The Wizarding World of Harry Potter has legions of devoted fans, just like the series of books and films featuring the boy wizard. The last film in the Harry Potter series opens Friday, July 15, but at the Central Florida theme park, part of Universal's Islands of Adventure, visitors can go inside Hogwarts castle, swig...
ORLANDO, Fla. — The Wizarding World of Harry Potter has legions of devoted fans, just like the series of books and films featuring the boy wizard.
The last film in the Harry Potter series opens Friday, but at the Florida theme park, part of Universal’s Islands of Adventure, visitors can go inside Hogwarts castle, swig two kinds of butterbeer, ride Harry Potter-themed roller coasters and buy magic wands.
Theme-park visitors are so crazy about Harry that the Islands of Adventure, which opened in June 2010, was the fastest-growing theme park in the world last year, according to the industry’s own estimates.
627 times on ride
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Chris Bell, 21, says he has ridden the main “Harry Potter and Forbidden Journey” ride 627 times — and counting.
“It’s so fascinating. Every time I go on it, I see something new,” said Bell, a University of Central Florida student from Orlando. He also has collected all 17 of the exclusive souvenir wands that retail for $30 apiece.
Bell goes whenever he can to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which is based on the best-selling books by J.K. Rowling.
He joined Universal’s Islands of Adventure’s 5.9 million guests in 2010, a boost of 30 percent from the previous year, according to estimates by AECOM, a Los Angeles consulting company, and the Themed Entertainment Association. (There’s no breakdown on how many of those are repeat visitors.)
Every day, thousands of folks stream into Wizarding World to soak up the atmosphere of the “real-life” Hogsmeade village they’ve imagined when they’ve read the books or seen portrayed in Harry Potter films.
“The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is like a Harry Potter fan conference that never closes,” said Robert Thompson, a professor of pop culture at Syracuse University.
“It’s open every day. So if you’re really into that, I can see how you’d like going there and just existing for a while,” he said.
Universal Orlando officials haven’t commented on the possibility of expanding Wizarding World, but it’s on the wish list of hard-core fans.
Fitting that bill would be a much-rumored coaster project based on Gringotts bank, which is expected to be featured in the final Potter film. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2.”
Frequent visitor Bell has heard all that Gringotts talk, but his imagination goes further and includes attractions based on the Shrieking Shack, Diagon Alley, the Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes joke shop, a Chamber of Secrets restaurant and a Quidditch experience that would be a cross between the Manta coaster at SeaWorld Orlando and the Dragon Challenge coaster at Wizarding World.
“That would be really interesting if they could do that,” Bell says.
The presence of superfans — even the ones wearing long black robes in Florida’s July heat — is a positive, said Thompson, the pop-culture professor.
“I have to envy people who can get so much enjoyment out of a series of books which become movies and characters in a universe, that they want to go back to a place over and over again,” he said.
“There are a lot of people walking around on this Earth that aren’t that into anything, and I think are infinitely less happy as a result,” Thompson said.