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Harry Potter attraction in Orlando sure to leave guests spellbound

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry will open to Muggles for the first time June 18. The Three Broomsticks Inn, Honeydukes sweets and all the other quirky shops in Hogsmeade Village will open then, too.

That's when the nonwizarding public will be allowed to step into The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the much-anticipated new attraction in Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure park that brings to life the weird and wonderful realm of the famous boy wizard.

And all those Potterphiles who've been waiting for the day they could peer into the Gryffindor House common room, soar on Harry's broomstick or quaff a butter beer in the Hog's Head pub will not be disappointed.

The theme-park attraction was created with the close collaboration of the set designers from the Potter movies, as well as with input from author J.K. Rowling, who first conjured the world in her imagination. The scope and attention to detail are stunning, from the bizarre bric-a-brac displayed in headmaster Albus Dumbledore's office in the castle to the boxes of magic wands stacked in the window at Ollivander's wand shop. (Located in Diagon Alley in the books, the shop was moved to Hogsmeade at Universal with Rowling's OK.)

"This is so authentic to what I experienced on the films that I find it hard to tell them apart," Alan Gilmore, who helped design sets for three of the Harry Potter movies before joining the attraction's creative team, said during a media tour of the park. "I'm a stickler for detail, and I really haven't let go of these guys until it was perfect."

Not only that, but team members working on the Universal park made a series of trips to Scotland to consult with the hands-on Rowling, who signed off on everything, from what would be displayed in the Hogsmeade shop windows to the recipes for the butter beer and pumpkin juice served in the restaurant at the Three Broomsticks and the Hog's Head. (Both libations, by the way, are absolutely delicious.)

Creative conjuring

Because the Harry Potter attraction is in Universal's Islands of Adventure, there's no extra charge to step from the Lost Continent section of the park right onto the cobblestones of Hogsmeade Village, with its steep snow-covered roofs, grimy crooked chimneys and menacing doorways. The Hogwarts Express belches steam at the train station nearby. Fans of the later Potter movies will recognize this place right away.

The ancient, foreboding castle that is Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry looms over the village, drawing visitors in to the centerpiece of the attraction, a ride combining 360-degree filming techniques and sophisticated robotics to create the illusion of a magic adventure in flight with Harry and his wizarding pals Ron and Hermione.

Believe it or not, standing in line for the ride -- called Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey -- is half the fun. The queue snakes through the castle's dungeon up to the greenhouse (complete with potted mandrakes) and through a corridor to the soaring portrait gallery, where the quirky characters from Hogwarts' past talk to each other and move from painting to painting.

From there, visitors move into Dumbledore's office, where the headmaster welcomes Muggles -- nonwizarding folks -- to the castle for the first time. Dumbledore is on screen, but the illusion magically puts him right there in the room. Next it's the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, where Harry, Ron and Hermione -- the movie actors appear on-screen -- intercept the group and invite everyone along for an adventure with them. The Gryffindor House common room is one of the last stops before the ride, which includes an encounter with the Whomping Willow, a narrow escape from a dragon attack and a Quidditch match.

The queue and ride are supposed to be an hourlong experience, but long lines may extend the wait time.

In addition to the Forbidden Journey ride, two outdoor roller coasters on the 20-acre Harry Potter attraction are there for adrenaline junkies who need a fix. And, of course, the shops in Hogsmeade will provide ample retail opportunities for witches and wizards of all ages.

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