The Wizarding World isn't all that's new at the theme parks.
In Tampa, Busch Gardens opened its Sesame Street Safari of Fun for the preschool and kindergarten set in March. At Disney, Epcot has a DIY thrill ride, Sum of All Thrills, that allows guests to design their ride, then climb into a capsule on a robotic arm that simulates it.
Here's what's new at the Florida theme parks.
UNIVERSAL ORLANDO: Wizarding World of Harry Potter
So this is what it feels like to fly.
Harry Potter is on his sleek Nimbus 2000 broomstick, leading us to the Quidditch pitch. We're following on an enchanted bench in the air, wind in our hair, feet dangling.
Holy smoke and flame! Where did that dragon come from? It's chasing Harry, who goes one way. We go the other, and suddenly we're lost in the Forbidden Forest, facing one hazard after another.
What you'll see
Our enchanted bench is manipulated by a robotic arm that moves along a track while animatronic objects move around us and computer-generated scenes are projected on a 360-degree screen. Some of the images are a little blurry, but don't require 3-D glasses. The sound isn't very good, though; I ride Forbidden Journey three times before I catch all the comments by Harry and Hermione.
Whoosh! We're about to crash into a stone wall when we soar up and over it. Uh-oh - Dementors on the way. We dive, the air rushing past us. The combination of effects feels real and gives the illusion that we're flying faster and farther than we really are.
The bench turns, and suddenly we're flat on our backs, staring up at the Whomping Willow, whose muscular branches are moving menacingly toward us.
The story is fractured, taking riders through a chamber of magical horrors as they try to get back to that Quidditch match. Giant spiders drip venom, a dragon breathes fire.
Aaagh! A Dementor is floating right in front of us. Someone screams. Then Harry appears and drives off the creature with a Patronus Charm. He leads us through collapsing stone tunnels and gets us safely back to Hogwarts, where this story began.
Even if you haven't read the books, you can enjoy the dizzying ride, the near-misses as you speed over walls and through trees.
About that dizziness: Some people get queasy. Paul Kudelko of Tampa said he is prone to motion sickness, but wanted to ride with his daughters, so he closed his eyes for the duration (about four minutes). "You felt like you were flying, it was so smooth," he said, but he felt sick anyway. His teenage daughter, Caroline, loved the ride. "It was so awesome. The line was so long to get in, but it was so worth it."
Elsewhere at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Forbidden Journey is the centerpiece of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which also includes:
OLLIVANDER'S WAND SHOP Bells ring and lights flash before the correct wand is found. Sometimes only one customer is helped at a time, though many more can watch. This bit of magical theater takes five minutes or longer, so the line moves slowly. The wand (about $30) is purchased next door at the Owlery.
BUTTERBEER The nonalcoholic "beer" tastes like lightly carbonated cream soda with a thick foam head and a hint of butterscotch. Go for the slushy-like frozen version.
DRAGON CHALLENGE Formerly called Dueling Dragons, this pair of coasters has a new soundtrack and theme, but the ride itself is unchanged. They climb up the lift hill in tandem, then take off on separate tracks that seemingly bring them within inches of colliding three times. It's still one of the best coaster rides in Orlando.
FLIGHT OF THE HIPPOGRIFF This sedately paced junior coaster with gentle loops has new cars in the shape of Hippogriffs - part horse, part eagle.
QUEUE FOR THE FORBIDDEN JOURNEY Foreseeing that the line for this ride would be long, Universal created elaborately detailed scenes to entertain waiting riders. From the mandrakes in Professor Sprout's greenhouse to the talking portraits of Hogwarts' founders to the sophisticated hologram of Headmaster Albus Dumbledore, the queue is a wonder. Even if you don't ride, walk through.
HOGSMEADE VILLAGE In the restrooms, Moaning Myrtle whines through hiccupping sobs about her plight - until she is drowned out by the roar of a hand dryer. The shops sell hundreds of products - collectors' broomsticks ($250-$300) were sold out even before the official opening.
Elsewhere at Universal
Next door, at Universal's other park, Universal Studios, a roller coaster unveiled in August lets you choose the music for your 1 1/2-minute ride. Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit then makes a vertical climb up a 167-foot tower - the car goes straight up, and you're lying on your back. The car dives at 65 mph, then climbs back up, twisting around the world's largest noninversion loop, never quite going upside down.
Universal also added two restaurants to CityWalk this spring: Fusion Bistro Sushi & Sake Bar, a walk-up bistro with sushi rolls at $5-$16; and Fat Tuesday, a Bourbon Street-themed purveyor of frozen daiquiris.
Admission: $79 ($69 ages 3-9) for single park; $109 ($99) for both parks on the same day; multiday passes from $109.99; $14 parking
BUSCH GARDENS: Sesame Street Safari of Fun
This park updated and expanded the old Land of the Dragons to create the Sesame Street Safari of Fun, which opened in late March and picks up the African theme with characters dressed in safari gear.
Like Wizarding World, Sesame Street relies in part on old attractions that have been rethemed, but the area has been expanded with rides and entertainment added.
Sesame Street's anchor is Elmo's Treehouse, which got a makeover from its dragon days. At its feet are Bert & Ernie's Watering Hole and Oscar's Swamp Stomp, two splash playgrounds for toddlers, while netted canopy bridges overhead connect the treehouse to other play areas.
The highlight is Air Grover, a 42-second coaster ride with mini-dives and two horizontal loops - a starter coaster for kids within view of two of Busch Gardens' heart-stopping adult coasters.
With Grover in helmet and aviator glasses at the controls, the coaster flies over the Sahara.
Busch Gardens is also building a thrill ride, set to open next year, but has not released details about it.
ADMISSION: $74.95 ($64.95 ages 3-9); $12 parking
Most of Disney's attention is focused on its biggest expansion ever, one that will double the size of Magic Kingdom's Fantasyland.
Fantasyland - which opens in two parts, in 2012 and 2013 - will play heavily on interactive attractions, including "homes" for three princesses with whom guests can chat, along with Journey of the Little Mermaid and a renovated and expanded Dumbo's Flying Circus.
This year, Disney World's newest ride is an undisguised math and science lesson in which guests design their thrill ride. Sum of All Thrills is part of Epcot's Innoventions attraction, a complex of quasi-educational interactive exhibits, and is sponsored by Raytheon.
Guests use a touch-screen work table to design their choice of ride - a bobsled, roller coaster or jet - with customized series of corkscrews, inversions and steep hills. If a hill is too high or speed too fast, a "virtual test dummy" lets the designer know that section needs to be reworked. (Tip: Take too long with your design and the computer will take over and finish it for you.) Two guests take seats in a robotic simulator, capsules are lowered over their heads, and they experience the ride they designed. The simulator doesn't go anywhere, but it turns and shakes, and high-definition video, sound and air motion create a not-quite 100 percent sensation of speeding through space with dips, dives and twists.
If a simulated thrill ride feels odd inside the capsule, it's an even odder sight for those outside: An array of robotic capsules moving in place at helter-skelter angles, two pairs of legs sticking out of each, tracing the arc of the ride in the air.
Fans can get back in line and re-engineer their ride, or come back with their design card for up to six months and experience the same ride.
Elsewhere at Disney
"KIM POSSIBLE" At Epcot, guests can play an interactive high-tech game inspired by the animated TV series "Disney's Kim Possible" as they walk through the park. Armed with a "Kimmunicator" - a specially programmed cell phone that they can pick up at kiosks for free - guests become secret agents trying to save the world.
Players connect with Kim Possible characters, learn about villains and their dastardly plans and are assigned a mission.
MAIN STREET ELECTRICAL PARADE It returns to the Magic Kingdom this summer for the first time since 2001. Tinker Bell will lead the parade on a new float; Snow White and Pinocchio also have new floats.
The parade, which runs through Aug. 14, is part of SUMMER NIGHTASTIC! Other summer events include a daily dance party for tweens in the courtyard of Rock 'n' Roller Coaster at Hollywood Studios and a series of tribute concerts at Epcot.
THE PIRATES LEAGUE Inspired by the popularity of dressing up like a princess, Magic Kingdom has introduced The Pirates League, an opportunity for boys and girls to become pirates. The basic package - bandanna, scars, tattoos, fake teeth, earring and eye patch for boys; bandanna, shimmering makeup, face gem, tattoos, nail polish, earring and eye patch for girls - runs about $30. The new pirates can also take part in the daily Pirates Parade through Adventureland.
WATER PARKS Disney's two water parks, Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach, have added permanent cabanas that, for $250 a day, provide a roof or umbrella, locker and cooler, plus an attendant to take food orders.
DETAILS: Disney World, Kissimmee, Fla. Info at 407-934-7639, disneyworld.com.
ADMISSION: $79 for one-day, one-park pass ($68 ages 3-9) to any of the four theme parks - Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios; $46 one-day water park pass ($40 ages 3-9); a variety of multiday and multipark passes are available; $14 parking
SEAWORLD: Killer whale show continues
The killer whale show continues with some temporary changes after one of the orcas killed its trainer Feb. 24. Whale trainers are still doing everything from the deck, says Jill Revelle, park spokeswoman, but eventually will return to the water after the park finishes reviewing its practices.
Tilikum, the 12,000-pound orca who grabbed his trainer in his mouth and held her underwater, is expected to return to the show, but the date has not been set.
AQUATICA Omaka Rocka opened at Aquatica, SeaWorld's water park, this spring. It consists of two closed slides that widen into funnel shapes that spin tube riders and rock them so that they might end up facing front, back or sideways when the ride spits them out. The addition of two slides brings to 38 the number of slides at Aquatica.
Aquatica, which already had cabanas, converted some to premium cabanas with more privacy, including one "ultimate cabana," with two tents, a dining table for six and a daily rental fee of $600.
DETAILS: SeaWorld Orlando, Orlando, Fla., 888-800-5447, seaworldorlando.com
ADMISSION: $78.95 ($68.95 ages 3-9) for SeaWorld; $47.95 ($41.95 ages 3-9) for Aquatica; $109.95 ($99.95) for both parks that includes unlimited return visits within 14 days; $12 parking.