Mary McNamara: Harry Potter’s Wizarding World conjures up crowds

June 22, 2010 | 11:20 p.m.

Los Angeles Times television critic Mary McNamara is in Orlando to review the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal’s Islands of Adventure. Her full review will run later this week, but here’s a few quick dispatches from the scene. Click on the photos to go to a full gallery.

Although Universal Orlando doesn’t release numbers on park attendance, the first week crowds for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter seem to have taken officials by surprise. Those staying at the resort hotels are allowed in the Islands of Adventure Park one hour before the 9 a.m. opening time, but the crowd at the gate forms much earlier.

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Once inside, those wanting to visit Harry first thing are channeled into a line that swoops around the park in an effort to keep the Wizarding World from being overrun. Hundreds of guests waited up to four hours this morning to be allowed past the soon-to-be-iconic gates of Hogsmeade, only to wait in more lines! For butterbeer, for a glimpse into Ollivander’s wand shop, for a bite at the Three Broomsticks, a wait of 45 minutes or more is not unusual. The centerpiece of the place, the fabulous multimedia journey through Hogwarts, listed wait times in the triple digits, as in 120 minutes.

“We expected it to be a great success,” said Thierry Coup, vice president of Universal Creative. “But we delivered beyond expectation and we’re seeing a response beyond expectation.”

Indeed, for all the waiting under a non-gentle Florida sun, there was nary a complaint to be heard.

“There’s a line everywhere,” said one mom to her kids as they queued up for the Hogshead Pub. “We’ll just have to deal.” And, eyes shining as they took in the crazy snow-covered eaves and chimneys of Hogsmeade, the boy and girl just nodded.

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Wizarding World offers a collision between two often opposing cultures: fantasy geeks and roller coaster freaks. Literary moms and other adrenalinephobes find themselves talked into boarding the Dragon Challenge, which is a fairly serious roller coaster experience — you go upside down, etc. But when you’ve stood in line for three hours to enter the Wizarding World, a certain recklessness sets in and the racing coasters are filled with eyes-closed, rosary-muttering parents, most of whom get off proud and exhilarated if regretting, just a bit, that second butterbeer.

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Bigger than the Beatles? Bottles of pumpkin juice on tables at the Hard Rock Cafe makes one wonder what percentage of the world’s wealth is owned by J.K. Rowling and Paul McCartney combined … and did they get Bill Gates’ recent memo?

– Mary McNamara

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Photos: First – Gates to the theme park were opened at 6 a.m., as a line of faithful fans snaked as far back as the Hard Rock Cafe at Universal CityWalk. Credit: Red Huber / Orlando Sentinel. Second – “Harry Potter” star Daniel Radcliffe rides the Flight of the Hippogriff attraction at Universal Orlando Resort. Credit: Kevin Kolczynski / Universal Orlando. Last – J.K. Rowling visits the theme park escorted by Mark Woodbury, president, Universal Creative. Credit: Kevin Kolczynski/Universal Orlando

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