Still, Harry creator J.K. Rowling's presence has been integral in the creation of the 20-acre theme park since Day One. Her approvals – along with those from Warner Bros., which produces the Potter movie franchise – were not only necessarily for the look and feel of the land, but also for the taste – of the trademark Butterbeer at the theme park's Three Broomsticks Restaurant & Hog's Head Pub, that is. According to a source close to the brewer, the potion is a lot like cream soda spiked with butterscotch.
"Her input has been direct and continual, starting with the environments we created for the films," Alan Gilmore, art director for the new park as well as for the Harry Potter movies, told PEOPLE Thursday. Rowling, he said, "has a very clear vision of her world."
In particular, Gilmore said, Rowling wanted the 100 "moving" portraits in the gallery of Hogwarts just as she envisioned they should be. Over the past six years the project has been on the boards, Gilmore and his team, which totaled in the hundreds, "succeeded down to the last detail" in meeting her requirements, and, in the process, "achieved a new level of realism and authenticity," he says
As for what Potter fans will encounter when the gates open, a peek into Harry's World earlier this month revealed what resembles a highly realistic version of the snowcapped village of Hogsmeade, snuggled inside a verdant forest worthy of Hagrid and crowned by the towering parapets of Hogwarts Castle. Resting in the basin below are the winding cobblestone streets of the village, whose stores include Honeydukes Sweet Shop, with its window display of Pewking Pastilles (including sardine flavor), used to induce sickness for skipping classes at Hogwarts Academy.
The Hogwarts Express – steaming but stationary – greets guests at the World's entrance and serves as part of the boarding area for the Flight of the Hippogriff, a "family" roller-coaster, as opposed to the far more intense, high-speed Dragon Challenge, with its Tri-Wizard Tournament theme.
Raising the BarThe main attraction of the World is Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, a ride "that will re-invent the theme-park experience," insists the park's creative director Thierry Coup, whose talents also went into Universal's Shrek 4-D and the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man as well as the revamp of Disney's Tomorrowland.
Entering through the castle dungeon within the Forbidden Journey's queue area, Coup tells PEOPLE, guests will meet the four founders of Hogwarts and be greeted by the academy's headmaster Dumbledore – before being sidetracked from a Dark Arts lecture by truants Harry, Ron and Hermione (as played by Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint), who suggest a Quidditch match instead. From there, a magical bench helps get things going, dragon encounters notwithstanding.
"Even if you haven't read the books or seen the movies," says Coup, "you'll fly – and feel as you've never felt before."
Universal Orlando Resort