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SLIDESHOW — The magical world of Harry Potter

No trip to Hogsmeade would be complete without a pint of creamy butterbeer and as I waited in line to purchase a frothy drink from an outdoor butterbeer cart at Universal Studios Orlando, I received some advice from an aficionado.

“Butterbeer is quite addictive,” warned the Florida resident behind me. “I usually have it once or twice every time we visit and we’ve got season’s passes. You can have it either cold or frozen, but frozen is definitely better.”

When I reached the head of the line, I purchased one cold butterbeer and one frozen one just to see what the difference was. Both versions of the frothy shortbread-and-butterscotch-flavoured drink were good, but I have to agree with the aficionado — frozen butterbeer is definitely better.

Inspired by the compelling characters of J.K. Rowling, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal’s Islands of Adventure theme park is one of the most spectacularly-themed entertainment experiences ever created.

For children or adults who have read the books and imagined what it would be like to study wizardry in Hogwarts Castle or to visit the nearby village of Hogsmeade, Universal Orlando is literally a dream destination.

The most popular attraction in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a ride inside the Hogwarts castle known as the Forbidden Journey. As you venture inside the castle, you meet Harry, Ron and Hermione, who convince you to skip class and follow them. Travelling by Floo powder, you soar over Hogwarts, escape a dragon attack, have a close encounter with dementors and get pulled into a Quidditch match. The ride combines advanced robotic system technology with an immersive 3-D film experience and an original musical score by composer John Williams.

While you wait in line for the ride, which is the most popular attraction in the theme park, you pass talking portraits, Dumbledore’s office, the Gryffindor common room, the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom, the greenhouse, the Room of Requirement, the Sorting Hat and various characters from the Harry Potter film series.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter also features two roller-coaster rides, a family-friendly coaster and a high-speed one called the Dragon Challenge. In the Dragon Challenge, you ride either a Chinese Fireball or a Hungarian Horntail in a competition for the Triwizard Cup. Since the ride is really two separate roller-coasters, we decided to do it twice — once on each dragon.

There are several spectacular rides, but one of my favourite stops in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter was a lesser-known attraction that is often missed by visitors — the Ollivander’s wand shop experience. The line is slow, because watching “the wand choose a wizard” is a small-group experience. Mr. Ollivander was a wonderfully played character and the young girl randomly selected from our group for the wand pairing was absolutely delightful. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is all about magic, but the real magic in visiting a theme park comes when a child is young enough to still believe that magic is a real possibility.

Celebrate Grinchmas at Universal Orlando

Suess Landing is already decorated for the holiday season and if coming face to face with the Grinch is on your life list, Universal Orlando’s Whoville is the place to be this Holiday Season. Grinchmas celebrations feature a special holiday show called the Grinchmas Wholiday Spectacular, with the Grinch and the Whos from Who-ville accompanied by an original musical score by Mannheim Steamroller. Park guests can also meet the Grinch and the Whos at the park and enjoy a special breakfast with the characters.

Other highlights of Universal Orlando’s holiday season include the Macy’s Holiday Parade, which features the same larger-than-life balloons seen in the New York City parade. There is also a colourful collection of holiday characters, spectacular parade floats and a tree-lighting ceremony led by Santa Claus.

There will also be a number of Christmas concerts in the parks featuring holiday hits by Mannheim Steamroller on select dates in December. Onsite hotels will have special holiday events and celebrations and Universal City Walk is planning one of the hottest New Year’s Eve parties in the city.

The Holidays at Universal Orlando will run from Dec. 1 to Jan. 1 this year.

If you go

• There are three onsite hotels at Universal Orlando: the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, the Hard Rock Hotel and the Loews Royal Pacific Resort. In addition to the convenient location to the park, there are other benefits to staying onsite. Hotel guests enjoy early park admission to experience the park before the general public. They also get complimentary Universal Express Unlimited ride access — worth up to US$89 per person per day, depending on the date of travel. Guests with express passes can skip the regular lineups and get onto the rides quicker. This is a real value during the busy holiday season.

• Universal is offering a special Holiday Vacation Packages that includes a three-night stay at a Universal Partner hotel and a two-day base ticket with a third day free. Universal partner hotels will also include early admission privileges. If you upgrade to an onsite hotel, you will also receive Universal Express Unlimited passes to skip the lineups. Rates start at US$259 per adult, including taxes.

• For more information or for reservations, visit Universal Orlando’s official website a: www.universalorlando.com or contact your travel agent.

Did you know?

It was announced last year that Universal Studios Hollywood will be getting its own version of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Detailed plans have not been revealed, but it is expected that the California version will be smaller. Some estimates put the completion date at 2016.

Debbie Olsen is a Lacombe-based freelance writer. If you have a travel story you would like to share or know someone with an interesting travel story who we might interview, please email: DOGO@telusplanet.net or write to: Debbie Olsen, c/o Red Deer Advocate, 2950 Bremner Ave., Red Deer, Alta., T4R 1M9.

 
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