It comes as no surprise that Orlando, Florida, is currently visited by more tourists than New York City--62 million in 2014 as opposed to 56 million at the Big Apple. But the reason for the greater popularity of Orlando is, to me, a shocker: it is supposedly the astonishing draw of the Harry Potter exhibits at Universal Studios in Orlando that has caused Orlando to pull ahead.
I have found the Harry Potter portion of Universal to be so disappointing, so lacking in appeal or interest, so disconnected from the enchanting themes and fascinating plot turns of the Harry Potter novels, that the decision by millions of visitors to converge on the Harry Potter areas is, to me, a great mystery. It is as if several millions of Americans are simply playing "follow the leader"--the leader in this instance being the unthinking journalists who have raved about Orlando's Harry Potter show without basing their judgment on a single persuasive reason.
Sure, Harry Potter at Universal has a store selling magic wands to young children. And you can buy there various items of clothing similar to those worn by Harry and his companions. You can go buy a cup of "Butterbeer", Harry's favorite drink at the tavern areas near to Hogwarts castle. And you can stare upon the performers atop an outdoor stage who are supposedly (they really aren't) enacting scenes from the world-famous books.
But that's about it. What remains at this initial Harry Potter theme area is a reproduction of Hogwarts castle containing a ride for which hundreds of teenagers line up at any one time to test their courage and ability to endure nausea-causing twists and turns.
This ride inside "Hogwarts castle" is the single major part of the Harry Potter area. You enter a cart that stands atop a track, carefully strap yourself into your seat (failure to do so might lead to major injuries), and the cart proceeds to re-create the most extreme roller coaster that was ever built, although it goes not up and down into the air, but mainly along the track. It violently twists and turns, jolts you about with astonishing force, stops abruptly, then accelerates madly, and all in all, subjects your body to such extremes of pressure that if you are over the age of 20, you emerge shaken from the ride, wet with perspiration, feeling dizzy and badly nauseous. In a lifetime of visiting carnivals and the like, I have gone on roller coasters and the most extreme of them--the most nausea-creating and dizzying--is what constitutes the main attraction at the initial Harry Potter theme park in Orlando.
Except that the hardy teenagers who emerge from the ride emerge smiling, congratulating each other and vowing to repeat the experience. And that, friends, is what awaits you at Harry Potter. Instead of approaching the subject with a smidgeon of imagination (which they obviously lack), the executives of Universal who have designed Harry Potter have simply created another roller coaster. And roller coasters are the major feature in Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure in Orlando, roller coasters apparently representing the limit of the imagination of the people who are now running the Universal Studios theme park. Though there are roller coasters at Disney elsewhere in Orlando, they are subordinated to exhibits of real imagination. At Universal, these at Harry Potter are the featured attractions; no other real attempt is made to evoke the magic of the Harry Potter books. The horrendous roller coaster ride through Hogwarts castle is, really, all there is.
Now I have not yet visited the second Harry Potter theme park at Universal that recently opened. But I am willing to bet it also features a nausea-inducing roller coaster. And I state without fear of contradiction that Universal has failed miserably to create an entertainment of real merit. And the fact that foolish rave reviews about this new attraction have brought unprecedented visitor figures to Universal--and thus to Orlando--is a matter of great disappointment.