Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Florida: Harry Potter Land!

I love Harry Potter.

While this is occasionally a very heated topic, and it's something that I've been thinking about a lot lately.
It has been my personal experience that the only people who don't appreciate the Harry Potter series are those who have never read it.
I personally think that imagination and a love of reading are some of the most valuable attributes in a child.
For me, I've always loved fiction, and Harry Potter was the first young adult series that I pursued on my own.
I grew up with a father who loved to spin creative stories that took my brothers and I on daring adventures, with magic and mystical creatures and faraway kingdoms where we could be the heroes.
Harry Potter built on that already-developed desire to read, and was one of the most influential series in my young adult life.

J.K. Rowling crafted a series that made millions of children fall in love with books.
I think a lot of the time, people who speak out really strongly against Harry Potter are actually seeking to define literature and what it means, and how it can affect you. And how we, as Christians, should respond to it.
I don't think anyone can honestly say that the presence of magic in any literature is evil. That's just silly. Any parent that is seeking to protect their child should read what their child is reading -- and have healthy discussions about it. That doesn't mean you should never have your child read anything "unrealistic" or magical, or that fantasy or fiction in itself is evil.

For me, Harry Potter was a comprehensive story that went a lot deeper than any "magic" could.
These books aren't just about a wizard, or magic. They're about love, sorrow, growth, sacrifice, friendship and courage in even the darkest of times.

They contain fundamental adolescent struggles, stages of love and friendship, struggles of morality and the battle of good vs. evil.

For me, this was an incredibly (even spiritually) uplifting series.
I would definitely say I richly profited from reading those books.

I mean, the touch of evil is buffeted from the main character because of the innate love he carries within him from the sacrifice his mother gave when she died protecting him.
Good conquers evil.
Even the young can make a monumental difference.
Working together, the battle can be won.
Courage, love, intelligence and strength outweigh the odds.
Don't see how that is an evil book.

All of that to say, I don't mind if you don't like the series. Or even if you haven't read them. And if you disagree with me, that's fine too. 
But you may want to go read another post for a while. 

Because this was me, when we went to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Studios last month.

If you've read the other Florida posts, you know that we had already spent 2 days around Disneyworld, our feet were killing us, and we were heading to Universal Studios for our last day in Florida.

For our last night, we were staying in a fancy Universal hotel so that we could get special hotel-guest park passes that would allow us to skip all the lines in Universal!
So early that Sunday morning (August 5th) we headed out to Universal Studios to drop off our luggage at our new hotel, get our special passes, and head over to the park!
The passes also allowed us to get into the park a full hour before regular guests. Bonus!

The hotel was so nice!
We arrived around 6:30am to check in, and it was still misty outside. They even had an early morning "runner's station" outside with little towels and water bottles. 

 At the center of the lobby was this gorgeous patio.

We weren't there for very long, and were briefly saddened that we couldn't spend more than one night there. They had a luggage station where they could hold our luggage until our room was ready that afternoon. 
With that taken care of, and our fancy passes in hand, we headed to the park!
It was just a trail away, within walking distance to our hotel. 

We wound through the various other parks, including Dr. Seuss land and a few other markets.

Then we saw our destination in the distance!

We were extremely excited.

We were planning on going straight to the Harry Potter section of the park, to take as much advantage of the early access as we could. Then we'd maybe check out the rest of the park later in the day. 
We were extremely excited.

If you really haven't ever read the books, then ignore some of the signs, comments, symbols, and features that these pictures will offer. 

The first item on the agenda was to have Butterbeer.
In the series, Butterbeer is a frothy, buttery drink favored by many of the younger characters.
It has a warming effect, whether it is served hot or cold.
In the park, it is served cold. And it is oh-so-delicious.

Pumpkin Juice!

It was almost too much for me to handle.
It was extremely delicious. It is comparable to a butterscotch-flavored soda, very creamy and sweet. They top it with a frothy butterscotch cream.
Later, I found out that ordering it frozen was ten times the delight.

Afterwards, we went straight to the main ride.
The castle!

The ride is actually located inside the infamous Hogwarts castle.
There are lockers at the front where you place your things, and then you get in line.
The line actually goes through the castle as you walk, you're seeing and experiencing things straight from the books.
You walk by the door that leads to the Potions Classroom...

You pass in front of the giant eagle that leads to Dumbledore's office...

And many other fabulous features.
Including the Mirror of Erised, the vials of House Points, the Sorting Hat, the Fat Lady portrait, the hallway of talking portraits, the Herbology greenhouse/classroom, the DADA classroom, Gryffindor tower, Dumbledore's actual office, etc.!
The entire line (except for the Herbology classroom, which was outside) was very dark, winding through dark tunnels of the castle. (And we weren't actually allowed to bring a real camera, these were all taken on my iPhone). But some of the things we saw were so fun!

Mirror of Erised
House Points
The Sorting Hat
The Hallways of Talking Portraits

 The portraits were actually conversing, which was really entertaining!

Herbology Greenhouse!

See the budding Mandrakes?
One of the DADA class windows.
In the DADA classroom, the three main characters Harry, Hermione and Ron appear on a tower platform from underneath Harry's Invisibility Cloak to talk to you. (They're very impressive holograms).
At one point, Ron accidentally waves his wand and causes it to "snow" (snow-like bubbles start to fall from the ceiling!). Hermione swiftly corrects his error.
Since we rode the ride 3 or 4 times throughout the day, this particular part changed almost every time. Their dialogue was always different, and one of the other times, Ron caused it to thunder and storm outside the windows.

The ride was so much fun, and was actually pretty intense!
You come face-to-face with giant spiders and Dementors, and I screamed every time.
A lot of the ride is in front of a large screen (like Soaring Over California, in Disneyland) which is how you fly over the Hogwarts grounds, following Ron and Harry on broomsticks.
But then randomly it transfers you into moving around the actual sets made within the castle, and you're inches away from Dementors reaching out to you, spiders spitting poison (water) into your face, and even a dragon breathing fire (warm puffs of air) on you.
It was legit.

Once you're finished with the ride, the exit leads you right into "Filch's Emporium of Confiscated Goods". 
We found all kinds of goodies!

We were kind of having a blast.
We bought a Christmas ornament here, a Gryffindor insignia ornament.

Right outside, we saw our first glimpse of the infamous magic wands, displayed at a cart vendor.

We decided to hurry to another ride, since our time in an un-crowded park was swiftly deteriorating.
We went right next door to the little mini-coaster themed after the character Hagrid and the Hippogriff, Buckbeak.

The view of the castle, from the Hippogriff roller-coaster.
Hagrid's Hut, from the roller-coaster.
Swooshing by the castle on the mini roller-coaster.
The ride was more for little ones, so we decided not to ride it again...especially since the line was already at an hour wait, by the time we got off of it.

The other ride in the park (which we didn't ride until much later) is the "Dragon Challenge" roller-coaster.
The line to the ride is a pretty long trek up the mountain, that overlooks some of Hogsmeade. You see things like this:

Once you've reached the actual ride, you come to this turret.

Themed after the famous Tri-Wizard Championship from the 4th book, you enter a striped tent as if you're about to face the dragon yourself.
If you have fancy passes like us, you head straight from the tent to a staircase that leads into the actual roller-coaster line. You get to either choose the Blue Dragon, or the Red Dragon.
The coasters are totally different, so we wanted to try both!
When you're waiting in your row, the canvas-tent ceiling is constantly moving and dragon-shadows are flying against it.

We rode this many times. :)

This park was so creative.
The way they positioned and slanted everything made it look so much larger than it actually was.
We were constantly amazed by the brilliant construction of everything.
The Harry Potter portion of the Islands of Adventure is only 20 acres. In terms of theme-parks, that's extremely small. There's not much to it.
Hopefully they'll be expanding it in the future (and since they're building one in California, they might be able to incorporate a bigger space there) so they can add even more.
But for now, it's great.

The park was already beginning to get packed. 
I read an article saying that since the HP land has opened at Universal, the overall park attendance has grown over 60 PERCENT.
And I believe it.

With the park filling up, we weren't sure what we wanted to do next.

Harry Potter Snowman. :)
 We decided to browse the shops, and became immediately distracted by The Three Broomsticks.

My favorite character from the books was waving from a poster to the right.

If you want to, you can ask or call your hotel to arrange reservations to eat lunch or dinner at the infamous Hogsmeade Inn.
Since it was breakfast time, we decided to walk right in!

Once again, the cavernous ceilings and staircases leading to nowhere gave the illusion of a much bigger space.
There were so many creative touches.
The appearance of the "upstairs" was perfected with doors and ledges that supposedly led to the Inn's many bedrooms. There were often shadows displayed on the upstairs walls, whispered conversations, and the sounds of doors opening and shutting. 

On this particular fireplace wall, there were often shadows of owls flying by and dropping mail.

We were seated in this little corner with the awesome fireplace. It was uncrowded and tucked out of view from most of the restaurant, with a great view of the fun upstairs antics.
It was really nice! We took our time, enjoying our butterbeer, coffee, and pumpkin juice.
The pumpkin juice was like a really delicious spiced cider juice.

Breakfast was one of the highlights of our day.

Right next door (it was actually attached, as part of the same building) was the Hog's Head Pub.

The Hog's Head hanging behind the counter periodically grunted and looked around.
Pretty fantastic.
While the Hog's Head in the books is considered to be a more dark, dingy, more dangerous/adult-friendly atmosphere, this was one of the best places to go to escape the crowds.
It's cool and hardly ever busy.
They do offer a few alcoholic beverages, but they also serve Butterbeer! The lines for Butterbeer at the outdoor carts can wrap around for miles. It's much better to go inside the Hog's Head, and enjoy it out on the back patio. Best-kept-secrets, I tell you.

While we were waiting for our Butterbeer (in our cool souvenir mug), Dusty and I were scheming.
There was a tantalizing staircase to the left of the counter that had a chain that said "Inn Guests Only", but it wasn't blocking the staircase. It sat limp and useless to the side, begging us to run up the stairs and spoil all the mystery.
So, Dusty did.
It was one of the most rebellious things we've done in a while.
No one even noticed, which made our victory all the sweeter. Although it may have been cool if we got yelled at or something. But he said it was dark and there was a hallway with a door that had a keycode lock. So, mystery preserved.
Well done, wizards.

When we got up to the counter, we asked the bartender what was upstairs. She answered sweetly, "That's the Inn, where our guests stay."

This is where we spent a large percentage of our Hogsmeade time:

It's the back patio of the Hog's Head.
Where no one ever goes. 

Double doors lead from the Three Broomsticks and the Hog's Head right out onto this patio, where there are tons of tables, shade, and a sweet relief from the ridiculous crowds outside.
Not to mention a nifty view of the castle.

We drank many-a-Butterbeer out here.

It quickly became my favorite spot.

There were a lot of fun shops, so I'm going to give you the tour.

Honeydukes and Zonko's

Honeydukes is the sweets shop, the place where you get all your treats and candies.

Honeydukes and Zonko's were part of the same building, joined at the register.
Walking through the candy shop brought you to this madness:

Yes, Fred and George's joke shop has certainly outdone itself.

We left the place with a charming glass jar with the "Honeydukes" logo on it, and this fabulous Chocolate Frog.
We had to!

Dervish and Banges

This shop is known in the books for selling and repairing magical instruments.

At the front side of Dervish and Banges, the side that faces the main Hogsmeade street, was the:

Owl Post

This is where all the mail comes and goes, via owl delivery!


There were lots of journals, notebooks, pens, and a ton of packages piled high to the ceiling. 
There were also lots of adorable stuffed owl animals!
They also had their own wall of Ollivander wands, which was the shop next door.

 Outside, to the right of the Owl Post, was this clock tower:

Underneath that (where you can see lanterns glowing) were a ton of benches to sit in the shade and rest. That was also where the side entrance to Dervish and Banges was.
Up in the rafters were tons of owls perched and looking around. The Owlery. :)

Other Miscellaneous Shops

Some of the shops weren't actually shops; they were faux-shop-windows, displaying random gadgets, clothing and books. 

Like "Dogweed and Deathcap":

There was a mandrake in the window, wriggling and squealing.
 "Tomes and Scrolls":

In this shop, there was a healthy display of Gilderoy Lockhart books and memorabilia.

And there was "Gladrags Wizardwear" (London, Paris, and Hogsmeade):

Next door to that was "Wiseacres", "Potages Cauldrons", and "Dominic Meastro's" upstairs (which had a gaggle of instruments playing lively music):

There was also a little Potions shop above the restrooms.

In the restrooms themselves, Moaning Myrtle whined and cried, in her usual manner.

The last "shop" was actually an interactive show, of sorts.
It was "Ollivander's Wand Shop". :)

We had seen people standing in line all day, so we decided to go for it.

Standing in line. :)

Once inside, you have the magical experience of meeting Ollivander himself, as he chooses a young fellow to choose a wand. Or rather, to have the wand choose him.

After it was over, I snapped a few pictures while the room was empty and getting ready for the next group!

So cool!
And definitely worth it.

Once you're done in Ollivander's, you exit to the back into another little shop that is connected to Dervish and Banges.
There, they had wands to purchase as well as other trinkets from the books.
For you non-readers out there, these will mean absolutely nothing.

 Also, for you non-readers, maybe you should...

Only if you want to. :)

Halfway through the day, we decided to go check out the rest of Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure.
It was getting pretty hot, and the Harry Potter land was pretty packed with eager visitors.
So, we headed out to see what other adventures we could find.

Yeah, that's what we said, too.
We saw this beast of a mountain when we first came into the park that morning, but got a better look at it this time around.

It's not even a ride. It's a restaurant.

So, we waltzed in and made reservations for that evening.
I mean, the banner says "#1 Theme Park Restaurant in the World". So, that's a pretty big deal.

We also did this:

Super fun ride.
And then we made our way to this:

I personally love the Jurassic Park movies.
I want to buy the whole set, and make my husband watch them with me.
He's under the disillusioned impression that they're not absolutely awesome.

We got totally soaked on the main water ride, and then were craving something salty.

So we went to "Burger Digs".

After our burger and fries, our salty-tooth was satisfied. So we decided it was time for something sweet.
Dusty had ordered a chocolate shake, and it took them so long to make they decided we should have two.

No complaints here!

Then we broke into this bad boy.

I got the Salazar Slytherin card!
He is so not my favorite guy.

 We honestly sat there for an extra half an hour just elevating our feet on the extra chairs.

Once it was time to go, we spent a minimal time in the gift shop and decided to wind our way back through the parks and back toward dinner time.

We went on the Spiderman ride again, which I love.
We also rode The Hulk roller-coaster twice, which was pretty intense.
The rest of the Islands of Adventure isn't all that impressive, but some of the rides and the overall effort they put into all of the decor and atmosphere is pretty fun. 
We had a blast.

Once dinner came around, we made our way back over to Mythos to enjoy our fancy date night.

The restaurant was all that it had promised!
The inside was spectacular, and the food really was amazing. And it was totally affordable.
If I remember right, we split an appetizer and an entree, and it was cheaper than eating at some of the random walk-up counter places in the park!

The kitchen.
Fancy-weird fountain.
Despite our various outings to explore, the majority of our time was spent in Harry Potter world.
It was where we most wanted to be.

We totally nerded out.
All day long.
We weren't embarrassed or ashamed, because 87% of the crowd were way worse than we were.
We just enjoyed it. We really did.

The park wasn't open very late, so once it started getting dark, we had to decide what we wanted to end our day with.
The first choice was to go up to the castle one last time.

We rode "The Forbidden Journey" and did a last little appreciative walk-through of Filch's shop.

I didn't buy the owl, but not because I wasn't tempted.
It was already dark by the time we got out.

Our time at Hogwarts was coming to an end.
Not just our time at Hogwarts, but our vacation as a whole!
We had had a ridiculous amount of fun.

We spent our last little bit of time before the park closed in our spot, drinking frozen Butterbeer and sitting on the back patio at the Hog's Head.

It was a super perfect moment.

We walked slowly out, saying goodbye to a very lovely day.

I won't say we actually cried when we left, but we were pretty sad.
And I also won't say we didn't cry when we left.

Since the park closed relatively early, we were able to go back to our hotel and relax while we packed up and got ready to leave the next day.
We had an early flight, so we didn't have much sleeping time.

We also realized that we had no idea how we were getting to the airport.
Luckily, the hotel said they could arrange for a taxi to come, if we called in the morning letting them know what time we needed one.
So when 6am rolled around, we walked outside to a shimmering black Escalade, and a large, suit-clad fancy man opening the door for us.
I think both Dusty and I would agree that the look we exchanged translated to "Oh, crap".

Resigned to the fact that this was our only way of transportation, no matter how much it may cost, we just enjoyed the leather-seated ride. With the smooth jazz music and the deep-voiced driver.

$50 later, we arrived happily at the airport, and the rest is history.
We made it home, I went straight to work, and the rest of August happened.

How is it September already!?

I'm so behind.
To sum it up, we love Harry Potter, we love to read, we love magical things, we had an incredible vacation, and we were very happy to be home and get ready for a new year to start. :)

Next post will be playing catch-up with our August!

In love,

1 comment:

  1. This was like reading Harry Potter all over again! I wonder what J.K. Rowling thinks of the place--seeing her imagination take physical shape. Sounds just delightful. Especially the butter beer. I want some. :(