It’s throwback travel time! Today I’m going to share the time I visited the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in a desperate attempt to escape from Boston’s worst winter ever.
Alternate Post Title: Someone Built My Childhood Dreams and Charged Me $100 to See It
Date: February 2015, in the throws of a post- apocalyptic, wintry dungeon in Boston.
Location: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is located at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida. There are two parks: Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. Time and money only allowed for one so we chose Hogsmeade because it has Hogwarts.
Bitterness Level: As what I unironically refer to as a first-generation Harry Potter fan, I used to make my own Hogwarts’ class schedules in Windows 98. There was no memorabilia to buy and I had to wait three years for the fifth book to come out. Three years! Kids these days don’t have to spend 1,095 days worrying about Ron’s future. Bitterness: 8/10
Alas, the year was 2015, I made my fictional class schedules in at least Windows 7, and I too could visit Hogwarts. I solemnly swear I am up to no good; it’s on to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter!
I had long awaited my letter of admittance to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry so I was very excited to attend. We found out the night before we went that they don’t actually sort people into houses in the park, but because three grown, adult women must be sorted we logged on to Pottermore the night before.
After a brief survey I was sorted into Slytherin. I scoffed at first, but then they emailed me had an owl deliver an acceptance letter and I began to change.
From the acceptance letter:
“Because you know what Salazar Slytherin looked for in his chosen students? The seeds of greatness. You’ve been chosen by this house because you’ve got the potential to be great”
Oh Salazar, you sure know how to flatter a girls ego! The Slytherin welcome letter also included a number of snarky insults to the other houses, so I knew I was in the right place. I was now excited to be in Slytherin. Though it’s true I may have lied a bit on my questionnaire to avoid any chance of being put in Hufflepuff (a very Slytherin thing to do), the acceptance letter informed me of my greatness and I was ready to join. I assume this is exactly how fascism spreads.
The day of our visit we departed early. After parking in the Spiderman lot we heard a voice booming into the parking lot “no water, no snacks allowed into the park.” Assuming nutrient dense, fairly priced sustenance would not be widely available once inside, I ducked behind the car and hid three Clif bars in my bra to get past security (so Slytherin). By 9 a.m. we had stumbled into a magical wizarding village.
We started out by taking a photo with the Hogwarts Express and quickly went uphill to Hogwarts. I warned my cousin (Gryffindor) and her friend (Ravenclaw) that lots of photos would be required and I apologized in advance (so Hufflepuff, ugh!). We wound our way up to the castle and I GOT TO GO TO HOGWARTS! You get a childhood dream! You get a childhood dream! You. All. Get. Childhood. Dreams!
About two steps inside my cousin inquired seriously if the canisters holding the House Points were the Hogwarts’ cereal bar. Moving forward the portraits on the wall spoke to each other, the fat lady guarded the door, and there was a Pensieve.
The line then winds through some classrooms where a hologram Harry, Ron and Hermione debate Nietzsche’s will to power (I think). This is followed by Dumbledore’s office where a hologram Dumbledore addresses the crowd. It was then a child behind me exclaimed in an English accent “I forget that man’s name.” I turned slowly and requested he be removed from the line.
“He doesn’t even go here!” I cried.
Round the corner was Hogwarts’ most handsome, sentient clothing article–the Sorting Hat. He marks the entrance to the ride and as his animatronic wiles faded in the distance we hopped on. The ride was entertaining and involved a lot more movement than I realized. You get to play Quidditch, free yourself from the clutches of the Whomping Willow and escape a dragon.
It was also scarier than I thought and I genuinely shouted when the spiders and Dementors came. Lacking my wand to cast a Patronus charm I just whipped my iPhone 5 at them and it worked just the same. In a true American addition to Hogwarts, we exited through the Gift Shop.
Right after, my cousin wanted to move on to Flight of the Hippogriff, but I needed a new wand for school (read: to recover from ride induced motion sickness) so I suggested Ollivanders instead. We shuffled into the little shop where robed, young, minimum wage Hogwarts students told us where to stand.
Ollivander introduces himself and announces he is going to select a special wizard. The child inside me hopes it’s me; the 27 year-old knows no one wants to see anyone over the age of 12 casting spells. A small boy is chosen and his first few spells malfunction, but finally he is presented with the Elder Wand and it’s a perfect fit! With one wave the boy successfully moves a ladder across the room. Ollivander wraps the wand and presents it to the little wizard and we are ushered into another shop. The little wizard beams at his parents and presents his wand at the counter thinking it will be his to take home.
That will be $47.99
Excuse me? Says the boys clearly muggle father.
Robes and Other Childhood Goods Brought to Life
I walk into the next room before the exchange finishes, where I’m greeted by the Monster Book of Monsters. And then I see them, the robes! Having drank the Kool-Aid I don a Slytherin Robe and make my cousin take a socially unacceptable amount of photos. She thinks it’s ironically for Facebook and not me just shopping for school.
The detail of all the products in the store are a childhood dream come true and a level of craftsmanship I never could have attained making a paper mache wand as a child. Such is the power of nostalgia, within 30 seconds I’m debating buying the The Golden Snitch. $18.99 is not an unreasonable amount of money to spend for the Golden Snitch right?
Surely this small, winged golden ball will fit functionally into my life. Or maybe it will make a good present? Instead of the 2lb’s of whey protein my brother wants for his birthday he’d probably like this…
In a moment of clarity and personal triumph, I decide against it. Breaking with my new found house and honoring 11 year old Rachel, I settle for a Gryffindor Quidditch Shirt with Potter on the back (Weasley was unavailable). I force myself out of the store before I begin justifying why I should buy a wand.
To take a brief respite from the action, we get in line for Butterbeer. My cousin inquires whether it has alcohol (it doesn’t) I inquire how much the commemorative mug is ($13.99). We each get a frozen Butterbeer. For authenticity they add special foam at the top to make it creamy. Since I have a weakness for both frozen sugary things and fictional wizarding accoutrements, I thought it was delicious.
After my first illicit Clif bar and approximately 16 ounces of sugary oblivion, I go the bathroom to wash my commemorative mug and visit with Moaning Myrtle. I accidentally leave the bag with my Quidditch shirt in the bathroom stall and a kind stranger runs out to return it to me– Hufflepuffs do have a purpose!
Getting Acquainted with Buckbeak
Refreshed and reunited with my goods we make our way to the roller coaster Flight of the Hippogriff. While waiting in line we pass Hagrid’s cabin, complete with Fang barking. Across from the cabin is a large, animatronic Buckbeak. I take 189 photos and one snap chat. The man behind us exclaims “look at that big bird!” and I start to laugh wondering why anyone would come here if they didn’t know anything about Harry Potter. Do they just enjoy loud, crowded places with thousands of specific references that mean nothing to them?
We board the ride, which is a rather tame roller coaster. While exiting I have the brief, but completely serious thought that it was probably less scary than when Harry actually rode Buckbeak.
We move on to visit more shops. Hogsmeade has a lot of detailed shop windows and even one where people (hopefully kids, but I’m not judging ) who bought wands can practice casting spells. It is fun to see a new generation joyfully wear robes in public without a shred of irony.
“I don’t want kids, but I sort of want kids just so I can get them robes and we can come here” I muse
“I’ll let you borrow my future kids for the day” my cousin responds, saving my future unwanted children from a miserable existence.
We pass a full-scale, functioning The Three Broomsticks where there is a line of people waiting to dine. I walk in quickly to peek at the rustic décor, but we opt not to wait.
Next we head to the most famous shop after Ollivanders: Honeydukes!
All the candies from the book are brought to life at above average prices. My cousin buys some fudge and I briefly consider getting a cauldron cake because that’s what Ron would do (W.W.R.D.), but the 240 grams of sugar still coursing through my body from the Butterbeer keep me from buying more. The man behind the counter informs my cousin in a delightful southern accent that “he just loves being a wizard here.” My friend buys chocolate frogs, we say farewell to the southern wizard and exit.
Outside there is one more ride (Dragon Challenge), but it was too intense for us and we didn’t buy tickets to Diagon Alley, so it’s time to say farewell. I take a brief moment to soak in Hogwarts and Hogsmeade one last time and bid adieu. Mischief Managed!