Monday, June 21, 2010

Harry's Home! Critics Weigh In on the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

The butterbeer is flowing,  crowds are sweating through their commemorative t-shirts and the most anticipated new theme park (or really, theme park section) to open since Epcot, has now officially flung wide its gates.

Here's what the critics I trust are saying about Island of Adventure's latest draw, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. (Spoiler alert: the reviews do give away a lot of the surprises of the rides):

From Jason Cochran of (see his video reports on that site):

"The new theme park addition is a pitch-perfect evocation of the Hollywood version of the beloved J.K. Rowling book series.

(Photo: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey from the outside of the ride. Photo by Jeff Kern)

'...Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, the epic new ride created for the park...[is] unlike anything you've ever ridden. You don't need 3D glasses to enjoy it. The ride takes you high off the ground and there are both enveloping animated film portions (it turns out the Harry Potter appearance in the Super Bowl ad was a sneak peek at ride animation) and some really large, really in-your-face segments featuring dragons, spiders, the Whomping Willow and the Dementors.

It's so big you can only be agog and what they've accomplished, even if the effect can feel like the most expensive haunted house ever created. The queue itself, which ride creators will only call "the Castle tour," renders the inevitable wait period as painlessly as possible, with lots of pre-ride entertainment such as talking oil paintings (is that Dawn French?)."

From Liz Izack of

"Mostly the crowd was gawking at the unbelievable Hogwarts castle, which rises up at the end of the 20-acre World like something, well, right out of the books. The attention to every Potter detail is truly mind-blowing, as is the ride that everyone's been waiting for -- Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey!...You’re sitting in what is essentially the hand of a big robotic arm, which has the ability to turn you every which way. Over the next four minutes you’ll join Harry on broomstick -- twisting, turning and diving as he flies over Hogwarts -- you will lose your stomach and, if you’re wearing flip flops, you will be very worried that you’ll lose those, too. If you’ve been to Epcot, this part of the ride is similar to the Soarin’ experience, except way, way more intense.

'I was struck by how close the action around you happens. It seems like you barely make the clearance under the attacking arm of the Whomping Willow, and the biggest compliment I can pay the attraction is that I literally turned my head a few times thinking we were going to hit something or that the fire from the dragon would scorch us. It’s a ride you’re going to want to do again a minute after you disembark, Potter fan or not. It sets the bar for all rides in the future."

From Travis Reed, of the Associated Press:

"Past a stone archway and the steam-belching Hogwarts Express, the fictitious city of Hogsmeade unfolds amid snowcapped, dingy rooftops and storefronts packed like row houses with shops straight from the books and movies. Zonko's joke shop offers Sneakoscopes and extendable ears. The confectionary Honeydukes has chocolate frogs and Bertie Bott's Every-Flavour Beans (literally ranging from pear to fish). At the Owl Post, guests can stamp mail with a genuine Hogsmeade postmark. Towering over it all is Hogwarts, a perfect reproduction of the imposing, many-spired castle where Harry and his magician friends are students.

'Park construction was overseen by the production manager from the Potter movies, and as Warner Bros. filmed the series' sixth movie, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," scenes were shot for the park's crown jewel, a ride called Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.

'The cutting-edge ride seamlessly combines the sensation of flight with tactile experiences like smoke and drops of water as it takes guests through a hodgepodge of encounters in Potter's chaotic life, from the Quidditch field to the mouths of giant spiders and dragons. The ride queue stars lifelike projections of film characters like Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore."

I saw the park from a distance this past January, when I visited Islands of Adventure. Though I wasn't allowed in (it was still under construction), the scope of the site and the majesty of Hogwarts Castle was impressive, even from afar. I'm very much looking forward to bringing my daughters, both Potter fans, to see the park once the weather cools down.

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