Ditch your Muggle limitations and become a wizard for a weekend.
Mon May 10 2010
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
By plane: Orlando, Florida (3 hours from NYC)
A dozen years after Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone arrived on U.S. shelves, nine years after the first movie hit theaters and three years after Universal Orlando announced it had secured the rights to bring Harry and his magical world of boy wizardry to life, it's finally happening: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (universalorlando.com/harrypotter) opens at Universal's Islands of Adventure on June 18. There's a lot to do in the 20-acre attraction; since breakfast is included in your package, you might as well start with a bite to eat at popular Hogwarts hangout Three Broomsticks, located in the re-creation of Hogsmeade Village. The rustic, pub-style restaurant serves British classics like shepherd's pie, and will finally give Potterheads the chance to taste a cold glass of Butterbeer for themselves (a beverage which Rowling has said she imagines to taste like "less-sickly butterscotch"). Shopping and eating are the predominant activities in Hogsmeade. Here, you can buy screaming yo-yos at Zonko's Joke Shop, indulge in chocolaty Cauldron Cakes at Honeydukes or give your feet a rest at Owl Post, a working post office (send some postcards home to envious friends; they'll bear a Hogsmeade postmark).
But this experience wouldn't be true to Harry's story without a few twists and turns. Get in on the action and grab a seat on any of three big roller coasters. The family-friendly Flight of the Hippogriff simulates a ride on the mythical creature with the head of an eagle and the tail of a horse, while the more extreme Dragon Challenge marks the park's only dueling inverted roller coaster ride—choose which of the two coasters you wish to hop aboard and see which one makes it to the finish first.
Much like J.K. Rowling's novels, the heart of the Wizarding World is at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where filmmaking, special effects, robotics and pure imagination collide (picture IMAX on steroids) to create the immersion ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Your hour-long trek through Hogwarts castle will bring you face-to-face with the series' most beloved characters and places, including a welcome in headmaster Dumbledore's office, an introduction to Harry, Ron and Hermione (their on-screen versions, at least) in a Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, and a visit to the Room of Requirement, where you'll take a seat and let the 360-degree experience unfold around you. "We have created an entirely new way to place our guests into the heart of a compelling story," says Mark Woodbury, president of Universal Creative.
Even Muggles can see the savings in booking your trip directly through Universal (universalorlando.com/harrypotter): Packages start at $285 per person and include four nights at partner hotels like Quality Inn International (7600 International Dr, 407-996-1600), which is just five minutes away via free shuttle to and from the park. You'll also get early park admission, a commemorative ticket and a three-day pass to both Universal theme parks (Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios). Though June is sure to be overflowing with Potter fanatics, packages were still available as of press time.