Harry Potter Theme Park Opens with Fireworks, Fanfare

By Jackie Potts for JustMommies

Magical wands, foaming cups of butter beer and flying dragons are just a few of the magical treats muggles can enjoy at the brand-new Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which opens Friday at Universal Orlando Resort in Florida.

Wednesday night, Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and more of the films' stars got a sneak peek at the park and its spell-binding rides. "When people come see it the're just going to go crazy for it," Daniel, who plays Harry Potter, said. "It's just amazing."

As part of Wednesday's opening festivities, Daniel joined Rupert, who plays his wizarding pal Ron Weasley, red-headed twin actors James and Oliver Phelps and Michael Gambon on-stage in a spectacular special effects show. The gang entered the park in a doubledecker bus and ascended the stage, where, holding wands, they beckoned the watching crowd to help them light up the newly constructed Hogwarts castle. As they shouted the command, "lumos!" the castle was bathed in light and fireworks exploded overhead, while images of Harry, Ron, Hermione and more characters were projected across the castle walls.

Inside the Hogwarts facade is the attraction's main ride, The Forbidden Journey, which takes passengers on a flying broomstick ride with Harry as he encounters dragons, giant spiders and more creatures from the Harry Potter films. "We really wanted to capture the most dynamic parts of the movies," Universal Creative head Mark Woodbury said. "Flying was critical and so was the Forbidden Forest."

There are also two roller coasters, called the Dragon Challenge, based on the dragons Harry and his TriWizard pals faced in "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire." "I actually love the Dragon Challenge coaster," Radcliffe said. "I went on the red one."

For those who like to keep their feet on the ground, the village of Hogsmeade offers plenty of eye-popping delights, such as Zonko's Joke Shop, full of puking pastilles, shrunken heads and other gag gifts, Honeydukes Sweets Shop, which sells chocolate frogs, cauldron cakes and more sugary snacks, and Ollivander's Wand Shop. In Ollivander's, guests are invited to choose their own magical wand, and when they do, bright lights and a gust of wind mark the occasion. "It's great to see the youngster's faces when they get taken in to get their wands," said Tom Felton, who plays Draco Malfoy in the films. "I really enjoyed that."

At the Hog's Head pub, you can taste a mug of fresh butter beer, which resembles creme soda with a thick foamy head, or sip on some pumpkin juice, made from apple juice and pumpkin puree. And of course, wizard's robes and other movie memorabilia are available for sale. "It's just so perfect, better than anything I could have imagined," raved Rupert Grint of the park. "Maybe they'll build one in England as well."