On Friday, June 18th, I undertook a challenge of human endurance and the limits one man’s patience… I visited Universal Studios’ Islands of Adventure theme park in Orlando, for the grand opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter exhibit.
It was essentially a day of standing in seemingly neverending slow moving lines, with a little bit of exhibit at the tail end of a very long day.
We arrived at the park just before 8:30 in the morning, and stood in line for two hours before we made it to the front gate of the theme park. From there, we were ushered into a line that snaked through half of the the theme park, moving in pieces here and there, while standing still for large stretches of time. After another four hours, we actually caught a glimpse of the exterior of the castle on our long winding journey through the park.
At about the eight-hour mark, we managed to make it inside the exhibit. And there, we discovered lots of new lines within the two sections of the exhibit: Hogwarts Castle, and Hogmead Village.
Within the village itself, there were lines for butterbeer (which is actually good – kind of like a cream soda), lines for the Three Broomsticks restaurant, lines for all of the individual shops, and so on. It was way too much to process, so we headed to the castle line instead.
For an hour and a half, we stood in line for the castle and the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride. The line snaked through a whole bunch of nothing outside for awhile, but then made its way through the garden where Hogwarts students learn about botany. There wasn’t really much to look at, and nothing to do, but that’s probably for the best — I’d have gone crazy if there were screaming creatures to pull out of potted plants, as there were in the movies.
Eventually, the line led you into Hogwarts Castle itself, which is where the real wonders are kept. There are gorgeous statues of mythical creatures and historical figures from the Harry Potter world, beautiful pieces of art on the walls, and of course, talking paintings. It was an entertaining walk through the hallways, to be sure.
Even more amazing were two large rooms that passersby find themselves in: Prof. Dumbledore’s office, and a large lecture room. Both were magnificently designed, and the lecture room in particular had several VIPs waiting for you: Harry, Ron, and Hermoine. The 3D holograms were so incredible, for a startling moment I actually thought that the young actors had taken a summer job greetings guests at the theme park.
The culmination of this entire 90-minute wait was the Forbidden Journey ride, which had me concerned. I don’t do well with roller coasters — I enjoy them for the 3-4 minutes I’m on them, then feel queasy for a couple of hours afterward. So I was more than a little alarmed by the official Universal Studios signs throughout the line proclaiming the Forbidden Journey ride to be a brutal and death-defying adventure roller coaster.
Persons with motion sickness, women who are pregnant, and anyone with a cast on their arm or leg are all forbidden. There’s actually a sign saying that anyone with a prosthetic limb needs to remove it before riding, for safety purposes. The signs made it very clear that getting on this ride was practically a death sentence.
I declined to board the ride. Unfortunately for me, it apparently wasn’t anywhere near that bad… My traveling companions who DID get on the ride later compared it to other rides that I went on and enjoyed, with no ill effects. So apparently, I’m going to need to stand in the 90-minute line again and finish what I started.
We finished up our Harry Potter day with a quick tour of the Hogsmeade village. The only shop we had time to get into was Olivanders, the one with wands and other magical souvenirs. We didn’t make it to the Three Broomsticks restaurant, or the Honeydukes candy shop. These will just have to wait until our next visit.
Speaking of our next visit… We never really got to explore Islands of Adventure, because our entire day there was focused on the Harry Potter exhibit, and we didn’t even get to see all of that! Plus, there were some rides that were unavailable at Universal Studios (we tried TWICE to get on the Men in Black ride, and both times it was shut down for maintenance.) And we found that it cost less to upgrade our weekend pass to an ANNUAL one, rather than buying another weekend pass later down the road.
Sooo who wants to come with us to Universal Studios and/or Islands of Adventure sometime between now and June 2011?