Magic Kingdom Welcomes New Fantasyland Attractions This Holiday Season

Another great re-post from Jamie at OnlyWDWorld.com…

The Walt Disney World Resort will be receiving an early Christmas present this year in terms of new attractions that will be opening this holiday season. The Magic Kingdom will have several additional attractions open as part of the massive Fantasyland Expansion that has been underway.

Joining the Storybook Circus attractions of Dumbo The Flying Elephant, The Barnstormer Starring The Great Goofini, and Casey Jr. Splash “N” Soak Station will be several new attractions. With an official Grand Opening of December 6th and a Preview Date starting on November 19th, Disney World Guests will get to experience the new Under the Sea- Journey Of The Little Merrmaid, Ariel’s Grotto – meet & greet, Be Our Guest Restaurant, Gaston’s Tavern, & Enchanted Tales With Belle.

Here are details that were recently released by Disney about each of these attractions:

  • Under the Sea ~ Journey of the Little Mermaid, a major attraction where guests will travel with Ariel and her friends through their exciting adventures above and below the waves – all against a musical backdrop of songs from the film. The new attraction combines the enduring appeal of a classic Disney “dark ride” with wonderful technological innovations to offer guests a personal journey into the scenes of the film. Adventurers will feel as if they are descending below the ocean’s surface. Once “under the sea,” guests will find themselves immersed in the story of “The Little Mermaid,” sharing Ariel’s adventure through a magical cast of characters and a captivating musical score that will entice everyone to sing along. The fun continues at “Ariel’s Grotto,” a meet-and-greet with the mermaid heroine herself.
  • The castle of the Beast stands majestically upon a hill across an old stone bridge from Ariel’s new home. The Be Our Guest Restaurant will feature a lavish dining experience in the elegant ballroom, gallery, and mysterious “West Wing” of the castle. With seating for 550, this magnificent facility will offer “great food fast” service by day and full table service dining in the evening. Nearby in Belle’s Village, guests will find the rousing Gaston’s Tavern and Bonjour! Village Gifts.
  • Just outside the village is Belle’s cottage and Enchanted Tales with Belle. The adventure begins in Maurice’s workshop, where a magical mirror is the doorway to a captivating new kind of storytelling experience: guests will be transported to the Beast’s library to meet Belle and Lumiere, and share in a lively, interactive re-telling of the “tale as old as time.”

“Fantasyland is a place where a very special kind of memory is made: where children just old enough to understand the moment come in contact with princesses and heroes and meet their most beloved friends,” said Meg Crofton, president, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Operations, United States and France.
“We are excited about sharing our treasured stories in new ways and giving guests the opportunity to interact with their favorite characters like never before.”
Beyond 2012, there’s more in store for Fantasyland guests:

  • Located in the Castle Courtyard in the center of Fantasyland, Princess Fairytale Hall will be the new home for visiting royalty in the Magic Kingdom. The castle-like entrance will feature walls of stone and stained glass windows, opening up into a large gallery – an airy space with a high ceiling, where portraits of the Disney princesses adorn the walls. When it’s time for their audience with a princess, guests will proceed to elegantly finished rooms to meet Aurora, Cinderella and other Disney princesses, such as Tiana and Rapunzel (2013).
  • The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train will take guests on a rollicking, musical ride into the mine “where a million diamonds shine.” The coaster will feature a first-of-its-kind ride system with a train of vehicles that swing back and forth, responding to every twist and turn of the track. The journey will be accompanied by music from the classic Disney film and animated figures of Snow White and the Dwarfs (2014).

America’s coolest water parks

By Beth Greenfield, Forbes.com

If you think that the most exciting rides in a water park still involve a log flume or mat slide, then you, my friend, are all wet. Water-swishing half-pipes, free-fall slides dropping riders from close to 10 stories high, and near-vertical looping slides that shoot riders like cannonballs at 40 mph are just a few samples of how today’s parks are making a splash.

The 70-acre Schlitterbahn in New Braunfels, Texas, lands on our list with its brand-new star of the show — the Falls, billed as “the World’s Longest Waterpark Ride” and offering 3,600 feet of waves, rapids and waterfalls for tubers. And overlooking the Falls are new, cool-looking Treehaus accommodations and suites.log flume or mat slide, then you, my friend, a

Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari, in Santa Claus, Ind., meanwhile, has just introduced the world’s longest water coaster: the Mammoth, stretching a whopping 1,763 feet and using special “hydromagnetic” technology to whisk riders both up and down in circular, six-person rafts. This is a park that’s big on breaking records: The previous longest water coaster, the Wildebeest, is also located here — as is the popular Pilgrim’s Plunge, the world’s tallest water ride, which hauls passengers up 13 stories in a boat-like elevator and then drops them, at a 45-degree angle, to a major splash.

At Disney World’s Typhoon Lagoon, the most highly attended water park in the world, you can snorkel with sharks, bodysurf in 6-foot waves at the nation’s largest wave pool and ride the brand new Crush ’n’ Gusher, a 400-foot-long whitewater raft ride that’s overflowing with steep plunges and hairpin turns.

Other standout parks include Six Flags’ White Water in Atlanta, home to 50 adrenaline-inducing rides including the Cliffhanger, one of the tallest free-fall slides in the world; and Aquatica, at Sea World in Orlando, Fla., where you’ll find 80,000 square feet of man-made sandy beaches, the Omaka Rocka half-pipe, and 250 feet of underwater tube slides that zip you through a pool stocked with dolphins.

But grownup kids aren’t the only ones being catered to by the coolest water parks. Actual little ones, obvious fans of wet and wild fun, are getting some serious upgrades this season.

“Parks that want to attract younger children have been introducing highly themed, interactive play structures that function like water playgrounds,” notes Aleatha Ezra, of the World Waterpark Association, a trade organization for water parks and their suppliers. “They now feature hundreds of interactive spray guns, buckets and showers, and might have multiple slides coming off them, as well as climbing structures and dump buckets.”

Wet n’ Wild in Orlando is all over that trend, opening its new Blastaway Beach in June. The sandcastle-themed wonderland will bring 15,000 square feet of pools, soakers and slides to the 12-and-under set.

re all wet. Water-swishing half-pipes, free-fall slides dropping riders from close to 10 stories high, and near-vertical looping slides that shoot riders like cannonballs at 40 mph are just a few samples of how today’s parks are making a splash.

 

The golden days of air travel: How glorious were they?

Great re-print from CNN Travel

The crowds cheered as the pilots and flight attendants of Delta Flight 295 cut a ceremonial red ribbon before the television cameras.

Water cannons sprayed the first official flight out of Atlanta’s new international terminal this month as the airplane headed toward the runway, bound for Tokyo, leaving behind airport guests to eat from an elegant buffet of Asian-themed hors d’oeuvres and drinks.

For a brief moment, the glory days of airline travel had returned to the world’s busiest airport. On this day at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the pilots were handsome, the flight attendants lovely and handsome (and no doubt could save a life) and the food and drink plentiful.

It was reminiscent of the golden days of air travel portrayed in the television series “Mad Men” and “Pan Am,” when travel was an upper-middle-class experience and people dressed up to fly. Even when air travel became affordable to the masses after Congress passed the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, flight attendants still served full meals and baggage was included in the cost of a ticket.

No more. Even amid the celebratory atmosphere in Atlanta, it was clear that the impact of the September 11, 2001, attacks and the subsequent economic downturn are here to stay. Officers patrolled the halls with drug-sniffing dogs and armed police guarded the exits to the runway. Many travelers wore sweats and other loose, comfortable clothing to get through security.

While many grumble for the “good old days” of airline travel, their nostalgia usually doesn’t include the high prices, limited routes and cigarette smoke clinging to the air.

Travelers can still pay for the luxury of rubber chicken and checking two giant suitcases “for free” — it’s called first class. There’s certainly no policy stopping travelers from dressing up, but how fun are Spanx and heels on your next flight?

Here are some of the things we miss and why they went away.

Pomp and circumstance

Eva Brams remembers flying with Burt Lancaster in first class, eating caviar on the plane and dining on lobster in a gorgeous hotel in Puerto Rico before returning home.

That’s because the Austrian-born Brams was a flight attendant for Pan American World Airlines when flying was a glamorous experience. Brams, a former ballet dancer who spoke English, French and German, wanted to travel and see the world before deciding if her American-born boyfriend was “the one.” (She knew she’d have to leave the airline if she married him. That was company policy.)

“We met interesting people on the plane, and we always stayed in the most luxurious hotels when we weren’t in New York,” said Brams, who left the airline in 1971 when she married that boyfriend. (They live in Manhattan and have two grown children and grandchildren.) “We didn’t have as many flights as they do now. When we went to Brazil, we stayed for a couple days before flying out again.”

An airplane trip used to be an expensive and rare occasion, usually reserved for the upper-middle and upper classes, marked by dressing up and elegant service in flight. Aviation expert Janet Bednarek remembers her father flying for work two or three times per year in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and it always seemed like a special occasion. When he returned, the whole family would drive to the airport to meet him at the gate.

All that elegance came at a price. Before the airline industry was deregulated, a U.S. government agency controlled pricing, routes and other aspects of airline travel. Once airlines could increase and change their routes, they started to compete more on price and discount airlines started to pop up.

High prices made travel exclusive. Bednarek, now an aviation history professor at the University of Dayton, didn’t take her first flight until she was in college in the late 1970s. In 1960, U.S. airlines carried 62 million passengers on scheduled airline flights, according to a government data analysis by Airlines for America, an industry group. Fifty years later, U.S. airlines carried 720 million passengers. Now Bednarek is hard pressed to find a student in one of her classes who hasn’t always flown.

Greeting family at the gate

In a pre-9/11 world, families and friends regularly walked their loved ones to the gate to say goodbye or picked them up at the gate to say hello. The test of a new relationship was often the airport drop-off: Would your sweetheart pick you up at the gate, baggage claim or curbside?

No longer. It’s baggage claim or curbside for your love. In a post-9/11 world, airport security officials usually won’t let anyone clear security without a boarding pass. With would-be terrorists inventing new ways to try to blow up planes, that’s not likely to change.

However, it’s not a complete ban. Travelers who need help, perhaps because of disability or small children, can sometimes still have a nonflying companion come to the gate with them. It’s best to call the airline in advance to request that permission, although some airlines can issue special passes at the ticket counter.

Care-free packing

Travelers of a certain age can remember lugging overstuffed suitcases to the airport and talking airline workers into allowing suitcases over the weight limit onto the plane. Now most carriers are charging for baggage, and they made $3.4 billion last year on those fees, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. (Delta Air Lines topped the list at nearly $864 million.) Some, like Delta, will waive the fee if you have their frequent-flier credit card.

That has taught some travelers to pack light and wrestle for overhead bin space. If there isn’t enough space, flight attendants will often gate-check your luggage. There are plenty of travelers like library assistant Courtney Pricer, 25, who simply pay the fee.

“I try to carry on the least possible amount of material because I find it to be a bigger hassle to go through security with it all than to just pay the money for a checked bag,” says Pricer, a resident of San Clemente, California. “I try to just have a purse to take on the plane, albeit a really big purse. It usually just has my laptop or iPad, my wallet, my phone, the charger for my devices, and some snacks.”

Food and comfort

Kathy Tucker, who often flew from San Francisco to visit family in Hawaii in the 1970s, remembers a 1975 Pan Am flight where the stewardesses set up a coach-section buffet table with fresh Hawaiian fruits and walked through the aisles pouring free glasses of champagne.

“The cute young man sitting next to me decided we could finish of a bottle all by ourselves, so we went up to the table and slyly managed to swipe an opened bottle and bring it back to our seats,” said Tucker, a resident of Pacific Grove, California. “The stewardesses were so nice that they probably wouldn’t have cared anyway.”

Even after deregulation, when the champagne flowed less frequently, travelers used to be able to count on a decent meal (or snacks for shorter flights). Vegetarians and people who kept kosher could even request special meals. But as airlines cut costs, meals shrank down to snacks and then went away. Some flights still offer peanuts or pretzels in addition to food for sale. Other times there’s nothing to eat at all. Even first-class passengers on shorter flights might only get a choice of fruit, chips or a cookie. (The alcohol is still free.) While some planes still carry blankets and pillows for passengers, there are fewer to go around.

“I try to pack as much food as I can but you can’t bring water and sometimes I don’t have time to pack,” said Mira Patel, 22, a Baltimore-based first-year medical student who traveled a lot for medical school interviews. “I feel like I’m always hungry. With flights an hour apart, I can pay $7 for a can of Pringles or nuts that they used to give out for free. I’ll go nine hours without eating.”

Predictable security

In the pre-9/11 security days, people knew what to pack in their checked luggage and carry-on baggage (nearly anything, it seemed).

Travel experts say people can adapt to tighter security requirements if the rules are clear and consistent. It’s when officials enforce different requirements at different airports that travelers don’t believe the new procedures contribute to more secure flights. Some security officials want you to carry your boarding pass through security; others want you to place it in the bin to be screened. Some don’t like you to bring cupcakes or gun-shaped purses; others are OK with it.

“If people are anxious, it’s harder to detect if they’re anxious because they’re up to no good or anxious because of all the attention you are paying to them,” New York University professor Harvey Molotch said. “It makes the system less secure.”

The lack of predictability is maddening to Michael Flaherty, an Eckerd College sociology professor who studies the passage of time.

“The fact that we don’t know what to expect when we fly is irritating because it undermines our efforts to anticipate our experiences in the future and know how to behave,” Flaherty said.

Travelers don’t dare question security officials unless they’re willing to risk not flying that day.

“It’s threat rhetoric reminiscent of Orwell, all based on external threats,” Flaherty said. “We have your interests at heart, this is what we have to ask you to do, and we’re not going to explain it. If you don’t cooperate, you become part of the problem.”

For her part, the future Dr. Patel doesn’t care to travel anymore. “I used to love traveling but I hate it,” she said. “It’s totally exhausting, and I feel like I’m paying so much money for so little. It feels like you’re being herded through the airport like animals. I worry about what’s in my bag. I feel like I’m always hungry. I would much rather drive.”

Tips for Traveling with Kids – Car Trips with Toddlers

A family road trip can be fun, but when one thing goes wrong, you may see a domino effect, making the vacation not so enjoyable. To prevent disaster and misery, be prepared for the unexpected. Traveling by car can be more economical than flying the whole family to your destination and you’ll have the flexibility of having your own transportation.

Get Plenty of Rest

Before you start out on your trip, make sure everyone in the family is rested. Many toddlers become cranky when they’re tired, so make sure they have something they can associate with their naps, such as a favorite blanket or stuffed animal. Holding a familiar toy may help calm your toddler and promote car napping, which is a much better experience than crying.

If you’ve been thinking about taking away your toddler’s pacifier, now is not the time to do it. Don’t make any unnecessary major changes until you return home from your trip. The pacifier may be the only thing that will soothe your child when she’s over-stimulated.

Keep Your Toddler Comfortable

Make sure your toddler is comfortable while traveling in the car. If you want to put her in that lacy dress her grandmother made, wait until you’re close to your destination to change her clothes.

Ideas for toddler travel comfort:

  • Dress her in knits without scratchy embellishment.
  • Leave her in her pajamas until it’s time to get out of the car.
  • Layer her clothing so you can remove pieces if she gets too hot.
  • Bring a blanket for additional warmth if you’re traveling during the holidays.
  • If she squirms and seems uncomfortable, make sure she’s properly positioned in her car seat.

Bring Food for Your Toddler

A hungry child is a fussy one. Make sure you have plenty of nutritious snacks and treats for your toddler. Have an ice-packed cooler filled with anything that needs to be kept cold.

Ideas for food that travels well:

  • Pre-cut fruit in zip type bags
  • Single serving packages of crackers and cookies
  • Small size cartons of yogurt
  • Juice packs or sippy cups with milk or juice.

Take Breaks

When traveling with toddlers, plan to take frequent breaks. Many rest areas have large grassy areas where you and your children can run around and stretch your legs. Look for kid-friendly restaurants with play areas.

If your toddler is potty trained or in the process of being potty trained, stop frequently without being asked. By the time most toddlers let you know they have to go to the restroom, it’s probably urgent.

Toddler Activities for the Car

Have a variety of activities planned for when your toddler isn’t napping. Children in this age group often have very short attention spans, so be prepared with enough things to keep them occupied.

Suggested activities for toddlers include:

  • Board books
  • DVDs and CDs
  • Viewfinders
  • Stickers and sticker books
  • Crayons and coloring books
  • Stories told by parents and older kids.

Travel Emergency Kit

Pack a small emergency kit and make it accessible. You never know when you’ll need something, and there may not be a place to pull over.

Items to pack in an emergency kit include:

  • Band-aids
  • Wet wipes
  • Fever reducing medications
  • Plastic bags.

Additional Tips for Traveling with Toddlers

One of the purposes of a family trip is to bond and create memories. Getting to your destination is only one part of the excursion, so make car travel as fun and stress-free as possible.

More ways to make a road trip enjoyable and stress-free:

  • Have a backpack or small suitcase for each child.
  • Occasionally switch places with other family members.
  • Pack meals or stop at a deli and have a family picnic.
  • Rotate toys and activities frequently to prevent boredom.
  • Wrap some surprises for your toddler to open as a reward for good behavior.
  • If your child isn’t used to sleeping in strange beds, bring a portable crib or pack-and-play for hotels and your destination.
  • Avoid rushing and embrace each moment spent with the family.

Traveling by car with toddlers can be challenging, but if you follow a few tips, you can remove some of the stress and make it fun for everyone. Get plenty of rest, dress comfortably, have plenty of food, take frequent breaks and make sure you have a variety of activities for the trip. Don’t forget to pack an emergency kit that is easily accessible.

Disney: Where to eat in the parks

After visiting all 4 major resort areas and partaking in countless rides and attractions, it’s only a matter of time before families vacationing at Walt Disney World work up ravenous appetites. And there’s no shortage of dining options here! Known for making dreams come true, Disney has managed to accommodate the tastes and needs of its visitors with an array of fabulous restaurants — below are our favorite picks.

Best All-Around Character Meal
Chef Mickey’s Restaurant

At the Contemporary Resort in the Magic Kingdom, kids will adore Chef Mickey’s Restaurant as they dine among their favorite Disney celebrities — Chef Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Goofy and even Chip ‘n’ Dale. As the characters mingle among tables entertaining their wide-eyed guests, families can line up for a mouthwatering buffet filled with goodies including prime rib, peel ‘n’ eat shrimp and the chef’s seasonal entrees. You can even make your own cupcake at Goofy’s cupcake bar.

Best Dinner Show
Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue

Disney’s Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue at the Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground is a not-to-be-missed toe-tappin’, hand-clappin’, all-you-can-eat Wild West extravaganza! Six performers keep the crowd in stitches with their array of Hee Haw-style high jinks, corny jokes and singalongs. Audience participation is 1 of the show’s many highlights, culminating in the hilarious hoedown finale.

Best Themed Restaurant
50’s Prime Time Cafe

At ’50s Prime Time Cafe in MGM Studios, diners find themselves eating a home-cooked meal amid a kitchen straight from a ’50s sitcom set. Classic kitsch like pull-down lamps and knickknacks are sure to leave some diners nostalgic as they chow on their home-style meals.

Best View for Fireworks Displays
California Grill
Atop the 15th floor of Disney’s Contemporary Resort is the elegant California Grill, boasting sprawling vistas of Disney’s Seven Seas Lagoon and Cinderella’s Castle. This spectacular view has granted the restaurant prestige as one of the premiere venues from which to watch the park’s nightly Wishes fireworks display. The fireworks show lasts approximately 6 minutes and commences with Tinkerbell soaring from the highest point of the castle and over the crowds below.

Most Luxurious Dining Spot
Victoria & Albert’s

Guests will enjoy a royally exquisite meal – this intimate 5-diamond restaurant seats only 65 people, so make reservations well in advance. Each party is assigned their own host and hostess (named Victoria and Albert, of course!), rich velvets and linens drape the furniture, Royal Doulton china decorates the tables and a harpist serenades the crowd. The 7-course menu is customized daily by award-winning chef Scott Hunnel.

Disney on a Budget!

Kwin Mosby, Travel Channel

If you think a Disney World vacation is out of your reach, maybe you should think again. Travel Channel has a few helpful tips on how to save money on lodging, tickets, food and airport transportation that can make your Disney dream trip become a reality.

A Moderate Resort
You can book a vacation package for a 2-night, 3-day stay at 1 of Disney World’s moderate resorts. The Port Orleans Resort offers a discount package that includes 2 nights of lodging and 3 1-day park-hopper.

Magical Express
Disney’s Magical Express is like having the combination of a car service and luggage valet all wrapped up in 1. All you have to do is check your bags at the airport, and they are magically waiting for you when you arrive at your Disney hotel. Be sure to request your Magical Express luggage tags when you make your reservations. Don’t worry about transportation to the hotel; a bus will pick you up at the airport and take you right there.

Disney Value Seasons
You and your family can head to Walt Disney World during the off-season when lines are shorter, the weather is more comfortable and the prices are lower. The rates are usually lower from January to February; for a few weeks in April and May; mid-August through September; and between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Magic Your Way
Sign up on the Disney World website to receive announcements of special offers. Magic Your Way is a new program that offers visitors options a la carte. You can choose to add what you wish instead of buying a package that might include elements that you don’t really want.

Three Pricing Categories
Disney offers 3 pricing categories for hotel accommodations. The Pop Century Resort offers some of the lowest rates in Disney World, while the Coronado Springs Resort is in the intermediate price range. Disney also has more exclusive hotels, like the Grand Floridian Hotel, and other high-end accommodations, like extended-stay condominiums with their own kitchens and living rooms.

Rider Swap Tickets
These tickets allow parents to take turns accompanying older children on the rides without having to wait in line again. Systems in place at Disney World like the Rider Swap program provide ways to get more entertainment in less time, which equals more bang for your buck!

Extra Magic Hours
Another great way to maximize your family time at Disney World is to beat the crowds by arriving early (or staying late). Guests of Disney resorts can enjoy extended Magic Hours at the Magic Kingdom, offered both before the park opens to the general public and after it closes.

Park-Hopper Tickets
For an additional charge per ticket, Park-Hopper tickets allows you to visit multiple parks in the same day. The charge is only applied once and the more days you stay, the less it costs per day.

Free Transportation
Disney not only has complimentary transportation to and from the airport, but they also provide transportation between all their resorts and parks. A system of monorails, buses and even boats can take you from park to park at Disney World.

Fast Pass
Don’t feel like waiting in lines? Put your park ticket in the designated Fast Pass machine, and out comes a Fast Pass ticket that tells you to come back at a specific time (for example, 2:30-3:30). The ticket acts as a placeholder, which is great for families who don’t want to spend hours waiting in line at a popular attraction. However, you can only get 1 Fast Pass ticket every 2 hours and popular rides can run out of Fast Passes, so try to get one early.

Lower Cost Activities
Another way to save money when vacationing in Disney World is to take advantage of the lower-cost recreational activities. For example, a family of 5 can book a Magic Your Way package that includes a 4-day, 3-night stay in a cabin at Disney World’s Fort Wilderness Campground. By choosing a 3-day theme-park admission with the Water Park Fun and More option, families can enjoy 5 days of fun for slightly more than the cost of 3. So check for the special deals and packages for extra savings.

Free Admission
There are all kinds of things to do at Downtown Disney that don’t require a park ticket. When staying at 1 of the Disney resorts, you and your kids can head to DesignQuest Interactive Theme Park and experience a digital nirvana, free of charge. On a hot Florida day, Disney World’s water parks, such as Typhoon Lagoon, can be just the ticket to keep the kids cool. A ticket here costs about half of what a theme-park ticket costs.

Hotel Pools
The water parks cost less than the theme parks, but the pool at your hotel is free. Of course, your kids would probably love the crazy slides at the water parks, but they might be just as happy playing Marco Polo near your hotel room.

Disney Dining Plan
Families can take advantage of some of the counter-service buffets that are generally all-you-can-eat. If you’re really into food and you’re a big eater, then definitely go with the Disney Dining Plan. A family of four can save up to 30 percent on this plan.

Budget for Children
It’s recommended to give older children a budget for the length of the vacation. Not only will it keep parents’ budgets in check, but it’s also a great lesson for them on how to spend their time and money wisely.

Room Key Purchases
This perk allows Disney resort guests to purchase items with their room key and have the delivered directly to your room. No credit card. No ID. Just plain convenience.

Photo Pass
A service is more of a memory saver than a money saver. This is a great feature for families that don’t have a free hand to take pictures. Ask any Disney photographer for the pass and carry it with you throughout the day. When you’re ready to leave the park, you can get your pictures printed out, or select the ones you want online and have them sent to you.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando

Photo of Hogwarts Castle, ©  Teresa Plowright.J.K. Rowling’s phenomenal book series has sold more than 400 million copies worldwide, the movies based on the books have grossed billions — and now Muggles who love to immerse themselves in the books and films can go one step further. Since June 2010, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter “theme park within a theme park” has welcomed visitors to Hogwarts and Hogsmeade.

Where is it? Orlando, of course…

Location
Islands of Adventure is one of two theme parks at Universal Orlando, and previously had five themed “islands”. It now has a 20-acre Harry Potter “theme park within a theme park”‘, with two main areas,Hogwarts Castle and the village of Hogsmeade. The Wizarding World took over some areas of The Lost Continent, and two existing attractions were adapted to the Harry Potter theme.

The Harry Potter Theme Park Experience
From its earliest announcement, the aim of this Harry Potter theme park has been to create an “immersive experience”, that allows fans to really feel they’ve entered the world of Gryffindor and Ollivanders and owl posts. Academy Award-winning production designer Stuart Craig — who worked on all the Harry Potter films — headed up creative design.

How well has it turned out? Our About.com Guide for Theme Parks says it’s “one of the–if not the–most richly detailed, immersive environments ever presented at a theme park. It takes the art of park storytelling to new and breathtaking levels.” Or as another review put it: “If God is in the details, then Wizarding World is the holiest place on Earth.”

The authenticity — if we can use the term for a fantasy world– even extends to the merchandise offered. There’s no sunscreen for sale, or popcorn… You can however, buy a Nimbus 2000 broomstick, and drink plenty of butterbeer.

It’s a delight to stroll past the quaint shop-fronts in Hogsmeade, with suitably odd angles and quirky details, and to shop in Honeydukes and Dervish and Banges…

Be warned, though, that you’ll be strolling with plenty of company: the Wizarding World is hugely popular. Check tips about visiting the Harry Potter theme park: advice for beating the crowds; tips about Ollivanders Wand Shop, and butterbeer, and the best time of day to feel a bit of magic in Hogsmeade.

Hogwarts Castle
The iconic Hogwarts Castle towers in the theme park, and inside is the new state-of-the-art attraction “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey” – more on that, below. As visitors line up for the ride, they wend their way through Hogwarts: past talking portraits, through Professor Sprout’s greenhouse… Dumbledore, Harry, Ron and Hermione make appearances. Hogwarts in itself is a wonderful attraction.

The Rides
But of course, a theme park also needs a thrilling ride or two. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is the marquee attraction, and our Guide for Theme Parks loves it: “The signature Potter attraction uses advanced robotics to send guests on a wild journey alongside Harry, Hermione, and Ron where they experience many iconic scenes from the films. It is the most advanced, stunning park ride anywhere.”

(I found the journey whizzed too fast by dementors, whomping willow, quidditch pitch, etc.; but to each his own, people love the ride; and feel free to share your own opinion below.)

The two other rides existed previously and have been re-purposed: the former Dueling Dragons double roller coaster is now the Dragon Challenge, pitting the The Hungarian Horntail against the Chinese Fireball. Both are wild, inverted rides; the Fireball is faster and higher than the Horntail.

Less intense for guests is a training flight on the Flight of the Hippogriff coaster ride (formerly the Flying Unicorn): a very short ride, but fun, and offers a good glimpse of Hagrid’s hut and of a baby Hippogriff in its nest.

There are just these three rides in the Wizarding World; much of the appeal is the “immersive experience”. Guests can dine in the Three Broomsticks, quaff a drink in Hog’s Head, shop in Zonko’s joke store, find a wand in Ollivanders, try exploding sweets, mail letters from the Owl Post…

It can probably be said that never was a theme park under such pressure to “get it right”: the legions of Harry Potter fans have strong feelings about all things Wizard and all things Harry. Early on the President of Universal Orlando promised: “We’re going to be true to the books and the films, and make sure that when people come here they’re going to be very, very happy with what they see.”