Wizarding World of Harry Potter preview for Pow Wow Attendees – Part 1

Last night I was lucky enough to be among the 2010 International Pow Wow attendees who were invited to preview the exciting Wizarding World of Harry Potter themed land at Islands of Adventure. Alas photos were prohibited, so you’ll have to do with my poor prose. This series will be spoiler rich, so if you don’t want to know, stop reading now.

There are two entrances into Wizarding World of Harry Potter (WWoHP), the entrance from The Lost Continent is much more dramatic. I very much recommend turning right upon entering IOA and heading that way your first visit to WWoHP. There is a little incongruity as Harry Potter smashes up with bazaar themed shopping and games just outside the gates. But once you’re through the gates, you are surrounded by a totally immersive, richly detailed hamlet of Hogsmead.

Hogsmead is amazing. I felt instantly transported into the world of the books and films. Little details continually jumped out at me as I said to myself, “oh that’s from the book. that’s from the movies.” Yes, there is some compression of distance and time as Universal does not have the luxury of space at WWoHP. This will be an issue elsewhere in the land as well.

As we walked into the land, we tried some Butterbeer. There are two types, frozen and liquid. We tried both and definitely felt the frozen was the better concoction. We also tried some Pumpkin juice, which is truly very much like drinking Pumpkin Pie. The Butterbeer and Pumpkin juice were created for Universal. You can purchase some Pumpkin juice to take home with you at Honeydukes.

After our refreshments we could wait no longer and flew over to Hogwarts Castle and the new Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey attraction faster than a Nimbus 2000. Hogwarts is quite a presence in the land, the show building takes up a majority of the expansion area (excludes the two existing roller coasters). We saw it in the day and the night and the colors are rock work are among the best I’ve seen at a theme park.

There is the usual safety sign with an unusually high number of warnings outside the attraction. Basically don’t have anything worse than the common cold when riding. Right next to the warning, were two ride seats to make sure you will fit on the attraction. These look just like every other roller coaster seat out there. There is an over the head restraint. On the side of the seat is a red and a green light. If you lower the restraint and the green light illuminates, you’re good to go. Red light, well, the queue is open to you, but you won’t be able to ride.

I have a larger than average chest and waist — yeah, I’m overweight. I could not get the green light to turn on for me. They said the seat was not totally calibrated yet, but I plan to go on a crash diet anyway. If you’re interested to know if you might need to fast, my chest and stomach measurement is 52 inches around. So target something below that. (Yes, I know I need to lose weight.)

I’m pretty sure that the size restrictions are related to operational limitations of the Kuka robotic arm that will carry the ‘Enchanted Bench’ ride vehicle. They probably could have built larger seats, but this is a good way to limit the combined weight of those onboard.

For those wondering, I did ask if there was an alternate viewing experience for those unable to fit on the ride vehicles. The answer was a bit disappointing. The queue is available to experience, but there is no possibility of seeing the rest of the show. I think Universal is doing a huge disservice to a large segment of their guests here. It would not take too much effort to create a smaller comfortable room with a HD screen and a recreation of the scenes and story that will be experienced in the normal attraction.

Okay… that’s it for now. I have to run off to work. I’ll return later with my thoughts on the queue for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and the two other queues as well. Plus we’ll look closer at the food and shopping options and some general atmosphere of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Update: Wanted to add a few clarifications based on what I’ve been reading on some discussion boards.

The height requirement is 48 inches. I had to ask as numbers aren’t painted on the measuring stick, just lines.

The ‘practice seat’ does have a red/green light. But it’s very small and off to the side, so you won’t be embarrassed when trying the seat out. Much better to find out at the beginning of the queue instead of the end when you’re trying to get on the Enchanted Bench.

Everyone can go through the whole queue. I did not see the chicken exit, we didn’t get to go that far. But the queue is wheelchair accessible, even if the ride isn’t.

People compare the Sum of All Thrills with the ride system on Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. But we know there is at least one difference, HPFJ has four seats while SoAT has just two. But we don’t know the size, strength, or other requirements of the HPFJ ride vehicles. I’m sure Universal is following manufacturer spec for optimum safety (at least I hope so).

What upsets me is the lack of an alternate viewing experience for the scenes in the actual ride part of the show. Disney has been adding those rooms recently (Nemo and Sleeping Beauty Castle at DL) and I thought it would be a natural fit for a big immersive experience like HPFJ. The cost is relatively small and the goodwill you build with those who don’t meet the safety requirements is huge. Oh well, I never fail to disappoint myself when I expect Universal to step up to the plate. I am more than twice burned at this point.

Continues in Part two