Harry Potter is about to arrive in Florida - not via broomstick or Floo powder, but by a mystery technology that will sweep fans along on a life-and-death adventure in the realm of young wizards.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which officially opens next month, will be the newest themed zone - or ``island'' - at Islands of Adventure, one of Universal Resort's two Orlando parks.
While the Wizarding World will have other attractions - two roller coasters and a Hogsmeade Village of shops straight from the book - it is the centerpiece ride, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, that has Harry Potter fans and thrill ride aficionados atwitter.
Literally. Fan blogs and online bulletin boards are filled with breathless speculation. But Universal has maintained a vow of secrecy when it comes to the new ride, saying only it combines new robotic-arm technology and 360-degree film technology to deliver guests to a Quidditch match, where they will have the sensation that they are flying in the game.
A handful of media (including The Miami Herald) and tourism officials -- plus Ellen DeGeneres -- have been allowed in the ride area, but not on the Journey itself.
Among them was Andrew Sims, news editor at Mugglenet.com, a fan website, who toured the park in September.
``What really struck me about this is you're really going to feel like you're in the movies, like you're in Harry's world,'' Sims says. ``Especially that walk-through for the Forbidden Journey ride. Those are some of the more iconic Harry Potter scenes.''
The Cloak of Invisibility will be lifted May 28, when people who bought special hotel/park packages will be able to enter Wizarding World. The grand opening for everyone else is on June 18.
The Wizarding World isn't all that's new at the theme parks.
In Tampa, Busch Gardens opened its Sesame Street Safari of Fun for the preschool and kindergarten set in March. At Disney, Epcot has a DIY thrill ride, Sum of all Thrills, that allows guests to design their ride, then climb into a capsule on a robotic arm that simulates it.
But for now, the theme park buzz is all about the boy wizard.
Enter the gate into Wizarding World and you're in Hogsmeade Village - the Hogwarts Express puffing steam on the right, shops on the left, the peaked roof of the Owlery ahead. And in the distance, the imposing towers of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, which serves as the entrance to Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.
The queue is an attraction in itself, jammed with characters, scenes and a stunning level of detail from the Harry Potter books and movies - the Daily Prophet with its pictures that move, the Mirror of Erised where Harry sees the reflection of his deepest desires, the greenhouse where Professor Sprout teaches Herbology.
The ride itself is rumored to last about 4 minutes. But combined with the queue for the ride, the attraction will take about an hour, Universal says.
While many of the scenes will be familiar to those who saw the movies, some will not. As the pre-show queue winds through the Portrait Hall, fans see the founders of Hogwarts for the first time as the four - Godric Gryffindor, Helga Hufflepuff, Rowena Ravenclaw and Salazar Slytherin - talk to passersby and to each other, slipping in and out of their frames and appearing in other people's portraits.
``The technology is pretty impressive,'' says Melissa Anelli, webmistress of a Potter website (www.the-leaky-cauldron.org). ``And the paintings in the Portrait Hall -- I've seen many incarnations of the moving portrait and it's usually just a TV screen with a frame around it. These really look like moving portraits.''
Riders make their way to enchanted benches and take off with the help of Floo powder.
``You fly into the Quidditch match -- you are part of it,'' says Coup, who also designed The Amazing Adventures of Spider Man ride in the same park. ``It's a new technology, one that has never been used before. . . . You really feel like you're flying along.
``You fly over the castle, into the forest. You run into a dragon with Harry, run into the Whomping Willow, feel the coldness of the dementors. This is going to feel like an epic journey with Harry and the other characters.''
Riders exit through Filch's Emporium of Confiscated Goods into Hogsmeade Village, where they'll also be able to buy Potter merchandise in Zonko's joke shop; Honeydukes, with treats including Chocolate Frogs and Bertie Bott's Every-Flavour Beans; Ollivanders wand shop, a branch of the original on Diagon Alley; Dervish and Banges, which sells Quidditch equipment and Triwizard apparel; and the Owlery, where visitors can mail a postcard with a Hogsmeade Village postmark.