In Title: The grand opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter puts the spotlight on Hogwarts castle. Universal Orlando Resort photo
Above: The Armstrong family from Missouri, from left, Matt, Daphne, Arden and Nicole, are true Potterphiles and enjoyed their Harry Potter experience at Universal. Susan E. Frost photo
Below: Joan Toole demonstrates the Hedwig owl puppet outside Filchs Emporium. Susan E. Frost photos
My aunt and I left our rooms at the tropical Loews Royal Pacific Resort–one of three on-site hotels–with plans be at the Islands of Adventure park at 8 a.m. and experience all that is Harry Potter before the crowds. Our room rate ($219) included early park admission.
The almost sinister-looking turrets of Hogwarts castle, heavy gates and cobblestones shiny from the rain greeted us. Immediately, we were transported inside J.K. Rowling’s fictitious world of Harry Potter.
A thrilling journey
As we entered Hogwarts castle to experience the attraction’s signature ride, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, nothing could have completely prepare us for the glimpse into this dark and magical world. To create the feeling of flying with Harry Potter and friends, we pivoted and dipped to avoid spitting spiders and ghoulish dementors. During the ride, we met a delightful family from Missouri and enjoyed hearing about their first impressions of the Forbidden Journey.
Matt Armstrong, his wife, Nicole, and daughters, Daphne, 13, and Arden, 11, had read all the Harry Potter books and were excited to experience the Forbidden Journey.
“I loved this ride. It was a thrilling experience,” said Matt.
“When we went over the cliff, it felt like we were going to fall into the pit because we leaned so far forward, I was sure I was going to lose my shoes.”
Daphne enjoyed the experience but described some frightening moments. “It was kind of scary because the spiders spit in our face so I kept my eyes shut,” she said. “But, the most frightening experience was when the dementors appeared to attack us.”
And, what exactly is a dementor? Daphne explained it is a ghostly apparition with no face, an open mouth and scabby hands.
You want to avoid the dementors.
“The Forbidden Journey did a great job of incorporating elements from all the books, including the game of Quidditch and the castle grounds,” Nicole said. “Flying was the most amazing experience. I could have done this for hours.”
My aunt Joan Toole, 76, is always ready for an adventure, but was hoping that the ride wouldn’t be too wild.
“When you get into the chair to begin your journey, there is nothing to hang on to but the bars holding you in. My legs dangled over the chair. I had these silly clogs on and thought they were going to fall into the Harry Potter pit. I held my feet close together for the entire ride and hung on tight to the bar,” she said.
A kinder, gentler Potter experience
After the ride, we stopped at Three Broomsticks restaurant for a mug of luscious butterbeer, a foamy caramelized soda. In January, Universal recognized the selling of its millionth butterbeer and gave 1,000 free drinks to guests.
Refreshed, we continued to wander the streets of Hogsmeade and found ourselves at Ollivanders, one of five retail establishments in the area. Gathered together in a small dusty room of old scrolls and wands, we observed a mesmerized boy as a wand “selected” him.
Eleven-year-old Harrison Behr said he couldn’t believe he was chosen to cast a spell.
“My favorite part was when the light shined down on me and the music started to play, just like in the movie. Now I know how Harry must have felt in the movie, totally unsure and wondering what would happen next,” said Harrison.
An oasis in Orlando
Fine dining has a contemporary Asian flair at Emeril’s Tchoup Chop restaurant.
After a day with Harry, we returned to Loews Royal Pacific Resort, a AAA Four Diamond hotel, where we enjoyed an outstanding meal at Emeril’s Tchoup Chop restaurant. This was a pleasure for the senses and the palette. Walking into the restaurant, we were treated to the artistry of Dale Chihuly chandeliers and a huge water table topped with water lilies.
During dinner, we toasted the day with a superb California merlot. Two waiters made certain we had everything during the course of the meal. For my entrée, I selected pepper-grilled Atlantic salmon with creamy lobster soy sauce, fingerling potatoes and broccolini, a cross between broccoli and kai-lan, Chinese broccoli. It was an excellent meal.
This is Emeril’s only restaurant with a contemporary Asian theme. If you are looking for flavor, ambience and service, this is the place to go when staying at Loews Royal Pacific Resort.
Susan E. Frost is a contributor from Portland, Ore.