EVERYTHING STARTS WITH A STORY:
Thanks to everyone who offered advice for my trip to Universal Studios Orlando
. I did, indeed, make a beeline to Hogsmeade as fast as I could and queued up for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey as quickly as I could. The sign predicted 75 minutes, and some of my colleagues bailed, but hoo boy the wait was worth it. (Actual time, start to finish: 55 minutes.)
The first half-hour was a slog, in long winding queues with nothing but some electrical fans to break up the monotony. Even the walk through the Hogwarts greenhouse was just ... walking through a place with plants. None of them were animatronic, and there were no staffers providing mid-queue entertainment.
But then you enter Hogwarts, and from there on it's pretty damn spectacular. The pictures talk to each other, and Salazar Slytherin's complains about all the muggles infesting Hogwarts. You visit Dumbledore's office, the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom and see the Sorting Hat. And then, The Ride.
This spoiler-filled review provides the details
, as well as what I think is the right critical take. As ride simulators go, it's incredible. You really feel like you're flying through Hogwarts, being attacked by Dementors (though I didn't notice the Dementor's Kiss moment described at the link), racing across a Quidditch game and the like. But what you don't feel is any sense of narrative
-- it's unclear what you're doing in Hogwarts in the first place, or why you're chasing Harry around, or what you've accomplished other than a really neat flight.
The same problem, of course, pervades all of Universal -- there's no narrative whatsoever which ties the various "lands" to each other -- Seuss, Jurassic, "the Lost Continent," Marvel Island -- and there's no real effort to layer everything with all the interstitial stuff that Disney does so well
, It's just a collection of rides and places to buy stuff.
And buy stuff, in Hogsmeade, I did. No, I didn't wait in line for Ollivander's Wand Shop, but Honeydukes and Zonko's Joke Shop did receive a fair share of my business. (Pygmy Puffs!) As I noted on Twitter, alumni of Hufflepuff and Ravensclaw will be severely disappointed in the amount of school swag available compared to the Big Two (esp. Gryffindor), but it is pretty damn awesome to have all that merchandise available.
And it's all because the thirteenth publisher who Jo Rowling's agent approached had an eight-year-old daughter who, when showed the first chapter of the first book, demanded to read more. You know the rest.