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Nobody Beats the Wiz

Harry Potter sweeps into Florida.

Author Ted Katauskis Illustration Graham Roumieu

ORLANDO

FANS OF HARRY POTTER have been waiting years for this moment: opening day at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the massive, $275 million, J.K. Rowling–sanctioned theme park built within the walls of Universal Orlando Resort. The June air is already simmering at dawn as the crowds turn up in droves. By 9 a.m., the numbers exceed 20,000, with more still flooding in by car and van and tour bus. Some even come on foot, toting brooms. Thirty minutes later, a half-mile line leads to the arched entrance to Wizarding World.

“The wait to get inside is seven hours at minimum,” announces a security guard through cupped hands. He then adds, sotto voce: “No amount of magic is gonna make it shorter.”

Despite the heat, legions of wannabe wizards and witches are decked out in ankle-length Hogwarts robes, with striped neckties and wool scarves patterned in the crimson and gold of Gryffindor. They kill time by hexing each other with homemade wands, comparing lightning scars and round-rimmed black plastic glasses, and quoting passages from the books from memory.

Inside is the village of Hogsmeade, an exacting reproduction of the Warner Bros. movie set, complete with crooked chimneys, plastic icicles and snow that seems to mock the Florida heat. And everywhere, ever more lines: bag-toting Potter fans queuing up for Hogwarts Castle (a four-minute ride that chases Harry’s broomstick), Olivander’s wand emporium, Honeyduke’s sweet shop and the Hogs Head (where you can purchase a plastic flagon of nonalcoholic butterbeer—more refreshing than you might think).

“As you enter, please make room for those who follow,” says a monorail driver named Michael, beelining for a butterbeer. “And today please switch out that goblet of fire for a bottle of water.”

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