- Sophie &Friends
It's been a loooong time since I've taken a real vacation. My husband Scott and I go to Mexico every February and July, but that's more of a second home than a vacation. We have obligations, friends, family, a home to take care of... Please don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining. I love Mexico and all it has to offer, but it is by no means a vacation. What I'm talking about is an honest to goodness, stay in a hotel, eat restaurant food, experience mind-boggling adventures, vacation.
The idea of this vacation started percolating about 2010 when The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened at Universal Studios theme park in Florida. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a Harry Potter FREAK! I am a huge fan of JK Rawling's books and make a point of either re-reading or listening to the audiobooks from start to finish at least once a year. In fact, there was a point in time, before I purchased the books digitally, that the first thing you would hear upon entering my van was Jim Dale's voice (the narrator of the American book series). This has been a dream that I've been cultivating for years, but just like the mandrakes in Book 3, it takes time for some seeds to mature, and in this case, it was well worth the wait.
In the 9 years since it's opening, Universal has expanded it's HP footprint to encompass 2 parks. In the original park, you will find Diagon Alley, neatly tucked away behind what looks, at first glance, like a restroom entrance. However, there's something a tiny bit off about the recreated London Street.
Perhaps it's the proximity to the triple-decker Knight Bus with it's talking shrunken head, or the fact that there seems to be someone lurking in the window of 12 Grimmauld Place, or perhaps that instead of a restroom you will find a jagged brick wall that empties out into a truly amazing world.
Is it any wonder that the buildings seem to lean in, just a little bit, as if checking to make sure you aren't a muggle. Just as in the beloved book and movie series, there is magic hidden in plain sight, as long as you know where to look.
Diagon Alley, and it's more sinister offshoot Knockturn Alley, are literally the most amazing recreations I have ever seen. They have everything!
From British Pub food at the Leaky Cauldron to butterbeer ice cream at Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlor.
There are puppet enactments of Beadle the Bard tales and the warblings of Celestina Warbeck in the main square.
There are shops for every young wizard, including Weasly's Wizarding Weezes joke shop,
Quality Quidditch Supplies (where I purchased an actual quaffle!) and Olivander's Wand Shop.
One of the more engaging elements of the square is the wand interaction stations. Young wizards will discover golden emblems embedded in the walkways bearing wand instructions. When done correctly the student will be treated to a special display of magic; be it the sprouting of a plant, the transmogrification of a parakeet, or the mischief of a tipping cauldron on an unsuspecting head. The most intriguing aspect is that the student has to get the wand motions correct, or nothing will happen - just like Ron Weasley in the book, we can't all be Hermione Granger the first time out.
Now, even in the Wizarding World one must deal with money, which is why it's inevitable that you must visit Gringotts, the one and only Wizarding bank. The elegant marble walls and arching ceiling house many a secret. Attended by goblins that look more annoyed than intrigued by our arrival, we guests were treated to a behind the scene look at the Gringotts workings. Deep in its cavernous bowels lie not only vaults filled with treasure but angry security trolls, fire breathing dragons, and a terrifying appearance by he who must not be named. The ride is a heart-pounding rollercoaster of a ride which is not to be missed.
Next blog I'll write about my experience on the Hogwart's Express and our trip to Hogwarts itself. I'll tell you about the different types of butterbeer and fill you in on the secrets of Hogsmead...just like my vacation, all good things are worth the wait.