Tag Archives: Orlando

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

If you read my previous post, you’ll know exactly how much of a Harry Potter fan I am. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that I was one of those children who was bitterly disappointed that I never received a Hogwarts letter in the mail. And I was more than ecstatic when plans for a Harry Potter theme park were unveiled and it seemed as though I might have a chance to experience a small part of the Hogwarts magic after all.

It’s official title is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and it is one of the many “lands” in Universal Studios. It’s smaller than you would expect, and though you can spend all your time there like true die-hard fans (us) you can easily see the rest of the park as well.

The day we visited, like most days in Orlando, dawned hot, and when we first saw the snow-capped spires of the Hogwarts castle rise over Universal Studios, it could have been laughable. But I wasn’t laughing. And nor was Cecilia. We were gazing in awe, and if Disney World had made us children again, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter was making us eleven years old, wishing desperately for that envelope with emerald ink.

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Some people will tell you that the Wizarding World of Harry Potter isn’t that great. It’s mostly old rides revamped with a Harry Potter theme, and the shops are cute but  overly crowded. You have to wait ages in line to get into anything, and did we mention the heat?

But we were not there to complain. We’d come a long way and it was going to take a lot to put us in a bad mood. Everything from the Hogwarts Express at the entrance to the talking portraits in the castle gave us pause, and yet another thrill of excitement. We had butterbeer outside the Three Broomsticks, and we looked at broomsticks in the windows of Hogsmeade. We believed in the magic in Ollivander’s, and we pored over every item for sale in Zonko’s.

The highlight was the ride “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey” which is a simulator ride that to get to you have to walk through the corridors of Hogwarts. That in itself was cause for wonder, as we saw the Greenhouses and Dumbledore’s office, and met Harry, Ron, and Hermione. The ride itself is a simulated flight. And there is nothing more thrilling than feeling as if you’re flying over Hogwarts. Not even when we came quite literally face to face with a giant spider was my mood ruined (okay, perhaps a tad).

We worked out how to use the shortcut line, and hence managed to fly over Hogwarts a total of five times. Dipping and weaving through the towers, zooming over the Quidditch Pitch, and hurtling past the Whomping Willow. Had it not been getting late in the day, I think we would have gone a few times more.

It was a day of pretending. We bought plenty of souvenirs, and ate lunch in the Hog’s Head, and watched the Hogwarts choir. But it was only when we were hurrying through the castle for the last time, with no one else around, calling to each other in terrible British accents, that I felt for a moment that it might be real.

And that glimpse of that other world made it all worth while.


The Most Magical Place on Earth

A good friend of mine convinced me that I couldn’t very well go to Orlando without going to Walt Disney World. I was making the stop purely because of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, like any other normal person. But hell, I thought, Disney might be kind of fun. I’ve been to Disneyland Paris, so I thought I knew what I was in for. I certainly came prepared: I’d photocopied sections from a guidebook that gave instructions on how to avoid queues,  I was wearing my most comfortable shoes, and we had plenty of water. I was lucky enough to have the company of the lovely Cecilia, who, although she tends to bring out my more childlike side, can’t entirely account for the transformation that occurred that morning.

We chose to visit Magic Kingdom, which is the most Disney-fied of the parks, and to get to it, you take a special Disney ferry. Somewhere on that ride across the water, possibly when we saw the spires of the Disney castle rising up in the distance, I became about eight years old, and everything else that day seemed filled with the kind of joy you only experience as a child.

There it is in all its glory.

We were as excited as the kids around us when they opened the park, and we were gazing around as wide-eyed as any child in a stroller when we walked down Main Street. We rode Space Mountain, and the Winnie the Pooh ride, and got just as much enjoyment out of both (and thanks to our guide, I don’t think we waited any longer than 10 minutes for a ride all day). We were singing “It’s a Small World” for pretty much the whole day, and we accosted a stranger so that they could take the obligatory photo of us in front of the Disney castle. But I think the height of our childish enthusiasm was reached when we watched the parade.

And now I’m remembering how hot I was. And how hot they must have been.

I was not brought up on Disney. I didn’t have any Princess dresses, or own any of the films on VHS. I didn’t have a favourite Disney princess until we performed “Beauty and the Beast” in my last year of high school. And yet, there I was, clutching Cecilia’s hand in excitement as each float went past us. We were right in the front and got handshakes from many of the characters walking by. We laughed for ages over Cinderella’s stepsisters greeting people with “Pleased to meet me!” and were practically squealing when Mary Poppins and Bert rode by.

Belle. AKA: My favourite.

I don’t know what it was that gave us such delight in seeing people dressed up as cartoon characters (and it carried through to when we had breakfast with Minnie Mouse). I guess I’ll just have to put it down to the magic of Disney.