Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Miscellany: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter review

The final "Harry Potter" movie has already made a bazillion dollars, and, coincidentally, I got the chance to visit "The Wizarding World of Harry Potter" with my cousins last weekend. They're Potter fanatics (made the trip all the way from Houston just to visit), but I thought I'd offer a review from the perspective of a casual fan of the series:

Islands of Adventure has always felt more like a mishmash of unrelated, separate areas than a cohesive theme park (one of the most popular sections of the park, Marvel Super Hero Island, is actually licensed from Universal's main theme park competition, Walt Disney Company). The WWoHP takes it one step further - the 20 acre area is basically a mini-theme park all its own, with enough rides, shops, and sights to occupy a good chunk of a typical vacationer's day.

The centerpiece of the WWoHP is "Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey," a motion simulator ride that's one part "Haunted Mansion," one part "Soaring," and one part Ford assembly line (the ride uses KUKA robotic arms to twist and turn riders through the dark). It's an enormously entertaining ride, with a lavish queue that takes you through Hogwarts and impressive, nausea-inducing simulated acrobatics. Be warned: the wait times can hit the two hour mark during peak periods (and when the ride experiences technical difficulties).

The other rides in the WWoHP are reskinned holdovers from the old Merlinwood area that used to be here; the twin inverted coaster Duelling Dragons is now Dragon Challenge, and the gentler family coaster The Flying Unicorn has turned into Flight of the Hippogriff. Since these two rides have been around for awhile, they're less popular, and they can be good choices if the lines for "The Forbidden Journey" get too long.

Aside from the coasters, the other major draw of the WWoHP is a painstaking recreation of Hogsmeade, a magical village that featured heavily in the book series. Universal spared no expense here; the place looks like it was ripped straight out of the films, albeit with hundreds of sundrenched tourists added in as extras:

Hogsmeade might look enchanting, but every shop is filled to the brim with expensive Harry Potter memorabilia (made in the magical land of Zhōngguó). Maybe I'm being overcritical, but I found it difficult to get in the wizarding mood while being surrounded by shops peddling $30 plastic wands and $50 Gryffendor quidditch polos. Conversely, the foodstuffs in Hogsmeade were excellent - peddlers hawk delicious frozen butterbeer, pumpkin juice (basically apple juice spiked with pumpkin purée), and chocolate frogs, all at relatively reasonable prices.

To sum up, I'd say the WWoHP is a must-visit for Potter fans. Every part, from the "Ministry of Magic" motion sickness warning signs to the moving newspapers in "The Forbidden Journey" queue, is designed to make you feel like a muggle who's gotten a glimpse at a parallel world. If you can excuse the merchandising, you should have a lot of fun.


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