What can I say? You all surprised me. The feedback and support and amazing comments I got on our story about getting engaged was overwhelming to say the least. Thanks to that article and the response of everyone out there in the blog reading stratosphere, I’ve decided to share other stories of our adventures. I hope you continue to enjoy them. Starting out, I’ll be doing a mini-series about our trip to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando.
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Part One – Welcome to the Wizarding World
During our trip to Florida, Disney World was not the only place we adventured. In fact, it wasn’t even the first place we went. You see, I’d never been to Disney so I actually thought at the time that Disney World would be too childish and I would not have as much fun there. It was because of this that we decided on only one day at the Magic Kingdom, so I could say I had gone of course, and two days at what I thought would be more my speed, Universal Studios. While many of the rides and shows at Universal are worth talking about, I want to share with you what I considered to be the most amazing part of our days there: The Magical World of Harry Potter.
First off, I think as with any good story, reference and scene setting are key. When I was younger I loved to read. I was on all the summer reading programs and lived for finishing one book just to get into the next. Because of this, we often frequented bookstores and the clerks in these stores recognized us by name and greeted us warmly. On a day, not unlike most, I walked into my regular store and took a walk around, but couldn’t seem to find anything that spoke to me.
“I need a new book,” I told the clerk. “I like fantasy stuff, but I think I’ve read all the good ones.” I had the unique impression that it was possible to read all the good books by the time I was ten years old.
“Well, we just got something in that’s supposed to have been a big hit overseas.” She went to a just opened cardboard box and pulled a hardbound book from it, handing it to me in one fluid motion. The book felt so odd. The cover was soft and filled with interesting characters and creepy images and the letters, golden, protruded from the book like braille.
The book was “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” and the day was September 1, 1998, its first day in the United States.
Since then, I have been hooked, going to midnight releases and screenings and dressing up like a wizard and generally being a crazy fanboy. Flash forward to summer 2015 and me deciding to take my then only boyfriend, now only fiancee, Carl to Florida. Come Hell or high water, we were going to Harry Potter Land and I was going to be a crazy fan and get excited about everything and he was just going to have to deal with it, despite it being his birthday that weekend. This was my friggin’ dream!!
For anyone who has not been to Harry Potter Land, I think the structure of the park is worth noting. “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” is located within Universal Studios’ theme parks. I say parks because there are actually two sides of the park with two sides of Wizardy goodness. In Universal Studios Orlando, you will find the Diagon Alley portion of the park while on the other side in Islands of Adventure, you will find the Hogsmeade portion. We’ll get to what is within these two parks in just a moment but also know that they are connected by a train ride on, you guessed it, the Hogwarts Express.
Our first day at Universal was spent on the Universal Studios side. I patiently waited as we explored the other rides and toured the park, but as we started to round a corner with several familiar sounding, slightly British looking, shops to our left hand side, I knew we were near. Parked outside a regular looking wall is a the large purple Knight Bus, which signals that you are very near to your destination.
The actual entrance is sort of hidden. You have to go behind a wall, which looks like one of the many restrooms throughout the park. Once inside though, you go through the open brick facing that would normally be behind the Leaky Cauldron, and emerge into the center of Diagon Alley, which is a very close recreation to the street from the films. Gringots Bank sits in the distance with a large white dragon atop it which periodically spews fire. The whole scene definitely causes some serious feels as you walk in, not believing that this place can be real. To either side of you are shops, some of which can be entered while others prove as decoration.
The shop interiors are just as fantastic and the fact that you can buy so many things from the films makes these shops feel very full, vibrant and alive. For example, in the emporium, there are all sorts of stuffed owls, miniature versions of Fluffy and the different cats and dragons of the films and the layout makes it feel like a very real pet shop, despite the pets being plush.
That’s not all though. There are all sorts of candy. You can buy Bertie-Bots Every Flavor Beans or Chocolate Frogs or Pumpkin Pasties. The list goes on. You can go to Madame Milkins and thanks to the plethora of Harry Potter clothing items, you can buy all sorts of robes, scarves and ties themed after your favorite house. You can literally gear up yourself or your children to look like a character from the film as you galavant down the street with your wand. More on that later.
We ate lunch at the Leaky Cauldron where we shared a pot pie and some delicious stew, as well as some Butterbeer. I intend to do another post entirely about Butterbeer, but here’s what you need to know. It’s the best drink ever. It makes all the happiness come true. It’s magical. It’s the best drink ever. During our time in Diagon Alley, we had no fewer than three butterbeers each.
There are also several rides within both sides of the park. I intend to dive into these in a later post but they are all splendid and run the gamut from roller-coaster to 3D thrill ride to interactive experience and beyond. The Harry Potter rides were not only some of our favorites at this park, but also our entire trip.
On the other side of the park, you’ll find the city of Hogsmeade, which I’m happy to say is just as realized. Diagon Alley shocks with its similarity to the films but where Hogsmeade gets you is that you can actually see Hogwarts from the entrance to the village. Oh, I’m sorry, did I say you could see it? What I meant is that you can ENTER IT! That’s right, one of the rides actually has you enter Hogwarts and wander through some of its hallways and passages as you wait in line, making the wait not that horrible at all. You’re treated to views of Harry, Ron and Hermoine in the Defense Against the Dark Arts Classroom as well as seeing the Herbology Classroom. You get to see the sorting hat and the Mirror of Erisad and it all is just so true to the film that you can actually start to imagine that it is all real.
Hogsmeade is especially fun in that everything is done up as if it is winter time which made us feel especially cool despite the fact that it was 95 degree weather. Snow coats the tops of the all the stores and buildings while happy snowmen greet you as you round the corner.
Something I found very interesting was that at any given point in the park, you can always hear music from the films. This really adds to the immersion and makes you feel like you are living out a real Harry Potter pipe dream.
I could go on and on, but I will leave a bit for some follow up posts. Coming up in this little mini-series we’ll talk about the rides themselves and what makes them so special. We’ll explore the wands and the interactivity of using them throughout the park. We’ll learn, or try, to make a world class Butterbeer. If you’ve been to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, let me know your favorite part down below in the comments. If not, let me know your favorite book in the series!
See you next time!