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Pottermania....or When People Wait in Long Lines to Buy a Soda.

Photo: Rick Gutierrez 12-13-2011
Hey Everybody Rick here with a dispatch on location from Orlando Florida.  I had the opportunity to visit what is arguably a mecca for Harry Potter fans all over the world in the past 24 hours. I witnessed a degree of maniacal fandom the likes of which I had never seen.  In my years as a geek, I have seen it all.  I have seen the best of people in geeky situations and I have most definitely seen the worst.  What transpired in the past 24 hours, was definitely the rare occasion that both happened simultaneously. 

First the good.  Universal Creative has come up with something that Disney can only dream about with the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  What has been brought to the table here is something that is not only truly phenomenal, but also, arguably one of the most immersive experiences ever.  The design of everything is nothing short of incredible.  Universal Creative went so far as to get the set designers from the films to have a hand in the design of this attraction and the final result is something that is truly unique and like nothing I have ever seen. 

Photo: Rick Gutierrez, 12-13-2011
I use the word epic a lot.  Almost to the point that it loses its meaning.  I think however, there is no better word to accurately describe the level of detail and design at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter than Epic.  The level of detail and the love and artistry shows in every single brick that is in place.  Universal Creative has something truly unique in their hands here and it absolutely shows.  The ride "Dueling Dragons" was rethemed to reflect the Potter storyline and it is now known as the "Dragon's Challenge."  Aside from some re-theming of the queue, it is essentially the same ride. 

Photo: Rick Gutierrez, 12-13-2011
The other holdover from this re-themed area of the Lost Continent, was known as the "Flight of the Unicorn" and now is known as "Flight of the Hippogryph" and is a fun roller coaster.  The addition is now that you are essentially going through training to learn how to ride a hippogryph, a plot point from "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkhaban."  But that is definitely not all. 
Photo: Rick Gutierrez, 12-13-2011
Inside Hogwart's Castle, we get a ride that is truly one of a kind.  "Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey" is not only a fun ride, it is a marvel in terms of theming and its overall visual effects.  I will not spoil the ride here.  It is something that needs to be experienced and enjoyed.  "Forbidden Journey is nothing short of incredible.  I loved it so much, I almost immediately went back into line and rode it again.  Using robotic arms as part of the technology involved, we are treated to a fully seamless and immersive experience.  You never know that the robotic arms even exist while on the ride! Again, Universal Creative has knocked it clean out of the park with this one.  The level of detail in queue and all throughout the ride is hyper realized. Almost as if the sets from the movies were pulled right from the screen and brought to life.  In terms of the overall theming and the attractions, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (Phase 1) gets a definite A+. 

Now the bad.  And I am not going to hate on the place because if you read the past few praising paragraphs, it is fairly obvious I loved the hell out of this place.  No, the insanity that stems from this place is my complaint.  The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is part of a much bigger theme park.   Universal's Islands of Adventure is a park that has struggled in the past to find its audience. This however is NOT to say it is a bad park.  Far from it.  Potter aside, this is one of the finest theme park experiences you will ever have. However, Universal mismarketed the park as instead of two seperate park (Universal Studios and Islends of Adventure) as a singular experience, which made IoA struggle.

Having said that, with the Harry Potter attraction in place, Isands is finally getting the audience it deserves...if they can actually leave the Harry Potter area of the park and check out the rest of the place.  The lines for everything are nothing short of ridiculous.  There is a line that is two hours long to go in and buy a wand at the Ollivander's Wand Shop.  But the most insane thing I witnessed?  The lines to buy a drink called Butterbeer. 

Butterbeer is a drink that is a kind of like a cream soda and at the same time a butterscotch soda.  It is really good, don't get me wrong, but good enough to cause one to wait in a line about 100 people deep? I am not so sure.  We opted to not wait in the long line and found that we could actually go into the themed restaurant in the area and save us the wait.  We picked the frozen version of the drink.  At first the drink is good.  Really good.  However, after a while, it gets cloying.  Mostly because of the sweetness involved and the high amount of sugar it no doubt has.  Having said that, the drink was liked by myelf, my wife, and especially our kid.  But to wait in line for it? I don't know if I would do so. 
Photo: Rick Gutierrez, 12-13-2011
If that is the harshest criticism I have there, then Universal has definitely succeeded in finally having a viable and strong attraction to properly compete with Disney.  My advice, arrive early, get the Wizarding World out of the way first, and then go and experience the rest of the park  the because it truly is one of the BEST theme park experiences you will EVER have!  Now to muster up the courage to tackle the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror!

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