As PotterWatch wraps up with the approach of Diagon Alley’s July 8 official opening date, I’m proud to present Touring Plans’ first in-depth review of the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter attractions. During the recent VIP preview week, I spent nearly 12 hours exploring the expansion at Universal Studios Florida, and was the only member of the media to successfully ride the Gringotts attraction three times. I’ve distilled that first-hand experience into the following Ollivanders interactive wands review, which will appear in edited form in the 2015 edition of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, as well as other affiliated titles.
Bear in mind, the following opinions and information are based on a preview of the attraction, and is subject to change once the area is open to the public. BEWARE: Minor spoilers ahead.
Ollivanders Wand Shop and Interactive Wands
APPEAL BY AGE
- PRESCHOOL 4 stars
- GRADE SCHOOL 5 stars
- TEENS 4 stars
- YOUNG ADULTS 4 stars
- OVER 30 3 1/2 stars
- SENIORS 3 1/2 stars
What it is Combination wizarding demonstration and shopping op.
Scope and scale Major attraction.
When to go Just before or after riding Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts.
Special comments Audience stands.
Authors’ rating Enchanting; 4 stars.
Duration of presentation 6 minutes.
Probable waiting time per 100 people ahead of you 7 minutes.
DESCRIPTION AND COMMENTS
Ollivanders, located in Diagon Alley in the books and films, somehow sprouted a branch location in Hogsmeade at IOA. Potter purists pointed out this misplacement, but the wand shop stayed put with J.K. Rowling’s blessing and became one of the more popular features of The Wizarding World. It also became a horrendous bottleneck, with long lines where guests roasted in an unshaded queue. In the Diagon Alley version, Ollivanders assumes its rightful place, and with much larger digs. At IOA, only 24 guests at a time can experience the little drama where wands choose a wizard (rather than the other way around). At the Studios, the shop has three separate choosing chambers, turning it from a popular curiosity into an actual attraction. As for the IOA location, it continues to operate.
The actual show inside is identical to the original outpost in script and special effects, but the Celtic zodiac-inspired wands ($45) presented in the ceremony are now the new, more detailed interactive models that interact with shop windows throughout the Wizarding World. After the presentation, guests exit into a greatly enlarged gift shop, where interactive wands modeled after those wielded by Harry, Hermione, and Dumbledore are also available, along with non-interactive replica wands ($35) for a vast variety of characters, and toy “learner” wands ($25) for li’l wizards.
Medallions embedded in the ground designate a couple dozen locations spilt between the two Wizarding Worlds, where hidden cameras in storefront windows can detect the waving of these special wands, and respond to the correct motions with special effects both projected and practical. You might use the swish-and-flick of “Wingardium Leviosa” to levitate one object, or the figure-four “Locomotor” spell to animate another. It’s a much more thematically satisfying form of interactivity than the gimmicky games found at Magic Kingdom, but it can take some practice to get the hang of spell-casting; wizards will supposedly be stationed at windows to coach novices and supply loaner wands, but it’s easy to imagine how demand for the experience may prove unmagically unmanageable at peak times. A map provided with each wand purchase details the location and movement for most effects, but there are some secret ones to discover on your own.
If your young ’un is selected to test-drive a wand, be forewarned that you’ll have to buy it if you want to take it home.
Note that the price of the interactive wands includes unlimited activations of the hidden effects; you don’t have to pay to “recharge” your wand on subsequent visits, or even replace a battery.