Review: Harry Potter World, Universal Islands of Adventure (Soft Preview)

by First Mate Keira

Today Captain Yarr, Cook Cutlery, and myself went to Islands of Adventure thinking it would be a normal everyday experience. We’ve been breaking in our newly bought season passes and exploring the park while waiting for June 18 to come for the launch of Harry Potter World. Imagine our surprise when we entered the main gates and a man who worked there loudly called out – “Go see Harry Potter while it’s open!”

They were doing a soft preview and of course we didn’t bring a camera so we have no pictures from inside Harry Potter World, but we do have a scanned copy of our trip to the Three Broomsticks and our shared Butterbeer. We got only one because we weren’t sure we’d like it (which was silly because of course we LOVED it). It comes two ways: frozen like a slushie or cold with whip cream foam on top. We had heard from a group of Potter fans that the whip cream version was their favorite (unanimously) and so that’s what we got. Drinking Butterbeer and getting foam mustaches would make a great photo!

During the soft preview they kept traffic in the stores under control by having people queue and only letting in a handful at a time. I’m not sure how they’ll handle the opening launch because there really aren’t places to queue around the stores. Because we were unprepared for the soft preview, we hadn’t any cash in which to splurge on wizarding goods so we decided to skip the stores and head for the rides. The lines were fairly short because of all the queuing around the shops so we got to ride several times.

If you don’t want to be spoiled on what the rides were like, skip the rest of this post.

The Dragon Challenge – This ride is made over from an old ride called Dueling Dragons. The new queue area is way cooler than the old because it’s been revamped to look like Harry Potter during the Triwizard Tournament. As you walk up to the main entrance there are signs and banners for each of the champions urging you to root for them. Inside the main queue area you immediately come across a round room designed to look like the inside of the tent of the first task. There’s even the Goblet of Fire with blue fire/light wafting. It’s placed high so people can’t mess with it, but the area is prime for good photos. The next queue zone has the Triwizard Cup held aloft and is another spot for photos. Past that in the next area is a cupboard containing the three golden eggs the champions rescued from their dragons. Soon after you’re asked to make a choice: Chinese Fireball or Hungarian Horntail? Why not both? That’s what we did. Both dragons run simultaneously and you are suppose to be flying on them – watch out for the near crashes! As a group, the three of us rated it an average of 8.5 out of 10. We rode it twice more.

Flight of the Hippogriff – My sister, Cook Cutlery, said it was a remastered ride that before had been about unicorns. I don’t remember it, but I’ll take her word for it. It’s a kiddiecoaster and more of a family ride than a ride for older people. I thought it was worth going on because before you climb the lift you get to see Buckbeak resting in his nest. Hagrid tells you to bow to him and if you’re like everyone in our group you will be doing it because it’s fun. Hagrid tells you well done and now we can fly him and then the coaster takes off. The cars are wicker baskets with the front basket having a sort of Hippogriff head on it. The ride is pretty short and on average it got 4 out of 10, but that’s because my sister’s thought they were too cool for it.

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey – It’s time to go to Hogwarts now and ride the brand new ride. I can only describe it as being similar to Spiderman with the combination of real action and simulation, but upped to the next next level. We rode it twice and both times went through the single rider lane because otherwise the wait promised to be very long. From what the website says, it looks like there was another entrance to the ride that we missed because we didn’t tour Hogwarts, we just got into the ride queue. The first time we rushed through the queue and only peripherally saw the portraits and setting of the grand staircase area and didn’t stay there long enough to see anything. The second time we heard a bit of what the portraits were saying and saw the Sorting Hat. He talks and gives the safety speech before you and your party are escorted to your broomstick. From talking with others later in the day, waiting in line was just as neat because of how it was themed, so it’s really up to you how you want to go through the lines. The ride itself was AMAZING. It’s definitely my personal favorite ride at Islands of Adventure now. We gave it a perfect 10 as a group for meeting and exceeding all of our expectations. What happens is this:

Hermione casts a spell that allows Muggles to ride a wizard broomstick. Harry and Ron are going to escort us to the Quidditch match between Slytherin and Gryffindor and along the way we run into Hagrid, who has lost the Hungarian Horntail of all things, which of course we find! Yikes! A swerve and a miss brings us to the Forbidden Forest and all those nasty Acromantulas – watch out they spit! Hermoine guides us out and we have a near miss with the Whomping Willow before managing to get to the Quidditch pitch where Harry wonders where we’ve been. In the race for the snitch suddenly Dementors appear and we’re following Harry to safety in and around the sides of the stadium, sort of like movie two with the rogue bludger. A dive and we’re in the Chamber of Secrets, but the Dementors have followed us and are trying to suck our souls. Luckily Harry knows his Patronus! The fight knocks out the walls and with the Chamber collapsing we have to hurry to find a safe way out. A quick flight across the Great Lake and we’re back at Hogwarts where Harry, Hermione, Ron, and other Hogwarts students cheer us on before we run into Dumbledore who gives a speech and welcomes us to come back anytime. Another swoop and we’re unbuckling from out broomsticks and getting off the ride… only to get back on of course!

We officially can’t wait for the real launch because this time we’ll bring our cameras and take pictures all over the place! By the Hogwarts Express, by Honeydukes, in Ollivander’s, of Hogwarts, of Hogsmeade, and everything in between. See you there!

Photo Credits: Universal Studios

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  1. I especially liked the Forbidden Journey. I too thought it was amazing. I didn’t realise that we were in the Chamber of Secrets (duh! Now I get why there was that snake skeleton). If we’d gone together, instead of in separate brooms, I would have figured it out because you would have said something directly the first time.

    The Hungarian Horntail side of the the Dragon Challenge is a bit scarier in my opinion because we have a near run in with a castle wall.

    The Butterbeer was YUMMY! We got to go back and get some more and this time bring more galleons. 😉

  2. I’m all about Harry Potter World now. It is so freaking AWESOME!

    I agree with Cook Cutlery, we need to go and get more Butterbeer and try the pumpkin juice the next time we go.

    I was scared at first about going on the Dragon Challenge, but I couldn’t wait to go back on it again and ride the other side. The second time we rode the Chinese Fireball and I thought it was thrill-ifying (part terrifying) because of the angle of the near misses with the other coaster. But then we rode the Hungarian Horntail again and I agree with Cook Cutlery – it was way more shriek worthy.

    At first I had no idea what Hogwarts Forbidden Journey was – coaster, show, etc. It was like Spiderman, but 100 TIMES COOLER! I loved flying in and around Hogwarts and the handlebars which made you feel like you were gripping the edge of a broomstick. Going single rider is the best!!!! We rode it twice during our free locker rental time when others could only go once.

    The worst part? We had to leave!!! We’re so going back ASAP!

  3. Just got back. The Harry Potter experience was a nightmare from start to finish. A line right round the park just to get into the area, then lines for EVERYTHING, even the sweet shop. My little one wanted a wand, so we had to queue for two hours in the open sun (not even an awning) to get into the tiny shop to buy one. It’s the only shop in the whole place that sells them. It was packed inside, and guess what – they were out of Harry wands. The organisation of the lines was terrible – did they not think the attractions would be this popular? There’s no room to queue anywhere, no provision for those that are, and all the lines move incredibly slowly. The scenery is nice, but you can’t get into anything to see what it’s like inside. My little one was too young to ride the Forbidden journey, so there was no way to see inside the extemely impressive and exciting hogwarts replica they’ve built. It was the last park we visited, having been to all the Disney Parks, and Universal really need to take a look at how Disney handle volumes of people and completely revamp the entire thing. One positive note – on reaching the front of a queue for another ride and finding we couldn’t all go on, my temper finally cracked, we called a supervisor, and he was excellent, very apologetic, (I don’t think it was the first time he’d been ranted at about the shortcomings of Potterland) and he gave us free express passes for the rest of the day, which brightened things up considerably.

    I thought the Universal’s way of doing fastpasses was incredibly mean too – it’s more than Disney to get in, then they want $50 per person to do their version of Disney’s completely FREE Fastpass. We left feeling a little bit ripped off.

    Went to Gatorland the next day – loved it.

  4. Yeah it’s not very good for crowds and days that have a lot of draw (think blackout dates when most people vacation) are worse. You have to queue before you can enter the area of the park where Harry Potter is and then queue elsewhere.

    I would suggest waiting in line at Dervish and Banges (where you can also buy a wand plus many other things like a Time Turner keychain or necklace, scarves, wizard robes, and stationary supplies) instead of getting in line for Ollivander’s because of how the shops work. For Ollivander’s each group gets to go in by themselves… this makes the queue a very long wait whereas usually you can get in line for Dervish and Banges and get into the shop in a much shorter time. It has more shade too because the queue for that shop is by the divide for the Dragon Challenge and the wall will casts shadows during the day.

    I’m sorry to hear you missed out on the castle. I’ve seen people walkthrough the wait line and then get out right before the actual ride. I think people leave through the area where people wait with kids who can’t get on the ride. I agree too completely about Universal’s version of Fastpasses – they are a rip off – I don’t understand why anybody buys them. I am glad to hear that the supervisor for the parks was nice to you and that you liked Gatorland (never been myself).

    I wish they had dedicated an entire park not just a section of the park for Harry Potter, because really it would be so much cooler if they had.

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