Wizarding World won't disappoint Potter fans

Waiting in line for an hour under a broiling Florida sun gives you plenty of time of think about how useless a wand is as a souvenir.


But that's before you step into Ollivander's Wand Shop at the newly opened Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Orlando, Fla.

As you step out of the busy streets into the blessedly cool Ollivander's, cynicism gives way to wonder at the perfectly re-created shop where Potter and countless wizards before him bought their first wand.

Hundreds of small wand boxes are stacked up to a ceiling so high visitors crane their necks to catch a glimpse of the uppermost dusty shelf. Bearded, bespectacled Ollivander himself makes an appearance to choose someone from the group to outfit with a wand.

It's a captivating performance, and when it ends with a whoosh of magic and the soaring strains of the Harry Potter theme, you can't help but reconsider how a wand would look on your mantle. That's the real magic of the much-anticipated Harry Potter park, which officially opened at the end of June to worldwide acclaim. The hype is not exaggerated.

Even the most casual fans are drawn into the intricately detailed world of Harry Potter, which is dominated by the towering spires and arched windows of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. It's a bit smaller up close than you would imagine, but by no means less impressive.

Down below is the village of Hogsmeade, where aspiring wizards and witches can stock up on magical candy at Honeydukes Sweetshop, chug butterbeer at the Hogshead Inn and browse magical gadgets at Dervish and Banges.

Hogsmeade at Univeral is a collection of narrow storefronts, sharply angled roofs and dark stone facades. The sparkling snow packed on the rooftops is a nice touch, but hardly credible when the heat index is pushing 106 degrees.

THE NEW HARRY POTTER attraction was created out of the old Merlinwood section of the Lost Continent at Islands of Adventure. Two of the roller coasters have been re-purposed to fit the Harry Potter theme. The tame, wooden Flight of the Unicorn is now the Flight of the Hippogriff; the incredible Dueling Dragons still features two dragons chasing each other on a wild, stomach-churning ride, but instead of Fire vs. Ice, it's a Chinese Fireball versus a Hungarian Horntail. It's worth the extra wait to ride in the front row of Dragon Challenge at least once.

Fans will appreciate the attention to detail in the window displays. One store, for instance, has mock volumes by Gilderoy Lockhart, the defense against the dark arts professor in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets who chronicled his travels with titles such as Year With the Yeti and Travels With Trolls.

Butterbeer is served as a hot drink in the novels, but, this being Florida, it's either a frozen or lukewarm concoction. It's worth standing in line just to say you tried a swig, but the foamy brew -- it tastes vaguely of butterscotch -- is almost too sweet for its own good.

The crown jewel of the attraction is, of course, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, which is housed in Hogwarts. And yes, that is the line to the ride stretching out of the entrance to Hogsmeade.

About half of the wait time -- generally 45 to 90 minutes -- is passed inside Hogwarts, and it almost goes by too quickly. The inside of Hogwarts is exactly the way it should appear, with details that will astound even someone with no knowledge of Harry Potter. (Snowfall indoors anyone?)

Without giving too much away, the Forbidden Journey is a fast-paced ride that takes riders alternately through a dragon pursuit, a quidditch match and an enchanted forest. It's an intense, breath-taking, scream-out-loud kind of ride that might be almost too scary for young riders.

(It's definitely a different experience with a bellyful of sweet butterbeer.)

With more than 400 million Harry Potter books sold worldwide as of 2008, Universal Studios was fully aware this attraction would be under intense scrutiny by hordes of Harry Potter fans. It accepted that challenge and met if not exceeded expectations.

A magical site

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened in June at Universal's Islands of Adventure theme park in Orlando, Fla. To learn more, visit www.universalorlando.com/harrypotter.