Have you ever read a book that had a big impact on your life? I’m sure everyone can think of at least one book that has influenced them at some point or another. Books have that sort of power. When I was growing up, I loved to read. I read any chance I had, and I always had a stack of books from the library that cluttered a corner of my room. Picturing the books makes me smile now. At some point in my life, reading for fun just became too much of a luxury. Life got too busy, and I didn’t make time for it. I credit the Harry Potter books for rescuing me, they reminded me of how important it is to never, ever give up reading for enjoyment.
The first Harry Potter book, the Sorcerer’s Stone came out in 1998 when I was in grad school and, honestly, I really could have cared less about some kid’s book. I was at my wits end studying for my qualifying exam and trying to figure out how the heck I was going to write an entire dissertation on top of finishing the research I still needed to be able to write the darn thing. I should also mention that I was planning my wedding on the tightest grad student budget ever. I literally had used every last brain cell (ok, that’s not biologically possible, but let me have this one 🙂 ), and it was hands down the most stressful time in my life.
I can’t even remember how I came across Harry Potter’s the Sorcerer’s Stone during this time, I must have borrowed it from someone (I’m sure I wouldn’t have spent any money on non-wedding items), but I do remember reading it as I sat in the waiting room of my optometrist’s office. I was hooked right from the beginning! It was the escape that I so desparately needed. It transported me to a place that reminded me that no matter what life throws at you, life will work itself out if you let it. I know, it’s a children’s book, but it was precisely that light hearted, not-so-serious nature of the book that I craved. I loved that I needed all of my imagination to immerse myself in the story and the characters. So for the 15 minutes a night that I allowed myself, I was completely engrossed and happy to be far away from life’s ‘to do’ list. One by one, the stresses of grad school were checked off and somehow my hubby and I managed to pull off a wedding day that we will always treasure. People cope with stresses in their lives differently, and for me the Harry Potter books have been invaluable.
I’ve thoroughly loved reading each of the books in the series and when I read the last sentence of the very last book, I mourned. The finality of it all made it feel like I lost a dear friend that’s been with me and helped me through much of my adult life. My hubby was a little late discovering the Harry Potter books, but when he finally did, he read through them voraciously. The movies added another dimension and even though my imagination didn’t match at times with the movie imagery, it was still great fun to see something on screen that was so familiar. Of course, we had a blast introducing my daughter to the world of Harry Potter. First, we read to her and then when she was old enough she read them on her own. She too fell in love with the books, and you didn’t hear it from me, but there were a couple of years a certain little girl dressed up as a Gryffindor student for Halloween. If you hadn’t gotten the gist already, we are big Harry Potter fans!
When we heard about the opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Studios in Orlando, we were beyond excited! Unfortunately, it was clear on the other side of the United States, which meant we had to pay for airfare, rental car, hotel and those exhorbitant amusement park fees. Let me just say up front, it was worth every penny we spent on this trip. If you are a fan of the Harry Potter books, then you will be absolutely amazed at this place. We made the trip in September of 2013. Our good friends, who were also big Harry Potter fans, decided to join us and were kind enough to let us stay with them in their time-share. So, not having to pay for a place to stay was a huge money saver. Although we enjoyed other activities in Florida, the visit to the Wizarding World was by far the highlight.
Universal Studios, Wizarding World of Harry Potter 2013
The much anticipated day finally arrived! We planned on getting to the park when it opened, so we left the condo to get to the park a little bit before the park opened. If you park in their parking structure, there is quite a walk before you get to the entrance of the park. Then there is another walk to get to the back of the park where the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is located. So, don’t do what we did, instead leave ample time for parking and walking. 🙂 Also, it makes things much easier/faster if you purchase your tickets on-line, one less line to wait in.
Walking into the Wizarding World took our breath away. Everything was so new, and yet familiar. We recognized so many things from the books that were right before our very eyes! We were giddy, excited, and quite frankly in-awe. I know we weren’t the only ones, as the same expressions of delight were on everyone’s faces as they stepped into Hogsmeade. They say that even people who haven’t read the books (or even the movies) will enjoy this, but I think that you will get so much more from your visit if you’ve read the books. Part of the excitement is recognizing all the items, characters, buildings, etc…
The Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride is their main attraction. The ride itself is thrilling and truly a feat of modern technology, but the walk through Hogwarts School to get to the ride is just as interesting. The first time we walked through, I almost (almost!) wished there was a line so that we could take our time and look at everything. This gave us an excuse to go on this ride several times.
I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who wants to go, so I’ve only included a few pictures of the walk through Hogwarts to get to the ride. You’ll see the Defense Against the Dark Arts Classroom, the Gryffindor Common Room, Professor Dumbledore’s Office as well as a number of items that you will for sure recognize as you make your way to the ride loading area.
After “testing” the ride a number of times, we can confidently say that the ride is worthy of its main attraction status. The ride which is described as a motion simulation ride can be intense at times, and I may or may not have closed my eyes for a second when the dementors came around. The one thing that was a little bit annoying was that you have to put all of your things in one of their lockers (with a time limit), which are found in a small area before you can be allowed to enter into the walk through Hogwarts. Then after the ride you have to make your way back into that small area and retrieve your stuff. When it gets crowded, it’s insane and we opted to have one person just watch all our stuff since the line went pretty fast (remember, we went in September when school had already started for most families).
Ollivander’s Wand Shop (show)
The Ollivander Wand Shop show was interactive with a limited number of people allowed to enter into the wand shop for each show. Ollivander picked one lucky audience member and helped them find the wand that was right for them. Robotics, lights, and sound effects made this truly entertaining, worthy of the wait.
We ate lunch at the Three Broomsticks, and again the attention to detail impressed us both with the building and the food. We split The Great Feast among our two families and had our fill. Don’t forget the frozen butter beer to round out the experience. Now, if only Harry, Ron and Hermione sat with us.
There are many other rides (like the Dragon Challenge roller coaster!), stores and shows that kept us busy at Hogsmeade. We spent the majority of our day here, but the park ticket also gets you access to other parts of the park, which you don’t want to miss. Universal Studios is divided into two parks, Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure (Wizarding World is located here), both parks require a ticket. Since we’re not from Florida we didn’t account for the afternoon thunderstorms that closed down all the outdoor rides, otherwise we would have planned differently. We spent two days, one at each park and it was just the right amount of time for us (only a tad exhausted).
2015 Return trip to Universal Studios
When we visited Hogsmeade in 2013 we noticed that a large area was under construction… for Diagon Alley! Soooo, we just had to return again when Diagon Alley opened. This time we returned during Spring Break in April and stayed at Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort. The benefit of staying at one of Universal’s hotels is that they allow you to enter into the park one hour before it opens. They also have complimentary shuttles (but you still have to walk a long way). Lazy rivers, swimming pools, a beach, water slides and many activities keep everyone happy. If we had to do it over again, I would allow more time to enjoy the hotel, we barely had time to try out the lazy river.
We arrived at Universal Studios an hour before the park officially opened (only the Island of Adventure entrance was open for early admission) and made our way to Hogsmeade to ride the Hogwart’s Express to Diagon Alley. It felt special to be in the park early, but also a little rushed because our one hour was ticking down fast. Here’s something I didn’t like: if you want to go on the Hogwart’s Express you have to have tickets for both parks. We really only planned on buying a ticket to see Diagon Alley in the Universal Studios side, but since we wanted to ride on the Hogwart’s Express we had to buy a ticket for Island of Adventures as well.
Once we disembarked from the train, we exited King’s Cross Station and found the “magical” brick wall to Diagon Alley. We tentatively entered not knowing what we’d find. Wow, and then some! Our first goal was to get on the Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts ride before it got crowded. I think most people who had early entry had the same thought. The line went quickly though, and in no time we were on the ride. Again, there is so much to see (and recognize!) before you get on the ride.
The ride was another amazing motion simulator ride. Those people who were involved in creating the Wizarding World were so lucky! They had the project of a lifetime. There was so much to see and so many areas to explore in Diagon Alley. Our second trip was in April so the Spring Break crowd soon filled Diagon Alley by 10 am. I’m allergic to crowds (scientifically proven), but I was in such a good mood and enthralled with the place that it didn’t bother me like usual.
We had a “Traditional Breakfast” at the Leaky Cauldron, and although the food was good, it was more about the dining experience.
There is so much more in Diagon Alley that I purposely didn’t show because part of the fun is discovering it on your own. The books, the movies and now the Wizarding World adds so much to the Harry Potter experience. The books will always have a special place in my heart, but the Wizarding World sure was a fun way to be fully immersed and see the pages of the books come to life.