The Wizarding World of Harry Potter has lots of problems but before we get to those, let’s start with what is right with it. I think the most important thing about the place is that it gives Harry Potter fans a pilgrimage site, a place, a physical place, they can go that has been officially sanctioned as THE site of the Harry Potter experience. Previously fans could take expensive trips to places in Great Britain where the author wrote her drafts of the book or where scenes from the movie were created. Or they could go to Harry Potter conferences like Infinitus 2010 that I just attended. Or they could go to the opening night of the movies or the release parties of the books in their local bookstore. These events encouraged fans to dress in costume and be a part of the world they were reading about. I presented such an immersive fan event for three years at the Penn Museum. Called “Harry Potter and the Magical Muggle Museum,” the event let thousands of fans act like they were in Hogwarts for the day, taking potions classes, playing quidditch, getting sorted into their houses, and meeting the famous wizards of Hogwarts. What I learned from putting on this event was that people enjoyed and appreciated this kind of immersive experience in which they could become part of the wizarding world.
Universal’s Wizarding World was promised as such an immersive experience and it does provide a concrete, permanent location for Harry Potter fans instead of the occasional and ephemeral events we all attended or presented. One great value of this is that it is a place to meet other fans and know you are not alone in your passion for all things Harry Potter. The words “Harry Potter” are in the air, spoken by people as you walk to the park, sit to eat in restaurants, visit the restrooms, or stand in line at other attractions. That alone is magic, as if being a passionate Potter fan in now acceptable and not just for freaks, geeks, and weirdos. Unfortunately that effect disappears the moment you leave that section of the park.
But that is about it for what is right about the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Except for the butterbeer. The butterbeer, if you get the frozen version is great, if a tad over sweet. It doesn’t help you recall the butterbeer from the stories but it gives you a fast sugar buzz. Which you need to get through the negative things, which I will describe next