The first thing you should know about The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (admission: $79/day for adults, $69 for kids) is that the Butterbeer tastes magical. It’s frothy, butterscotchy, and incredibly yummy, and it’s one of many details that make the theme park — part of Universal’s Islands of Adventure in Orlando — a transportive delight for Potter fans. EW was invited to take an early tour on May 17. Accio highlights!
Shopping Prepare to drop more than a few Galleons on Potterphernalia in the commercial area of Hogsmeade. There are Sneakoscopes ($15) at Zonko’s joke shop; Peppermint Toads ($7) at Honeydukes’ sweet shop; Quaffles ($20), Bludgers ($22), and Golden Snitches ($15) at Dervish and Banges’ magic shop. (You can even buy a Firebolt broomstick — for $300.) Thanks to close supervision by the Potter films’ design team, everything looks and feels precisely right, down to the absurdly high shelves and cramped, English-style layouts. In other words, expect some tight crowds. Purists may scoff that Ollivander’s wand shop has been apparated here from Diagon Alley, but who cares when you can buy Sirius Black’s wand ($25)?
Food Shepherd’s pie and chocolate trifle are on the menu at the Three Broomsticks, and with their floppy, pointed hats, the employees do sort of look like house elves. Elbow up to the Hog’s Head pub next door for a special, park-only alcoholic brew, but don’t be shocked if the namesake mounted on the wall starts snarling at you.
Rides There are three. Flight of the Hippogriff and Dragon Challenge are well-executed, if conventional, roller coasters. The park’s signature cutting-edge ride, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, wasn’t running yet during our visit. But that hardly mattered, since the queue for it takes guests on a bewitching journey through Hogwarts castle itself. Somehow, the living portraits do look like talking oil paintings instead of just framed TV screens. Enter Dumbledore’s office, and the headmaster (i.e., Michael Gambon) happily welcomes the first Muggles ever to set foot inside the school. And after arriving at the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom, Harry, Hermione, and Ron (i.e., Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint) conspire to save everyone from one of Professor Binns’ dull history lessons — and then Ron accidentally makes it snow.
Other stuff The greenhouse doesn’t feature any moving plants (a missed opportunity, we think), but clever touches abound at the park. Quills write on their own, a book of monsters snaps at bystanders, and a tape measure plays with the hem of Hermione’s Yule Ball dress. Just try not to spill your pumpkin juice — nothing quite breaks the spell like a Muggle trying to hide a stain on his shirt.
A four-person Hogwarts choir periodically gathers to sing songs like ”Double Trouble” (from Prisoner of Azkaban) and ”Do the Hippo-griff” (with bullfrog puppets). Also, you can hear Moaning Myrtle giggling at you while you’re in the bathroom.