‘Harry Potter’ Theme Park Details: When Will Wizarding World Open?

Grand opening is set for June 18, but some fans will be able to get in three weeks early.

After months of enthusiasm and speculation, Universal Orlando has finally announced the grand opening for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter: June 18.

For those fans willing to spend the money, there is an opportunity to visit the park a bit earlier. A special Wizarding World park and hotel package has been available for purchase since mid-February. The reservation start date was listed as May 28, and Universal spokespeople said those who already purchased those packages and made travel arrangements will be treated to exactly what they paid for, which means they will be getting into the park a full 22 days before the general public. Universal said those special packages will remain available until they have been sold out.

The other long-awaited reveal Universal unveiled was information about its biggest attraction in the park: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Housed inside Hogwarts Castle, all that had been previously released about the ride was that it was a thrilling, state-of-the-art attraction that uses entirely new technology to bring the magic, characters and stories of Harry Potter to life in ways never before experienced.

Forbidden Journey is not ready to be ridden yet, and the attraction is still heavily under construction. The entire experience will take about an hour, creative director Thierry Coup said, though he felt it’s “impossible to tell how long you’re on the ride.” The line takes guests from the entrance of Hogwarts Castle on the dungeon level up through Professor Sprout’s greenhouse (replete with mandrake roots), past the portrait gallery of moving pictures, through Gryffindor common room and finally to Dumbledore’s office.

Universal has teased new technology on the ride, and a lot of it has been used to bring the characters from the “Harry Potter” universe to life. They have created a 3-D projection technology (the details of which are being attributed to “magic”) that makes it seem as if Dumbledore is really speaking to attendees while they are waiting in line and also that Harry, Ron and Hermione are really in the Defense Against Dark Arts classroom.

Coup traveled to Leavesden Studios in London, where all the “Harry Potter” films have been shot, two years ago and filmed a number of sequences with the actors behind the iconic characters using the new technology. The line becomes blurred on the ride between the reality and the fiction, because it is not Daniel Radcliffe playing the character Harry Potter, but only the face that has become recognized as Harry Potter.

They also filmed the sequences for the moving paintings while they were in Leavesden, and there are a number of different areas of the castle that make use of them. When guests are walking through Gryffindor common room, the paintings are actually used to explain how the ride works — in magical terms, of course.

Beyond the fact that a “robotic arm”and new filmmaking and technology were used to create the special effects for the Forbidden Journey ride, Universal is keeping mum on how exactly the ride will work. But it is consistent with the story line that is introduced at the beginning of the ride: Today is the first day Muggles (non-magic humans, also known as Universal guests) are being allowed into Hogwarts, and Dumbledore greets the guests in his office to let them know they will listen to a lecture in the Defense Against Dark Arts classroom about the history of Hogwarts.

In the classroom, Harry, Ron and Hermione appear from beneath an invisibility cloak to convince the audience they should skip the lecture and come see the Quidditch match that is going on. The guests then meet Hermione in the Room of Requirement, where she puts a spell on the bench (this is where attendees get on the actual ride portion) that will fly them to the Quidditch field.

A lot more than just the Quidditch match will be included in the ride portion. It will simulate flying around Hogwarts, encountering dragons, being thrown into the Whomping Willow, bumping into Dementors and, in the words of Coup, the “most iconic, most thrilling things Harry has experienced.”

“It really feels like you’ve entered the pages of the books that you’ve only dreamed about,” he said.

A retail store will be at the end of the ride and, since it wasn’t anywhere else in Hogsmeade Village and Universal announced that it would be in the park, it seems fair to speculate that the gift shop will be Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods. Coup and Alan Gilmore, art director for the films and park, were especially excited about the merchandise that the store would have to offer.

Famed film composer John Williams has worked with Universal to create a reworked version of the “Harry Potter” score for Wizarding World to add more authenticity to the park. No new music has been added, but the various themes could be heard playing in Hogwarts castle as well as around Hogsmeade.

Some final exciting news from Gilmore was that Universal had requested some props to use for the park from Leavesden Studios. With filming for “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” winding down and Warner Bros. planning to purchase and potentially rebuild the studio, Gilmore said they were trying to get some of the items to use for Wizarding World.

Are you excited for the Wizarding World to open? What goodies from the “Harry Potter” world do you want to see in the park? Let us know in the comments!