The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

HP3The  J K Rowling’s Harry Potter book series is definitely one of the best book series ever written in the last two decades. (Sorry, Twilight and especially 50 Shades of Grey don’t even come close…) Okay, one of the books wasn’t quite fun (when Harry was acting like an angsty brat), one was so heavy it almost gave me tennis elbow, and the Half Blood Prince (the second last in the 7-book series) was kinda like a mere bridge, leaving out much excitement to build up to the grand finale that was the Deathly Hallows. But nonetheless, it’s still one of the most vibrantly written book series ever, so well-described is each scenario that you can simply imagined where and how the story is set in. That’s what made the first movie, Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone (1997), so successful. For once, instead of saying “The book is better”, you actually go, “It’s exactly like how it’s described in the book!”

The fact that the 7 books were able to sprout 8 absolutely watchable movies is but another reason that made the Harry Potter series such a phenomenon.  Most were great; some however,  like the dour chapters they were based on, were merely “decent cinematic stop gaps till the next one” – but they most certainly produced a generation of impressive young actors ever assembled (Radcliffe, Watson, Grint, et al), not forgetting a parade of the finest British character actors ever lived (Smith, Harris, Rickman, Bonham-Carter, etc). But I’m not here to review the movies, it’s the theme park that I want to rave about…

HP1Ever since I knew that The Wizarding World of Harry Potter existed (in Universal Studios Orlando), I wanted to visit it. I mean some movies you watched, you knew that the plots were written in such a way that a video game is sure to appear. There are many movies that have theme park rides created (Like Despicable Me‘s Minion Mayhem or The Transformers 3D-Ride – which premiered worldwide right here at Universal Studios Singapore), but Harry Potter is arguably the first movie (that I know) which has a theme park spin-off.

Well, exactly a year ago minus a week in Sept 2012, my dream of spending my big milestone of a birthday at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter came true. Having the experience of knowing how time-wasting it is to wait in line for rides at famous theme parks the likes of Disneyland and Six Flags, I opted to stay in one of the 3 hotels within Universal Studios Orlando, Loews Royal Pacific Resort. This is bec guests in the resort hotels get to visit TWWOHP an hour early. Seriously, people, it’s worth paying the good hotel for that precious one hour (before thousands of other visitors and tourists trot in).

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The first thing that impressed you about the park is that the amazing reconstruction of the village of Hogsmeade. Second is of cos the unmistakable Hogwarts Express. But what really takes your breath away is the stunning replica of Hogwarts Castle which sits majestically on the highest point of the park. In it, the 4D ride Forbidden Journey is just as sensational and I went two rounds just so I can catch the special video segment recorded by the three young stars that greet visitors in the queue. If you stay at the resort’s hotel, not only can you get in early, but you will get a Quick Pass that will allow you to bypass all the long queues. Trust me, it’s worth paying for one. There are two other rides, the heart-in-your-mouth Dragon Challenge (choice of red or blue dragons) and a tame one which is obviously for younger kids or those with weak hearts.

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Other attractions are the wonderful (again) replicas of the stores in Hogsmeade as seen in the movies: the sweet shop (where you find chocolate frogs, the Every Flavour Beans – warning: the vomit one is tastes exactly just that! -etc), the magic tricks store, and of course the wand shop that even has a dramatic performance which you have to line up for. Food can be found at The Three Broomsticks and having breakfast here  must be pre-booked & paid in advance. I’m happy that I managed to have my birthday breakfast  here. Nothing fancy: mainly American and British styled brekkies offerings.

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There are tons of souvenirs to buy so don’t go crazy cos most stuff are not cheap. And if you see something you really like, do buy it in the stores you are in there and then cos other stalls – within the same park and outside it – may not carry it. Like the wands are only available in two stalls very far from each other. I refused to buy a wand nor a Gryffidor scarf cos I just felt it was overpriced. (if anything I will just buy a similar scarf from UK’s Bradford City Football Club! It’s probably cheaper!) One of my fave souvenirs though is the Butterbeer plastic mug which cost US$15 so you might as well have the drink that comes with it – it ain’t alcoholic beer unfortunately, just a root beer float in disguise. Still, great mug…

If you are a Harry Potter fan, I would recommend you to save up and make a trip of a lifetime to TWWOHP, you won’t regret it. New things are a-coming. In 2014, they will hold the first ever Harry Potter Convention in the Orlando theme park. and a new wing – London featuring Diagon Alley – will open. I haven’t been to the real London’s Harry Potter Studio Tour but I expect it’s the real studios that the films were shot in. This Orlando theme park is a whole different experience. Best thing is: When I was there, not one but two Universal Studios staff actually told me that they heard Singapore will be the next city to have a version of TWWOHP. Really? Where is there space on Sentosa?? Well, if they do indeed bring it here, our young and young-at-heart tourist numbers for sure will go sky high. Still wondering where on earth in this tiny island of ours can they build it?…

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