Grandkids Aboard for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

  • 01 of 06

    Grandparents Need to Know Before They Go

    Harry Potter
    © 2014 Universal Orlando Resort

    The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando is no ordinary theme park, which is why grandparents may need a little extra prep before they go.

    Most importantly, grandparents should realize that for some grandchildren, The Wizarding World isn't really a theme park. It's a shrine.

    Millions of children, some now young adults, had their childhoods colored by Harry Potter in a way that no book, no character, no series has done before or since. Each book, each movie was awaited with almost...MORE unbearable anticipation.

    Universal Studios reportedly put a lot of effort into duplicating the sites that were shown in the movies, which were, according to most aficionados, amazingly true to the books.

    If you've not read the books and seen the movies, you should do both before you go. If your eyes can't hold up to a reading marathon, the audio books read by Jim Dale are a treat.

    It's also true that some children never got into Harry Potter. If your grandchildren fall into that category, they will still find much to enjoy at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

    But for those children who lived a kind of second life in the world created by J.K. Rowling, a visit to the Orlando theme park will be more than a fun outing. It will be a pilgrimage.

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  • 02 of 06

    Two Theme Parks in One

    © 2014 Universal Orlando Resort

    Hang on now. This gets a bit confusing. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter isn't a single theme park. The term actually refers to two theme park zones. One, Hogsmeade, is located in Universal's Islands of Adventure. It opened in 2010. The second, Diagon Alley, which opened in 2014, is located in the Universal Studios Florida theme park. Of course, Harry Potter fans will want to visit both.

    The good news is that the Universal Studios people have made that easy. The second piece of good...MORE news is that you get to ride from one park to the other on the Hogswarts Express, the storied train of the Harry Potter series.

    The bad news is that you'll have to pay for admission to both parks. However, you can also visit the other zones of the two theme parks -- if you have any time and energy left. But beware. Those under the spell of Harry Potter may not be up for the transition to Toon Lagoon.

    Now about the two sections: Hogsmeade is a recreation of the sleepy little village, with Hogswarts Castle taking center stage. Diagon Alley is a bustling area of London that features Gringotts Bank, topped with a fire-breathing dragon, and Knockturn Alley, where the darker forces reside. Both sections contain many of the iconic shops and eateries from the books.

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  • 03 of 06

    Must-Sees and Must-Dos at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

    © 2014 Universal Orlando Resort

    Most Harry Potter fans will have their own lists of not-to-be-missed experiences, but these are the ones that appear on most lists:

    • Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is the major ride of Hogsmeade. It's an experience ride rather than a roller coaster. Before you get on the ride, you tour Hogswarts and meet some of the iconic characters. Then you are seated on an "enchanted bench." Through a combination of movements executed by the seat itself, which sits on a robotic arm, teamed...MORE with animation and a wrap-around screen, the ride seeks to recreate a wild flight with Harry himself.
    • Escape from Gringotts in Diagon Alley is a similar attraction. It begins with a tour of Gringotts Wizarding Bank, with audio-animatronic goblins. The ride portion is mechanically similar to Forbidden Journey, but there's more of a storyline (obligingly explained as you wait in line).
    • Riding the Hogwarts Express is a must-do in more than one way, as it's your means of getting from one park to the other. Still, who would want to pass on this trip, although boarding may be the best part. (You walk through a brick wall onto Platform 9 ¾.) But there's lots to see outside the windows of the train, too.
    • Food is frequently the worst part of a theme park adventure, but that's not true of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. You can have an authentic and quite tasty British meal in the Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley or in Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade. The menus are similar, but the restaurants have a different feel. My grandchildren loved the look of the Leaky Cauldron, but some feel that the Three Broomsticks is more relaxed and fun.
    • Of course, all visitors to The Wizarding World have to drink some ButterBeer, available at the restaurants and at numerous drink stands. My granddaughters like the frozen version. In the winter it can also be ordered hot.
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  • 04 of 06

    Wizarding World Essentials

    © 2014 Universal Orlando Resort

    Here's a bit more about what to expect at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

    • Neither areas of The Wizarding World is really large. Remember that these are theme park zones, not complete theme parks. Both areas only add up to 40 acres. The complete Walt Disney World Resort is 40 square miles. Still, the Wizarding World is dense with detail in a way that most theme parks are not.
    • Children who are too young to have read the books or to have seen the movies are likely to have a limited interest...MORE in The Wizarding World. A trip to Walt Disney World Florida is more likely to please. In addition, the two signature rides aren't designed for very young children. The height requirements are 48 inches for Forbidden Journey and 42 inches for Escape From Gringotts. The intensity of the rides should also be considered when deciding who should ride.
    • The parks are usually crowded, but like most theme parks, some times are busier than others. Do your research, or be prepared for long lines and crowded conditions.
    • Those who book vacation packages through Universal get into the park an hour early. That's a powerful incentive to book through the park. There will still be a lot of people in the park, but not nearly so many as when the gates officially open.
    • In keeping with its magical motif, the Wizarding World has a number of hidden features -- things that you won't see unless you know to look for them. You can either research these hidden features so you don't miss anything, or allow yourself to be surprised when you spot one. I prefer the second choice.
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  • 05 of 06

    To Wand or Not to Wand

    © 2014 Universal Orlando Resort

     The Wizarding World has something that no other theme park can boast of: interactive wands. Here's the lowdown. If you buy a special wand in the park for around $50, you can "cast spells" at a variety of locations. You look for special medallions set in the ground, which show the pattern required to create one of a variety of effects. I'm not going to give you any examples of the effects. This information is readily available at other sites, but I think the surprise factor is...MORE important.

    So -- should you buy an interactive wand? If you add up what you've already spent or will spend at the resort, another $50 is negligible. So if you have little ones who want a wand, go for it! If you have more than one grandchild with you, they can share one wand. The only way I would ever pass on the wand experience would be if my grandchildren were too young, too old or too shy to wield it. But I must add that if you don't buy a wand, you will still be able to share most of the experiences by watching other park guests using theirs.

    You might think that Ollivanders Wand Shop is the place to go for a wand, but that's not precisely true. I'm not quite sure how to describe what goes on at Ollivanders. You wait in line, enter the shop with a group of around 20 other guests and watch as a wand selects a wizard (one of the guests). If your grandchild is chosen as the guest to participate in this process, it will be quite an unforgettable experience. It's a fun demonstration at any rate. After the selection process is complete, the guests are ushered out to an area where they can buy wands if they choose.

    Both Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley have an Ollivanders, but if you don't want to wait in line, wands can be bought at the adjacent shop or at a wand cart.

    Both Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley also have the interactive medallions, but generally the ones in Diagon Alley are more fun. And besides the easily spotted medallions, there are some other areas where the wands work that are not marked at all. (Look for the red sensors.)

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  • 06 of 06

    Other Wizarding Worlds

    © 2014 Universal Orlando Resort

    If you live nearer to LA than to Orlando, you can visit the new Wizarding World at Universal Studios Hollywood.

    The only other Universal Studios Wizarding World of Harry Potter park is located in Osaka, Japan.

    My oldest granddaughter has also seen the The Making of Harry Potter, a Warner Bros. Studio Tour located just outside of London, which features many of the original sets and props from the films.

    But that's another pilgrimage.