From July 14 - 18 I attended a Harry Potter fan convention
called Infinitus 2010 organized by the Harry Potter Education Foundation.
It was my first fan convention after attending many professional, academic
conferences. Beyond letting y'all know that the conference was a great
time, I wanted to report on the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter section to
Islands of Adventure (IOA) located at Universal Studios Orlando. The
conference arranged a private, afterhours party for the attendees (for an
additional fee), so we could wear costumes and be in the Wizarding World from 2
PM until 1:30 AM on Friday, July 16.
They did a special Q & A with the head designer, had desserts everywhere,
(free!!!) butterbeer, and a dance party.
We did the Thriller dance in front of the Three Broomsticks with the
team members and train conductor joining in.
As a child of the 80s, you have to dance to Thriller! For people looking for convention pictures,
just visit my photo album area.
Nevertheless, here is my favorite photo from the conference:
I was dressed as the Grey Lady, the Ravenclaw House's ghost. And yes, that is Chris Rankin, who plays Percy Weasley in the movies.
Now, onto the theme park-related information, this new area
in Islands of Adventure is amazing. It
may be cheesy, but The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is magical. Hogsmeade is the first area you see when you
enter from the truncated Lost Continent section. The train is there with a conductor, steam,
and school luggage. It is your first indication how detailed and immersive
the rest of the world will be. The actor
that plays the conductor is very good. I was able to see two different actors while
we were in the park and both of them were very in character and took awesome
To the left of the engine, there is a "train station" themed locker area for The Dragons’ Challenge, which used to be named and themed as Dueling Dragons. Since I used to have an annual pass to Universal Studios, the dueling rollercoaster ride was not any different from what I rode in the past. It is a good ride and lots of fun, but not new. When we asked the ride designer, he did say they would be painting the blue track (formally known as the Ice Dragon) to theme it as the Norwegian Ridgeback Dragon. The queue was re-themed to the 4th book/movie’s Dragon Challenge of the Tri Wizard Tournament. All of the scary skulls were removed and now it is just empty, dark caverns with a little themeing here and there. Out of the three attractions, this was my least favorite. However, if you hadn’t been on Dueling Dragons before it was made over, then you may have had a different opinion.
The next attraction is the Flight of the Hippogryph, which was also an existing attraction called the Flying Unicorn. This “baby” rollercoaster winds around Hagrid’s Hut and through much of the scenery of the 3rd movie/book. As you begin, you must bow before the first assent to an automatronic hippogryph. When you reach the top, you can get an amazing view of Hogsmeade. That view is worth the wait in line. The overall ride time is only around 1 ½ minutes, but it does jostle you around. I would compare it to a shorter Space Mountain.
As you are walking along Hogsmeade, there is forced perspective, so you really feel as if you are walking through this village. When you round the last corner, and then bam, there’s Hogwarts Castle. Being a fan, it made me stop and stare slack-jawed. The castle is just how I have imagined it for years. It is not often that I can feel childlike wonder. I suppose this is how children feel the first time they see Cinderella’s or Sleeping Beauty’s castle after seeing their movies and reading their stories. I saw it around dusk and at night, it is even more beautiful.
The castle is home to Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey,
which is the new dark ride featuring the Kuka Robotic Arms. For me, the queue is an attraction in
itself. I could go on and on for pages describing
each incredible room, but I think that this report is long enough. I especially liked the portraits of the
founders, since they do not look like LED screens at all, but oil paintings. This is the first time we have ever seen the founders,
which was neat. Again, it was like
seeing my imagination come to life! The
ride is very intense and scary! I ended
up losing my voice on it, screaming, “I don’t like this!” However, I loved it. It is like Soarin’ and The Amazing Adventures
of Spider-Man mixed to make a new attraction, but 10 X better. This is not to say that I didn’t freak out
during some parts, but I cannot wait to do it again.
(Yes, the poster moved!)
The smaller experiences are the shops, the Owlery, the Three Broomsticks, the Hog’s Head and the Satellite Office of Olivander’s Wand Shop. All of these are detailed experiences that I enjoyed. My only criticism is that these experiences are held in very small spaces. I know that they were trying to be true to the small shops of Great Britain, but they are too small to handle the large Potter crowds. Being July, it was miserable waiting in line everywhere amidst the heat and humidity. My next trip will definitely be in November when the temperature is reasonable.
Obviously, I am a fan of the addition to IOA. I think that this area is the best offering from Universal since IOA opened in 1999. I think that this is great for all theme parks, since it will challenge others to improve and create better attractions for everyone to enjoy. Although, J.K. Rowling, Warner Brothers, and Universal can swim in their money “Scrooge McDuck Style,” theme park fans everywhere will be the ones to reap rewards beyond Hogsmeade’s entry archway.
P.S. At the Infinitus Ball, they played the theme song to “Duck Tales (whoo-hoo)!”