Hogwarts in Central Florida? Wizarding World Opens at Universal

Those of us who have not been living in Australia with modified memories to protect our children from Death Eaters are already probably well aware of the latest development in Harry Potter entertainment experiences, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Florida, which officially opens June 18. You can watch the opening festivities live here.  While many of us who will be at Infinitus next month may be planning a visit to the Wizarding World (I’m not; I’m generally opposed to amusement parks in Florida in July unless the kindly uncle sets us up with free Disney admission. The only thing worse than sweltering in line for hours is paying out the nose to do it, so I’ll wait until the cooler weather and the hubbub die-down.) For those who are not planning to go in person, the official website has some nice images and information to give you a feel for the place.

The excitement surrounding the opening of the WW, with rides ranging from a virtual reality experience inside Hogwarts Castle to a family-friendly Hippogriff coaster to racing dragon coasters, has been considerable, and the ambiance, including a snowy (!) Hogsmeade with familiar shops like Honeydukes, shows loving attention to detail that is intended to immerse visitors in the world we love visiting in books (and movies, since that’s the vision we get here).

 While it might be easy to dismiss this as yet another way to prise Galleons from the pockets of faithful Potter-philes by playing on their love for all things Harry and slapping a Bernie Botts label on bags of Jelly Belly Beans, there may also be something in this development that harks back to what we’ve discussed here before: the power of a truly immersive text. Yes, people will go just to ride the dragon coasters or just because they think some movie actor was cute, but others will go to experience, in three dimensions, the world we’ve pictured in our minds with the books in our hands. We want to peer into Dumbledore’s office or shop at Ollivander’s because these place already seem real to us. We may feel a thrill of delight as the steam issues from the Hogwarts Express, promising us a journey that we have all taken in our minds.

Of course, since this is Universal, we will see these places as the movies depicted them , so if the Hogwarts in your head is not captured by the one inhabited by Dan Radcliffe and Company, the magic may not be there for you. And then, there is the question of weather. Aside from feeling dreadfully sorry for the poor staffers got up in heavy robes and pointy hats in blistering Florida heat, some of us may have trouble “getting into the mood” with fake snow and a Hogsmeade where gallons of pumpkin juice can’t get one to muster a nice chill in the presence of the Shrieking Shack.  It will be interesting to get comments from those of you who do get the chance to visit the Wizarding World and want to chime in with your opinion on whether it’s just another tourist trap, or part of the transcendent experience of our generational shared text. I’ll hold off judgments until I see if that kindly uncle has a friend at Universal who owes him a favor, preferably in  February, when Florida feels more like Britain in June.


  1. Louise Freeman says

    I certainly agree with the “wait til the hoopla’s over” philosophy. I’ve seen one TV special about the place and it certainly looks like they went all out. And if they can manage a tankard of butterbeer as JKR described it, that alone will get my respect.

  2. Arabella Figg says

    What I find amusing is that renderings, etc., that I’ve seen show only a handful of people, which preserves the mood. Thousands of people crowded together and swarming the shops will alter that considerably! I too was surprised that they did snow in Hogsmead; perhaps it will help guests feel cooler.

  3. I wondered about the snow as well. They could just as easily have gone for the Hogsmeade that Harry first saw – wasn’t it just a cool day in the fall? Well, wait a minute though – Olliavanders isn’t in Hogsmeade, it’s Diagon Alley. Are they just mixing the two or are they making a distinction between the two villages/streets? Hmmm.

    Still, I am excited to see it all brought to life, as it were. But I am like you, John, there is nothing appealing about Florida in the summer. We plan to go back to Florida next spring, and along with our visits to the Disney parks, we will take a few days to go to Universal. Hubby will likely ride the dragon one (alone) and I’ll join him on everything else.

  4. Elizabeth says

    Disney has a snowy section over in the Studios, always surreal in the summer. The map is a little confusing, but we’ll see how they weave it together. And I don’t think you’d catch John dead in one of the parks any day of the year, Eeyore, but you might see me and my flock there once the crowds die down! You are right about the crowds spoiling the ambiance, Arabella. When I lived in Orlando and had my annual Disney pass, I loved going early in the morning or on rainy days when it was quiet. It was always more magical then. Rainy will be nice at WW, too!

  5. Arabella Figg says

    Disneyland has canoe races (and weeks of practices) for cast members every summer on the Great Rivers of America, around 5:30 a.m. The park at rosy golden dawn, silent, little twinkling lights in the trees, is the Park at its most beautiful and magical. I wish I could see it again like that, but have the memories firmly in place.

  6. Today was the big day, and would you believe 5-7 hour waits just to get in to the area? After that, waits of 1-2 hours to ride the Forbidden Journey attraction. (The other two are newly-themed overlays of existing attractions, and I can safely recommend Dragon Challenge, formerly named Dueling Dragons, for coaster enthusiasts – which I am not.)

    I suspect Universal may not have appreciated the magnitude of the draw that they have here, and I suspect they will be learning to handle logistical issues never before seen in the theme park industry for the remainder of the summer. (Catherine and I have plans to visit Orlando next January – a time when Universal is traditionally very slow. I’m hoping that translates into “manageable” for experiencing Wizarding World.)

    There are tons of photos on the Orlando Sentinel site, but here’s my favorite:


    Just for a perspective, the blue globe in the lower-right corner is probably about a quarter mile from the entrance to the park. From there, it’s maybe another quarter mile to get to WW.

    Bottom line – there are a LOT of people who want to see where Harry lives.

  7. Elizabeth says

    Eek! Thanks for the update! One thing Disney has always done well is herd people so they don’t feel like they are being herded. Universal has never done it so well, and it looks like they were overwhelmed. Some of these folks may be locals with annual passes (I waited forever to ride Tower of Terror the first day at Disney, but I took work with me and visited with the rest of the people in line.) I couldn’t imagine spending my vacation like this. I know Universal well, and this line is HUGE! Perhaps they should have had a lottery or something so that the magic wouldn’t be so squished.

  8. Elizabeth says

    Check out more pictures of the newly opened park at
    http://www.universalorlando.com/HarryPotterNews/, featuring the “faces” as well as happy tourists, but no images of people smushed up against one another!

    You can also keep up with all the doings here:


    I’ll have to see if I can get any insider details from friends in the area. I have a wealth of backdoor Disney stories thanks to that uncle (he’s a fireman there, so I know all about why one should keep one’s hands and arms inside the vehicle). I’d like to know how hard the secuirty was, and what the general atmosphere was like amongst those poor waiting folks. Disgruntled? Disenchanted? Or just happy to be there? (ugh, I sound like Rita Skeeter!)

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