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'Harry Potter' fans rave about theme park

By Henry Hanks, CNN
  • Fans get to walk in Harry Potter's footsteps at a new theme park in Orlando
  • Magic wands, Butterbeer and a technologically advanced ride await visitors
  • Despite very long lines and sweltering heat, one iReporter said it was worth it
  • Check out more reviews of "The Wizarding World of Harry Potter"

(CNN) -- For Coral Rivera, it was the moment she had been anticipating for years. Her heart was "racing a mile a minute."

She and her boyfriend were hoping they might get a chance to see what just a few lucky souls had seen before them: the long-awaited "Wizarding World of Harry Potter."

On the morning of June 8, the couple made their way to Universal Orlando Resort in Florida to attempt to get in to "Wizarding World" ten days before it was scheduled to open. After staying in touch with what she calls the "Potterwatch Nerd Coalition" via social networking sites, she thought that there was a good chance that she might get in, along with guests of the resort.

It just so happened that it was the couple's lucky day. That morning, they made their way in with guests of the hotel.

"The first couple of moments were a blur," Rivera said. "We had already decided that [the ride] Forbidden Journey would be the first stop. We raced through and when Hogwarts appeared right in front of us, we both lost our breath for a moment. Man, did it give [Walt Disney World's] Cinderella Castle a run for its money."

The Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry was just one part of a painstaking effort by Universal Orlando to re-create the places Harry Potter called home. The chance to walk in Harry's shoes was not something Rivera, nor many other hardcore fans of J.K. Rowling's books and the "Potter" movies, would want to pass up.

Knowing the enormous expectations for the park, Universal pulled out all the stops. "This was the time to do it like never before: true immersive storytelling," said Universal Creative president Mark Woodbury. "The [fans] have really high expectations on what they want to see, and I think we overdelivered on the level of authenticity and detail in the attractions."

Woodbury and the Universal team enlisted the aid of the "Potter" experts as well. "We had great collaboration with J.K. Rowling and the Warner Bros. filmmakers, and we had the producers and production designers for the films deeply involved in this project," he said.

Video: 'Harry Potter' attraction opens

After all of the hype and excitement from fans, people from far and wide made the pilgrimage to Orlando for Friday's opening day, with members of the movies' casts there to greet them. That morning, lines stretched far beyond the entrance to Universal Orlando's main gate. Twitter users reported hours-long waits, amid sweltering temperatures.

iReporter Missy Wade, who traveled there from Boston, Massachusetts, lined up at 6 a.m. and set foot in "Wizarding World" at 10 a.m. Once Wade, who says she's not a "superfan," got in, she was impressed by how closely the park matched what she had seen in the movies and read about in the books.

iReport: Tips for visiting the "Wizarding World"

Orlando resident Patrick Johnson has seen his share of theme parks and reported, "I can safely say that it is the best themed, most immersive, most incredibly detailed theme park area in the United States."

He is new to the world of "Harry Potter," having crammed in everything that he could in anticipation for this visit. With all of that fresh in his memory, he said, "It's literally astounding how much thought and care went into keeping this area true to the books and the movies."

The centerpiece of the park, if there is one, is the "Forbidden Journey," a ride which Universal's Woodbury said utilizes "an unprecedented level of technology" giving riders "an unbounded freedom of flight."

Johnson said that the ride is "in a class of its own," while Rivera said, "The movement of the ride is so fluid and effortless ... you take off and land and you don't even realize you're on the ground again." She also described the line for the ride as "nothing short of fantastic."

iReport: Fans get their first look at the park

Ollivander's Wand Shop was also a favorite for iReporters who visited the park. It's actually more of a show than a shop, because lucky guests are brought to the front by the shopkeeper and "chosen" by their wands.

Rivera's one criticism here was that the store area itself was much smaller than the show area: "What they need to do is just take the cashier out of the middle of the room and have people pay in Dervish & Banges (which is connected)."

Food is also a big part of the full "Potter" experience, and visitors can certainly get their fill of favorites like Butterbeer and candy from Honeydukes. "The feast in the hall was deeply researched," Woodbury explained. "Butterbeer is a wildly popular item, so we wanted to bring that to life as well."

For Rivera, the Butterbeer was "glorious, and the frozen kind was even better, especially in, you know, 98-degree weather. I ended up being a Butterbeer slosh, walking around Hogsmeade with a big old mug in my hand but, at a low cost of $2.50, it was so worth it."

iReport: "Wit beyond measure is man's greatest treasure"

Orlando resident Johnson most succinctly described the way his fellow "Potter" fans felt about their visit: "You are not in a theme park -- you are in Harry's wondrous world!"