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Wizarding World wows with Butterbeer, actually in-the-book feel

My 18-year-old sister Laura has read all the Harry Potter books more times than she can remember, owns all the movies and probably knows how to properly perform more spells than Ron Weasley. So when our grandmother offered to take her on a trip as her graduation gift, it was a no-brainer – The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Islands of Adventure, duh.

I tagged along on the magical journey, but I am no Harry Potter aficionado, although I just so happen to know someone who is. Here is what Laura had to say about the park:

“The Harry Potter theme park went above and beyond all that I expected. Simply standing in the middle of the attraction and looking around at the shops and rides was enough to get my heart racing. The architecture was flawless and accurate down to the last detail. The rides were thrilling, the shows made me feel like I was stepping into one of the movies and the staff played their part, all lending to the magical feel of the park. Even the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds didn’t detract from the splendor, though I had the advantage of an Express pass, which is definitely worth the extra money. I wish I could visit every day, just to enjoy an icy cool Butterbeer at the Hog’s Head Inn!”

If you are as, we’ll say, dedicated, to HP as my sister, I think your reaction will be nearly identical. I, on the other hand, wasn’t quite as easy to please. Although, I’ve got to say, Butterbeer – at $3 a pop – was one of the highlights of the visit.

It comes in two forms, liquid and frozen. The liquid one was my favorite: The smooth, lightly carbonated beverage just might be the best non-alcoholic beer ever. It has a butterscotch/vanilla flavor and is topped with a thick white head of creamy-foam goodness. The Boathouse should definitely look into it.

There are three rides in Harry Potter World, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Flight of the Hippogriff and Dragon Challenge. The Forbidden Journey soared about the rest, literally. The ride is inside a massive reproduction of the Hogwarts castle. Walking through the winding lines of Hogwart’s innards to get to the ride was almost as amusing as the ride itself. A massive golden phoenix stands at the entrance to Dumbledore’s office. Inside is more authentic reproductions like the Remembrall, moving, talking pictures, exotic plants, a hanging dragon skeleton and bottles of “potions.” Luckily, the fat lady let us in without a password.

I don’t want to detract from the unexpected wonders that occur once secured onto your broom, but it was awesome. The other two rides were less awe-striking though. Flight of the Hippogriff is a short kid’s coaster but it was fun none-the-less. And Dragon Challenge is what was formerly known as Dueling Dragons – sister roller-coasters in which your dangling feet come close to colliding with the riders on the other track. Fun, but been there, done that.

Walking through Hogsmeade and its shops was amusing at first, but the crowds got thick quick. Ollivander’s is the best. Here’s the ridiculous part, the wait to get into the wand shop averages two to three hours. Before you put your appalled face on, I did not wait in that line. Because we stayed at Royal Pacific, one of Universal’s hotels, we got into HP world two hours before the park opened to the public. We waited about 15 minutes. Inside, Ollivander chooses one of the dozen people in the room to help find a wand. After a brief display of sound and light effects and some moving drawers, us Muggles were funneled into Dervish & Bangs where wands run $38.00, cloaks for $99.99.

Performances from the Frog Choir and representatives from Durmstrang Institute and Beauxbatons Academy of Magic every half hour made it feel almost real.

I wouldn’t go right now if I were you, though. The fake snow on the rooftops of Hogsmeade become annoying as you drip with sweat under the beating sun. The crowds during the middle of the day are difficult to navigate through, and without an express pass, you’ll spend most of the day waiting in lines.

When you do go, get a year pass. It’s the same cost as a three-day pass for Florida residents, $139.99. And with all the other rides at Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios, you will want more than a day, I guarantee it.

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