Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Going the Whole Hog! - Part One

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
I absolutely love the Harry Potter books and movies.  They capture all the wondrous things I dreamed about having and doing as a child, and still dream about as an adult, from the bountiful feasts to the castle looming over the loch, from the possessing of magical powers to the partaking in amazing adventures.  So it won't surprise you that ever since hearing about Universal's new Wizarding World of Harry Potter (WWHP) theme park, I started plotting ways to get there. 

Our New Pet Alligator

The Only Way to Travel
This spring, my husband and I decided to take the leap and travel during April spring vacation.  The kids were old enough to lug their own suitcase and also past that age where they're getting sick every two weeks.  Plus, major snowstorms were pretty rare at this time of year (though this year it appears we got lucky, seeing as how long winter has been hanging on).  Lucky for us, we had free room and board while staying in Florida. My husband's mother (an excellent cook) and her husband own a cute little bungalow about an hour from Orlando, located in a 55+ retirement community.  This pleasantly quiet community offers several amenities, all within walking distance.  There's a golf course (of course), a swimming pool, golf carts for zipping around on (they drive them EVERYwhere, even to the Wal-mart next door, and they are awesome), sand cranes with their babies tagging along behind, horseshoes and shuffleboard, Spanish moss, palm trees, and baby alligators.  I'm starting to look forward to retirement - we had a great time living the lifestyle of the no-longer employed - relaxed, yet still quite active, with lots to see and do.  Sweet.

Sand Crane and Fuzzy Babies
How I Love My Spanish Moss!
As you might already know, Florida in April can be hot.  When we arrived it was in the high 80s.  But we came prepared for the heat.  Being that New Hampshire was in the high 30s when we left it, we were dressed in pants and jackets (airplane temps are hard to was cold on the way there, but almost stifling on the way back).  In our carry-on suitcases (the only way to fly - no waiting for luggage), I packed sandals and shorts on top, with easy access.  We changed in the airport and headed outside to get our rental car.  Boy was it hot outside!  And boy did that heat feel great after a long winter freezing our buns off.

Palm Tree

Snow in Florida?
Personally I'm not a hot-weather person (I was born in Minnesota and have a healthy dose of Norwegian ancestry cooling my blood), but with each year I pass on this planet, I crave the heat more and more.  That being said, when we visited WWHP on Friday (the day after we arrived), we were a bit stunned by the relentless sun and heat.  Seeing the snow-covered roofs actually helped a little and the fast rides, plus drinking Butterbeer, cooled us off, too.  I actually didn't really like the Butterbeer all that much - the first couple sips were okay, but after that, the taste was too rich for my wimpy taste buds (it tasted like a buttery cream soda to me).  But I liked the look with lots of frothy cream on top, which gave everyone snazzy white mustaches.  We bought the plastic mugs (around $10), which make nice souvenirs and can be filled with lemonade or tea for 85 cents at the Three Broomsticks or Hog's Head Pub.  My husband and two of our boys liked the Butterbeer a LOT so I suggest you give it a try.  Who knows?  You might become a Butterbeer addict.

When we first arrived at the park at about 8:15 (it opens at 8:00), we found ourselves surrounded by a lot of cars all heading in the same direction.  That being said, it was relatively easy to find our way around and not as stressful as I thought it would be - kudos to Universal.  We paid our $15 (ouch) for parking and were then guided to a spot to park our car (be sure to remember what area you're parked in...we were in the Dr. Suess section).  Upon first arrival (after having our bags checked for contraband food and non-H20 beverages), we got confused about how to purchase tickets.  We eventually figured it out, shelled out a whole lotta dough for our tickets (we had one freebie because my husband's mom worked at Universal - it was a nice savings), then proceeded to the spot where they check your ticket (which is where we headed first and were told with 'aren't the newbies cute?' smiles, that we had screwed up).

Entrance to Hogsmeade and Butterbeer Cart
After lots of walking, we finally arrived at the entrance to Hogsmeade.  Hurray!  It was a grand moment for me.  However, the place was packed and really bustling so we quickly split into two
groups to ride the roller coasters.  Unfortunately, the sign that read 20 minutes for one of the roller coasters was being changed to 35 minutes as we approached.  I went with my two oldest boys to ride the Dragon Challenge, a roller coaster ride where you nearly collide with the other 'dragon' flying around at the same time.  As a kid I could ride any roller coaster without any effect beyond joyous abandon.  This time I felt nauseous and had trouble keeping my eyes open, so I missed the near-collision part.  I also shrieked a lot, which is totally unlike me.  Ah, well.  Maybe next time I'll be able to stare death in the face.  While standing in line, we worried that we needed to present our tickets for each ride (you don't), but we eventually relaxed when we didn't see anyone else with tickets in hand (my husband had the backpack with everything, including tickets, in it - backpacks are good to have, btw - we stowed a bottle of water and sunscreen, along with wallets and the camera).  We were in shade for a majority of the 30-minute wait (actually it was like being in the underground tunnels of a castle), so that was nice.  My husband and youngest son, who was too short for the DC, rode the Flight of the Hippogriff (be sure to check the website for height requirements for ALL the rides).  I didn't get to ride that one, but next time I plan to give it a go.  It sounds quite fun.  Both of them liked it, though my husband thought it was a bit scary...for him.  The six-year-old was fine.

Hagrid's Hut
I'll say this before I go on: the lines for EVERYTHING were really long (and that includes the shops).  Our shortest wait was around 40 minutes.  At one time, the wait time for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey was 150 minutes (they do everything in minutes to fool you into thinking you won't be waiting forever).  And a lot of time we were in the sun while standing in line.  Good thing we wore baseball caps and brought along sunscreen.

Lockhart Entertains Us
After the dragon and hippogriff rides, we waffled around for a bit before deciding to stand in line to pick out a magic wand in Ollivander's Wand Shop (that's after we finally figured out where to stand).  While waiting in that line with the boys, my husband stood in the Butterbeer line to get our Butterbeer.  The set-up worked out quite well.  While waiting, we viewed the Quidditch box and watched Gilderoy Lockhart.  We even got to see the Snitch!

The Quidditch Box

The Snitch Flying Through the Sky

Ollivander's Wand Shop
When we finally entered the shop, we discovered a dark and mysterious room filled from floor to ceiling with boxes of wands.  The proprietor of the shop greeted the group (in a wonderful English accent, of course), then selected a volunteer, who happened to be my oldest son. This was a great moment for him and for all of us.  I was so thrilled I forgot to take pictures, which is probably just as well since I got to enjoy the moment without worrying about lighting and focusing and all the stuff that goes wrong when you're in a hurry.  The skit was quite funny and filled with special effects and my son literally had his moment in the spotlight when the 'right' wand was selected for him.  He hammed it up and did me proud.  Very fun.  Afterwards we shuffled (herded might be a better term, though they were nice about it) into the wand shop, which is connected to Dervish and Banges, and each of our sons picked out a wand.  After much perusal, each selected a different one (phew).  While we were looking, one kid told us that he picked Voldemort's wand because it looked the coolest, not because he supported evil.  I could relate.  We both agreed that evil people generally have all the best stuff and Voldemort was no exception, though personally I'd think he should have worked on getting a nose first. 

While buying the wands, our clerk wondered if she could fit the wand boxes into the tiny plastic bag used to hold my postcard (I had to get at least one memento of my own).  A spell was suggested, whereby the other clerk reminded her that 'use of magic' in front of Muggles was forbidden.  I, of course, told them not to make assumptions about our Muggles status.  Corny, yes, but most definitely fun.  The crowd was all pretty much like-minded - ready to enjoy the fantastical world of make-believe and that, to me, was just brilliant.

Our visit to Ollivanders finished up our morning of fun and adventure.  In Part Two I'll talk about dining at The Three Broomsticks, our visit to Honeydukes, and our tour of Hogwarts, including the ride, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, the absolute best part of the whole day!

Until we meet again...
Come Explore Anaedor!

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