterial mansion look as eminent as it does in the movies. Within the castle gates, the wow-factor spikes. The lifelike replica of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is complete with the Gryffindor common room and the anything-but-average office of Dumbledore, the caring, yet, extremely strong-willed headmaster. Better yet, the ride has you soaring above the castle grounds, coming face-to-face with magical creatures galore.
11 a.m. – Just past the blazing Goblet of Fire and the shining Triwizard Cup, is Dragon Challenge where you choose your own high-speed roller coaster — the Chinese Fireball or the Hungarian Horntail. The two “dragons” twist, loop and come within inches of each other to create a pulse-pounding ride that will have you smiling as wide as Ron Weasley, Harry Potter’s goofy sidekick.
Noon – What better place to down a Butterbeer, then the Three Broomsticks eatery? The frothy, non-alcoholic drink is a favorite among wizards-in-training. And after sampling the J.K. Rowling-approved libation, you’ll likely agree. If not, pumpkin juice is on the menu, too, along with traditional British eats like shepherd’s pie and Cornish pasty. Plus, the rustic tavern, with rickety staircases and crisscrossing catwalks, is so authentically magical, you might imagine Harry himself is sitting next to you (wearing an Invisibility Cloak, of course).
Forget Snail Mail
1 p.m. – Just steps away is The Owl Post, where the messenger birds are the main attraction, not to mention a most desirable pet in Potter’s world. You can’t miss it. The Howler in the shop’s front window will signal (loudly) that you’re in the right place. Jot a quick note on Wizarding World stationery and mail it right there with a certified Hogsmeade postmark. Not only does the Post serve as a prime resting spot (there are plenty of benches), but it will also keep you on schedule. The grand Owlery clock hoots hourly. Time for your next stop.
2 p.m. – The tasty treats at Honeydukes are definitely something to write home about. Just think: How often do you get to nibble on a Cauldron Cake or nosh on Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavour Beans (Warning: each one is a surprise; some are sardine-flavored). Not your cup of tea? Well, the shelves are stocked with plenty of delightful sweets, too. Exploding Bonbons, Treacle Fudge and Fizzing Whizzbees, to name a few.
3 p.m. – Hop aboard a family-friendly coaster, the Flight of the Hippogriff, where you’ll snag a bird’s-eye view of Hogwarts castle. First, half-giant Hagrid explains the proper way to approach a Hippogriff, a magical creature that’s part-eagle, part-horse. Then, you’re off on a “training flight” full of spirals and dives toward the pumpkin patch and past Hagrid’s hut.
4 p.m. – Don’t forget Zonko’s Joke Shop for plenty of cool collectibles. And by that, we mean Sneakoscopes, Extendable Ears and Screaming Yo-Yos. On the other hand, if Quidditch (a fast-pace wizard sport played on flying broomsticks) equipment is what you fancy, then Dervish and Banges is the place. Choose between Nimbus Two Thousand and Firebolt brooms, and style yourself Harry-like with a Hogwarts robe, striped scarf and tie. Don’t get too close to The Monster Book of Monsters, or you’ll be caught in a snarling and match.
5 p.m. – What’s your last stop? One more Butterbeer? A photo op at Hog’s Head pub? More training time with the Hippogriff? It’s a tough decision, but you can always pay a visit to Harry, Hermione and Hogwarts again tomorrow.