Okay, I'll come clean. I am a die-hard Harry Potter fan. I've read all the books (multiple times), seen all the movies (multiple times) and I'll stop right there before I embarrass myself further. So when last summer I heard about the opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios, I knew it would only be a matter of time before I was riding on Hippogriffs and swilling butter beer, all donning a wizard's cap. (Okay, I'm not that bad, but I hope I've created a nice picture for you.)
In September my family suffered the loss of my grandmother, and in the spirit of bringing the family closer together, my cousins and I decided to make a pilgrimage to Orlando and finally embrace the magic. Just back from the highly anticipated trip, I can say with certainty that a vacation to theme park is one that is sure to please your clients young and old and is a genuine feel-good, family vacation.
Where to Stay
I suggest staying at one of Universal Studios' three Loews hotels, including the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, the Loews Royal Pacific Resort and the Hard Rock Hotel. Each of the three is within walking distance to Universal Studios and Universal Studios' Islands of Adventure and CityWalk. What's more, guests of these resorts can use their key cards to jump the long lines at the majority of the rides in the parks. Note: Key cards may not be used to cut the line at Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey or Universal Studios' Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit roller coaster.
We stayed at the Hard Rock Hotel in a Deluxe Room. All of the 650 guest rooms (including 29 suites) have 32 inch HD flat screen televisions, wireless internet, Keurig coffee makers. The resort is also home to six food and beverage outlets, and is the closest to the parks.
The Magic Begins
Like anything that receives so much publicity, the first question to ask is 'will this live up to the hype?' In short, yes. Walking into the Wizarding World went way beyond walking onto the set of the movie - it was like we were actually there.
The journey starts in Hogsmeade, where your clients will find replicas of all the beloved shops mentioned in the books, from the Hogwart's Express to Honeydukes to Olivander's. The buildings (some with sweetly crooked chimneys for that whimsical effect) stand on cobblestone streets lined with butter beer carts. Nice touch: Not a single detail was spared. Moaning Myrtle even makes an appearance in the public restroom.
At the top of the street sits Hogwarts, the main event, and home to the attraction that started all the buzz - Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. I highly recommend visiting this ride in the evening, because it is nearly impossible to even move in the area during the day time. According to a receptionist at the Hard Rock, January is typically the slowest month, but thanks to Harry Potter, the resort was completely sold out when we visited in early January. As a nice treat, during the evening the castle's windows are illuminated and the waiting area is aglow with lanterns. It's easy to believe in the magic.
Your clients won't mind the long wait to get onto the ride, as the designers of the attraction have created it so that you wind your way through the castle. Here, paintings come alive just like in the books, and characters appear through very realistic hologram effects. When you finally do get to the ride itself, you feel as if you have been on it the whole time.
I don't want to ruin all of the fun, so I'll leave the surprises of the ride up to your clients to find out. But let me just say that it is a whirl and twist of 3D special effects, IMAX-style images and some other turns that will leave them lining up for more. Personally, I jumped on that line another three more times. Note: For your clients who are above the ages of 21, like my cousins and myself, there are several beer carts located throughout the World and on the line leading up to the castle, for a little adult refreshment.
Universal After Dark
After a trip (or two or three) on the rides, head out of the parks to Universal Studios' CityWalk for a little late night fun. The flurry of restaurants and bars was the perfect way for my adult cousins and myself to unwind after a day running around with scores of high-pitched kids (yes the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is fantastic, but it is still a theme park).
After a few Coronas and a spicy Mahi Mahi at Latin Quarter, we were ready for after hours when the restaurant transforms into a nightclub.
Who to Sell to
Yes, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is most definitely a family attraction, and is best sold to your typical family traveler. But if you know how to combine the fun and nostalgia of childhood fantasy with the right hotel, good restaurants and late night revelry, this can be a perfect sell to the over 21 crowd. For the record, not one of my cousins is under 21, and we will definitely be going back for another helping.