ORLANDO - The Ministry of Magic has done the unthinkable: Thrown open the doors of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to welcome muggles - mere humans like you, who aren't wizards or witches - inside the castle for a tour called "Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey."
Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger, Professor Dumbledore, and other movie characters will guide you through the castle, which looms over Universal's newest themed area. It's the premiere attraction in "The Wizarding World of Harry Potter," which is scheduled for a "grand opening" June 18, park officials announced this week. Visitors who purchase a special Universal package will be allowed to enter beginning May 28, but park officials aren't saying whether there might be a "soft opening" that would allow regular Universal park ticketholders entry before June 18.
Besides the "Forbidden Journey," which is part walking tour, part flying adventure, the Wizarding World includes two other rides and an outdoor street from Hogsmeade Village with shops and restaurants inspired by the books and movies. The details of the attraction have been shrouded in mystery and closely guarded by Universal officials for the past several years during construction.
But Newsday used advanced dark magic to conjure up this "sneak peek" - likely the closest look anyone's yet had into the long-awaited "Wizarding World of Harry Potter."
There are three. The first two are revamps of rides that already existed at Islands of Adventure.
Based on the first task of the Triwizard Tournament from "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," it's a remake of the "Dueling Dragons" interlocking double roller coaster that was part of "The Lost Continent."
The queue will be part of the attraction's experience, says Paul Daurio, Universal's show producer for The Wizarding World. Riders will see in the distance the Weasleys' car that was spat from the Whomping Willow on the edge of the Forbidden Forest, and the Champions' tent where Hermione sneaked in to see Harry. You'll pass the Goblet of Fire, with its blue flame, and head down a corridor that holds the Triwizard Cup trophy that says, "Eternal Glory Is Theirs," and several of the golden eggs in a trophy cabinet. Dragons will fly above in shadow, fighting and bucking.
Live characters playing students from the Beauxbatons Academy of Magic and the Durmstrang Institute in northern Europe will parade through, showing off their skills as they did in the ceremonial entrance at Hogwarts. Visitors will choose between riding the Hungarian Horntail or the Chinese Fireball for the approximately 90-second experience.
Flight of the Hippogriff
This is a tamer coaster meant for the younger set. It's a redo of Universal's "Flying Unicorn" and simulates a Care of Magical Creatures Class from "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban." Hagrid welcomes you and warns you to beware of the Forbidden Forest. Hagrid will tell you to bow to a Hippogriff, which has the head of an eagle and the body of a horse.
The "Wizarding World's" piece de resistance is the Hogwarts Castle, which should take about 30 to 60 minutes to experience. " 'The Forbidden Journey' is really the masterpiece," says Thierry Coup, the creative director for the Potter project.
"The whole experience begins the moment you enter Hogwarts Castle," Coup says. You'll pass by the winged boars marking the gate. You'll enter through the dungeon level and see the Mirror of Erised. Next, you'll pass through the greenhouse, where you'll see magical plants, the more ferocious ones in cages.
Then you enter Dumbledore's office - and he'll greet you. The actors have filmed segments using a new technology that will make it seem as if they are in the castle with you, say Universal Orlando officials. Will the Phoenix be there? How about the Pensieve, the bowl that re-creates memories? "No one will be disappointed. It's all there," Coup says.
Next you'll go to the Defense of the Dark Arts Classroom, where you'll meet Harry, Ron and Hermione. They'll ask you to skip the tour and go with them to a Quidditch match, Coup says. They'll take you to the Gryffindor Common Room, where the fat lady portrait that guards the door will talk to you about the password. You'll travel by Floo powder.
You'll see the Great Hall. You'll meet the Sorting Hat. You'll go through the portrait room, with more than 100 portraits, and see moving, talking images of the four founders of Hogwarts - Salazar Slytherin, Helga Hufflepuff, Rowena Ravenclaw and Godric Gryffindor. You'll walk right by a moving staircase. You'll encounter Draco Malfoy, Rubeus Hagrid and other characters - you'll catch a glimpse of the Weasley twins and their sister, Ginny.
As you walk the corridors, you'll pass classroom doors that are closed, but sounds will come through them. You may hear potions class in progress, for instance. Then you'll arrive at the Room of Requirement, with scores of floating candles, where Hermione will "enchant" a bench so it can fly you high over the castle for the ride portion of the castle experience.
You're supposed to be heading to a rollicking Quidditch match with Harry. The park used robotic technology combined with new ways of filming the characters to make the ride seem real. "The motion is exciting," Coup says. "It's not there to give you the thrills of a roller coaster; it's more for the excitement of flying."
But make no mistake - evil will be present. On the ride, you'll unexpectedly be diverted by close calls from Harry's past. You'll be chased by a dragon and forced into the Forbidden Forest. You'll feel the chill of a Dementor. You'll have your own "close encounter" with the Whomping Willow. You'll meet lots of demons before you wind up at the Quidditch competition - including Aragog (the enormous hungry spider) and, yes, evil Lord Voldemort.
"Unlike the pixie dust in some theme parks, we will stay true to the fiction, and there will be the presence of good and evil in the wizarding world," Daurio says. "And, of course, good will prevail."
WHAT TO EXPECT
"The Wizarding World" isn't a stand-alone theme park. It's one of six neighborhood-like "islands" at Universal's existing "Islands of Adventure" theme park - so it's smaller than you might imagine. The 20-acre amusement area cost a reported $265 million to create.
As you enter the world, you'll be greeted by billowing steam and the piercing whistle of the Hogwarts Express. The red train engine bears a gold plaque that says "5972 Hogwarts Castle." An announcement blares: "Arriving from Kings Cross Station, London." The train is for show - it doesn't move and you can't get aboard.
Just beyond, you'll stroll a main street of Hogsmeade. A sign warns, "Please respect the spell limits." In the books and movies, students are forbidden to use magic during their jaunts into Hogsmeade.
"We want guests, and specifically children, to be immersed in the world," says Paul Daurio, Universal show producer for the Wizarding World.
Because Hogsmeade is above the tree line in Scotland, Universal has dappled the rooftops with fake snow that sparkles; expect to be surprised by "snowfall" as you meander the village.
"Magical things are going to happen. Atmospheric things, magic come to life. Inside somewhere, where you least expect it," Daurio says.
A frog choir - made up of Hogwarts students holding toads, just like the one that performed at the beginning of "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" - will sing in the Hogsmeade street. Actors will roam dressed as students from the four Hogwarts dormitory houses: Slytherin, Gryffindor, Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw. Background music will play throughout the Wizarding World - 48 tracks from the films will evoke memories from the movies, including "Hedwig's Theme," the signature tune that has opened several of the films.
The stores, restaurant and owlery lining the street look ancient, with crooked chimneys, bowed walls and sagging ceilings.
STROLLING IN HOGSMEADE
Window shopping in Hogsmeade may be a tad disconcerting, with a vomiting student, leaping frogs and howling letters.
ZONKO'S JOKE SHOP
In the magic shop's window, you'll see a student vomiting into a cauldron - obviously she's eaten a Puking Pastille, a trick students use to avoid class. Inside, you can buy such items as the eavesdropping Extendable Ears the Weasley twins used in "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" or a remote-controlled flying Snitch. Half of the products in the Wizarding World will be sold only at Universal, Daurio promises.
Next door, at the magical candy shop, a chocolate frog will jump out of its box and leap around the storefront window. You'll purchase edible chocolate frogs in pentagonal boxes, and each will include a holographic wizarding card of one of the four founders of Hogwarts, "which will certainly be keepsakes," Daurio predicts. Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans will be for sale, with choices such as dirt, earwax and vomit (as well as the less flamboyant strawberry and the like). Try treacle fudge and cauldron cakes.
True Harry Potter fans know Ollivander's wand shop was not in Hogsmeade, it was in Diagon Alley in London. But Universal got license from J.K. Rowling to create an "annex" of Ollivander's in Hogsmeade, Daurio says. "We tried to stay as true to the book as possible," Daurio says. "The only exception was that kind of thing." An actor playing the wandkeeper will help you choose one of 13 wands - or, rather, help the wand choose you. You can buy it, or select another.
THE OWL POST
Mail a letter at the Owl Post, where your letter will be stamped with the Hogsmeade postmark. The owlery will display a "Howler," a letter that screeches a reprimand in the sender's voice and tears itself to shreds. Owls preen their feathers in the rafters.
EATING LIKE A WIZARD
In Hogsmeade, a massive butter beer cart - a 20-foot barrel drawn by a carriage - sits in the middle of the street. Butter beer was created by a team at Universal that tried several recipes before hitting on one worthy of being flown across the pond to J.K. Rowling for approval, says the man who personally served it to her, Ric Florell, a senior vice president at Universal in charge of food and beverages. Butter beer tastes like a combination of shortbread and butterscotch, Florell says.
The recipe is under wraps. "It's so secret that the recipe is literally locked up," Daurio says. It's a nonalcoholic beverage with a head on it - contrary to rumor, there won't be an alcoholic version. You can buy it chilled or as a frozen drink, and you can choose to have it in a souvenir Wizarding World stein for an additional charge.
Serving lunch or dinner, Three Broomsticks has a vaulted ceiling that makes it feel like a church sanctuary. Pots and pans float magically through a galley where dishes are washing and stacking themselves in a cupboard. Diners will hear butter beer mugs clinking. "It's clear the inn above is alive with patrons and servants and maids," Daurio says; guests will see and hear them and house elves moving in shadow through the loftlike upper hallways. Owls will fly to the windows to deliver post.
The Three Broomsticks will serve British fare such as fish and chips, shepherd's pie and Cornish pasties, which are little half-moon meat pies. If you have four or more in your party, you can order the "The Great Feast," a communal meal meant to mirror the feasts at Hogwarts served on a big tray. To drink? Pumpkin juice. "It's surprisingly tasty and refreshing," Daurio says.
A fireplace with a huge cauldron over smoldering flames separates Three Broomsticks from Hogshead, a bar. It will serve a signature alcoholic beer, Hogshead Brew, a Scottish amber ale created for the Wizarding World that will be served only in Hogsmeade, Florell says. A huge, lifelike hog's head sticks out of the wall behind the bar. It will sniffle and growl and look side to side.