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Wizarding World pricey fun for admirers of Harry Potter

By Sjarif Goldstein

LAST UPDATED: 2:24 p.m. HST, Aug 5, 2011

Maybe even more than they were looking forward to Disney World, my wife and son were anxious to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, a must for fans of J.K. Rowling's books and the movie adaptations.

Added to Universal Studios' Islands of Adventure about a year ago, Wizarding World features three rides, plus a restaurant and stores based on Potter's school, Hogwarts, and the nearby village of Hogsmeade.

Universal has effectively created the feel of being transported to Harry's world, including shops straight out of Rowling's books, such as Ollivander's Wand Shop and Honeydukes. A step inside offers a sobering return to reality: A copy of Harry's or Hermione's wand will run you $30.

Of the rides, the most popular is Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, which uses effects that go beyond the visual (including a dragon that blows hot smoke and a light water spray). It starts a little herky-jerky but eventually proves to be one of the best indoor thrill rides you'll find, taking you past Dementors and through a Quidditch match. Though we waited in line for about an hour and a half, my 10-year-old son declared that it was worth it.

Forbidden Journey is not for the faint of heart, but even Potter fans who don't ride it will want to take the tour through the castle that leads up to it, which you can do without waiting in line.

Less satisfying was Flight of the Hippogriff, a junior roller-coaster ride lasting less than two minutes. It was not worth waiting in a 40-minute line.

My son was too short — they're pretty strict — to go on the Dragon Challenge, which probably was good for me. It's one of those inverted roller coasters where they strap you in with your legs dangling and turn you every which way. For those who can take that sort of ride, it looked like fun, and the wait was often as short as five or 10 minutes.

Universal Studios does not have a FastPass system like Disney's, instead choosing to sell an Express pass for $50 (one use per ride) or $63 (unlimited same-day use). That's in addition to the one-day, one-park admission price of $85 for adults, $79 for kids. Unfortunately, the Express pass cannot be used with Forbidden Journey or on another of the Islands of Adventure's premier rides, Pteranodon Flyers in the Jurassic Park section.

My wife's favorite attraction at Wizarding World was butterbeer, which Harry and his friends drink at the Three Broomsticks. There is a tavern of the same name at Wizarding World, and they also have wagons selling it — along with the less popular pumpkin juice — outdoors.

Butterbeer — as sold there — seems to be cream soda with a butterscotch cream head. You can also buy it frozen (like frozen lemonade) and can pay about $7 more for a souvenir mug. The best option is probably to visit the Three Broomsticks to get your butterbeer (the lines are much shorter than outside) but not eat there (portions are small but not cheap).

Broomsticks is also worth the visit for some of the projections on the walls, including, as my son describes them, "a magic broom chasing a cat, another magical broom cleaning by itself, or owls coming in to deliver the daily mail to owners."

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