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Originally published July 9, 2011 at 7:06 PM | Page modified July 11, 2011 at 11:44 AM

A magical ride into Harry Potter's world

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter has legions of devoted fans, just like the series of books and films featuring the boy wizard. The last film in the Harry Potter series opens Friday, July 15, but at the Central Florida theme park, part of Universal's Islands of Adventure, visitors can go inside Hogwarts castle, swig two kinds of butterbeer, ride Harry Potter-themed roller coasters and buy magic wands every day.

The Orlando Sentinel

If You Go

Wizarding World

Ticket prices vary greatly, with multiday tickets for both the Islands of Adventure theme park (which includes the Wizarding World of Harry Potter) and Universal Studios Orlando being the economical way to go. A one-day adult pass just to Islands of Adventure is $85.

Packages including hotels and theme-park tickets also can cut the rate.

Get details at www.universalorlando.com/harrypotter/

A Harry Potter world

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is at the far end of Universal's Islands of Adventure theme park, with the towering spires and turrets of Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry visible from many vantage points.

Upon entering the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the first view is a doozy. The bright-red engine of the Hogwarts Express train is to the right, and in front is a winding boulevard lined with shops that are a combination of the town of Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley, with steep snowy roofs. Hogwarts school looms majestically at the end of the rows of shops.

There are four main activities including two roller coasters:

• The younger-skewing, smaller coaster called Flight of the Hippogriff (a creature that has the head and claws of an eagle and the back end of a horse).

• Dragon Challenge, a looping coaster with some cool touches at the entry, a la the Triwizard Tournament.

• The find-a-wand experience at Olivander's wand shop.

• The main event, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, a dizzying ride that combines virtual reality and special effects. With riders strapped four across into seats, Forbidden Journey lets you follow Harry & Co. on their broomstick ride through the castle grounds and the Quidditch pitch, past a steam-breathing dragon and soul-sucking dementors, and through Hogwarts' Great Hall.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

quotes My only beef with the Wizarding World is that the folks at Universal should have made i... Read more

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ORLANDO, Fla. — The Wizarding World of Harry Potter has legions of devoted fans, just like the series of books and films featuring the boy wizard.

The last film in the Harry Potter series opens Friday, but at the Florida theme park, part of Universal's Islands of Adventure, visitors can go inside Hogwarts castle, swig two kinds of butterbeer, ride Harry Potter-themed roller coasters and buy magic wands.

Theme-park visitors are so crazy about Harry that the Islands of Adventure, which opened in June 2010, was the fastest-growing theme park in the world last year, according to the industry's own estimates.

627 times on ride

Chris Bell, 21, says he has ridden the main "Harry Potter and Forbidden Journey" ride 627 times — and counting.

"It's so fascinating. Every time I go on it, I see something new," said Bell, a University of Central Florida student from Orlando. He also has collected all 17 of the exclusive souvenir wands that retail for $30 apiece.

Bell goes whenever he can to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which is based on the best-selling books by J.K. Rowling.

He joined Universal's Islands of Adventure's 5.9 million guests in 2010, a boost of 30 percent from the previous year, according to estimates by AECOM, a Los Angeles consulting company, and the Themed Entertainment Association. (There's no breakdown on how many of those are repeat visitors.)

Every day, thousands of folks stream into Wizarding World to soak up the atmosphere of the "real-life" Hogsmeade village they've imagined when they've read the books or seen portrayed in Harry Potter films.

"The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is like a Harry Potter fan conference that never closes," said Robert Thompson, a professor of pop culture at Syracuse University.

"It's open every day. So if you're really into that, I can see how you'd like going there and just existing for a while," he said.

Universal Orlando officials haven't commented on the possibility of expanding Wizarding World, but it's on the wish list of hard-core fans.

Fitting that bill would be a much-rumored coaster project based on Gringotts bank, which is expected to be featured in the final Potter film. "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2."

Frequent visitor Bell has heard all that Gringotts talk, but his imagination goes further and includes attractions based on the Shrieking Shack, Diagon Alley, the Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes joke shop, a Chamber of Secrets restaurant and a Quidditch experience that would be a cross between the Manta coaster at SeaWorld Orlando and the Dragon Challenge coaster at Wizarding World.

"That would be really interesting if they could do that," Bell says.

Potter superfans

The presence of superfans — even the ones wearing long black robes in Florida's July heat — is a positive, said Thompson, the pop-culture professor.

"I have to envy people who can get so much enjoyment out of a series of books which become movies and characters in a universe, that they want to go back to a place over and over again," he said.

"There are a lot of people walking around on this Earth that aren't that into anything, and I think are infinitely less happy as a result," Thompson said.

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