…But why on earth should that mean it is not real?
It probably doesn’t even need to be said, but I am postponing this week’s weigh-in to allow my butterbeer belly time to deflate. So, where did we leave off? Ah yes, it’s Saturday morning, my parents and I have just arrived at the parks, and I am rip-raring and ready to get my arse to Harry Potter World! For those of you who are unfamiliar with the layout, Universal Orlando is split in two: Universal Studios park and Islands of Adventure. The latter is the one that houses the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which is a section of the park along with others themed around things like Marvel superheroes, Jurassic Park, and Dr. Seuss.
We traipsed through Seussland and The Lost Continent, taking a few giddy moments at the Lorax statue and peering into a shop or two. No time to dilly-dally, though. I was a girl on a mission.
It actually kind of sneaks up on you. Despite the fact that you’re actively looking for it. You just walk around a bend and suddenly, there it is.
Hogsmeade. With its snow-crested rooftops and meticulously planned storefronts and Butterbeer barrels lining the streets. Eager children in robes roaming the streets, Hogwarts castle looming in the background. I would be lying if I didn’t get just the slightest bit emotional when I saw it. I’m only
ridiculously obsessed with Harry Potter human, after all! And it was quite the magical moment for me.
After going through the main gate into Hogsmeade, we were immediately greeted by the enthusiastic conductor of the Hogwarts Express. To the right is the steaming smoke stack of the engine car, set up perfectly for a photo op. As I mentally squeal with utter delight, I see that the lockers for this area are housed under a sign indicating they’re part of the Hogsmeade train station (clever!).
Across the cobblestones from the train sits Zonko’s Joke Shop and Honeydukes. At this point, the squealing is no longer just in my head.
I demand that we go inside right away, and I immediately melt at the sight of extendable ears dangling from the ceiling, wizard chess pieces dueling it out in the store window. Zonko’s and Honeydukes are connected, so it’s a mere hop, skip, and a display of Every Flavour Beans before I’m in the next store.
I practice extreme self-restraint and leave the stores empty-handed today. After all, we’re only about 30 minutes into our two-day park adventure at this point! No point in letting my chocolate frogs melt while we’re waiting in line. They’ve only got one good jump in them to begin with.
Everyone keeps asking me what my favorite part of the park was, but it’s hard to narrow it down to just one thing. It was the overall feel, you know? The window displays of stores that weren’t even functional, set up for no purpose other than for us fans. The Mimbulus Mimbletonia in the window of the botany store. The set of Gilderoy Lockhart’s books displayed in the bookstore. Moaning Myrtle echoing from inside the bathroom walls (don’t forget to go to the ‘public conveniences” while you’re there!). I just loved it all.
Besides Honeydukes and Zonko’s, the only other store that you can really go into is Dervish and Banges. This is where they sell all the wands, robes, and various paraphernalia you could dream of. We actually had to wait in a line just to get into the store itself on the first day we were there. Once inside, it’s mayhem, but amazing.
Ollivander’s isn’t actually a store, so you can’t buy your wand there. We did go into Ollivander’s, of course, but I just wanted to point out the difference. It’s more like a show, after which you can purchase the actual wands in Dervish & Banges (or in one of the many other stores around the park, of course). You’ll find replicas of all the characters’ wands from the movies in addition to 12 wands that are exclusive to the park. The meanings behind these special wands are based on the Celtic rune calendar, so they can match you with one based on your birthday. As it turned out, I didn’t need to have them analyze any dates in order to know which wand to get, but that’s another (infinitely more awesome) story for later.
We stopped by a merchant so that I could try a pumpkin juice before we went any further at this point. Pumpkin juice, as crafted by the creatives behind the theme park, tastes a lot like spiced apple cider. A quick look at the ingredient list showed an apple juice base, with pumpkin puree, apricot puree, and various spices (and preservatives, of course, but that’s to be expected).
It was delicious but VERY sweet. We ended up watering it down quite a bit, and given the outrageous amount of sugar I remember reading on the nutrition label, so it’s probably just as well. Regardless, I certainly found it refreshing! And you better believe I kept the bottle. 😉
The Harry Potter area of Islands of Adventure currently boasts three main rides. First, there’s Dragon Challenge, a dueling roller coaster that they converted from a previously existing ride. I remember going on this particular coaster when I came to the park many years ago, so I didn’t feel the need to wait in line for it again. Then there’s Flight of the Hippogriff, which is more of a kid roller coaster. Dad and I hit this ride up on Day 2, when the line wasn’t too bad. Then, finally, there’s Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. This spectacular simulator ride, which features a majority of the original actors, is the real star of the show. We waited in line for 90 minutes for this puppy, and it was so, so worth it (though my mom probably feels quite differently. Those who get easily motion-sick, be forewarned!). I won’t spoil things too much, but just know that I loved it. Once you weave your way through the outside part of the line, you dump your stuff at the free lockers inside and then get to take a tour of Hogwarts Castle!
Starting with a few talking portraits (the way they cured the screens really does make them look like paintings! It’s fantastic!) and various decorative pieces that I recognized from the movies easily (the Mirror of Erised, the unicorn tapestry, etc.), you go through a few rooms before being greeted by Professor Dumbledore himself in his office (make sure to look for the Pensieve!). Then, you meet up with Harry, Ron, and Hermione in the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom and finally learn what the ride is actually going to be about. Spoilers stop here, so if you’re curious for more you’ll just have to go to Orlando and find out yourself! 😀
After disembarking from the ride, retrieving our things, and edging our way back out of Filch’s Emporium for Confiscated Goods (a.k.a. the ride’s gift shop), we headed down to the Three Broomsticks to let my mom’s stomach settle and refresh ourselves. They serve traditional British pub food there, unshockingly, so we got a couple plates of fish & chips to share. It was also here that I had my first (but not last!) taste of frozen butterbeer. Otherwise known as God’s gift to sugar, the aftereffects of which must be a parent’s worst nightmare, hahaha.
It tasted like a vanilla and butterscotch milkshake, and was so, so, SO delicious. I cannot wait to try to recreate this at home… with alcohol, natch. I’m thinking something like cream soda, butterscotch liquor, and a blender. Can you blend carbonated soda with ice? Guess we’re going to find out! And on that ominous note, I think we’ve covered enough ground today. Are you still with me? Haven’t jumped ship quite yet? Still to come: Ollivander’s and choosing my wand, Hagrid’s hut and the Flight of the Hippogriff, and many, MANY galleons’ worth of swag!
To be continued…