Column by Kevin Yee
Universal’s new Wizarding World of Harry Potter powered its parent company to some great quarterly profits in 2010, no doubt due to the amazing Forbidden Journey ride and those $25 wands. But a more humble item attracts equal attention from the rabid fans: the lowly beverage known as Butterbeer.
Universal’s theme park version is unique and new – not something you can find in stores (yet?) – and it’s non-alcoholic. Actually, there are two versions. The frozen variety looks and feels like a coffee slushie, though it tastes nothing like coffee. Butterscotch and cream soda seem to be the strongest flavors, though there are hints of other ingredients in the savory mix. The unfrozen version ostensibly has the same flavors, and drinks more like cream soda, yet my family has consistently preferred the frozen version.
Many families have heard they must try this drink, and as a result they line up at the highly visible Butterbeer cart smack dab in the middle of the land. It turns out this is a recipe for an unnecessarily long wait. Visitors are better advised to look other places to get their Butterbeer fix, many of them in out of the way places.
When the land first opened, there was already a second place to get both varieties of Butterbeer. Hog’s Head Pub was a real bar serving alcoholic drinks as well as butterbeer. Park operators quickly suspended alcohol sales for a while (they are back now) to focus only on Butterbeer. Lines here are always dramatically shorter than at the cart.
A second outdoor cart was quickly added near the Hogwart’s snowman (where Hogsmeade ends and Hogwarts begins). Lines here are never as long as they are at the more visible cart at the entrance to the land.
Even that was not enough to satisfy the demand, so park operators have begun a waiter-based system. A few workers at a time will target people in the back of the long line for the outdoor cart, and take orders by hand. Those visitors are then pulled out of line, and the servers disappear behind the candy shop to fill orders, which they bring back on circular trays. Then, they take cash from the lucky folks who essentially got to skip the line.
One last option is to buy it in the Three Broomsticks restaurant. An advantage for Universal annual passholders, is that they can get a discount on their Butterbeer in Three Broomsticks and Hog’s Head, but not at the carts.
Butterbeer comes in regular throw-away cups or a take-home souvenir mug. Both hold the same amount. You can get refills with the mug, but it costs the same as the regular cups, so there’s no advantage to do so.
Of the options, the best is Hog’s Head. You can wait indoors and the lines are usually quite short. The worst is the highly visible outdoor cart at the start of the land, not only because of the long lines, but also because the frozen drink cannot keep up with the demand and is sometimes unavailable. In essence, this overworked device cannot freeze Butterbeer fast enough to keep up with the pouring, so it’s possible you’ll wait in a long line only to find out that the frozen variety is not available.
You could always console yourself with the equally excellent pumpkin juice, sold at a cart opposite the wand shop. Or, if that strikes you as too expensive and you really wanted the Butterbeer after all, maybe try to whip up your own home recipe. A few folks online have tried valiantly to create copycat recipes, to apparently mixed success (I haven’t tried them myself).
I’m content to buy the real thing. It’s not outrageously priced, and it’s a unique way to add some flavor to your visit to Wizarding World.
• Kevin Yee is a theme park enthusiast and author. He’s written seven books about Disney theme parks, including his most recent work, Walt Disney World Hidden History: Attraction Remnants and Other Tributes. He visits at least two Central Florida theme parks per week, and is now working on an upcoming book compiling all the best tips for a trip to Orlando. You can find out more about Kevin at his Web sit ultimateorlando.com.